July 17, 2012

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

July 17, 2012

521 – Magnus Felix Ennodius, bishop and Latin poet (b. 474), dies.

1571 – Georg Fabricius, German poet and historian (b. 1516), dies.

1878 – Aleardo [Gaetano] Aleardi, Italian/Aust poet (Tre Fiumi), dies at 65.
1901 – Bruno Jasieński, Polish poet (d. 1938), is born.

1922 – Donald Alfred Davie, poet/critic, is born.

1935 – George William Russell, Irish nationalist, poet and artist (b. 1867), dies.

Chemicals ripen the citrus;
There are rattlesnakes in the mountains,
And on the shoreline
Hygiene, inhuman caution.

Beef in cellophane
Tall as giraffes,
The orange-rancher’s daughters
Crop their own groves, mistrustful.

—from “In California” by Donald Davie (1922–1995)

Poetry In The News

New Contest Hopes to Crack the Code around William Gibson’s Poem “Agrippa”

One of author William Gibson’s more unusual works was an art piece titled “Agrippa” (a book of the dead.) “Agrippa” combined a poem with encryption meant to effectively erase it from the floppy disk on which it came after one reading; it was released in 1992. Since then, the text of the poem and the experience of reading it have been replicated, but the code that protects it has still never been broken. Read more at The Verge.

Taos Poet Replaces Sandusky Image on Penn State Mural

Although Taos poet Dora McQuaid says she is “deeply honored” to have an image of herself replace that of now-convicted child sex offender Jerry Sandusky, 68, on a prominent mural opposite Penn State, her voice cracks when recounting the years she spent there as a professor and domestic abuse activist all while the crimes committed by the former assistant football coach apparently were being covered up. Read more at the Taos News.

World Poetry

Jamaican Dub Poet Conferred Order Of The British Empire

Joseph Brodsky did not often cross paths seriously with the theater world. The great poet did write two plays and translated at least one I know of. None has ever had much impact. “Gorbunov and Gorchakov,” which Yevgeny Kamenkovich mounted on the small stage at the Sovremennik Theater, is not a play. It is, rather, a poem in fourteen segments and 7,600 words that consists entirely of dialogue. Read more at The Moscow Times.

Defected North Korea Poet Writes of Hunger, Desperation

He says he was one of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s favorite propaganda artists, singing the praises of the Dear Leader in dozens of poems. But these days Jang Jin-sung says he prefers to tell the truth about North Korea. Read more at the Seattle Times.

New Books

A Night in Brooklyn: Poems by D. Nurkse

[Hardcover] Knopf, 96 pp., $26.00
D. Nurkse’s deeply satisfying new collection is a haunted love letter to the far corners of his hometown, Brooklyn, New York, and a meditation on the selves that were left behind in those indelible places. Here Nurkse brings alive the particular details that shape a life, in this case unique to the world of Brooklyn—a job at the Arnold Grill, “topping off drafts with a paddle” for the truckers who came in; the deaf white alley cat that mysteriously survived the winter on a stoop in Bensonhurst; the narrow bed where young love took place; the wild gardens behind the tenements. His exploration of this almost mythic city past is combined with a sense of the future speeding toward us—the ongoing riddle of time and being in a larger universe.

Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo

[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 176 pp., $24.95
In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary.

Roleplay by Juliana Gray

[Paperback] Dream Horse Press, 102 pp., $17.95
To find such wit and canniness about self and sex in American poetry, we have to look back to Dorothy Parker. Of course, we can look across the Atlantic to Wendy Cope. Juliana Gray has their sense of style but something else, too, which is all her own. She has located the ferocious tension in the undercurrent of society, which comes out as slapstick in comedy and violence in tragedy, but in either case is the same thing: human desire in conflict. Gray’s inimitable humor is dark, indeed, but brilliant. —Mark Jarman

Night of the Grizzly: Poems by Michael Burns

[Paperback] Moon City Press, 78 pp., $10.95
Night of the Grizzly, Michael Burns’s last book, was a finished manuscript at the time of his passing and reflects an incisive poet at the height of his powers. Burns has an ear for language as satisfying as Robert Frost’s and a knack for storytelling Robert Penn Warren would envy. His deep image poems evoke primal experiences that take us beyond the dulling influence of this life.

Recent Reviews

On Poetry by Glyn Maxwell – Review

by Adam Newey
“This,” Glyn Maxwell writes on the first page of his new book, “is a book for anyone.” This is, to say the least, a dubious claim. Given that the market for poetry in Britain is vanishingly small, the market for books about poetry is … well, suffice to say that Oberon Books are to be congratulated on putting this out, because it really is a tremendously good book, and should be read by anyone who writes poetry and anyone who’s interested in how and why poetry is written. Read more at the Guardian.

Brenda Shaughnessy’s Ferocious Mother Poems

by Hilton Als
I don’t think anything makes reviewing feel more limited than those cultural artifacts that dwarf mere opinion. One certainly feels this way about Brenda Shaughnessy’s third collection of poetry, Our Andromeda (to be published this fall by Copper Canyon Press). It is a monumental work, and makes a hash of those tired superlatives that will no doubt crop up in subsequent reviews. But the truth is that I have no single opinion about this collection—how could I? The book is a series of narratives that resist interpretation but not feeling—except that I am certain it further establishes Shaughnessy’s particular genius, which is utterly poetic, but essayistic in scope, encompassing ideas about astronomy, illness, bodies, the family, “normalcy,” home. Read more at the New Yorker.

Wry-Blue Loves: Les Amours Jaunes and Other Poems

by Olivia McCannon
A detail in Peter Dale’s introduction stands out: in 1869, Tristan Corbière returned from Italy to his native Morlaix, where ‘he outraged the locals by appearing on the balcony in a bishop’s vestments which he had brought from Rome’. The Catholic church was a powerful authority in Second Empire France, and therefore an ideal target for this poet. His ‘Serenade of Serenades’, for example, is a string of resolutely carnal and blasphemous intercessions addressed to a ‘Virgin’ more diabolical dominatrix than mild saviouress. Read more at Modern Poetry in Translation.

The Limits of Feeling

by Ruth Franklin
The reputation of an important writer will continue to swell in his or her absence, nourished by the unceasing attentions of friends, scholars, and devoted readers unwilling to forget an artist who changed the way they perceive the world. And so it is with W.G. Sebald. At the time of his shocking and untimely death, in 2001 at the age of fifty-seven, he was the author of only four works of fiction, which, despite their slender size and their occasional inscrutability, had already established him as a defining writer of his era. Read more at The New Republic.


Bad Daughter Stakes New Ground for Poet

by Ellen Birkett Morris
Like many poets Sarah Gorham started young writing the requisite abstract, romantic “where is my love” poetry before honing her craft through study and discovering what she had to say at the hands of life. Her fourth book of poetry, Bad Daughter, is a sharply observed look at women behaving well and badly, which is, in turns, both prickly and beautiful. Her transformation as a poet began at Antioch College where she pursued independent study with Heather McHugh and participated in an advanced poetry workshop with Ira Sadoff. Read more at Authorlink.

Simon Armitage: “If everyone was writing poetry, I don’t think I would be”

by Boyd Tonkin
As a troubadour tramping 256 miles across country or a curator assembling scores of poets for a festival, Simon Armitage is forever advocating his art. And yet, he says, he loves its place on the fringe. Read more at the Independent.


The Miracle and the Moment

by Michele Kerr
My best moment as a teacher–so far–came right after a miracle.
It was the end of the school year. I was teaching a unit on Elizabethan theater in my freshman humanities class, and on this day the students delved briefly into the sonnet. With reading abilities ranging from fifth grade to college-level, they wouldn’t all be capable of close analysis, but that was beyond the scope of my lesson anyway. I just wanted to give the students an hour of listening to and thinking about sonnets, with the hope that they would later be able to tell me later that sonnets had 14 lines. Read more at Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.

Frederick Seidel’s “Spin”

by Andrew Sean Greer
Nothing suits me as well as the combination of sweet and sour. It explains my love of Thai food and women rockers who sing like robots about heartbreak. It also explains my love of Frederick Seidel’s poetry. Apparently it’s not to everyone’s taste; he has been called the “Darth Vader of American poetry” for such seemingly cruel lines as “A naked woman my age is just a total nightmare.” Read more at The Paris Review.

Irving Layton’s Last Poem?

by Donald Winkler
“I found this in Box 31 of the Layton collection at Concordia University in Montreal. A clutch of pages stapled together; multiple drafts of a poem Irving Layton began, but never completed, towards the end of his writing. An invocation to the muse who was abandoning him. Twenty-five lines on lined paper, in the cramped handwriting of his old age; both neat, and, paradoxically, difficult to decipher. It was dated, with a question mark, early in 1989. Read more at Vehicule Press.

Poetry Parnassus

Today marks the start of the Poetry Parnassus, the largest poetry festival ever staged in the UK, featuring poets from over 200 participating nations. Poet and Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre, Simon Armitage, who will be leading the event, commented: ‘My hunch is that this will be the biggest poetry event ever – a truly global coming together of poets and a monumental poetic happening worthy of the spirit and history of the Olympics themselves.’ Ahead of the week’s festivities we asked six participating poets for their thoughts on this momentous gathering. Read more at Granta.

Drafts & Fragments

Poetry on Google Maps

London is currently holding a week-long Poetry Parnassus, a festival of poets from all the competing Olympic nations.To mark the occasion The Guardian has created the Poetry Parnassus Interactive Map. The map features poems from nearly every country in the world. The Representative Poetry Online (RPO) from the University of Toronto Libraries has created a Google Map called Places of Poems & Poets. The map allows users to search for places mentioned in the RPO poetry collection. Users can also search for poets by birth place, death place and residence. The Poetry Atlas is a Google Map that is trying to geotag as many poems as they can and also find poems for as much of the world as possible. If you know about a poem that isn’t on the map you can e-mail it to Poetry Atlas and they will add it to the map. Read more at Google Maps Mania.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

The Problem with Selling Poetry to Poets

by Helena Nelson
Let’s say you’re running a cake shop.
It’s a really lovely shop: everything is baked on the premises. To begin with there are just rock cakes and scones, but they’re good.
Then one of your customers brings in a box with some home-made mille feuilles. Amazing cakes: light as a feather and filled with a whisked cream and custard mixture. You take these on as part of your regular stock – what could be nicer? – and soon there’s a lively demand. The mille feuilles are your best sellers.

“Often thought, but never before so deliciously expressed.”

—David Sanders