June 25, 2013

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1542 – St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic, saint, priest and poet (d. 1591), is born.

1590 – Samuel Ampzing, poet (Taelbericht der Neth Spellinge), is born.

1673 – John of Paffenrode, ruler of Ghussigny/poet, dies in battle.

1707 – Kaspar von Stieler, German linguist/poet, dies at 74.

1907 – Arseny Tarkovsky, Russian poet (d. 1989), is born.

1916 – John Ciardi, poet/critic (translated Dante), is born.


He laughs (a nerve’s slow tangling like a vine)   

Speaks to himself, shouts, listens, hears a surf   

Of echo rolling back to strand him there   

In tide pools of dead time by caves of fear,   

And enters to himself, denned in his loss,   

Tick-tick, a bloodbeat building on his wrist,   

Ratcheting down the dead teeth of a skull   

(The fossil of himself) sucked out of sight   

Past heads and tails, past vertebrae and gill   

To bedrocks out of time, with time to kill.


—from “The Pilot in the Jungle” by John Ciardi (1916–1986)

“The Pilot in the Jungle” by John Ciardi

World Poetry

M. K. Struk Sues Leftist Women over Poem against her Son

M.K. Orit Struk (Bayit Yehudi) has filed a libel suit against Machsom Watch, a radical leftist group that sends female volunteers to “watch over” IDF soldiers at checkpoints in Judea and Samaria. M.K. Struk's suit relates to a poem that was published on the group's Facebook page in March, shortly after Struk's election to the Knesset. It refers to her son, Tzviki, who served an 18-month jail sentence after being convicted of assaulting an Arab. Read more at the Israel National News.

82-year-old Maithili Poet Finds No Publisher for His Book

At 82, Sahitya Akademi award-winner Vivekanand Thakur is upset that he had to make arrangements himself to publish his fourth collection of poems after he couldn't find a publisher. Thakur, winner of 2005 Sahitya Akademi Award for his collection of poems Chanan Ghan Gachchiya, said he could not find a publisher for his work written in Maithili language, his mother tongue and had to bear the cost of publishing his next book of poems Je Muhu Apan, to be released shortly. Read more at Indian Express.

Israeli Army Refuses to Let Soldier Read Poems on Radio

A brigade in the Israeli Defence Forces has banned a soldier from reading out his own verses on the radio over fears that it might cast aspersions on the army's "manliness", a media report said. The Independent daily said that throughout history, soldiers on the battlefield "have been inspired to write some of the world's most memorable poetry".  The unnamed soldier from the Nahal Infantry Brigade was to appear on the Army Radio's weekly Hebrew literary programme called "Books, Gentlemen, Books". Read more at Zee News.

A Poet Without Poems: Canada’s Taxpayer-funded Wordsmith Laments Scarcity of Assignments from Ottawa

“I wish that my government had asked me to write poetry about immigration policy, about Idle No More, about Canada’s complicity in the Middle East, the Enbridge pipeline,” Fred Wah, a Saskatchewan-born poet now living in Vancouver, recently told an audience at an Edmonton literary festival. Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, wondering aloud why the government never asks him to write poems, has inadvertently answered his own question. “I haven’t been asked to do any of those things.” Read more at the National Post.

A Poet Without Poems: Canada’s Taxpayer-funded Wordsmith Laments Scarcity of Assignments from Ottawa

Recent Reviews

Book: Portuguese-American Poetry – By Gávea-Brown – Review

By Kathi Stafford

The Gávea-Brown Book of Portuguese-American Poetry, edited by Alice R. Clemente and George Monteiro, is a remarkable collection of poetic offerings. This publication brings together representative work of twenty-four fine Portuguese-American poets.  The volume covers a significant span of time, beginning with the poetry of Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), and continuing through living authors who have made significant contributions to the world of literature. Read more at the Portuguese-American Journal.

Poetry and Privacy by John Redmond – Review

by David Wheatley

The public life of poetry today means different things to different people. To some it is Carol Ann Duffy writing a laureate poem on the banking crisis or Geoffrey Hill attacking her for mistaking "cast off bits of oligarchical commodity English" for the language of art. To others it might be a hastily assembled anthology of poems protesting the war in Iraq or a display of high-voltage postmodernism by Keston Sutherland on the same subject. John Redmond considers the treatment of public and private spheres in contemporary poetry and the way in which these concepts inform its reception. His principal aim is to counter the lazy application of political rhetoric to literature in ways that appear to make sense of poems but don't – "the determination to read poetry in publicly oriented ways, the determination to make it fit with one kind of public program or another". Read more at the Guardian.

Dark Luminosity: Laura Kasischke’s Space, in Chains

by Jeremy Bass

“Art is about something the way a cat is about the house,” Allen Grossman once quipped. No new book in recent memory might as gratifyingly embody that statement as Laura Kasischke’s Space, in Chains. In many ways these poems defy reductive description—they are so many things. Memories of youth, stories of a father’s death, meditations on the movement of planets or the detritus of society; whatever these poems take for their materials they are always about something more strange and indefinable. Read more at the Kenyon Review.

Terrible Songs: A Volume Of Poetry By Lulzim Tafa – Book Review

by Peter Tase

Lulzim Tafa was born near Pristina, capital of Kosovo, on February 2, 1970. He is one of the renowned poets of the turbulent times of 1990 in Kosovo, a country that was constantly experiencing ethnic cleansing and mass killings of its people by the Serbian war machine. After his elementary and high school education in his native village of Lipian, Tafa attended the School of Law in the University of Pristina and became an attorney four years later, in early 1992. Mr. Tafa has pursued graduate studies in the University of Sarajevo and received his Ph.D. degree in Law. Read more at the Eurasian Review.

Humorous Poems for Poets and Everyone Else

by David Starkey 

Despite its rather portentous title, Thomas Lux’s new collection of poems is — dare I say it? — fun. Yes, Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23) discusses questions of ontology and epistemology and theology, it and it alludes to a slew of poets: Villon, Wordsworth, Keats, de Nerval, Frost, Mandelstam, Vallejo, and I’ve probably missed a few. There is even a poem about Nietzsche, but the title of that poem says everything about Lux’s attitude toward the great Western Tradition: “Nietzsche Throws His Arms Around the Neck of a Dray Horse.” The history of arts and letters is a goldmine for poetry, Lux suggests, just don’t forget to bring your sense of humor. Read more at the Independent.

Incarnadine by Mary Szybist

by Jesse Nathan

In one telling of the Hebrew exodus, the angels cheer as God wracks the Egyptians. “They are also my children,” he thunders, and the hosts fall silent. Satan, in the old stories, was a fallen angel. Rilke wrote, “Every angel is terrifying”—because who knows what their appearance might signal? Beings endowed with God-like power, but also with human curiosity, foolishness, pride, and lust. In Blake’s terse “I Asked a Thief,” a seraph drops down to earth to steal fruit and rape a maid. The darker nature of the angelic runs beneath primary notions of ministerial spirits or divine messengers. What do the angels of the tradition want from us now? Are they cherubs or devils? They seem all symbol, seem not to exist. How can they still frighten? How can they fail us? Read more at Coldfront.

Dark Luminosity: Laura Kasischke’s Space, in Chains


A Wedding Cake in the Rain: Notes on Auden's Face

by Robert Archambeau

"If that's his face, what must his scrotum look like?" asked the painter David Hockney after first meeting W.H. Auden.  For my money, it's the best, and cruelest, comment made about Auden's face in the last two decades of his life.  Other contenders include Auden's own remark "My face looks like a wedding cake left out in the rain" and Hannah Arendt's rather grandiose claim that "life itself had delineated a kind of face-scape" on Auden "to make manifest the heart's invisible furies." James Merrill's description of the face as "runneled and seamed" and Christopher Isherwood's claim that such a face "really belonged in the British Museum" are weak entries in the field, especially coming from such talented writers.  Perhaps their admiration for the poet held their tongues in check. Read more at Samizdat.

But What About the Soul: Poets at the Movies (Part 1) 

by Rebecca Morgan Frank

When poems and movies talk about one another, I feel uncomfortable. An airheaded female character reads Bishop by someone’s bedside. A man reads Whitman to his lifelong love at both the beginning and the end of their epic love story. None of this deepens the characters or makes terrible movies better. And must they bring in poor Tennyson at the end of a James Bond movie? Does Hollywood really think it can give itself weight by dropping in the work of poets? Read more at the LA Review of Books.

Why is Modern Poetry So Bad?

by Ron Charles

Friday morning, America’s great poets will wake up to find that someone has TP-ed their trees and scrawled “COWARD” on the door. A 6,000-word jeremiad about the pathetic state of contemporary poetry appears in the July issue of Harper’s magazine, which hits bookstores Friday. In “Poetry Slam, or, The Decline of American Verse,”Mark Edmundson, an English professor at the University of Virginia, upbraids our bards for being “oblique, equivocal, painfully self-questioning . . . timid, small, in retreat . . . ever more private, idiosyncratic, and withdrawn.” That’s just for starters. Read more at the Washington Post.

Why Is Contemporary American Poetry So Good?

by Seth Abramson

Because there are exponentially more poets writing or committed to writing accomplished poetry today than has ever been the case in the history of the United States, either as a percentage of total population or as an absolute number. Because this means that, within the next few years, almost every American of a certain age will know or be related to someone who writes or is committed to writing accomplished poetry, which puts the workaday commitment to poetry so many Americans share front and center in the lives of millions and millions of Americans who are not poets. Read more at the Huffington Post.

A Wedding Cake in the Rain: Notes on Auden’s Face

Drafts & Fragments

Finding Poetry in Motion in the Road Not Taken

by Matthew O'Mara 

Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" is quite a misunderstood poem, but Spry Fox is hoping to bring some interpretation of the poem with its game. Road Not Taken is poetry is motion, quite literally. Developed by Spry Fox, Road Not Taken is a puzzle game about life and loss, that features randomly generated levels and permadeath. Similar to games like Shiren the Wanderer, players move along a grid attempting to traverse forest after forest as the game’s story unfolds. Invoking the famous poem by Robert Frost, the title speaks volumes about what players can expect in a game of isolation and difficult choices. Something happened a long time ago in Road Not Taken and the player has to take a road less travelled in Spry Fox’s game to uncover the truth. Read more at the Financial Post.

“He Was Absolutely Insistant There Was No God, No Future Life, No Hope for the Planet”: Powerful and Utterly Depressing Short Documentary about Philip Larkin

by Ernest Hilbert 

This excellent documentary includes actor reenactments of Larkin sprawled despondently on a grubby sofa, footage of Larkin strolling despondently around a graveyard, and rather telling interviews with A.N. Wilson, Martin Amis, and others who knew the poet. Read more at E-verse Radio.

“He Was Absolutely Insistant There Was No God, No Future Life, No Hope for the Planet”: Powerful and Utterly Depressing Short Documentary about Philip Larkin

Poetry In the News

Kevin Systrom’s New Poem, “Video on Instagram,” Is a Postmodern Masterstroke

Kevin Systrom, who co-founded Instagram in 2010 and sold it to Facebook for $1 billion less than two years later, stunned the technology world today by turning a Facebook press event into a poetry reading. Entitled “Video on Instagram,” Systrom’s poem ostensibly heralds a new social-media tool, one that enables users to shoot, edit, and share 15-second movies with their mobile phone. Beneath the surface, however, Systrom is using the conceit of a product launch to plumb the roiling psychocultural forces at work in our tech-fetishizing zeitgeist. Read more at Slate.

Artists Create A Poetry Walk Along Seaside At UConn In Groton

David Madacsi has an ambiguous relationship with the ocean. His home along the Mystic River flooded during Hurricane Sandy. A mooring buoy with a rusty chain was one of the pieces of detritus that washed onto his property. He intended to throw it away, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. "During the weeks of cleanup that followed, the word 'tenuous' frequently entered my mind as I imagined the state of the house and of moorings in the harbor during the storm and flooding," he said. Read more at the Courant.

Kevin Systrom’s New Poem, “Video on Instagram,” Is a Postmodern Masterstroke

New Books

Selected Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky

[Paperback] Northwestern University Press, 404 pp., $19.95

James McGavran’s new translation of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poetry is the first to fully capture the Futurist and Soviet agitprop artist’s voice. Because of his work as a propagandist for the Soviet regime, and because of his posthumous enshrinement by Stalin as “the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch,” Mayakovsky has most often been interpreted—and translated—within a political context. McGavran’s translations reveal a more nuanced poet who possessed a passion for word creation and linguistic manipulation. Mayakovsky’s bombastic metaphors and formal élan shine through in these translations, and McGavran’s commentary provides vital information on Mayakovsky, illuminating the poet’s many references to the Russian literary canon, his contemporaries in art and culture, and Soviet figures and policies.

To Die Next To You by Rodger Kamenetz 

[Paperback] Six Gallery Press, 112 pp., $19.95

To Die Next to You, poems by Rodger Kamenetz/ drawings by Michael Hafftka is a unique event in the literary and artistic world. Two brother artists, both nurtured by the dream world and its imaginal colors and sacred words, have joined to produce a single work of rare quality. More that a collaboration this work is a journey into the power of the unconscious depth of word and image, in which master painter and poet present verbal and visual displays of agony and joy, destruction and falling, love and dying. This project has taken ten years to produce, from the first poems that emerged from Rodger Kamenetz' encounter with dreamwork to three years of gestation as Michael Hafftka internalized the poems and reconstituted them in images that serve as imaginative midrash, annotation, anticipation and anti-illustration.

Sweet Aegis by Melissa Dickson 

[Paperback] Negative Capability Press, 76 pp., $15.95

"Melissa Dickson writes poems I wish I had written. They encompass the human experience via the lens of the inhuman because sometimes we need it. Sometimes we need a Jack Gilbert to give us the simple, everyday actions to show us the beauty of life. But sometimes we need our gods to show us that very thing, as well. That is what makes poetry so resonating, so enduring, so important. I say bring on the Greek poems. Give me your own Medusa and Dionysus. There is a reason we still read Homer, Euripides, Ovid. It’s so we can have poets such as Anne Carson, Tina Chang, D. Nurkse, Traci Brimhall, Sari Krosinsky and Melissa Dickson. Swallow these poems whole and maybe you’ll give birth to a new species all your own." —Angela Maria Williams

New Poems by Ben Mazer 

[Paperback] The Pen & Anvil Press, 120 pp., $15.95

Ben Mazer is a poet impelled to take possession of the literary and mythic past, and to experience it as if it were somehow his own personal heritage. In New Poems, he embraces that calling, and writes in a voice that belongs to the continuous poetic present, an illimitable moment that is all at once mid-century, Elizabethan, metaphysical, and acutely modern. The formal and philosophical aspects on display in New Poems suggest that Mazer knows he is furthering on traditions established by T.S. Eliot and Robert Lowell. Evidence of myriad subtler influences as well can be found, evidences of Hart Crane, Delmore Schwartz, Robert Graves; John Crowe Ransom, Jack Spicer, John Berryman. The host of these influences move through Mazer's poetry but never dominate it. Instead, influence is transmuted by and bound up into Mazer's uncanny music of rhythm, emblem, and image.


Selected Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky


Floyd Skloot Discovers the Necessity of Music for Insight

by David Biespiel  

Among the poets that make up the Portland School of Poetry are a group of male writers whose aesthetic favors bare-boned forms and a generous sense of communion. They aren't what you would call visionary poets — they resist falsely abstract language too much for that — but their poems do embody a kind of romantic quest and, above all, an appreciation for the ephemeral. Read more at Oregon Live.

Poetry Must Still Dance: An Interview with Ange Mlinko

by Tyler Bourgoise

The Spring issue of The Paris Review includes a long poem by Ange Mlinko, “Wingandecoia.” It took me a few rereads, but, after a bout of Google searching, I saw this poem trace its arc in several directions—those of time, of place, and of musical imagination. Along the way to understanding, Mlinko treats the reader to lines that feel both alive and spectral. Some are even like incantatory but welcome earworms. Mlinko has also published three books of poetry—Matinees, Starred Wire, and Shoulder Season. And this fall her next book, Marvelous Things Overheard, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Between books, she writes on language and the arts for The Nation. Read more at The Paris Review.

Nikky Finney Ponders Possibilities Of The Poetry Profession

Nikky Finney won the National Book Award for her poetry collection Head Off & Split in 2011. Two years later, she is on the other side as a judge and the chair of the award panel. As part of TOTN's "Looking Ahead" series, Finney discusses the future of poetry as a profession. Read more at NPR.


Floyd Skloot Discovers the Necessity of Music for Insight

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

The Cynicism of Mark Edmundson, or Poetry Is Still Not Dead*

by David Biespiel

Mark Edmundson’s take down of contemporary American poetry, “Poetry Slam,” (currently behind the paywall) in this month’s issue of Harper’s, is not so bad really. He’s right about the insularity of the American poetic idiom, the stranglehold of deconstructive theory on the imaginations of younger American poets, the influence of William Wordsworth for two hundred years on American poetry’s sense of ambition as a private rather than public art, the proliferation of teaching the writing of poetry and therefore the difficulty in discerning what might be the, quote-unquote, poetry of the age — notwithstanding that we will never know who those poets are or what those poems are for certain until the age is over. More on that “we” and on the idea of “the age” in a moment. Read more at The Rumpus.

I guess the big story about poetry on the boards right now is the Mark Edmundson article in Harper's. Much to-ing and fro-ing as can be seen in some of the Broadsides articles I've included above as well as other places on the Internet. I was thinking of writing about it myself, but that would have meant going to the bookstore downtown to see if they had the new issue of Harper's in, and it's really hot out right now (mid-80s with 65% humidity). I could tell I would not be objective about it when I happened to come across an article by the same author in a textbook I've been reviewing and watched my ire rise. He referred to the college he attended as "my little out-of the-way school in Vermont." The editors' bio above his essay mentioned that he went to Bennington, the most expensive school this side of anywhere. And the essay he wrote was about working after graduation ( while "most of my contemporaries would be trotting off to law school and graduate school") as part of the stage crew for a rock production company, shouldering the lines for the Dead, the Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, etc. All those cooler, please raise your hands. No one? Oh, well. So rather than my writing about the article, which I haven't read and for whose author I nonetheless seem to harbor an unfounded animosity, I direct you to the article above by David Biespiel. Whether or not he hits the nail on the head in terms of his response to the Harper's article, I won't know till the issue shows up in the public library. But I am sympathetic to his overall claim. Unlike yours truly, he seems like a reasonable person.

The Cynicism of Mark Edmundson, or Poetry Is Still Not Dead*