July 2, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1724 – Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, German poet, is born.
1877 – Hermann Hesse, Switzerland, novelist/poet (Steppenwolf, Nobel 1946), (d.1962), is born.
1915 – Bert Decorte, Flemish poet, is boren. 1920 – Eliseo Diego, Latin American poet, is born.
1923 – Wisława Szymborska, Prowent, Poland, poet referred to as the 'Mozart of Poetry' (Nobel 1996), (d. 2012), is born.
1939 – Alexandros Panagoulis, Greek politician and poet, is born.
1966 – Jan Brzechwa, Polish poet (b. 1900), dies.
1978 – Aris Alexandrou, Greek novelist, poet and translator (b. 1922), dies.


Brueghel's Two Monkeys 

This is what I see in my dreams about final exams: 
two monkeys, chained to the floor, sit on the windowsill, 
the sky behind them flutters, 
the sea is taking its bath. 
The exam is History of Mankind. 
I stammer and hedge. 
One monkey stares and listens with mocking disdain, 
the other seems to be dreaming away — 
but when it's clear I don't know what to say 
he prompts me with a gentle 
clinking of his chain.

— Wisława Szymborska (1923–2012)

“This is what I see in my dreams about final exams: / two monkeys, chained to the floor”— Wisława Szymborska

World Poetry

How Tunisians Are Fighting Free-Speech Limitations With Slam Poetry

Amine Gharbi is a bald 30-year-old man with glasses. The Tunisian hip-hop producer was born and raised in a low-income district in Tunis during a time when any explicit criticism of the state seemed unimaginable. Plainclothes police officers would stroll these neighborhoods to repress any political activity. Before the revolution many local artists alluded to this in their work, but no one spoke about it outright. “We had to be careful,” Gharbi told me as he smoked his cigarette on the patio of a little café in Bardo, the neighborhood where he grew up. “Artists didn’t even mobilize in private spaces.” More.

Tunisians are fighting free-speech limitations with Slam Poetry.

Recent Reviews

Second Childhood by Fanny Howe

by Cynthia Cruz
The opening poem in Second Childhood, Fanny Howe’s newest collection, is a poem I have been “working on” since I first came across it on The Poetry Foundation’s website last year. By “working on,” I mean I have been drawn into the poem, pulled in as if by force. The poem, titled, “For the Book,” was, when I found it on the website, called, “Yellow Goblins.” In my workshops at Sarah Lawrence College, Rutgers University-Newark, and Eugene Lang College, I have introduced the poem. I say “introduced’ because the poem cannot be “taught.” I told my students what it was about the poem that transported me—that it was a highly concentrated mix of music, synesthesia, and mysticism. In other words, it had the making of what I consider a great poem. Which means it was inexplicable. More.

Objects of Contemplation

by Joseph P. Hoover
This spring poetry review is a spring poetry anti-review. It is all so subjective isn’t it? After a collection of poems has already made it through the jangly rites of agents and editors and elegant publishing houses and beautiful jacket covers and delectable author photos and a brief passage at the end about the book’s typeface, who are we to judge which are better than others? At this level it is all about style. It is all about taste. It is about what connects with your personal history and geography, your way of seeing the world. This poetry review is an anti-review. More.

The Republic of Dreams 

by David Wheatley
The small handicap of his writing in English notwithstanding, John Ashbery is one of the great French poets of our time. The heir of Lautréamont, Rimbaud and Mallarmé, he has reinvigorated that least English of forms, the prose poem; emulated Baudelaire and Reverdy’s passion for poems about painting; been a New York School poet while living in Paris and a Parisian poet when back in the US; blithely bypassed the empirical worldview of the Anglosphere; staked his post-surrealist claim instead to what his mentor Raymond Roussel would call the Republic of Dreams. More.

Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth by Ruth Padel

by Fiona Sampson 
Ruth Padel's new book follows her verse biography of Darwin, and The Mara Crossing, an astonishing synthesis of science and art, prose and poetry on the theme of migration. Among the sometimes costive products of contemporary British poetry, these sustained feats of imagination have seemed at times almost perverse, at times like tours de force. Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth displays a similar energy and ambition. More.

Robert Frost Was Neither Light Nor Dark

by Adam Plunkett
In writing about Robert Frost, one hardly has to mention that he is often thought of as the simplest of the great English-language modernists, even the most simplistic. This is when he isn’t considered too simplistic to be modernist or great, remembered from graduation speeches and picture books, which seems to have tempted everyone writing about Frost to tell readers very quickly that they’re wrong: wrong to feel his emotions as simple, wrong to hear his language as plain. Even the best things written about the character of the man and the work, written by and for specialists and sophisticates, tend to proceed by negative theology. More.

Three Books by Lisa Robertson

Political correctness has turned out not to be an entirely excellent exit-strategy for the twentieth century.
Is it odd to begin liking a poet on the basis of a pair of lines? This happened to me with the Canadian poet Lisa Robertson. And though I eventually found that I did my liking on a semierroneous basis, the affinity was secure. I loved these two lines, from a slim untitled poem out of Robertson’s 2001 collection,The Weather. More.

the L notebook by Sabine Macher

by Karla Kelsey
As temperatures hover in the upper 80s, summertime’s fantasy of ease takes over, gives rise to a self that, in lieu of work, throws on flip-flops and a swimsuit and heads to the pool. This summerself, only partly satisfied by hours under the shade of an umbrella reading trashy novels, contemplates a fling with that gorgeous creature sunning across the patio. In such a mood the summerself might think romance too much work—unless, that is, one was able to keep the pleasure simple, physical, charming. But is this possible, the summerself wonders, shifting in her lounge to get a better view: the dangerous ones start out easy and charming but then maneuver into mystery and complexity, creating the kind of bliss that does more than just please. Such experiences alter us. More.

Fanny Howe’s newest collection is a highly concentrated mix of music, synesthesia, and mysticism.


How to Solve an 88-Year-Old Literary Mystery

by Susan Cheever 
As Edward and Rebecca Cummings passed the town of Center Ossipee, N.H., in their new 1926 Franklin sedan, it began to snow. They left their home in Cambridge, Mass., hours before, driving a car with high seats, no defroster and a top speed of about 50. Rebecca took over the driving for the last part of the trip to their summer place at Silver Lake. As she steered the car north toward Mount Chocorua, a southbound Boston & Maine steam locomotive loomed over the right side of the car, then cut the Franklin in half, killing Edward instantly and throwing Rebecca out into the falling snow. More.

The Symbolist Movement in Literature by Arthur Symons review – the book that changed 20th-century literature

by Nicholas Lezard
A century-old work of literary criticism, dealing exclusively with French writers – who apart from people who had studied or were studying, say, TS Eliot, would be interested in it? It is often mentioned as a key influence in studies of early modernism, but it had been out of print for decades even when I was a student. This edition, superbly edited and annotated by Matthew Creasy, marks its first publication for 50 years. More.

How do you solve an 88-year-old literary mystery?

Drafts & Fragments

Acclaimed Poet's Hartford Home On The Market

by Kenneth R. Gosselin
For years, acclaimed poet Wallace Stevens walked from his home in Hartford's West End to his job at a local insurance company, composing poems in his head on the way. Now, the 1920s Colonial where Stevens' daily journeys began is on the market, with an asking price of $489,900. More.

Wallace Stevens’ Hardford, CT home is now on the market.

Poetry In the News

A Place of Truth: Busking Poet Abi Mott Finds Verity in Verse

Take a walk around town and you’re bound to find a street performer offering a song for no more than the cost of a sandwich and a friendly smile. Not so common are poets bearing signs which simply state:
Name a price
Pick a subject
Get a Poem
Film maker Barrett Rudich saw such a sign one day and became intrigued by a young busking writer named Abi Mott. The end result of this encounter is a fascinating documentary called A Place of Truth. More.

Mercury 'Jewel' Named after Battle of Catterick Poet

One of the largest features on the planet Mercury has been named after a Dark Ages poet, famed for writing about a 6th Century battle for Yorkshire and the North-East. The 290-mile wide Aneirin crater has become the 372nd on the planet to been named after deceased writers, artists, poets and composers. More.

“A Place of Truth” is a documentary about a young busking writer named Abi Mott.

New Books

Accepting the Disaster: Poems by Joshua Mehigan

[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 96 pp., $23.00
A shark’s tooth, the shape-shifting cloud drifting from a smokestack, the smoke detectors that hang, ominous but disregarded, overhead—very little escapes the watchful eye of Joshua Mehigan. The poems in Accepting the Disaster range from lyric miniatures like “The Crossroads,” a six-line sketch of an accident scene, to “The Orange Bottle,” an expansive narrative page-turner whose main character suffers a psychotic episode after quitting medication. Mehigan blends the naturalistic milieu of such great chroniclers of American life as Stephen Crane and Studs Terkel with the cinematic menace and wonder of Fritz Lang. Balanced by the music of his verse, this unusual combination brings an eerie resonance to the real lives and institutions it evokes.     

Compass Rose by Arthur Sze 

[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 68 pp., $16.00
A child playing a game, tea leaves resting in a bowl, an abandoned dog, a foot sticking out from a funeral pyre, an Afghan farmer pausing as mortars fire at the enemy: in Arthur Sze's tenth book, the world spins on many points of reference, unfolding with full sensuous detail.

Second Childhood: Poems by Fanny Howe

[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 80 pp., $16.00
The new poetry collection by Fanny Howe, whose “body of work seems larger, stranger, and more permanent with each new book she publishes.” Fanny Howe’s poetry is known for its lyricism, fragmentation, experimentation, religious engagement, and commitment to social justice. In Second Childhood, the observing poet is an impersonal figure who accompanies Howe in her encounters with chance and mystery. She is not one age or the other, in one time or another. 

Church of the Adagio by Philip Dacey

[Paperback] Rain Mountain Press, 98 pp., $15.00
Philip Dacey, a protean poet, ranges freely across time, humor, culture, form, and anything else he damn pleases, and does so with startling productivity and imagination in a voice that is by turns wry, tender, incisive, and intelligent. –Greg McBride, Innisfree Poetry Journal

Very little escapes the watchful eye of Joshua Mehigan in his new book “Accepting the Disaster”.


Weldon Kees: Mysterious Verses

by Emily Hill
“First of all, I want to introduce Mr. Weldon Kees,” said the announcer to San Francisco’s Poet’s Follies, six months before its star performer, jumped – or, perhaps, did not jump – off the Golden Gate Bridge. “Poet, painter, artist, etcetera, composer, critic, etcetera, etcetera… ad infinitum.” To say the multitalented Kees was a man as striking as the poetry that came out of him was bitter and bleak would be an understatement. He sported a Howard Hughes moustache and a precisely tailored look, lived off a diet of Dexedrine pills and was in possession of a gregarious social manner that introduced him to some of the brightest figures of his day, including the likes of Mark Rothko, Truman Capote and Elizabeth Bishop. More.

The mutlitalented Weldon Kees was a man as striking as the poetry that came out of him was bitter and bleak.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

by David Trinidad
I love the thinginess of things. —Sylvia Plath
1. Black Telephone.
Court Green, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes’s manor house. North Tawton, Devon, England. July 9, 1962. Aurelia Plath was visiting from the States, and mother and daughter had just returned from a shopping trip in Exeter. Earlier in the day, Plath had proudly told Aurelia, “I have everything in life I’ve ever wanted: a wonderful husband, two adorable children, a lovely home, and my writing.” In Exeter she bought a 9’ x 12’ sisal rug for the playroom (black and red herringbone weave), a black cashmere sweater and full black wool skirt (with broad geometric border above the hemline) for herself, and two shirts for Hughes. Sylvia and Aurelia ate at the Royal Clarence Hotel. They drank wine with their lunch and, deciding to cut their excursion short, headed back to Court Green in high spirits. When they arrived at the house, the phone was ringing. More.

The idea of collecting remnants from another's life as a way to bind yourself to him or her, whether it is a religious relic, a piece of a bedsheet from the Beatles' hotel room, or a phone model identical to the one that Sylvia Plath yanked out of the wall and then wrote about is an odd and very human endeavor. Of course, the binding is on the part of the collector only. It's a one-way street. What is human is the yearning for closeness through these physical manifestations. And as this catalogue of items suggests, even as Plath's death hovers over these various objects (the toy model of the car that she used in a suicide attempt, the last journal publication of her poems that she saw in print), it is in the context of her life and the "thinginess" of it frozen in these artifacts (the dust from her room at Yaddo forty-six years later?), that both attracts and repels. How important was the phone to Sylvia Plath, once it was out of the wall and in the poems? And I wonder to what degree this assignment of specialness, of secondary meaning, to inanimate objects starves or feeds the poetry.

How important was the phone to Sylvia Plath, once it was out of the wall and in the poems?