February 4, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1524 – Luis de Camões, Portugal's greatest poet. (d. 1580), is born.
1646 – Hans A Freiherr von Abschatz, Silesian poet, is born.
1746 – Robert Blair, Scottish poet (Grave), dies at 46.
1848 – [Francois-Victor-]Jean Aicard, Fren playwright/poet (Jeune Croyances), is born.
1849 – Jean Richepin, French poet/writer (Les Chansons de Gueux), is born.
1892 – E. J. Pratt, Canadian poet (d. 1964), is born.
1903 – Edwin Denby, Tientsin China, US dance critic/poet (Snoring in N), is born.
1916 – Gavin Buchanan Ewart, English poet (Pleasures of the Flesh), is born.
1968 – Gerard den Brabander, [Jan G Jofriet], poet (Nothing New), dies at 67.
2007 – Ilya Kormiltsev, Russian poet and translator (b. 1959), dies.

I don't know any more what it used to be
Before I saw you at table sitting across from me
All I can remember is I saw you look at me
And I couldn't breathe and I hurt so bad I couldn't see.

I couldn't see but just your looking eyes
And my ears was buzzing with a thumping noise
And I was scared the way everything went rushing around
Like I was all alone, like I was going to drown.

—from “Song” by Edwin Denby (1903–1983)

I don’t know any more what it used to be/Before I saw you at table sitting across from me -Edwin Denby

World Poetry

Scholars Discover New Poems from Ancient Greek Poetess Sappho

Only a few poems of the Greek poetess Sappho’s work have survived but thanks to a leading scholar’s investigation two new works have just been recovered—and gives experts hope to find more. A chance inquiry by an unidentified collector has led to a spectacular literary discovery: Parts of two previously unknown poems by Sappho, the great Greek poetess of the 7th Century B.C. One of the poems is remarkably well preserved and adds greatly to what is known about Sappho and her poetic technique. Read more at The Daily Beast.

Vikram Seth Writes Poem to Protest India Supreme Court’s Reinstatement of Gay Ban

WH Smith Literary Award winning author Vikram Seth has published a poem in reaction to the Indian Supreme Court’s recriminalization of homosexuality in his homeland. The poem, ‘Through love’s great power,’ was distributed to a range of Indian media yesterday — to be published free of charge — after a review panel of five Supreme Court judges upheld an earlier verdict to reinstate the colonial era Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Read more at Gay Star News.

Russian “Kills friend in argument over whether poetry or prose is better”

A former schoolteacher killed his friend after a drunken argument over which is superior, poetry or prose, investigators in the Sverdlovsk region of Russia say. "The literary dispute soon grew into a banal conflict, on the basis of which the 53-year-old admirer of poetry killed his opponent with the help of a knife," the regional branch of the federal investigative committee said in a statement. Read more at The Guardian.

Few poems of the Greek poetess Sappho’s work have survived.

Recent Reviews

“Permanence Through Words”: John Foy Reviews New Books by David Yezzi, Joanna Pearson, George Green, and Quincy R. Lehr

David Yezzi’s third full collection, Birds of the Air, extends and expands on his previous work, making it clear that he has learned well from Auden, Hecht, and Wilbur. The characteristics that set his poems apart are the delicacy of his ear and his ability to modulate Frost’s “sound of sense” from line to line. Whereas many so-called formalists beat the snare drum, Yezzi proceeds with the lightest of touches and the keenest sense of fine-tuned emotion. Read more at Contemporary Poetry Review.

“Mon Dieu, What a Mother!”
Marianne Moore’s poetic voice was supremely idiosyncratic—and so was her family life.

by Mary JoSalter

In one of the funny bits in Virginia Woolf’s mostly unfunny To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Ramsay half-listens to a graduate student in philosophy droning on about his dissertation. The young man, she gathers, is working seven hours a day on “the influence of something upon somebody.” Woolf’s satirical swipe at the academic paper is all too pertinent to literary biography. How fervently we hope to explain Somebody’s brilliance by invoking the influence of Something! Marianne Moore—one of America’s greatest and most idiosyncratic poets—became famous partly on the strength of the theory-resistant contradictions of her character and her creations. But were we to isolate a single Something of influence on Moore, a new biography by Linda Leavell, Holding On Upside Down, suggests that both credit and blame might go to the poet’s mother. Read more at The Atlantic.

Speaking a Language for a New Century
Nine Discoveries Behind the Scene of W.W. Norton’s Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond

by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal & Ravi Shankar
Born out of the restorative impulse to heal after 9/11, the book accrued a dimensionality of its own as the editors, hyphenated Americans and New Yorkers themselves, were put in touch with far flung poets and translators who might have been a Sherpa or Bedouin, or who, like Ko Un, had been whispered about for the Nobel Prize in literature. The journey was remarkable. The Making of documentary would have scenes of the editors encamped at one another’s house in the flux of their own busy lives, breathing, arguing and loving poetry, a process from which the book emerged: 450 poets from 61 countries writing in over 40 different languages, grouped thematically into nine sections that work against normative taxonomy, a conversation threaded across the continents that occasioned book launches in India, China, Singapore, the Philippines, Germany, England, Turkey, among others. Read more at The Volta.

The Sunday Times Laments the Omission of Keston Sutherland's 'The Odes to TL6IP' from the Forward
Tribal Warfare: The Forward poetry anthology reveals the fissures inside the often heated world of modern British poetry.

by Jeremy Noel-Tod

The philanthropist behind the annual Forward prizes for poetry, William Sieghart, is also the founder of Forward Thinking, an organisation that promotes peace in the Middle East. Both might be considered diplomatic ventures. The world of British poetry as been notoriously fractious for almost as long as "verse" has rhymed with "curse". This year, one poet withdrew from a Forward nomination for best single poem after being caught rewriting a poem by another. At the heart of the conflict is a small, semi-lawless zone, known in Private Eye as "Poetryland". Tribal loyalties are strong, with the likely affinities of a volume signalled by the publishing imprint on its spine. The Forward judges have done well in this anthology – which showcases the best collection, best first collection and best single poem nominees, plus highly commended work – to represent both large and minor clans. Read more atEnitharmon.

David Yezzi’s third full collection, Birds of the Air, extends and expands on his previous work.


Mourning Tongues: How Auden Was Modified in the Guts of the Living 

by Nina Martyris
On this day 75 years ago — January 28, 1939 — “something slightly unusual” occurred in the annals of English poetry. William Butler Yeats died, and his death gave birth to a poem that set off one of the most extraordinary elegiac conversations of our time. The poem was W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” and this is the story of its astonishing afterlife — how three separate elegies in three different countries were modeled on it; how Auden’s words were quite literally, in Auden’s line from the poem, “modified in the guts of the living,” and how, in a feat that even someone as reputedly self-anointing as Auden could not possibly have foreseen, it went on to link a multicultural pantheon of greats: Yeats, Auden, T. S. Eliot, Joseph Brodsky, Derek Walcott, and Seamus Heaney. Read more at the LA Review of Books.

Notes on Nursery Rhymes

by Sandra Simonds
I think what terrifies us about children the most is the knowledge that they are frail, that they have very little physical power, that they could die. That fear is justified because children, for most of history, died a lot. To be attached to any one child , say, before the twentieth century was a great risk, an emotional excess. Better to have lots of children and hope that a few would survive. One thinks of Plutarch’s Consolatio ad Uxorem, a letter of consolation to his wife upon the death of their two-year-old daughter, when he tells his wife that they should “not sit idle and shut ourselves in” and implores her not to grieve too much. Read more at the Boston Review.

Dickinson: Raw or Cooked?

by Christopher Benfey
Was Emily Dickinson a radical poet of the avant-garde, challenging the regularized notions of predominantly male poets and editors regarding stanza shape, typographical publication and distribution, spelling and punctuation, visual and verbal presentation, erotic love, and so on? Or was she a poet of restraint, who restricted herself to a few traditional patterns of meter and stanza, referred to the wayward Whitman as “disgraceful,” and wore her prim white dress as a sign of those renunciations best expressed in that wildest word “No”? Read more at the New York Review of Books.

On this day 75 years ago — January 28, 1939 — “something slightly unusual” occurred.

Drafts & Fragments

Guillaume Apollinaire

From Alcools — December 24, 1913

Recorded at the laboratory of Abbé M. Rousselot
Listen at PennSound.

Lunch Poems

by UC Berkeley
To listen to an audio podcast, mouse over the title and click Play. Open iTunes to download and subscribe to iTunes U collections.

Poem Podcast from the Poetry Translation Centre

The Poetry Translation Centre is dedicated to translating contemporary poetry from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Each week we bring you a new poem podcast from one of the world's greatest living poets, in both the original language and in English translation. To find out more about our work, please visit www.poetrytranslation.org. The Poetry Translation Centre is funded by Arts Council England. Listen at the Poetry Translation Centre.

Listen at PennSound.

Poetry In the News

Rouhani Orders Executions of Iranian-Arab Poet, Rights Activist

Poet Hashem Shaabani and activist Hadi Rashedi were hanged for “enmity against God” — or the charge of threatening “national security.” The internationally acclaimed Iranian journalist Amir Taheri first reported on Tuesday on the hangings of Hashem Shaabani and Hadi Rashedi. According to Taheri’s report in Asharq al-Awsat, Shaabani, the poet, was arrested in February 2011, and subjected to torture. Shaabani wrote in a prison letter to his family that he could not ignore the “hideous crimes against Ahvazis, perpetrated by the Iranian authorities, particularly arbitrary and unjust executions.” Read more at theJerusalem Post.

Skryf, The Robot That Writes Poetry In Sand, Reminds Us Of The Ephemerality Of Art Or Whatever

Let us go then, you and I, to meet Skryf, a robot created by Dutch artist Gijs Van Bon. The robot uses a repurposed CNC machine to spray out a thin layer of sand in the shape of letters and Van Bon uses it to print out lines of temporary poetry on sidewalks. As the robot writes, the feet of passersby spread the sand far and wide, destroying the art as it is created. This video, filmed in July, shows Skryf printing poetry at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. “When you’re writing one [line of] text, another one is going away because people start walking through it,” wrote Van Bon on Dezeen. “Once I’ve finished writing, I walk the same way back but it’s all destroyed. It’s ephemeral, it’s just for this moment and afterwards it’s left to the public and to the wind.” Read more at TechCrunch.

Poet Hashem Shaabani and activist Hadi Rashedi were hanged for “enmity against God”.

New Books

Night Bus to the Afterlife by Peter Cooley 

[Paperback] Carnegie Mellon, 72 pp., $15.95 
With the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans his initial subject, Cooley meditates on transience and mortality as he moves through the landscape of the Gulf South, the sky and his inner weather reflecting one another.

Small Disasters Seen in Sunlight: Poems by Julia B. Levine 

[Paperback] Louisiana State University Press ,96 pp., $18.95
With an astonishing grasp of language and detail, Julia Levine enacts a visceral, lyric experience that slips wildly between and within tragedy and grace. In Small Disasters Seen in Sunlight, her fourth collection, Levine offers far-ranging subjects, including poems about a friend's suicide and the poet's own interactions with traumatized children, as well as a series of revision poems that question the imagination's infinite possibilities for creation. In "Strolling in Late April," a woman with dementia wanders in a park filled with springtime beauty, while in "Tahoe Wetlands," the speaker recalls a rape at gunpoint through the merciful distance of time. 

As Much As, If Not More Than by H. L. Hix 

[Paperback] Etruscan Press,146 pp., $17.00
H. L. Hix's newest book is an intellectual venture, testing the boundary between poetry and prose. He draws on questions from other sources and employs ancient meter techniques to challenge existing expectations, presenting a fresh exploration in poetics.

The Goldilocks Zone by Kate Gale 

[Paperback] University of New Mexico Press, 96 pp., $18.95
"The clipped jumpy rhythm of these poems with their sudden bursts of syntax prove repeatedly that Kate Gale possesses a poetic tone and pace all her own. She is also refreshingly out of step with today's poetry of self-absorption, for she is fascinated less by her ego than by the strange variety of the world around us."—Billy Collins

Bloom in Reverse by Teresa Leo 

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 104 pp., $15.95
Bloom in Reverse chronicles the aftermath of a friend's suicide and the end of a turbulent relationship, working through devastation and loss while on a search for solace that spans from local bars to online dating and beyond to ultimately find true connection and sustaining love. Things move backwards, from death to life, like a reverse time-lapse video of a dead flower morphing from brittle, scorched entity to floral glory to nacsent bud. The poems seek to find those places where the natural world connects to and informs experiences at the core of human relationships, and at times call upon principles and theories from physics and mathematics to describe the complexities of love and loss. It's a book where grief, melancholy, heartbreak, and disillusionment intersect with urban romanticism, hope, possibility, and love. Bloom is all of it, the terrible and the beautiful.

The Rusted City by Rochelle Hurt

[Paperback] White Pine Press, 108 pp., $16.00
The Rusted City is a hybrid collection of linked prose poems and lineated series depicting the disintegration of a family in a surreal wasteland. Told through the experiences of the smallest sister, it is a coming-of-age fable set in the haunting dreamscape of the Rust Belt, where industrial corrosion becomes a funhouse mirror of personal loss and degradation. In images of urban ruin both dark and whimsical, the communal loss of a destroyed city parallels the loss of innocence and trust within a household. At once speculative and documentary, it is a story about the nature of decay in the aftermath of abuse and betrayal. 

Cooley meditates on transience and mortality.


Jenny Xie Interviews Sarah Arvio

Sarah Arvio, formerly a translator for the United Nations, is the author of three books of poetry, all of which are sharply attuned to the nuances of language and its material and aural dimensions. Visits from the Seventh, her first volume, takes the form of a series of conversations with channeled “voices” —Arvio refers to them as visitors — that began dictating to the poet shortly after her 40th birthday. Sono dials up the acoustical effects present in Visits from the Seventh with poems that think through sound and improvisation to reflect on loss and desire. Arvio is alert to the ways in which verbal overlaps and swerves can lend depth; accidents of sound, her poems show, can give rise to a startling amount of sense. Read more at the LA Review of Books.

Life's Minutiae Gain New Magnitude In Dunn's "Lines" Of Poetry

Poems dwell in an ambiguous space, shelved somewhere between fiction and fact, imagination and experience. Even when poems seem wholly authentic, we can’t assume they’re accurate — after all, “poetic license” is the catch-all excuse for blurry lines between truth and fabrication. In the face of seemingly autobiographical poems, readers and reviewers — wise to the slippery ways of poets — often side-step the question of truth and talk about the “speaker.” But in an interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin, poet Stephen Dunn agrees to bypass that convention. His 17th collection, Lines of Defense,includes several poems about navigating dying and loss. Specifically, they feature a speaker addressing the pending death of his brother. Read more at Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Knocking Once Again on the Poet’s Door

by Erik S. Lesser 
Somber news comes with the territory I patrol as obituaries editor for this newspaper, and it was in that capacity I learned that W.D. Snodgrass was dying. A colleague had been reading email one morning in the fall of 2008 when he called up a message that had been sent overnight. It was from a woman, he said, who wanted to advise the obit desk that her husband, a poet, was losing his fight with cancer. Knowing that The Times, for practical reasons, will often prepare an obit while the subject is still alive, she said, she wanted to give us a heads-up about his condition. Read more at the New York Times.

Sarah Arvio is the author of three books of poetry.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes


Lessons from the Past: R. S. Thomas

“As I go through my day at my desk, in my contact with others, or out in the world of nature, I see something, begin to turn in over in my mind, and decide that it has poetic possibilities. The main concern now will be not to kill it; not to make it common, prosaic, uninteresting. If it bores me in the telling, it will surely bore the public in the reading. I must choose words and rhythms which will keep it fresh and have the power to recreate the experience in all its original intensity for each new reader. But in this very process the experience is changed, and will continue to be changed as each new reader apprehends it.” 

If it bores me in the telling, it will surely bore the public in the reading.