February 24, 2016

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1821 — John Keats, Romantic poet, dies of tuberculosis at 25 in Rome.
1859 — Zygmunt Krasiński, Polish Romantic poet (b. 1812),dies.    
1920 — David Wright, poet, is born.
1923 — Gery Florizoone, Flemish poet, is born.
1945 — Aleksei Tolstoi, Russian poet/writer (Pjotr Peroyj), dies at 62.
1955 — Paul Claudel, French poet/playwright (L'otage), dies at 86.

Peach leaves emerge
in mid-February.
What are they thinking? 

And barn swallows
show up to check the old nest
under the patio roof
as if it were already time 
to nurture a clutch.

—from “Spring and I Are Restless” by David Wright (1920–1994)

Dave Wright was born this week in 1920.

World Poetry

Omar Musa, Australia's Star Slam Poet, Brings 'in-betweener' Perspective to US

“I will never forget the black sky, the sun as red as lipstick,” says Malaysian Australian rapper, slam poet and author Omar Musa, recalling the bushfires that ravaged Canberra, the Australian capital, in 2003. Musa was playing tennis when he looked up to see ash cascading down “like black snow” over his shoulders. “I never forgot that image. I stored it in my head and said: one day I’m going to use it somewhere.”

Spanish Writer Could Face Charges Over 'Vagina Poem' Based on Lord's Prayer

A poet who took advantage of an award ceremony to read out a version of the Lord’s Prayer in praise of the vagina has been reported to Spain’s public prosecutor for allegedly “attacking religious sentiment”. Dolors Miquel took to the stage at the City of Barcelona cultural prize-giving event on Monday and recited her poem which starts: “Our mother who art in heaven, hallowed be thy c***”. Speaking for the Catholic church in Catalonia, the bishop of Terrassa described the text as “blasphemous”, while the national episcopal conference responded by posting the real wording of the Lord’s Prayer on its Twitter account.

“I will never forget the black sky, the sun as red as lipstick,” – Australian rapper, slam poet and author Omar Musa

Recent Reviews

Review What do Poets Kevin Young, Lucia Perillo and Allen Ginsberg Have in Common?
by Craig Morgan Teicher

A great one-page poem can have all the power and breadth of a whole novel, but no great poet writes just one poem. In a way, a poet's work takes a lifetime. To measure a poet's accomplishment, one must survey his or her writing to date. This February, we have the chance to do just that with three important poets who are publishing retrospective volumes gathering poems from their entire writing lives.

Bizarre Love Triangle: Frederick Seidel Rhymes Himself in ‘Widening Income Inequality’
by Jonathon Sturgeon

“I’m coming in my hand and I’m rhyming I’m,” Frederick Seidel writes in “To Stop the World from Ending,” one of the best poems in his new collection, Widening Income Inequality. It’s fair to say that Seidel has been “rhyming I’m” since his first collection, the Robert Lowell-damaged Final Solutions (1963), or at least since his freer second book, Sunrise, published sixteen years later

Luxe et Veritas
by Dan Chiasson

If the id had an id, and it wrote poetry, the results might sound like “Widening Income Inequality” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Frederick Seidel’s sixteenth collection. The title borrows a current meme, while also suggesting Yeats’s apocalyptic poem “The Second Coming” (“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer”). Seidel’s satanic refinement is expressed in poems at once suave and vengeful, their garish pleasures linked to the many splendid goods—Ducati motorcycles, bespoke suits, Italian shoes—that they describe.

C. D. Wright’s ‘The Poet, the Lion’
by Daisy Fried

Some critics of poetry are judges, separating good from bad. Some are kindergarten teachers, gentle in correction, indiscriminate in praise. Some delight in the takedown. Others love books you need them to explain. Some compose manifestoes, declaring the ends of stylistic eras. I myself hereby declare the era of declaring eras over is over. Then there’s C. D. Wright.

The Astonishment Tapes: Talks on Poetry and Autobiography with Robin Blaser and Friends of Robert Blaser
by Patrick James Dunagan

Long heralded yet elusively withheld, The Astonishment Tapes by Robin Blaser has finally found its way to publication. This first-person statement of personal poetics is a landmark text for the study of post-WWII American poetry, particularly various branches originally presented to a wide audience by Don Allen's anthology The New American Poetry: 1945-1960. 
The talks composing The Astonishment Tapes occurred during the spring of 1974, over the course of several evenings referred to as "sessions," in Vancouver at the home of Professor Warren Tallman. In addition to Tallman as host and mediator of sorts, several local writers were invited to take part in the activities and their presence is reflected to varying degrees. After being stored in a shoebox for decades on a shelf in Tallman's home, the tapes have now been digitalized and fully transcribed, totaling "roughly 214,800 words or about 840 manuscript pages." Editor Miriam Nichols has performed an exceptionally difficult task assembling this oversized behemoth of oral document into a quite readable and still satisfyingly expansive published form.

C. D. Wright’s new book “The Poet, the Lion” is out now.


Put some there there. Imagine the body.
Eileen Myles amidst the Poets & Critics
by Mia You

Three times a year Abigail Lang, Olivier Brossard and Vincent Broqua organize a two-day "Poets & Critics" symposium in Paris – during which they welcome a multinational and multilingual group of writers, scholars and artists to discuss the work of one English-language poet. The terrifying but exhilarating condition: the poet will also be there. The poet will talk back to you. You will talk back to the poet. Hopefully you will begin talking together. In December, "Poets & Critics" hosted Fred Moten; in June, they will bring Johanna Drucker to Paris. Last week, the symposium concentrated on the work of Eileen Myles, and I was lucky to be one of the bodies in the room.

Three times a year Abigail Lang, Olivier Brossard and Vincent Broqua organize a two-day “Poets & Critics” symposium in Paris.

Drafts & Fragments

Marilyn Monroe’s Unpublished Poems: The Complex Private Person Behind the Public Persona
“Only parts of us will ever touch only parts of others.”
by Maria Popova

Did you ever begin Ulysses? Did you ever finish it? Marilyn Monroe did both. She took great pains to be photographed reading or holding a book — insistence born not out of vain affectation but of a genuine love of literature. Her personal library contained four hundred books, including classics like Dostoyevsky and Milton, and modern staples like Hemingway and Kerouac. While she wasn’t shooting, she was taking literature and history night classes at UCLA. And yet, the public image of a breezy, bubbly blonde endures as a caricature of Monroe’s character, standing in stark contrast with whatever deep-seated demons led her to take her own life.

Castledawson Mourns Death of Blacksmith Who Inspired a Seamus Heaney Poem
by Shauna Corr

The ‘kind hearted’ blacksmith who inspired Seamus Heaney poem ‘The Forge’ passed away yesterday [Thursday] at his Castledawson home. Barney Devlin, who was said to “love the craic”, welcomed visitors from all over the world after the 1969 poem was penned in his honour. The 96-year-old will be laid to rest on Sunday [Feb 21] following 1pm Mass at St John’s Church, Milltown.

Ben Lerner on The Lichtenberg Figures
by Sadie Stein

“My First Time” is a  video series in which we invite authors to discuss the trials of writing and publishing their first books.
This installment stars Ben Lerner, poet and novelist. While an undergraduate at Brown—and later as an M.F.A. student—Lerner wrote the cycle of fifty-two sonnets that would become 2004’s The Lichtenberg Figures. At the time, he and roommate Cyrus Console were, says Lerner, “always writing under the sign of crisis … now when I look back, we had a kind of really intense practice.” He discusses the process of imposing form, his thematic inspirations, and the challenges of taking one’s place in the creative universe. “With the first book, you don’t really know if you can do it. You have a kind of constant anxiety about whether or not you have something to contribute to the conversation. And that anxiety—it can ruin your life, but it’s also really generative. Like, it’s a kind of discipline.”

Marilyn Monroe’s poetry paints a complex portrait of the private person behind the public persona.

Poetry In the News

When Bernie Sanders Walked Out of Allen Ginsberg's Poetry Reading

When did Allen Ginsberg and Bernie Sanders first meet? What were the circumstances? Even people close to Sanders and Ginsberg do not agree on that history, explored in a recent piece in the Forward. But a photo that surfaced after the story went to press shows the poet, whose outlook reflected socialist ideas and the socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont together in Sanders’s office.

A Masterful Emily Dickinson Movie

Last week, while writing in the magazine about the New York première (at Lincoln Center) of the British director Terence Davies’s superb new film, “Sunset Song,” I added that the meticulous filmmaker, who is now seventy, is picking up the pace of production, having already completed another feature, “A Quiet Passion,” a biopic about Emily Dickinson, starring Cynthia Nixon. What I didn’t know at the time was that, because of fortuitous scheduling, I’d get to attend a press screening of “A Quiet Passion” at the Berlin Film Festival. I’m thrilled to say that it’s an absolute drop-dead masterwork.

When did Allen Ginsberg and Bernie Sanders first meet?

New Books

Eternity & Oranges by Christopher Bakken
[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 88 pp., $15.95

“We’d not slept in days, or else we were/ still sleeping—who could tell?” someone asks in the opening poem of Eternity & Oranges. The voices we encounter in this book speak on the verge of disappearance, from places marked by disintegration and terror. Christopher Bakken's poems are acts of conjuring. They move from the real political landscapes of Greece, Italy, and Romania, into more surreal spaces where history comes alive and the summoned dead speak. In the formally diverse long poem, “Kouros/Kore,” but also in this book’s terse and harrowing dream songs, Bakken writes with devastating force, at every turn “Guilty of the crime of praise” while “begging for an antidote to beauty.”

Wait Till I'm Dead: Uncollected Poems by Allen Ginsberg 
[Hardcover ] Grove Press, 256 pp., $22.00

The first new Ginsberg collection in over fifteen years, Wait Till I’m Dead is a landmark publication, edited by renowned Ginsberg scholar Bill Morgan and introduced by award-winning poet and Ginsberg enthusiast Rachel Zucker. Ginsberg wrote incessantly for more than fifty years, often composing poetry on demand, and many of the poems collected in this volume were scribbled in letters or sent off to obscure publications and unjustly forgotten. Wait Till I’m Dead, which spans the whole of Ginsberg’s long writing career, from the 1940s to the 1990s, is a testament to Ginsberg’s astonishing writing and singular aesthetics.

On This Day in Poetry History: Poems by Amy Newman
[Paperback] Persea, 80 pp., $15.95

In her newest feat of poetic innovation, Amy Newman wanders the lives of mid-century poetry immortals, including Berryman, Bishop, Lowell, Plath, and Sexton, peeking in from the periphery on personal moments both sensational and mundane, imagining their consequences for the poets, their readers, and their shared American century. Affecting and refreshing, a perfect mix of literariness and pulp, On this Day in Poetry History is the latest accomplishment from a poet of incomparable wit and imagination.

Charles of the Desert: A Life in Verse by William Woolfitt
[Paperback] Paraclete Press, 112 pp., $20.00 

Charles of the Desert is a novel-in-verse accompanying Charles de Foucauld, hermit and writer of “The Prayer of Abandonment,” as he explores and adapts desert spirituality, monasticism, and contemplative prayer. Charles is an unusual and compelling figure and Charles of the Desert is unusual and compelling as well — different from nonfiction books which focus on instructing in or explaining these subjects. It also explores Charles’ profound respect for Muslims, his pioneering efforts at interfaith dialogue, and his commitment to live among Muslims as a “universal brother” known for his compassion and solidarity.

Widening Income Inequality: Poems by Frederick Seidel
[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 128 pp., $24.00

Widening Income Inequality, Seidel's new poetry collection, is a rhymed magnificence of sexual, historical and cultural exuberance, a sweet and bitter fever of Robespierre and Obamacare and Apollinaire, of John F. Kennedy and jihadi terror and New York City and Italian motorcycles. Rarely has poetry been this true, this dapper, or this dire. Frederick Seidel is "the most poetic of the poets and their leader into hell."

In her newest feat of poetic innovation, Amy Newman wanders the lives of mid-century poets, including Berryman, Bishop, and Plath.


I Was Becoming Afraid Of Writing': Iranian Poet Flees Because Of Crippling Censorship
by Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian poet Fatemeh Ekhtesari was sentenced to 11 1/2 years in prison and 99 lashes for "insulting sanctities" in her writing. To get her first book of poetry past the Iranian censor, Fatemeh Ekhtesari did what other Iranian writers often have to do: She used dots for words and sentences she thought would not get past the authorities. But Ekhtesari wasn't prepared for her voice to be silenced, so after the book was published in 2010, she wrote the words back in herself and sent copies to her friends. Now, six years later, Ekhtesari, a 29-year-old poet who has been targeted by the country's hard-liners for her explorations of gender discrimination and domestic violence, has fled the Islamic republic, after being sentenced last year to 11 1/2 years in prison and 99 lashes.

Syrian Poet Adonis Hits Back at Criticism Over German Peace Prize

Syrian poet Adonis has defended himself against critics questioning his relationship to the Assad regime. Adonis will be awarded the German peace prize named after the pacifist writer Erich Maria Remarque on Friday. "I wrote a letter in which I asked the Syrian ruler to step down from power. What more can I do?" Ali Ahmad Said, who uses the pen name Adonis, asked at a press conference on Thursday (18.02.2016) in Osnabrück, where he will be receiving the Erich Maria Remarque prize. "I have spent my whole life fighting this dictatorship," Adonis added. Literarily, Adonis never budged. For decades, he has shaped the avant-garde poetry scene not only in Syria, but in the entire Arab world.

Henri Cole, The Art of Poetry No. 98
by Sasha Weiss

Henri Cole lives alone in a small, bright apartment on the top floor of a five-story building in the South End neighborhood of Boston. He works in solitude many hours a day. Cole comes from a family of five children, raised in Virginia. His older brother was a colonel in the Marine Corps; at six feet tall, with his erect bearing, long arms, and capable hands, Cole could be mistaken for a former marine himself. He shows the unfailing politeness of many Southern men; his voice and manner have a marked gentleness about them. Yet underneath, you sense an iron will. It’s difficult to imagine him marching in step to anything but the rhythms in his own head.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Because even though it isn't actually, it feels today like spring. So here's this from Philip Larkin:


On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
In the deep bare garden,
Its fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon —
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling,
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.

“nd I, whose childhood / Is a forgotten boredom, / Feel like a child” – Philip Larkin