February 11, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1763–William Shenstone, English poet (b. 1714), is born.
1764–Marie-Joseph de Chénier, French poet (Cajus Graechus), is born.
1862–Elizabeth Siddal, British poet and artist (b. 1829), dies.
1912–Roy Fuller, Failsworth, Lancashire, English poet/novelist (Lost Season), is born.
1963–Sylvia Plath, poet/novelist (Ariel), kills herself in London at 30.
1996–Amelia Rosselli, poet, dies at 65.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,   
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me   
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock   
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space   
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths   
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.

—from "Blackberrying" by Sylvia Plath (19321963)

The only thing to come now is the sea./From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me —from “Blackberrying” by Sylvia Plath

World Poetry

Satya Nadella: Of Cricket, Poetry and Microsoft

The new CEO of Microsoft’s unwinds by reading poetry, which he likens to codes of a software program
 “Our industry does not respect tradition—it only respects innovation,” said Microsoft Corp.’s new CEO Satya Nadella in a post on the company’s website on Tuesday. “The opportunity ahead for Microsoft is vast, but to seize it, we must move faster, focus and continue to transform. I see a big part of my job as accelerating our ability to bring innovative products to our customers more quickly.” Read more at Live Mint.

Poets from Afghanistan and Pakistan Yearn for Peace

The mushaira was attended by poets from Afghanistan and Quetta apart from different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.Almost all of the 26 poets pleaded peace in their verses and expressed the wish that peace and normalcy return to the region. Tears rolled down the cheeks of participants as senior poet and Department of Pashto chairman at the Islamia College University, Abaseen Yousufzai, recited a poem reflecting the life of a scavenger refugee boy. Read more at The News.

The new CEO of Microsoft’s unwinds by reading poetry.

Recent Reviews

The Road Back: Frost’s Letters Could Soften a Battered Image

by Jennifer Schuesslerfeb 
Few figures in American literature have suffered as strangely divided an afterlife as Robert Frost. Even before his death in 1963, he was canonized as a rural sage, beloved by a public raised on poems of his like “Birches” and “The Road Not Taken.” But that image soon became shadowed by a darker one, stemming from a three-volume biography by his handpicked chronicler, Lawrance Thompson, who emerged from decades of assiduous note-taking with a portrait of the poet as a cruel, jealous megalomaniac — “a monster of egotism” who left behind “a wake of destroyed human lives,” as the critic Helen Vendler memorably put it on the cover of The New York Times Book Review in 1970. Read more at the New York Times.

The Posing Is Real

Erica Dawson’s poems gesture toward shock, but reveal something deeper.

By Jonathan Farmer

Erica Dawson seems to be having a great time in her poetry—but just barely. Headlong, stitched-together, strung out over imaginative rhymes that her sentences rarely have time to acknowledge, many of her poems have the prolonged marvel of Wile E. Coyote running out past the edge of the cliff. They’re at once superb performances and portraits of the terrible depths of air they hope to ignore. You don’t need to look hard in her new book, The Small Blades Hurt, to imagine why she’s running so fast. Read more at Slate.

Impromptus: Selected Poems by Gottfried Benn – Review

“And here he cited Benn, Ernst Jünger,” declares the narrator of Geoffrey Hill's The Triumph of Love in a discussion of “creative nihilism, Götterdämmerung's toy theatre.” It is not the first time Gottfried Benn (1886–1956) has been on Hill's mind in recent times. Having praised Simone Weil on poetry and politics in “A Postscript on Modernist Poetics,” Hill attacks TS Eliot's “inane” treatment of Benn in “The Three Voices of Poetry,” an essay whose glossing over the German's Nazi sympathies strikes Hill as an exercise in emollient humbug. Introducing his compelling new translations,Michael Hofmann too picks up on Eliot's 1953 essay, along with references to Benn in John Berryman and Frank O'Hara, but insists that “Benn can scarcely be said to exist in the English-speaking world.” Read more at The Guardian.

Few figures in American literature have suffered as strangely divided an afterlife as Robert Frost.


Necessary Utterance

On Poetry As a Cultural Force
by Natasha Trethewey
Despair about the place of poetry in American culture is nothing new. Writing for the North American Review in 1936, poet Joseph Auslander— in part lamenting the national state of things, “the tumultuous times” (as George Orwell might have put it) of his historical moment, and perhaps responding to the usual dismissals of the role of poetry in American life— declared:… with progress and machine comfort and buttons and buzzers and contraptions and clever paraphernalia and infallible statistics and the deification of Fact, we are swinging back full circle to a very old and a very simple truth. We are being compelled, by the abject collapse of a material conception of living, to recognize once more the terrible necessity in our lives for that strength, that pillaring of the spirit, that informing and sustaining power which it has always been the special virtue and splendor of poetry to impart. It’s easy to see that Auslander’s words could have been describing our own contemporary moment with its technological advances and myriad distractions. Read more at VQR Online.

A Few Heretical Thoughts about Poetry

by Henry Gould
Am reading a scholarly tome titled Reading Dante: the pursuit of meaning, by Jesper Hede (Lexington Bks, 2007).  He's following in the steps of another little-known Dante scholar I like, named T.K. Seung (Fragile Leaves of the Sybil).  Seung's book is a profound contextual study of the Divine Comedy; Hede builds on Seung's insights, and finds most of previous commentary on the great poem to be greatly flawed.  For Hede (and Seung) the Divine Comedy is an organic whole, and that wholeness is rooted in Dante's message – his “argument,” in Milton's sense — the fundamental writerly purpose of the poem, the morse code Dante aims to impart : a message which suffuses and sheds light on each and every element of the poem, large and small. Read more at HG Poetics.

You Probably Haven't Read Robert Frost's Best Poems

by Irving Howe  

The best of Robert Frost, like the best of most writers, is small in quantity, narrow in scope and seldom the object of popular acclaim. There are a dozen or fifteen of his lyrics which register a completely personal voice, both as to subject and tone, and which it would be impossible to mistake for the work of anyone else. These lyrics mark Frost as a severe and unaccommodating writer: They are ironic, troubled, and ambiguous in many of the ways modernist poems are. Despite a lamentable gift for public impersonations and for shrewdly consolidating his success in a country that cares little about poetry, Frost has remained faithful to what Yeats calls “the modern mind in search of its own meanings.” Read more at the New Republic.

Despair about the place of poetry in American culture is nothing new.

Drafts & Fragments

Hire a PayPal Poet Without Anyone Knowing It
A new PayPal service lets you order a custom-written poem for your paramour just in time for Valentine's Day. Crave writer Michael Franco tells you all about it in partial verse.Read more at CNet.

Custom-written poem for your paramour just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Poetry In the News

Maxine Kumin, Pulitzer-Winning Poet With a Naturalist’s Precision, Dies at 88

Maxine Kumin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose spare, deceptively simple lines explored some of the most complex aspects of human existence — birth and death, evanescence and renewal, and the events large and small conjoining them all — died on Thursday at her home in Warner, N.H. She was 88. Her death was announced by her daughter Judith Kumin, who said that her mother had been in declining health for the last year and a half. Read more at the New York Times.

Artist Solicits Poetry From Other New York City Subterraneans

The New York City subway isn't the most obvious place to scout for poets. But on a recent frigid afternoon, the red line between Brooklyn and Washington Heights looked like something of a literary hotbed. "Excuse me," said Madeline Schwartzman, as she sat down beside a well-bundled rider grooving to the private beat in her earbuds. "Can I ask you a question?" "Every time I ride the subway, I ask a stranger to write a poem," she continued, eliciting a smile from the rider. "Would you write one?" Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

Mudtime” to Music: A Rising-Star Composer Collaborates With Vermont's Poet Laureate

Sydney Lea’s four-year term as Vermont’s poet laureate, begun in 2011, has been packed with readings. But this Saturday’s, at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, will be entirely different — for him and the audience. After Lea reads four poems from his collectionGhost Pain (2005), a soprano will sing them in a song cycle written for voice and string quartet by the Philadelphia composer Joseph Hallman. Read more at Seven Days.

Brown Alum Composes Providence Poetry Slam

The Providence Poetry Slam took place Wednesday night at AS220, a nonprofit community arts center in downtown Providence.The competition consisted of nine poets facing off over three elimination rounds. Instead of the caged bird, it is the caged word that sings in slam poetry. At least, this was the case at this week’s Providence Poetry Slam Semifinals, where the raw, poignant emotion of nine competing poets filled the intimate performance space. Laura Brown-Lavoie ’10.5 organized and emceed Wednesday night’s slam. A prominent spoken word artist both in Providence and nationally, she competed in the final round of the National Poetry Slam in 2011 and in the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2013. Read more at Brown Daily Herald.

Maxine Kumin died on Thursday at her home in Warner, N.H.

New Books

How I Went Red by Maggie Glover

[Paperback] Carnegie Mellon, 80 pp., $15.95
How I Went Red is an obsessive, erotically charged study of identity in which the author confronts her own distrust of memory while reveling within and rebelling against the tortured space between darkness and light. Each poem in this haunting first collection is a sonic trip leaving the reader dizzily spent but still anxious for more.

Fat Jersey Blues by John Repp 

[Paperback] University of Akron Press, 72 pp., $14.95
“I know I'm holding a good book in my hand when I use the other to call my friends and read poems to them. How generous John Repp is! He zooms in on the moment, but he's always glancing at everything that surrounds it. His funny poems have dark hearts, just as the sad ones are clearly written by someone capable of belly-shaking laughter. They tell wonderful stories, yet they contain chewy little nuggets that are often indifferent and even hostile to story. I've said elsewhere that a poem either writes you a check or sends you a bill, and Fat Jersey Blues writes me checks faster than I can cash them. Oh, and these poems make me do something else that the good ones always do: when I hung up after reading Bob Johnson; The Maltese Falcon; or Balcony to a friend, I sat down to write myself.” —David Kirby

Sex Perhaps by Kathryn Starbuck

[Paperback ] Sheep Meadow, 88 pp., $18.95
Starbuck's art portrays the madness of intense grief. Griefmania was her first book, written in her sixties. The reader will find, perhaps unknown to the poet, a book haunted by the good ghost of joy. Griefmania is a profoundly beautiful book which, in manuscript, was much appreciated by Anthony Hecht.

The Cabinetmaker's Window: Poems by Steve Scafidi 

[Paperback] Louisiana State University Press, 80 pp., $17.95
"Dying never / ends for us. It only slowly rearranges us," writes Steve Scafidi in his poignant new collection. Inspired by his own work as a cabinetmaker defined by the peppery dust from the woodworker planing a walnut board, turning an oak spindle at the lathe, or honing chisels while gazing out a window Scafidi's poems reveal both the tenuous and the everlasting nature of existence.

The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1: 1886 – 1920 edited by Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, and Robert Faggen

[Hardcover] Belknap Press, 848 pp., $45.00
One of the acknowledged giants of twentieth-century American literature, Robert Frost was a public figure much celebrated in his day. Although his poetry reached a wide audience, the private Frost–pensive, mercurial, and often very funny—remains less appreciated. Following upon the publication of Frost's notebooks and collected prose, The Letters of Robert Frost is the first major edition of the poet's written correspondence. The hundreds of previously unpublished letters in these annotated volumes deepen our understanding and appreciation of this most complex and subtle of verbal artists.

In the Permanent Collection by Stefanie Wortman 

[Paperback] University of North Texas Press, 80 pp., $12.95
Trying to make sense of a disordered world, Stefanie Wortman’s debut collection examines works of art as varied as casts of antique sculpture, 19th-century novels, and even scenes from reality television to investigate the versions of order that they offer. These deft poems yield moments of surprising levity even as they mount a sharp critique of human folly.

How I Went Red is an obsessive, erotically charged study of identity.


Rebecca Dunham

What have been your biggest poetry epiphanies? One key realization for me in my development as a writer arrived midway through my MFA program. Like a lot of writers who pursue advanced degrees, I wanted to be a “good” student. I thought being a good student would make me a good writer. This, for me, was dead wrong. Focusing on pleasing readers constrained me from taking risks, from being willing to utterly fail, and from daring to write or say things differently than I imagined my peers or professors wanted. At some point, frustrated with a class I was in, I decided in a moment of pique to just do my own thing. I wrote a longish poetic sequence—something I’d never done before—that ended up being the most interesting and original poem I’d written to date. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that. I had finally pleased myself and felt a surety about the poem’s value that I’d never experienced before. Read more at Forthcoming Poets.

An Interview With Poet Jim Daniels

by Peter Markus
Jim Daniels’ first collection, Places/Everyone appeared in 1985. I was 19. I came upon this book by chance killing time at a used bookstore in Ann Arbor. Up until that moment, I thought I knew what a poem was, what a poem could be about. The poems in Places/Everyone were unlike the poems I’d been told to read. They didn’t feel like poem poems. They didn’t sound like poem poems. These were poems about the everyday, about the commonplace, poems, in short, that made me want to write poems and poems about the places and the “everyone” I thought I knew. These kinds of poems are the best. They invite us in to the daily conversation, giving us permission to speak about what it means to be a part of this world. And Jim Daniels has practiced that art in the 13 poetry books that have since followed, including his most recent collection, Birth Marks (BOA Editions, Ltd.). Read more at Metro Times.

A Look at Forrest Gander — A Mass Poetry Festival Feature Poet

by Jacquelyn Malone 
The Massachusetts Poetry Festival is just three months away (May 2-4 in Salem), and today, with a portrait of one of our feature poets, we begin a series to entice you to come. We believe if you have a sense of the poet Forrest Gander, you’ll want to see and hear him in person. Gander has lived all over; he was born in the Mojave Desert, grew up in Virginia, has lived in San Francisco, Dolores Hildalgo (in Mexico),  Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and currently lives in Rhode Island where he teaches at Brown University. His mind has a wide range, also. Not only has he translated Mexican, Latin American, Spanish and Japanese poets, but he holds a degree in geology as well as English literature. Read more at Mass Poetry.

In Praise of the Poet: Dylan Thomas Fans Give Their Verdict on His Influence

by Kirstie McCrum
He’s influenced everyone from Bob Dylan to Terry Jones and just like the man himself, those who love him speak eloquently and in their own inimitable style about his life and work. Here’s what some of his famous fans have to say about you-know-who. Read more at Wales On Line.

What have been your biggest poetry epiphanies?