Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Poetry News In Review

June 11, 2014
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1540 – Barnabe Googe, English poet (d. 1594), is born.
1572 – Ben Jonson, England, playwright/poet (Volpone, Alchemist), is born.
1865 – Jan H Leopold, Dutch poet (translated Omar Khayyam), is born.
1877 – Renee Vivien, English-born poet (d. 1909), is born.
1886 – Antonio C G Crespo, Brazilian/Portuguese poet, dies at 40.
1912 – Leon Dierx, French poet (Amants), dies at 74.
1949 – Oton Zupanic, Slavs poet (Zimzelen pod snegom), dies at 71

World Poetry

Russia: Free Metro Rides for Poetry Buffs

A city in Siberia is reportedly offering free rides on the underground to people who can recite at least two verses from any poem by Alexander Pushkin, one of Russia's greatest poets. The event will be held in Novosibirsk on 6 June to mark the 215th anniversary of the poet's birth, reports local website Sib.fm. Teachers, librarians, students and schoolchildren will be positioned at the entrances to seven of Novosibirsk's metro stations to check whether passengers know their Pushkin, says Lyudmila Monakhova, from Native Word, a local NGO promoting the Russian language and culture. Poetry recitals will also be held inside the metro stations, adds Monakhova, who is organising the events. More.

Istanbul Governor Recites Nazım Hikmet Poem in Lyrical Video

Who needs tear gas when Istanbul governor recites Nazım Hikmet's 'I love you' poem
Istanbulites may have become used to getting puffy red eyes from tear gas courtesy of the Turkish police, but they will now have to get used to the feel of shedding tears after watching Gov. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu’s new lyrical videos. Known for his cryptic tweets and far-less cryptic police deployments, Mutlu published on June 3 a video in which he recites Nazım Hikmet’s “I love you” poem to mark Turkey’s most acclaimed poet’s anniversary of death. More.

Thailand: Poet Murdered; Concern Mounts for Safety of Writers

Six weeks after the murder of prominent ‘red-shirt’ poet Mainueng K. Kunthee, who was shot dead on 23 April 2014 by unknown assailants, freedom of expression is severely suppressed and a climate of fear prevails. The motive for Mainueng K. Kunthee’s murder is not known, although it is thought that he may have been targeted for his political activism amidst the escalating political violence in the country at the time. More.

Recent Reviews

Prairies of Air

by Christopher J. Adamson
Devotion is a word that bespeaks privacy, a silent colloquy between a present devotee and an absent source. When presented in public, devotion could be called an exhibition of faith or doubt, an airing of the struggle that may be inherent in any observance of the sacred. Devotional poetry, a most public display, has enacted this exhibition from various motivations and with various results—think of George Herbert’s depressions and ecstasies, John Donne’s sacred erotics, or Walt Whitman’s gnostic communion with the God within. In contemporary American poetry, this devotional tradition is alive and well, as evidenced by three major anthologies published in the last two years: Poems of Devotion, edited by Luke Hankins (2012), Before the Door of God, edited by Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson (2013), and A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler. (2012). More.

Steak-Umm out of Sacred Cows

by Jonathan Farmer
Here’s the thing: For the most part, I don’t like reading Patricia Lockwood’s poems. They make me feel slow-witted and over-serious, clumsy, credulous, and uncool. They make me feel like the guy who ruins all the fun. Her poems aren’t wrong; I am that guy. But I don’t like being reminded. And it’s not just that. A few pages into her second collection, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, I start to feel that I’ve entered a word where seriousness is unwelcome and sentiment suspect—where outrageousness is essential but actual outrage, mine or anyone’s, is altogether out of bounds. More.

Peter Robinson on the Aspirations of Derek Mahon’s "Adaptations"

Derek Mahon’s ‘Echo’, subtitled ‘from the Latin of Ovid, Metamorphoses III, 356-402’, begins by explaining how she ‘can’t speak first but answers back’ and concludes: ‘the voice survives. Where? In a hollow cave, / in a valley, a forest clearing, a silent grove’. Naturally, this invites thoughts about the symbiosis of a possibly narcissistic original text and a helplessly echoing (and self-defeating) translation, which it is forever haunted by. Mahon’s translation effectively imitates the ways her echoing phrases are haplessly ambiguous. More.

End of the Sentimental Journey: A Mystery Poem

by Ray McDaniel
I am old, I leave the house less and less, I don’t go to as many poetry readings as I used to. But I read a lot of poetry—as a reader might hope a reviewer would. But readers of poetry reviews, i.e. y’all, are not like readers of movie reviews; the latter might see a few movies a year, and the former are likely reading as many books as the reviewer. Similarly, the average movie-goer is probably not too concerned with the film she’s currently directing. So I think it is safe and fair to say that whatever anxiety the poetry reviewer feels is akin to the anxiety of the poetry reader, akin to the poetry performer, akin to the poetry writer.  More.

Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen

by Hilary Vaughn Dobel  Black Aperture, Matt Rasmussen’s first book, is the 2012 winner of the Walt Whitman Award and a National Book Award finalist. Any volume so heavily laureled is bound to raise suspicion, at least among poetry’s small and often cynical readership. It is my duty, however, to inform these dour few that Black Aperture deserves its honors.The book has been described as an elegy for Rasmussen’s brother, who committed suicide. So it is, but in giving a public face to a deeply personal tragedy Rasmussen pins down an oft-ignored aspect of elegiac writing, which is the inherent danger of putting things as subjective and ephemeral as memory and pain into words on a page. More.

Broadsides

Is It Possible to Be a Millionaire Poet?

By William Kremer
Last week, an amateur poet won more than $1m on a TV talent show in the United Arab Emirates. But what does an injection of cold hard cash on this scale do to a poet's creative impulses? As poetry readings go, the setting was unique. The Al Raha Beach Theatre in Abu Dhabi boasted light-up floors, backdrop projections and a light show of a kind that would be familiar to fans of Pop Idol, X Factor or America's Got Talent. Since February, global audiences of up to 70 million have tuned in to watch Million's Poet, in which men (there were no female contestants this year) in traditional dress take turns to deliver self-penned verses of a type of colloquial Arabic poetry called Nabati. A panel of judges delivers feedback, the Emirati royal family puts in an occasional appearance, and the contestants are gradually whittled down. More.

Notes from the President of the Poetry Foundation

by Robert Polito 
This is the first of an ongoing series of occasional and topical notes to the poetry community from Robert Polito, president of the Poetry Foundation. Polito’s occasion here is the awarding of the National Arts Club’s Medal of Honor for Literary Achievement to John Ashbery. “I was thrilled to be asked to celebrate John Ashbery,” Polito said. “His work eludes all the usual aesthetic categories, and at age 86 he remains so skilled at self-transformation that he still writes like he’s the new kid on the block. More.

Drafts & Framents

Poet Explains Why He Spammed Twitter with Every Word in the English Language

by Sharif Sakr 
Approximately 109,150 tweets. Spread across seven years. Posted automatically by a bot which, each time, simply grabbed a single word from an already published (and inevitably outdated) canon of the English language and threw it out onto the social network. The bot was the brainchild of a poet, Adam Parrish (aka @everyword), whose original intention was simply to the "satirize the brevity of Twitter," but who gradually came to see the project as a "magical writing experiment." More.

Poetry In The News

Adélia Prado Receives Griffin Lifetime Recognition Award

On June 4, 2014, revered Brazilian writer and poet Adélia Prado was honoured with The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award, presented to her by trustee Robert Hass. More.

Cambridge University Students Lost for Words at 'Blank' Poem in Exam

Cambridge students struggled to find words to express their outrage at being given this poem to analyse in an exam. Students sitting their final English exams were faced with the work Tipp-ex Sonate by South African singer and writer André Letoit, who also performs under the name Koos Kombuis. Some thought a printing error had been made with the paper but were fortunately given the option of other extracts to discuss. One finalist, who wanted to remain anonymous, told university newspaper The Tab she had felt confident before being caught off-guard by the bizarre question. More.

Former Great Village Home of Acclaimed Poet Elizabeth Bishop to Be Sold

The house that served as the childhood home and later as a source of inspiration for American poet Elizabeth Bishop is being sold. The Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village, which was designated a heritage property in the late 1990s, is currently for sale by the group of 10 people who now own it. “It’s just time,” said Sandra Barry, one member of a group of 10 people who have owned the property for the past decade. “It’s not a simple matter. It’s not a decision we made lightly,” she said. “It actually was very difficult decision. It’s an emotional decision.” More.

Poetry and Medicine: The Cry of the Heart

Doctor-poets are not a new phenomenon. In 1883, William Carlos Williams, one of the most notable poets of the 20th century was born in Rutherford, N.J. Williams spent his life simultaneously practicing medicine and publishing poetry. Now, Rutgers University, a mere hour's drive from Williams' birthplace, has become an incubator for doctor poets. In 2009, Diane Kaufman, PhD, assistant professor in the psychiatry department at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School began what she dubbed Poetry & Medicine Day. The principle was to provide a creative outlet for medical and health professional students across all Rutgers campuses to learn about and workshop poetry and express the feelings and emotions that students training for rigorous and demanding careers in medicine deal with day to day. More.

New Books

Laughing Cult: Poems by Kevin McCaffrey

[Paperback] Four Winds Press, 112 pp., $13.95
Inspired by the spirit and approach of Bertolt Brecht's Manual of Piety, the poems of Laughing Cult often employ the structures of ballads, folksongs, and other traditional forms to create miniature sketches marked by romantic ambiguity, occultism, science fiction, and quirky angst. As cool in tone as a Lee Konitz solo and as lacking in affect as pop art, this first collection includes numerous poems that have appeared on the Exquisite Corpse website. To shape something aesthetically charged out of the spent elements and enervated thoughts of a slowly failing society: that's the challenge Laughing Cult has set for itself. These are two-dimensional poems for a one-dimensional age.

Pinholes in the Night: Essential Poems from Latin America edited by Forrest Gander 

[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 374 pp., $22.00
This intensely focused bilingual anthology pinpoints the heart of Latin American self-identification. In selecting these fifteen essential poems, Chilean poet Raúl Zurita was guided by the question, "What poem, had it not been written, would have rendered the author another author and Latin American poetry something else?" This extraordinary gathering of talent—from Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda to Ernesto Cardenal and César Vallejo—spans the twentieth century.

My Crooked House by Teresa Carson

[Paperback] Cavankerry, 128 pp., $18.00
Cat hoarding. Panic attacks. Rigid perfectionism. Carson reconstructs, through a hybrid of received and invented poetic forms, the literal and metaphorical experience of the psychological homesickness that controlled her life until she confronted it in therapy, and thereby opened herself to making a true home with her second husband.

Pondlife: A Swimmer's Journal by Al Alvarez 

[Hardcover] Bloomsbury USA, 288 pp., $22.95
The ponds of Hampstead Heath are small oases; fragments of wild nature nestled in the heart of north-west London. For the best part of his life Al Alvarez – poet, critic, novelist, rock-climber and poker player – has swum in them almost daily.  An athlete in his youth, Alvarez, now in his eighties, chronicles what it is to grow old with humour and fierce honesty – from his relentlessly nagging ankle which makes daily life a struggle, to infuriating bureaucratic battles with the council to keep his disabled person’s Blue Badge, the devastating effects of a stroke, and the salvation he finds in the three Ss – Swimming, Sex and Sleep.

From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes by B. C. Edwards

[Paperback] Black Lawrence Press, 98 pp., $13.95
Adapted from a collection of household instructions originally published in 1901, From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes bastardizes everyday tasks such as dyeing silks, brewing beer, fabricating paint and, of course, curing small pox and twists them into odd, dark poems. The pains of adolescence, the simple failure of love, the thrill of newfound lust—this collection outlines all the crests and troughs of our modern existence.

New Selected Poems by P. J. Kavanagh

[Paperback] Carcanet Press Ltd., 166 pp., $21.95
Drawing on the work of 45 years, starting with his debut collection, One and One, this collection of P. J. Kavanagh poems demonstrates his understanding of how contradictions coexist in nature and in us. Out of that vexed coexistence he makes poetry that, formally poised, packs the punch of revelation. Kavanagh has done so much to revive interest in British nature writing, and has contributed so much to it himself, nowhere more so than in his poetry. Internationally acclaimed Irish poet Derek Mahon provides an illuminating foreword, to set Kavanagh’s work in context.

Correspondences

“There is never anything without something else”: A Conversation with Brenda Hillman

by Gerald Maa
Brenda Hillman is the author of nine books of poetry. A tetralogy comprising her four most recent books starts with Cascadia, published in 2001, and ends with Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, published this August. Books in this ambitious project have been awarded the Los Angeles Book Prize and the William Carlos Williams Prize. We met to talk about Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, and we ended up exploring, among many things, topics such as the development of her writing career, poetry’s capacity to mine the richness of one’s daily life, and how the poems dear to her, those written by “her darlings,” ballast her poetic and political practices. More.

The Griffin Prize Q&A: Rachael Boast

by Mark Medley 
The winners of the Griffin Poetry Prize will be announced on June 5. Before then, we’d like to introduce our readers to this year’s nominees. In the week leading up to this year’s ceremony, the National Post will publish an excerpt from one of the seven shortlisted titles as well as Q&A with the author. Meet Rachael Boast, nominated for her collection Pilgrim’s FlowerMore.

Watching the World Burn With Merwin

by Stephen Henry Fox
Even though The Whole World is Burning, premiering Sunday at the Maui Film Festival, begins unexpectedly in a valley of exotic palms. This is the biography of W. S. Merwin, Poet Laureate and erudite man of conscience. His has been a unique life, and beginning the bio of a poet in the valley he has restored may be the best place to start. Merwin nurtures an ecosystem in a small corner of Maui, reclaimed from a certified wasteland. That's his small-scale work. On the global level, Merwin has the audacity to stimulate thought, to render dire situations of humanitarian and ecological devastation beautiful via his stunning eloquence. More.

Tête-à-tête with Stephen Burt and Maureen N. McLane

by Stephen Burt
Stephen Burt and Maureen N. McLane were invited by David Tomas Martinez & Gulf Coast to interview each other about poetry, poetics, reviewing, etc., throughout Fall 2013. They did, via email.  Stephen Burt:  The first time I saw you read you had a stringed instrument which you played towards the end of the reading; the first time I saw your critical work it had to do with secondary orality and invented “folk” traditions in poets who wrote two hundred years ago. How does your work on synthetic folk ballads and oral traditions turn up—or not turn up—in your poetry? Has that relationship changed? More.

Myth Is a Theorem About the Nature of Reality

by Matthew Spellberg 
Robert Bringhurst is a poet, linguist, translator, and essayist who has championed, in a series of remarkable books and lectures, the literary heritage of Native American culture. He’s made it his calling to enroll oral mythtelling in the canon of world literature, arguing that Native American stories are not only anthropological artifacts, but works of art. Bringhurst was born in the US but has lived now for a long time in Canada. His home, artistic and actual, is that country’s Pacific Northwest, but he’s a true intellectual peripatetic. He’s translated Parmenides, studied classical Chinese poetry, and compared Sophocles with a Crow storyteller named Yellow-Brow. He’s authored poems and essays about modern violence and Renaissance painting, and he’s written a classic treatise on typography, The Elements of Typographic StyleMore.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: Joseph Brodsky

A work of art is always meant to outlast its maker. Paraphrasing the philosopher, one could say that writing poetry, too, is an exercise in dying. But apart from pure linguistic necessity, what makes one write is not so much a concern for one's perishable flesh as the urge to spare certain things of one's world—of one's personal civilization—one's own non-semantic continuum. Art is not a better, but an alternative existence; it is not an attempt to escape reality but the opposite, an attempt to animate it. It is a spirit seeking flesh but finding words. 
from "The Child of Civilization"

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Faiz Ahmed Faiz
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