July 9, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1677 – Angelus Silesius [Johann Scheffer], German medical/mystic poet, dies.
1696 – Waclaw Potocki, Polish poet (Wojna Chocimska), dies.
1721 – Johann Nikolaus Götz, German poet (d. 1781), is born.
1936 – June Jordan, US playwright/poet (His Own Where), is born.
1980 – Vinicius de Moraes, Brazilian poet and lyricist (b. 1913), dies.

I turn to my Rand McNally Atlas.
Europe appears right after the Map of the World.
All of Italy can be seen page 9.
Half of Chile page 29.
I take out my ruler.
In global perspective Italy
amounts to less than half an inch.
Chile measures more than an inch and a quarter
of an inch.
Chile is as long as China
is wide: Back to the Atlas:
Chunk of China page 17.
All of France page 5:
As we say in New York:
Who do France and Italy know
at Rand McNally? 

—from “Problems Of Translation: Problems Of Language” by June Jordan (1936–2002)

“As we say in New York: / Who do France and Italy know / at Rand McNally?” –June Jordan

World Poetry

Iranian Poet Blacklisted for Being Gay

Payam Feili has been forced into exile by the regime in Tehran for allusions to homosexuality in his work. By the time Payam Feili emerged from 44 days in a shipping container in Iran this March, he had survived his third and longest stint in captivity. Despite the unwarranted detentions, being fired from his job, and the constant harassment of his friends and family, the 29-year-old poet and writer was determined to remain in the country of his birth. As an openly gay author in a country where homosexuality is punishable by flogging and execution, Feili made no attempt to hide the sexual undertones in the writing that had so angered Iranian’s authorities. More.

Fifty Greatest Modern Love Poems List Embraces 30 Different Countries

There's no "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways", or "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" here: instead, a new list of the 50 greatest love poems ranges from Maya Angelou to Vikram Seth and from Pakistan to Nigeria. Chosen by poetry specialists at the Southbank Centre, instead of focusing on more traditional options by the likes of Barrett Browning and Shakespeare, the selectors looked at work written over the last 50 years to come up with their list. The American Angelou was chosen for her lyrical plea, Come, and Be My Baby, in which the poet writes: "you sit wondering / What you're gonna do. / I got it. / Come. And be my baby", while Indian author Seth makes the list for the mournful All You Who Sleep Tonight – "Know that you aren't alone / The whole world shares your tears". More.

Iranian poet Payam Feili has been forced into exile by the regime in Tehran for allusions to homosexuality in his work.

Recent Reviews

Joshua Mehigan’s Accepting the Disaster is The Real Thing

by Adam Kirsch
A poem is like a rocket: Either it achieves liftoff or it falls to the ground. And since contemporary poets have largely discarded the tools that have traditionally helped poems aloft—meter and rhyme—it’s not surprising that they rarely take flight. Joshua Mehigan’s Accepting the Disaster is the rare new book of poetry that is entirely alive, entirely aloft. No allowances have to be made for these darkly lucid, sad, and humane poems; they are the thing itself. Robert Frost spoke of “the figure a poem makes,” and Mehigan’s poems do what the best poems of the past do: They make utterly individual “figures” out of sentence rhythm, metaphor, tone of voice, and point of view. More.

Mark Ford and the Real World

by Scott Bartley
Though British poet Mark Ford’s credits as author and editor have been piling up—an edition of Frank O’Hara’s selected poetry for Knopf, an edition of John Ashbery’s collected poetry for The Library of America, and a biography of Raymond Roussel, among other books—the poetry portion of his corpus remains relatively modest: he has penned three volumes spaced evenly over three decades. Now from a leading  American independent publisher, Coffee House Press, comes Selected Poems, which also includes a handful of new work. But considering how generously it incorporates the past three volumes, and how slim an oeuvre three volumes is from which to select in the first place, the aim of this new volume seems less to select and more to introduce. Indeed, despite Ford’s affinities for echt American poets such as O’Hara and Ashbery, the British professor and poet born in Kenya has gone largely uncelebrated in this country. This book is a fine bid to change that situation. More.

Forget O'Hara

by Felix Bernstein 
The question remains pressing for radically oppositional communities: How can the necessity of radical visionary utopianism be renewed in a culture that is narcissistically addicted to excess under capitalism? When our major attempts at political and social change are governed by social networking, our poètes maudits are as dashing and well-mannered as James Franco, and the micropolitics of queer subversion look more and more like American Apparel ads? In queer poetry, as I will briefly sketch, the problem can be traced through the writers in O’Hara’s lineage, who have opted either for a poetics of identity politics and vapid confession or a poetics of shallow and complacent irony, erasing any path of visionary separatism, while also leaving the détournement of radical artifice in the dust. The few who do attempt to follow the dark visionary path of John Wieners tend to lack the gumption and talent, or else give themselves over to a Hot Topic variety of punk that eliminates any counter-cultural significance. An unprecedented swerve out of this deadlock is twenty-seven-year-old writer Lonely Christopher’s new book of poems, Death and Disaster Series, which delivers a visionary radical poetics for the present. More.

Second Acts: A Second Look at Second Books of Poetry: Louise Glück and Anne Shaw 

by Lisa Russ Spaar
The appearance of Louise Glück’s Poems 1962 – 2012 in paperback at the end of last year afforded a wide audience of long-time and new readers a chance to explore a distinctive poet’s astonishing development over 50 years. Especially remarkable is Glück’s devotion to a continually renewed and evolving refreshment of her formal and aesthetic practice. Including as it does the full range of her career to date — from the restrained, intense lyrics of her inaugural collection, Firstborn, published in 1968 (when the poet was in her mid-20s), through and beyond her 15th, A Village Life (2009), a book-length, novelistic, dark-humored, almost choral work — Glück’s Poems (winner of the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize) shows us a much-lauded poet (her many awards include the Pulitzer, a Library of Congress Poet Laureateship, the Bollingen Prize) by turns lyric, dramatic, narrative, serial, quotidian, hermetic, social, classical, forthright, and self-protective. Readers who know only one of Glück’s books, therefore — Meadowlands, for instance — might not immediately recognize all of the varied Glücks included in this volume. More.

“Don’t You Blow Your Trumpet until You Hear from Me”: T. J. Jarrett’s Ain’t No Grave

Joelle Biele
“Don’t do it!” shouts the narrator of Delmore Schwartz’s story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” Watching his parents’ courtship unfold on a giant movie screen, he begins arguing against his own existence. “Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous.” He wakes from what is soon revealed to be a dream, his vocation set: to tell his family’s story. In her debut collection, Ain’t No Grave, T. J. Jarrett begins where Schwartz left off, considering not just the drama within the home but also the racially charged history outside it. More.

Review: Endi Bogue Hartigan’s “Pool: 5 Choruses”

by Emily Vogel
It troubles me when readers and writers of poetry insist that “postmodernist” poetry doesn’t make any sense, inherits no concept of consequence, and ultimately leaves all sense of meaning uncertain and equivocated. The fact is that good postmodernist poetry simply succeeds at depicting certain ideas in a way that demands the reader to twist (as the phrases do) his or her own imagination so that they might only skirt the meaning enough to get a hint of the overarching intent. And no, the reader may never succeed in harnessing exactly what the poet meant. But good postmodernist poetry at least allows the reader more agency in determining the meaning. As Derrida insists, it allows the reader “free-play.” More.

A poem is like a rocket: Either it achieves liftoff or it falls to the ground.


The Transformative Effect of Color in the Poetry of Tomas Tranströmer

by Noah B. Salamon
Reading the work of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, one is struck by a sense of its ethereal power, its almost otherworldly presence. It is perhaps this effect that has prompted critics to note a “mysterious glow,” a sense of “mystery or surprise,” and an “inherent religiosity . . . [a] constant openness to the unknown, to that which has to remain unknown to retain its healing power” in his work.[1] Tranströmer’s various minimalist techniques—simple syntax and diction, short line structure, uncomplicated imagery—all contribute to this effect, but little has been written about another tool he employs: his limited color palette, and the way color effects a sudden shift from the “everyday” to the world of “strangeness” and “epiphany.” More.

Virgil in Russia

by Zara Martirosova Torlone
In 1979 one of the most prominent Russian classical scholars of the later part of the twentienth century, Mikhail Gasparov stated: “Virgil did not have much luck in Russia: they neither knew nor loved him . . .”. This lack of interest in Virgil on Russian soil Gasparov mostly blamed on the absence of canonical Russian translations of Virgil, especially the Aeneid.  There have been several attempts at translating the Roman epic into Russian, four of them most notable and significant. In the 18th century Vasilii Petrov (1730-1778), the court poet of Catherine the Great was the first poet to undertake this monumental task. His translation, however, although highly praised by Catherine and the newly established Russian Academy, was ridiculed by the educated elite as a feeble shadow of the great Roman poem. Another attempt at translating the whole epic did not happen until late nineteenth century and was undertaken by a prominent Russian poet Afanasii Fet (1820-1892) who together with a Russian philosopher Vladimir Solov’ev (1853-1900) attempted to finally bring the Aeneid to the Russian reading public. More.

The Poet's Journey: Chapter 6

by David Biespiel
Becoming a poet means being alert to the unforeseen, the unintentional, and the unsuspected.
Whatever might come into your mind that you do not quite understand, whether it’s from chance or by blunder, from luck or by miscue, is often the very summons to write a new poem. If you reject such unanticipated flashes or banish them from your mind, chances are higher that you’ll decrease the likelihood of writing poems that you’ll care about. Turning away from your own mind is turning away from poetry. More.

Reading the work of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, one is struck by its almost otherworldly presence.

Drafts & Fragments

Words on a Wire: Mary Szybist

Daniel & guest co-host Nancy Lechuga talk with Mary Szybist, author of Incarnadine, the winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry.  Mary describes Incarnadine as a "religious book for nonbelievers."  She explains why the Annunciation plays such a dominant role in her book, and why "visual poetry" (imagine a poem about an apple written in the shape of an apple), though often seen as gimmicky, was a risk she chose to take for a few of the poems in Incarnadine. More.  

Why is “visual poetry” is a risk worth taking?

Poetry In the News

Where Poet Frank O’Hara Was Prolific, a New Plaque

Preservationists, poets and a pizzeria teamed up to honor Frank O’Hara with a plaque dedication at his former East Village home. The embossed bronze homage was unveiled June 10 at 441 E. Ninth St., where the poet lived from 1959 to 1963 with his roommate, Joe LeSueur. The ceremony was a joint effort of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Two Boots Pizza and the Poetry Project. Some of O’Hara’s poems feature East Village references in their titles, such as,“Avenue A” and “Second Avenue.” In “The Day Lady Died,” he mentions the Five Spot, an East Village jazz club of the 1950s and ’60s. “Early on Sunday” has a mention of St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B. More.

Preservationists, poets and a pizzeria teamed up to honor Frank O’Hara with a plaque dedication at his former home.

New Books

The Infinitesimals by Laura Kasischke

[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 100 pp., $16.00
The Infinitesimals stares directly at illness and death, employing the same highly evocative and symbolic style that earned Laura Kasischke the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. Drawing upon her own experiences with cancer, and the lives and deaths of loved ones, Kasischke's new work commands a lyrical and dark intensity.

The Blue Buick: New and Selected Poems by B. H. Fairchild

[Hardcover]W. W. Norton & Company, 368 pp., $29.95
Gathering works from five of B. H. Fairchild's previous volumes stretching over thirty years, and adding twenty-six brilliant new poems, The Blue Buick showcases the career of a poet who represents "the American voice at its best: confident and conflicted, celebratory and melancholic" (New York Times). Fairchild's poetry covers a wide range, both geographically and intellectually, though it finds its center in the rural Midwest: in oilfields and dying small towns, in taverns, baseball fields, one-screen movie theaters, and skies "vast, mysterious, and bored." Ultimately, its cultural scope—where Mozart stands beside Patsy Cline, with Grunewald, Gödel, and Rothko only a subway ride from the Hollywood films of the 1950s—transcends region and decade to explore the relationship of memory to the imagination and the mysteries of time and being.

Breathing Underwater: Selected Poems by Pablo Valdivia

[Paperback] Guernica Editions, 100 pp., $20.00
Pablo Valdivia's debut collection, Respirar bajo el agua (Breathing Underwater), stands as a conversation between a young man and the world around him. It is a collection tinged with aching nostalgia – an emotion intensified by the often sterile images inspired by the Swedish and English backdrops in many of its poems. Fittingly, Valdivia borrows a line from Natalia Ginzburg to begin one section: "England is beautiful and melancholic." And, with this epigraph, he succinctly describes his own poems; they are beautiful and melancholic.

Laura Kasischke’s “The Infinitesimals” stares directly at illness and death.


Dermot Healy Was Afflicted with an Unruly Mind

by Michael Harding
I tell a story sometimes that I heard from Dermot Healy. He went into an old bachelor one day. “Do you not be lonely sometimes?” Dermot wondered. To which the man replied, “No. Sure I know I’m always here.” It’s a story with a universal truth; that in our sitting and solitude we are conscious of something beyond the narrow scope of the ego. A bigger mind inhabits us and observes our ego’s passions rise and fall like the swell of the ocean. More.

Philip Schultz

by Ronald A. Sharp
Ron Sharp: When did the seed of The Wherewithal first germinate? Was it related to your reading of Jan Gross’s Neighbors, his 2002 account of the massacre at Jedwabne?
Philip Schultz: No, it goes back to 1969, 1970. I was living in San Francisco and, not being able to find a job because of my draft status, had to apply for food stamps in order to survive. No one was hiring someone who could be in Vietnam or Canada the next day. More.

Poet Coleman Barks Taps into Mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi

by Alexander Varty
Poet and translator Coleman Barks’s pursuit of the 13th-century mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi has led him down many strange paths, none quite so bizarre as the 2005 pilgrimage he made to Afghanistan as a guest of the U.S. government. “The State Department sent me there to celebrate the fact that Rumi is the national poet of Afghanistan,” Barks tells the Straight, in a telephone conversation from his Athens, Georgia, home. “There, he’s on the radio all the time, and he was also, for a while anyway, the most read poet in the United States. The State Department hadn’t sent a speaker over there in 25 years, but they decided to ask me to do it and so I did. I had military accompaniment everywhere I went, jeeps with automatic weapons before and behind. “You know,” he adds, imitating a walkie-talkie’s signature squawk, “ ‘We got the poet.’ Oh my god, it was ridiculous.” More.

A bigger mind inhabits us and observes our ego’s passions rise and fall like the swell of the ocean.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Robert Lowell

"A poem is an event … not the record of an event."

I've nothing to add to that, except to say I can't find the primary source. From what I gather Lowell said it at least once to one of his classes, but I haven't been able to find any attribution from any particular student or from any other direct source. If anybody knows the context in which this was said, I'd be grateful to learn about it. Apocryphal or not, it's an important lesson to bear in mind. 


“A poem is an event … not the record of an event.” –Robert Lowell