March 24, 2016

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1830—Robert Hamerling, Austrian poet (d. 1889), is born.
1834—William Morris, England, designer/craftsman/poet/

socialist, is born.
1882—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, US poet (Song of Hiawatha), dies at 75.
1909—John Millington Synge, Irish dramatist/playwright/poet, dies at 37.
1919—Lawrence Ferlinghetti, American beat poet (Coney Island of the Mind), born in Bronxville, New York.
The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog’s life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
investigating everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with

—from “Dog” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born this week in 1919.

World Poetry

Jackie Kay: Acclaimed Writer Becomes Scotland's New National Poet

Adopted by a communist couple as a baby and brought up in 1960s Glasgow, she has documented her own struggles with selfhood in her writing. Now the acclaimed black writer Jackie Kay is to hold up a mirror to her own country’s identity, after been named as Scotland’s new national poet.

Qatari Poet Pardoned after 5 Years in Jail

Qatar has pardoned an imprisoned poet who spent nearly five years in jail for allegedly insulting the Gulf state's former emir. Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami was sentenced to life in prison on November 29, 2011, for insulting the Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and spreading incendiary material. He was arrested in 2011 after the publication of his "Jasmine poem", which was critical of governments across the Gulf region following the uprisings of the Arab Spring.

Russian-American poet Alexander Esenin-Volpin Dies at 92

Alexander Esenin-Volpin successfully organized and held Moscow’s first opposition rally in four decades, the legendary “Glasnost” rally. Source: Kommersant
Prominent Soviet-era dissident and intellectual Alexander Esenin-Volpin, son of renowned Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, has passed away at the age 92 in the United States. Esenin-Volpin, a notable Soviet dissident and a leader of the Soviet human rights movement who became a prominent Russian-American poet, died on March 16, his friends told Interfax.

Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami has been pardoned, having spent five years in jail for publishing poems critical of Gulf region goverments.

Recent Reviews

Michael Dirda on the Misunderstood Poet Stevie Smith
By Michael Dirda

Among poets, Stevie Smith (1902-1971) must take the palm for achieving a kind of immortality with just four haunting words: “Not waving but drowning.” There in a nutshell is, to quote Robert Lowell, her “cheerfully gruesome voice.”
For most of her life, Smith worked as a secretary in a British publishing house and lived with her aunt; she also wrote fiction, notably the Virginia Woolf-like “Novel on Yellow Paper.” Seamus Heaney once summed up Smith’s concerns as “death, waste, loneliness, cruelty, the maimed, the stupid, the innocent, the trusting.” He left out her heterodox Christianity, love for animals and a penchant for minimal punctuation. She also enjoyed augmenting her poetry with scratchy, child-like drawings, such that “All the Poems; Stevie Smith” — a definitive collection — looks as if it were decorated by Edward Lear or James Thurber.

The Tenderness Trap
Robyn Schiff and the poetry of ordinary terror.
by Dan Chiasson

“A Woman of Property” (Penguin Poets), Robyn Schiff’s third volume of poetry, is a study of the imagination’s darker powers and their daily, domestic insurrections. American poets have long sought to harvest symbols from ordinary life, from its drone satisfactions and shallow-end letdowns. Inspiration may be like finding the light switch in a darkened room, but Schiff’s poems—caged, skittish, aghast at their own force—more often attempt to dim the glare of an imagination that’s a little too trenchant. We’ve all had the experience of trying to power down our minds before sleep; Schiff has made an art of that anxious, self-patrolling state. Yet the sense of nightmare and damage is real. Her poems promise to deliver her from her fears, but they’re to blame for stirring up these fears in the first place.

The Patron Saint of Inner Lives
Wallace Stevens answered ultimate questions in language no one had used before.
by Adam Kirsch

“Great geniuses have the shortest biographies,” Emerson wrote. “Their cousins can tell you nothing about them. They lived in their writings, and so their house and street life was trivial and commonplace.” This may not always be true—there is, after all, a genius of action as well as a genius of contemplation—but for poets in particular, it is a good rule of thumb. As Keats put it, “A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence.” The recipe for poetry involves taking an ounce of experience and subjecting it to a lifetime of distillation; think of the cosmos Emily Dickinson spun out of no more life than would fit in an upstairs bedroom. It is a mistake to think that a person becomes a poet because she undergoes exceptional experiences—because she lives more wildly, intensely, or colorfully than other people. The poet doesn’t feel unique emotions any more than the painter sees unique colors; it is what she does with ordinary emotions that turns them into poetry.

Hard and Soft
by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

The famous line from Heraclitus, starting “We cannot step twice into the same river …”, which serves as epigraph to Jane Clarke’s first collection, gives notice that the title is not only to be read with the literal grain. There are literal treatments of bodies of water, lake and river, especially the river Suck, a major tributary of the Shannon that flows through Roscommon and east Galway.

Crossing the Invisible Line
by Dan Chiasson

Eileen Myles’s new and selected poems are titled I Must Be Living Twice, a phrase that any poet past the midpoint and looking back might utter, surprised to find a fund of work on the page as robust and spontaneous as any “real” life she lived. But Myles’s poems set a bar for openness, frankness, and variability few lives could ever match; and so in her work, the surprise second life is actually the one lived off the page, refracted through decades of Myles’s astonishingly vivid lines.

“A Woman of Property,” Robyn Schiff’s third volume of poetry, is a study of the imagination’s darker powers and their daily insurrections.


Wallace Stevens’s Place in the History of English Rhyming
by Anthony Madrid

Without anecdote, banter, originality, or charm, I am going to plunge directly into recounting the history of rhyme in modern English. This history is not well known—and, for the most part, even those who know it do not know it. Yet no non-trivial account of Wallace Stevens’s artistic practice can do without a reckoning on this head. And so, I shall tell you what I know.

Why I Wrote How Bad Is the Devil
by Christopher Woodman

I was born the year Yeats died. He was 73 and I’m now 76. That’s important for me as the reward for the effort I put in everyday is the strength to go on even with so little encouragement from my family and friends, a strength which is also a certain softness that inspires and protects me.

Why I Wrote How Bad Is the Devil

Drafts & Fragments

Julius Meinl Company to Launch the 2016 Pay With a Poem Initiative
by Maryann Yin

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has scheduled World Poetry Day to take place on March 21. Julius Meinl, an Austrian-based coffee-roasting company, will launch a special initiative to celebrate this event. On that day, more than 1,000 coffeehouses around the world will offer customers the chance to purchase a Julius Meinl coffee or tea beverage for a poem.

Postcard From Nacho: Inside the Santiago Home of Poet Pablo Neruda
by Nacho Alegre

I was an avid reader growing up. As a child, I would thoroughly read anything I had within reach, but mostly novels: Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Ende, and some more childish titles. When I entered puberty my mind exploded with romantic ideas on love and women and life in general. It’s then that I discovered poetry. I think my mum had a collection of hippy records in which a Spanish artist would recite classic poetry over some guitar chords. One of those albums was Pablo Neruda’s 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair. I became obsessed with it. I read all of it, all of his books; most of them I didn’t understand because they were too political, but I read them anyway. I would stand in my room reciting them, faking that deep, muddy, ultra-slow voice he had, guessing that was the right way to do it.

Inside the Santiago Home of Pablo Neruda

Poetry In the News

Poets Give Voice to Art in ‘Sound and Sense’ at Wadsworth Museum

Go ahead and recite the verses that accompany the artwork in “Sound and Sense: Poetic Musings in American Art,” at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Feel the pulsing rhythms, like soldiers marching or the relentless ticking of a clock. Listen to the passion: the exuberance of love, the wonderment of nature, the sorrow of loss. Delight in the play of words.

Crowds Howl at 60th Anniversary Event in Berkeley

The city of Berkeley proclaimed March 18, 2016, “Allen Ginsberg’s ‘HOWL’ Day,” in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the first complete reading of Ginsberg’s groundbreaking poem at Berkeley’s Town Hall Theater on that date in 1956. The Town Hall Theater occupied the south wing of the old Berkeley Bowl, at the intersection of Stuart & Shattuck, in the space currently held by Sconehenge Bakery & Cafe. Sconehenge hosted a celebration Friday organized by neighbors at the site of the original Allen Ginsberg reading. It succeeded beyond the organizers’ expectations, filling Sconehenge to capacity, and turning people away at the door. Some who were refused entry lingered on the sidewalk, and were supplied with tables, chairs, and refreshments from inside the house.

Heathrow Adds Poetry Program for Easter Travelers

Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Heathrow expects a record 850,000 passengers — including 250,000 families — to pass through the terminals. In preparation, the airport has partnered with a handful of well-known British poets and children’s authors for an airport-wide, poetry-infused program. During the Passport to Poetry project, travelers are invited to stand beneath super-directional overhead speakers at "poetry points" in the terminals to listen to newly commissioned poems inspired by travel.

Heathrow Airport has partnered with a handful of well-known British poets for an airport-wide, poetry-infused program.

New Books

Dear, Sincerely by David Hernandez
[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 80 pp., $15.95 

David Hernandez’s Dear, Sincerely is his most intimate and dynamic collection to date, bringing the reader into poems that are simultaneously personal and universal, and sometimes political.  With his characteristic dreamlike imagery, inventive rhythms, and biting wit, Hernandez’s voice reaches toward us with an accessible profundity.  Dear, Sincerely is an imaginative book that explores the Self, the collective We, the cosmos, and the murky division that separates one from the other.

Admit One: An American Scrapbook by Martha Collins
[Paperback]University of Pittsburgh Press, 104 pp., $15.95

In Admit One: An American Scrapbook, Martha Collins relentlessly traces the history of scientific racism from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair through the eugenics movement of the 1920s. Using a wide variety of documentary sources, including her Illinois grandfather’s newspaper, Collins constructs a “scrapbook” of fragments, quotations, narrative passages, and lyrical riffs that reveal startling connections between the Fair, the Bronx Zoo, and ideas that culminated in anti-immigration, anti-miscegenation, and eugenic sterilization laws in 1924. Among the book’s recurring elements are evolving portraits of the “exhibited” African Ota Benga, the sterilization victim Carrie Buck, and the eugenicist Madison Grant, whose reach extended to Nazi Germany.

A Woman of Property by Robyn Schiff 
[Paperback] Penguin Books, 96 pp., $20.00

Located in a menacing, gothic landscape, the poems that comprise A Woman of Property draw formal and imaginative boundaries against boundless mortal threat, but as all borders are vulnerable, this ominous collection ultimately stages an urgent and deeply imperiled boundary dispute where haunting, illusion, the presence of the past, and disembodied voices only further unsettle questions of material and spiritual possession. This is a theatrical book of dilapidated houses and overgrown gardens, of passageways and thresholds, edges, prosceniums, unearthings, and root systems. The unstable property lines here rove from heaven to hell, troubling proportion and upsetting propriety in the name of unfathomable propagation.

During by James Richardson
[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 128 pp., $16.00

In this seriously playful new collection, James Richardson enters into underused and forgotten places in our emotional spectrum to revive lost feelings. His breathtaking skill with aphorisms open portals of new perspective to refresh us with their humor and make the familiar reinvigorated with the blessedly strange

Cenotaph: Poems by Brock Jones
[Paperback] University of Arkansas Press, 65 pp., $17.95

Out of the contradiction, paradox, loss, and strange beauty of contemporary warfare, Brock Jones brings us Cenotaph, a collection of poems that have as their genesis Jones’s deployments to Iraq in 2002 and 2005, when he was in the US Army. These are war poems, but also love poems and hate poems, poems about dying and living, poems about hope and hopelessness. These are poems that beautifully reflect Jones’s resignation to and rejection of the impossibility of saying anything definitive or honest about war.

David Hernandez’s “Dear, Sincerely” brings the reader into poems that are simultaneously personal and universal, sometimes political.


A Radical Poet in the Age of Google and Guantánamo
by Nicolas Niarchos

My favorite video of Keston Sutherland reading his poetry was taped in New Haven, at a series called WAVEMACHINE. The setting, as David Gorin, the poet who runs the series, notes, is a “long, thin, unventilated basement of the People’s Arts Collective, a queer-friendly, crowd-funded community center established in an abandoned liquor store.” (Gorin calls it an oddly appropriate place for hearing Sutherland’s poems.) Sutherland stands in front of a graffitied wall, wearing a gray T-shirt. He shuffles about and looks at the floor as he introduces his work. When he begins to read to the poem itself, though, the awkwardness dissipates: he alternates between frenzied splurges of words, unpunctuated by line breaks—or even, it seems, breathing—and quiet, careful moments of rumination. By the end, he is rocking forward and back, index and middle fingers swirling in tune to the beat of his words. The poem Sutherland is reading is the third of his “Odes to TL61P,” which were written between 2010 and 2013, and which are described on his publisher’s Web site as “a devoted love song to the now obsolete product ordering code for a bygone Hotpoint washer-dryer.”

Campbell McGrath Takes on A Century of History in Poetry
by Connie Ogle

If you’re poet Campbell McGrath — who knows a thing or two about covering historical ground in his work — you dive in anywhere you can. “When I started, I wasn’t sure I could ever do such a crazy thing,” McGrath says of his new book XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century (Ecco, $25.99), which he’ll discuss March 19 at Books & Books in Coral Gables. “I thought, ‘Just let me start somewhere.’ So I started writing about Picasso in the first decade in Paris, where there was that combination of writers and painters who were inventing modern art. I said, ‘Oh, that’s it!’”

Can a Poet Be Successful in 2016’s Terms? A Conversation With Anna Moschovakis
by Shane Barnes

“I feel sad. I feel discouraged about the future. I feel I have failed more than the average person.” Those are the opening lines of “What It Means to Be Avant-Garde” the second of three long, great poems in writer, teacher, and translator Anna Moschovakis’ third collection, They and We Will Get Into Trouble for This. Named for David Antin’s book of the same name, the poem makes use of online self-tests and alternates the writer’s results with the writer’s search for a book, and, when she finds it, the subsequent search for meaning in that book

Beautiful Decay: The Poetry of Lucia Perillo
by Sophie Grimes

Lucia Perillo has just finished lunch at her home in Olympia, Wash., when she tells me, “Rot is probably my favorite subject.” Perillo, a 2000 MacArthur Genius Fellow, crafts poetry that is often blunt, graphic, and written in a strangely graceful matter-of-fact tone that digs into art, nature, and the body as organism—as lustful and loathsome, as a series of functions, as a tool that is falling apart, rotting, and malfunctioning even as we attempt to force it to assist us throughout our lives. “It’s aesthetically beautiful, really, the process of decay, and biologically quite complex,” she says. “I suppose the reason I’m drawn to it has to do with my own conditions of living.”

Keston Sutherland is a radical poet in the age of Google and Guantánamo.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

After reading the profile above about Lucia Perillo, I thought of this poem from a book by her, The Body Mutinies, which I had a small part in publishing twenty years ago. She's an original, I think, and still a favorite.

Thinking About Illness After Reading About Tennessee Fainting Goats

Maybe they’re brethren, these beasts bred clumsy,  
hobbling stiff-legged over cheatgrass tufts.  
Prized for how they’ll freeze unpredictably  
then fall, rehearsing their overwrought deaths.  
Sometimes it’s the woman who brings the meal  
who sets them off by wearing yellow slacks,  
or sometimes the drumming a certain wheel  
makes on the road’s washboard. Stopped in their tracks  
they go down like drunks: Daisy and Willow  
drop always in tandem, while Boot will lean
his fat side first against the hog-hut door.
How cruel, gripes a friend. But maybe they show 
us what the body’s darker fortunes mean –  
we break, we rise. We do what we’re here for.

“Daisy and Willow / drop always in tandem, while Boot will lean / his fat side first against the hog-hut door.” – Lucia Perillo