February 26, 2013

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

February 26, 2013

1324 – Dino Compagni, Italian silk seller/poet/chronicler, dies.
1877 – Carel S. Adama van Scheltema, Dutch poet/writer (socialism), is born.

1893 – Ivor A. “I. A.” Richards, English poet/critic (Meaning of Meaning) [NS], is born.

1913 – George G. Barker, English poet (Calamiterror, Anno Domini), is born.

Whenever we kissed we cocked the future’s rifles

And from our wild-oat words, like dragon’s teeth,

Death underfoot now arises; when we were gay

Dancing together in what we hoped was life,

Who was it in our arms but the whores of death

Whom we have found in our beds today, today?

–from “To Any Member of My Generation” by George Barker (1913–1991)

Poetry In The News

Doncaster Plans to Honor Poet Ted Hughes

Former poet laureate Ted Hughes’ links with Doncaster could soon be honoured with a bronze statue, a plaque and a tourist trail. The celebrated writer, poet laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, grew up in Mexborough and now a committee of his supporters are planning to launch a £100,000 funding appeal for a memorial. Read more at The Star.

Simon Armitage to Walk South-West Coast Path, Paying His Way with Poetry

Poet plans to travel from Minehead to the Scilly Isles this summer, giving poetry readings in return for food and shelter. The award-winning poet Simon Armitage is preparing to throw himself on the hospitality of the people of south-west England this summer when he sets out to walk the coast path alone, paying his way with poetry. Read more at the Guardian.

World Poetry

Poet Becomes First Briton Elected to Illustrious Académie Française

Temple staff in China have been forced to listen to the same ancient poem more than 6,000 times after a promotional stunt backfired. Officials at the Yueyang Tower in Hunan province had declared that anyone who could recite the lengthy 1,000-year-old ode about the site from memory could get in for free. Read more at the Orange.

New Books

Pitch Dark Anarchy: Poems by Randall Horton

[Paperback] Triquarterly, 96 pp., $16.95

Pitch Dark Anarchy investigates the danger of one single narrative with multilayered poems that challenge concepts of beauty and image, race and identity, as well as the construction of skin color. Through African American memory and moments in literature, the poems seek to disrupt and dismantle foundations that create erasures and echoes of the unremembered. Pitch Dark Anarchy uses the slave revolt of the Amistad as a starting point, a metaphor for "opposition" and "against." These themes run through the very core for the book while drawing on inventive and playful language. In these poems, locations and landscapes are always shifting, proving that our shared experiences can be interchangeable. 

Songs and Sonnets by Paul Muldoon

[Paperback] Enitharmon Press, 80 pp., $24.95

Paul Muldoon has been interested in writing for music for at least twenty years, over which time he has collaborated with composers as various as Mark-Anthony Turnage, Warren Zevon, and Wayside Shrines. Songs and Sonnets brings together poems and lyrics from a writer who has been described by the Irish Times as `a force of nature.


Sky Ward by Kazim Ali

[Hardcover] Wesleyan, 100 pp., $22.95

Drunk on the sun and the sea, Kazim Ali's new poems swoop linguistically but ground themselves vividly in the daily and real. Both imprisoned by endlessness and dependent on it for nurturing and care, in Sky Ward Ali goes further than ever before in sounding out the spaces between music and silence, between sky and ocean, between human and eternal.  Whether in the extended poem-prayer to Alice Coltrane or in the "deleted scenes" and "alternate endings" to his critically acclaimed volume Bright Felon, or in the spirit-infused and multi-faceted lyrics he has become known for, Ali once again reinvents possibilities for the personal lyric and narrative.

The Colonies by Tomasz Rozycki

[Paperback] Zephyr Press, 144 pp., $15.00

Tomasz Rózycki's sixth book seems like nothing if not an attempt to grapple with Elizabeth Bishop's question, "Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?" But for Rózycki questions of travel and foreignness are never separate from those of history—personal history, political and national history, the history of things and places and trauma.

Letters to Borges by Stephen Kuusisto

[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 110 pp., $16.00

Best-selling memoirist Stephen Kuusisto uses the themes of travel, place, religion, music, art, and loneliness to explore the relationship between seeing, blindness, and being. In poems addressed to Jorge Luis Borges—another poet who lived with blindness—Kuusisto leverages seeing as negative capability, creating intimacy with deep imagination and uncommon perceptions.

Recent Reviews

A Must-Have Powerhouse Poetry Anthology

by Tayari Jones

Even if you don't read poetry, you will find Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (W.W. Norton) irresistible—a breathtaking balance of elegies to political leaders, sisters, brothers, musicians, and vagabonds, and crowd-pleasing barn burners like "I Am a Black Woman," by Mari Evans: "tall as a cypress / strong / beyond all definition still / defying place / and time / and circumstance / assailed / impervious / indestructible.…" There are verses in the service of social justice, history, and the mysteries of life, and they are free from dust. Considered one of the foremost authorities on the genre, editor Charles Henry Rowell, a literature professor and the founder of Callaloo, a prestigious journal of the African diaspora, focused on contemporary voices—the 1960s to the present—in selecting works by 86 poets. Read more at Oprah.  

On Allan Peterson’s Fragile Acts

by Barbara Hoffert 

“It was like speech was the energy that organized the system,” says Allan Peterson in Fragile Acts, a triumphant collection in which speech—rich, skewed, exacting, embroidered, eye-popping, even slightly surreal—really does make every effort to organize the perceptible world. But if the world is irreducibly itself, carbons and polysaccharides inevitably linking, silent stone implicating the fire that forged it millennia ago, our perception of it is ever slippery, a fragile act that forms, shifts, cracks, and reforms in the arresting parallels that Peterson proposes.  Read more at Critical Mass.

From Blunden to Sassoon, with Gratitude

by Peter Parker

In May 1919, Siegfried Sassoon, in the somewhat unlikely role of literary editor of the left-wing Daily Herald, received in his office a small parcel containing two privately printed chapbooks of poetry. Accompanying them was a letter signed “E. C. Blunden (scholar-elect, Queen’s College, Oxford)”. Read more at TLS.


Staceyann Chin Interview Reveals Lesbian Poet’s Views On Homophobia, Jamaica, Motherhood

by Glennisha Morgan

Over a decade ago, Staceyann Chin burst onto the scene with Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry Jam” on Broadway. Sharing the stage with other prominent poets and hip-hop artists, she garnered a Tony Award for her performance. Chin, 40, a lover of “a good story,” is now working on a new book about motherhood and parenting. When she’s not writing, on stage or traveling the world, she's hosting comrades for tea, wine, “crap TV,” or political talk. In the living room of her Brooklyn apartment, her daughter by her side, Chin chatted with HuffPost about homophobia, Jamaica, motherhood, and more. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Poet Hoa Nguyen on Counterpath Press, Tarot Readings, and the Poet as an Oracle

by Robin Edwards 

As a poet, Hoa Nguyen writes concise, lyrical poetry that mimics the quality of music, reflecting on grand themes of planetary grief and experiencing the numinous. Her other pursuit, as a reader of tarot cards, deals in many of the same archetypes and patterns. We caught up with the Ontario-based writer in advance of her trip to Denver about her most recent book, As Long As Trees Last, and the role of the poet as an oracle and pattern reader. Read more at Westward.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Tracy K. Smith Talks about Inspiration, Personal Reflection and Recitation

by Tom Markham

To contemplate the afterlife, the vastness of the universe and one's place in the world might seem like a pointless exercise: Given the limited breadth of human understanding, what can we really know of such matters? When Tracy K. Smith was writing the poems that would eventually become her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Life on Mars, the answers, or at least some kind of fulfillment, could be found in the contemplation itself. Dedicated to the memory of Smith's late father, Life on Mars tackles matters of life and death on a grand scale and reflects upon one human being's place in so massive a universe. In anticipation of her upcoming reading at Vanderbilt University, Smith answered questions via email. Read more at Nashville Scene.


John Donne’s Erotica

by Carolyn Kormann

A friend, visiting my first New York apartment, noticed a collection of John Donne’s poetry on my bedside table. She nodded knowingly. Donne, she said, was the most erotic poet in English literature. I nodded back, leering unconvincingly. I had no idea what she was talking about. “It’s his control,” she said. “Reading him, you can feel what a good lover he must have been.” And here I’d thought my plan to read a Donne poem each night bespoke a lofty, serious turn of mind. Ask not for whom the earth moves. Read more at the New Yorker.

Ways of Reading: Marjorie Perloff and the Sublimity of Pragmatic Criticism

by Charles Bernstein

For well over three decades, Marjorie Perloff has been one of the most engaging and engaged poetry critics in America. Her commentaries on individual poets, modernist and contemporary, as well on key poetry movements and directions, have become the go-to source for interested readers, students, and scholars. And these essays are among the best introductions to the poets about whom she writes. Whether you agree with her or not, Perloff has frequently defined the terms of the discussion; and indeed, disagreeing with Perloff can be as productive as agreeing with her, which is, for me, a clear measure of the success of her work. Read more at Jacket 2.

Working Girl*

by Kate Bolick

It isn’t easy to even think about Edna St. Vincent Millay’s body of work without also thinking about her—well—actual body. This is entirely her doing. Born in Maine in 1892, she was blessed with not only uncommon genius but the romantic Gibson Girl looks prized by her era—winsome face, comely curves, heavy masses of auburn hair—and she wasn’t afraid to use them. Read more at the Poetry Foundation.



Drafts & Fragments

The Writing Machine

Writing Machine poets and artists create new work through an exchange process with Cynthia Gray. Poets and artists direct their work, with Gray acting as a responder. The basic structure is a line by line exchange with poets, and a text/image exchange with artists. There are many variations to the collaborations, and in some cases entire texts are exchanged back and forth. Read more at Collective Experience.

9th International Poetry Festival

The 9th International Poetry Festival honours the Nicaraguan poet, priest and former Nicaragua’s Culture Minister, Ernesto Cardenal, who also won the Queen Sofia Prize of 2012. A carnival-alike celebration was held in Granada, Nicaragua, attended by more than 300 poets from around the world. Read more at Dawn.

Portraits Made of Shredded Poetry

While primarily working as a landscape painter and art teacher, UK artist Jamie Poole was struck with the idea of deconstructing printed poems into individual words and using the text to create large scale portraits. The final pieces are quite large measuring several feet tall, allowing for excruciating detail in both line and shadow, as well as creating an intriguing hybrid of portraiture, typography, and collage. Read more at This Is Colossal.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

The Last Vispo Anthology

by Chris Funkhouser

Encountering The Last Vispo Anthology, one is struck by its graphical beauty, richness, and immensity. With 250 pages of illustrations and sixty-five pages of artistic and critical commentary, this collection will certainly join the small pantheon of essential literary arts anthologies focusing on visual works. Its expanse provides an important and provocative time capsule of aesthetic innovation on a global register, one that will likely be considered as important as Emmett Williams’s 1967 An Anthology of Concrete Poetry. Heterogeneous yet focused, it provides a useful guide for students, solid documentation for followers of the form, and can be valued by anyone who wishes to be stimulated by the machinery of language. Read more at Rain Taxi.


I announced the publication of The Last VisPo Anthology a number of issues ago in the New Books section of PNIR. So I was taken aback as I left the office last Friday when I found a flyer for the closing reception for an exhibit of work from this book. What was even more startling was that the exhibit was being held at a branch of the county public library in a small neighboring village, an old mining town. I checked the day, and the closing reception was that very night. After dinner I high-tailed it for Nelsonville, pulled into the library's parking lot where my car was one of three others in the lot. I went inside and sure enough: there was an exhibit on the walls and along the endcaps of the bookshelves of prints of concrete poetry. One of the artists (whose work includes the minimal a(tom b)omb ) featured in the book happens to be a local and had arranged to have the traveling show stop here, but this branch library was all that could be scheduled. Excluding the two librarians and the people working on research at the assorted computers, there were, eventually, about seven of us, including the artist and his elderly parents. I think I was the only uninvited guest, but it was a very hospitable group and one very knowledgable about visual poetry. In all honesty I'm more of a blank verse and ballad stanza kind of guy, but I do have a soft spot for typography and printing. This exhibit had the intended effect in peeling back my poetic blinders (at least for a while) and the unintended effect of making me notice the gifts around me. It was a good night.


—David Sanders