July 3, 2013

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1724 – Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, German poet, i born.

1861 – Peter A de Genestet, vicar/poet, dies at 31.

1877 – Hermann Hesse, Switzerland, novelist/poet (Steppenwolf, Nobel 1946), (d.1962), is born.

1915 – Bert Decorte, Flemish poet, is born.
1920 – Eliseo Diego, Latin American poet, is born.

1923 – Wislawa 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.


Among the material objects

it favors clocks with pendulums

and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.

It won’t say where it comes from

or when it’s taking off again,

though it’s clearly expecting such questions.

We need it

but apparently

it needs us
for some reason too.


—from “A Few Words on the Soul” by Wislawa Szymborska (1923–2012)

“A Few Words on the Soul” by Wislawa Szymborska

World Poetry

A Prison within a Prison: the Plight of Kazakh Poet Aron Atabek

Hooded and handcuffed, sixty year old poet Aron Atabek shuffles around a dimly-lit room. The guards accompanying him prevent any communication with his fellow prisoners; the hood that they've forced him to wear ensures that he can't even see them. This is the prize-winning poet's brief, daily exercise regime. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Russia's New Economy Minister Also a '"Dissident Poet"

Russia's newly appointed economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev has written a harshly-worded poem urging Russians to leave the country and seek freedom, the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily reported Tuesday. President Vladimir Putin appointed Ulyukayev, 57, a former deputy central bank governor, as minister on Monday in a widely anticipated move. But the minister is also a published poet who has written verses that "are not at all patriotic," Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote, saying that his political verses "put you in shock." Read more at the Global Post.

A Prison within a Prison: the Plight of Kazakh Poet Aron Atabek

Recent Reviews

Sarah Lindsay and the Didactic Tradition

by Jamie James

In the beginning, poetry took as its subject everything. The poets of antiquity petitioned the gods, chronicled history, spun tragic tales of the human condition, and sometimes even wrote about their inner lives; yet their prime mission was to make the observable universe ponderable by giving things names and explaining how they work. Today we would call this science. Hesiod’s Works and Days is the earliest known didactic poem. Dated between 750 and 650 B.C., it’s also one of the oldest surviving poems of any kind; classical tradition held that Hesiod was a contemporary of Homer, if not his elder. Works and Days is a rambling treasure house of pious fables, farming tips, and homely wisdom, derived from generations of sky-gazing and practical experience that preceded the written word—a Farmers’ Almanac in dactylic hexameters that was familiar throughout the Greek-speaking world from public recitations. Read more at Parnassus Review.

Glass Wings by Fleur Adcock – Review

by Fiona Sampson

Fleur Adcock has a way of laying claim to her readers. A poet of wry observation rather than nebulous epiphanies, she often seems to be conjuring the kind of intimacy that comes from shared assumptions and experiences. In "What the 1950s Were Like", she gives us "Clues: the Festival of Britain curtains, / the record-player, the new LPs, / the no TV (this was New Zealand)". Except of course that we are reading Glass Wings in Britain; and many of us, not being in our 80th year, have yet to follow where this fine new collection goes. The book's triumph is that, despite this, the people, creatures and ways of life that Adcock deftly sketches for us seem so immediately recognisable that we almost believe that we have. Read more at the Guardian.

Extreme States of Mind

by Stephen Burt

Frank Bidart got noticed during the 1970s and ’80s for poems that did not sound like poems at all: a disjointed monologue by a serial killer, another by Ludwig Binswanger’s anorexic and ultimately suicidal patient Ellen West and, later, disquisitions on the history of philosophy, in spiky free verse full of capital letters, italics, white space and unconventional punctuation. Bidart’s extreme typography helped him convey extreme states of mind; it also helped show how his lines ought to sound, read aloud. Read more at the New York Times.

The Unbearable

by Terry Castle

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the suicide of the poet Sylvia Plath (1932–1963), and as one might expect given the sensational details of her short and appalling life, both her US and UK publishers are celebrating the occasion with a kind of vulpine festivity. Faber has just issued an “anniversary” edition of The Bell Jar (1963)—the harrowing autobiographical novel Plath had just published at the time of her death—and has been marketing it, distastefully enough, as “chick lit” avant la lettre. Read more at the New York Review of Books.

Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice

by Melinda Wilson

Daisy Fried’s new book, Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice, begins with a long poem titled “Torment.” The title suggests distress and provocation, and the poem delivers. Its first stanza is a tight fourteen lines and introduces one of several college seniors at the cusp of the “real” world. Panicked, presumably about his future, the student declares, “ ‘I fucked up bad.’” These are the poem’s opening words. Read more at Cold Front.

Sarah Lindsay and the Didactic Tradition


The Text as an Image of Itself

by Curtis Faville

Historically, the content of a text has generally been considered as having a separate existence from its physical manifestation as print. Western Literature was originally oral, and though later committed to written form, the spoken word — the conditions of its utterance (or performance) — was long thought to precede, or to lie outside the parameters of, the physical text. This regard for the text as a convenient repository was reinforced by the traditions of dramatic and public speech. In the East, where wood-block printing preceded moveable type printing (in Europe) by several hundred years, there nevertheless developed a different tradition involving elaborations of calligraphic expression and design. Read more at Jacket 2.

The Text as an Image of Itself

Drafts & Fragments

Jessy Randall’s Poem Hits the Streets in Sydney, Australia

You may not think of a street-cleaning truck as poetry in motion. But featured on select trucks in Sydney, Australia, is a poem by Jessy Randall, archivist and curator of special collections at Colorado College’s Tutt Library. Additional trucks in the fleet display poems by other notable poets such as W.B. Yeats, Kay Ryan, former U.S. Poet Laureate, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Berryman, and a range of revered Australian poets. Read more at Colorado College.

See the Field Museum Facade Become a Page of Poetry

Forget the Buckingham Fountain light show or the fireworks over Navy Pier. The summer's real light spectacular happens tonight (and tonight only) on the north and west walls of the Field Museum. At 9:30pm, the writing's on the wall, as the Beaux Arts exterior is transformed into an illuminated manuscript of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem, "The Divine Comedy." Read more at Time Out Chicago.

The Scalia Poetry Game

by Amy Davidson  

In a post earlier today, I suggested that Justice Antonin Scalia’s repeated, urgent italicizations in his Windsor dissent might be put together as a poem. Here is one such assembly. Read more at the New Yorker.


See the Field Museum Facade Become a Page of Poetry

Poetry In the News

L.A. Poet David Shook Aims to Launch “Poetry Drone” via Kickstarter

There are several poetry projects on offer on Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing site popular with artists and other dreamers. Most involve organizing readings and publishing first books and anthologies. The poet David Shook is much more ambitious than that. Shook, a Los Angeles poet and translator who grew up in Mexico City, is fluent in English and Spanish: he’s translated the other-worldly poetry of the late Roberto Bolaño, among others. Now he wants to launch a batch of antiwar poems in the kind of aircraft often used to wage war: a drone. The idea behind “The Poetry Drone” is to buy an actual flying drone — which can be had for as little as $5,000, Shook says — and fly it over some populated place and have the drone rain poems (instead of bombs) on unsuspecting people below. Read more at the LA Times.

Big Gift for Young Poets: Poetry Foundation is Given $1.2 Million

Good news for young poets: The Poetry Foundation has been given a $1.2 million gift from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Fund to support their work. The Memorial Fund and the Poetry Foundation have awarded prizes to young poets for years, with the so-called Dorothy Prizes and the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowships. The new endowment will nearly double the $15,000 fellowship prizes now given to five aspiring poets. The new prize, the first of which will be awarded next year, will bear a new name: the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowships. Read more at SF Gate.

Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make at SEPTA

The residents at Nelsonville's SEPTA Correctional Facility are finding a new emotional outlet in the form of poetry, with the help of the center's program "Free in Poetry: These Walls Do Not Define Us." Spearheading the program is area author and poet Gina McKnight. She, along with the facility's program director Scott Weaver, has helped bring the program to fruition, launching it last October. Read more at the Athens News.

Santa Fe: Immediate Poetry

Axel Contemporary and Santa Fe Poet Laureate Jon Davis are presenting a year-long public poetry project, The Renga Project. It is a sign sitting at a very busy intersection in Santa Fe. Each week a new stanza by a different poet will show up. As time passes, the older stanzas will vanish, to be replaced by others. The older stanzas gone into collective memory until next summer when they will present the whole poem in a reading/book. Reda more at Cold Front.

Carnegie Mellon Grads Hit the Road to Promote Poetry

Zachary Harris believes to be a poet means to serve as a promoter of poetry — especially at a time when many have written it off as a lost art. “If you dedicate your life to it, it's necessary to create enthusiasm for it,” says Harris, of Highland Park. Harris and five of his friends will spend this summer doing just that. The six alumni of Carnegie Mellon University's Creative Writing Program will pile into a van and travel to libraries and community centers across the country in efforts to help create and sustain poetry programming. Read more at Trib Live.

L.A. Poet David Shook Aims to Launch “Poetry Drone” via Kickstarter

New Books

Sun At Midnight: Poems and Letters by Muso Soseki

[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 200 pp., $16.00

Long out of print, this reissue is the first translation into English of the work of Muso Soseki, the thirteenth-century Zen roshi and founder of the rock garden. A gorgeous introduction by co-translator W.S. Merwin sets the stage for 130 poems and six letters to the Emperor that combine delicacy and lightness with penetrating plainness. Essential for poets, gardeners, and students of Zen.

Eiko and Koma by Forrest Gander 

[Paperback] New Directions, 46 pp., $10.95

For over thirty years, Eiko & Koma, the Japanese-born choreographers and dancers,have created an influential theatre of movement out of stillness, shape, light, and sound. In tribute and collaboration, the acclaimed American poet Forrest Gander has written a mesmerizing series of poems — hinging around a dance schematic — that captures and extends the dancers’ performance with lyrical intensity and vividness.

The Unknown University by Roberto Bolaño

[Hardcover] New Directions, 766 pp., $39.95

Perhaps surprisingly to some of his fiction fans, Roberto Bolaño touted poetry as the superior art form, able to approach an infinity in which “you become infinitely small without disappearing.” When asked, “What makes you believe you’re a better poet than a novelist?” Bolaño replied, “The poetry makes me blush less.” The sum of his life’s work in his preferred medium, The Unknown University is a showcase of Bolaño’s gift for freely crossing genres, with poems written in prose, stories in verse, and flashes of writing that can hardly be categorized. “Poetry,” he believed, “is braver than anyone.”

Speculative Music: Poems by Jeff Dolven 

[Paperback] Sarabande Books, 64 pp., $14.95

Jeff Dolven’s poems take the guise of fables, parables, allegories, jokes, riddles, and other familiar forms. So, there is an initial comfort: I remember this, the reader thinks, from the stories of childhood . . . . But wait, something is off. In each poem, an uncanny conceit surprises the form, a highway paved with highwaymen, a school for shame, a family of chairs. Dolven makes these strange wagers with the grace and edgy precision of a metaphysical poet, and there are moments when we might imagine ourselves to be somewhere in the company of Donne or Spenser.

Sun At Midnight: Poems and Letters by Muso Soseki


Refusing the Politics of Piety

by Tam Hussein

In 2012, Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi went from being Sudan’s most celebrated poet to a political refugee. His poetry anthologies Songs of Solitude and the Sultan’s Labyrinth, published in 1996, as well as The Far Reaches of the Screen, published in 1999 and 2000, have all received critical acclaim. His Poem of the Nile was one of the few translated works that earned a spot in the prestigious London Review of Books. Al-Raddi’s poetry has been read at Poetry Parnassus, the world’s largest poetry festival, and has been compared by critics to Darwish and Adonis. One of his translators, Sarah Maguire, has described him a leading star in their lineup of poets. Read more at Majalla.

Excerpt from The Linen Way

by Melissa Green

The auditorium was dark. I was late and slipped into the back row to hear a poet whose work I knew only slightly, from one slim volume called Sea Grapes. A large-chested man with coffee-and-cream skin came out and announced in a kettle-drum Caribbean voice that he would be reading from his new book, The Star-Apple Kingdom. He spoke a little about the islands, his prosody, the shape his language had taken. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I began to feel chilled and feverish at the same time. What? What is it? I asked my body impatiently. “I’m going to read a poem,” the poet announced, “called ‘The Schooner Flight.’” Read more at Parnassus Review. 

The Poet on the Poem: Sydney Lea 

by Diane Lockward

 I am delighted to have Sydney Lea as our guest today. Sydney Lea is the Poet Laureate of Vermont. Retired after 43 years of college teaching, he is active in literacy and conservation efforts in northern New England. He founded the New England Review in 1977 and edited it until 1989. He has published ten volumes of poetry, most recently I Was Thinking of Beauty (Four Way Books, 2013) and Six Sundays Toward a Seventh (Wipf and Stock, 2012). He has also published a novel, a selection of literary essays, and three collections of naturalist essays. He is the recipient of fellowships from the MacArthur, Rockefeller, and Fulbright Foundations. Read more at Blogalicious.

Refusing the Politics of Piety

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Edward Thomas

"These poems are revolutionary because they lack the exaggeration of rhetoric, and even at first sight appear to lack the poetic intensity of which rhetoric is an imitation. Their language is free from the poetical words and forms that are the chief material of secondary poets. The metre avoids not only the old-fashioned pomp and sweetness, but the later fashion also of discord and fuss. In fact, the medium is common speech."

—from Thomas's review of Robert Frost's North of Boston in the Daily News (U.K.), July 22, 1914.

Lessons from the Past: Edward Thomas