Poetry News In Review
1621—Renatus Rapinus, [René Rapin], French jesuit/poet (Hortorum libri IV), id born.
1794—William Cullen Bryant, poet (Thanatopsis), is born.
1864—Antonio Goncalves Dias, Brazilian national poet, dies at sea.
1869—Andreas Kalvos, Greek poet (b. 1792), dies.
1887—Samuil Marshak, Russian writer, translator and children's poet (d. 1964), is born.
1914—Georg Trakl, Austria poet (Totentag, Cocaine Overdose), dies at 27.
1929—Olav Aukrust, Norwegian poet (b. 1883), dies.
2003—Rasul Gamzatov, Russian poet (b. 1923), dies.
My Heart at Evening
Toward evening you hear the cry of the bats.
Two black horses bound in the pasture,
The red maple rustles,
The walker along the road sees ahead the small tavern.
Nuts and young wine taste delicious,
Delicious: to stagger drunk into the darkening woods.
Village bells, painful to hear, echo through the black fir branches,
Dew forms on the face.
[trans. James Wright and Robert Bly]
Last year, on November 25, Dima Yousef, her mother, and two sisters landed in the Algerian capital. Her mother had decided that living in war-torn Syria was a gamble that the family could no longer risk. Dima Yousef, a 30-year-old poet and Arabic language teacher, is the third of five siblings. Born and raised in Yarmouk refugee camp in the southern outskirts of Damascus, she belongs to a family uprooted from the Palestinian village of Hosheh, east of Haifa.
Bringing the verses of world-renowned Syrian poet Adonis together with the colors of Turkish painter Habip Aydoğdu, the exhibition "Blood Red" has opened in the western province of İzmir. The opening marked the new season at Folkart Gallery, the largest art gallery in Turkey.
Osman Efendioğlu, a local poet living in Turkey’s Black Sea province of Rize, has been selected as a Living Human Treasure by UNESCO. The 80-year-old Efendioğlu says he knows 90 percent of “atma türkü” (a type of public poetry unique to the eastern Black Sea region) spoken in Rize and is working to collect all this poetry in a book.
Another Look at Larkin
by Tomas Unger
At least twice in his life—once in a passing remark and once in a perfect line—Philip Larkin, who played at being merely dour, used the word lovely. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that photography (almost his second art, as this selection of Larkin’s prodigious output reveals) is a close presence in each case. The poet, on a trip to the country, turns positively exclamatory on seeing, of all things, some cows. “How lovely they are!” he writes in a letter, not having to explain, really, not explaining away. He takes several snaps in close-up. The loveliness on offer at the close of “Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album” is of another order: “It holds you like a heaven, and you lie / Unvariably lovely there, / Smaller and clearer as the years go by.”
Lerner and His Firefly
by Mark Halliday
There must have been a moment when an editor at FSG said to Ben Lerner, in an email or maybe in the old face-to-face modality, “How about if we publish your essay ‘The Hatred of Poetry’ as a small book!” (Let’s assume, for Lerner’s sake, that the idea did not come from Lerner himself—that would be too grotesque.) There must have been a moment when Lerner could pause and say, “No, that’s a bad idea, it would be way too pretentious.” But preumably the editor said something like, “With a catchy title like The Hatred of Poetry we might actually sell a lot of copies.” And Lerner acquiesced.
Second Acts: A Second Look at Second Books of Poetry: R. T. Smith and Mark Wagenaar
By Lisa Russ Spaar
Engaging with second books of poetry by R. T. Smith and Mark Wagenaar during these past two months in the run-up to the presidential election got me thinking about Randall Jarrell’s collection of essays Poetry and the Age (1953). There is much to say about the perspicacious and provocative Jarrell — topic for another essay — but for this review, I reread his prescient, eristic essay “The Obscurity of the Poet.”
“Looking for Parents and Cover”: All the Poems of Stevie Smith
by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
The British poet Stevie Smith has always been a puzzling figure, a British eccentric whose work whips existential grief and whimsy into a bittersweet froth. That she was an original was never in dispute. She was admired by writers as different as Sylvia Plath and Ogden Nash, as well as Marianne Moore, Seamus Heaney, and Philip Larkin — the last two with some reservations. In a mostly favorable summing-up review Heaney wrote, “Yet finally the voice, the style, the literary resources are not adequate to the somber recognitions.”
Elizabeth and Alice
The last love affair of Elizabeth Bishop, and the losses behind “One Art.”
by Megan Marshall
In the spring of 1970, Robert Lowell accepted a position at the University of Essex, in England, leaving a vacancy at Harvard, where he’d been teaching poetry for one semester each year since the fall of 1963. He wrote to his old friend, the poet Elizabeth Bishop, then fifty-nine, to ask whether she would fill in for the fall semesters of 1970 and 1971. Despite Bishop’s meagre teaching experience, the college was happy to offer her the job on the strength of Lowell’s recommendation and the National Book Award bestowed on her “Complete Poems,” in 1970.
Edgar Allen Poe, Oh-Poe is established as foundational in American literature, as a classic of the New Voice that has hallmarked the reverberative roar of American artistic influence, but his legacy is one that is gravely compressed: most textbooks will feature a work of prose and a poem–usually “The Raven”–and texts for the lower levels will also feature illustrations that are as lurid as 1950s science fiction cinema posters. Instructional editions for secondary education put more emphasis on an unfortunately short life than they do on brief comments reducing Poe’s work to that of America’s brief Gothic tradition. Although Poe still appears in classrooms, his is a legacy that is now a cliché of corvids and black lipstick, an autumn lesson that is augmented by store displays for Halloween. It is more than unfortunate that scholastic views of Poe have been mostly reduced to either emotive demonstrations, or as an opportunity for evidence of classical allusion in poetry.
What to Make of T. S. Eliot?
Beneath the formal exterior of a banker-scholar beat the heart of a tormented poet.
by Garrick Davis
In 1914, the philosopher Bertrand Russell was introduced to a student at Harvard University who greatly impressed him, and who would later become quite famous himself. Russell left behind his first impressions of T. S. Eliot in a letter that possibly inaugurated the now-standard fiction of the poet as representing a final, repressed branch of the old Boston Brahmans:
Drafts & Framents
One crisp Sunday afternoon in October 1987, tour guide Tom Rowe led a group of students across the Poe Museum’s garden to show them the treasure sitting on the pedestal in the Poe Shrine. Pointing toward the shadow recesses of the brick pergola, he announced, “And here’s the bust of Poe made by Edmond T. Quinn.” Only after a couple kids asked, “What bust?” did Tom take a second look at the empty pedestal. The Poe Museum’s priceless sculpture was missing
Nurse Accused of Murdering 8 Patients Allegedly Wrote Poem From Perspective of a Serial Killer
by Tess Koman
On Oct. 25, 49-year-old nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of eight senior citizen patients between the ages of 75 to 96 who were in her care, the National Post reports. Police also believe Wettlaufer wrote and posted poetry under a pseudonym from the perspective of a serial killer.
Poetry In The News
A "forgotten" poem by Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne celebrating the tank has been discovered in archives. The work, found in an officer's papers at the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, was penned for a military fundraising event in 1918. Milne, who worked for a British propaganda unit, paid tribute to "The wonderful Tanks" which could "flatten a wood / If the cover's too good”. The British invention was first used in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.
The 2014 arrest and subsequent death sentence of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh in Saudi Arabia spurred outcry among free speech advocates. Yet even Arabic readers had difficulty finding Fayadh’s 2008 poetry collection, Instructions Within, after it was banned in Saudi Arabia. That will change on November 1, when indie poetry press the Operating System will publish the book in the U.S. in a parallel-text edition featuring both the original Arabic and its English translation.
My Lost Poets: A Life in Poetry by Philip Levine
[Hardcover] Knopf, 224 pp., $26.95
In prose both as superbly rendered as his poetry and as down-to-earth and easy as speaking, Levine reveals the things that made him the poet he became. In the title essay, originally the final speech of his poet laureate year, he recounts how as a boy he composed little speeches walking in the night woods near his house and how he later realized these were his first poems. He wittily takes on the poets he studied with in the Iowa Writing Program: John Berryman, who was his great teacher and lifelong friend, and Robert Lowell, who was neither. His deepest influences--jazz, Spain, the working people of Detroit--are reflected in many of the pieces. There are essays on Spanish poets he admires, William Carlos Williams, Wordsworth, Keats, and others. A wonderful, moving collection of writings that add to our knowledge and appreciation of Philip Levine--both the man and the poet.
A Revised Poetry of Western Philosophy by Daniel Grandbois
[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 112 pp., $15.95
Bertrand Russell finds himself in purgatory, tumbling through literal representations of the worlds of ideas he examined in his classic text, A History of Western Philosophy, gulping much-needed air, for example, from Empedocles’ bucket. Mistaking his erection for a planted flag, he declares the place Platonopolis, attempts to calculate his Pythagorean number, kills God (though he later sees evidence of His resurrection), and, Rousseau-like, turns away from reason and civilization, favoring the noble savage, only to march back into the concrete jungle as one of Nietzsche’s savage nobles.
The Last Shift: Poems by Philip Levine
[Hardcover] Knopf, 96 pp., $26.95
The poems in this wonderful collection touch all of the events and places that meant the most to Philip Levine. There are lyrical poems about his family and childhood, the magic of nighttime and the power of dreaming; tough poems about the heavy shift work at Detroit's auto plants, the Nazis, and bosses of all kinds; telling poems about his heroes--jazz players, artists, and working people of every description, even children. Other poems celebrate places and things he loved: the gifts of winter, dawn, a wall in Naples, an English hilltop, Andalusia.
Exit Theater by Mike Lala
[Paperback] Center for Literary Publishing, 96 pp., $16.95
Selected by Tyrone Williams for the 2016 Colorado Prize for Poetry, Exit Theater casts classical elegy, with dazzling formal innovation, into a staggering work of contemporary, political polyphony. Through monologues, performance scripts, and poems of exquisite prosody, Mike Lala examines the human figure—as subject and object, enemy and ally—in the context of a progressively defigured and hostile world.
Commotion of the Birds: New Poems by John Ashbery
[Hardcover] Ecco, 112 pp., $22.99
A crackling, moving new collection from one of America’s greatest living poets. In over twenty-six original books, the poems of John Ashbery have long served as signposts guiding us through the delights, woes, hypocrisies, and uncertainties of living in the modern world. With language harvested from everyday speech, fragments of pop culture, objects and figures borrowed from art and literature, his work makes light out of darkness, playing with tone and style to show how even the seemingly frivolous stuff of existence can be employed to express the deepest levels of feeling.
Anne Carson: ‘I do not believe in art as therapy’
by Kate Kellaway
Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, published in 2001, made her name; she became a poetic guru, revered as an original. Her writing is a hybrid – a wayward mix of ancient and modern. She is an essayist, translator and dramatist. Born in Ontario in 1950, she has worked most of her life as a classics professor. She appears in the newly launched Penguin Modern Poets Series and has just published a new collection, Float.
Monica Youn is the author of two previous poetry collections, Barter and Ignatz, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. A former lawyer, she teaches at Princeton University and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Belle Boggs is the author of Mattaponi Queen. Her stories and essays have appeared in Orion, Harper’s, the Paris Review, Ecotone, Slate, and many other publications. She teaches in the MFA program at North Carolina State University.
Sharon Olds on the Joy and Peril of Writing Deeply Personal Poetry
by Eleanor Wachtel
American poet Sharon Olds is famous for her intensely personal, emotionally scathing verse. Although she's known for her candour, physicality and commitment to portraying the world from a woman's perspective, she's also surprisingly private. Her last book, Stag's Leap, won the Pulitzer Prize for its portrayal of the aftermath of a passionate marriage that ended in divorce after more than 30 years. Her new collection, Odes, is inspired by Pablo Neruda's famous celebration of everyday objects.
Eleanor Wachtel spoke to Sharon Olds on stage at the Vancouver Writers Festival.
Envoi: Editor's Notes
In the New Yorker article above about Elizabeth Bishop, the author writes at one point that after Bishop had been introduced to the island in Maine, North Haven:
"Often Bishop fought the feeling that it might be “too late,” as she wrote of her desire to master the Peterson Field Guides to birds and wildflowers, and another volume on beach pebbles she’d brought with her to Maine. “I want now—now that it’s too late—to learn the name of everything.” She satisfied herself that summer of 1974 with identifying every flower she could see growing in the meadow within several feet of her front porch, from Creeping Bellflower to Yellow Goat’s-beard."
Perhaps the desire to master the guide books, "to learn the name of everything," found its way into the poem "North Haven," which she wrote a few years later. In it Bishop does a fair amount of naming, a stay against time in its own way, when time was very much an issue for her as demonstrated in the poem.
In Memoriam: Robert Lowell
by Elizabeth Bishop
I can make out the rigging of a schooner
a mile off; I can count
the new cones on the spruce. It is so still
the pale bay wears a milky skin; the sky
no clouds except for one long, carded horse¹s tail.
The islands haven’t shifted since last summer,
even if I like to pretend they have—
drifting, in a dreamy sort of way,
a little north, a little south, or sidewise—
and that they¹re free within the blue frontiers of bay.
This month our favorite one is full of flowers:
buttercups, red clover, purple vetch,
hackweed still burning, daisies pied, eyebright,
the fragrant bedstraw’s incandescent stars,
and more, returned, to paint the meadows with delight.
The goldfinches are back, or others like them,
and the white—throated sparrow’s five—note song,
pleading and pleading, brings tears to the eyes.
Nature repeats herself, or almost does:
repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise.
Years ago, you told me it was here
(in 1932?) you first “discovered girls”
and learned to sail, and learned to kiss.
You had “such fun,” you said, that classic summer.
("Fun"—it always seemed to leave you at a loss...)
You left North Haven, anchored in its rock,
afloat in mystic blue... And now—you’ve left
for good. You can’t derange, or rearrange,
your poems again. (But the sparrows can their song.)
The words won’t change again. Sad friend, you cannot change.