January 3, 2013

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

Double Issue

1501 – Ali Sjir Neva’i [Fani], Turkish poet/author, dies at 59.
1698 – Pietro Metastasio, Italian poet (d. 1782), is born.
1886 – John G. Fletcher, US, poet (Epic of Arkansas), is born.
1891– Osip E Mandelstam, Polish/Russian poet/author (Kamenj) [NS=Jan 15], is born.
1922 – Morten Nielsen, Denmark, poet/resistance fighter, is born.
1944 – Jurgis Baltrušaitis, Lithuanian poet (b. 1873), dies.
1988 – Rose Ausländer, German poet (b. 1901), dies.

My dear, whatever halts us now
Is not reality but a ghost
From the grey past. Within our hands
We hold reality. It is ours.
And driving towards it we can find
Pinnacles of the eternal cloud,
And rainstorms shaking sunny earth,
And joys we never dreamed to know.

—from “Along the Highway, Rogers to Fayetteville” by John Gould Fletcher, 1886–1950

Poetry In The News

Debut Poetry Collection Coming From James Franco

Perhaps the only way that James Franco could surprise us now with his unpredictable creative pursuits is if he simply chucked them all to spend time splitting rocks at his local quarry. And yet Mr. Franco, the artist, author and actor (whose films include “Milk” and “127 Hours”), continues to add to his eclectic résumé, announcing plans on Monday to publish his first book of poetry. Read more at the New York Times.

Collection of Robert Frost’s Christmas Cards Show Poet’s Personal Touch

Take heart, holiday procrastinators: Famed poet Robert Frost once waited until July to get his Christmas cards in the mail. Unlike the flimsy, forgettable cards of today, however, Frost’s cards arguably were worth the wait. For the past 28 years of his life, he teamed up with a boutique printer to send beautifully illustrated booklets featuring a different poem for each year. Read more at the Vancouver Sun.

Mountain’s Shape Inspires Vt.-Iraq Poetry Alliance

Mount Ascutney is unusual among Vermont’s oddly shaped hills for its symmetry. From Peter Money’s window, it looks like a pyramid. Money, a published poet and teacher, says that’s enough to establish a connection between his rural home on a Vermont hillside and the Middle East. It’s a connection that has borne fruit in the form of a new volume of poetry, translated from Arabic: Nostalgia, My Enemy, by the prize-winning Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef, published by Greywolf Press. Read more at the SF Gate. 

Poets Rally in Last-Ditch Effort to Save Langley Forest

What do award-winning Canadian poet Lorna Crozier, a legendary Chinese hermit, and many residents of Langley, B.C., have in common? They are all involved in an effort to save the McLellan Park East Forest, a 25-acre tract of unique older forest located in Langley’s Glen Valley area. Read more at The Epoch Times.

World Poetry

Arab Poets Celebrate Culture in Baghdad

Guyana-born poet John Agard has been named as the recipient of The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry for 2012. The award is presented for excellence in poetry, with previous recipients including W.H. Auden, John Betjeman and Philip Larkin. Agard, who writes for both adults and children, moved to the UK from Guyana in 1977. He said he was “touched” to be the winner of an award which had been won by such illustrious names in the past. Read more at the BBC.

Much-loved Poet and Critic Dies Aged 58

Tributes have been paid to the poet Dennis O’Driscoll, who died suddenly aged 58 on Christmas Eve. Mr. O’Driscoll, author of nine volumes of poetry, had his work published in the Harvard Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry and Faber’s 20th Century Irish Poems. A book of his interviews with Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney was also published. Read more at the Irish Times.

New Books

Lord Byron’s Foot: Poems by George Green

[Hardcover] St. Augustines Press, 80 pp., $22.00

George Green is a pop-culture Juvenal, whose satiric strain is both trenchant and elegiac. The poems in Lord Byron’s Foot move deftly between the back alleys of Trieste and the parking lots of his hometown in Pennsylvania, be­tween Chichester Cathedral and the downtown streets and parks of Manhattan where he has lived for three decades. Green’s range and depth of knowledge in these technically accomplished poems might be intimidating if not for the disarming delight and pas­sion with which he engages his material and the bizarrely rau­cous humor in which the poetry often revels.

The Selected Poems of David Shapiro

[Paperback] Overlook, 240 pp., $17.95

David Shapiro’s poetry—from his acclaimed 1965 debut January to the recent poems included in this career-spanning collection—speaks with far-ranging erudition while playing across the surface of American English with a lyric sensibility unparalleled in contemporary verse. In this volume, his tenth book-length volume of poetry, readers can explore the breadth and depth of this iconoclastic poet’s oeuvre.

The Price of Experience by Clayton Eshleman

[Paperback] Commonwealth Books, 490 pp., $24.00

A large compendium of National Book Award-winning author Clayton Eshleman’s poetry, lectures on ancient cave paintings, a journal, essays, reviews, and interviews. A journey through Eshleman’s musings and writings both new and old. 

The Oracle of Hollywood Boulevard: Poems by Dana Goodyear

[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 80 pp., $25.95

The frank, raw lyrics of Dana Goodyear’s second collection draw on the scenery of Los Angeles—the teenagers, vagrants, pornographers—and the beautiful decay that serves as an insistent reminder to them all. The poems are unsparing but tender, candid but sly, and open to the force of nature on an individual human life. 

Her Familiars by Jane Satterfield

[Paperback] Elixir Press, 104 pp., $17.00

 “Jane Satterfield’s poems are intimate, graceful, and brilliant, composed around issues of social and political importance.  Reading them, I feel I have made a friend whose company I enjoy and whose insight, wit and commitment I greatly admire. These are terrific poems.”—Kevin Prufer

Recent Reviews

Visions of the Material World

by David McCooey

Before Google, there was Les Murray. His first reading as a boy was Cassell’s Encyclopaedia, which—according to his biographer, Peter F. Alexander—he read ”to pieces”. He also read the Bible and The Encyclopaedia Britannica. One can believe it.The Best 100 Poems of Les Murray is, despite its modest size, encyclopaedic in scope. It is filled with poems (chosen by their author) about cats, birds, smells, whips, roads, eucalypts, bats, jellyfish, showers, rivers, grass, walnuts. Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald. 

A Return to Formalism

by Stephen Ross

The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry emerges at a contentious moment in the field of literary studies. Senior academics have begun to predict that English departments will soon shrink to the size of classics departments or be subsumed into nebulous mega-rubrics like media studies. Meanwhile, cash-strapped government antipathy to humanities programmes makes certain that whatever happens, the status quo will not persist. This new Handbook offers a fascinating glimpse at this unfolding drama through the lens of American poetry studies. Read more at the Oxonian Review.

Poets Who Look Death in the Eye

by Dana Jennings

The poets C. K. Williams and Cynthia Cruz, at first glance, couldn’t seem more different. Mr. Williams owns a Pulitzer and has published more than 20 books; her latest book is just Ms. Cruz’s second. He casts long, serpentine lines upon the page; she savors the cryptic burst. And Mr. Williams was born into the same 1930s Newark that shaped Philip Roth, while Ms. Cruz came of age in Santa Cruz, Calif., skateboarding and listening to punk. He’s analog. She’s digital. But each writer’s new collection is a bracing meditation on mortality. Read more at the New York Times.

The Virtues of Poetry

How can we ask our poets both for careful technique and for wild surprise? How can we even talk about poetry in general—how it works, what makes it good, how to read it—if the best poems stand apart from all rules, all programs? Longenbach (The Iron Key) enjoyed an international reputation as a scholar of modern poetry for more than a decade before his own verse found success; in this collection of essays, more than in any of his previous books, the poet’s hand and the critical ear combine. Read more at Publishers Weekly.


Snowflakes in General: An Interview with Matthea Harvey

by Louis Bourgeois

Matthea Harvey is the author of the author of Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf, 2004) and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000). Her third book of poems, Modern Life (Graywolf, 2007) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. Her first children’s book, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel, was published by Tin House Books in 2009. An illustrated erasure, titled Of Lamb, with images by Amy Jean Porter, was published by McSweeney’s in 2011. Matthea is a contributing editor to jubilat, Meatpaper, and BOMB. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn. Read more at Rain Taxi.


How John Milton Invented Sci-Fi in the 1600s

by Katy Waldman

Before an ominous two-handed engine called “budget constraints” smote it into oblivion, a movie adaption of Milton’s Paradise Lost was slated to arrive in 2013. Directed by Alex Proyas and starring Bradley Cooper as Satan, the film was billed as a science fiction actioner featuring 3-D “aerial warfare” between heavenly hosts and (probably) a lot of dark muttering about forbidden knowledge. Now Legendary Pictures has scrapped the epic, leaving us to contemplate our theology this Christmas without the promise of Cooper lolling around in a lake of fire, looking roguish. Read more at Slate.

The Clarifying Power of Poetry

by Dick Allen

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., brings forth, understandably, questions about poetry. Why poems? Because poetry, particularly traditional rhymed and metered poetry, is at its best a heightened use of language. It’s a form of art that can “lock” a realization into place, seemingly for all time. Being occasional, written in the heat and sorrow of the moment, sadly most often these terribly sincere poems are not very good. Why not? Read more at Savannah Now.

From Wrecking Crew to Maturity in American Poetry: Larry Levis #2

by Johannes

I was intrigued a few weeks ago when in response to my first Larry Levis post, Milford gave a little history lesson of late 60s early 70s poetry: How supposedly Merwin had influenced a lot of poets to write deep image poetry, generating a “glut” of surrealist-ish poetry, which was then abandoned as those very same poets moved on to write personal narratives of interiority and sentimentality. Milford suggested that Levis’s own writing trajectory follows this path.
 Read more at Montevidayo.  

Can There Be a Modern “Working-class” Poetry?

by Peter Riley

In 2003 and 2005, two sets of three large volumes each of eighteenth and nineteenth century English “labouring class” poetry, under the general editorship of John Goodridge, were published by Pickering and Chatto.1 There are 129 poets in the 2500 pages of the six volumes, but even this is only a small selection of what was published at the time in this category: a database held at Nottingham Trent University, where Goodridge teaches, contains over 1400 names. Read more at Fortnightly Review.

Drafts & Fragments

A.E. Stallings and Titos Patrikios

A.E. Stallings is a poet and translator who has lived in Athens, Greece, for the last 13 years. Trained as a classicist, studying ancient Greek and Latin, she garnered much acclaim for her translation of the Roman philosopher Lecretius’ “The Nature of Things.” Stallings’ own poetry has garnered several prizes, and in 2011 she was a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” award. Most recently she published a collection titled Olives, which includes poems about life — both ancient and modern — in her adopted home. Titos Patrikios is one of the leading poets of Greece. Born in 1928 to parents who were actors, he spent his first years in the United States as they toured with a Greek theater company. He returned to Greece, where he eventually studied law at the University of Athens and then philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. Read more at the PBS Newshour.

Rejection Letter to Gertrude Stein

Read it here. 

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

SF Student Suspended over Connecticut Poem

A San Francisco high school senior is suspended because of a poem she wrote which dealt with the school shooting in Connecticut. What she wrote has left officials with a dilemma. It was a dark poem and in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy, it raised red flags and triggered a quick response by school officials. Now the student is facing the possibility of being expelled. “I understand the killings in Connecticut. I know why he pulled the trigger,” said Courtni Webb, the suspended student. Read more at ABC.



Several weeks ago I posted a story about a six-year-old girl in Marion, North Carolina, who wrote a poem about her grandfathers—both Vietnam War veterans. The school administration censored the poem because, they said, the lines “He prayed to God for peace / He prayed to God for strength” could be construed as a violation of the separation of church and state. This quickly turned into the predictable squabble between the hardliners who blanch at a “Gesundheit” at a school choir practice, and those convinced that this sort of censorship of their Christian foundation is evidence that the end of days is nigh. What it was in truth was a failure of imagination doused with a timidity of spirit.

     Now, a high school student has been suspended(!) for having the audacity to project herself into the mind of a killer, to try for an empathic connection with the Other (as they say), to challenge the cultural orthodoxy, which is what we hope students will do as they piece together the components of literature. For this she was kicked out of school. In both cases, there is a dereliction of duty on the part of the adults in charge—an intellectual dishonesty that values conformity and fear of community retribution over the opportunity to teach, to lead, to foster independent thought and creativity. The rationale of the school administration in this case? “The school takes a zero tolerance approach to violence or the threat of violence.” 

     Given this tamping down of the creative drive among the young, it is easy to see how the Romantic myth of the alienated poet is promulgated. More real is the likelihood that this sort of repression will be successful and will be imitated. Students will learn what not to write and when not to write it, and then learn what not to think. And self-censorship will continue to work its ugly magic. For that, there should be zero tolerance.


—David Sanders