April 15, 2016

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1607– Cornelius Kilianus, Flemish translator/poet, dies at about 78.
1659– Simon Dach, German poet, dies.
1765– Michail v Lomonosov, Russian scholar/poet, dies at 53.
1832– Wilhelm Busch, German poet (d. 1908), is born.
1861– Bliss Carman, Canadian poet (d. 1929), is born.
1886– Nikolay Gumilyov, Russian poet (d. 1921, is born.)
1888– Maximilian Kronberger, German poet (d. 1904), is born.
1888– Matthew Arnold, English poet, dies at 65.
1927– Francesco Gaeta, Italian poet (Di Giacomo), dies at 47
1931– Tomas Tranströmer, Swedish poet (Nobel Prize for Literature – 2011), is born in Stockholm (d. 2015).
1938– Caesar Vallejo, Peru/French poet (Trilce, Russia & 1931), dies at 46.
1983– Gyula Illyes, Hungarian writer/poet (Az Ismertlen Illyes), dies at 80.
1988– Hendrikus G "Han" Hoekstra, Dutch poet (Zandloper), dies at 81.



2 A.M. moonlight. The train has stopped
out in a field. Far off sparks of light from a town,
flickering coldly on the horizon.
As when a man goes so deep into his dream
he will never remember he was there
when he returns again to his room.
Or when a person goes so deep into a sickness
that his days all become some flickering sparks, a swarm,
feeble and cold on the horizon.
The train is entirely motionless.
Two o'clock: strong moonlight, few stars.

—Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)

“The train is entirely motionless. / Two o’clock: strong moonlight, few stars.” —Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)

World Poetry

Defamation? Germany Launches Criminal Probe into Satirical Poem about Erdogan

A German prosecutor’s office has confirmed that it is investigating if TV comedian Jan Böhmermann violated the law by reciting a “defamatory poem” about Turkish President Erdogan, while Chancellor Angela Merkel called the piece “deliberately insulting.” “The prosecutor’s office has received some 20 complaints from private individuals,” said the city of Mainz’s general prosecutor, Andrea Keller, on Wednesday, while commenting on the opening of the probe, Spiegel reports. “Already received and possible further incoming complaints will be gathered and processed within the investigation,” she added.

A German prosecutor’s office has confirmed that it is investigating if a TV comedian violated the law by reciting a “defamatory poem.”

Recent Reviews

From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 by Jorie Graham
by William Doreski

Jorie Graham’s work is one of the furthest extensions of the Wallace Stevens branch of late romanticism. She tightens the tension between imagination and reality through book after book, her formal innovations evolving into extreme expressions, warping page layouts with complex revisions of the lyric line. Graham’s work and career have generated controversy. While some reviewers, like Helen Vendler, have found her work compelling for its assertive poetics, others, like William Logan, have questioned her procedures. Logan argued, for instance, on the publication of Sea Change, that “Graham’s poems in the past two decades have forgotten the cunning deployments of language her earlier poems knew by heart.” He particularly objected to the higher, almost shrill note of insistence that characterizes many of the later poems.

Poet of the Violent and the Chaste
by Helen Vendler

There are many writers—novelists, critics, journalists—who, after composing and even publishing poetry, come to a halt. Many find notable success in prose: Faulkner, Hemingway, Lawrence of Arabia. There is, however, a sadder version of the story, that of a writer who finds himself unable to continue as a lyric poet: Eliot is the most vexing example. Another, lesser poet, the Tennessean John Crowe Ransom (1888–1974), wrote poetry for only nine years, and spent the rest of his life being a critic (while obsessively revising, mostly for the worse, the poems he had published years before). Like George Herbert, afflicted because he “could not go away, nor persevere,” Ransom could not persevere in poetry; yet he could not retreat from it.

XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century
by Laverne Frith

In XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century, Campbell McGrath combines his unique gift for narrative with a passionate enthusiasm for history. The result is a dizzying journey through what is arguably the bloodiest century in human history, a journey that begins and ends with the arts—that carries the freight of the 20th century’s history by way of 100 challenging and insightful poems, one for each year, plus an epilogue and a prologue

Katy Evans-Bush’s Forgive the Language: Essays on Poets and Poetry
by John Field

You see Katy’s mugshot every time you visit this blog. Look at the masthead – top row, on the right, between Tom Paulin and Ted Hughes. Yep. That’s pretty much what I think of Katy Evans-Bush. Plenty of poets had a claim to that spot – Plath, Christina Rossetti and Aemelia Lanyer were all contenders. (I’ll be writing about Lanyer for Anthony Wilson’s blog later this month). However, Katy’s blog, Baroque in Hackney, was and still is a one-off.

Jorie Graham’s work is one of the furthest extensions of the Wallace Stevens branch of late romanticism.


Celebrating Christopher Middleton 
by Milne, Clegg, Moss, Hersch, Lowenstein, & Kociejowski

Christopher Middleton’s poetry is self-evidently and knowingly modernist, finding space for itself, as he puts it, ‘somewhere in between Brecht and Mallarmé’.1 Evoking familiar adjectival spectres leaves open which of the many cloudy modernisms – high, low, post or neo – might best put some pressure on the characteristics of his poetry and poetics. A touch of Dada and Oulipo here, a bit of Rilke or Trakl there, some Kafkaesque wit, homages to Bruno Schulz and Robert Walser, even a soupçon of Eliotic metaphysical wit and gravitas for the road? It won’t do and the demon of analogy won’t come out to play. There is no question that Middleton’s poetry has its own singularity. Over a sustained body of work, his poems offer a persistent quality that runs amok with any conventional notion of the poet having a distinctive voice, developing instead a repertoire of surprises and détournements.

My John Berryman: A Poet of Deep Unease
by Henri Cole

When writing the introduction to a handsome new edition of John Berryman’s long poem “77 Dream Songs,” I was happy for the chance to consider why it was that I was first drawn, thirty-five years ago, in graduate school, to his baffling book. Perhaps it is the strange combination of decorum and distress that I love most, or, to put it another way, the volatile mix of tenderness and unease. And I love that the dream songs are not tidy little poems following each other tidily into silence, like so many poems published today.

Optical Poetry
by Klaus Peter Dencker 

When, at the end of the sixties, I stopped writing regular poetry in order to explore some more experimental forms, there had already been Concrete Poetry, with which I was acquainted, but which was, in its final analysis concerning the treatment of the linguistic material, too hermetic and non-sensual for me. At that time, the terms Concrete Poetry and Visual Poetry were used synonymously for identical forms in German-speaking countries, and so I tried to demarcate Visual Poetry from Concrete Poetry, (and, accordingly, to define my own work).

Christopher Middleton’s poetry is knowingly modernist, finding space for itself, as he puts it, ‘somewhere in between Brecht and Mallarmé’.

Drafts & Fragments

Would You Like a Poem with That? Buy a Pizza, Get Some Poetry at New Orleans Restaurants

Christy Lorio Pizza and potholes don't have much in common (although they both tend to be round), but this month (April) they serve as gateways for youth poetry during National Poetry Month. Big Class, a nonprofit volunteer-run organization that helps kids ages 6 to 18 with writing skills, started the Pizza Poetry Project in 2014.

The Pizza Poery Project is happening this month at Christy Lorio Pizza in New Orleans.

Poetry In the News

Calvin Trillin and the New Yorker Slammed for ‘Casually Racist’ Poem about Chinese Food

Poems that appear in the New Yorker do not routinely elicit controversy, or even necessarily comment. Confusion? Yes. Slight amusement? Yes. Twitter rants about racism, classism and cultural appropriation? No. But those are among the responses that have met “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?,” a poem by literary graybeard Calvin Trillin published in that magazine of magazines this week. The 28-line poem, a meditation on the wide variety of Chinese food available in the 21st century, appeared to some to slight a nation of more than 1 billion people by reducing them to menu options.

Calvin Trillin and the New Yorker slammed for casually racist poem.

New Books

Blood Hyphen by Kenny Williams
[Paperback] Oberlin College Press, 84 pp., $15.95 

It’s rare for a first book to demonstrate the confidence and distinctive voice of Blood Hyphen. Through the publication of individual poems in journals over several years, readers have become aware of Kenny Williams as a strikingly original writer, but the range and depth of his achievement in this collection are remarkable. Williams handles big concerns—faith, hurricanes, history, the conundrum of the body—with sly humor, assurance, and poise, instantly establishing himself as a mature and memorable presence.

Tender the Maker by Christina Hutchins
[Hardcover] Utah State University Press, 80 pp., $19.95 

"Again and again in Christina Hutchins’s exquisite Tender the Maker, poems startle us into awareness of the overlooked, the nearly always invisible (such as a library’s unused dictionary), and the marvelous, those aspects of life that come under the rubric of ‘mystery,’ in all senses of the word. Hutchins combines a pitch-perfect and precise lyricism with a postmodern sensibility of language’s materiality.”—Cynthia Hogue

The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay

[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd., 104 pp., $16.00

Taking its name from the moon's dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, The Black Maria investigates African diasporic histories, the consequences of racism within American culture, and the question of human identity. Central to this project is a desire to recognize the lives of Eritrean refugees who have been made invisible by years of immigration crisis, refugee status, exile, and resulting statelessness. The recipient of a 2015 Whiting Award for Poetry, Girmay's newest collection elegizes and celebrates life, while wrestling with the humanistic notion of seeing beyond: seeing violence, seeing grace, and seeing each other better.

Playful Song Called Beautiful by John Blair 
[Paperback] University Of Iowa Press, 102 pp., $19.00 

Playful Song Called Beautiful ranges far into the intersections of faith and scientific thought, places where “there is no stranger who is / stranger than you, no / familiar who’s more / familiar.” In poems that are either formally rhymed and metered or written in syllabically structured three-line stanzas, Blair wanders among universal orders and failures of desire, where the unlikeliness of any of us being who we are, what we are, where we are forces us to consider—and reconsider—the possibilities of belief and meaning.

To the Left of Time by Thomas Lux
[Paperback] Mariner Books, 96 pp., $16.95

With To the Left of Time, Thomas Lux adds more than fifty new poems to his celebrated oeuvre. Broken into three sections, these include semi-autobiographical poems, odes, and a final section that delves into a variety of subjects reflective of Lux’s imaginative range. Full of his characteristic satire and humor, this new collection promises laughter and profound insight into the human condition.

Taking its name from the moon’s dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, “The Black Maria” investigates African diasporic histories.


Chen Chen on Writing Poetry while Chinese, American and Gay
by Corinne Segal

The word “stanza” means one thing when it refers to a poem: a snippet of text, a line or several. In Italian, it means “room.” Poet Chen Chen combines those definitions when he writes, thinking: what should be in the room of this poem?

How a Poet Named Ocean Means to Fix the English Language
by Daniel Wenger

Ocean Vuong is not an experimental poet, but he is a poet of the American experiment. In “Notebook Fragments,” a long poem of questions and collisions, he writes, “An American soldier fucked a Vietnamese farmgirl. Thus my mother exists. / Thus I exist. Thus no bombs = no family = no me.” Then: “Yikes.”

A Radiologist And Poet Explains How He Sees The World In Patterns

Growing up in both India and the U.S., Amit Majmudar wasn't entirely sure where he belonged — until he found the library. "I became a citizen of the library," he tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "And to this day, I feel at ease only in a crowd of books. In some ways, I feel like I am a book, to be honest with you.” Majmudar straddles professional worlds as well — in addition to being Ohio's first ever Poet Laureate, he's also a radiologist.

Ocean Vuong is not an experimental poet, but he is a poet of the American experiment.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

I can recall first reading the poem by Thomas Tranströmer posted above when I found it in Robert Bly's anthology of three Swedish poets, Friends, You Drank Some Darkness, and thinking how well he captured the bleakness of my own Midwest vista. Here's another by him:

The Couple

They switch off the light and its white shade
glimmers for a moment before dissolving
like a tablet in a glass of darkness. Then up.
The hotel walls rise into the black sky.
The movements of love have settled, and they sleep
but their most secret thoughts meet as when
two colours meet and flow into each other
on the wet paper of a schoolboy’s painting.
It is dark and silent. But the town has pulled closer
tonight. With quenched windows. The houses have approached.
They stand close up in a throng, waiting,
a crowd whose faces have no expressions.

“The movements of love have settled, and they sleep / but their most secret thoughts meet” —Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)