February 6, 2013

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

February 6, 2013

1461 – Dzore Drzic, Croatian poet, is born.

1564 – Christopher Marlowe, English poet/dramatist (Dr Faustus), is born.

1753 – Evariste Desire Desforges chevalier de Parny, French poet, is born.

1778 – Ugo Foscolo, Italy, poet (Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis), is born.

1864 – John Henry Mackay, Scottish/German author/poet (Anarchists), is born.

1888 – Ljudmil Stojanow, Bulgarian poet (Metsh i Slowo, Cholera), is born.
1995 – James Ingram Merrill, US poet (Braving the elements), dies at 68.

Where I hid my face, your touch, quick, merciful, 

Blindfolded me. A god breathed from my lips.

If that was illusion, I wanted it to last long;

To dwell, for its daily pittance, with us there,

Cleaning and watering, sighing with love or pain.

—from “Days of 1964” by James Merrill (1926–1995)

Poetry In The News

The Power of Poetry: Natasha Trethewey Comes to the Library

It has been a busy first two weeks for the Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, who is working this spring from the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center – a first for a laureate. Read more at the Library of Congress.

Draft Siegfried Sassoon Poem Reveals Controversial Lines Cut from “Atrocities”

A draft of one of Siegfried Sassoon's most famous anti-war poems has come to light, revealing that the most controversial lines were cut and others were toned down before publication. The manuscript of Atrocities – which is about the brutal killing of German prisoners by British soldiers – is accompanied by an unpublished letter in which Sassoon describes the horror of discovering that soldiers from his own side had committed such barbarities. Read more at the Guardian.

NIU Mourns Death of Famed Poet Lucien Stryk

The NIU community is mourning the loss of Lucien Stryk, an internationally acclaimed Zen poet and former star English professor who died Jan. 24, in London. He was 88. Stryk was born in Kolo, Poland, in 1924, and moved at a young age to Chicago with his family. After serving in the U.S. Army in the South Pacific during World War II, he studied at Indiana University, and later at the Sorbonne in Paris, London University and the University of Iowa. Red more at NIU Today.

World Poetry

Tamil Poet Salma and Her Extraordinary Rise to Success

On January 31, prominent Kazakh dissident, author, and poet Aron Atabek will turn 60. Atabek will mark the milestone alone, in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison in the city of Arkalyk, where he has just been transferred for the next two years. Read more at Watchdog.

New Books

Fibonacci Batman: New and Selected Poems (1991-2011) by Maureen Seaton

[Paperback] Carnegie Mellon, 168 pp., $19.95

With its striking new sequences of charmed mathematics and magical equations with their surreal violences and tragicomedic human predicaments, Fibonacci Batman: New & Selected Poems spans two decades and seven previous poetry collections (five award-winning) by two-time "Lammy" recipient, Maureen Seaton. Language is key in Seaton's poetry, called "radiantly precise" (Publishers Weekly) and "able to evoke the feeling of vast expanses of space and time, much like Borges in 'The Library of Babel'" (Adam Miller). 

What Things Are Made Of by Charles Harper Webb

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 104 pp., $15.95

Charles Harper Webb is celebrated for his use of humor; yet even his funniest poems rise, as the best comedy must, out of deep human drives, sorrows, and needs. Powerful immersions in what it means to be human, these poems explore the spectrum of emotions from love to hate, tenderness to brutality. They can be withering and vulnerable in the same breath. Models of clarity and vividness, they are mysterious when they need to be, ranging from lyric to narrative, from realism to wild surreal flights, powered by a fierce, compassionate intelligence. 

Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry edited by Charles Henry Rowell

[Paperback] W. W. Norton & Company, 672 pp., $24.95

This is not just another poetry anthology. It is a gathering of poems that demonstrate what happens when writers in a marginalized community collectively turn from dedicating their writing to political, social, and economic struggles, and instead devote themselves to the art of their poems and to the ideas they embody. These poets bear witness to the interior landscapes of their own individual selves or examine the private or personal worlds of invented personae and, therefore, of human beings living in our modern and postmodern worlds. 

Lit from Inside: 40 Years of Poetry from Alice James Books edited by Carey Salerno and Anne Marie Macari

[Paperback] Alice James Books, 384 pp., $19.95

A compilation of archival materials accompanies this collection of forty years of Alice James Books poetry. Nearly 150 authors are represented in chronological order. Maxine Kumin states, "the list of authors is remarkable for its breadth, variety, and passion. The assortment is idiosyncratic, the range of voices and styles embraces the familiar personal narrative voice and the innovative." Contributors include Jane Kenyon, Fanny Howe, Forrest Gander, Jean Valentine, B.H. Fairchild, Matthea Harvey, Brian Turner, and Cole Swensen.

The Law of Falling Bodies: Poems by Elton Glaser

[Paperback] The University of Arkansas Press, 87 pp., $16.00

The hard center of The Law of Falling Bodies bears down on the twin enmities of pain and loss. But the book ranges over a broad field, with poems covering everything from the inundations of summer rain ("It's like living in the spit valve of a big trombone") to a lovesick drunk listening to Patsy Cline ("My drink's on the rocks, and I am, too.") Glaser begins with the quirks and revelations of nature, shifts to those difficult adjustments we make as the body breaks down, modulates to a series of scenes imbued with music, and ends on an elegiac note in memory of his late wife ("Grief follows me like a dog behind the butcher's truck"). 

Recent Reviews

Collected Poems by Edward Dorn – review

by Patrick McGuinness 

"You don't disappear. You reappear, dead," wrote Ed Dorn, who died in 1999 and emphatically reappears here: nearly 1,000 pages of poetry ranging over almost 50 years of work. Born in Illinois in 1929, Dorn grew up in rural poverty in what he described, in his 1969 autobiographical novel By the Sound, as "the basement stratum of society". He was associated with Black Mountain poets Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan, writers who, like Dorn, took their early bearings from Charles Olson. Read more at the Guardian.

Sound Bytes and Computer Blips

by Dee Morris 

Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media pivots on a seven-word manifesto: “The poet’s arena,” Perloff declares, “is the electronic world.” A key move in a long career, what backs this claim? What leads forward from it? How does it fare in the thoroughly mediated, digitized, networked, and programmable world we currently inhabit?

Although by no means an obvious pair even now, two decades ago poetry and the electronic world were as odd a combination as Lautréamont’s sewing machine and umbrella. In 1991, poetry retained an aura of sanctity sufficient to prompt US poet laureate Joseph Brodsky to propose that a poetry anthology be placed beside the Bible and phonebook in every hotel room in the country. In the same year, in what seems a far-off galaxy of greenscreen prompt lines, the University of Minnesota introduced the Gopher browser plugin that allowed users to send, search, and retrieve documents over a pre-World-Wide-Web Internet. Read more at Jacket 2.

Mother Galaxy

by Victoria Redel

When Brenda Shaughnessy’s first collection of poems, “Interior With Sudden Joy,” was published in 1999, I was among the many readers dazzled by Shaughnessy’s snazzy syntax and inaugurating mind. Here was a book that was funny, smart, playful, the feminine present and unapologetically intellectual and erotic. But, finally, impressive as it was, that first collection didn’t do for me what Dickinson claimed great poetry should — make me feel that the top of my head was taken off. In bold and moving contrast, Shaughnessy’s emotionally charged and gorgeously composed third volume of poems, “Our Andromeda,” moves me line by line and poem by poem so that by the book’s final, monumental title poem, I am top-of-the-head-blown-off undone. Read more at the New York Times.


Arab-American Poet Learns to Speak Out

by Carolina Astrain

A mumbler, she is not. Growing up in a household where creative expression was encouraged, award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye didn't need long to realize she wanted to be writer. Early in her education, Nye learned the value of her own voice through her second-grade teacher who did not allow mumbling in her class. Read more at the Victoria Advocate.


“repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise”: Poets Mourning Poets

by Casey N. Cep

“I used to want to live / to avoid your elegy,” Robert Lowell confessed in “For John Berryman.” The death of one poet is an extraordinary occasion for another poet. It is like the day a stonemason dies and another has to carve his headstone. Like a rough ashlar, the elegy sits waiting to be shaped into a memorial for the one who is gone. The death of a poet so great as Jack Gilbert last week pains, but also promises remembrances fitting the one who died. Read more at The Paris Review.

Making Waves and Money With Poetry

by Amanda DeMarco

The nomination of Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey for the National Book Critics Circle award for criticism is just one indication of the significant work published by Wave Books. Over the past decade, Seattle boutique press Wave Books has built a reputation for publishing cerebral, formally innovative poetry that’s also deeply warm and human. The press’s accomplishments have grown from a philosophy that considers the text and the writer as the first and essential elements of publishing. If that sounds like common sense, it’s apparently very difficult to put into action. At Wave it informs everything from cover design to submissions processes to translations. Read more at Publishing Perspective.

Robert Frost: Darkness or Light?

by Joshua Rothman

Fifty years ago today, the poet Robert Lee Frost died, at the age of eighty-eight. Though Frost is thought of as a contemplative New England poet, he was born in San Francisco, and named for the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. As Raymond Holden explained in his 1931 New Yorker Profile of Frost, Frost’s father, William, was “an ardent Democrat and States’ Rights man.” Father Frost had tried to enlist in the Civil War on the Southern side, but was rejected because he was too young. Read more at the New Yorker.

Drafts & Fragments

Presidential Poetry

by Nick Moran 

Much ado was made about “One Today,” Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem for president Barack Obama, but also worth checking out is Paul Muldoon’s “For Barack Obama: His Second Inauguration.” Read more at The Millions.


Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Doctors to Prescribe Self-Help Books, Poetry for Mental Health Ills

by Harvey Morris

Doctors in England will soon be prescribing books as well as pills to patients suffering from anxiety and depression. In a government-endorsed initiative supported by medical associations and librarians, physicians will be sending patients to their local libraries for a range of approved self-help titles targeted at those suffering from mild to moderate mental health problems. Read more at the New York Times.


It's hard to come up with a list of poetry book titles that would qualify as "up-lifting" except in the sense that they might affirm the fact that we are all in the same situation. Such affirmation doesn't necessarily help the situation nor even make us feel any less alone. At best it might be some solace to know that others have known the same desolation or suffering that the afflicted suffer. But to go to poetry to soak up one's own the sorrow or to be distracted by the plight of others has as much merit as grabbing a coloring book and a box of crayons.  I doubt the poets themselves (Eliot, Frost, Stevens, Yeats. . . Bishop, Lowell, Rich, Hecht ) would prescribe their own work as a way out of the "dark night of the soul" unless as a world of words to get lost in for a while, to find that "momentary stay against confusion." Not so much "uplifting" as enveloping. A different kind of medicine.


—David Sanders