August 31, 2017

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1645—Francesco Bracciolini, Italian poet (b. 1566), dies.

1667—Johann von Rist, German composer and poet known for his hymns, dies at 60.
1811—Theophile Gautier, Tarbas France, writer/poet (Albertus), is born.
1867—[Pierre-]Charles Baudelaire, Fren poet (Journaux Intimes), dies at 46.
1919—Amrita Preetam, Indian poet and author (d. 2005), is born.
1941—Marina Tsvetaeva, Russian poet (b. 1892), dies.
1967—Ilja G Ehrenburg, Russian poet/writer (9th wave), dies at 76.

How’s life? Do you cough?
Do you hum to drown out the mice in your mind?

How do you live with cheap goods: is the market rising?
How’s kissing plaster-dust?

Are you bored with her new body?
How’s it going, with an earthly woman, 
with no sixth sense?

                                                         Are you happy?
No? In a shallow pit—how is your life,
my beloved? Hard as mine
with another man?

—from “An Attempt at Jealousy” by Marina Tsvetaeva
translated by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine

“How’s life? Do you cough? / Do you hum to drown out the mice in your mind?” – Marina Tsvetaeva

World Poetry

A Chinese Poet’s Unusual Path From Isolated Farm Life to Celebrity

The woman who has become one of China’s most-read poets — even hailed as its Emily Dickinson — spent most of her 41 years in a brick farmhouse tucked away behind trees and surrounded by wheat fields. Most days she would limp down a dirt lane to a pond to feed the fish. She cut grass, grasping a sickle with hands that did not always obey her, to feed her rabbits. In the shade near the house she wrote at a low table, struggling to control her shaking body — a symptom of the cerebral palsy that she has lived with since she was born in this village in the central province of Hubei. Then, in 2014, her life changed.

Poet Held in Southern China Over Planned Poetry Anthology Remembering Liu Xiaob

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have criminally detained a poet after he compiled an anthology to commemorate late Nobel peace laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died last month of liver cancer in police custody. Wu Minglang, 49, known by his pen-name Langzi, was detained in Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou on Aug. 18 on suspicion of "illegal business activity."

Authorities in China have detained a poet after he compiled an anthology to commemorate late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Recent Reviews

A New Poetry Collection Proves Gerald Stern Is Still Hungry at 92
by David Kirby

The best explanation of why anyone would want to take up the lonely, unglamorous and generally ill-paid business of writing is voiced by Tom, the narrator of Tennessee Williams’s story “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin.” Tom is a 12-year-old boy who is both jealous of his older sister’s boyfriend and attracted to the boyfriend himself. From the heart of his predicament, Tom says, “And it was then, about that time, that I began to find life unsatisfactory as an explanation of itself and was forced to adopt the method of the artist of not explaining but putting the blocks together in some other way that seems more significant to him.”

Varieties of Inheritance: Leithauser, Kirsch, Sinclair, Allen, Sanders
by Stephen Kampa

Emily Leithauser’s poems forgo histrionics. With their careful, muted tones and measured progress toward quiet conclusions, they might seem too modest were it not for the soft-spoken brutality underlying some of them. In “Undertow,” a speaker responsible for a younger swimmer considers options:

I tell you that I’ll steer us through,
but something pulls and I release
your palm from mine, letting the current
comb and choke your little ribs
for half a second. Then I decide
to tug you up and lead us home.
Granted, it’s half a second, but it’s the half a second most of us would prefer to forget. 

Art as Target. Art as Grid: On Mary Jo Salter’s “The Surveyors”
by Rachel Hadas

Up in a corner of Vermont for the summer, I recently happened to attend two very different readings of work by local poets in the space of four days. I found myself freshly alerted, on however pastoral and manageable a scale, to a couple of the numerous flavors or currents of contemporary American poetry. There are always questions behind the presentation of any new work: Who has this poet been reading? What poetic genealogy have they chosen, consciously or otherwise? How does she turn life into art? What does he choose to include and what does he omit? What is the work trying to do? How about history, current events, a vision of a wider world — how do these figure in the work? And does the poet’s how (style, form, voice, syntax, diction) prevail over their what (idea, substance, what used to be called theme, what my students like to call the lesson or moral)?

A new poetry collection proves Gerald Stern is still hungry at 92.


Never Meet Your (Anti-)Heroes: My Correspondence with Bill Knott
by Jeff Alessandrelli

According to Wikipedia or the Poetry Foundation site Bill Knott is just another dead poet. Long ago the winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship, author of poetry collections with strange titles like Becos and Rome in Rome. At this point Knott died three and a half years ago, in March of 2014, but with the recent publication of a Selected Poems volume by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, the poet is gaining some of the (positive) attention he rarely received while alive. To name only a few, reviews and think pieces on Knott have been published in the past six months at The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review and The Los Angeles Times. I didn’t really know Bill Knott, not at all. We never met—which was for the best.    

Reading a Dysfunctional World
Why Merwin’s The Lice is needed now more than ever.
by Adrienne Raphel

The Lice, W.S. Merwin’s sixth and possibly most iconic collection of poetry, was published in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War. When the book first appeared, some readers shuddered: its confluence of mythology and ugly physical reality struck a nerve with a world shaken politically and environmentally to its core. The book “perfectly captured the peculiar spiritual agony of our time,” Laurence Lieberman wrote in The Yale Review. Today, on its 50th anniversary rerelease by Copper Canyon Press, the book feels eerily of the moment: these are poems charged with uncertainty, written in a world on the brink of environmental meltdown torn by tyrants. 

Delmore Schwartz and the Biographer’s Obsession
by James Atlas

On a late afternoon on Christmas Eve, 1974, I sat alone at a long wooden table in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, at Yale. On the table were six large cardboard storage boxes. I took the top off of one and peered inside: chaos. Manuscripts, letters, loose papers, and manila envelopes, all jumbled together as if they’d been tossed in the box by movers in a hurry—which, as it happened, they had.

The Internal Exile of Dulce María Loynaz
by Carina del Valle Schorske

All around Latin America, there are rivers, farms, streets, neighborhoods, and towns named Salsipuedes, which means “Leave If You Can.” The original site bearing this name may be a tributary of the Río Negro, in Uruguay, where, in 1831, President Fructuoso Rivera’s army captured the few members of the Charrúa people who had survived the genocidal Salsipuedes campaign. The river flowed on from that moment of terror, carrying the trace of blood and dispossession inside a name that people would come to sing with sweet nostalgia: in 1948, the Colombian bandleader Lucho Bermúdez made it a popular song, “Salsipuedes, Tierra de Amor” (“Leave If You Can, Land of Love.”)

Drafts & Fragments

5 New Poems by Master Haikuist Shiki Found 150 Years after Birth
by Yuki Ogawa

A 32-page notebook containing five previously unpublished works by celebrated haiku poet Masaoka Shiki has been found on the 150th anniversary of his birth. The notebook's existence was no secret, but it had been missing for years. Aside from eight works in his own hand, it contains two self-portraits. The poems were created on Jan. 1, 1901, the year before Shiki, who was active throughout the Meiji Era (1868-1912), died at the age of 34.

A 32-page notebook containing five previously unpublished works by celebrated haiku poet Masaoka Shiki has been found.

Poetry In the News

In Gloucester, T.S. Eliot Finally Comes Home

Though born in St. Louis, T.S. Eliot, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and author of “The Waste Land,” is often associated with his adopted home of England, where he became a British citizen in 1927 after converting to Anglicanism.

Less well known is that Thomas Stearns Eliot spent many of his happiest days as a child at the family’s summer home in Gloucester, where the young poet explored Cape Ann’s forbidding coast, studied its birdlife, and was deeply impressed by the unforgiving power of the sea — images he would return to throughout his career.

Poet Jorie Graham Wins $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award

One of the country’s most honored poets, Jorie Graham, has received a $100,000 lifetime achievement award. The Academy of American Poets told The Associated Press on Monday that Graham is this year’s winner of the Wallace Stevens Award for “proven mastery” in poetry. 

Few know that T.S. Eliot spent his happiest days a cihld at his family’s summer home in Gloucester, MA.

New Books

The Essential W.S. Merwin by W. S. Merwin
[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 200 pp., $18.00 

The Essential W.S. Merwin traces a poetic legacy that has changed the landscape of American letters: seven decades of audacity, rigor, and candor distilled into one definite volume curated to represent the very best works from a vast oeuvre, from his 1952 debut, A Mask for Janus, to 2016’s Garden Time.The Essential W.S. Merwin includes favorite poems from two Pulitzer Prize-winning volumes; a selection of iconic translations; and lesser-known prose narratives. 

Even Years by Christine Gosnay
[Paperback] The Kent State University Press, 88 pp., $15.00

“The poems in Christine Gosnay’s first book, Even Years, speak with a voice that animates and astonishes us as they delineate and explore, trace and explode, the ‘order of shapes in the light’―the order of words, of moments in a life, of shifts in perspective between the ‘cleave and / Cleave’ of language. In these piercing and evocative poems, we see, as in the poems of Stevens and Dickinson, ‘The back of the eye / where it has been struck by all things’ (’N-gram’). "Surprising and moving, Gosnay’s work shows us what the ‘clean blue sleeve’ of language can do, and we are transformed and held by this book the way the speaker in the final poem is compelled by a ‘photograph of rose baskets in Morocco’: ‘Nothing on earth could keep me from pressing it to my face.’”―Angie Estes

Unlikely Designs by Katie Willingham 
[Paperback] University Of Chicago Press, 104 pp., $18.00

A collection intent on worrying the boundaries between natural and unnatural, human and not, Unlikely Designs draws far-ranging source material from the back channels of knowledge-making: the talk pages of Wikipedia, the personal writings of Charles Darwin, the love advice doled out by chatbots, and the eclectic inclusions on the Golden Record time capsule. 

The Surveyors: Poems by Mary Jo Salter
[Hardcover] Knopf, 112 pp., $27.00

A beautiful new collection from Mary Jo Salter brings us poems of puzzlement and acceptance in the face of life's surprises. "I'm still alive and now I'm in Bratislava," says the speaker of one of Salter's poems, as she travels with her unlikely late-in-life love, a military man. She never expected to be here, to know someone like him, to be parted from her previous life; how did it happen? Time is hurtling, but these poems try to slow it down to examine its curious by-products–the prints of Dürer, an Afghan carpet, photographs of people we've lost. The title poem, a crown of sonnets, takes up key moments in the poet's past, the quirky advent of poetic inspiration, and the seemingly sci-fi future of the universe. 

So Where Are We?: Poems by Lawrence Joseph
[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 80 pp., $23.00 

“So where are we?” asks Lawrence Joseph in the title poem of his powerful and moving sixth book of poetry. Beginning where his acclaimed collection Into It left off, amid the worldwide violence unleashed by the World Trade Center terrorist attack, Joseph’s poems―global and historic in scope―boldly encounter the imaginative challenges of our time: issues of political economy, labor and capital, racism and war, and “the point at which / violence becomes ontology, / these endless ambitious experiments in destruction, / a species grief.” 

Unlikely Designs draws far-ranging source material: Wikipedia talk pages, the personal writings Darwin, and the love advice from chatbots.


Interview with Poet Matthew Zapruder
by Jessica Zack

Anyone who remembers tackling T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” in school, trying to tease meaning from the dense modernist poem, probably knows just what Matthew Zapruder means when he takes issue with poetry’s unfortunate reputation for being “deliberately difficult.” A poet today can seem like a practitioner of some arcane, inscrutable art form, and thus many people never return to the genre — unless they’re in need of a verse for a wedding or eulogy. In his penetrating yet refreshingly straightforward new book “Why Poetry” (Ecco; $24.99), Zapruder, author of four books of poetry and recent poetry editor of the New York Times Magazine, makes a cogent, as well as lyrical, argument that viewing poems as codes to be cracked impedes our direct experience and appreciation of poetic language.

Star Poet Bao Phi on Racism, Writing and Why He Chooses to Stay in Minneapolis
by Crystal Duan 

Poet and spoken word artist Bao Phi speaks with a mighty voice when he’s onstage. In person, however, he keeps things more modest. The two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion spoke with a hesitant but thoughtful lilt during a recent interview. And he wore simple black square-frame glasses, enhancing a series of pensive expressions as he discussed racism, work and his family.

What Scares Writer and Zen Buddhist Ocean Vuong
by Raisa Tolchinsky

Every morning when he wakes up, poet and Zen Buddhist Ocean Vuong asks himself if he will use fear or compassion as a fuel for his work. Vuong’s latest collection of poems, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, has propelled the 28-year-old writer and assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst into the literary spotlight. The collection is a vulnerable, unflinching investigation of Vuong’s identity as a Vietnamese immigrant (he came to the United States as a toddler), a son, and a poet.

The Possible Absence of a Future: Talking with Jorie Graham
by Erin Lyndal Martin

I saw Jorie Graham give a reading once in spring 2008. It was at the Brookline Booksmith in the Boston area, and she was reading from her then-new collection Sea Change. Though I’d loved her work for years, I wasn’t sure what to expect at her reading and feared that in person she might not conjure the meticulous passion that’s informed her work throughout her career.

Every morning when he wakes up, Ocean Vuong asks himself if he will use fear or compassion as a fuel for his work.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Bill Knott

"I often recommend to my students that they take their two favorite poets and try to combine them as an exercise. To do a quantitative line-by-line analysis of a template poem by poet X, and the same with poet Y. (All successful poets have a template poem.) How many verbs per line? Adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, concrete nouns, abstract nouns, etc. Count them up. Take the number-totals from the two models and add them together, and then divide those in half. And then use that final amount to write your own poem. Split the difference. Combine the quantitative habits of your two faves to create your own constant. (What the successful poet knows that you don’t, I tell the students, is how to quantitatively distribute the elements of language (verbs, nouns, etc.) down the page in an effective and commensurate ratio.)"
—from An Interview with Bill Knott by Robert Arnold

“I often recommend to my students that they take their two favorite poets and try to combine them as an exercise.” – Bill Knott