January 22, 2015

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

January 22, 2015

1788 – Lord [George Gordon Noel] Byron, England, romantic poet (Don Juan), is born.
1820 – Hermann von Lingg, German playwright/poet, is born.
1887 – Helen Hoyt, American poet (d. 1972), is born.
1916 – Harilal Upadhyay, Gujarati Author, Poet, Astrologist (Gujarat is a State of India) (d. 1994), is born.
1917 – Herwig Hensen, [Flor Mielants], Flemish poet/playwright, is born.
1922 – Howard Moss, poet/editor (New Yorker), is born.
1945 – Else Lasker-Schuler, German-born poet (b. 1869), dies.
1952 – Roger Vitrac, French poet/dramatist (Mysteries of Love), dies at 52.
1991 – Robert Choquette, French Canadian novelist, poet and diplomat (b. 1905), dies.
2000 – Anne Hébert, French Canadian author and poet (Kamouraska) (b. 1916), dies.

After the long
Melancholy of the fall,
One longs for the crisp
Brass shout of winter—

The blaze of firewood,
The window’s spill
Of parlor lamplight
Across the snow.

—from “New Hampshire” by Howard Moss (1922–1987)

“After the long/ Melancholy of the fall,/ One longs for the crisp/ Brass shout of winter” —from “New Hampshire” by Howard Moss (1922–1987)

World Poetry

Former Miss Turkey Troubled for Posting Anti-Erdogan Poem

Merve Büyüksaraç, former Turkish beauty queen in 2006, has testified before an Istanbul prosecutor over sharing a poem reportedly lyrics adapted from the Turkish national anthem and featured insults directed at Erdogan.

Argentine Poet Arnaldo Calveyra Dies at 85

Argentine poet, playwright and novelist Arnaldo Calveyra, considered one of the most original writers of Spanish literature, has died in Paris, the Adriana Hidalgo publishing house in Buenos Aires said Saturday. He was 85.

Nicaraguan Poet Laments Betrayal of a Revolution

On the eve of his 90th birthday, storied Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal laments what he calls the betrayal of the Sandinista revolution by President Daniel Ortega. Ordained a Catholic priest in 1965, Cardenal left a mainly farming community he founded on the Solentiname Islands to join Sandinista rebels fighting against the Somoza family regime, which had ruled the country for nearly half a century.

Former Turkish beauty queen in 2006, Merve Büyüksaraç, has testified before an Istanbul prosecutor over sharing a poem.

Recent Reviews

A Dazzling Poet
by Helen Vendler

Lucie Brock-Broido’s most recent book, Stay, Illusion—a finalist last spring for the 2013 National Book Award and the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award—follows three dazzling earlier volumes: A Hunger (1988), The Master Letters (1995), and Trouble in Mind (2004). Brock-Broido is now the director of poetry and a professor in the School of the Arts at Columbia; I have followed her writing since 1988, when she became my colleague as a five-year Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard. Brock-Broido’s poetry is imaginative beyond the usual notions of that word; unlike the many dull poems, domestic or disarticulated, that proliferate on page and Web, her inventions have power.

A Literary Life in Portrait Detail
James Laughlin’s Story Told in Two New Books
by Dwight Garner

James Laughlin was tall, blue-eyed, athletic, vastly wealthy and, by many accounts, sexually mesmerizing. He could charm the pants off women and usually did. Sometimes he went home and wrote a terrible, simpering poem about the experience. The heir to a Pittsburgh iron and steel fortune, Laughlin might have become an international playboy, skiing and sampling the thermal springs in elite European hotels. (He did plenty of each.) But he was a courtly man with a sense of noblesse oblige and a bold literary sensibility.

Selected Poems 1986-2012 by Thomas Lux – review
by Beverley Bie Brahic

For six years Thomas Lux’s poem “Refrigerator, 1957” has been squatting my computer desktop. I was writing a fridge poem of my own when I unearthed it from the internet and fell hard for the jar of cherries on “the middle door shelf”.

The Albertine Workout by Anne Carson and Loom by Sarah Gridley

Poetic responses to the world include, of course, responses to other art forms, ekphrastic poetry in response to a painting or sculpture, and responses to works of literature—poems, novels, or essays. Poets have often taken up dialogue with significant writers from the past, as ways of acknowledging or purging influence, of ventriloquism, of a search for origin or the emptiness in its stead—for multiple and I suspect, mysterious reasons that produce a variety of different texts. For me, the strange power and excitement of reading closely while writing occurs as one’s own lines warp or skew in unexpected directions—in part, taking on the other and enlarging vocabulary, tone, perception, access to sounds, sentences, obsessions.

Top 40 Poetry Books of 2014

Welcome to our annual list of the Top 40 Poetry Books of the Year. It took a little longer than usual to assemble it this year, but we are very excited by it and hope you find something you like. This year’s list will unfold over the next four days (40-31 are listed below) and will feature prose-about-poetry by Stephen Burt, Shanna Compton, Crystal Curry, John Deming, Seth Graves, Cathy Park Hong, James Kimbrell, Steven Karl, Michael Klein, Timothy Liu, Erin Lynn, Matt Soucy, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Melinda Wilson and Matthew Yeager. 

Lucie Brock-Broido’s most recent book, Stay, Illusion—a finalist last spring for the 2013 National Book Award and the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award—follows three dazzling earlier volumes.


A Poet’s Boyhood at the Burning Crossroads
By Saeed Jones

The year I started writing poems, I dreamed about chains dragging along a dusty country road. It was June 1998, six months before my 13th birthday. Earlier that evening, my mother and I watched, encased in a heavy silence, as the local news station reported on the murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Tex. Byrd, a black man, had accepted a ride home from three white men. They later beat him, chained him to the back of their truck and dragged him more than three miles. The word “dismembered” entered my vocabulary that night, lodging itself in my throat.

Resurrections, Do-Overs, And Second Lives: A 2015 Poetry Preview
by Craig Morgan Teicher

Since 9/11, folks have been saying we need poetry more than ever, but perhaps now we need poetry even more than "more than ever." 2014 will go down as the year of Ferguson and Eric Garner, of the CIA torture report, of lost elections and more than a few dashed hopes. As 2015 begins, I find myself craving the uneasy questions and answers of poetry, its middle spaces, ambivalences, complexities, and also its precision and fierceness. The best poetry coming in 2015 may not have the solutions to last year's problems, but it offers plenty of the balm and fervor we need right now. So, here are my picks for the must-read poetry collections of the coming year; I hope you find things here that both soothe and incite.

Foreign Bodies: Gottfried Benn, Patrizia Cavalli, and the Situation of Translation 
by David Rivard

The recent passing of Mark Strand brought many things to mind—not least his important role, along with Charles Simic, in expanding the impact of European and South American poets on American poetry through their groundbreaking 1976 anthology Another Republic. American poetry, it’s true, had already been seriously altered by an influx of work from “abroad” in the 60’s.  The so-called “Generation of ‘27”—in particular, Bly, Levine, Merwin, Kinnell, and Wright—all of whom had come of age under the strictures of New Criticism, suddenly found a new set of formal means and opened-up subject matter when they started reading the poetry of the French and Spanish surrealists, classical Chinese writers like Tu Fu and Li Po, the German Expressionist Georg Trakl, and a young Swedish psychologist named Tomas Transtromer. 

The best poetry coming in 2015 may not have the solutions to last year’s problems, but it offers plenty of the balm and fervor we need right now.

Drafts & Fragments

2 January (1941): Edna St. Vincent Millay to Charlotte Babcock Sills

Here, Edna St. Vincent Millay writes to Charlotte Babcock Sills, a friend from Vassar, about the Christmas present Millay had given to her—a new book of her poetry, containing the poem “Make Bright the Arrows.” Although Millay previously had been a dedicated pacifist, during World War II, Millay would write poems in support of the Allied Forces, even working with the Writers’ War Board to help create propaganda. Sills was angry at Millay for the content of the poems. As Millay predicts in the letter below, the work would damage her reputation in literary circles.

Rob Lowe Reads James Franco's Poetry

James performed selections from Rob's memoirs, so Rob decided to return the favor.

Ode on a Stethoscope
by Alastair Gee

 In a recent issue of the medical journal Chest, alongside papers about transbronchial needle aspiration and nontuberculous mycobacteria disease, appeared four poems. One of them was “An Intern’s Recollection of a Night at the V.A., July 2004,” by the Vanderbilt University anesthesiologist Doug Hester. In ten lines, the intern in question relates a hospital drama—a patient in trouble, “a new chest tube to suction”—and concludes with a superior’s pithy, annihilating verdict on the intern’s performance: “the needle was / in the wrong place, / just like me.”

Poetry In the News

Arizona Education Officials Say It's Illegal To Recite This Poem In School

The outgoing head of Arizona’s education department caught national attention earlier this month when, on his last day in office, he issued a letter saying that Tucson’s public schools are illegally promoting ethnic solidarity and the overthrow of the U.S. government by teaching Mexican history and hip hop.
What received less attention is the letter’s citation of a poem penned by Chicano playright Luis Valdes that aims to instill ideas of empathy and integrity. Teachers of a Mexican-American studies curriculum outlawed by the Arizona legislature used to open their courses with a recitation of the multilingual poem, which Valdes based on philosophical concepts from the ancient Maya.

Presidential Inaugural Poet Elizabeth Alexander among 3 New Chancellors Named to Poets Academy

Elizabeth Alexander, a Pulitzer Prize finalist who recited a poem at President Barack Obama's first inauguration has been elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. The academy announced Thursday that National Book Award finalist Linda Gregerson and award-winning poet-critic Alicia Suskin Ostriker were also chosen. Chancellors, whose duties range from judging prizes to consulting on programming, are voted on by the current board and serve six-year terms. Previous Chancellors include W.H. Auden, Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery.

New Books

Each Perfected Name by Richard St. John

[Paperback] Truman State University Press, 70 pp., $15.95

The poems in "Each Perfected Name" are about many things: seeing the sacred in the ordinary, recalling the beloved fragility we all carry with us, and wondering what we should do in the world with the stories and symbols that shape us. These meditative, conversational, yet carefully crafted poems are about Odysseus, Aristotle, and the G-20 Summit; planets, quarks, and stars; urban landscapes, the problem of the soul, and so much more.

Crow-Work: Poems by Eric Pankey

[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 96 pp., $16.00
“What is a song but a snare to capture the moment?” Eric Pankey asks in his new collection, Crow-Work. This central question drives Pankey’s ekphrastic exploration of the moment where emotion and energy flood a work of art. Through subjects as diverse as Brueghel’s Procession to Calvary, Anish Kapoor’s Healing of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio’s series of severed heads, and James Turrell’s experimentation with light and color, the author travels to an impossible past, despite being firmly rooted in the present, to seek out "the songbird in every thorn thicket" of the artist's work. Short bursts of lyrical beauty burn away “like coils of incense ash,” bodies in the light of a cave flicker, coalesce and disappear. By capturing the ephemeral beauty of life in these poems, Crow-Work seeks not only to explain great art, but also to embody it.

Telling the Bees by Faith Shearin

[Paperback]Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 88 pp., $18.00

Faith Shearin’s latest poetry collection, Telling the Bees, is evidence of an ongoing, important talent.  The author of three previous collections of poetry, the most recent, Moving the Piano (2011), was featured on numerous occasions on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac.  Doubtless, the book received such overwhelming attention because Shearin proves, poem after poem, that she writes what we need:  poetry that is accessible and meaningful, without gimmick and possessing a music and imagination hardly equaled by her contemporaries. 

Mimer by Lance Phillips

[Paperback] Ahsahta Press, 112 pp., $18.00

"Mimer is about the mutability of experience, the contexts that contain mutability, and the stories we use to make sense of it all. 'We live by our mythologies,' says Lance Phillips, 'and those mythologies are evolving as quickly as details can shake themselves free.' The fourth book in an ongoing series that maps the personal to the mythological, Mimer is erotic and ecstatic, taking those details and investigating what makes them honest. 'With their uncanny quality of attention and gnomic precision Lance Phillips's brilliant poems readily accord neither with our normative arrangements of language nor with our manifest schemas of perception. This book is both an ingenious meditation on, and a 'disportraiture' of, the transitory and miraculous nature of the world's assemblages, our provisional and thrilling successes at description and understanding, our incapacity for thoroughly fathoming the real, and the necessity of continuing to try.'"—Gabriel Gudding

American Urn: Selected Poems by Mark Irwin

[Paperback] Ashland Poetry Press, 184 pp., $22.95
American Urn draws from Irwin’s collected and award-winnning works to date, including selections from Against the Meanwhile (1988), Quick, Now, Always (1996), White City (2000), Bright Hunger (2004), Tall If (2008), and Large White House Speaking (2013).


Slavic Scholar and Translator George Kline (1921-2014): Memorial Reading in NYC on Saturday
by Cynthia Haven

His death was as quiet and unassuming as his life. I learned within a few days that preeminent Slavic scholar George Kline of Bryn Mawr died on October 21 in Anderson, South Carolina, but was hesitant to say anything, not wanting to be the one to break the news to common friends and colleagues. Perhaps everyone else felt the same, for the news seemed to spread very slowly. I sensed, perhaps mistakenly, that he wouldn’t have wanted to make a fuss. I had known of George for many years – his translation of Joseph Brodsky‘s Selected Poems, with its distinctively artsy purple-and-green portrait on Penguin’s “Modern European Poets” cover, was the book that made the Russian poet’s reputation in English. George was among those early champions who had smuggled his poems out of the U.S.S.R., and helped bring the future Nobel prizewinner to the West after the Soviet Union booted the poet out in 1972.

The World of a Poem: Q&A with Mary Szybist
by Zack Hatfield 

In 2013, Mary Szybist — the current Elliston Poet-in-Residence at the University of Cincinnati — won the National Book Award for poetry for her collection “Incarnadine.” The book navigates definitions of spirituality and the author’s identity, dilating on the moment of the Annunciation in the Bible between the Virgin Mary and Gabriel in the gospel of Luke, when Mary learns she will be the mother of God. 
But “Incarnadine” is not necessarily a Christian work. Instead, Szybist’s graceful and at times carnal writing reaches into the depths of the holy, the psyche, as well as the domestic, exploring through experiments in poetic form and lyrical imagery the concept of the Annunciation and how its lasting impressions turn up in the quotidian. The collection is a feat of language, and when read aloud frequently evokes the sound of haunted prayer. 

The Poetics of Sex and Death: In Conversation With Joanna C. Valente and Lisa Marie Basile
by Lisa Marie Basile

Joanna C. Valente is a remarkable poet whose first book, Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press) was released this past fall. Described by Rattle and Pen, The book "is a collection of character-centric narrative poems in four seasonal sections. The book reads like a non-homogenized Greek chorus version of The Virgin Suicides, and although set in a contemporary time, the poems seem to vibrate with some sort of 70's afterglow." After reading her book (and having my own first full-length, APOCRYPHAL, published at the same time), I felt an immediate connection to her deep interest in the dark and feminine. Her work was similar to my own in a way; we shared an obsession with the body and death, and we both aim to illustrate the role of woman and man. Joanna and I sat down to ask one another a bit about how we approach feminist writing on sex and death.

David Harsent: ‘If I can’t hear the music, I don’t think it is a poem’
by Kate Kellaway

Professor of creative writing at the University of Roehampton, David Harsent (born 1942) deserves that Shakespearean phrase from Measure for Measure, “the duke of dark corners”, as a poet because in his work – including nocturnes, unquiet dreams, hauntings – it seems that he has always been able to see in the dark. His outstanding 11th collection, Fire Songs (Faber, £12.99), which has just won the TS Eliot prize, has its darkness shot through with fire (with a riveting and terrifying poem about a witch being burnt at the stake) and ice – a particularly dazzling poem about an ice field was inspired by a picture taken by his acclaimed photographer son, Simon.

George Kline was among those early champions who had smuggled Joseph Brodsky‘s poems out of the U.S.S.R., and helped bring the future Nobel prizewinner to the West after the Soviet Union booted the poet out in 1972.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Michael Donaghy

There's a powerful gossipy cachet invoked when a poet appears to be revealing some intense real-life secret. It's only natural. But I've always resisted this–not because I'm an especially reticent or private individual– but because I really believe a poem has a life of its own and is as much "about" the reader's life as about mine.
It's the emotional and musical truth, rather than the documentary truth I'm after. I'm not sure I'm a reliable narrator of events even to myself. So a story told from the point of view of a Japanese courtesan or an early Christian saint may be as or more autobiographical than a poem about my father rigging up a doorbell under the table so he could get off the phone without giving offense. 
What sets the"confessional poets" Snodgrass, Lowell, Sexton, and Plath apart from other poets who incorporate details from life is their sense of self-revelation and their artful simulation of sincerity. By relying on the documentary truth, on "real" situations and relationships, for a poem's emotional authenticity, the poet makes an artifice of honesty. Confessional poems, in other words, lie like truth.

—from "Nightwaves: notes for a radio broadcast" 

“It’s the emotional and musical truth, rather than the documentary truth I’m after. I’m not sure I’m a reliable narrator of events even to myself.” —from “Nightwaves: notes for a radio broadcast”