March 8, 2018

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1814—Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine, national poet/painter/prof of Kiev [NS], is born.

1892—Joseph Weinheber, Austria poet/writer (Adel und Untergang), is born.
1892—Vita Sackville-West, English novelist, poet (The Land) and gardener (Sissinghurst), is born.
1905—Rex Warner, English poet/writer (Wild Goose Chase), is born.
1910—Ed[uard] Hoornik, Dutch writer/poet (Survivor), is born.
1994—Charles Bukowski, author/poet, dies of leukemia at 73.



So well she knew them both! yet as she came
Into the room, and heard their speech
Of tragic meshes knotted with her name,
And saw them, foes, but meeting each with each
Closer than friends, souls bared through enmity,
Beneath their startled gaze she thought that she
Broke as the stranger on their conference,
And stole abashed from thence. 

—Vita Sackville-West

“foes, but meeting each with each / Closer than friends, souls bared” – Vita Sackville-West

World Poetry

Poet Ko Un Erased from Korean Textbooks after Sexual Harassment Claims


Korea’s most famous literary export Ko Un, a former Buddhist monk who is often named a frontrunner for the Nobel prize in literature, is at the centre of sexual harassment accusations. It has led to his poems being removed from textbooks and the shuttering of a library established by Seoul local government in his name. The allegations, which have been denied by Ko in a statement provided to the Guardian, surfaced in the form of a poem by the poet Choi Young-mi. In The Beast, published in December, Choi did not name the major poet she accused of sexual harassment in the poem, instead calling him En.

A New Generation of Poets from Gujarat Is Keeping a Rich Poetic Legacy Alive
With the death of Niranjan Bhagat, Gujarati poetry has lost a leading light—but a new crop of writers is keeping his promise alive

Modernity began in Gujarati poetry with those lines, the poet and critic Prabodh Parikh said at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai in early February. What Bhagat, who died on 1 February, was doing was not merely defying the gods, for he was indeed doing that, but marking his territory, his space, his position in the cosmos of Gujarati poetry, placing himself firmly at the centre. That assertion was a sign of modernity—Gujarati poetry would no longer be dictated by norms and conventions of the past; it would shake off its obsession with the metaphysical and devotional; it would emerge out of the deep and profound influence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi; and it would embrace the new.

With the death of Niranjan Bhagat, Gujarati poetry has lost a leading light—but a new crop of writers is keeping his promise alive.

Recent Reviews

“Anecdotal Evidence” in the Case of Wendy Cope
by A. M. Juster


American poetry lovers tend to be surprised when they learn that Wendy Cope is a celebrity in the United Kingdom, where the press still takes its poets seriously. Billy Collins and Claudia Rankine may be our most famous American poets, but neither is popular enough to be included in a Jeopardy! question.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Poetry (but were afraid to ask)
by Elizabeth Lund

There’s often a great divide between those who feel drawn to poetry in adolescence and those who enjoy it throughout adulthood. Gregory Orr bridged that gap with “Poetry as Survival” (2002), in which he explored how poetry can help readers address and heal from trauma. Now, with “A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry,” he’s casting a wide net again and presenting luminous ideas that may help novices and teachers alike.

Poetry by Evie Shockley, Nicole Sealey, James Crews
by Diana Whitney

Evie Shockley burns up the page with her new collection, semiautomatic (Wesleyan University Press; $24.95). Ablaze with wordplay and formal ingenuity, her poems chronicle the horrors of the 21st century while igniting the imagination as an act of hope. One of the most innovative poets writing today, Shockley creates her own style of poetic collage, remixing sources both musical and historical: from Prince to Amiri Baraka, Rihanna to the Occupy Movement, Nina Simone to “The Odyssey.” Her lines take shape as sonnets and quizzes, narrative sequences and nutritional labels. As in her previous book, “the new black,” Shockley reckons with the past to illuminate the contemporary moment — racial, political, deeply personal — and becomes a kind of oracle in the process.

Evie Shockley burns up the page with her new collection, semiautomatic.


My Race Sees Me: Three African-American Poets
by Robert Archambeau


I once attended a debate between two distinguished poets, both women, who were to discuss whether one wrote as a woman poet, or as a poet who happened to be a woman. I don’t recall who won, but perhaps that’s less important than the fact of the debate itself: it indicates how, if one is not from a dominant group, the question of identity can’t be taken for granted; even if one wants to shunt it aside and write of other things, one often feels compelled to make a case for doing so. If this is true for women, even several generations into feminism’s transformation of the world, it is emphatically so for African-American writers —especially in a time when police violence against black people in America has become more widely visible than ever. 2017 may have been an especially difficult year for people of color in America, but, as recent books by Evie Shockley, Marcus Wicker, and Cameron Barnett make plain, it has also been an outstanding year for African-American poetry.

Political Asylum by Dick Davis
A deceptively plain description of the comforts of political refuge serves to outline their limitations
by Carol Rumens

As both poet and translator, Dick Davis has produced work of a consistently high quality over a long career. His recently published Love in Another Language: Collected Poems and Selected Translationscontains work from 1975 to the present, and demonstrates his ability to combine traditional formal writing with contemporary diction – not yet a lost art, but an increasingly rare one. The poems may be satirical, lyrical, wittily epigrammatic or elegiac: these are not necessarily separate categories, of course, because essential to Davis’s art is a flexibility of tone.

As both poet and translator, Dick Davis has produced work of a consistently high quality over a long career.

Drafts & Fragments

Raymond Danowski, Stockpiler of Poetry, Is Dead at 74
by Sam Roberts

Reading was the lifeline that enabled Raymond Danowski to escape the smothering grip of a Bronx public housing project and an abusive father, so when Mr. Danowski grew older, both rhyme and reason prompted him to stockpile books of poetry voraciously. His odyssey from college dropout to art dealer and philanthropist, for whom a book-collecting hobby became an obsession, could itself inspire an epic poem. Eventually, he amassed a staggering 75,000 volumes of verse, believed to be the largest private library of 20th-century poetry in English.


Doctors Turn to Poetry to Relieve Stress
by Simon Constable


Each year, the 900 or so graduating medical students in Scotland receive a free copy of a poetry book titled “Tools of the Trade: Poems for New Doctors.” It’s a pocket-size book with fewer than 100 pages, so doctors can easily carry it while on duty. The poems are grouped into five themes designed to help young physicians: looking after yourself, looking after others, beginnings, being with illness, and endings.


Irish Hero Stabs Neighbor For Reciting Poetry Instead Of Shutting Up
by Gabrielle Okun


John Paul Mulready, 40, faces two and a half years in jail after stabbing and biting his neighbor Dermot Bryne due to “poetry being recited incessantly,” reported The Irish Times. Bryne, who composes poetry said he used a frying pan to defend himself after Mulready barged into his apartment claiming that music was being played too loudly. Bryne managed to get away by slamming a vodka bottle at Mulready, but still suffered injuries from being stabbed in the leg and getting his face bitten by the poetry hater. Bryne also claimed his phone that contained his poetry went missing after the attack.


Snow-Po Blizzard Forecast in the West
by Helena Nelson  


We are onto our fifth day of snow. The mail was picked up yesterday from the local post office for the first time since last Tuesday. You know what this means? There will be snow poems. The somewhat slushy ones will arrive right away. Editors will be greeting them as soon as next week. About six months later, the good ones will have matured like cheese. They'll arrive in good time for next winter.

Reading was the lifeline that enabled Raymond Danowski to escape the smothering grip of a Bronx public housing project and an abusive father.

Poetry In the News

Amid Some Well-articulated Dismay, West Chester Poetry Conference Gets a New Director

On Jan. 18, West Chester University announced that Jesse Waters of Elizabethtown College had been appointed interim artistic director of the conference, a major annual event held at the university since 1994 and scheduled for June 6-9 this year. The university had a hole to fill. In October, the interim dean of students, Jen Bacon, sent an e-mail to R.S. “Sam” Gwynn, then director of the poetry conference. After thanking him for his work making the 2016 and 2017 conferences successful, she said his appointment would not be renewed after the 2018 iteration, stunning an indignant Gwynn, who immediately resigned.

Celeb-Studded Poetry Slam Inspires Next Generation of New Yorkers

America’s Got Talent has nothing on The Best of the Bronx!—that much was clear on Wednesday night, at the fourth annual BronxWrites Poetry Slam Finals, presented by Dreamyard and GlobalWrites at Joe’s Pub. The standing-room-only event glittered with the likes of Nico Tortorella from the hit series Younger, model and Muay-Thai fighter Mia Kang, Hamilton’s Daniel Watts, and former NFL player and Wilhelmina model Dale Moss—all of whom jumped to their feet again and again and again.

America’s Got Talent has nothing on The Best of the Bronx!

New Books

The Disappearing Act: Poems by Sara Pirkle Hughes
[Paperback] Mercer University Press, 80 pp., $16.00

In her first collection of poems, Sara Pirkle Hughes explores the role memory plays in shaping identity and a person's perception of the past. The book's title, The Disappearing Act, posits that time is a magician causing every moment in a person's life to disappear, and every poem in the collection is the poet's attempt to recapture what has vanished, while also acknowledging the inherent paradox of writing about the past. The fallible nature of memory makes it impossible to preserve an experience free of distortion. Born and raised in Georgia, Hughes uses the Southern tradition of storytelling as a jumping off point to examine her own personal history as well as family stories. However, nearly every poem in this award-winning collection incorporates formal elements, often fusing narrative with restrictive structures such as sonnets, pantoums, and villanelles.


Ya Te Veo: Poems by P. Scott Cunningham
[Paperback] University of Arkansas Press, 96 pp., $17.95 


Ya Te Veo takes as its title the name of a mythical tree that eats people. Like the branches of that tree, the poems in this book seem to capture and nourish themselves on a diverse cast of would-be passers-by, drawing their life-force from the resulting synthesis of characters. Among the seized are poets and painters alongside musicians from Garth Brooks to Wu-Tang Clan to the composer Morton Feldman, whose mysterious personality serves as a backdrop in many poems for meditations on intimacy, ethics, and anxiety.


Wonderland: Poems by Matthew Dickman
[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 96 pp., $26.95

"Known for poems of universality of feeling, expressive lyricism of reflection, and heartrending allure" (Major Jackson), award-winning poet Matthew Dickman returns with a collection that engages the traces of his own living past, suffusing these poems with ghosts of longing, shame, and vulnerability. In the southeast Portland neighborhood of Dickman’s youth, parents are out of control and children are in chaos. With grief, anger, and, ultimately, understanding, Dickman confronts a childhood of ambient violence, well-intentioned but warped family relations, confining definitions of identity, and the deprivation of this particular Portland neighborhood in the 1980s. Wonderlandreminds us that, while these neighborhoods are filled with guns, skateboards, fights, booze, and heroin, and home to punk rockers, skinheads, poor kids, and single moms, they are also places of innocence and love.


What We Did While We Made More Guns by Dorothy Barresi
[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 104 pp., $15.95 


The poems in What We Did While We Made More Guns investigate the place where economic failure meets a widening acculturation of violence—a kind of Great Acceleration of soul extinction set in this spectacularly uneasy moment in American history. Cutting, comic, sorrowful, at times terrified, at times resolute, the poems tilt along the high cliff’s edge of identity anxiety and American moral uncertainty, where each of us plays our part in the business of dispossession or resistance.  Building themselves out of jazzed-up verbal velocities and wounded (in)sincerity, the poems counsel resilience against all forms of battery, mortal, spiritual, financial. They are pattern-makers in the dark. They talk back to God. They take into themselves what cannot be taken back: the news that forty-six million Americans have “slipped” below the poverty line; that guns discharge monstrously banal virility; that a black woman pulled over for a routine traffic violation dies by strangulation in her jail cell; that we buy and sell the myth of the American Dream as though our lives depended on it.

Blood Pages by George Bilgere
[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 72 pp., $15.95

In Blood Pages George Bilgere continues his exploration of the joys and absurdities of being middle-aged and middle-class in the Midwest. OK, maybe he’s a bit beyond middle-aged at this point, and his rueful awareness of this makes these poems even more darkly hilarious, more deeply aware of the feckless and baffling times our nation has stumbled into. And the fact that Bilgere, relatively late in life, is now the father of two young boys brings a fresh sense of urgency to his work. Blood Pages is a guidebook to the fears, foibles, and beauties of our lovely old country as it makes its blundering, tentative way into the new century.

In her first collection of poems, Sara Pirkle Hughes explores the role memory plays in shaping identity and a person’s perception of the past.


Ampersand Interview 8—Poet Alicia Ostriker: “When I Do Have an Idea, I Am Obsessed with It”

We are very excited to have had a chance to interview internationally acclaimed poet Alicia Ostriker for our eighth Ampersand. Winner of the William Carlos Williams Award, the Paterson Award, the Jewish National Book Award, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award, and twice a finalist for the National Book Award, Ostriker visited Florence in June 2017 where she shared her work in a reading with fellow poet Elisa Biagini (TSP Issues 1, Issue 13 & Ampersand Interview 5).

Jacqueline Osherow: An Interview
by Malachi Black


Jacqueline Osherow is the author of seven collections of poetry: Looking for Angels in New York(University of Georgia Press, 1988), Conversations with Survivors (University of Georgia Press, 1994), With a Moon in Transit (Grove Press, 1996), Dead Men’s Praise (Grove Press, 1999), The Hoopoe’s Crown (BOA, 2005), Whitethorn (LSU Press, 2011), and Ultimatum from Paradise (LSU Press, 2014). She's received grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Witter Bynner Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as a number of prizes from the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, journals and anthologies, including the New Yorker, the Paris Review, American Poetry Review, The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry, The Longman Anthology of Poetry, Best American Poetry, The Norton Anthology of Jewish-American Literature, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Twentieth Century American Poetry, and The Making of a Poem. She's Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Utah and currently directing the Creative Writing Program. Her poetry collection, My Lookalike at the Krishna Temple, is forthcoming from LSU Press in the spring of 2019.

How Emily Wilson Translated ‘The Odyssey’
by Amy Brady

The Odyssey—the ancient Greek epic attributed to Homer—has been translated into English at least 60 times since the seventeenth century. But only one of those translations is by a woman. Her name is Emily Wilson (photo credit: Imogen Roth), and she’s a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her brilliant new translation hit shelves in November. In this interview, we discuss how her identity as a woman—and a cis-gendered feminist—informs her translation work, how her Odyssey translation honors both ancient traditions and contemporary reading practices, and what Homer meant when he called Dawn, repeatedly, “rosy-fingered.” This interview has been edited slightly for length.

Charging through the Line: An Interview with Arthur Sze
by Ayleen Perry


In fall 2017, poet Arthur Sze keynoted the second annual ECO-Poetry, Technology, and Place conference at Southern Utah University. There, undergraduate honors student Ayleen Perry sat down with Arthur to discuss poetry, culture, and the muse-fed craft of image-making.

The Odyssey—the ancient Greek epic attributed to Homer—has finally beeen translated by a woman. Her name is Emily Wilson

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Snow Poems

There are still two weeks before spring, so the threat of winter lingers over half of the country. And as the post above suggests snow poems will abound. My favorite barely mentions snow, and yet has "a mind of winter" beyond most. Donald Justice's "Absences" captures some tone, some aspect of winter as if it were not a matter of climatology but rather one of psychology. Maybe it is. Enjoy.


It's snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.
There is only this sound of falling, quiet and remote,
Like the memory of scales descending the white keys
Of a childhood piano—outside the window, palms!
And the heavy head of the cereus, inclining,
Soon to let down its white or yellow-white.

Now, only these poor snow-flowers in a heap,
Like the memory of a white dress cast down . . .
So much has fallen.
                                    And I, who have listened for a step
All afternoon, hear it now, but already falling away,
Already in memory. And the terrible scales descending
On the silent piano; the snow; and the absent flowers abounding.

—Donald Justice

“It’s snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.” – Donald Justice