August 10, 2018

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1556—Philipp Nicolai, German theologist/poet/composer, is born.

1845—Abai Qunanbaiuli, Kazakh poet, composer and philosopher (d. 1904), is born.
1869—Lawrence Binyon, poet (Symbolic Wounds), born in Vienna, Austria
1886—Hilda Doolittle, poet/prominent member of imagist movement, is born.
1925—Alastair Webster Mackie, poet/teacher, is born.
1953—Mark Doty, American poet and prose writer, is born.


Rose, harsh rose, 
marred and with stint of petals, 
meagre flower, thin, 
sparse of leaf, 

more precious 
than a wet rose 
single on a stem — 
you are caught in the drift. 

—from “Sea Rose” by Hilda Doolittle

“Rose, harsh rose, / marred and with stint of petals,” – Hilda Doolittle

World Poetry

Freemuse Calls for Release of Egyptian Poet Galal El-Behairy
Poet Galal El-Behairy has been detained on charges of insulting the Egyptian army and Islam over lyrics for a song and latest poetry book.



Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy is expected to be sentenced in the military court on 31 July 2018 over charges of “spreading false news” and “insulting the army”, after his sentencing was postponed for a third time on 28 July. The charges relate to the publication of his latest book of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth, which Freemuse learned had been printed but has yet to be published. The charges of “spreading false news” and “insulting the army” carry sentences of two-year and three-year prison terms, respectively. Freemuse continues to call for the release of El-Behairy, who has been detained for 149 days, and for the charges against him to be dropped in both this military case and a concurrent civil case related to one of his other works.

Gay Poet Writes in His Own Blood to Protest Donation Ban

Poet RJ Arkhipov uses his own blood as ink in protest at the UK’s “homophobic” blood donation policy. In an experiment with help from a trusted medical student friend, RJ Arkhipov drew blood to use in an ink pen to write his poetry. “I came into a realisation then that I couldn’t donate blood because I’m a gay man,” he explained to PinkNews.

Galal El-Behairy is expected to be charged with “spreading false news” and “insulting the army” and imprisoned.

Recent Reviews

A Poet Laureate Sends News From the End of Life
by Dwight Garner



Donald Hall, who died on June 23 at 89, was not a particularly nimble poet. His verse had a homely, bucolic, beans-on-the-woodstove quality. He was more cabbage than tulip. To borrow an analogy from baseball, a sport he loved, he was the sort of batter who got on base thanks to walks, bunts, bloopers into right field and a good deal of hustle. He was a plugger.



“Places We Actually Go”: Three Irish Poets’ Debuts
by James O’Sullivan



As readers of poetry, we consistently commit the same act of self-deprivation — we associate literary quality with longevity. This emerges from a sort of reverse ageism, wherein the pillars of national canons are often authors who have remained prolific across several decades, the assumption being that great poets return to the anvil. Coupled with longevity is visibility, the extent to which a poet is seen to be successful. While the canonizing influence of visibility has always been present, it has been reinforced in an age of social media–enabled posturing. To be a great writer, then, it would seem one must be both productive and visible — a trend that suggests that we have forgotten how to listen when words might vouch for themselves, how to recognize literary greatness when it creeps up on us, quiet and unassuming.



Book review: The Pangs of Joan Murray
by Amy Key



It seems appropriate to start with a line from one of Murray’s own poems:
There’s a small tale I’d like to tell you here. A bit sad I believe.
                                                                             Not too sad!
because the story is a bit of a sad one. 

Murray was born in London in 1917 to Canadian parents. When she was eleven she became ill with rheumatic fever, an illness which left her heart damaged. She suffered recurring attacks, nearly dying in her early teens, and this meant her life was one where rest was demanded of her. The writing collected in this book suggests that rest was ferociously resisted. She created a large body of work, including poems and plays, and these are collected for the first time here, along with drafts and fragments, following the discovery of her mythic lost manuscript in Smith College’s archives. She died of congenital heart failure tragically young, at twenty-four.

Surge – Etel Adnan
by Emma Ramadan


Oh to enter reality like a boat does the night! Throughout Surge, Etel Adnan gets at reality by melting into the world around her, she lets herself be subsumed by nature, welcomes mountains and waves to reverberate through her in order to better understand herself and the present moment. “The sea is an element of our inner life, a tool by which we exist” Adnan once said in an interview. Nature is not a thing to be looked at, but something through which we live.

Formal Feelings: Anne Waldman’s Poetry Explores Feminist Traditions
In Trickster Feminism, Waldman employs a range of poetic forms including chant, the blues refrain, and the prose poem.
by Marcella Durand



In Trickster Feminism, Anne Waldman continues her lifelong project of speaking to power through poetry. Waldman has written through the post-2016 protests, marches and resistance, amid losses to the poetry world — including several of her friends — to uncover paths of possibility under all of the awfulness. Indeed, she opens the book, which she’s dedicated to Pauline Oliveros, Joanne Kyger and Gerri Allen, with a phoenix-like directive: “when you are sitting/ with the corpse of your friend/ this is what to do/ when what do you do.” Trickster Feminism is a demonstration of how to go on, when one can’t go on.

Throughout Surge, Etel Adnan gets at reality by melting into the world around, letting herself be subsumed by nature.


A Forgotten Review of Robert Frost’s ‘New Hampshire’
by Mike Pride



When I retired as editor of the Concord Monitor a decade ago, the publisher gave me a gift I still treasure. It is a first edition of New Hampshire, Robert Frost’s 1923 poetry collection. The long title poem is full of wry observations about the state, but if it is remembered at all, it is for a snooty quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The God who made New Hampshire / Taunted the lofty land with little men.” Folded inside the back cover of the book was a contemporary review of New Hampshire by someone with the initials D.T.C. McC. After reading the review, I researched the writer. When I didn’t find the review on the internet, I decided to write a column including the entire review, thus rescuing it from obscurity.

Drafts & Fragments

The Poetry of America’s Most Dangerous City
by Emily Buder



Society begs us to pull up our bootstraps and fly to Venus / But when you keep us padlocked to trenches / It ain’t easy to show our genius. That’s Kondwani Fidel, a celebrated spoken-word poet from Baltimore, rapping about his experience growing up in America’s most dangerous city. According to a USA Today analysis of crime conducted this year, Baltimore has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, with nearly 56 murders per 100,000 people. “Resilience is something that’s ingrained in you at a very young age growing up in Baltimore,” says Fidel in Jackson Tisi’s short documentary, Hummingbirds in the Trenches, from Breakout. “If you’re from or live in Baltimore, every year you’re losing people. That’s just a fact. Nobody goes untouched.”

Society begs us to pull up our bootstraps and fly to Venus / But when you keep us padlocked to trenches” – Kondwani Fidel

Poetry In the News

'Wonderful' Poet Sweeney Dies Aged 66

Irish poet Matthew Sweeney has died aged 66. The writer from Cork had suffered from motor neurone disease, with his latest collection My Life As A Painter published by Bloodaxe Books four months ago. He died on Sunday (5th August). Described as a “prolific writer” by the Irish Times, Sweeney had published a number of collections including The Night Post: A Selection (Salt, 2010) and Black Moon (Jonathan Cape, 2007), which was shortlisted for both the TS Eliot Prize and for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award. He also co-wrote a satirical thriller, Death Comes for the Poets (Muswell Press), based on the world of contemporary poetry, along with English poet John Hartley Williams, which was published in 2012.

Academy of American Poets Announces Judge of 2019 Walt Whitman Award


The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce that Li-Young Lee will judge the 2019 Walt Whitman Award, the nation’s most valuable first-book prize for poetry. The winner of the Whitman Award will receive $5,000, and the winning manuscript will be published by Graywolf Press in 2020. In addition, the Academy of American Poets will purchase and send thousands of copies of the book to its members, which will make it one of the most widely distributed poetry books of the year. The award winner will also receive a six-week all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy, and will be featured in American Poets magazine and on, which reaches millions of readers each year.



AWP and University of Maryland Sever Official Relationship


The University of Maryland announced today that it will no longer serve as the host institution for the Association for Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), as the literary organization is changing its operations to an autonomous nonprofit model as of Monday, August 6. AWP has been affiliated with a college or university since its inception in 1967 at Brown University. After 23 years at George Mason University, it moved to UMD last summer, where it became a subunit of UMD’s English department.

Irish poet Matthew Sweeney has died aged 66.

New Books

If You Have to Go: Poems by Katie Ford
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 72 pp., $16.00 


The poems in Katie Ford’s fourth collection implore their audience―the divine and the human―for attention, for revelation, and, perhaps above all, for companionship. The extraordinary sequence at the heart of this book taps into the radical power of the sonnet form, bending it into a kind of metaphysical and psychological outcry. Beginning in the cramped space of selfhood―in the bedroom, cluttered with doubts, and in the throes of marital loss―these poems edge toward the clarity of “what I can know and admit to knowing.” In song and in silence, Ford inhabits the rooms of anguish and redemption with scouring exactness. This is poetry that “can break open, // it can break your life, it will break you // until you remain.” If You Have to Go is Ford’s most luminous and moving collection.



Gather the Night: Poems by Katherine DiBella Seluja 
[Paperback] University of New Mexico Press, 80 pp., $18.95 



This debut collection reads like an elegy, not just for the author's brother Lou, stricken with schizophrenia, but for all families affected by mental illness. Through multiple personae and a variety of styles, Seluja offers a gritty authenticity and empathy to the subjects and themes. These poems grieve for a world of the lost while extending solace to those who remain and remember.



If They Come for Us: Poems by Fatimah Asghar
[Paperback] One World, 128 pp., $16.00 

“In this awe-inspiring debut, Asghar, writer of the Emmy-nominated web series ‘Brown Girls,’ explores the painful, sometimes psychologically debilitating journey of establishing her identity as a queer brown woman within the confines of white America. . . . Honest, personal, and intimate without being insular or myopic, Asghar’s collection reveals a sense of strength and hope found in identity and cultural history: ‘our names this country’s wood/ for the fire my people my people/ the long years we’ve survived the long/ years yet to come.’”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Spill by Bruce Smith
[Paperback] University of Chicago Press, 80 pp., $17.10 



Spill is a book in contradictions, embodying helplessness in the face of our dual citizenship in the realms of trauma and gratitude, artistic aspiration and political reality. The centerpiece of this collection is a lyrical essay that recalls the poet’s time working at the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg in the 1960s. Mentored by the insouciant inmate S, the speaker receives a schooling in race, class, and culture, as well as the beginning of an apprenticeship in poetry. As he and S consult the I Ching, the Book of Changes, the speaker becomes cognizant of other frequencies, other identities; poetry, divination, and a synchronous, alternative reading of life come into focus. On either side of this prose poem are related poems of excess and witness, of the ransacked places and of new territories that emerge from the monstrous. Throughout, these poems inhabit rather than resolve their contradictions, their utterances held in tension “between the hemispheres of songbirds and the hemispheres of men.”

Perennial by Kelly Forsythe
[Paperback] Coffee House Press, 75 pp., $16.95 

The events of 1999’s Columbine shooting preoccupy Forsythe in these poems, refracting her vision to encompass killer, victim, and herself as a girl, suddenly aware of the precarity of her own life and the porousness of her body to others’ gaze, demands, violence. Deeply researched and even more deeply felt, Perennial inhabits landscapes of emerging adulthood and explosive cruelty―the hills of Pittsburgh and the sere grass of Colorado; the spines of books in a high school library that has become a killing ground; the tenderness of children as they grow up and grow hard, becoming acquainted with dread, grief, and loss.

Honest, personal, and intimate, Asghar’s collection reveals a sense of strength found in identity and cultural history.


As He Turns 69, Chinese Poet Bei Dao Remains the Tranquil Bard of Protest, Even in Exile
Not allowed to live in his own country, the poet has continued to be optimistic about the future even as he became a torchbearer of revolt.
by Manan Kapoor

An infinite aura of mysticism surrounds the poet Bei Dao, who turns sixty-nine on August 2, 2018. His image of humanity is mythical, utopian, and optimistic to such an extent that at times it is hard to conceive. While some are unaware of the name of this American writer of Chinese origin, anyone in China from the “Tiananmen generation” will recite his poems as though singing a folk song. Dao’s words of offered indomitable optimism to the Chinese people when they most needed it. In western literary circles, Dao – whose real name is Zhao Zhenkai – is considered a reserved, yet charismatic poet who has imposed a certain nostalgia upon himself and his works. His poetry is impressionistic, sometimes obscure, and reassuring at other times. Poet and historian Julian B Gerwitz wrote that Bei Dao is “best known as a poet of political consequence and not a political poet”. What he failed to recognise was that as a former citizen of China, he has remained a victim of that political consequence.



The Technocrat’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Srikanth Reddy with Lucy Ives



Poet Srikanth Reddy speaks to Triple Canopy editor Lucy Ives about the possible plurality of worlds, poets as “feeling machines,” and how to make an aesthetic object out of bureaucratic relics of the space race.

Justin Phillip Reed, a Most Indecent Black Queer Poet
A Conversation About Race, Debt, and Sex
by Steven William Thrasher

On the day I interviewed Justin Phillip Reed about his book Indecency (Coffee House Press 2018) at the Atomic Cowboy  in St. Louis’ Grove gayborhood, he was wearing a baseball cap which said “Rough trade,” a tee-shirt which said “Feygele,” a shy smile, and a cigar behind his ear. I had first encountered Reed’s work while covering the prosecution of Michael “Tiger Mandingo” Johnson for BuzzFeed News, a Black gay college wrestler who was accused of exposing or transmitting HIV to six mostly white sex partners and who was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Poetry as Translation: A Dialogue with Ladan Osman
by Gaamangwe Joy Mogami 

Ladan Osman is a Somali-American poet and teacher. She is the author of the chapbook, Ordinary Heaven and poetry  book collection, The Kitchen Dweller’s Testimony selected for the 2014 Sillerman First Book Prize. Her writing appears in a variety of journals such as Narrative Magazine, Artful Dodge, Vinyl Poetry, Prairie Schooner and RHINO. She has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Union League Civic & Arts Foundation, Cave Canem Foundation, and Michener Center for Writers. Osman edits for ROAR Feminist Magazine, and curates for The Blueshift Journal.

This conversation took place in the cold, sweetspot of Gaborone, Botswana and the magnetic city of Brooklyn in New York, USA by Skype.

Justin Phillip Reed, a most indecent black queer poet, on race, debt, and sex.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Mark Doty

"We don't (for better or worse) assign poems the burden of historical truth-whereas the memoirist makes a kind of pact with the reader that his or her writing operates 'under the sign of the real.' But memoirist and poet are in fact balancing three different kinds of allegiance-to one's own sense of reality, to the esthetic needs of what one's writing, and finally to one's ethical sense, the need to treat others responsibly. It's almost as if these three considerations occur in that order, actually. I usually begin with a desire to describe some aspect of experience, and then I find the poem itself taking over; the shaping of language becomes more important, and the poem begins to take on a direction of its own. And somewhere along the way, the ethical implications of what I've made also present themselves. Ultimately, in completing a poem, you have to negotiate with all three of those contexts at once-but I also think that in the initial writing process, of course, you just have to make what you want to make."
—from An Interview With Poet Mark Doty by Jaclyn Friedman in Poets & Writers, May 23, 2003

“We don’t (for better or worse) assign poems the burden of historical truth” – Mark Doty