June 3, 2015

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1649 – Manuel de Faria e Sousa, Portuguese historian and poet (b. 1590), dies.
1764 – Hans A Brorson, Danish poet/bishop of Ribe, dies at 69.
1840 – Eugeen van Oye, Flemish writer/poet (Morning Twilight), is born.
1844 – Detlev [Freiherr Friedrich A von] Liliencron, German poet, is born.
1900 – Gerard den Brabander, [Jan G Jofriet], poet (Nothing New), is born.
1913 – Pedro Mir, Dominican Poet Laureate (d. 2000), is born.
1963 – Nazim Hikmet, Turkish poet (b. 1902), dies.
1995 – Alastair Webster Mackie, poet/teacher, dies at 69.

Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Letters

Pigeons shake their wings on the copper church roof
out my window across the street, a bird perched on the cross
surveys the city's blue-grey clouds. Larry Rivers
'll come at 10 AM and take my picture. I'm taking
your picture, pigeons.  I'm writing you down, Dawn.
I'm immortalizing your exhaust, Avenue A bus.
O Thought! Now you'll have to think the same thing forever!

—Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997)

Now you’ll have to think the same thing forever! -Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

World Poetry

Popular Syrian Poet Adds Her Voice against Assad

A well-known Syrian poet has said the Syrian crisis broke out because democratic revolutionaries were not supported. The remarks of Maram al-Masri, who is an important figure in Arabic poetry and also a well-known activist, came at a recent poetry festival held in the town of Sidi Bou Said in northern Tunisia. "I am against all dictators, whether they are called Bashar or Qaddafi," al-Masri said, adding that the Syrian war was not caused by revolutionaries, but rather "because democratic revolutionaries were not supported to come to power".

Dread of Literary Parties Led Philip Larkin to Shun Oxford Poetry Professorship

A vision of the “hell on earth” that is a literary party and revulsion for “a lot of sherry-drill with important people” drove Philip Larkin to rule himself out of consideration as the Oxford professor of poetry, according to an unpublished letter recently discovered in a college safe.

“I am against all dictators, whether they are called Bashar or Qaddafi,” al-Masri said.

Recent Reviews

Berryman: Tragedy & Comedy Together
by Helen Vendler

On October 25, 1914, just over one hundred years ago, the remarkable poet John Berryman was born in McAlester, Oklahoma. In honor of this anniversary, Farrar, Straus and Giroux offers The Heart Is Strange: New Selected Poems and is reissuing The Dream Songs, 77 Dream Songs, and Berryman’s Sonnets. Both the title and cover of this peculiar Selected Poems obscure the fact that the selection includes not a single poem from Berryman’s most famous work, The Dream Songs. (The publicity notice for the Selected promises “a generous selection from across Berryman’s varied career,” and claims to celebrate “the whole Berryman.”) A reader ordering the book online might well expect that a rational Selected would devote a substantial number of its pages to The Dream Songs, and would feel deceived when the book arrived. (The far more comprehensive Library of America John Berryman: Selected Poems finds room for sixty-one Dream Songs.) What we really need, of course, is a Complete Poems, but that is not forthcoming from any quarter.

The Boys of Bluehill by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin review – distinctive and rewarding
by Aingeal Clare

The late Peter Porter had a peculiar blind spot where modern Irish poetry was concerned. Irish poets, he suggested in 1992, write as though “marooned outside time”, “playing up to some committee preparing a Pantheon” rather than deigning to enter the 20th-century. On a casual reading, there is little in the work of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin that might have shaken Porter out of his prejudice.

An Extra Life Jorie Graham's From the New World
by Katie Peterson

A good “selected poems” turns a career back into a voice. The individual books give way again to the maker, now editor as well as composer. Jorie Graham’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Dream of the Unified Field did this to wide acclaim in 1996. From the New World, Graham’s second selected poems, does it again, reducing and arranging her abundant career into a fraction of its breadth. The selection leads readers into Graham’s later books’ glorious assaults on the lyric, a form she both loves and finds wanting.

Open Windows Caution: World-Changing Poetry at Work
by Joseph Peschel

In essays as forceful as they are graceful, the poet Jane Hirshfield argues that poetry possesses the ability to transform the way its readers perceive the world. In the fifth essay of her new collection, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, poet Jane Hirshfield writes of a Japanese poem, “windows are the opening through which the luminous arrives.” That idea of windows as luminous openings, whether stated explicitly or implicitly, buttresses these ten thoughtful pieces on poetry, prose literature, and art. The book’s Eliotesque objective correlative of a title recalls Hirshfield’s earlier essay collection, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, where Hirshfield writes “through that open gate, the unspoken gains entrance into the poem.”

Distinctly Paul Muldoon
by Oli Hazzard

A professor at Princeton, poetry editor at the New Yorker, rock musician – of which more later – and the subject of extensive critical attention, the Northern Irish poet Paul Muldoon is at the summit of a career which began in spectacular fashion with the publication of New Weather in 1973, when the poet was just twenty-one. One Thousand Things Worth Knowing, his twelfth collection, represents a consolidation rather than an extension of the elaborate and highly distinctive poetic voice he has established in the intervening four decades. 

Mark Irwin and the Church of the Occasional
by David Keplinger

In Assisi at the Basilica of Saint Francis the divine is raised on three slats. At the upper level, the level of the Romanesque, Giotto has painted his “Life of Saint Francis” series, a narrative depiction of the miraculous as it intersected with the young man’s journey through high society, self-exile, blindness and death. While the story of Francis’ life may insinuate growing darkness and loss, quite the opposite comes across in the paintings. The invisible nearness of God—just a hand in the clouds in the earlier paintings—pervades the final pieces.

You Run, Darling: Mark Doty’s Deep Lane
by Eric Farwell

Mark Doty is tenacious in his in his examination of life and endlessly fussy about his use of words. He makes sure to convey his meaning, whether in the criticism of personal attachment or the depiction of youthful sexual realization. In his poetry in particular, Doty dials those qualities up. These traits positioning him in the same camp as CK Williams, Stephen Dunn, and the tremendous Robert Hass—poets who labor just below the line of the metaphysical, grounding their examinations of the existential life in tactile detail and the natural world.


It’s All about the Voice
by Helena Nelson

They talk a lot about ‘voice’ in poetry these days, I know. But in the book I’m thinking of, there is poetic voice and then – when the poet delivers the narrative in person – there’s a whole other voice: the true, human, living, palpable one. The one that sends a million micro-vibrations through your ears and right down to your toes. Of course, any poet can read her or his work aloud. And I do love to hear what it sounds like when it’s the author, and not the imagined-author-in-my-head. Sometimes it’s warmly more, sometimes briskly less than what I expected. But still, there’s magic in the unutterably mortal human voice.

Why Dylan Thomas Deserves His international Day
by Gillian Clarke

On 14 May, 1953, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood had its first staged reading at the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center in New York. From now on, the event will be commemorated with Dylan Day, an international celebration of the life and work of the Welsh poet. Thomas is a great writer because he wrote with accuracy and truth about being human. His language is inventive, yet stolen and re-made from every word he read, every phrase he heard. His poetry, including Under Milk Wood, which I’d call a radio poem, leaves echoes in the mind as music does, as all true poetry should. His prose shows a hawk’s eye and ear for detail; fierce, but shaped by tenderness, fearless honesty and humour. The whole man, body and mind, and the whole life are in the words. We see ourselves on the page, feel the arrow in the heart. He gave not a toss for any critical reader but himself. Music and truth, the qualities of all great writers, are what convinces us to read him, to believe him. James Joyce, one of his inspirations, is a prime example. There is no contrivance, no self-consciously “good English” in such writing.

May 14, Dylan Day

Drafts & Fragments

Battle Lines
Want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry.
by Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel

On October 11, 2014, according to Islamic State-affiliated Twitter accounts a woman going by the name Ahlam al-Nasr was married in the courthouse of Raqqa, Syria, to Abu Usama al-Gharib, a Vienna-born jihadi close to the movement’s leadership. ISIS social media rarely make marriage announcements, but al-Nasr and al-Gharib are a jihadi power couple. Al-Gharib is a veteran propagandist, initially for Al Qaeda and now for ISIS. His bride is a burgeoning literary celebrity, better known as “the Poetess of the Islamic State.

Poetry In the News

Louise Glück Awarded Gold Medal for Poetry

Louise Glück, adjunct professor of English and the Rosenkrantz Writer in Residence, has has won the Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (AAAL) — one of the organization’s highest honor.

Maine Man to Explore Final Resting Places of Poets in South

A former teacher who travels the country to document the final resting places of poets is looking forward to calling attention to African-American poets on a tour of the South and elsewhere. Black poets have been writing about injustice and hardship since the days of slavery, and the theme rings true today, given the recent unrest surrounding police killings of black men, Walter Skold said. "African-American poets have been going through the same turmoil. They've been right there. They've chronicled the great sorrows and successes that African-Americans have had," he said.

Louise Glück Awarded Gold Medal for Poetry

New Books

My Feelings: Poems by Nick Flynn 
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 96 pp., $16.00

In My Feelings, Nick Flynn makes no claims on anyone else's. These poems inhabit a continually shifting sense of selfhood, in the attempt to contain quicksilver realms of emotional energy–from grief and panic to gratitude and understanding.

Quiet City by Susan Aizenberg
[Paperback] BkMk Press,76 pp., $13.95

Many of these poems are set in the mid-twentieth century and feature such personae as writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams and photographer Roman Vishniac, as well as less-public figures in Brooklyn, Nebraska, and elsewhere, all of whom confront the wounds of love, family, history, and time. ''In poem after poem,'' David Jauss writes, Aizenberg ''reveals an astonishingly wide-ranging and deeply empathetic imagination, not to mention the eye of a painter and the ear of a musician.'' 

Count the Waves: Poems by Sandra Beasley
[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 96 pp., $26.95

In Count the Waves, Sandra Beasley turns her eclectic imagination to the heart's pursuits. A man and a woman sit at the same dinner table, an ocean of worry separating them. An iceberg sets out to dance. A sword swallower ponders his dating prospects. "The vessel is simple, a rowboat among yachts," the poet observes in "Ukulele." "No one hides a Tommy gun in its case. / No bluesman runs over his uke in a whiskey rage." Beasley's voice is pithy and playful, with a ferocious intelligence that invites comparison to both Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker.

Radio Weather by Shoshanna Wingate
[Paperback] Véhicule Press, 64 pp., $17.99

This collection of poems confronts the changing nature of life—how existence can switch gears with the speed of announced-for snow that turns abruptly to rain. The book runs the gauntlet of Shoshanna Wingate’s various roles—mother, wife, daughter—in taut, unsentimental, immaculately constructed poems that explore the tension between personal imperatives and fickle outside forces. Marked by a vision broad enough take in both a pigeon fancier neighbor and a murderer on death row, Wingate tracks the moments that—midstep, midway, midlife—alter us from who we might have been to who we are now.

Bad Fame by Martin McGovern
[Paperback] Able Muse Press, 88 pp., $17.95

Martin McGovern’s Bad Fame muses on the perplexities and certainties of the human condition, often in soaring eulogies and searing elegies: as in “The Circle of Late Afternoon” which asks, “Isn’t there an art to giving myself away slowly like wheat opening to the sun?”; or, “Processionalia,” where “a bee/ abandons the tea roses/ and circle that black blossom of/ the widow’s veiled face as if her tears were/ pollen and the bee could feather/ its legs with grief.” Be it lore set in Colorado, or farther out, the personal and regional tributes unravel the universally familiar and pertinent. McGovern's debut collection is the work of a seasoned master in command of craft and themes.

In My Feelings, Nick Flynn makes no claims on anyone else’s.


Terrance Hayes On The Joys Of Poetry: 'Poets Are … The Decathletes Of Literature'
by Claire Fallon

Too often, writing is swept into two neat categories: We have fiction, and we have nonfiction. A novel? Fiction. A memoir? Nonfiction. But what about a poem? It seems to dwell somewhere in a realm beyond fact and fantasy. A poem might recount imagined events or real ones, or a mixture, or put such a lyrical spin on quotidian reality that it hardly seems related to what we call "nonfiction." Terrance Hayes, a poet who received a MacArthur "Genius Grant" in 2014 and published a collection, "How to Be Drawn," this spring, puts it this way: "It absorbs all the other mediums: memoir, fiction, journalism, the visual arts, music."

Simon Armitage: Making Poetry Pay
by Aida Edemariam

One Indian summer evening last September, off a busy slip road not far from the Tower of London, Simon Armitage took to the stage of the world’s oldest surviving music hall and, after a short introduction from the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, started to read. “It begins with a house, an end terrace / in this case …” The hall was full, generous with silence and later with laughter: young couples in careful retro outfits, men in suits dropping by after work, students, and older women; audience and performers held beneath a glowing tent of wobbly fairy lights that rose from the balconies to a bright apex in the roof.

Wole Soyinka Dismisses Claims He is Too Grand and Old for Oxford Poetry Chair
by Jessica Elgot

Candidates for one of the most prestigious posts in poetry are embroiled in a war of words as Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka hit back at claims by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg that he was too old and “grand” for the role at Oxford University. Bragg, who had previously backed the Nigerian poet to be the next Oxford chair of poetry, told the Sunday Times he was switching his allegiance to Simon Armitage, saying he was concerned 80-year-old Soyinka would not “bother to come to Oxford” were he appointed. “Soyinka is a grand man … I also query his age,” Bragg said. Soyinka, a prolific poet, novelist and playwright as well as a political activist, said he was confounded by the comments.

Poetry as Inappropriate Response to Brutishness
by Vaishna Roy

With a second book of poems and increased visibility as writer of policy analyses, Varun Gandhi exudes an image of the thinking man’s politician and talks about the only ideology that can work in India — liberal-centrist — and of how he writes poetry as a road to freedom and self-knowledge.

Near the Tower of London, Simon Armitage took to the stage of the world’s oldest surviving music hall…

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

A. E. Stallings for Oxford Professor of Poetry!

The American poet Alicia Stallings (A. E. Stallings as she appears on a magazine's Table of Contents) is on the short list of candidates for the Oxford Professor of Poetry. If elected, she will be the first woman to hold the post.

We hope she gets the job! And if you are a graduate of Oxford, you can cast your vote for her by registering on line here.  You must act quickly; voter registration will close on June 8 in the UK (June 7 in the US). Voting will conclude on Wednesday 17 June.

I endorse this candidate. If you are eligible to vote, please seriously consider casting your vote for Ms. Stallings. If you don’t know her work, find it!

A.E Stallings is a candidate for Oxford Professor of Poetry.