March 1, 2018

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

40—Martial, Latin poet (d. 102), is born.

772—Po Tjiu-i, Chinese poet/governor of Hang-tsjow, is born.
1610—Johann B Schup, [Schuppius], German poet/historian, is born.
1619—Thomas Campion, English physician/composer/poet (Poemata), dies at 53.
1633—George Herbert, English poet, dies at 39.
1869—Alphonse MLP de Lamartine, Fr poet (History of Girondins), dies at 78.
1875—Tristan Corbière, French poet (b. 1845), dies.
1900—Yorgos Seferis, [Seferi dis], Greek diplomat/poet (Strofi), is born.
1917—Robert Lowell, American poet/pacifist (Lord Weary's Castle, Near the Ocean), born in Boston, Massachusetts.
1920—Howard Nemerov, American 3rd US poet laureate/novelist (Blue Swallows), is born.
1921—Richard Wilbur, 2nd US Poet Laureate (Ceremony, Walking to Sleep), is born.
1926—Camilo d'Almeida Pessanha, Portuguese poet (China), dies at 58
1932—Dino Campana, Italian poet (Canti Orfici), dies at 46
1933—Uładzimir Zylka, Belarusian poet (b. 1900),dies.
1938—Gabrielle d'Annunzio, Italian poet/fascist (Il fuoco), dies at 74.
1970—Ed[uard] Hoornik, Dutch writer/poet (Na jaren), dies at 59.
1974—Jos de Haes, Flemish philological/poet (Azuren Holte), dies at 53.
1994—Eliseo Diego, Cuban poet, dies at 74.


Dreams, which interweave
All our times and tenses, are
What we can believe:

Dark they are, yet plain,
Coming to us now as if
Through a cobwebbed pane

Where, before our eyes,
All the living and the dead
Meet without surprise.

—from “Anterooms” by Richard Wilbur

“Dreams, which interweave / All our times and tenses, are / What we can believe” – Richard Wilbur

World Poetry

Tota Kaneko, Famed Japanese Modern Haiku Poet, Dies at 98

Tota Kaneko, a prominent haiku poet, died of acute respiratory distress syndrome at a hospital in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, on Tuesday. He was 98.

Regional Poets Pay Respects to the Late Kuwaiti Poet Mohammed Al Khass
Known as The Garden, Al Khass poetry career spans over six decades

The region’s literature scene buried a giant on Wednesday with the funeral of Mohammed Al Khass. The poet passed away on Tuesday in his native Kuwait, reportedly in his eighties. Hundreds of people gathered for the funeral prayer before his burial at Al Salebikhat cemetery on Wednesday morning. Tributes poured in from cultural personalities across both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for the man whose evocative poetry had him dubbed Al Bustan (The Garden) by Saudi Arabia’s first monarch, King Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Tota Kaneko, a prominent haiku poet, has died at the age of 98.

Recent Reviews

Adam Zagajewski's Letters of Loss
The Polish essayist, novelist, and poet is haunted by displacement.
by Cynthia Haven


The Polish poet Adam Zagajewski was born in the ancient capital of Lvov, but cherishes no early memories of the city. Lvov was occupied by the Germans at the time of the poet’s birth. After the Red Army occupied the city at the end of World War II, Zagajewski’s family was forcibly repatriated—or “resettled”—in Gliwice, an industrial Silesian city formerly in Germany. Zagajewski was still an infant at the time. Although he would later return to his birthplace, which is now Ukraine’s Lviv, it was never a “home.” The mythic city is nevertheless central to his psychological landscape. In his 1983 poem “To Go to Lvov,” first published in Zeszyty Literackie and translated by Renata Gorczynski, he laments: “why must every city / become Jerusalem and every man a Jew.”


A Gnostic Gospel for the Now: B. K. Fischer’s “Radioapocrypha”
by Heather Treseler


What if Christ did not appear as a homeless infant in a Bethlehem barn, but as a chemistry teacher — in “a condo with new car smell” — in suburban Maryland, circa 1989? And what if Mary Magdalen, a recent high school graduate, had an illicit affair with her teacher while other disciples jammed in a garage band in search of “acceleration and shriek,” “hot mercy and radical love”? The New Testament gets a remix in poet B. K. Fischer’s verse novella Radioapocrypha, a pagan rejoinder to the biblical story of redemption.


On Rift of Light by William Logan
by Jack Hanson


Style is what you have to accept, or not. If, for example, you demand a poet’s total self-revelation, that you be brought into communion with a fully manifest personality, William Logan will never be your poet. Logan operates in precise exhibition and calculated withholding, all the while giving the impression that the reader is not the only audience, nor, occasionally, even the primary one. In other words, there seems to be something going on in the poems that the reader is only incidentally privy to. This quality is undoubtedly related to his notoriously prickly critical writing, which has made him the critic perhaps most—what? feared? admired? derided? pick one, or several—in American letters today, and the center of a number of controversies. 


“Even in Windowless Rooms, I See Sky”: Lisa Russ Spaar’s “Orexia”
By L. A. Johnson


To enter the world of Lisa Russ Spaar’s Orexia is to enter a world of lush lyricism, where time is marked by the hands of a strange clock that reads “Mynddaeg Hour” and “Venus Hour” in place of noon or midnight. These baroque lyrics are knitted together with repeating series of poems, such as the aforementioned “Hour” poems, as well as a “Celibacy” and “Temple” series. In this way, Spaar creates lyric temporality — the book seemingly moving by both hours and temples, allowing her to approach larger questions about sexuality, death, devotion, and accident.


Book review: The Long Take, by Robin Robertson 
by Stuart Kelly


In the past few weeks, the poetry world has been going through one of its cyclical fits of the conniptions. In the estimable PN Review, the poet and critic Rebecca Watts launched an eloquent broadside against the best-selling and fashionable work of such poets as Kate Tempest, Hollie McNish and Rupi Kaur. It was yet another iteration of a debate – or standoff – that has been going on in poetry for about 300 years. There is – or ought to be – an ongoing interplay between the blatant and the ornate, the polemical and the elusive, the outspokenness of Ginsberg, McGough and Lochhead and the riddling, askance work of Lowell, Moore and Prynne. I sighed when I saw it rearing up against a backdrop of diminishing readership, even though, to be frank, and in a personal capacity, I have always been on the side of the complicated. It is feasible to understand style and technique and yet critique the results.

In the past few weeks, the poetry world has been going through one of its cyclical fits of the conniptions.


How the West Gave a Poet his Dream and Identity
Another Life: Michael Viney on Richard Murphy’s Connemara life
by Michael Viney 


Quicken your tune, O improvise, before
The combine and the digger come,
Little bridegroom. – Richard Murphy
I was reading one of the many online tributes to the poet, dead at 90 in Sri Lanka, when an email from BirdWatch Ireland pinged into my in-box. It carried news of the continuing decline of the corncrake, for the third year in a row .

Edna St Vincent Millay's Poetry Has Been Eclipsed by Her Personal Life – Let's Change That
She was once deemed ‘the greatest woman poet since Sappho’ and won a Pulitzer – but Millay’s legacy has been overshadowed by her sexuality and addictions
by Amandas Ong


When pseudonymous Elena Ferrante’s identity was reportedly revealed in 2016, she reflected on the dangers of an author’s life dominating their work. “The book functions like a pop star’s sweaty T-shirt,” she wrote, “a garment that without the aura of the star is completely meaningless.” Ferrante’s sentiment could easily be applied to Edna St Vincent Millay, another incandescent literary talent who lived decades before (born on 22 February, 1892). For far too long, Millay’s work has been overshadowed by her reputation. A party girl poet. A sexually adventurous bisexual. A morphine addict. 


Knott as a Stranger: On Bill Knott's Birthday ("Why can't I just write my crummy poems?")
by David Lehman


The late Bill Knott, born February 17, 1940, was a terrific poet who distinguished himself from nearly all other American poets by wanting to keep his poems from the public eye. For the late Thomas Lux's Paris Review appreciation of Bill, click here. Click here to read Robert P. Baird's "Remembering Bill Knott" from The New Yorker of March 17, 2014. If you can find a copy of Are You Ready, Mary Baker Eddy? the charming and sometimes hilarious book of poems Bill wrote collaboratively with James Tate, buy it. Lux (1946-2017) edited Bill's posthumous I Am Flying into Myself for Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2017). Poems by Bill had been chosen by Jorie Graham for The Best American Poetry 1990, by Paul Muldoon for The Best American Poetry 2005, and a third time as well – and for different reasons each time he declined to be included

I’m Obsessed With Poetry … Even Though Poetry Makes Nothing Happen 
by Nancy Bishop

Poetry has always been part of my life, from Mother Goose rhymes to poetry and poetry-writing classes in high school and college. Mostly it was just on the sidelines of my life, except for a few brief flurries of serious writing. But recently I’ve decided that I need to join or jump-start the poetry renaissance. You may not think a poetry renaissance is necessary in Chicago. After all, Adam Morgan writes that Chicago may be the poetry capital of America, partly because of the founding of Poetry Magazine here in 1912. He also credits other publications, venues and poets for Chicago’s dynamic poetry scene.

Bill Knott was a terrific poet who distinguished himself from nearly all other American poets by wanting to keep his poems from the public eye.

Drafts & Fragments

The Endangered Poetry Project
by Maggie Millner

Nearly half the world’s languages are endangered to some extent, with one language becoming extinct roughly every two weeks, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Barring swift revitalization efforts, more than 2,500 of the nearly 7,000 tongues spoken in the world today are predicted to disappear by the end of the century. More than two hundred, such as Peru’s Panobo and Angola’s Kwisi languages, have become extinct since 1950.

Chris McCabe, poetry librarian at Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library in London, is trying to archive poetry written in engangered languages.

Poetry In the News

Patricia Smith Wins the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award at Claremont Graduate University

Patricia Smith and her collection “Incendiary Art: Poems,” which explores such topics as the violence done to black men and the grieving of black mothers, have won the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award based at Claremont Graduate University, the school announced Tuesday. The award is one of the most prestigious and lucrative honors in poetry, and is given to a poet in mid-career. Its $100,000 prize is the largest in the world given for a single volume of poetry. A second poetry prize, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, will go to Donika Kelly for her collection “Bestiary,” this honor for a first book by a poet whose work shows great promise coming with a $10,000 prize.

Emory Acquires Papers of Obama Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco

Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library has acquired the papers of poet Richard Blanco, who became widely recognized after reading his poem “One Today” at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2013. The collection includes first editions of published books, commissioned and occasional poems (such as “Boston Strong”), drafts and critiques, unpublished works including essays, nonfiction and speeches, and correspondence with other authors and poets. Blanco’s papers are now part of the Rose Library’s literature and poetry collections, connecting particularly with writers, activists and artists who address matters of identity. 

Patricia Smith and her collection “Incendiary Art: Poems” have won the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award based at Claremont Graduate University.

New Books

No Such Thing as Distance by Karen Paul Holmes
[Paperback] Terrapin Books. $16.00

What marvelous poems these are, and how complete a collection. Like a circus aerialist who makes us gasp one moment and laugh the next, the poet takes us from her immigrant father's Macedonian roots to her own maturity, to the life of a woman who is smart and well-read yet knows her way around a Coney Island hot dog and finds the attentions of a drunk cowboy oddly flattering. There are so many good poems here that it's hard to pick a favorite, but I'll put my money on "Confessions of an Ugly Nightgown," in which a dead woman's shapeless article of intimate apparel says it can still rouse a sleeping husband and is loveliest as it lies on the floor.–David Kirby


My American Night by Christopher P. Collins
[Paperback] University of Georgia Press, 80 pp., $19.41


This collection of lyric poems wrestles with a sense of self that has become fragmented by the experience of war. Christopher P. Collins has taken his tours in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, extracted their emotional shrapnel, and examined their toll on his civilian life. He considers the two sides of himself that have been wrought in these parallel lives. One is the self of the citizen-soldier, and the other is the self of the husband and father. His poems reveal the brutal ways in which these selves collide and bleed into one another.

Claude before Time and Space: Poems by Claudia Emerson
[Paperback] LSU Press, 80 pp., $18.95

In Claude before Time and Space, her final collection, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Claudia Emerson quietly but fiercely explores the themes of mortality and time. In the first section of this book, “The Wheel,” Emerson uses a rural southern setting in poems that reflect on memory, the self, and relationships. In section two, “Bird Ephemera,” she explores historical figures―from an early naturalist and writer who raised her children in poverty to a small-town doctor. The collection concludes with a series of poems named after the poet’s father. This illuminating body of work displays a master poet at the height of her craft.


Virgin: Poems by Analicia Sotelo
[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 112 pp., $16.00 


Winner of the inaugural Jake Adam York Prize, Analicia Sotelo’s debut collection of poems is a vivid portrait of the artist as a young woman. In Virgin, Sotelo walks the line between autobiography and mythmaking, offering up identities like dishes at a feast.
At every step, Sotelo’s poems seduce with history, folklore, and sensory detail―grilled meat, golden habañeros, and burnt sugar―before delivering clear-eyed and eviscerating insights into power, deceit, relationships, and ourselves. Here is what it means to love someone without truly understanding them. Here is what it means to be cruel. And here is what it means to become an artist, of words and of the self. Blistering and gorgeous, Virgin is an audacious act of imaginative self-mythology from one of our most promising young poets.

The Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone
[Paperback] Tin House Books, 90 pp., $15.95

The Möbius Strip Club of Grief is a collection of poems that take place in a burlesque purgatory where the living pay―dearly, with both money and conscience―to watch the dead perform scandalous acts otherwise unseen: “$20 for five minutes. I’ll hold your hand in my own,” one ghost says. “I’ll tell you you were good to me.” Like Dante before her, Stone positions herself as the living poet passing through and observing the land of the dead. She imagines a feminist Limbo where women run the show and create a space to navigate the difficulties endured in life. With a nod to her grandmother Ruth Stone’s poem “The Mobius Strip of Grief,” Stone creates a labyrinthine underworld as a way to confront and investigate complicated family relationships in the hopes of breaking the never-ending cycle of grief.

The Möbius Strip Club of Grief is a collection of poems that take place in a purgatory where the living pay to watch the dead perform scandalous acts.


A Conversation with Marilyn Nelson
by Jeanne Murray Walker

The daughter of a Tuskegee Airman and a teacher, Marilyn Nelson was brought up primarily on military bases and started writing while still in elementary school. She earned her BA from the University of California, Davis, and holds postgraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (MA, 1970) and the University of Minnesota (PhD, 1979). Her long teaching career included positions at Saint Olaf College and the Universities of Connecticut and Delaware, and brief stints at the US Military Academy at West Point, in Denmark, in Germany, and in France. Her book The Homeplace won the Annisfield-Wolf Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems won the Poets’ Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN Winship Award, and the Lenore Marshall Prize. 

In Conversation with Jorie Graham
by Peter Mishler

For the next installment in our interview series with contemporary poets, Peter Mishler recently corresponded with Jorie Graham, renowned author of thirteen collections of poems. Graham has been widely translated, and has been the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize, the Forward Prize (UK), the International Nonino Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the LA Times Book Award. She lives in Massachusetts and teaches at Harvard University.

Split This Rock Interview with Kazim Ali
by Domenica Ghanem

Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian, Iranian, and Egyptian descent. He received a BA and MA from the University of Albany-SUNY and an MFA from New York University. His books encompass several volumes of poetry, including Sky Ward, winner of the Ohioana Book Award in Poetry; The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award; The Fortieth Day; All One’s Blue; and the cross-genre text Bright Felon. His novels include the recently published The Secret Room: A String Quartet. Among his books of essays is Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice. Ali is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College. His new book of poems, Inquisition, and a new hybrid memoir, Silver Road: Essays, Maps & Calligraphies, will both be released in 2018.

Peter Mishler recently corresponded with Jorie Graham, renowned author of thirteen collections of poems.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Richard Wilbur

It is common for readers to glean insight into poets' lives and habits from reading prose pieces by them and interviews conducted with them. That is why I often will pull quotes from such pieces— as a way to think about ourselves as readers and writers and to better understand the poet as a writer and a person. Less common is recognizing that insight with the same immediacy when reading the actual work. Richard Wilbur is one modern exception. With each poem, Wilbur gives us insight into his mind at work and often into his overarching philosophy of life. Whether dismissed in that regard as a throwback to an earlier sort of poetry or appreciated for his clarity and complexity by those less impressed with current fashion is more a reflection on the reader than on Wilbur. To that end, let me include here–not a quote from his prose observations which are many and astute–but rather the entirety of the poem that I excerpted at the top of this column, which comes from his last book. You might take special note of the form, which I like to refer to as the Wilbur haiku stanza, rhyming three-line stanzas of 5/7/5 syllables each. But don't ignore the poem itself in its richness, fullness, complexity, and clarity.


Out of the snowdrift
Which covered it, this pillared
Sundial starts to lift,

Able now at last
To let its frozen hours
Melt into the past

In bright, ticking drops.
Time so often hastens by,
Time so often stops—

Still, it strains belief
How an instant can dilate,
Or long years be brief.

Dreams, which interweave
All our times and tenses, are
What we can believe:

Dark they are, yet plain,
Coming to us now as if
Through a cobwebbed pane

Where, before our eyes,
All the living and the dead
Meet without surprise.

“Out of the snowdrift / Which covered it, this pillared / Sundial starts to lift, / Able now at last / To let its frozen hours / Melt into the past” – Richard Wilbur