August 20, 2013

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1856 – Innokenti F. Annenski, Russian poet/interpreter (Laodania) [NS Sept 1], is born.

1881 – Edgar Albert Guest, Detroit Mich, poet/newspaperman, is born.

1885 – Dino Campana, Italian poet (Canti orfici);, is born.

1887 – Jules Laforgue, French poet (b. 1860), dies.

1901 – Salvatore Quasimodo, Naples Italy, poet/critic/translator (Nobel 1959), (d. 1968), is born.

1905 – Jean Gebser, German-born author, linguist, and poet (d. 1973), is born.

1986 – Milton Acorn, Canadian poet (b. 1923), dies.


Exile is harsh

and the search, for harmony, 

that ended in you

changes today

to a precocious anxiousness for death,

and every love is a shield against sadness,

a silent stair in the gloom,

where you station me

to break my bitter bread.


—from “Wind at Tindari” by Salvatore Quasimodo, 1901–1968

“Wind at Tindari” by Salvatore Quasimodo

World Poetry

Ahmet Erhan, the Iconic Poet Who Said "I haven’t died today either, mum," Passes Away

“I thought that a gun was pointed towards me / Hoarse gunshot sounds were coming from far away / One of my faces turned to parting, another to life / I haven’t died today either, mum,” Ahmet Erhan wrote in 1979. These verses that encapsulated the mood of the late 70s, about street clashes between opposing militant factions run amok, became the symbol of a generation after they were adapted to a song by the late Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya in the 90s. Read more at Hurriyet Daily News.


Being a Gay Poet in Iran: "Writing on the edge of crisis"

Iran’s government has been increasing pressure on writers and artists over the past few years, but its heavy hand does not strike evenly. Iranian poet Payam Feili, who is a gay man, is the victim of a brutal system. He was fired from his job, his translator’s house was ransacked, and the censors have shunned him. Isolated in Iran, Feili has dedicated himself to writing. He says he lives among his ideas, a citizen of his mind: “I’m writing on the edge of crisis but I think I am doing fine. I’ve gotten used to life being full of tension, horror, disruption and crisis”. Read more at the


Baku Destroys Persian Poet Inscriptions

The Azeri government has destroyed all tiles with Persian inscription in Nezami Ganjavi’s mausoleum located in Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan, in an attempt to falsify the Persian poet’s identity, reports say. According to reports, Nezami’s Persian poems had been inscribed on the tiles inside the mausoleum. The inscribed tiles were removed under the pretext of restoration work in the mausoleum. Read more at Press TV.


An Afghan Poet Shapes Metal and Hard Words

The poet guided a strip of sheet metal into the ancient steel clippers, cutting shimmering triangles that fell with a dull clang on the shop floor. In the background, a workman’s chorus filled the yard: a handsaw planing a log beam; a generator humming and catching; the groan of a giant diesel truck idling. Read more at the New York Times.

Being a Gay Poet in Iran: “Writing on the edge of crisis”

Recent Reviews

You Good Thing by Dara Wier

by Shanna Compton

Start with the title—its pronoun, that boldly caps-locked YOU on the cover. This is where each of the poems in You Good Thing begins. Contemplate its transformation from person into thing, into object of contemplation. Wonder about that sweet but somewhat noncommittal descriptor good. These are the book’s fundamental questions. But readers of Wier’s previous work will know not to expect any fixed answers: Her poetics relies on destabilization, and she has a penchant for mystery. Her narratives, where they exist, are heightened by uncanny imagery amid occasional drifts of abstract wordplay. Her method of meaning has been characterized as one of accrual, but she also enjoys reversal, negation, and collision. Her moves tend to be tentative or interrogatory rather than declarative. Sometimes she grounds the fluctuations of her work by choosing to constrain them with regular stanza patterns or pre-determined forms, as she has here. Read more at Coldfront.


What Makes Us

by Vanessa Place

As Marjorie Perloff has repeatedly noted, much of contemporary lyric poetry is prose by another name—there is nothing beyond lineation that commends it to the poetic tradition. She may be wrong insofar as there is also the persistent presence of affect, which is, as Calvin Bedient has recently chronicled, also integral to the tradition, especially the expanded lyric tradition. (In his recent Boston Review article, Bedient argues for the affective “something more” running through everyone from Bishop to Artaud, a spectrum with its own uncanny frisson.) But, beyond this affective imperative, the kind of current work Perloff describes is essentially arbitrary. It has no formal properties other than persistent lineation, largely left-hand justification and a typically idiosyncratic sense of meter that roughly translates to something like ear-feel. Contrary to Bedient’s charge that conceptualism is feeling-less work, conceptual poetry, or poetry that involves formal constraint, is not a priori devoid of affect (leaving aside the easy Cagean riposte that boredom is also an affective affect), but is poetry that is resolutely devoid of arbitrariness. I.e., conceptualism is against the arbitrary as a formal matter. Read more at Constant Critic.


South African Poetry

by David Shook 

Named after South African polymath Sol Plaatje, translator of Shakespeare into Tswana remembered for his observations on the Boer War, this anthology collects South African poems selected through submission to the Sol Plaatje Award, with Robert Berold and Charl-Pierre Naudé judging Afrikaans and English submissions and Vonani Bila judging indigenous language submissions, which composed one sixth of the total work submitted. The poems within range in setting from Kabul to Chernobyl, but the anthology’s most striking poems reflect on South African scenes and history, like Christine M. Coates “Sterkfontein Bones,” or the uniquely South African English reflected in young poet Siddiq Khan’s call and response poems, a more realistic and complete depiction than Die Antwoord’s zef-talk. Read more at Molossus.


Hello, the Roses by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

by Timothy Liu

If anything, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge is a Romantic. But rather than walk into a forest or out into a desert projecting her poetic feelings onto whatever she might encounter, our poet wants something additional: call it reciprocity! Call it what you may—a post-Romantic eco-poetics?—but be prepared to have the landscape (and all the sentient life it might contain) project its emotions and thoughts onto her. This goes beyond any simple Keatsian capacity for Negative Capability, for in this new world naked, one is just as likely to find the Imagination enthroned in the psyche of a poet as in the locked matrix of a piece of smoked quartz. Berssenbrugge not only communes with nature, she communicates with insects. She talks with rocks and trees, feels their feelings, thinks their thoughts. And perhaps vice versa. These are some of the claims she makes in her new book of poems. Read more at Coldfront.


Second Acts: A Second Look at Second Books by Donald Justice and Allison Benis White* 

by Lisa Russ Spaar

In 1967, the Beatles'' newly released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was providing a renegade soundtrack for the Summer of Love. On stage at the Monterey Pop Festival, Jimi Hendrix set his black Fender Stratocaster afire. Newark burned in six days of racial rioting; for six days of strife in June, the Middle East raged. In Vietnam, the war escalated. Hordes marched on Washington to protest it, and Allen Ginsberg chanted to “levitate” the Pentagon. Langston Hughes, Alice B. Toklas, and John Coltrane died; Dave Matthews, Pamela Anderson, and Will Ferrell were born. In the world of American poetry, John Berryman’s Sonnets appeared from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Ted Berrigan’s Many Happy Returns, Robert Creeley’s Words, James Wright’s Shall We Gather at the River, Gwendolyn Brooks’s the bitch, Robert Lowell’s Near the Ocean, and a collaborative text called Bean Spasms (Berrigan, Ron Padgett, and Joe Brainard) that helped to define the New York literary/pop scene, were all published. On January 1 of that turbulent year, Wesleyan University Press brought out Night Light, the second full-length collection of poetry by Donald Justice (1925–2004), then in his early 40s.  .  .  .  Read more at the LA Review of Books.

You Good Thing by Dara Wier


A Nearly Perfect Book

by Nathan Heller 

Many poems enact wild rides of the imagination, but John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” which announced a new kind of craft in 1974, is also vivid in concreteness and its emphasis on form. Referencing a Mannerist painting by Parmigianino, Ashbery carefully elaborates size, angle, light, texture, and time (a “peculiar slant / Of memory”) to tease out his poem’s intellectual shape—an approach that draws particular attention to the piece’s own materiality. For a publisher of sensitivity, the work raises a particular question: how to publish a poem that brings the physicality of seeing, reading, and writing so distinctly to the fore? That was one challenge that Andrew Hoyem, one of the leading letterpress printers in the country, faced 29 years ago when he undertook a new edition of the poem. Read more at Harvard Magazine.


What Memorization Taught Caleb Crain About His Favorite W.H. Auden Poem

by Joe Fassler

There was a time when every able schoolchild in American memorized poems — which is perhaps why the very word "memorization," for many, conjures unhappy images of 1950s schoolrooms where glassy-eyed kids chant out rote lessons before the air raid drill. But today, most of us barely retain the phone numbers of cherished friends and lovers. Since our gadgets store the information that we must be counted on to recall, freeing our brains to pursue bigger ideas, why memorize a poem? Why go beyond simple on-the-page appreciation and learn a piece by heart? Read more at The Atlantic.


Listed: Poems Inspired by Paintings

by Fisun Güner

Poetry has always inspired artists. Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Dante’sDivine Comedy are two of the most enduring. And according to Art Everywhere, of which I will say little here but have written about elsewhere (see sidebar), the nation’s favourite painting is inspired by a more recent poem: JW Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott shows the ill-fated heroine of Tennyson’s famous verse moving inexorably towards her watery death “like some bold seer in a trance”. The second favourite is, incidentally, another narrative illustration of an ill-fated heroine on the point of meeting her watery fate – Millais’s Ophelia. The Victorian era was the last big hurrah of literature-inspired visual works of art, and it was decidedly gothic in flavour.  But the 20th century saw the death of narrative painting, and illustrations from myth and literature dropped out of fashion. Read more at The Arts Desk.


Poster Poems: Found Poetry

by Billy Mills

One night sometime in the early 1930s a New Jersey doctor left a note for his wife on the door of their fridge. He looked at it again and saw something he hadn't noticed when first writing it down, something that made him write it out anew. The doctor was William Carlos Williams and the note became This is just to say, one of the best-known and most widely discussed "found poems" ever written. There was nothing particularly new about poems that used existing texts as their starting point, but Williams managed to create an example that was both ordinary and controversial at the same time, and it still stands as something of a breakthrough moment in American literature. Read more at The Guardian.



Listed: Poems Inspired by Paintings

Drafts & Fragments

鹿柴 Lu Chai Classical Chinese Poem 

Hi everyone today we are going to look at another classic Chinese Tang Dynasty poem, this time by poet 王維 Wáng Wéi (701 – 761 AD). Wang Wei was a Chinese government official during the Tang Dynasty, he was also a devout Buddhist, so he was sometimes referred to as 詩佛 Shī fó the Poetry Buddha. Read more at Learn Chinese Now. 


Poetry by Post

Suffering from walls devoid of meaning? Need something to chew on while brushing your teeth? To dwell on while dishwashing? Perhaps you already make a habit of filling your living room and your life with poetry and want more of it. Or possibly you don’t like poetry one lick because your English teacher made you read verse you found indigestible. Well, printer, calligrapher, and doctor of philosophy Laura Capp of Pentameter Press Studio has just the thing to cure your ills. Read more at Pentameter Press.

鹿柴 Lu Chai Classical Chinese Poem

Poetry In the News

Boston Hosts the National Poetry Slam Again

“Dear Walt Disney,” the young man begins after walking up to the microphone. He’s 24, but he’s still having a hard time with the death of Mufasa in “The Lion King.” The crowd, nearing the end of another Sunday night poetry slam at the Lizard Lounge, is with him from his comically anguished opening words, laughing and shouting encouragement. Stephen Larbi, who joined City Year in Providence as a program director after graduating from the University of Rhode Island, is new to slam poetry, but he’s already hooked. “I used to try to rap, and this is another way to express myself,” Larbi says later in the evening. “I’m addicted to performing. It’s like a hunger — you keep feeding it. You never know who you will impact.” That’s how each of the 400 or so performance poets who are descending this week on Boston feel about their craft. Read more at the Boston Globe.


The Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry (2013)

With more than 75,000 poets in the United States alone, and more than 20,000 books of poetry published in America each decade, lists of "top poets" have increasingly become anachronistic. The poets favored by one reader will invariably not be the poets favored by another; in fact, it's getting harder and harder to find two readers whose reading interests or even reading lists exhibit much overlap at all. Too many such lists, such as the widely- and justly-panned one recently published by Flavorwire, exhibit obvious age, race, ethnicity, and (particularly) geographic biases. Read more at the Huffington Post.


Mehigan, Kasischke, Novey, Robbins Among Award Winners at Poetry Magazine

Poetry has announced winners of its 2013 prizes for contributors. From the Poetry Foundation: “Eliza Griswold, Anna Maria Hong, Laura Kasischke, Idra Novey, Miller Oberman, Randall Mann, Joshua Mehigan, Seamus Murphy and Michael Robbins are the winners of eight awards for contributions to Poetry over the past year. The prizes are awarded for poems, prose and visual content published during the past 12 months, from October 2012 to September 2013. Read more at Coldfront.


John Hollander, Poet at Ease With Intellectualism and Wit, Dies at 83

John Hollander, a virtuosic poet who breathed new life into traditional verse forms and whose later work achieved a visionary, mythic sweep, died on Saturday in Branford, Conn. He was 83. As a young poet, Mr. Hollander fell under the influence of W. H. Auden, whose experiments in fusing contemporary subject matter with traditional metric forms he emulated. It was Auden who selected Mr. Hollander’s first collection of poems, “A Crackling of Thorns,” for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, which published it in 1958 with an introduction by Auden. Read more at the New York Times.

Boston Hosts the National Poetry Slam Again

New Books

The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise

[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd., 88 pp., $16.00

The Los Angeles Times described Jillian Weise's debut poetry collection as "a fearless dissection of the taboo and the hidden." In this second collection she forwards her bold, sexy poetics by chronicling an affair with a man she names "Big Logos." These poems throw into question sex, the law, identity, sentiment, and power, shifting between lyric and narrative, hyper-realism and magical realism, fact and fiction.


On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson 

[Hardcover] Solid Objects, 64 pp., $16.00

"This book is continuing a tradition of Neo-Spiritualist literature in America where the poem is the means of divination. The poem is a map of a world where ghosts and unattributed thinkers and writers haunt and intrude and give signals to the world next to us. This is an occupation for all poets, the most secular to the most conceptual and the most experiential and spontaneous. If words appear in prose here in these pages, they are still the production of a New Spiritualist poet who feels the presences and wants to tell us about them."—Fanny Howe 


Glass Wings by Fleur Adcock 

[Paperback] Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 80 pp., $22.95

Fleur Adcock's title refers to the transparent, glittering wings of some of the species — bees, mosquitoes, dragonflies — celebrated or lamented in a sequence of poems on encounters with arthropods, from the stick insects and crayfish of her native New Zealand to the clothes' moths that infest her London house. Other sections of the book include elegies for human beings and poems based on family wills from the 16th and 20th centuries, as well as birthday greetings for old friends and for a new great-grandson.


Virtue, Big as Sin: Poems by Frank Osen

[Paperback] Able Muse Press, 84 pp., $17.95

"Frank Osen’s Virtue, Big as Sin offers one witty, elegant poem after another. The rhymes are especially clever, the meter sure, the stanzas well-shaped, but this poet’s sense of proportion is also reflected in wisdom (and what is wisdom but a sense of proportion?). An urbane maker of sparkling phrases like 'that genuine Ur of the ersatz,' Osen can also write plainly, movingly, about a young girl’s funeral. And he reflects often on art itself, which he so rightly calls 'the conjured awe.' ”
  —Mary Jo Salter


F: Poems by Franz Wright

[Hardcover] Knopf, 96 pp., $26.95
In these riveting poems, Wright declares, “I’ve said all that / I had to say. / In writing. / I signed my name. / It’s death’s move.” As he considers his mortality, the poet finds a new elation and clarity on the page, handing over for our examination the flawed yet kneeling-in-gratitude self he has become. F stands both for Franz, the poet-speaker who represents all of us on our baffling lifelong journeys, and for the alphabet, the utility and sometimes brutality of our symbols. (It may be, he jokes grimly, his “grade in life.”) From “Entries of the Cell,” the long central poem that details the loneliness of the single soul, to short narrative prose poems and traditional lyrics, Wright revels in the compensatory power of language, observing the daytime headlights following a hearse, or the wind, “blessing one by one the unlighted buds of the backbent peach tree’s unnoted return.” He is at his best in this beautiful and startling collection.

The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise


An Interview with Bill Tremblay on Radical Poetry and the Art and Life of David Siqueiros

by Douglas Valentine 

I’m beginning the “Political Poetry” series with an interview with poet Bill Tremblay and an overview of his new book, Magician’s Hat: Poems on the Life and Art of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Bill Tremblay was born in Southbridge, Massachusetts. His poems have been published in literary magazines and seven prior books in the United States and Canada.  He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Fulbright, a Pushcart Prize, and inclusion in Best American Poetry. He is a John F. Stern Distinguished Professor for his thirty-three years teaching in and directing the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Colorado State University. He co-founded the literary magazine, Colorado Review. Read more at Counterpunch.


Conor O’Callaghan: ‘it’s a foolish idea that poets should be broke’

by Philip Cummins 

Dundalk poet Conor O’Callaghan is pacing the corridors of a Drogheda hotel. There are only a couple of hours to go until the launch of his latest collection of poetry and the 45-year-old is in a reflective mood as he teases out why it has taken nearly a decade to produce The Sun King, his fourth collection of poems and his first in eight years. “I do think that writing poems is to do with energy,” he says of his ‘slow grafter’ approach and carefully spent time in crafting a new body of work. “Michael Hofmann [the German-born poet] once said ‘the hardest thing about being a poet is continuing to be one’. There are loads and loads of reasons for that: reputation, lack of encouragement, lack of money… the older you get, the more your energy gets used on other things. Read more at the Irish Post.

An Interview with Bill Tremblay on Radical Poetry and the Art and Life of David Siqueiros

Envoi: Editor’s Notes


I had a chance to visit the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) a week ago. Housed in a huge restored textile mill, the museum doesn't appear to have any permanent collection; instead it has on display a handful of distinctive and compelling exhibits. One of those is the work of Tom Phillips. Phillips has been working on a project since the mid sixties titled A Humument. Based on W. H. Mallock's novel titled The Human Document, A Humument, which he refers to as a "treated Victorian novel," is Phillips's artistic obsession (my word) with finding poetry on every page of the novel as he manipulates the original narrative to one of his own making. After yoking together words and phrases from each page to create these found poems, he then illuminates the remainder of the page. Part poetry, part collage, part painting, A Humament  covered several walls of the museum; each page was represented in its original format with two altered identical pages beneath the original. Here is a link to his website and a look at what is obviously, for me, hard to describe. Nonetheless, there is poetry there. For those in the vicinity, it's worth a trip to North Adams, Mass.

The Human Document, A Humument