July 23, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1823 – Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore, English poet, is born.
1841 – Edward John Armstrong, poet, is born.
1942 – Nikola J Vaptsarov, Bulgaria poet/communist, executed at 32.
1995 – Bob Rundick, poet/DJ, dies at 52.
On Parting
to my wife

Sometimes I’ll come when you’re asleep,
An unexpected visitor.
Don’t leave me outside in the street,
Don’t bar the door!

I’ll enter quietly, softly sit
And gaze upon you in the dark.
Then, when my eyes have gazed their fill,
I’ll kiss you and depart.

— Nikola J. Vaptsarov (1909–1942)


On July 23rd 1942, Bulgarian poet Nikola J. Vaptsarov was executed at age 32.

World Poetry


Poetry in Potato Bags

Qrendi potato farmer Michael Caruana, who earned fame through his appearance on the YouTube video on his family’s fields, is working with the Valletta 2018 Foundation and Aġenzija Appoġġ on the project Poetry in Potato Bags, this summer. The project sees children in the ages from six to 10 years, who are participating in Dawra Durella Sajf Kid’s Programme held at the Qawra Aċċess Centre, writing poems which will be sent in potato bags along with potatoes exported to Holland. More.

Poetry International Festival 2014: Actors and Poets Gather to Celebrate the Glory of Love

It's often said that love knows no bounds. There will be living proof of this adage in a celebration of international love poetry at a global literary festival in London today. Fifty actors and poets from across the globe are gathering in the Royal Festival Hall, on the Southbank to recite the "50 Greatest Love Poems" from the past 50 years. In a touching demonstration that love lasts beyond death, the wives of the late poets Adrian Mitchell and Michael Donaghy will be among those reciting poems on stage. "Love poetry has always been something people like, but most of it isn't funny," said Celia Hewitt, Adrian Mitchell's second wife and the subject of his famously light-hearted love poem "Celia, Celia". "It was chosen to be one of the Poems on the Underground. He [Mitchell] used to sit and watch people smiling. It's a jolly love poem, it makes you laugh – that's why I like it." More.


Poetry in Potato Bags is a project that sees children writing poems which will be sent in potato bags.

Recent Reviews


The Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker

by Michael Robbins
My friend the poet Anthony Madrid was yammering on about Rachel Zucker's new poetry collection, "The Pedestrians." I was skeptical. I hadn't loved the only book of hers I'd read, "Museum of Accidents" (2009). Well, I hadn't finished "Museum of Accidents," to be precise. The name-dropping, the blather, the splat of it all, just hurled onto the page — I found myself mentally editing the poems. But I admired the book, too, its rawness and ingenuity. My response is engineered into the poems; they dare you to turn away. And the lines that are good are really good: "The Chimney Swift flies over daily in summer. / So what? // It's too late to describe the world." More.

A High-wire Achievement that Brings No Cure, Just Peace

by John McAuliffe
In 2002, Tom French’s debut collection,Touching the Bones, was the first Irish winner of a Forward Prize. Its central long poem, Pity the Bastards, sounded like Patrick Kavanagh and Allen Ginsberg, but its tenderness and well-made stanzas gave voice to the lives of farm labourers and hired men in a way that had hardly been seen in Irish writing. It seems to emerge from the turn-of-the-century desire to recover the State’s other histories: its grief, which is not assuaged even as its causes are marked and recorded, also informs the powerful poems about his father and the elegies for his brother in that book and in its follow-up, The Fire Step (2009). More.

Stanford Poetry Scholar Offers New Perspective on China's Most Revered Female Poet

by Tanu Wakefield 
Li Qingzhao was an anomaly in a literary world dominated by men. One of China's best-known poets, she wrote during the Song Dynasty in the 12th century, when Chinese women would have been actively discouraged from writing. Yet she was determined to create a place for herself in the male literary tradition. A beloved Chinese national treasure whose works are still read widely today, Li Qingzhao wrote prolifically throughout her lifetime. Her oeuvre includes song lyric poems, a now infamous critical essay on the song lyric form, political poems and an unorthodox biographical account of her life. More.

Bullet in the Head – Frederick Seidel’s Nice Weather

by John Field
Last summer was filled with the poetry of Terrance Hayes and notably with his Friday: Poem. Like the outrageous conceits of Donne’s The Flea, it’s hard not to fall in love with Hayes’ fabulous erection: ‘There is no escaping / Spring’s drug. A young man will take the escalator / to the scalp of a ten-story building / lured by petals of a skirt, the scent of wonder.’ When language pushes the limits of priapic desire you’re buoyed by its wellspring. Seidel’s New York also oozes desire but he cuts it with a compelling political and moral urgency. Do Not Resuscitate’s title evokes geriatric care and the moral nightmare surrounding assisted dying. The poem’s imagery’s lifted from classic horror movies, as ‘The mummy in the case is coming back to life. / It sits up slowly. I can’t bear it.’ There’s a Gothic quality to this: something buried wants to come back – a secret demands to be told. Whatever it is, Seidel’s indefinite article makes us hesitate to see it as human. Surely it’s a monster, or Shelley’s creature? Then, with grotesque comic timing, the speaker unleashes the force of his misogyny: ‘The guard pays no attention. He knows it is my wife.’ More.



Rachel Zucker is a poet of rawness and ingenuity who writes poems that dare you to turn away.



How Much Does "Does Poetry Matter" Matter? 

by Jonathan Farmer
This weekend, The New York Times went all in for poetry. In addition to four — count ‘em — articles about poetry in the Review, the Times also included an entire panel in its “Room for Debate” section in which the mostly white and mostly male panelists responded to the essentially rhetorical question “Does Poetry Matter?” with some version of the expected answer: yes. Some writers got to the conclusion more convincingly or interestingly than others, of course. But for the most part, I finished reading these pieces with the same slightly lonely disappointment I always feel after reading a defense of poetry. As a critic, editor, reader, and occasional writer of poetry, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I actually feel ambivalent about poetry, and I’m always a little baffled when people start waving a flag for it. In the first place, where did they even find the flag? More.

Wipe That Smirk Off Your Poem

by Tracy K. Smith 
Why are there so many people who think poems are like pretty little locks to be teased open? Why is there a vast majority in this country that suspects poetry has nothing to do with the real world where a person must work, fight in a war or struggle to make do? I’d wager that it has to do with something that has gotten into a heap of contemporary poetry and deadened it, making it about as interesting and relevant to others as a dog yipping at its own shadow: Irony. More.

Looking for (Mrs) Laura (Riding) Jackson, the anti-social people’s poet, from Jamaica (Queens) to Woodruff Avenue (Brooklyn)

by Benjamin Hollander
Andrea Rexilius’s excellent piece on Laura (Riding) Jackson, “Against the Commodity of the Poem,” published in Coldfront, makes me wonder how far or how little we have come over 40 years, in terms of the questions: what is the role of poetry and whom does it serve? Rexilius’s piece makes me wonder how poets used to be and perhaps still are segregated: who is the anti-social poet, who is the people’s poet? Who writes for the art, who writes for the audience, and how are these distinctions made? I first absorbed Riding’s poetry—against all odds—in Jamaica, Queens, in the early 1970s, the moment her Selected Poems in Five Sets appeared: a first book of hers to come out since 1938, three years before she renounced the writing of poetry. More.

Cheap Signaling

Class Conflict and Diction in Avant-Garde Poetry
by Daniel Tiffany
Economic class has captured the popular imagination with renewed vigor of late: sparked by the Occupy meme of the 1 percent, there is increasing talk about economic inequality and even “patrimonial capitalism.” This is good news for those who care about meaningful change in society, since according to Marx, social and economic revolution arise from, and are consummated by, class conflict. “A real possibility of emancipation,” he says, demands the self-conscious realization of “a class which is the dissolution of all classes”—that is, the working class. At the same time, he acknowledges that class formation and relations are “the innermost secret, the hidden foundation of the entire social construction.” Quite evidently then, to begin to work towards emancipation, the reality of class conflict must no longer be “hidden” or submerged. More.

Philological Time 

by Magnus William-Olsson
When I was thirteen I came across a poem by Sappho. I hadn’t heard of her, didn’t know who she was. To be honest, I had rather vague ideas about what a poem, as such, could be. But it made some sort of impression on me and I couldn’t stop re-reading the lines with their strangely formed meanings and beautiful sounds that I assumed were hers, though I later learned that they had been articulated by an old philologist from Finland, the translator Emil Zilliacus. It was a shocking meeting, with deep and long-term consequences. Poetry became an obsession, and so did Sappho. Twenty-eight years later I published the work of the Greek poetess in the most complete edition we have in Swedish. But in the first instance, it was a meeting that opened up a certain historicity, a certain aspect of – or angle toward, or a certain quality in – time. A temporality, let’s say, that was and still is accessible for me only when I work with, translate, or interpret poetry. Let us simply call it “philological time”. But where does it reside?More.

The Poet’s Journey: Chapter 8

by David Biespiel
The wisdom of poetry is a ladder to the underground. The wisdom of poetry is a rope dropped out of the skies. The wisdom of poetry is a passage past the rocks of doubt. The wisdom of poetry is the full receipt of both ancient and contemporary poetic forms. Accepting the impulse to write a poem means entering a realm of your imagination where you are not alone but instead, fortunately, are guided by two complimentary forces. The first is the unanticipated happenstances of life (discussed in chapter 6 and chapter 7). The second is the wisdom of the entire history of the art of poetry. More.



This weekend, The New York Times went all in for poetry.

Drafts & Fragments


Among Dead Kasilof Salmon, Alaska Setnetters Pause to Read Poems

by Rick Sinnott
Ah, the sounds of fish camp. Waves slapping the shore. Deb’s 4:30 a.m. wakeup holler, “Let’s go fishin’!” The sputter of an outboard motor. The rattle and thump of gillnet floats going over the bow. The rhythm and rhymes of a good poem. The Kasilof River personal-use setnet fishery will never be the same. More.

Joely Richardson to Play Poet Emily Dickinson

by Mark Kennedy
Joely Richardson is coming back to a New York stage in something she never thought she'd do — a one-woman show. The English actress known for the TV shows "The Tudors" and "Nip/Tuck" will play poet Emily Dickinson in William Luce's play "The Belle of Amherst." More.

The Visual Poetry of Anatol Knotek

by Maru Pabón 
Anatol Knotek is a Viennese visual poet and artist who explores the tangibility of language in fascinating ways. In his pieces, a word or phrase is performed by the arrangement of its constituting characters, or by how the language is physically framed. As letters fall, bleed, pixelate, or burst into flames, the visual and the textual seem to fight for the right to create meaning. But, as Knotek seems well aware, meaning is fluid and cannot be pinned down by either of these mediums. The encounter of word with image is much more interesting, since it opens up complex possibilities for conceptualization. More.


Poetry In the News


Poetry Returns to Oakland: The Golden Stair

After the gentrified death of Oakland’s beloved poetry house, the Air Lounge, a few months ago, the Golden Stair has swiftly moved in to remedy the void of not having a place for people from the Town to verbally express themselves. Siraj Fowler and his wife, Daaimah Waqia, are fixtures in Oakland’s spiritual, political and cultural communities. This entrepreneurial family has created a new popping poetry spot in North Oakland, on Tuesdays, called the Golden Stair. Only in their second month of operation, local celebrities like musician Kev Choice and poet Yaddos have scheduled appearances coming up. More.

Lucinda Williams Marks Career Firsts With Upcoming Album

'Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone' includes collaborations with singer's father and Jakob Dylan
 Lucinda Williams will release her first-ever double studio album in September. Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone features 20 new tracks and is another first for the 61-year-old singer in that it includes a song crafted from a poem written by her father. Author, college professor and published poet Miller Williams is perhaps best known for his poem read at President Bill Clinton's second inauguration. "Compassion," a musical expansion of one of his poems, serves as the upcoming album's opening track and will be the first collaboration ever released by the father-daughter co-writers. More.

Build a City of Poems: An Interactive Exhibition of Poetry and Art

For three weekends this summer, Poets House, one of the great places for poetry on the globe―a 60,000-volume free poetry library and literary hub―in Lower Manhattan, will create a poetic summer outpost in one of the historic houses of the island’s Colonels' Row.  Featuring “Ode to New York City,” an exhibition of art and poetry created by downtown elementary school students, and murals from the Community Word Project, visitors of all ages are invited to contribute their own drawings and poetry, filling in the outline of a gigantic mural cityscape created by artist Felipe Galindo, making a city of poems. More.

North Carolina’s New Poet Laureate Bows Out

The governor of North Carolina learned the hard way this week about the dangers of mixing politics and poetry. Less than a week into her role as North Carolina’s poet laureate, Valerie Macon, a self-published poet and state employee, resigned over questions about her literary credentials and qualifications. An uproar ensued after Gov. Pat McCrory announced Ms. Macon’s appointment last week. Several of the state’s previous poet laureates denounced his choice as a political appointment rather than one that rewarded literary merit. More.



After the gentrified death of Oakland’s beloved poetry house, the Air Lounge, the Golden Stair has moved in to remedy the void.

New Books


Once, Then by Andrea Scarpino

[Paperback] Red Hen Press, 80 pp., $17.95
In her debut full-length poetry collection, Andrea Scarpino’s elegies move between personal and political loss, between science, myth, and spirituality, and between lyric intensity and narrative clarity. At their heart is a longing for those we have lost, and an acknowledgement that loss irrevocably changes us and what we understand of the world. Blending mythological figures such as Persephone and Achilles, scientific approaches to knowledge learned from her microbiologist father, and a deep ambivalence regarding religious ideas of death and afterlife, Scarpino’s poems invite us to examine the world, our own place in it, and what to make of its continual collapse.

Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World edited by Catherine Barnett and Tiphanie Yanique 

[Paperback] Tupelo Press, 390 pp., $19.95
In this unprecedented anthology, acclaimed poets from around the world select poems from their countries of origin, poems all in English but springing from widely varied voices, histories, and geographies. Readers will find eloquence, urgency, and enchantment. These poems confirm English to be vital and evolving, deployed by revered and emerging poets in Aotearoa/New Zealand (selected by Hinemoana Baker) and Australia (by Les Murray), Canada (by Todd Swift), the Caribbean (by Ishion Hutchinson and five other Caribbean poets), Ghana (by Kwame Dawes), India (by Sudeep Sen), and South Africa (by Rustum Kozain).

Hard Love Province: Poems by Marilyn Chin 

[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 80 pp., $24.95
Marilyn Chin's fourth volume of poems, Hard Love Province, is composed of erotic elegies in which the speaker grieves for the loss of her beloved. In "Void" she writes with the imagistic, distilled quietude of a solitary mourner: "It’s not that you are rare / Nor are you extraordinary // O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree / You are simple and sincere." In "Formosan Elegy," by contrast, she is that mourner, beyond simplicity or quietude, crying out for a lover: "I sing for you but my tears have dried in my gullet / Walk the old dog give the budgies a cool bath / Cut a tender melon let it bleed into memory." Emotionally nuanced and electric with high-flying verbal experimentation, image after image, line by line, Chin's spectacular reinventions, her quatrains, sonnets, allegories, and elegies, are unforgettable.

Canoodlers by Andrea Bennett 

[Paperback] Nightwood Edition, 96 pp., $18.95
The candid, direct poems of Canoodlers interrogate sexuality, friendship, family, language, and social, cultural and political phenomena. Straddling genders, sexualities and social positions, the collection hilariously but harrowingly follows the growth and class leaps of a "townie tomboy." From family relations ("Dearly beloved, Don Cherry has better conversation skills than my stepfather, and my mother doesn't love me anymore") to individual encounters and concerns ("Part of anyone can see how reasonable it is to stay at home and never leave, because you've anointed that wall, this toilet as safe, and you'd know it even if the lights never came back on"), Canoodlers is a personal study of contemporary consumerism, appropriating the language of marketing and pop culture, twisting and repositioning phrases that have become clichéd. These poems render the familiar unfamiliar and question how relationships function–families, friends, lovers–in contemporary suburban Canadian life.

Proof by Karina Borowicz 

[Paperback] Codhill Press, 72 pp., $16.00
The poems in Proof testify with a quiet urgency to the existence and influence of the unseen. It is with a singular compassion that Borowicz directs our attention to what is overlooked: the old woman walking her lame collie, a cardboard box on the sidewalk filled with the bric-a-brac of a dismantled life, the equation of objects lined up in a museum display case, a broken doll's arm poking from a nest of seaweed, the burst of crimson hidden in a poppy seed.



Andrea Scarpino’s elegies move between personal and political loss, between science, myth, and spirituality.



The Poetry on Washington's Poet Laureate's Shelf

by Valerie Easton
Elizabeth Austen is the third Poet Laureate of Washington state; her term as roving ambassadress for poetry runs through 2016. She’s a Shakespearean trained actor, who writes poetry, produces literary programming for KUOW radio and works as a content strategist for Seattle Children’s Hospital. Austen's latest book of poetry is “Every Dress a Decision.” She also has an audio CD of original poems called “Skin Prayers.” More.

Women in Form: A. E. Stallings

by T. J. Jarrett
TJ: Do you actually sit down to write a sonnet, ghazal, or villanelle? Or is it a more organic process related to the content? 
AS: Sometimes I suppose you do set out to write a form.  It’s probably unlikely, for instance, that you stumble your way into a sestina.  Sonnets and villanelles are sort of default forms for me, so after a long period of not writing, I might set myself the task of either.  That would rarely result in a “real” poem, but might clear the pipes for one.  Most of the time, the form and I meet halfway–I realize I have 16 lines of iambic pentameter, say, with a turn in it, and I wonder if cutting two lines would be an improvement. More.

Computer Engineering: A Fine Day Job for a Poet

by Win Bassett
TJ Jarrett, author of the upcoming collection Zion, writes poems in tandem with code. In June, Jarrett had poems published in Poetry Magazine and The Virginia Quarterly Review. At the end of this month, she’ll attend the Sewanee Writer’s Conference on one of its coveted fellowships. In approximately three months, her second poetry collection, Zion (winner of the Crab Orchard Open Competition in 2013), will be published by Southern Illinois University Press. She’s managed to accomplish all of this while also serving as a senior poetry editor of Tupelo Quarterly—and while working as a Senior Integration Engineer at HealthTrust in Nashville. A condensed, edited version of my conversation with Jarrett conversation follows. More.

Jennifer Michael Hecht Riffs Off Iconic Poems

by Victoria Fleischer
In her new collection, “Who Said,” Jennifer Michael Hecht “comments on,” “ventriloquizes,” or “meaningfully transliterates” iconic poems throughout history. She has many terms for her work based off some of her favorite verse. “The poems that I chose were guided by poems that I love, but also poems that work, that I was able to get a poem out of that was moving and memorable,” Hecht told Art Beat. “I could open them up as a way of looking around myself and seeing what came out of myself by engaging with these poems that mean so much to me.” More.

The Poet on the Poem: Alessandra Lynch

by Diane Lockward 
I am pleased to feature Alessandra Lynch in The Poet on the Poem. I found her poem, "Magnolia," in 32 Poems and was immediately captivated by it. I then tracked down the poet and she generously agreed to participate in the following Q&A. Alessandra Lynch is the author of two collections of poetry: Sails the Wind Left Behind, winner of Alice James Books’ New York/New England prize, and It was a terrible cloud at twilight, winner of Pleiades Press’ Lena-Miles Wever Todd Award, judged by James Richardson. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell, and she was a recipient of a Barbara Deming Memorial Award. Her poems have appeared in numerous poetry journals, including The American Poetry Review, Blackbird, The Cortland Review, Crazyhorse, The Massachusetts Review, Ploughshares, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Volt. She teaches in the undergraduate and MFA programs at Butler University and lives near an Indianapolisian canal with her husband poet, Chris Forhan, and their two sons, Milo and Oliver. More.



Envoi: Editor’s Notes


Review of the Review

Now that the brouhaha over the North Carolina poet laureateship has died down, my attention is called to other distressing poetry news, and that is the news itself. The New York Times Sunday Book Reviewwas devoted to contemporary poetry last week. 
The cover of the Book Review section, which sometimes contains the beginning of a review continued inside, had instead a whimsical drawing of a wall and a floor with a coat on a hanger, a pair of black boots, a ladder with weights attached and a rhinoceros head. Inscribed at random were the words  “Alas,” “Alack,” “Forsooth,” “Twas,” “Thee,” “Thither,” “And Yon.” 
We can only guess that this was the art director’s wry sense of humor aimed at contemporary poetry and that it met with approval with the book review editor. How roundly castigated was the governor of North Carolina, and not without good reason, for choosing the poet laureate without consultation, and yet not a peep from anyone over the NY Times rather clumsy mocking of poetry in the one issue of the year that focuses on the subject. 
So what does that focus amount to in terms of reviews? Out of thirty-five pages, five pages were spent on five books of poetry including one by celebrity poet, James Franco. Of the four others, two of the books were published by Knopf, one by FSG, and one by Penguin. Isn’t anyone else publishing books of poetry worthy of the Times? There was also an essay by David Lehman on writing poetry as Twitter feeds and the decline of the humanities. This accounted for a two-page spread, one-half of a page which was taken up with a drawing of a typewriter.
I have to admit to puzzlement and frustration here. I have no issue with the quality of the pieces included. But I expect more from the Times: a more robust consideration of contemporary poetry, for example–one illustrated by a deeper engagement with the subject not by easy clichés–and a greater generosity in terms of the space allotted and the choice of books under review.