April 10, 2012

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

April 10, 2012

1601 – Mark Alexander Boyd, Scottish poet (b. 1562), dies.

1712 – Yusuf Nabi, Turkish poet (Hayriye), dies at about 77.
1837 – Forceythe Willson, American poet (d. 1867), is born.

1909 – Algernon Charles Swinburne, English poet, dies at 72.
1915 – Leo Vroman, Dutch/US poet/biologist, is born.

1931 – Marcel van Maele, Belgian poet, is born.

1931 – Khalil Gibran, Lebanese poet and painter (b. 1883), dies.

1932 – Adrian Henri, poet/president (Liverpool Academy of Arts), is born.

1937 – Bella Akhmadulina, Russian poet, is born.
2009 – Deborah Digges, American poet (b. 1950), dies.

Fever! I am your tambourine, strike me
without pity! I shall dance, like
a ballerina to your music, or
live like a chilled puppy in your frost.

So far I haven’t even begun to
shiver. No, let’s not even discuss that. Yet
my observant neighbour is already
becoming rather cold to me when we meet.

— from “Fever” by Bella Akhmadulina, 1937–2010

Poetry In The News

Seattle: More Than Ever a Poetry Center

You might be familiar with some of the area’s long-standing poetry establishments: Seattle Arts and Lectures hosts formal readings downtown, Copper Canyon Press produces collections by renown authors, and Poetry Northwest consistently offers excellent content. But these aren’t the only avenues to find good writing: In a number of smaller venues, poetry is hopping off the page this month. Read more at Crosscut.

“Space Is My Mistress,” Writes Astronaut Poet

Call him the cosmic Renaissance man: American Don Pettit is an astronaut, a scientist, and now, a poet. Pettit, who has a reputation for oddball space experimentsand is currently living 240 miles (386 km) above the Earth on the International Space Station, has written an ode to orbit called “Space Is My Mistress.” The poem, written for National Poetry Month in April, was posted on NASA’s website and on Pettit’s blog at the website for Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine. Read more at MSNBC.

Poetry Helping Alzheimer’s Patients, Families Cope

Bay Area families who struggle with the impact of Alzheimer’s disease are using poetry to help rekindle memories and create moments of joy for patients and families alike. The Brooklyn, New York-based Alzheimer’s Poetry Project is based on a simple idea: Poetry can have a powerful and positive impact on people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Read more at CBS San Francisco.

World Poetry

Poet’s Old Garden Ravaged by Deer

Prose has for long edged poetry to the margins of contemporary Indian literature. It is only natural that the new reader is not familiar with the late Kamala Das or her bold feminist oeuvre of poetry and short story that gave her cult status in India like Sylvia Plath in the West. Now a new series to promote contemporary Indian poetry by publisher Harper Collins-India has begun with a celebration of the Kerala-born bilingual poetess with a “small documentary” on her life and a panel discussion about her relevance on her birthday on March 31. Read more at Hindustan Times.

Nobel Laureate Grass Sparks Controversy with Poem on Israel

Nobel Prize-winning German author Guenter Grass has found himself at the center of a firestorm for a poem he wrote that is highly critical of Israel. Grass, best known for his 1959 novel The Tin Drum, has been the target of condemnation by German lawmakers, Jewish leaders and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his poem “What Must be Said.” The poem, published Wednesday in the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, accused Israel of hypocrisy for denouncing Iran’s nuclear program while allegedly maintaining one of its own. Read more at the LA Times.

New Books

In the Bee Latitudes by Annah Sobelman

[Paperback] University of California Press, 104 pp., $21.95
In the Bee Latitudes, ‘Annah Sobelman’s second book, traverses and choreographs the places of passion where visible and invisible touch. With extraordinary ability to imagine her way far into an experience, making new moves in the English language at each and every point, Sobelman enlists many voices, questions, and bodies (mostly in Taos and Florence) that press toward Emersonian nature. In vibrant, malleable, and layered syntax, these poems break conventions of lineation and punctuation, each utterance at the frontier of the articulate, yet necessarily pitched toward the insistently visceral.

The Reindeer Camps by Barton Sutter

[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd.,120 pp., $16.00
A winner of the Minnesota Book Award in fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, Barton Sutter’s latest collection details life on the Canadian border, presents portraits of northern plants and animals, rejoices in marriage, and traces the ancient ways of Siberian reindeer herders. The late Bill Holm called it “unlike anything Sutter (or anyone else) has done before.” Sutter’s poetry reminds us that other cultures have survived for millennia by living closer to the ground.

Apocalyptic Swing: Poems by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

[Paperback] Persea, 96 pp., $15.00
“She is a daring act as a poet/athlete . . . but she can also travel the backwoods, pointing out herons, ivy vines and creek water with a kind of divining rod rightness. . . . Her wild lyrics shudder and shine, jubilant and threatening, exuberant.”—Carol Muske-Dukes

Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems by Chuan Xi

[Paperback] New Directions, 208 pp., $18.95
“In the crevices of history, mosquitoes are everywhere,” Xi Chuan writes. Notes on the Mosquito introduces English readers to one of the most revered poets of contemporary China. Gaining recognition as a post-Misty poet in the late ’80s, Xi Chuan was famous for his condensed, numinous lyricism, and for radiating classical Chinese influences as much as Western modernist traditions. After the crushing failure of Tiananmen Square and the death of two of his closest friends, he stopped writing for three years. He re-emerged transformed: he began writing meditative, expansive prose poems that dismantled the aestheticism and musicality of his previous self.

Recent Reviews

What Is Amazing

by Jackson Sabbagh
A poet might have a deep and truthful scientific knowledge of how nature operates: how redwoods bloom and the like. But even a nature poem is not a biology textbook, and it details not facts, but opinions that as readers we absorb as facts, if only for a moment. A poem is the place to guess at the nature of nature. What does nature desire? What do spiders think about during down time, and what do humans actually think about fire? A poem is a forum for the poet to ask nature questions; sometimes a poem, or perhaps the poet, is confident enough to answer them. Read more at The Faster Times.

A Return to Formalism

by Stephen Ross
The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry emerges at a contentious moment in the field of literary studies. Senior academics have begun to predict that English departments will soon shrink to the size of classics departments or be subsumed into nebulous mega-rubrics like media studies. Meanwhile, cash-strapped government antipathy to humanities programmes makes certain that whatever happens, the status quo will not persist. This new Handbook offers a fascinating glimpse at this unfolding drama through the lens of American poetry studies. Read more at the Oxonian Review.

The Collected Poems by Elizabeth Jennings – Review

by Nicholas Lezard
Collections of poetry, when people wish gently to disparage them, are called “slim vols”. This is not a slim vol. It is a fat vol. More than 1,000 pages, and well over 1,000 poems. Or, to put it another way: there are 40 pages of contents alone. So: Elizabeth Jennings wrote a lot; and here what she has written is supplemented by 130 pages of previously unpublished poetry: undated, or juvenilia, or whatnot. Well, in for a penny, eh? Read more at the Guardian.


Philip Levine: Garrulous, Gruff, Bold and Brilliant Poet

by Tim Higgins
He is known for his gritty, some say fierce, examination of the working man in America. His poetry is about what it’s like to be involved in the often mind-numbing experience of working the factory line, the drudgery of hard labor and the simplicity of everyday life. He is Philip Levine, a Pulitzer Prize winner and now this country’s current top poet, otherwise known as the Poet Laureate of the United States. Read more at the Morning Call.

Poetry Questions: Stephen Dobyns

by Rebecca Foresman
This week, the magazine features “Determination,” by Stephen Dobyns. I had the chance to ask the author about the kindling and spark that fed this comic poem. “Determination” begins with and loops back to that infamously slippery “first word” of the blank page. The poem is about an amateur writer’s restless foray into a first draft: as soon as the first word is set down, the writer’s attention wanders from the page to his pen, desk, and walls, then beyond walls into the far reaches of “even before college, / back in high school in fact” before landing once again on the “first word of his first novel”— but no further. Read more at the New Yorker.


Digital Poetry

by Terrell Heick
The best definition I’ve heard for poetry is that it’s “the extraordinary perception of the ordinary.” Being a kind of art, poetry eludes strict definitions. The very nature of art is to challenge thinking. Trying to define something artistic simply opens up new ground for exploration by those hoping to challenge convention. Digital poetry is a part of that conversation. Read more at Edutopia.

Why Poetry Is Essential to Democracy

by Tracy K. Smith
Poems are essential to democracy. Let me show you what I mean. In the poem “Clouds,” by Poet Laureate Philip Levine, the speaker takes a first step into a new perspective on something as ordinary and seemingly benign as clouds when he says, “the clouds / ride above, their wisdom intact.” With that quick personifying gesture, the stock sense of clouds—the gray kind that ruin a sunny day, and the white ones that seem to demarcate a Sistine Chapel era heaven—get drained of that familiar baggage and become something different. Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

Drafts & Fragments

30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

One for each day.

Mitt Romney And 11 Other Unlikely Modern “Poets”

The time has come to celebrate the accidental lyricism of some rather unexpected wordsmiths: We speak, of course, of such heretofore grievously overlooked poets as poet-candidate Mitt Romney, poet-reality star Snooki, poet-tv personality Bill O’Reilly, poet-foot-in-mouth-prone Joe Biden, and many other estimable modern luminarie. . . .

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Our Real-Life Poetry of the Streets

by Gabriel Campanario
I often try to capture the poetry of the urban landscape with my pen, but this is the first time I’ve come across actual poems on the streets. On Capitol Hill’s Aloha Street, I found Mary Kollar’s poetry box, which she fills each month with a timely poem. She started the ritual in 2004 as a protest against presidential candidates who were butchering “the beauty of the English language.” Read more at the Seattle Times.

It’s National Poetry Month. Again. This means there will be no end (well, until the end of April) to the easy references to and special celebrations of poetry by newspapers, television stations, and the rest of the noisy set the martyrs call the world, as if to acknowledge in their cloying way that such a quaint thing still exists. We know better. We know it’s a year-long thing, a daily event, an on-going part of our lives. That is why I celebrate, when I can, instances of guerilla poetry—public poetry that manifests itself in unusual ways, keeping poetry in front of us and keeping the world a little out of kilter by doing so. The article above on the tactics found in the streets of Seattle gives some good examples of just that sort of thing. Along with the article at the beginning of today’s edition on the poetry scene in Seattle, it would appear there’s something in the water there. Or maybe the coffee. Here’s to you, Seattle. Have a good poetry month all year long.
—David Sanders