March 4, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1595 – Robert Southwell, English poet, hanged for becoming a Catholic priest.
1856 – Toru Dutt, English and French poet and author (d. 1877), is born.
1870 – Thomas Sturge Moore, English poet (d. 1944), is born.
1872 – Johannes Carsten Hauch, Danish poet (b. 1790), is born.
1873 – Guy Wetmore Carryl, American humorist and poet (d. 1904), is born.
1876 – Léon-Paul Fargue, French poet (d. 1947), is born.
1888 – Amos Bronson Alcott, US theory/poet (Table Talk), dies at 88.
1899 – Emilio Prados, Spanish poet and editor (d. 1962), is born.
1901 – Jean Joseph Rabearivelo, Malagasy/French poet (d. 1937), is born.
1943 – Pieter C Boutens, Dutch poet (Beatrijs), dies at 73.
1948 – Antonin Artaud, French poet/actor (Napoleon), dies at 51.
1963 – William Carlos Williams, US physician/poet, dies at 79.
2009 – Triztán Vindtorn, Norwegian poet and performance artist (b. 1942), is born.


I love to go down into the town at the hour when the sky lies close against the horizon like a vast whale. It sinks down into the heart of the street like a worker into his ditch. The bell has swung before the windows and the panes are lit up. It is as though all the eyes of the evening were filled with tears. In an opal the lamps and the day wrestle gently with each other. The advertising signs write to each other, spreading themselves in letters of lava across the face of the buildings. The rope dancers stride over the abyss. A great long legged spider spins its web from the hooks of a bush full of flowers. An acrobat climbs up and throws himself down. Shipwrecked sailors signal foreign vessels. The houses advance like the prows of galleys with all their portholes blazing. Man runs between their golden flames like a waif in a harbor.

Dark and streaming the autos arrive from everywhere, like sharks to the quarry of a great shipwreck, blind to the fulgurant signals of men.

— Léon-Paul Fargue (1899-1947)

I love to go down into the town at the hour when the sky lies close against the horizon like a vast whale. — Léon-Paul Fargue (1899-1947)

World Poetry

Belarusian Writer Finally Presented With Swedish PEN Award

Prominent Belarusian poet and former presidential candidate Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu has received the Swedish PEN organization's Kurt Tucholsky Award.  Sweden's Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth presented the award to Nyaklyaeu at a special ceremony in Stockholm on the evening of February 25. Swedish PEN had called Nyaklyaeu an "outstanding poet and true advocate of freedom of speech." Read more at Radio Free Europe.

Announcement: African Poetry Book Fund

The African Poetry Book Fund announces its three African poetry titles for 2014. The launch titles are: The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems 1964-2013 by Kofi Awoonor; Madman at Kalifi by Clifton Gachagua; Seven New Generation African Poets, a box set of chapbooks by TJ Dema, Clifton Gachagua, Tsitsi Jaji, Nick Makoha, Ladan Osman, Warsan Shire, and Len Verwey. Read more at Africa in Words.

Hard Ask: ‘Can Pakistanis and Indians Be Friends?’

“The degree of difficulty and reluctance South Asians face in befriending people of other countries in the region, especially India and Pakistan is unfortunate,” novelist, translator and poet Vikram Seth said on Friday. Seth was addressing the opening session of the Lahore Literary Festival on Friday. Visitors poured in throughout the hour long session. Much to the surprise of audience, the session titled The Suitable Duo began five minutes ahead of its schedule. The session was moderated by Nasreen Rehman and stylised to feature recitations of his own work. The conversation webbed into a dialogue – a very candid dialogue. Read more at the Tribune.

Belarusian poet Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu has received the Swedish PEN organization’s Kurt Tucholsky Award.

Recent Reviews

Levels of Ambition

by David Mason
The more I read, the more it seems a complete investment of one’s entire being is a necessity for greatness in the arts. Even to speak of greatness in our time invites derision. Who needs greatness when you can have tenure? Yet we’ve all seen it, haven’t we? Not in our contemporaries, the blur of smaller talents, but in the dead. Generalizations never stand up to scrutiny, but I will risk a few. Most contemporary poets I read seem too concerned with avoiding ridicule, trying to be the smartest kid in the workshop, rather than plumbing what Eliot called “the inexplicable mystery of sound”—bodying forth a whole charged expression of living. Much of our poetry seems denatured, flat. Intelligence abounds, cleverness is everywhere, but vitality is hard to find. Read more at the Hudson Review.

30 Books 2013: David Biespiel on Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion

Poets can be sorted into two types: poets of the body and poets of the mind. Lucie Brock-Broido is most certainly of the latter. She minds, and mines, the large and small auras of language the way a chemist minds and mines the auras of the elements. Stay, Illusion is a dreamy stereoscope, and it is one of the finest examples of thinking and making argumentation through the art of poetry of any book of poems published last year. Read more at Critical Mass.

Elegant Eloquence

by Peter Craven
David Malouf is nearly 80? It's a sobering thought for anyone who has followed him for the better part of 40 years. His is an extraordinary body of fiction for a man who has always tended to work in something like the lyric mode. Think of Johnno, of Harland's Half Acre, An Imaginary Life, of the later fiction in which there is a palpable ambition for an Australian bush epic, and then the return to the classical world when he takes the first and greatest epic poem, Homer's Iliad, as the raw material for Ransom. It has gone along with the great body of short stories that represent one of the greatest achievements in this form by any Australian writer. Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald. 

American Chew by Matthew Lippman

by Keith Kopka
The last lines of the title poem in Matthew Lippman’s new collection, American Chew, present a speaker who finds himself feasting on the visceral disappointment of the world in which he lives. This disappointment is equated with America and what it is to be American, but it also lies in a paradoxical recognition of the speaker’s own animalistic disappointment in his particular human self.  Lippman possesses a subtle awareness of the flaws in the human animal as an individual, as well as in the societal pack, and he makes a conscious effort to chew through the torment of this recognition. Read more at Coldfront.

David Malouf is nearly 80? It’s a sobering thought for anyone who has followed him for the better part of 40 years.


The Secret Auden

by Edward Mendelson
W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it. I learned about it mostly by chance, so it may have been far more extensive than I or anyone ever knew. Read more at the New York Review of Books.

Necessary Utterance

On Poetry As a Cultural Force
By Natasha Trethewey
Despair about the place of poetry in American culture is nothing new. Writing for the North American Review in 1936, poet Joseph Auslander—​in part lamenting the national state of things, “the tumultuous times” (as George Orwell might have put it) of his historical moment, and perhaps responding to the usual dismissals of the role of poetry in American life—​declared:
… with progress and machine comfort and buttons and buzzers and contraptions and clever paraphernalia and infallible statistics and the deification of Fact, we are swinging back full circle to a very old and a very simple truth. We are being compelled, by the abject collapse of a material conception of living, to recognize once more the terrible necessity in our lives for that strength, that pillaring of the spirit, that informing and sustaining power which it has always been the special virtue and splendor of poetry to impart. It’s easy to see that Auslander’s words could have been describing our own contemporary moment with its technological advances and myriad distractions. Read more at Virginia Quarterly Review.

Fate Urg’d the Sheers

by Donald W. Nichol 
Pope’s Rape of the Lock after 300 years – a mocking acknowledgement of the triumph of style over substance
Three hundred years ago next week, Bernard Lintot’s bookshop at the sign of the Cross Keys in Fleet Street was packed in a way few such establishments had ever been before. Londoners were clamouring to get their hands on one thing: the latest edition of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock. Three thousand copies were snatched up within four days, while John Watts’s printing presses were busily working overtime to produce another 2,000 copies in order to satisfy demand. Read more at the Times Literary Supplement.

Measured Words  

by David-Antoine Williams
Paul Batchelor’s 2012 review essay in the TLS of recent work by Geoffrey Hill and his critics was called “Geoffrey Hill’s measured words”. As many who write on Hill do, Batchelor keyed in to a series of resonant words in Hill’s work, drawing connections between Hill’s poetry and prose via shared terms such as uncouth, anacolouthon, hobby, nobly, etc. “Measured”, in Batchelor’s title, is ambiguously both “Having a marked rhythm; rhythmical; regular in movement” and “Carefully weighed or calculated; deliberate and restrained”. But Batchelor is also taking the measure of these words and their significance for Hill. Judging poetic and/or allusive significance is a very difficult thing to get a computer to do–it’s hard enough for humans to do well. Read more at Poetry and Contingency.

Fixing Broken Poems

by Helena Nelson 
I’ve abandoned a good few poems in my time.  It’s hard to know when, or if, they are ever ‘finished’. Gerry Cambridge, poet and editor of The Dark Horse, once told me, ‘Do not send out fresh poems.’ And he was right. It was a long time ago, and I’d had a surge of inspiration. I had ‘finished’ three or four new poems and promptly sent them to him. Read more at Happenstance.

Mots Justes: Pick the Perfect Word in a Poem

by Rick Gekoski
At Oxford, I was taught that every particle of a poem can amplify its meaning, and when poets get it right individual words can add volumes of sense. Trying to fill in some of their blanks is a useful lesson in this fine art
My favourite episode from Monty Python's Flying Circus features a trio of inept Spanish Inquisitors charging a little old lady with heresy. She doesn't understand, is pummelled with soft pillows, and when she is unaffected, is put into – gasp! – the comfy chair. She must remain there until lunchtime, with only coffee at 11 to sustain her! I found this irresistible, at the time, because it mirrored some of my Oxford tutorials, during which my tutor continually challenged me with various torments designed to make me – a naive colonial in his eyes – feel uncomfortable, and perhaps to confess my dire lack of (English) sophistication. Read more at The Guardian.

Despair about the place of poetry in American culture is nothing new.

Drafts & Fragments

Counting Couplets

What is the most common rhyme in the history of pop music?
By Ben Blatt
What do Justin Bieber and the Beatles have in common? Not much, you might think, other than the ability to inspire frenzied adoration in their young fans. But Bieber and the Fab Four share something else as well. Read more at Slate.

For centuries, poets have been making shaped poems.

Currently on exhibition (until May 31st) in the John Wilson Special Collections is a selection of nine large shaped poems from Shaped Poetry: a suite of 30 typographic prints… printed under the direction of Andrew Hoyem at the Arion Press. Pictured here is John Hollander's “Swan and Shadow" on paper from the Twinrocker Paper Mill… Read more at Without Ellipses.

Poets have been making shaped poems for centuries.

Poetry In the News

Wise, Funny Poems, Saved From The Trash Bin In The Nick Of “Time

It always feels good to see a poet rescued from oblivion. Michael Benedikt (1935-2007), a prominent figure in the poetry scene of the 1960s and 70s, was not exactly an important poet, but he was — and in his work, he remains — a deeply enjoyable one. He made some significant contributions, bridging the gap between the conversational poems of major New York School figures (especially Frank O'Hara) and the surreal poetry that became popular in the '70s. And he helped define the strange, comic and quotidian tone of the American prose poem, which remains one of our poets' favorite forms to this day. Read more at NPR.

Washington University Is Preserving the Legacy of James Merrill, One of the Greatest—and “the strangest, the most unnerving”—20th-Century Poets

by Stefene Russell  
James Merrill’s first Ouija board was a store-bought one, with its Laurel-and-Hardy sun and moon facing each other from the top corners. It was a gift from artists David Jackson and Doris Sewell Jackson and writer (and Presbyterian minister!) Frederick Buechner. This was in 1952, when department stores blithely stocked toy shelves with Ouija—Merrill might as easily have ended up with Parcheesi or Chinese checkers. By 1955, Jackson and “Sewelly” had split. And Merrill and Jackson had moved in together at the modest but elegant 107 Water Street in Stonington, Conn., where almost every night after dinner, they’d consult the Ouija at their milk glass–topped dining-room table. They’d now drawn their own version on heavy cardboard and swapped out the heart-shaped planchette for a blue willowware teacup. Read more at St. Louis Magazine.

Poetic Vandal Subjects Summertown Site to a Bit of Literary Criticism with Graffiti by Shelley

Graffiti usually involves the scrawling of crude messages or “tags” on to walls and motorway bridges. But a Summertown spray-painter is taking a different approach by using lines from literature on hoardings surrounding a housing development. Lines from English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley have appeared outside the Hernes Road development of nine town houses. Read more at the Oxford Mail.

iPhone Poet Encourages Dallas Students to Find Their Voice

Some say hip-hop music is responsible for more than a decade of renewed interest in spoken word art, known to many as slam poetry. This week, Dallas-area students got a lesson from a man whose words and iPhone made him an internationally-known poet in an instant. Read more at KHOU.

James Merrill’s first Ouija board was a store-bought one, with its Laurel-and-Hardy sun and moon facing each other from the top corners.

New Books

Fire On Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women's Poetry edited by Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy 

[Paperback] Two Sylvias Press, 388 pp., $24.95
Fire On Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women's Poetry is the first electronic collection (now in a print version) of poems by women writing today. Poets Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, Co-Editors of Crab Creek Review and Co-Founders of Two Sylvias Press, have collaborated on this ground-breaking literary project. Featuring over 70 of the most extraordinary poets from a variety of backgrounds and whose ages span from thirteen to ninety-one, Fire On Her Tongue showcases superbly crafted poems exploring the contemporary woman’s experience. 

Pretenders by Jeff Friedman

[Paperback] Carnegie Mellon, 128 pp., $16.95
Pretenders interweaves narrative, lyric, and fable in poems that tell their magical stories with revelatory rhythms and precise diction. Surreal and darkly funny, these powerful poems create a dense world full of pretense, menace, deception, and double truths—in which we are all struggling to love each other enough to survive another day.

Show Me Your Environment: Essays on Poetry, Poets, and Poems by David Baker

[Paperback] University of Michigan Press, 210 pp., $30.00 
Show Me Your Environment, a penetrating yet personable collection of critical essays, David Baker explores how a poem works, how a poet thinks, and how the art of poetry has evolved—and is still evolving as a highly diverse, spacious, and inclusive art form. The opening essays offer contemplations on the “environment of poetry from thoughts on physical places and regions as well as the inner aesthetic environment. Next, he looks at the highly distinctive achievements and styles of poets ranging from George Herbert and Emily Dickinson through poets writing today. Finally, Baker takes joy in reading individual poems—from the canonical to the contemporary; simply and closely.

Alexandria by Jasmine V. Bailey 

[Paperback] Carnegie Mellon, 72 pp., $15.95
In Alexandria, Jasmine V. Bailey has written a string of love poems, islands in an archipelago that emerges with each poem’s brief story. In a voice at times detached and wistful and sometimes ringing with ardor, these poems keenly remember sexual desire and male beauty, weaving them into observations that are quietly political or fiercely existential.

The Wingless by Cecilia Llompart

[Paperback] Carnegie Mellon, 64 pp., $15.95  
Here is poetry of subtlety and scale: it’s a record in equal measure of the sweeping and of the small. We are given a view of the world through a time-lapse camera, a pair of binoculars, a glass-bottomed boat, and we are made to see the movement in what we thought was stillness.

The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013 by Kofi Awoonor 

[Paperback] University of Nebraska Press, 336 pp., $19.95
Kofi Awoonor, one of Ghana’s most accomplished poets, had for almost half a century committed himself to teaching, political engagement, and the literary arts. The one constant that guided and shaped his many occupations and roles in life was poetry. The Promise of Hope is a beautifully edited collection of some of Awoonor’s most arresting work spanning almost fifty years.

Book of Hours: Poems by Kevin Young 

[Hardcover] Knopf, 208 pp., $26.95
A decade after the sudden and tragic loss of his father, we witness the unfolding of grief. “In the night I brush / my teeth with a razor,” he tells us, in one of the collection’s piercing two-line poems. Capturing the strange silence of bereavement (“Not the storm / but the calm / that slays me”), Kevin Young acknowledges, even celebrates, life’s passages, his loss transformed and tempered in a sequence about the birth of his son: in “Crowning,” he delivers what is surely one of the most powerful birth poems written by a man, describing “her face / full of fire, then groaning your face / out like a flower, blood-bloom,/ crocused into air.” Ending this book of both birth and grief, the gorgeous title sequence brings acceptance, asking “What good/are wishes if they aren’t / used up?” while understanding “How to listen / to what’s gone.” Young’s frank music speaks directly to the reader in these elemental poems, reminding us that the right words can both comfort us and enlarge our understanding of life’s mysteries.

Practice on Mountains by David Bartone

[Paperback] Ahsahta Press, 112 pp., $18.00
Winner of the 2013 Sawtooth Poetry Prize. In a long-form poetry that tirelessly makes its case for its own heritage, Practice on the Mountains documents a striving lover through eight weeks of various literatures, reflections, and desires. The poems and translations in this book value experience—the lived poem. The metaphysic of the literary love affair leads to its beautiful, chaotic, thoughtful pile of lyrical musings. Wallace Stevens writes, "it is not the reason / That makes us happy or unhappy. The bird sings." H.D., Thoreau, Li Po, Pound, classic country hymns, Glenn Gould, and the poet's friends are called on, among many others, in the reckless appropriations that provide for such a poetry.

Darkened Rooms of Summer: New and Selected Poems by Jared Carter

[Paperback] University of Nebraska Press, 220 pp., $18.95
For nearly half a century, Jared Carter has been quietly mapping the American heartland. Line by line, his poetry has shown us the landscape, sounded the voices, conjured the music, and tested the silence of the ever-changing and yet ever-constant Midwest that figures so prominently in the American story. Here, in poems selected from his first five books, is the summer-long buzz of the cicada and the crack of the cue ball, the young rebel on his big Harley, and the YMCA secretary who backstrokes her way across the indoor pool. Here, too, are thirty new poems in fixed form that illustrate Carter’s continued quest for a poetry of “universal interest.” Taken together, these selections are, truly, poetry in the American grain.

In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987-2011 by Peter Gizzi 

[Hardcover] Wesleyan, 244 pp., $26.95
Since his celebrated first book of poetry, Peter Gizzi has been hailed as one of the most significant and distinctive voices writing today. Gathered from over five collections, and representing close to twenty-five years of work, the poems in this generous selection strike a dynamic balance of honesty, emotion, intellectual depth and otherworldly resonance—in Gizzi’s work, poetry itself becomes a primary ground of human experience. Haunted, vibrant, and saturated with luminous detail, Gizzi’s poetry enlists the American vernacular in a magical and complex music. In Defense of Nothing is an immensely valuable introduction to the work of this extraordinary and singular poet. Check for the online reader’s companion at

“Pretenders” interweaves narrative, lyric, and fable in poems that tell their magical stories.


Poet Sawsan Al-Areeqe on the Best and Worst of Being a Poet in Yemen and Why You Should Read Ali al-Muqri

by Mlynxqualey 
While she was in Iowa City, participating in the International Writing Program (IWP)’s fall 2013 residency, Yemeni poet and filmmaker Sawsan Al-Areeqe spoke with the program’s “On the Map” series. The video interview was recently released on YouTube. Sawsan Al-Areeqe is the author of three poetry collections, The Square of Pain (2007), More Than Necessary (2004), and What if My Blood Turned Into Chocolate (2011). She is the winner of the British Council’s 2010 Zoom Film Contest for her short Prohibited, and of the Special Jury Prize at the 2012 Meknes International Film Festival for her short Photo. Read more at Arabic Literature (in English).

A Look at Marge Piercy: a Feature Poet at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival

by Jacquelyn Malone 
The Boston Globe  summarizes the artistic importance of the poet and novelist  Marge Piercy, who will be one of the featured poets at this year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival: “Marge Piercy is not just an author, she’s a cultural touchstone. Few writers in modern memory have sustained her passion and skill. . . .” Read more at Mass Poetry.

NBCC Biography Finalist Linda Leavell in Conversation with MFA Student Luke Wiget

Luke Wiget, on behalf of the School of Writing at The New School and the NBCC, interviewed Linda Leavell about her book Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), which is among the final five selections, in the category of Biography, for the 2013 NBCC awards. Read more at Critical Mass.

Poetry Night In Beijing: A Conversation With Eleanor Goodman

by Anthony Tao
We’re rapidly approaching the March 1 submission deadline for those interested in reading at Poetry Night in Beijing, a curated community event on March 16 that’s part of the Bookworm Literary Festival. If you’re wondering whether you should submit, please heed the advice of Eleanor Goodman, one of our curators: “Submit! There’s nothing lonelier than a poem sitting unread on a laptop or in a notebook.” Goodman is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Her translations of Wang Xiaoni will be published this year (The Selected Poems of Wang Xiaoni). She’s currently in Beijing on a Fulbright Fellowship. Read more at Beijing Cream.

“The Importance of Breathing”: An Interview with Conor O’Callaghan 

by Nicole Fitzpatrick 
O’Callaghan lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina from 2005-2007 during which time he taught  at Wake Forest University. Much of The Sun King connects to his time spent in NC. 
NF: Your evocative descriptions make the reader feel deeply connected to very specific places. In his Irish Times review on June 15, 2013, John McAuliffe writes “The Sun King also impresses with its unfussy shifts between poems set in Ireland, the US (Philadelphia and North Carolina), England (London, Sheffield, Manchester’s Chinatown) and Italy (Tuscany, Naples)." Can you comment on the use of these places? Read more at Wake Forest University Press.

NBCC Poetry Finalist Carmen Giménez in Conversation with MFA Student Dianca London Potts

Dianca London Potts, on behalf of the School of Writing at The New School and the NBCC, interviewed Carmen Giménez Smith, via email, about her book Milk and Filth (University of Arizona Press), which is among the final five selections, in the category of Poetry, for the 2013 NBCC awards. Read more at Critical Mass.

Recently, in Iowa City, Yemeni poet and filmmaker Sawsan Al-Areeqe spoke with the program’s “On the Map” series.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

How Can We Forget the Centenary of Poet Berryman?

By Susie Boyt
I was in the West End for a meeting when it was unceremoniously cancelled, so I decided to be a tourist for a couple of hours. In the National Portrait Gallery, I sought out the portrait of the Queen by Pietro Annigoni (the later of the two) with the very sloping shoulders, looking like a valiant Christian soldier head- to-toe in red. Instead, I found Wallis Simpson by Gerald Brockhurst, trying to appear soft in a slightly informal dress and massive brooch, “a present from the Duke”, luscious lands in the background lightly suggesting, I thought, power and imperial sway. Afterwards I dawdled in the bookshops of Cecil Court, where I saw a first edition of Homage to Mistress Bradstreet by John Berryman, a poet I love. When published in 1953, Edmund Wilson said it was the most distinguished long poem by an American since The Waste Land. In the poem, Berryman goes back in time to pity and befriend one of the first American poets, Anne Bradstreet, who sailed for America from England in 1630. Read more at The Guardian.

It would be nice to honor John Berryman with a tribute on his centenary, as it would be to honor his many contemporaries— Schwartz, Van Duyn, Sissman, Nemerov, Meredith, Justice, Bowers, Swenson, Patchen, Roethke, to name a few—on their recent or upcoming centenaries. These were poets who wrote moving, thoughtful, well-crafted poems, poems that touched tens of thousands of people, poems that I return to as I return to my record albums to conjure up the spirit and invention vested there. On the other hand, time in its tyranny insists on altering the landscape, not simply making room for new growth. What's heartening is that even as these voices fade, that changing landscape produces a chorus of other voices of an overlapping generation though from different places than the usual. Venclova, Szymborska, Darwish, Szuber, Rozewicz, Adonis, Awoonor. Names in quiet ascendency, who have been writing for many decades but whose works are only in the last few, in some cases, finding their English-speaking audience. So as history constricts in one place, it expands in others.This is a good thing. Because poetry is poetry, our appetite for its discovery and rediscovery is a constant we recognize and treasure. It refreshes as it is refreshed.

Because poetry is poetry, our appetite for its discovery and rediscovery is a constant we recognize and treasure. It refreshes as it is refreshed.