August 1, 2012

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

August 1, 2012

1743 – Richard Savage, English poet/playwright, dies at about 46.

1882 – Henry Clarence Kendall, Australian poet, dies of tuberculosis at 43.
1916 – Anne Hébert, French Canadian author and poet (d. 2000), is born.

1963 – Theodore Roethke, US poet (Praise to the end!), dies.

Frosted breath on her neck
Silent space where that man of salt
Has just enough place
Between the woman’s back and the wall
To damn her veins that freeze each time he breathes
His slow, cold and immobile breath.

—from “More and More Narrow” by Anne Hébert, 1916-2000

Poetry In The News

London’s Mayor Gets to the Greek

How good was London Mayor Boris Johnson’s recitation of a poem at the Olympic Gala this past Monday? Well he reportedly upstaged Placido Domingo… and he did it speaking ancient Greek, no less. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Alejandro Murguia Named New Poet Laureate

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee named Alejandro Murguía the city’s sixth poet laureate Thursday. “I am thrilled to announce Alejandro Murguía as the new San Francisco poet laureate, a position that exemplifies San Francisco’s rich literary history and tradition,” Lee said in prepared remarks at the kickoff for the third International Poetry Festival in Kerouac Alley. “Murguía, who founded the Mission Cultural Center, has been a champion of many local authors, artists, poets as well as a great contributor to the literary community in the city.” Read more at SFGate.

World Poetry

Azerbaijani Journalists Ask Iran’s Leadership to Release Detained Poet

As Luke Davies checked out of his Canberra hotel to attend the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, he wondered if his credit card would bounce and thought of saying, “I’m just going across the road to pick up a cheque from the Prime Minister”. An hour later at the National Library, Julia Gillard handed him a cheque for $80,000 when she announced that his book Interferon Psalms was the winner of the inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry — established after years of complaint and campaigning by poets. Read more at the Brisbane Times.

New Books

Objects & Apparitions by Elizabeth Bishop

[Hardcover] Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 34 pp., $35.00
Objects & Apparitions explores for the first time Elizabeth Bishop’s art: her delicate, miniaturist watercolors and gouaches of domestic vignettes; her tenderly fabricated, Cornell-esque constructions; and several works of art from her own collection, including family portraits and a bird cage modeled on a medieval cathedral. Many of these are reproduced here for the first time in full color, alongside poems, archival photographs and essays by Bishop scholars Joelle Biele, Dan Chiasson and Lloyd Schwartz that discuss Bishop’s art and its relationship to her poetry.

H (poems) by Jim Elledge

[Paperback] Lethe Press, 78 pp., $15.00
H, the exciting new book by Lambda award-winning poet Jim Elledge, is an impressionist biography in prose poems of outsider artist Henry Darger. Like Darger, H is entangled in a disturbing triangle: haunted by the spirit of murdered six-year-old Elsie Paroubek; plagued by memories of the childhood sexual abuse he suffered and by the despair he endured as an adult because of it; and tormented by the Divine as only believers can be. H is an unflinching portrait of two men simultaneously–one real, one metaphoric, both extraordinarily complex.

This Bed Our Bodies Shaped: Poems by April Lindner

[Paperback] Able Muse Press, 100 pp., $17.95
This Bed Our Bodies Shaped is a celebration of the universal human experience—childhood, puberty, parenthood, aging—from a uniquely personal and sensual perspective. Linder’s craft, which finds masterful and original expression in metrical and free verse, enlivens each experience until we seem part of the scene. Eavesdropping on this engagingly narrated life gives us startling new insights into our own.

Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle

[Paperback] Wave Books, 352 pp., $25.00
Over the course of fifteen years, Mary Ruefle delivered a lecture every six months to a group of poetry graduate students. Collected here for the first time, these lectures include “Poetry and the Moon,” “Someone Reading A Book Is A Sign Of Order In The World,” and “Lectures I Will Never Give.” Intellectually virtuosic, instructive, and experiential, Madness, Rack, and Honey resists definition, demanding instead an utter—and utterly pleasurable—immersion.

Recent Reviews

Flightlessness and Eggs

by Adam Plunkett
In the titular prose poem of his new collection, Campbell McGrath likens our lives to “dreams, luminous tapestries woven by a mechanism like the star machine at the planetarium, realms of fantastic desire and possibility, like the kingdom of the sea monkeys promised in the back pages of comic books of my childhood.” Dreams are not known for their realism, which leads to quite a letdown when fantastic desires prove as fantastical as an advertised kingdom of sea monkeys. Read more at The New Republic.

A Guide for the Poet Within

by Katy Lederer
Halfway through Jeffrey Skinner’s new book, The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets, he quotes W. H. Auden: “Form looks for content, content looks for form.” It’s a pithy bit of near tautology that also happens to neatly describe Skinner’s thoughtful and genre-defying book. Skinner has not led a typical poet’s life, to the extent that there is such a thing. Read more at the New York Times.

What Is Amazing

by Kathleen Rooney
There is an almost Zen-like quality to the poems in Heather Christle’s third collection of poetry, What Is Amazing—a glow of “enlightenment,” coupled with a fondness for non sequiturs—but ultimately the poems are not confrontational enough to provide the satisfaction of a koan, and Zen is rarely, if ever, so precious. Instead of “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” the mood here is more like “If you meet the Buddha on the road, hug the giraffe!” Reading this book is like attending a yoga class where you know that the instructor is creative, skillful, and fit for a challenge, but then the class ends up consisting primarily of “child’s pose.” The experience is better than no yoga at all, but it’s a bit of a letdown, leaving you dulled by the sameness and eager to see if the next class might display more range and ambition. Read more at Coldfront.

The Malarkey by Helen Dunmore

by Sean O’Brien
Helen Dunmore once commented that as her work has developed she has tried to use less scaffolding, in order to go more directly to the event of the poem. This is a process that could be seen at work as long ago as the early 1990s, and while fiction has occupied much of Dunmore’s attention in the intervening years, the process of refinement has continued, lending an uncluttered authority to the elegiac poems that open The Malarkey. Read more at the Guardian.


See Poet Billy Collins Interviewed on PBS During His Visit to Sewanee

Billy Collins was the recipient of the Sewanee Review’s 25th Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry. Collins, called by the New York Times “the most popular poet in America,” visited Sewanee in November to give a reading and receive the award. Host Alison Lebovitz of “The A List” sat down in Rebel’s Rest on a rainy afternoon for an interview with Collins. Read more at Sewanee Today.


American Poetry Critics and Literary Memory

by Amit Majmudar
The poetry critic of the New York Times, David Orr, gives us a capsule overview of “novelist-poets” in a July 20th article: “The club of novelist-poets is distinguished but tiny. Thomas Hardy is the founding member, Herman Melville and D. H. Lawrence take turns at the reception desk, and loitering at the door are talented contemporary (or near-­contemporary) writers like James Dickey, Margaret Atwood and Denis Johnson.” There are several things to note about that paragraph. It says a lot about Orr, and American literary criticism in general. Read more at the Kenyon Review.

Drafts & Fragments

Carrying the Fire of Victory (Poetry of the Games 2)

Throughout the 2012 London Olympic Games, Guggenheim fellowship-winning poet Kwame Dawes will be writing verses that capture the spirit of the day’s action, with a particular focus on the Jamaican team. Here’s his second installment. Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

A Leaky Roof

A pleasant spring hokku by Bashō:

Spring rain;
A roof leak trickles
Down the wasps’ nest.

This reminds me of Blyth’s remark that to write hokku one should live in a house which either has a leaky roof or one with the potential of leaking. Read more at Hokku.

Here we are in the diēs caniculārēs of the summer. I’ll assume the heat alternating with the raging storms accounts for the paucity of poetry news these last few weeks. So I’ll report on a delightful blog I stumbled across in my prepping for this fall’s classes. It’s called Hokku and it comes from a David Coomler in Oregon. Coomler has made a real effort to bring currency and careful attention to the discussion of haiku, both as it is practiced traditionally, translated over the years, and taken root in English. He refers to what he does as teaching haiku (or “hokku” as he rightly calls it) on the internet. But he often goes beyond his own charge, ranging from Ronsard and Yeats to the Lotus-Eaters. My delight is two-fold. First is the fact that I’m interested in haiku/hokku and so find what he says intellectually and emotionally engaging, and second because I have great admiration for people who take it upon themselves to sponsor a cause like this and to share their findings freely without thought or hope of any reward other than the sharing. I hope you’ll check out Hokku.
And so in the spirit of (and respite from) the dog days, I’ll leave you with the opening sequence of Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, featuring the musical stylings of Elton John in one of his lesser known songs, “Amoreena,” scored against a montage of Brooklyn in the 1970s. Glad to be here and not there.
—David Sanders