August 11, 2016

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1892—Hugh MacDiarmid (Christopher Murray Grieve), Scotland, poet (Scots Unbound), is born.
1886—Lydia Koidula, Estonian poet (b. 1843), dies.
1935—William Watson, British poet (Purple East), dies.

The Watergaw

Ae weet forenicht i' the yow-trummle 
I saw yon antrin thing,
A watergaw wi' its chitterin' licht
Ayont the on-ding;
An' I thocht o' the last wild look ye gied 
Afore ye deed!

There was nae reek i' the laverock's hoose 
That nicht—an' nane i' mine;
But I hae thocht o' that foolish licht 
Ever sin' syne;
An' I think that mebbe at last I ken
What your look meant then. 

—Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978)

Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid was born this week in 1892.

World Poetry

Atomic Bomb Diaries of Poet Sankichi Toge Donated to Hiroshima Museum

Two volumes of the diary of the late Japanese poet Sankichi Toge, detailing the horrors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, were this week put on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The Central Committee of the Japanese Communist Party, which had kept the diaries, donated them to Hiroshima at the city’s request.

Russia Unveils Monument of Iranian Poet Omar Khayyam in Astrakhan

Russia has unveiled the first statue of renowned Iranian poet and philosopher Omar Khayyam in Astrakhan. The 4-meter-tall bronze statue is located in the Alley of Monuments in front of Astrakhan State University. The 1.5 tonne statue was made in Yekaterinburg and delivered to Astrakhan’s student garden to be placed next to the statue of Khayyam’s Turkmen counterpart, Makhtoom gholi Faraghi.

Diaries of Japanese poet Sankichi Toge that detail the horrors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing are on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Recent Reviews

Recipes for a Mortal World: On Jane Hirschfield’s The Beauty
by Laura Donnelly

In The Beauty, Jane Hirshfield ushers in moments of revelation through poems at once earthly and philosophical, exploring everything from cellophane to the proteins that thread the speaker’s spine. I’ve spent the past week walking around with her poem “In a Kitchen Where Mushrooms Were Washed” in my head. It’s too easy to say her lines linger like the scent of the morels, “which darken the air they come into,” but it’s true. 

The Improbable Life and Prescient Poetry of Basil Bunting
by Christopher Spaide

If Basil Bunting were not remembered for “Briggflatts”—his longest and best poem, first published fifty years ago—he might still be remembered as the protagonist of a preposterously eventful twentieth-century life. By the age of fifty, he had been a music critic, a sailor, a balloon operator, a wing commander, a military interpreter, a foreign correspondent, and a spy. He had married twice, had four children, lived on three continents (and one boat), survived multiple assassination attempts, and been incarcerated throughout Europe. He had also apprenticed at Ezra Pound’s poetic “Ezuversity” in Rapallo, played an “indifferent” game of chess with General Francisco Franco in the Canary Islands, and communicated with Bakhtiari tribesmen in classical Persian. 

I Gotta Use Words
by Mark Ford

The first person to annotate a poem by T.S. Eliot was T.S. Eliot. His notes on The Waste Land (1922) were composed partly so that his 433-line poem could be issued by his American publishers Boni & Liveright as a book, and partly, as he recalled in ‘The Frontiers of Criticism’ (1956), ‘with a view to spiking the guns of critics of my earlier poems who had accused me of plagiarism’.

Two Collections from Copper Canyon Press
by Theophilus Kwek 

When Richard Siken’s first collection, Crush, was awarded the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize in 2004, it won Louise Glück’s praise for its ‘cumulative, driving, apocalyptic power’ and was quickly shortlisted for a series of prizes, winning the Thom Gunn Award in 2006. In the intervening decade, few American poets came close to an equally well-received debut – until Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds sold out within a week of its release this April by Copper Canyon Press, which also brought out Siken’s second volume War of the Foxes. Published less than a year apart, the two collections offer ample ground for comparison and admiration.

In “The Beauty,” Jane Hirshfield ushers in moments of revelation through poems at once earthly and philosophical.


The Resurrection of Federico García Lorca

Just over 80 years ago, Francisco Franco triggered a military uprising against his country’s government. Granada, one of Spain’s most historic cities, fell quickly to Franco’s rebel Nationalists. Exactly a month after the outbreak of civil war, an infamous murder— which might never have happened had Franco not rebelled—took place on that city’s outskirts.

Vesper Sparrow at Dawn
by Askold Melnyczuk

In 1982, I’d just begun adjuncting at Boston University when a friend told me about a poet named Derek Walcott, who’d also just started teaching there. I’d never heard of him, but my friend said the guy spoke brilliantly about poetry, so one Monday morning just before the class began, at 9 a.m., no less, because Walcott believed if you were willing to get up that early for poetry, you might well be serious, I knocked on his door. Walcott himself, habituated by the balmy dawn of his native St. Lucia, rose with the sun to paint and write. By 9, he’d already put in a good day’s work

How Robert Bly Changed My Life
by Mark Rylance

I was raised in Milwaukee up to 1978, when I was 18. My father was an English teacher, so I must have come upon the American poet Robert Bly through him. But the first time I remember meeting him was after a performance of Hamlet in 1989. I felt a sense of excitement, and a certain nervousness. He had this penetrating ability to see what was going on, and he didn’t have any shyness about saying it.

Federica García Lorca died 80 years ago at the age of 38.

Drafts & Fragments

Jeff Tweedy, Other Chicago Musicians to Honor Carl Sandburg's 'Chicago Poems'
by Nicholas Wooten

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and other musicians with Chicago ties will soon give some of Carl Sandburg's "Chicago Poems" a new twist to honor the volume’s 100th anniversary, reports Vulture. Vulture premiered the album's first song, the Halloween-inspired "Theme in Yellow," in a Tuesday performance by Tweedy.

Jeff Tweedy and other musicians will soon give some of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago Poems” a new twist to honor the volume’s 100th anniversary.

Poetry In the News

Meet the Deaf Poets Society, a Digital Journal for Writers with Disabilities

Deaf Poets Society, a new digital literary magazine, has a message for writers with disabilities: We see you. We want you to be here. And this is your space. Writer Sarah Katz, the magazine’s founder, grew up in North Potomac, Maryland, and attended a school with a program for students who were deaf or hard of hearing. “I had grown up around other deaf and hard of hearing people and took for granted that I had easy access to other people like me,” she said. That wasn’t the case at the University of Maryland, College Park, where Katz said she was the “only deaf student I knew.” As a young writer, she began seeking out the disability community and went on to earn an MFA in poetry from American University.

Deaf Poets Society, a new digital literary magazine, has a message for writers with disabilities: We see you. We want you to be here.

New Books

Hijra by Hala Alyan
[Paperback] Southern Illinois University Press, 88 pp., $15.95

In her third poetry collection, Hijra, Hala Alyan creates poems of migration and flight reflecting and bearing witness to the haunting particulars in her transnational journey as well as those of her mother, her aunts, and the female ancestors in Gaza and Syria. The reader sees war, diaspora, and immigration, and hears the marginalized voices of women of color. The poems use lyrical diction and striking imagery to evoke the weight of an emotional and visceral journey. They grow and build in length and form, reflecting the gains the women in the poems make in re-creating selfhood through endurance and strength.

Gold Bee by Bruce Bond 
[Paperback] Southern Illinois University Press, 96 pp., $15.95

In his collection Gold Bee, Bruce Bond takes his cue from Wallace Stevens’s Harmonium, bringing a finely honed talent to classic poetic questions concerning music, the march of progress, and the relationship between reality and the imagination. Blending humor and pathos, Bond examines the absurdities of contemporary life:  “The modern air so full of phantom wires, / hard to tell the connected from the confused / who yak out loud to their beleaguered angels.” At other times, his intricately crafted lyrics weave together myth and history to explore the various roles music and art play in the human experience, as when Bond’s poems meditate on Orphean themes, descending to the underworld of loneliness, commercialism, or death and emerging with hard (and hard-won) truths.

Standoff: Poems by David Rivard
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 88 pp., $16.00

For three decades, David Rivard has written from deep within the skin of our times. With Standoff, he asks an essential question: In a world of noise, of global anxiety and media distraction, how can we speak to each other with honesty? These poems scan the shifting horizons of our world, all the while swerving elastically through the multitude of selves that live inside our memories and longings–"all those me's that wish to be set free at dawn." The work of these poems is a counterweight to the work of the world. It wants to deepen the mystery we are to ourselves, stretching toward acceptance and tenderness in ways that are hard-won and true, even if fleeting.

Waterlines: Poems by Alison Pelegrin 
[Paperback] Louisiana State University Press, 64 pp., $16.95

In Waterlines, Louisiana native Alison Pelegrin gives us poems that describe the terrible power of nature even as they underscore the state's beauty. The poet moves from the familiar gaudy delights of life in New Orleans to immerse the reader in the vastly different experience of living north of Lake Pontchartrain. In this fractured world, the Bogue Falaya River becomes a highway paved with benedictions, psalms, and praise for ordinary things, as Pelegrin searches the unfamiliar for an incarnation of home. Water-the threat of hurricanes and floods, as well as the tangled geographies and histories of the rivers and lakes themselves-sustains the poet as she settles into the casual beauty of "the daily route," finding spiritual depth and delight in both human and natural wonders.

With “Standoff,” David Rivard asks: In a world of noise, of global anxiety and media distraction, how can we speak to each other with honesty?


Interview with Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
by Fox Frazier-Foley

During 2016, the Spotlight Series focuses on two poets per month whose work and consciousness move us, challenge us, inspire us. This month’s first poet is Joshua Jennifer Espinoza.  
Fox Frazier-Foley: Talk to me about the core of your creative drive and the expression it finds through poetry. There are lots of ways to be creative in this world—what motivates you to write poems, specifically? Additionally, what motivates you to navigate the poebiz landscape?

“My drive to write mostly comes from my inability to understand and deal with my own emotions as a trans feminine/mentally ill/traumatized person in a world that kind of hates all of those things.” – Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

I've been thinking lately how poets, especially Western poets, deal with one of the great themes of poetry, Time, and its passing. One of the best of our near contemporaries at looking at Time from different angles was Robert Penn Warren. Penn Warren, I fear, isn't read as widely as he once was. This is a shame, because anyone interested in this particular theme, at least, would benefit from looking at his body of poetical work. Here is an example:

Evening Hawk
by Robert Penn Warren

From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.
His wing
Scythes down another day, his motion 
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.

Look!Look! he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
Into shadow.

Long now,
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics. His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense. The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.

“The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.” – Robert Penn Warren