April 28, 2016

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1630 — Charles Cotton, English poet (d. 1687), is born.
1941 — Iryna Zhylenko, Ukrainian poet, is born.
1953 — Roberto Bolano, Latin American author and poet, is born.
1976 — Eugen Roth, German poet, dies at 8.


Now back to the chores. Rake out the ashes.
Start the fire. Sweep away the cobwebs…
And cook some potatoes for dinner. 
Dead or alive – I’m still the housekeeper.
Dead or alive – I’m still the mother.
I come out of a deep dark depression, 
to feed my little son
to tell him a fairy tale about happiness.

—from “ In the Country House” by Iryna Zhylenko (1941– 2013)

“Now back to the chores. Rake out the ashes. / Start the fire. Sweep away the cobwebs… / And cook some potatoes”—Iryna Zhylenko

World Poetry

Report Details Imprisonment of Venezuelan Poet Ali Lameda in North Korea

A Venezuelan communist poet toiled seven years in a North Korean labor camp as a prisoner of conscience in the 1960s before being allowed to return to his country. An account of Ali Lameda's experience was published in Venezuelan newspaper La Voz on April 11, Yonhap reported. Lameda first visited North Korea in the mid-1960s upon invitation of the Kim Il Sung regime. He had translated some of Kim's lectures into Spanish, and North Korea honored him with a free apartment and a chauffeured vehicle, according to the report

Dylan Thomas Poem Drafts to Go on Public Show

Working manuscripts of poems by Dylan Thomas are to go on public show for the first time. The papers, showing drafts of the poems Unluckily for a Death and Into her Lying Down Head, were bought by Swansea University at an auction in New York. They will go on public display at the university's Bay Campus library on International Dylan Thomas Day – 14 May.

Working manuscripts of poems by Dylan Thomas are to go on public show for the first time.

Recent Reviews

Appreciating John Williams' Anthology of 'English Renaissance Poetry'
by Michael Robbins

Here is a characteristic sentence from David Norbrook's introduction to "The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse," published in 1992: Like More, Wyatt found it impossible to find a public discourse which would satisfactorily harmonize humanist suspicion of the court's structural inequalities and the strong humanist imperative toward the active life. And here is John Williams in his preface to "English Renaissance Poetry," first published 30 years earlier, on Ben Jonson's "An Elegy": "It is a poem of some power, and it will move all but the most sentimental and insensitive readers."

Freely Rhymed: ‘All the Poems of Stevie Smith’
by David Orr

Imagine that you were going to write a poem — a poem about the wintry loneliness at the core of any creative pursuit, let’s say. Suppose, furthermore, that you had a comprehensive knowledge of poetic tradition, a magician’s dexterity with rhyme and rhythm, and a bone-deep understanding of what it means, as Robert Frost once put it, to be acquainted with the night.


The Real Reason Latinos are Overlooked during National Poetry Month
by Rigoberto Gonzalez

Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Latino poet laureate of the United States, has just been named to a second term in one of the most visible ambassadorships of American poetry. Yet American poetry continues to marginalize if not completely exclude Latino poets.

Lines of Resistance
Will America see a rebirth of political verse?
by Adam Kirsch

In her 2014 book Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine combines verse, prose, and images to create a powerful record of the black American experience. She offers many anecdotes of insult and erasure, such as when a man cuts in line at a drugstore. “Oh my God, I didn’t see you,” he says to the poet. But it is the failure to be seen and known that, in Rankine’s analysis, accounts for much more serious injustices, including the fatal police shootings of young black men. Indeed, to read Citizen is to realize that, when Rankine writes about politics, her first task is to convince her readers, especially white Americans, that their lives are already deeply implicated in politics, whether or not they want to admit it.

Rigoberto González weighs in on why American poetry continues to marginalize if not completely exclude Latino poets.

Drafts & Fragments

Giant Poems to Greet Fliers at Miami International Airport

Each year during April, National Poetry Month, the annual O, Miami poetry festival tries to fulfill its mission of having everyone in Miami-Dade County encounter a poem at least once during the month. In the past, program participants have put lines of poetry on bandannas worn by dogs and painted poems inside urinals. This year’s festival includes verse disguised as 15- and 30-second radio commercials and “Poems To The Sky,” a project by Randy Burman, who last year put poems on the wrappers of ice pops that were handed out for free.

You Can Win almost $1,500 for the Filthiest, Nastiest Poem about Turkey’s Touchy President
by Aamna Mohdin

Have you got an offensive poem about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Then you should think about entering the Spectator’s competition: there’s a £1,000 ($1,440) prize for the winner, paid for by a generous and free-speech loving reader. The British magazine is running the competition in response to Germany’s decision to prosecute a comedian who read a poem mocking Erdogan on TV last month.

This year’s O, Miami Poetry Festival includes verse disguised as 15- and 30-second radio commercials and “Poems To The Sky.”

Poetry In the News

Pitt Founds Center on Black Poetry

With the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, Dawn Lundy Martin wants to make Pitt the place people go to study black poetry. “We want to help to really put that MFA program on the map so that if you’re a black poet, the very first place that you would apply to and your top choice would be the University of Pittsburgh,” Lundy Martin said. “Right now, that’s not true.” Pitt English professor Lundy Martin is co-founder and co-director of the CAAPP, which Pitt launched in March as a creative think tank for African-American and African diasporic poets and artists. Located on the fourth floor of the Cathedral of Learning, the Center records Pitt’s history as a home for black poetry and charts its future as a leader in the dialogue.

With the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, Dawn Lundy Martin wants to make Pitt the place to study black poetry.

New Books

lore by Davis McCombs
[Paperback] University of Utah Press, 94 pp., $14.95

Drawn from the rich folk traditions of his native Mammoth Cave region in Kentucky as well as the folklore of his adopted Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, the poems in Davis McCombs's third collection exist along the fraught lines where nature and agriculture collide or in those charged moments where modernity intrudes on an archaic world. These poems celebrate out-of-the-way places, the lore of plants, wild animals and their unknowable lives, and nearly forgotten ways of being and talking and doing. Rendered in a language of great lexical juxtapositions, here are days of soil and labor, nights lit only by firelight, and the beings, possibly not of this world, lured like moths to its flames. McCombs, always a poet of place and of rootedness, writes poems teetering between two locales, one familiar but achingly distant, one bewildering but alluringly present.

New Selected Poems by Derek Mahon
[Paperback] Faber & Faber, 128 pp., $15.36 

New Selected Poems is a book of singular abundance and formal verve, featuring poems of rare vision and dramatic power by a consummate and resilient artist. Demonstrating the wide range of Derek Mahon's verse, from the early lyricism to a more expansive middle period ('New York Time', 'Decadence') and the flowering of his late style, it includes recent, uncollected work and culminates in the generous, far-reaching reverie 'Dreams of a Summer Night’.

The Opposite of Light: Poems by Kimberly Grey
[Paperback] Persea, 64 pp., $15.95

A revealing scrutiny of contemporary marriage; winner of the 2015 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry. Can the notion of Romantic love withstand our endless postmodern moment? In these extraordinary poems, Kimberly Grey explores our abiding need for neatness, order, and symmetry in matrimony, considering our ideals for love and language in this digital age―its weightless, distracting, and inescapable pressures. She portrays the ways in which love reflects us back to ourselves: familiar but strange, predetermined but new. There is “a drop of blue light,” she writes. “But no high-tech way / to say you’re mine. No way to love / each other but with these ancient bodies.

Call Her by Her Name: Poems by Bianca Lynne Spriggs
[Paperback] Triquarterly, 96 pp., $16.95

Call Her by Her Name seeks to give voice to the voiceless, including lynched black women, the biblical "Potiphar’s wife," and women who tread the rims of phenomenal worlds—the goddess, the bird-woman, the oracle. While these poems reflect an array of women and women’s experiences, each piece could be considered a hue of the same woman, whether home-wrecker, Madonna, or midwife. The woman who sees dragons was perhaps once the roller-skating girl-child. The aging geisha may also be the roots woman next door. The woman who did not speak for ten years could have ended up sinking to the ocean floor. Spriggs gives each one life and limb, breath and voice, in a collection that adds up unequivocally to a poetic celebration of women.

Post-: Poems by Wayne Miller
[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 96 pp., $16.00

The poems of this fourth collection from Wayne Miller exist in the wake of catastrophe. It is a world populated by rogue gunmen on shooting sprees, a world where the only inheritance a father has to pass on is his debt. In this world, every box could be a bomb and what comes after is what is lived. And yet, this painful past is not set in stone. The past becomes the present, yielding toward an immediate future. The collection coalesces around a series of “post-elegies” triggered by three occurrences: the birth of his child, the death of his father, and his experience of the seeming explosion of sociohistorical and political conflict and violence over the past decade. humor, pain and the beauty of living.

In her extraordinary poems, Kimberly Grey explores our abiding need for neatness, order, and symmetry in matrimony.


2016 Poetry Month: An Interview With Nicolas Hundley
by Jonathan Hobratsch

English Professor. Poetry Editor. Writer. Nicolas Hundley’s first book, The Revolver in the Hive, won the 2012 Poets Out Loud Editor’s Prize and was published by Fordham University Press in 2013. His poems have appeared in Green Mountains Review, FIELD, Massachusetts Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, Verse, LIT, Conduit, and other publications. He attended the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He lives in Austin, Texas

A Mutant Gene in Language
by Tadeusz Dąbrowski

I almost missed D. A. Powell when he came for a few days as a visiting writer to the Vermont Studio Center in the fall of 2011. While he was running his workshops, I was away on a reading tour to promote my collection Black Square, but luckily I made it back in time for his event at the Town Hall and a couple of beers afterwards, just before he left the foggy town of Johnston. The poems he read, without insistence, but with awareness of their power and dramatic potential, made a deep impression on me, but also left me slightly confused about how much intimacy or even indiscretion the beauty of these verses could convey. Sometime later I came across Powell’s recommendation of my Black Square on Goodreads, which gave me a sense of what we might perhaps have in common as poets: a “theatrical” writing strategy, the poem treated as a stage (or the front line of life), and the lyrical hero as a potential (experimental?) version of oneself, sent out in pursuit of adventure, a scout who will report back on what is happening on the horizon of language, spirit, and body. 

On Fallout: An Interview with Michael Lista about “Shock Absorber”
by James Lindsay

When poet and critic Michael Lista’s “The Shock Absorber” essay on the ties between the Griffin Poetry Prize and a Saudi arms deal appeared on Canadaland last year, reaction in the Canadian poetry community was mixed. While there was some condemnation of Scott Griffin, there was also indifference as well as anger directed at the author himself. But for a brief moment, Canadian Poetry was forced to publicly discuss the morality of its largest prize. Since the essay’s publication, Lista has been quiet on the fallout, so, six months on, I wanted to give him the opportunity to reflect on the fall out of “The Shock Absorber.”

“Poetry is a mutant gene in language.”– D.A. Powell

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

It was heartening to see the review of John Williams' anthology English Renaissance Poetry [above]. Williams has enjoyed his own renaissance in the last number of years as NYRB has brought back his novels Stoner, Augustus, and Butcher's Crossing and now his anthology. What is seldom acknowledged was that this is the second renaissance for Williams. The first was in the late 80s and early 90s when the University of Arkansas Press reprinted these same titles. John was a friend of the director, Miller Williams from their Breadloaf days of the early 60s, and he retired to Fayetteville with his wife, Nancy, after having taught at the University of Denver for many years. I remember his enthusiastic support for the idea that the Press should publish the poetry of the late Henri Coulette, which it did in a collection edited by Donald Justice and Robert Mezey. John Williams was a wise, dapper, gentle man. Here is a poem by Henri Coulette, who I expect was also those things.

The Black Angel
by Henri Coulette

Where are the people as beautiful as poems,
As calm as mirrors,
With their oceanic longings —
The idler whom reflection loved,
The woman with the iridescent brow?
For I would bring them flowers.

I think of that friend too much moved by music
Who turned to games
And made a game of boredom,
Of that one too much moved by faces
Who turned his face to the wall, and of that marvelous liar
Who turned at last to truth.

They are the past of what was always future.
They speak in tongues,
Silently, about nothing.
They are like old streetcars buried at sea,
In the wrong element, with no place to go . . . .
I will not meet her eye,

Although I shall, but here's a butterfly,
And a white flower,
And the moon rising on my nail.
This is the presence of things present,
Where flying woefully is like closing sweetly,
And there is nothing else.

“Where are the people as beautiful as poems, / As calm as mirrors, / With their oceanic longings” —Henri Coulette