December 2, 2015

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1868 – Francis Jammes, French poet/writer (Jammisme), is born.
1918 – Edmond Rostand, French poet and dramatist (b. 1868), dies.
1943 – Nordahl Grieg, Norwegian poet/dramatist/novelist (The Defeat), dies at 41.
1985 – Philip Larkin, [hermit of Hull], English poet, dies at 63.
2004 – Mona Van Duyn, American poet (b. 1921), dies.


For what is story if not relief from the pain
of the inconclusive, from dread of the meaningless?
Minds in their silent blast-offs search through space–
how often I've followed yours!–for a resting-place.
And I'll follow, past each universe in its spangled
ballgown who waits for the slow-dance of life to start,
past vacancies of darkness who vainglory
is endless as death's, to find the end of the story. 

—from “Endings” by Mona Van Duyn (1921–2004)

For what is story if not relief from the pain / of the inconclusive, from dread of the meaningless? — Mona Van Duyn

World Poetry

Israel Issues Entry Permit for Exiled Iranian Poet

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom has approved entry into Israel for exiled Iranian poet Payam Feili, Israel Radio reported Tuesday. Feili’s visit coincides with the Tel Aviv premier of the play “Three Reasons”, which is based in part on his poetry. The openly gay 30-year-old has been living in Turkey for over a year, having been forced into exile from Iran after numerous arrests, threats, censorship and run-ins with the Iran’s conservative Revolutionary Guards.

Guardian First Book Award 2015 Goes to Poet Andrew McMillan

The poet Andrew McMillan has won the 2015 Guardian first book award with his elegantly poised and intimate collection of poems, Physical. McMillan is the first poet to win the £10,000 prize since it began in 1999, replacing the Guardian fiction prize with an award open to debuts of any genre.

Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom has approved entry into Israel for exiled Iranian poet Payam Feili.

Recent Reviews

Almost the Equinox by Sarah Maguire review – elegant and breathtaking
by Kate Kellaway

Sarah Maguire’s Almost the Equinox is a bouquet gathered over time. These beautiful poems belong together – in a way that is rarely the case with selected poems. She is our finest gardener-poet, her botanical knowledge evident but unostentatious in her poems about flowers. You see her recalcitrant gardenia as if it were in front of you: “One lopsided, scorched-brown bloom…” Her secretive African violet is vividly present, too: “Hirsute secret hoods/ ease back/ the gauzy, veiled flesh/ to a star of opening mauve,/ pierced at the heart / with sheer gold…” And oranges, souvenirs of Taliouine, are described with tart truthfulness: “Oh, they were sharp! like hybrid grapefruit…”

Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems by Robin Coste Lewis
by Diana Arterian

“All is suffering is a bad modernist translation,” Robin Coste Lewis explains. “What the Buddha really said is: It’s all a mixed bag. Shit / is complicated. Everything’s fucked up. Everything’s gorgeous.” This binding of seemingly opposing tethers as a means of considering life and all it entails is the most apt description of Lewis’s collection Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems (Knopf). “Everything’s fucked up. Everything’s gorgeous” so neatly traces my pendulum-like emotional response to the poems in this collection. For while this book compellingly and terrifyingly documents the racist patriarchal systems, particularly intersectionality à la Kimberlé Crenshaw, in our modern society (and how those that go way—way—back), Lewis does so with a remarkable hopefulness, and in the face of what would make most rage and/or collapse.

Ezra Pound: Posthumous Cantos edited by Massimo Bacigalupo review
Fresh insights into an epic masterpiece
by Patrick McGuinness

Ezra Pound’s life is worth several fictions, but one unlikely novel he turns up in is Elmore Leonard’s Pronto, where a Miami Beach bookie, Harry Arno, uses the money he has skimmed from his bosses to retire to the Italian town of Rapallo. Rapallo has obvious attractions for a small-time fraudster on the run – the food, the climate, the girls – but the real draw, we discover, is Pound. Arno was a US soldier in Pisa in 1945, where the poet, imprisoned for treason, was in an outdoor steel cage writing what would become the Pisan Cantos.

The World before Snow: Review
by John Field

Early morning's untrodden snow is inviting because you are called, in your own small way, to be an intrepid explorer ­- to chart the uncharted. Reading contemporary poetry offers this excitement; you can hear your soles crunching the first footsteps into the landscape. Tim Liardet's The World Before Snow poses questions and sets challenges. Its point of embarkation is a love affair in blizzard-bound Boston and, as the reader, you will reach the 
Liardet opens each of the collection's four sequences with a touchstone entitled ‘Ommerike'. Some online commentators see America's roots in ‘omme-rike', Norse for ‘remotest land'. However, the Oxford English Dictionary begs to differ, seeing the continent as named after the Florentine explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. Either way, language feels unstable and contested – as does the Internet when asked to adjudicate on this matter.

Ezra Pound’s life is worth several fictions, but one unlikely novel he turns up in is Elmore Leonard’s “Pronto.”


Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell: Poetry in Need of Music
By Fred Plotkin

On any given night in New York there are so many cultural events available to the discerning and the curious that occasionally something worthy falls below the radar. Such is the case, I believe, with a new play called Dear Elizabeth, by Sarah Ruhl, now receiving its first New York production at the Women’s Project Theater through December 5. Its world premiere was in 2012 at the Yale Repertory Theatre starring Mary Beth Fisher and Jefferson Mays. It should be widely produced and I hope it becomes a staple in theaters around the nation. If you know the play Love Letters by A.R. Gurney you will have some small sense of what Dear Elizabeth is like. Both plays are “two-handers” in which a talented actress and actor read letters to one another that delineate a relationship between the two characters. But there is a key difference: in the Gurney play the man and woman are inventions of an author who created a fictional correspondence as a means of our discovering the couple.

Things Being Various
by Michael Caines

Last Tuesday: at the Museum of London I hear Belinda Jack speak about the difficulties of releasing Sylvia Plath’s poetry from the straitjacket of biography and the critical limits posthumously imposed on it by others. Wednesday: at the Poetry Café I hear Jeremy Noel-Tod point out, in the course of a wide-ranging conversation about modern British poetry and its discontents, that Plath was born in the same year as Geoffrey Hill. Imagine the Collected Poems of a Plath now in her eighties! That would make Ariel an early work. (I recall Professor Jack’s observation of the previous evening that it was Hughes who had labelled everything Plath wrote before she met him “juvenilia”.) What could a longer-lived Plath (not) have done? What would her influence be now?

A new play, “Dear Elizabeth,” explores the relationship between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

Drafts & Fragments

Poem on 9th-century Wood Could Provide Missing Link between Kanji, Hiragana
by Tomoyoshi Kubo

A poem written on a wooden board dating back to the late ninth century will provide clues on how the hiragana phonetic alphabet derived from kanji characters imported from China, researchers said. The entire verse of famed tanka poem “Naniwazu” was inscribed in ink on Japanese cypress in an intermediary syllabary between manyogana, one of the earliest Japanese writing systems dating back to the fifth century, and hiragana, the Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute said on Nov. 26.

A recently discovered copy of tanka poem “Naniwazu” could provide clues on how the hiragana phonetic alphabet developed.

Poetry In the News

Charges Dropped Against Poet Arrested During Laquan McDonald Protest March

Saying it was in the “best interest” of the city, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dropped charges Wednesday against a poet and community activist who was arrested during a protest on Tuesday. Malcolm X. London had been accused of punching a Chicago Police officer in the face during protests tied to the deadly shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. “You are free to go,” Judge Peggy Chiampas told London.

Fellow Poets Protest Saudi Death Sentence Facing Ashraf Fayadh

Poets from around the world are lining up in solidarity with the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, with the Syrian poet Adonis, Ireland’s Paul Muldoon and Britain’s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy among the signatories to a letter laying out how “appalled” they are at the death sentence he has been handed by Saudi Arabian authorities.

Authorities dropped charges against poet Malcolm X. London, who was arrested while taking part in protests tied to the death of Laquan McDonald.

New Books

Small Mothers of Fright: Poems by Tara Bray 
[Paperback] LSU Press, 76 pp., $16.95

In Small Mothers of Fright, Tara Bray draws on her experiences as a mother struggling to strike a balance between protecting her daughter from the world’s perils and dazzling her with its many wonders. The birds that fill these pages convey a sense of fragility and uncertainty, while the rhythm of the seasons provides a comfort that promises the old will be made new again. In a precise yet accessible style, Bray writes about fleeting actions and thoughts that, in sum, create the memorable, lasting moments of life. In one poem, a woman reflects on “the way the young self rushes in” as she blasts music from her past on the car radio, deliberately calling forth the contrast between past pain and present satisfactions. It is the world of the simple and overlooked―crows, wrens, food, tea, sermons, ragged coyotes, runners, yogis, poppies― that serves as something to hold to in spite of loss, human frailty, and unease.

Shock by Shock by Dean Young
[Hardcover] Copper Canyon Press, 120 pp., $23.00

Dean Young escorts his transplanted heart into invigorating poetic territory that combines the joy of being alive with his signature mixture of surrealism, humor, and fast-cut imagery. A Pulitzer finalist known for his hard-won insights, NPR said it best when they observed that Young sees "even in the smallest things the heights of what we can be."

The Selected Poems of Donald Hall 
[Hardcover] Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 160 pp., $22.00

Former poet laureate Donald Hall selects the essential work from a moving and brilliant life in poetry. The ability to write poems has “abandoned” Donald Hall, now in his eighties, one of the most significant — and beloved — poets of his generation. Instead of creating new poems, he has looked back over his astonishingly rich body of work and hand-picked poems for this final, concise volume that will delight, and endure. The Selected Poems of Donald Hall is the definitive collection, showcasing poems rich with humor and eros and “a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines” (Billy Collins). 

No Confession, No Mass by Jennifer Perrine
[Paperback] University of Nebraska Press, 82 pp., $17.95

Whether exploring the porous borders between sin and virtue or examining the lives of saints and mystics to find the human experiences in stories of the divine, the poems in No Confession, No Mass move toward restoration and reunion. Jennifer Perrine’s poems ask what healing might be possible in the face of sexual and gendered violence worldwide—in New Delhi, in Steubenville, in Juárez, and in neighborhoods and homes never named in the news. The book reflects on our own complicity in violence, “not confessing, but unearthing” former selves who were brutal and brutalized—and treating them with compassion. As the poems work through these seeming paradoxes, they also find joy, celebrating transformations and second chances, whether after the failure of a marriage, the return of a reluctant soldier from war, or the everyday passage of time. Through the play of language in received forms—abecedarian, sonnet, ballad, ghazal, villanelle, ballade—and in free verse buzzing with assonance, alliteration, and rhyme, these poems sing their resistance to violence in all its forms.

Forgive the Language: Essays on Poets and Poetry by Katy Evans-Bush
[Paperback] Penned in the Margins, 232 pp., $13.40

Typewriters, plagiarism and the poetic line are just three of the subjects under the spotlight in this book of essays by much-loved literary blogger Katy Evans-Bush. Studies of Ted Hughes, Louis MacNeice and Dylan Thomas sit alongside a new look at Keats, a search for forgotten war poet Eloise Robinson, and practical guides on poetic technique.Katy Evans-Bush combines the intellectual rigour of the literary critic with the dynamism of a seasoned traveller in the blogosphere. These essays place poetry at the heart of contemporary culture, meeting at the borders it shares with music, politics and sculpture. She writes about art and life in a way that is generous, witty and incisive.

Typewriters, plagiarism and the poetic line are just three of the subjects under the spotlight in a new book of essays by blogger Katy Evans-Bush.


Jesse Kornbluth Become a Fan

Greg Pardlo submitted "Digest," his slim book of poems, to the major publishers. All rejected it. He sent it to Four Way Books, which is, like the poet, literary and decidedly non-profit. In 2014, Four Way published his 75-page book. When Pardlo won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, "Digest" had sold 1,500 copies.

Interview: Susan Howe
by Stefania Heim

By her own admission, acclaimed poet Susan Howe is not a film critic. But boundary-crossing—between genres, disciplines, art forms, and even past and present—is central to all of her work: her dozens of books, her visual art exhibitions, and her collaborative performances. Perhaps her most thrilling commixture, found across all of her artistic modes, is that which adds dream to fact, lyric to document. This interrogation of the real, as well as the haunting connections that grow from it, links her work to that of 20th-century Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, whose Mirror she will introduce at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on Tuesday, November 24. In Tarkovsky’s films, Howe confronts the “confusion or juxtaposition between living truth or acting life.” But this is not all the poet and the filmmaker share: both create deeply personal works, which, through their intimacy, open up to and become urgent for their audiences. Howe and I caught up over the phone and email this week to talk about, among other things, the paradoxical alchemy of the “poetic documentary form.”

Pushing Vernacular beyond the Confines of Conversation: A Conversation with Jericho Brown
by Kangsen Feka Wakai

First of all, congratulations on the publication of your new volume of poems, The New Testament [Copper Canyon Press, 2015]. Poet Yusef Komunyakaa described the collection as providing a space where “the sacred and the profane embrace.”  Then he goes on to say “each poem celebrates free will.”  How do you negotiate these diametrically opposed sensibilities [sacredness and profanity] in your work?

Brian Teare interviews Jean Valentine

On the morning of July 31, 2015, Jean and I sat down in her kitchen to talk. We have sat this way, across from each other at her table, regularly over a dozen years of a friendship that began after I was her student in a summer workshop. Over these years our talk has touched upon and returned to many of the same themes — family, friends, love, gender, memory, loss, sobriety, spirituality, and, of course, poetry — which are also central concerns of her writing. In preparation for our conversation about Shirt in Heaven, Jean and I of course returned to many of these themes, but during our conversation I wanted to highlight some unique aspects of her new book. Because the political and historical dimensions of Jean’s poetry are often overlooked, I wanted to dig deeper into the context for this new work, particularly the way the book seems psychically grounded in Jean’s childhood in the 1940s. In addition to the political dimension of that time period, I also wanted to draw out some of the familial dynamics that arose from the war and from the gendered nature of military and civilian lives at that time, dynamics that would become crucial for her education as a poet. We also left plenty of room for our conversation to return to themes that run through the whole of Jean’s body of work, the themes that have bound together our conversations and our friendship: elegy, poetry, and love.

Poet Yusef Komunyakaa said Jericho Brown’s new collection provides a space where “the sacred and the profane embrace.”

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

It's important not to let our essential poets slip away from us. One of those is Donald Justice.

The Evening of the Mind

Now comes the evening of the mind.
Here are the fireflies twitching in the blood;
Here is the shadow moving down the page
Where you sit reading by the garden wall.
Now the dwarf peach trees, nailed to their trellises,
Shudder and droop. Your know their voices now,
Faintly the martyred peaches crying out
Your name, the name nobody knows but you.
It is the aura and the coming on.
It is the thing descending, circling, here.
And now it puts a claw out and you take it.
Thankfully in your lap you take it, so.

You said you would not go away again,
You did not want to go away — and yet,
It is as if you stood out on the dock
Watching a little boat drift out
Beyond the sawgrass shallows, the dead fish …
And you were in it, skimming past old snags,
Beyond, beyond, under a brazen sky
As soundless as a gong before it's struck —
Suspended how? — and now they strike it, now
The ether dream of five-years-old repeats, repeats,
And you must wake again to your own blood
And empty spaces in the throat. 

—Donald Justice

“Now comes the evening of the mind.” – Donald Justice