June 17, 2015

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1719 – Joseph Addison, English poet/writer/secretary of state, dies at 47.
1838 – Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya/Chatterjee, Bengali writer and poet (Vande Mataram), is born.
1867 – Henry Lawson, Australian poet (d. 1922), is born.
1871 – James Weldon Johnson, civil rights activist, diplomat, poet (leader of NAACP) born Jacksonville Florida (d. 1938), is born.
1871 – Nicolae Iorga, writer/poet/literature historian/pres of Romania, is born.
1960 – Pierre Reverdy, French author/poet (North-South), dies at 70.

Life is simple and gay
The bright sun rings with a quiet sound
The sound of the bells has quieted
This morning the light hits it all
The footlights of my head are lit again
And the room I live in is finally bright

—from “For the Moment” by Pierre Reverdy (1889–1960)

“The room I live in is finally bright”—from “For the Moment” by Pierre Reverdy (1889–1960)

World Poetry

Inaugural Poet Launches Cuba Writing Project

Poet Richard Blanco is launching a writing project to lift what he calls Cuba's "emotional embargo.” Blanco and writer Ruth Behar, both Cuban-Americans, told The Associated Press they are launching "Bridges to/from Cuba" as a forum for Cubans on and off the island to share their hopes for the future as the U.S. and Cuba move closer to normalizing relations. "For it is not simply a political and economic embargo that needs to be lifted," they write on the website, launched Tuesday. "But also the weight of an emotional embargo that has kept Cubans collectively holding their breath for over 50 years.

Poet James Fenton Wins PEN Pinter Free-speech Prize

Poet James Fenton has won the PEN Pinter Prize, a writing award that celebrates champions of free speech. Fenton is a former Oxford University professor of poetry and war correspondent. Many of his poems deal with conflict and its aftermath, including those in the collections "The Memory of War" and "Children in Exile." Maureen Freely, president of writers' group English PEN, said Fenton "has spoken truth to power — forcefully, fearlessly and beautifully."

Poet James Fenton has won the PEN Pinter Prize, a writing award that celebrates champions of free speech.

Recent Reviews

"The Pants of Time"
by Benjamin Hollander

Who knows or can speak of Duncan McNaughton and his poems: of the Boston-born poet (1942), now living in San Francisco, editor of the two 1970s poetry journals Fathar and Mother; founder and director of the Poetics Program at the New College of California;master teacher in the 1980s with that other Duncan (Robert), among other extraordinary teacher-poets who refused academia or whom academia refused (David Meltzer, Diane di Prima, Michael Palmer); author of a never published dissertation on Shakespeare’s sonnets, along with eighteen books of poetry, which, by and large, have never been reviewed, relics of the generation of slow hand-made small press poetry books mostly out of print.

Chance and Sausage
by Sven Birkerts 

Charles Simic’s The Life of Images: Selected Prose could really be said to begin with the cover, with the Helen Levitt photograph that is so apt to both title and book that it almost begs to be taken as a point of entry. Though the locale is not identified, it is almost certainly one of Levitt’s celebrated New York City scenes. In the background we see a solid mass of brownstone buildings, and just in front of these, a street busy with cars and pedestrians — an effect of urban purposefulness recalling the opening shots of any number of films from the period, which, judging by the look of the cars might be the early 1950s. The foreground, though, making up three-fourths of the image, is a vast open sidewalk, sectioned with large rectangular blocks of pavement, deserted except for the single figure who claims our attention.

On Dwindling
Robyn Sarah's new collection finds the poet divided against herself
by Stewart Cole

Robyn Sarah’s name is attached to many wonderful poems, and “My Shoes Are Killing Me,” the symphonic nine-part title poem of this, her tenth collection, is among the latest. Its first section begins with the poet displaying the musical lucidity that characterizes the book’s (and all her books’) finest moments.

Lisa Russ Spaar on Secret History of the Dividing Line and O’Nights

In his essay “Walking,” Henry David Thoreau writes, famously, that “in Wildness is the preservation of the World.” Cecily Parks’s recently released second book of poems, O’Nights, is full of salvific primal and metaphysical wildness and wildernesses, and the collection takes its title from a passage in Thoreau’s Journal (“[Goodwin] guessed at my age, thought I was forty. He thought that Emerson was a very young-looking man for his age, ‘But,’ said he, ‘he has not been out o’nights as much as you have’”) and is in many ways haunted by a kindred, Thoreauvian concern with the selvage, savage, and salvage at the intersections of wilderness and dominion, with the field and the garden — in the environment, in erotic love, in poetry.

Charles Simic’s The Life of Images: Selected Prose could begins with the cover, a Helen Levitt photograph.


by Ben Lerner

In ninth grade English Mrs X required us to memorise and recite a poem and so I asked the Topeka High librarian to direct me to the shortest poem she knew and she suggested Marianne Moore’s ‘Poetry’, which, in the 1967 version, reads in its entirety:

I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect 
   contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

I remember thinking my classmates were suckers for having mainly memorised Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet whereas I had only to recite 24 words. Never mind the fact that a set rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter make 14 of Shakespeare’s lines easier to memorise than Moore’s three, each one of which is interrupted by a conjunctive adverb – a parallelism of awkwardness that basically serves as its form.

Delmore's Way
by Vivian Gornick

In New York Jew, published in 1978, Alfred Kazin recalled that the "twin reading rooms" of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street "gave me a sense of the powerful amenity that I craved for my own life, a world of power in which my own people had moved about as strangers…. I was hungry for it all, hungry all the time. I was made so restless by the many minds within my reach that no matter how often I rushed across to the Automat for another bun and coffee…I could never get back to my books and notes…without the same hunger pains tearing me inside."

Poem of the Week: "Breezeway" by John Ashbery
by Carol Rumens

In the airy, light-admitting, open-plan lyrics of John Ashbery’s latest collection there’s a generous measure of sheer fun, and the title poem, "Breezeway," is no exception. But the game plan here seems to include playing hide and seek with violence and disconnection: there is the hurricane to contend with, as well as the careless breeze, God as well as the dog.

Saving Grace: How WB Yeats Helped Eavan Boland to Become a Poet
by Eavan Boland

I read WB Yeats first when I was a teenager. In boarding school, after dark, I took out the sturdy book with its burgundy covers and turned over page after page. In winter I used a torch. In summer I read by the late light. I got to know lines, then stanzas, then whole poems. Later I would look back at those times not with wonder but with something more like puzzlement. I wasn’t particularly bookish in school. I wasn’t even studious. But I turned to that book, and then to some others he wrote, with a sense of adventure and intensity that I would rarely replicate later in my life.

The History of the Oxford Professors of Poetry
by Hal Jensen

Joseph Trapp, delivering his inaugural lecture as Oxford’s first Professor of Poetry, was quick to point out that he had no footsteps to guide him. It was October 19, 1708. Trapp was twenty-eight, a Fellow of Wadham College, and author of a heroic tragedy, Abra-Mulé, Or, Love and Empire, published four years earlier. This typically stiff and hysterical example of an irremediably overwrought genre enjoyed a brief success at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, starring an aged Thomas Betterton as Mahomet IV and Ann Bracegirdle in the title role. Comprehensive literary histories sometimes find space to mention Trapp’s play, his pamphleteering and versifying (“Peace, An Ode”), his translation of Virgil’s Æneis (a corrective to Dryden, no less) and even his lectures from the Poetry Chair, the Praelectiones Poeticae. In an act of proto-Oulipian fancy, he translated Paradise Lost into Latin.

In the airy, light-admitting, open-plan lyrics of John Ashbery’s latest collection there’s a generous measure of sheer fun.

Drafts & Fragments

The Process of Discovery: How a New Walt Whitman Poem was Found at the Library of Congress
by Peter Armenti

Walt Whitman enthusiasts were treated to a surprise last December when news broke that Wendy Katz, an associate professor of art history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, had discovered a new poem by Whitman. The poem, titled “To Bryant, the Poet of Nature,” was uncovered by Katz in May 2014 as she examined penny press newspapers in the Library of Congress’s Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room while a Fellow in Residence at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Elijah Wood Goes Retro in Poet Bromance ‘Set Fire to the Stars’
by Sara Stewart

He was a man of big appetites, goes the overly familiar narrative in this Dylan Thomas biopic. “Set Fire to the Stars” centers on Elijah Wood as John Brinnin, the fastidious New York professor who brings the celebrated Welsh poet (Celyn Jones) to America in the early 1950s. Andy Goddard’s feature debut is shot stylishly in black and white, but deals in themes that feel equally retro.

6 American Sign Language Poems That Will Completely Floor You From Emily Dickinson, Neil Gaiman, And More Poets
by Emma Cueto

Recently on his Facebook page, author Neil Gaiman shared a video of a sign language interpretation of his poem “The Day the Saucers Came,” from his 2006 collection Fragile Things. As Gaiman commented, the interpretation by YouTube user Crom Sanders is indeed ”rather wonderful” and definitely worth a watch. And it also isn’t the only signed poem you can find on YouTube.

“Set Fire to the Stars” stars Elijah Wood as John Brinnin, the professor who brings Dylan Thomas to America.

Poetry In the News

Juan Felipe Herrera Named U.S. Poet Laureate, The First Latino To Hold The Post

A son of migrant farm workers in California, Juan Felipe Herrera will be the next U.S. poet in chief. The Library of Congress announced Wednesday the appointment of Herrera as the nation's 21st poet laureate for 2015 through 2016, beginning in September. Herrera, 66, whose parents emigrated from Mexico, will be the nation's first Latino poet laureate since the position was created in 1936. Librarian of Congress James Billington said he sees in Herrera's poems the work of an American original.

Bill Murray Leads March of Poets Across the Brooklyn Bridge for Special Poetry Walk

"Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!"  So begins Walt Whitman's epic mid-19th-century poem "Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry," about one man's journey from Manhattan to Brooklyn at the end of a working day – a trek recreated annually by Poets House over the Brooklyn Bridge. On Monday, Bill Murray joined the walk for its 20th anniversary.

Terrence Davies Directing Film on Emily Dickinson, Crews to be at Poet's Amherst Homestead beginning Monday

Film crews will be in town for three days next week to add some authenticity to a film about poet Emily Dickinson. "The Quiet Passion" written and directed by British director-writer Terrence Davies stars Cynthia Nixon as the poet.

Anchorage Teen Brings Home National Poetry Prize

Maeva Ordaz brought one dress with her when she flew to Washington, D.C., in April to compete in the national Poetry Out Loud Competition. "I didn't think I'd need a second one," she said. "I never thought I'd make it to the finals." The West High School senior was representing Alaska in the competition for the second time. During her first trip in 2014, she hadn't advanced beyond the preliminary rounds. This year she went back more determined than ever, and became the first Alaskan to win the national championship.

A son of migrant farm workers in California, Juan Felipe Herrera will be the first Latino U.S. Poet Laureate

New Books

Testament by G.C. Waldrep
[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd.,144 pp., $16.00

In this book-length poem, G.C. Waldrep addresses matters as diverse as Mormonism, cymatics, race, Dolly the cloned sheep, and his own life and faith. Drafted over twelve trance-like days while in residence at Hawthornden Castle, Waldrep responds to such poets as Alice Notley, Lisa Robertson, and Carla Harryman, and tackles the question of whether gender can be a lyric form.

Times Beach by John Shoptaw 
[Paperback] University of Notre Dame Press, 144 pp., $24.00

Winner of the Notre Dame Review Book Prize, this ambitious collection of poems evokes the cultural and environmental history of the Mississippi watershed and meditates on how its rivers are ceaselessly shaping, and shaped by, the lives around them. John Shoptaw guides us from the Mississippi’s headwaters in Lake Itasca to its delta in the Gulf of Mexico, weaving together episodes in the life of the river system—the New Madrid earthquakes, the 1927 flood, the EPA’s eradication of the dioxin-laced town of Times Beach—with his own memories of growing up in the Missouri Bootheel: picking cotton, being baptized in a drainage ditch, and working in a lumber mill. Formally renovative, the poems in Times Beach ring the changes on the big muddy place and hymn its everlasting possibilities.

That That by Ken Mikolowski 
[Paperback] Wayne State University Press, 80 pp., $14.99

Poet Ken Mikolowski ran a letterpress printing house for over thirty years, setting poems by hand, one letter at a time-an experience that influenced his love of short verse. In That That, Mikolowski presents his trademark quirky, humorous, and insightful poems, none longer than three brief lines and some made up of only two or three carefully chosen words. Together, these poems create a narrative of life and love broken down to the most minimal of forms.

Why God Is a Woman by Nin Andrews 
[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd.,112 pp., $16.00

Why God Is a Woman is a collection of poems written about a magical island where women rule and men are the second sex. It is also the story of a boy who, exiled from the island because he could not abide by its sexist laws, looks back with both nostalgia and bitterness and wonders: Why does God have to be a woman? Celebrated prose poet Nin Andrews creates a world both fantastic and familiar where all the myths, logic, and institutions support the dominance of women.

Book Seventeen: Poems by Greg Delanty
[Paperback] Louisiana State University Press, 96 pp., $19.95

Purporting to be a 'lost' seventeenth book of the 16-volume Anthologia Graeca, Book Seventeen uses the themes and images of ancient mythology to conjure a new way of looking at our modern world. Gods of all types line the pages of this collection, from those deities that only operate in our personal spaces–the poet's companion, the demigod Solitude, as well as the elusive god of Complicity–to more familiar divinities in unfamiliar roles, such as Helios shopping in an outdoor market in Paris, or an aging Aphrodite in a short skirt chatting with visitors to an unfamiliar city.

Fanny Says by Nickole Brown 
[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd.,136 pp., $16.00

An “unleashed love song” to her late grandmother, Nickole Brown’s collection brings her brassy, bawdy, tough-as-new-rope grandmother to life. With hair teased to Jesus, mile-long false eyelashes, and a white Cadillac Eldorado with atomic-red leather seats, Fanny is not your typical granny rocking in a chair. Instead, think of a character that looks a lot like Eva Gabor in Green Acres, but darkened with a shadow of Flannery O’Connor. A cross-genre collection that reads like a novel, this book is both a collection of oral history and a lyrical and moving biography that wrestles with the complexities of the South, including poverty, racism, and domestic violence.

An “unleashed love song” to her late grandmother, Nickole Brown brings her brassy, bawdy grandmother to life.


A Freedom in Being Minor
by Jeff Alessandrelli

In a Landscape, John Gallaher’s fifth book, is his attempt to put into words “what (he) really thinks of things without making anything up.” It’s a challenging task for any writer, even more so for one Keats might call a “camelion poet,” meaning one who “has no character” of his or her own, but who is instead constantly adapting, dissolving, and delighting in contradiction. With collections such as Gentlemen in Turbans, Ladies in Cauls (2001) and The Little Book of Guesses (2007), winner of the Levis Poetry Prize, Gallaher emerged as one of the most dexterous poets of the new century, working primarily, and not surprisingly, in the mode we had come to call “Elliptical.” In his review of Susan Wheeler’s Smokes, Stephen Burt first used the term “Elliptical” to delineate lyric poetry whose “I” “speaks the poem and reflects the poet” even as it deploys “all the verbal gizmos developed over the last few decades to undermine the coherence of speaking selves.”Considered somewhat innovative at the time, the mode, says Gallaher, has gone mainstream; it’s been “folded into the mix.” Many would agree.

U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera on the Art of Poetry
by Carolyn Kellogg

As you might expect from a U.S. poet laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera has a way with words. When we talked to him about his appointment, he shared his ideas on the act of writing, some of his inspirations and the art of poetry. Here are Herrera's thoughts, in his own words.

In a Landscape, John Gallaher’s fifth book, is his attempt to put into words “what (he) really thinks of things without making anything up.”

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Howard Nemerov

We may suspect that makers of jokes and smart remarks resemble poets at least in this, that they too would be excluded from Plato' s Republic; for it is of the nature of Utopia and the Crystal Palace, as Dostoevsky said, that you can't stick your tongue out at it. A joke expresses tension, which it releases in laughter; it is a sort of permissible rebellion against things as they are–permissible, perhaps, because this rebellion is at the same time stoically resigned, it acknowledges that things are as they are, and that they will, after the moment of laughter, continue to be that way. That is why jokes concentrate on the most sensitive areas of human concern: sex, death, religion, and the most powerful institutions of society; and poems do the same.
—from "Bottom's Dream: The Likeness of Poems and Jokes,"  Virginia Quarterly Review, Volume 42

Jokes concentrate on the most sensitive areas of human concern: sex, death, religion, and the most powerful institutions of society; and poems do the same.