April 29, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

534 –Taliesin, Welsh poet, according to legend in Mabinogion, is born.
1863 – Constantine P. Cavafy, Greek poet (d. 1933), is born.
1893 – Elisaveta Bagrjana, [Beltsheva], Bulgaria, poet, is born.
1630 – Agrippa d'Aubigné, French poet (b. 1552), dies.
1658 – John Cleveland, English poet (b. 1613), dies.
1933 – Constantine P. Cavafy, Greek poet (b. 1863), dies.
1943 – Sidney A K Keyes, English poet (Foreign Gate), dies at 20.
1996 – Jaime Garcia Terre, poet/essayist, dies at 71.

I've Looked So Much. . . 

I've looked on beauty so much
that my vision overflows with it.

The body's lines. Red lips. Sensual limbs.
Hair as though stolen from Greek statues,
always lovely, even uncombed,
and falling slightly over pale foreheads.
Figures of love, as my poetry desired them
. . . . in the nights when I was young,
encountered secretly in my nights.

—Constantine P. Cavafy (1863–1933)

I’ve looked on beauty so much/that my vision overflows with it.—Constantine P. Cavafy (1863–1933)

World Poetry

Polish Poet With Mission To 'Create Poetry After Auschwitz' Dies

Polish poet and playwright Tadeusz Różewicz, who was a member of the resistance during Germany's occupation of Poland in World War II, has died, according to reports in the Polish press. He was 92. Read more at NPR.

Thai 'Red-shirt' Poet Shot Dead

Unidentified gunmen in Thailand shot dead a pro-government "Red Shirt" poet in broad daylight near a restaurant here today.  The victim, Kamol Duangpasuk, was known as the "Red Shirt Poet" as his poems supported the pro-government Red Shirts movement.  Read more at the Business-Standard.

Polish poet and playwright Tadeusz Różewicz has died.

Recent Reviews

A New Book by Buffalo Poet Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis employs a voice less eager to please in his new poetry collection. 
By R.D. Pohl
Since the death of William Stafford, there’s been no other single voice quite like that of Carl Dennis in American poetry: a direct, plainspoken, almost intimately familiar register that speaks as much to our common homiletic tradition as it does to any specific lineage through American poetics A typical Dennis poem begins with a speaker making a grounded, quotidian observation about the world immediately around him, sometimes even addressing the reader directly in the second person, as if the speaker eschews not only the grand rhetorical statement, but mistrusts even the temptation to self-conscious lyricism as well. Read more at theBuffalo News.

All at Once: Prose Poems

by David Cooper
“It is probably not fair to compare C. K. Williams’ prose in All at Once with his award winning verse poetry books, but it does offer poetry averse readers an opportunity to engage with a perceptive and empathic wordsmith whose work they otherwise would not encounter.” All at Once, C. K Williams' new book of short prose pieces, is being marketed as a book of prose poems, but it might be more accurate to refer to these very short prose works as short shorts; some are prose poems, others are short personal essays, and a one or two are flash fiction. None are longer than four pages, and some consist of but a single four-line paragraph. Read more at the NY Journal of Books. 

Pepper Girl by Jonterri Gadson

by Joelle Biele 
When I think back to college parties during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, a few things come to mind: the mix of melting snow and beer under my shoes, clove cigarettes, and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” thumping through the walls. “Push It” wasn’t the only song students pumped from speakers linked by long cords of questionable wiring; I can still hear the bass lines from songs like “Groove is in the Heart” and “Me, Myself, and I.” What was so appealing about Salt and Pepa and the third member of their band, DJ Spinderella, was that in those oversized varsity jackets they not only owned their sexuality as they strode down stage, but they had fun with it in a way that the Robert Palmer girls never did. There was no question—they were in charge. Read more at The Rumpus.

Shifting Tongues, Moving Worlds in Luisa Igloria’s ‘The Saints of Streets’

by Rina Angela Corpus
As a diasporic writer, Igloria deftly speaks in voices of disparate tenors from her native culture and beyond: soliloquies and conversations with hungry ghosts, admonitions to a former husband, letters to a goddess, memories of her native Baguio City, histories of Yamashita and Pigafetta, a phone call from hell. We are surrounded by narratives mapped out in the mind of a postcolonial itinerant, brimming with spiels and anecdotes told with skilled lyricism. Read more at GMA.

Since the death of William Stafford, there’s been no other single voice quite like that of Carl Dennis in American poetry.


Aging Gracelessly

by David Galenson 
In the New York Times Book Review, Adam Kirsch laments a lost love — the poetry of T.S. Eliot. Kirsch recalls his early infatuation: "It was not until I read 'The Waste Land' as a teenager that I began to think I might want to be a poet myself." Eliot's poetry was a challenge to the young writer, and consequently a spur to his early intellectual development. But as Kirsch matured, he realized that Eliot's vision was not only different from his, but unattractive: "Eliot's world came to strike me as too hermetic, too self-invented, and too limiting in its rejections." Read more at the Huffington Post.

Verlaine, Afterwards

by Donald Revell  
Poetry is the afterlife of poems. Trailing wisps of glory and mishap, squalor and proprioception, they evanesce into the next utterance and the next, into circumstances not only beyond their control but, happily, beyond their first imagination. Thus in a swirling Parisian snow, on January 10, 1896, Mallarme, delivering his funeral oration for Paul Verlaine, looked to the future of his late friend's poems and saw their genius safely sheltered in words yet to be written and in the company of writers yet to be born. Read more at the Poetry Society.

Poetry Is Dead. Long Live Poetry! 

In America, poetry can be found in all the wrong places
by Chase Madar
It’s national poetry month, callooh callay. It should be a joyous affair, what with the villanelles and the Emily Dickinson and the national recitation contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. But like so many holidays, it brings forth the usual recriminations. Why isn’t poetry relevant anymore? Why aren’t home health aides and accountants quoting Edmund Spenser and John Milton the way they used to? Why aren’t we like Ukraine, where birthday celebrations for their great national 19th-century poet Taras Shevchenko not only draw thousands, but get violent? And what’s with that hushed and emphatic “poetry voice” that gets wheeled out at readings? Read more at Al Jazeera.

The Poet's Journey: Part I 

by David Biespiel 
What paths will you follow into your unconscious self in order to begin to answer the questions about how to become a poet? Every morning that the sun rises in the east is another morning that modernity’s interest in the poetic imagination has yet to reach its full flower. The pressures of everyday life seem intent on vaporizing the images and words of your dreams along with the terrors of your nightmares. The pressures of everyday life seem uninterested in your lusts and memories and all that makes up the deep reservoir of your creative mind, including the unconscious little dwellings of fantasy and insanity that lurk beneath your daily existence. Read more at The Rumpus.

How Iowa Flattened Literature

With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and eggheaded abstraction. The damage to writing lingers.
by Eric Bennett
Did the CIA fund creative writing in America? The idea seems like the invention of a creative writer. Yet once upon a time (1967, to be exact), Paul Engle received money from the Farfield Foundation to support international writing at the University of Iowa. The Farfield Foundation was not really a foundation; it was a CIA front that supported cultural operations, mostly in Europe, through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Read more at the Chronicle.

Poetry is the afterlife of poems.

Drafts & Fragments

New York City in 17 Syllables

For National Poetry Month, The New York Times asked readers to write haiku about the city: three lines of five, seven and five syllables. The response — more than 2,800 submissions in 10 days — was as impressive, and as exhausting, as the city itself. Writers were asked to stick to six subjects: the island, strangers, solitude, commuting, 6 a.m. and kindness. Beyond that, poems could be fashioned from whatever inspiration the five boroughs provided. Read more at the New York Times.

Searching for Poetry in Prose

Popularized in recent years by writer and artist Austin Kleon, blackout poetry encourages readers to create poems by redacting words from ordinary texts. During the last week of National Poetry Month, we will feature snippets of Times articles you can use to create and share your own short poems. Read more at the New York Times.

Michael Lista, On Poetry: Directing Herbert White, by James Franco

James Franco has published a book of poetry.
You may remember him as the dude who’s played every poet in Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon.Read more at the National Post.

For National Poetry Month, The New York Times asked readers to write haiku about the city.

Poetry In the News

Meet the Poetry Out Loud Judges! #POL14 edition

The 53 Poetry Out Loud state champions who are arriving in Washington, DC today for two days of intense competition have a tough job. But, perhaps, there's one group who has it even tougher–the Poetry Out Loud judges. Over two days, the 14 judges for the semifinals and finals rounds must decide which of the 53 young people–already acknowledged as the best in their states out of the approximately 365,000 students who competed this year–is the best of the best.  Read more at the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Griffin Prize Time

The 2014 International and Canadian shortlists for the Griffin Poetry Prize have been announced. They include American Brenda Hillman (wife of Griffin Trust Trustee Robert Hass), American Carl Phillips (Griffin Poetry Prize judge 2010), and sometime-Canadian Anne Carson (shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2001, judge alongside Phillips in 2010). Judges Robert Bringhurst (Canada), Jo Shapcott (UK) and C.D. Wright (USA) each somehow read 539 books of poetry, from 40 countries, including 24 translations, between the annual deadline for submission to the prize (31 December) and the 8 April press release: approximately five and a half books per day.  Read more at PN Review.

Why Is Rumi the Best-selling Poet in the US?

The ecstatic poems of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian poet and Sufi master born 807 years ago in 1207, have sold millions of copies in recent years, making him the most popular poet in the US. Globally, his fans are legion. “He’s this compelling figure in all cultures,” says Brad Gooch, who is writing a biography of Rumi to follow his critically acclaimed books on Frank O’Hara and Flannery O’Connor. “The map of Rumi’s life covers 2,500 miles,” says Gooch, who has traveled from Rumi’s birthplace in Vakhsh, a small village in what is now Tajikistan, to Samarkand in Uzbekistan, to Iran and to Syria, where Rumi studied at Damascus and Aleppo in his twenties. Read more at the BBC.

‘The World Record — A Global Gathering of Poets’ at Chicago’s Poetry Foundation

The literary exhibition on view at the Poetry Foundation until April 30 is The World Record, an autograph edition of poems handwritten in the native languages of more than 100 contemporary poets, including Seamus Heaney, Qassim Haddad, Selina Tusitala and Kay Ryan, to name a few. This edition was created for the Saison Poetry Library during Southbank Centre’s Poetry Parnassus, a 2012 global gathering of poets that coincided with the London Olympic Games, and made history as the largest poetry festival ever staged in the U.K. Read more at Rock River Times.

The 53 Poetry Out Loud state champions who are arriving for two days of intense competition have a tough job.

New Books

Hot Flash Sonnets by Moira Egan

[Paperback] Passager Books, 69 pp., $14.00
"Impassioned sonnet virtuoso Moira Egan makes a magnificent obsession of the passing of the menses in Hot Flash Sonnets.  Lusty candor is here galore—if the Wyf of Bath were reincarnated as a sonneteer, she would be Moira Egan–but it's the skill of this poet that dazzles, for she turns her stunning sequence into a vast landscape, contouring matters of beauty and aging in divinely controlled lines." — Molly Peacock

A Poet's Glossary by Edward Hirsch 

[Hardcover] Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 736 pp., $30.00
A major addition to the literature of poetry, Edward Hirsch’s sparkling new work is a compilation of forms, devices, groups, movements, isms, aesthetics, rhetorical terms, and folklore—a book that all readers, writers, teachers, and students of poetry will return to over and over. Hirsch has delved deeply into the poetic traditions of the world, returning with an inclusive, international compendium. Moving gracefully from the bards of ancient Greece to the revolutionaries of Latin America, from small formal elements to large mysteries, he provides thoughtful definitions for the most important poetic vocabulary, imbuing his work with a lifetime of scholarship and the warmth of a man devoted to his art.

Brodsky Translating Brodsky: Poetry in Self-Translation by Alexandra Berlina

[Hardcover] Bloomsbury Academic, 232 pp., $110.00
Is poetry lost in translation, or is it perhaps the other way around? Is it found? Gained? Won?  What happens when a poet decides to give his favorite Russian poems a new life in English? Are the new texts shadows, twins or doppelgangers of their originals-or are they something completely different? Does the poet resurrect himself from the death of the author by reinterpreting his own work in another language, or does he turn into a monster: a bilingual, bicultural centaur? Alexandra Berlina, herself a poetry translator and a 2012 Barnstone Translation Prize laureate, addresses these questions in this new study of Joseph Brodsky, whose Nobel-prize-winning work has never yet been discussed from this perspective.

Only Begetter by Jane Chance 

[Paperback] White Violet Press, 60 pp., $14.00
“The experience of reading Jane Chance’s Only Begetter is akin to watching a surrealist florist weave a wreath of unexpected objects: taxable laughter, eyes that ‘glimmer like bruised prunes,’ a coughing caterpillar, and ‘a mean seamstress’ to name just a few. And yet these playful, varied ornaments are festooned along a sturdy branch of literary tradition that references Ovid, Eden, and Flannery O’Conner. What is pleasurable about Chance’s poetry is the unwavering sense that through the looking glass of her book, anything goes.” 
—Lauren Berry

Sexes: The Marriage Dialogues by Samuel Hazo 

[Paperback] Triquarterly Books, 88 pp., $16.95
The poems in Samuel Hazo’s Sexes: The Marriage Dialogues are concerned with how husbands and wives confront each other at life’s various intersections—sometimes casually, sometimes profoundly. It is at these points that the most interesting differences in gender reveal themselves. From the first poem (“Banterers”) to the last (“Ballad of the Old Lovers”) Hazo’s attuned ear picks up quotidian conversational exchanges, but the words are never window dressing. They hint at inevitable insights and misunderstandings born out of conjugal love. Each poem is a vignette of the moving and surprising moments that are married life.

Revising the Storm by Geffrey Davis 

[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd., 100 pp., $16.00
This debut collection by Cave Canem fellow Geffrey Davis burrows under the surface of gender, addiction, recovery, clumsy love, bitterness, and faith. The tones explored—tender, comic, wry, tragic—interrogate male subjectivity and privilege, as they examine their "embarrassed desires" for familial connection, sexual love, compassion, and repair. Revising the Storm also speaks to the sons and daughters affected by the drug/crack epidemic of the '80s and addresses issues of masculinity and its importance in family.

“Impassioned sonnet virtuoso Moira Egan makes a magnificent obsession of the passing of the menses in Hot Flash Sonnets.


From Teenage Gangster to Exiled Poet: New Documentary Follows Kosal Khiev 

by Christopher Shay
Indefinitely stuck in solitary confinement in the middle of his 16-year sentence for attempted murder, Kosal Khiev thought he was on verge of insanity. “I was angry. I was sad. I was lost,” Khiev says in “Cambodian Son,” a new documentary that traces his life from teenage gangster to prison poet to award-winning, exiled artist in Cambodia. After 8 months in solitary at a California prison, there was one night “everything shifted,” he told Al Jazeera. In 2000, he woke up from a nightmare where he’d been repeatedly stabbed. He walked to his cell’s steel sink and cracked mirror, etched with the names of those who had stayed there before him. Read more at Al Jazeera.

Getting to Know: Li-Young Lee

by Jacquelyn Malone 
Li-Young Lee once said that every poem is “a descendent of God.” An unnamed interviewer in Poets & Writers  refers to an unspecified, other interview source for this quote and asks Lee, “What about failed, or flawed poems?” Whoa—wait a second! Descendent. Of God. I could not get past this notion so easily. It’s what made this the most difficult “Getting to Know” essay yet. It’s what made my “Getting to Know” presentation on Lee the only one conveyed with flustered passion. Read more at Mass Poetry.

Future Doors

An Interview with Wayne Koestenbaum
byStefania Heim
Talking with Wayne Koestenbaum, like reading his diverse body of work, is thrilling. I went rock-climbing for the first time recently and though the analogy to Wayne’s writing might seem like a stretch, bear with me. Looking for a foothold—on a rock-face or in Wayne’s universe—it turns out, requires creativity, a different kind of seeking, a looking both deeply and askance at what appears at first to be straight surface. Both demand an unusual combination of trusted instinct and hard work. When it all comes together, there arises an intoxicating pleasure that masks the fact that you are intensely vulnerable, that you are hanging precariously over an abyss. Read more at the Boston Review.

Kosal Khiev thought he was on verge of insanity.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

The Lost Art of Memorizing Poetry

by Nina King 
Why is poetry these days so hard to remember? In my twenties, I decided to try my hand at memorizing an entire poem—mostly because I seemed to constantly find myself stuck at some boring public event (panel, seminar, concert) where pulling out a book would be rude. To fill my new mental hip flask, I selected the liquor of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which follows the retired hero’s thoughts as they build up from inchoate yearning to the famous resolve “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Read more at The American Reader.

This is an interesting essay about memorization and poetry. It gets a bit unwieldy, though, when the author offers an unusual viewpoint, not her own, in order to suggest that memorization has lost its footing in part due to technological progress and, as it would appear, in part due to new trends in poetry. She writes: 

"In fact many argue today that recitation actively hurts poetry.  Ron Silliman complains: 'To recite a poem, one is required to have the whole of it in mind, to be ever vigilant as to one’s position—the way an actor has to be on stage—with all of its past and its future right at the surface of awareness. One is perpetually other than present with the text at hand.' (In contrast to this idea, Silliman posits an ideal of poetic “mindfulness” where the reader can live in a sort of eternal present as the words wash over her.)"

It's probably not productive to ask who the many are arguing this case given that she names just the one. But I do have to ask, because my head is full of hundreds of lyrics from pop songs stretching back to 1962, why can't I keep "the whole of it in mind"? If something is really committed to memory, it shouldn't be so hard. To deny such a thing, as Silliman does, must be evidence of an unfamiliarity with the idea of having recall of anything whether it's a lyric, a passage of poetry, a speech, or the melody of a song. He says, rather, that to recite means "one is perpetually other than present." To the contrary, such completeness of the engagement with a piece endows a more fuller "mindfulness," not only of the "eternal present" but of the eternal past and eternal future of the piece as well.

For another take on the same subject, read down a bit in this short blog post from the New York Times.

Why is poetry these days so hard to remember?