Poetry News In Review
1840—Eugeen van Oye, Flemish writer/poet (Morning Twilight), is born.
1844—Detlev [Freiherr Friedrich A von] Liliencron, German poet, is born.
1900—Gerard den Brabander, [Jan G Jofriet], poet (Nothing New), is born.
1913—Pedro Mir, Dominican Poet Laureate (d. 2000), is born.
1926—Allen Ginsberg, American beat poet (Howl), is born in Newark, New Jersey.
1963—Nazim Hikmet, Turkish poet (b. 1902), dies.
1995—Alastair Webster Mackie, poet/teacher, dies at 69.
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks
I didn't know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return
from “Things I Didn't Know I Loved” by Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963)
When Soraya Peerbaye first learned of the brutal slaying of Vancouver Island teen Reena Virk, the Toronto poet recalled being haunted by the harrowing nature of the crime. "Like many people across the country, I was just struck by the details of the story: the youth of the assailants and their gender and, of course, the sheer brutality of it," said Peerbaye.
With his Nabati poem, Kuwait's Rajih al-Hamidani was crowned 2016 champion of Million Dollar Poem, staged in oil-rich Abu Dhabi for a seventh year, and took home a prize of five million dirham ($1.36m). "This is the biggest achievement of my life," said Hamidani after winning the 17 May final. Fans who had travelled from Kuwait chanted and danced around him as he carried the winner's red banner. Hamidani, who studies law in Cairo, keeps the flag for a year, after which he can defend the title or pass it on.
A Poet Unlike Any Other
by Hermione Lee
More than with most poets, when people write and talk about Stevie Smith (1902–1971), they try to nail her down with comparisons. She is a female William Blake, an Emily Dickinson of the English suburbs, a mixture of Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, and the Brothers Grimm. Her reading style, which became legendary, with her cropped hair, baleful expression, little-girl dresses, and singsong lugubrious chanting voice, was described (by Jonathan Miller) as a cross between Mary Poppins and Lawrence Olivier’s Richard III. Seamus Heaney called it a combination of Gretel and the witch. He also compared her to “two Lears,” “the old King come to knowledge and gentleness through suffering, and the old comic poet Edward veering off into nonsense.
'The Bonniest Companie’ by Kathleen Jamie, ‘40 Sonnets’ by Don Paterson and ‘The Blind Roadmaker’ by Ian Duhig
by Mike Barlow
Kathleen Jamie says she decided to write a poem a week for the year 2014. The 48 poems in The Bonniest Companie are the result (the other 4 presumably culled in the editing), arranged in sections according to the seasons. Her relationship to the natural world, interwoven with recollections from childhood, blends the immediate with the reflective. The back cover blurb implies a social and political agenda, and indeed one or two poems comment on matters in the public domain. ‘23/9/14’ deals with the aftermath of the Scottish referendum (‘dingit doon and weary’), while the found poem ‘Wings over Scotland’ is a stark listing of birds of prey illegally poisoned. However, in the main these are poems which focus on personal experience and solitary moments.
The Single Artificer
by Bruce Bawer
When Robert Frost shuffled off this mortal coil in 1963, the New York Times notice began at the top of page 1 and jumped to page 5, where it was accompanied by a critical appreciation (“Frost’s place in the history of American letters is assured”) and an article headlined “President Leads in Tributes to ‘Great Poet of Our Time.’” A couple of months later, the Times obituary for William Carlos Williams also started on page 1; ditto T. S. Eliot’s 1965 obit, the bulk of which took up most of page 30, along with a selection of passages from his work and a sampling of tributes from colleagues. (Robert Penn Warren: “He is the key figure of our century. . . . This is his age.”) Two years on, Carl Sandburg’s passing occasioned not only a sizable page 1 headline but also a page 1 “appraisal,” as well as an editorial, “Carl Sandburg, American,” and, a few days later, a tribute, “Carl Sandburg, Newspaperman.” Sandburg, the Times pronounced, “caught in his pages a certain moment and a certain place in our history. Anyone who would know them must consider him part of the permanent record.”
by Lisa K. Perdigao
Rae Armantrout’s Itself returns to familiar ground: questioning how and why language matters and can be made to matter. Yet the collection is distinct from her earlier work, taking its primary inspiration from recent developments in science and invoking especially the concept of chirality, the property of an asymmetrical object whose mirror image cannot be superimposed on itself.
Emily Dickinson Isn’t You
Biographers try to see themselves in the reclusive poet, and fail to show us who she really was.
by Alexandra Pechman
“I couldn’t let go,” Jerome Charyn begins his author’s note to A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century, as if remembering a severed romantic relationship. He remained transfixed after writing a fictionalized account of Dickinson’s life, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, in which he inhabited, or vampirized, as he says, the nineteenth-century poet’s voice, detailing flings with noted scholars and tattooed handymen—all imagined of course. He spent two years on the book, culling through all the letters, biographies, studies, accounts, and poems he could. “I never believed much in her spinsterhood and shriveled sexuality,” Charyn writes in his new book. “Yet she was a spinster in a way, a spinner of words. Spiders were also known as spinsters, and like a spider, she spun her meticulous web…”
[(Poetry Northwest) Editor’s note: Mr. Kenney’s essay originally appeared as a comment in response to Derek Mong’s confidently declarative (if under-researched) critique: “Iambic Pentameter Has Nothing to Do with Your Heart” (Kenyon Review, April 16, 2016). We thought Mr. Kenney’s reply deserved a wider audience.]
The conversation is interesting, and full of credentialed expertise. So it’s with friendly diffidence that I discover myself convinced not so much between the principals as orthogonal to both. To the degree that Dr. Mong aims to rescue us from a seductive sentimentality, I nod my head; to the degree that he implicitly wags a finger at Anglophone presumption, I demur.
Psycho-Syllabics / Confessing to Syllabics
by Claire Crowther
‘I, too, dislike it’, wrote Marianne Moore, referring to poetry – and she must have included syllabic poetry because she was and remains its pre-eminent practitioner. Her opinion is not unusual. My impression is that contemporary syllabics, where the organisational principle in the line is the number of syllables, never was and still isn’t popular. I hear conversations between poets about which journal editors won’t accept a submission in syllabics. I know poets who write in syllabics but hate to be asked about it and dismiss the fact. Peter Groves has listed the judgments of anti-syllabicists including Basil Bunting (‘silly’), Michael Hamburger (‘cannot see the point’), Adrian Henri (‘redundant’), Peter Levi (‘uninteresting’), and John Heath-Stubbs (‘totally spurious’). Thom Gunn, discounting his own superb examples, said he used syllabics only to get away from traditional English metre and onto free verse.
Drafts & Framents
Emily Dickinson's Agility Training for Men
by Ben Bagocius
Emily Dickinson revolutionized American poetics. But, her contributions to men’s strength and conditioning are far less known. Dickinson is a drill sergeant. She accepts no less than men’s revitalization. The rhythm of her verse is firm and athletic; her poetry is thew, a muscular force that generates physical strength in men rendered comatose. Dickinson applies the muscles of poetry to heal the injury of masculinism that lays men flat.
Computers Suck at Poetry
by Bryan Menegus
A poetic Turing test was held at Dartmouth yesterday to pit artificial intelligence against human poets, AP reported. Good news: the computers lost. Judges could easily tell the difference between robot-written sonnets. One of the judges, Harvard English professor and New Yorker contributor Louis Menand, cited syntactical oddities and “uses of language that were just a little off,” as reasons why the AI-written sonnets stuck out as so obviously fraudulent.
Poetry for the Purple One: A Look at the Lyrics of Prince
by Michael Robbins
Prince Rogers Nelson was dead, and social media feeds were flooding with a line from a 400-year-old play. "Goodnight, sweet Prince" had an inevitable ring, but given 2016's massacre of middle-aged pop stars, Fortinbras' apostrophe would've been more appropriate.
Poetry In The News
President Michael D Higgins announced today at the Provost’s House, Trinity College, Dublin that Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin has been awarded the prestigious position of the Ireland Professor of Poetry 2016. Ní Chuilleanáin will be the seventh Ireland Professor of Poetry, taking over until October 2019 from the current holder, Paula Meehan, who finishes her term at the end of October.
Plenty by Corinne Lee
[Paperback] Penguin Books, 144 pp., $20.00
Using Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as a springboard, Corinne Lee’s second book of poetry is an eco-epic that investigates and embodies the deterioration of America’s environment due to industrial agriculture, fossil fuels, war, racism, and technology. Lee’s book-length work draws upon a variety of poetic forms and histories—especially events in 1892, which included a surge in lynching in America and the beginning of our coup d’état of Hawaii—to examine how modern technology facilitated the Holocaust, sustains America’s racist prison industrial complex, fuels climate change, and ultimately underlies what has been called the Sixth Extinction. A daring and dazzling narrative of great originality, Plenty advocates a feminist ecobuddhist perspective: only by dismantling false hierarchies, especially those of patriarchal capitalism, are we able to recognize that all agents of environmental collapse are one with us.
Carnival Life: Poems by Lesley Dauer
[Paperback] Mercer University Press, 64 pp., $17.00
Each poem in this award-winning collection represents the life of a carnival performer or that of an outsider whose life is rife with carnival metaphor. For instance, "The Two-Headed Woman and the Two-Faced Man" is both literal and metaphorical. Naturally, she draws carnival audiences, and as an outsider and illusionist of sorts, he complicates her life.
The Windows of Graceland by Martina Evans
[Paperback] Carcanet Press, 120 pp., $19.99
From the winner of the Betty Trask Award and the Premio Ciampi International Prize for Poetry comes a collection which explores a 1960s Catholic upbringing in Cork, Ireland, set against the backdrop of Graceland and the poet's love for the music of Elvis Presley. Drawing on Evans' first five collections, The Windows of Graceland also delves into the dark recesses of Ireland's past and the violent atrocities committed by the Black and Tans, the IRA and the Easter Uprising. A leading voice in Irish literature, Martina Evans continues to drive right through to the emotional core of her readers with these sharp and compelling poems.
I’m not alone in my assertion, writer Sherman Alexie says, “Adrian C. Louis is profane, angry, and in deep love with this sad-ass world. He is the primary reason why I started to write poems.”
Frieda Hughes: ‘I felt my parents were stolen’
by Donna Ferguson
Frieda Hughes is thumbing through her first book of poetry, trying to find the poem she wrote about the poems her father, Ted Hughes, wrote about her mother, Sylvia Plath. “It’s called Birds. It describes the poet as a penguin, nursing the egg his wife has left him, and the skuas that kill and feed on baby penguins. I wrote it about my father and Birthday Letters [the collection of poems Hughes wrote in response to Plath’s suicide]. But when my father read it, he said he thought it was a poem about me. I look at it now and think he’s right.”
Envoi: Editor's Notes
In the event that things take a bad turn in the November elections, here's something to consider:
Frivolous Humanities Helped Prisoners Survive in Communist Romania
by Irina Dumitrescu
In a recent New York Times article on the movement to promote university majors promising higher employment and income, Anthony Carnevale, a professor at Georgetown University, sums up the utilitarian view of education in one snappy phrase: “You can’t be a lifelong learner if you’re not a lifelong earner.” Things often sound true when they rhyme. Growing up in Canada, I would have agreed with Carnevale. I would have even agreed with politicians like the governor of North Carolina, Patrick McCrory, who sees university primarily as job training. I had a Romanian immigrant’s relentless pragmatism, having been raised to think that medicine and law were the only acceptable career options in life. Although I was a bookish teenager, I never thought I could study literature or history or philosophy. At some level I felt these topics were pleasant but useless fluff, nice as hobbies but not worth thousands of dollars in tuition and four years of my life. Read more here.