May 12, 2018

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1828—Gabriel Dante Rossetti, England, poet/painter, Pre-Raphaelite figure, is born.

1845—August Wilhelm Schlegel, German poet, translator and critic, dies at 77.
1845—János Bacsanyi, Hungarian poet (b. 1763)
1876—Henri A Esquiros, French poet (Evangile du peuple), dies at 63.
1914—Bertus Aafjes, Dutch poet/writer, is born.
1925—Amy Lowell, American poet (b. 1874), dies.
1933—Andrey Voznesensky, Russian poet, is born.
1967—John Masefield, British writer and poet (Salt-Water Ballads), Poet Laureate (1930-67), dies at 88.
1970 —Leonie "Nelly" Sachs, German/Swedish poet (Nobel 1966), dies at 78.


blessed night of all beings!
The weights of life and death
sink down with your wings
on the rose
which wanders with the light ripening homewards.

—from “Butterfly” by Nelly Sachs, translated by Ruth and Matthew Mead

“Butterfly / blessed night of all beings! / The weights of life and death / sink down with your wings” – Nelly Sachs

World Poetry

Palestinian Poet Convicted of Inciting Terror in Facebook Poem

An Israeli court convicted poet Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, of incitement to violence and support for terrorism on Thursday. The conviction comes nearly three years after she was first arrested for publishing her poetry on social media. Tatour, 36, hails from the village of Reineh near Nazareth. She was arrested on October 15, 2015 after publishing a number of poems on her Facebook page, including “Qawem Ya Sha’abi, Qawemhum” (“Resist my people, resist them”).

Cambodian Woman Accused of Insulting Hun Sen with Facebook Poem

A former CNRP activist was summoned for questioning by her local commune chief for allegedly insulting Prime Minister Hun Sen in a Facebook post, which contained a poem making an oblique reference to a "brutal" thief with one eye. Sao Osaphea, who supported the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party in Preah Sihanouk province, was summoned by Okhna Heng Commune Chief Kao Leng over the alleged insult posted to her profile, which is called “Saphea Mayura”. Osaphea's short poem refers to spoiling fruit and to a "thief" selling off land and forests.

An Israeli court convicted poet Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, of incitement to violence and support for terrorism on Thursday.

Recent Reviews

“I am more myself in letters”: Sylvia Plath’s Correspondence
by Meg Schoerke



The Letters of Sylvia Plath begins with two short letters from 1940, one to her father, Otto Plath, the other to her mother, Aurelia Schober Plath, and closes 1,424 pages and sixteen years later with a letter Plath wrote on October 23, four days before her twenty-fourth birthday, to her friend Peter Davison, Associate Editor of the Atlantic Monthly Press.[1] The book’s stopping point at first feels abrupt. Given the editors’ separation of letters by year, and the collection’s subtitle, “Volume I: 1940–1956,” their choice to close with a late October letter to Davison seems odd, especially because the previous seventy pages encompass a remarkable series, family owned and therefore as yet unavailable in archives, of letters Plath wrote to Ted Hughes, whom she had married four months earlier. Fearing that she would lose her Fulbright scholarship, Plath and Hughes kept their marriage secret to all but their families, and the couple lived apart, Hughes with his parents in Yorkshire and Plath at Cambridge’s Newnham College. 


A Taxonomy of Refusal: On Anne Boyer’s A Handbook of Disappointed Fate 
by Julia Bosson


The first essay of Anne Boyer’s new book, A Handbook of Disappointed Fate (Ugly Duckling Presse) is simply titled “No.” In an era premised on submission to search engines and algorithms, that attempts to buy our supplication with Fitbits and iPhones, Boyer suggests that nos and won’ts can serve as an existential mode of resistance against the “capitalist yes.” “History is full of people who just didn’t,” she begins. Her “just didn’t” stands in tense opposition to the bourgeois can’t even, which is really a way of saying yes, ugh. A no is something different: it can be found in silence, in stillness, in bodies, and sometimes, in poems. 

A Poetry Collection That Squints Hard at the Culture, in Pain and in Joy
by Luis Alberto Urrea



Kevin Young’s necessary new book of witness creates a parade through time, and I love a parade. Especially one with such good music — the poems in “Brown” dance through bebop and into James Brown’s megafunk. Marching players include B. B. King and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Sitting on that float decorated with bombed churches and flogged backs, baseball bats and basketballs, Fishbone records and railroad tracks, are Lead Belly and Howlin’ Wolf playing dusty blues for Big Pun. 

“I am more myself in letters.” – Sylvia Plath


Beyond Claustrophobia: The Poems of Henri Cole
by Tony Hoagland

The way in which an artistic talent changes and evolves is a fascinating process to watch. That is, it's fascinating if an artist changes—for many do not. Happy in their groove, some painters and poets do not feel the need, or cannot muster the critical distance, to recognize their own shortcomings. Others cannot find within themselves the resource of a new and different strategy. Self-remaking is an arduous business (Helen Vendler compares it to a death or a divorce): it means deliberately stepping away from security to reenter the realm of possible failure.

On Maureen McLane
by Ange Mlinko


The argument laid out in the first four poems of Some Say, Maureen McLane’s newest collection (Farrar, Straus, £20), encapsulates the one she makes in the whole book, and in all her poetry. The collection starts out in medias res, with the first poem’s title, ‘As I was saying, the sun’, taking a running leap into the poem itself: ‘& the moon and all the stars/you can name/are fantastic!’ This sets a tone of exuberance which is immediately deflated: ‘It’s not cool/to be enthusiastic.’ Two pages later, in ‘OK Let’s Go’, she writes about renewal: ‘Let’s go to Dawn School/and learn again to begin/oh something different/from repetition.’ 



What This 19th-Century Poet Knew about the Future
by Matthew Wills



Nineteenth-century poet John Clare wove together “descriptions of the environment and accounts of human life,” making no distinction between human and natural history.  The anthropologists Richard D.G. Irvine and Mina Gorji argue that this makes him in some ways a poet of our current age, the Anthropocene. The concept of the Anthropocene is still new and much-debated, but in essence, it means the present geological era, and is named for the “prominent role of humans in driving geological, atmospheric and geomorphological changes,” as Irvine and Gorji succinctly put it. To them, this necessarily calls for a re-visioning of the past. How did we get here? Where did the road to the present start? Is there any turning back? In approaching these questions, they call for merging the humanities with economics and biology and think the poet John Clare (1793-1864) is an excellent precedent.

“The way in which an artistic talent changes and evolves is a fascinating process to watch.” – Tony Hoagland

Drafts & Fragments

Is Kanye West “the Ezra Pound of Rap”?
The rapper's flirtation with right-wing politics renews an age-old debate about art and politics.
by Jeet Heer


Kanye West’s praise last week of President Donald Trump and Candace Owens, a conservative black provocateur, turned his public image upside down, earning him unlikely new supporters—including Laura Ingraham, Alex Jones, Bill O’Reilly, and Trump himself—while turning fans and friends into critics. “I hope you’ll reconsider aligning yourself with Trump,” fellow musician John Legend wrote in a text that West posted on Twitter. “You’re way too powerful and influential to endorse who he is and what he stands for. As you know, what you say really means something to your fans. They are loyal to you and respect your opinion. So many people who love you feel so betrayed right now because they know the harm Trump’s policies cause, especially to people of color.”

Over at the New Republic, Jeet Heer asked if Kanye West is “the Ezra Pound of Rap.”

Poetry In the News

John Yau Wins $60,000 Jackson Poetry Prize

John Yau, a poet, art critic, and professor at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, has been named the winner of the 2018 Jackson Poetry Prize. The $60,000 prize is awarded annually by Poets & Writers to an American poet of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition. The prize aims to provide what poets need: time and encouragement to write.

Clare Cavanagh Honored by American Academy of Arts and Letters 2018 Award in Literature


Northwestern University’s preeminent translator of Polish literature, Clare Cavanagh, is among eight writers to receive The American Academy of Arts and Letters 2018 Award in Literature, given for exceptional accomplishment in writing. The honor, awarded for past work, will be presented in May in New York. “I always dreamed of making some kind of contribution to literature, to readers and writers as well as scholars, through my work,” said Cavanagh, who chairs the department of Slavic languages and literature at Northwestern. “But studying and translating Eastern European poetry seemed like a pretty roundabout route, so I never saw this coming.” Widely regarded as the best English translator of Polish poetry, Cavanagh has translated, or co-translated, 17 volumes of poetry and prose by Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska, Adam Zagajewski, Ryszard Krynicki and other poets.

Martín Espada Awarded 2018 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize


Today, we’re pleased to announce the winner of the 2018 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which honors a living U.S. poet for outstanding lifetime achievement. Martín Espada is awarded the prize in recognition of his contribution to poetry. He is the first Latino poet to win this award since its inception in 1986.

John Yau, a poet, art critic, and professor at Rutgers University, has been named the winner of the 2018 Jackson Poetry Prize.

New Books

Dark Matter: New Poems by Robin Morgan
[Paperback] Spinifex Press, 96 pp., $17.95 

In this major new book of poems, her seventh, Robin Morgan rewards us with the award-winning mastery we've come to expect from her poetry. Her gaze is unflinching, her craft sharp, her mature voice rich with wry wit, survived pain, and her signature chord: an indomitable celebration of life. This powerful collection contains the now-famous poems Morgan reads in her TED Talk–viewed online more than a million times and translated into 24 languages. Dark Matter is an unforgettable book.


The Sound: New & Selected Poems by David Mason 
[Paperback] Red Hen Press, 248 pp.,  $21.95 


In The Sound acclaimed poet David Mason collects his best shorter work of the past forty years, including lyrics like “Song of the Powers” and darkly brilliant narratives “The Collector’s Tale” and “The Country I Remember,” which Anthony Hecht called “a welcome addition to the best that is now being written by American poets.” A poet of love and history and nature, Mason forges a language that can reconnect us to the world.


A Different Physics by Lisa Rosenberg
[Paperback] Red Mountain Press, 80 pp., $18.95

From thistles and fossils, to the inner workings of spacecraft, the poems in A Different Physics move with lyric power through natural and figurative landscapes, to worlds of cultural and intellectual models. A slide rule carries us from grief back to innocence. A silicon wafer for microchips reflects sexual politics and art history. In the central sequence, "Flight," we travel a cloaked realm of the military-industrial complex, to its unsettled territory of personal and national mythologies. Places, objects, and ideas launch explorations into our modes of industry and inquiry, and the very things–and lives–we have built. With musicality and formal breadth, these poems of curiosity, cynicism, reverence, and transformation invite us to consider the forces that shape our thoughts and our lives, as well as paths toward new possibilities for both.


Fludde: Poems by Peter Mishler
[Paperback] Sarabande Books, 60 pp., $14.95 


Selected by Dean Young as winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry, Fludde draws on Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience to critique and dismantle contemporary American values and conditioning: commodification, environmental negligence, corporate exploitation, toxic masculinity. At once surreal and satirical, vulnerable and nostalgic, Mishler channels the voices of disillusioned middle management alongside the freewheeling imaginative vision of children to disrupt the fixity of our received ideas.

Invisible Gifts: Poems by Maw Shein Win
[Paperback] Manic D Press, 96 pp., $14.95 

In her first full-length collection of poems, Win depicts a colorful world imbued with unexpected paradoxes: nature is both comforting and savagely unnerving; love is permanent and fleeting; the accuracy and flaws of memory abound. Her experiences with illness and recovery intertwine with her identity as a Burmese American daughter of immigrant doctors, flowing in poems like “Hands”: My father’s hands, frail birds, shaking wings. / In Burmese, “win” means bright. / Hands that stitched skin together and brought back life. Win’s unique perspective and artful language offer readers insight into how the heart can bend and mend without breaking.

The poems in A Different Physics move with lyric power through natural and figurative landscapes, to worlds of cultural and intellectual models.


The Rumpus Mini-interview Project #131: Lisa Wells
by Emma Winsor Wood

When I arrived in Iowa to start at the Writers’ Workshop, wide-eyed and all of twenty-five, Lisa Wells, a poet and nonfiction writer originally from Portland, had already graduated but still lingered; she was one of the lucky few to receive a coveted third-year teaching position. I saw her frequently at the café in the local bookstore, and occasionally at the local dive. She had the air of a female Rochester—dark, mysterious, intense—and she, unlike many of us poets, was a “real adult”—she had dropped out of tenth grade; she had worked for fifteen years before getting a BFA from Goddard and coming to Iowa; she had gotten divorced. I was too scared to talk to her, but I read her poems and essays avidly online, and got to know her that way, through her work.

Documenting the Nakba: an Interview with Poet Dareen Tatour
by Yoav Haifawi 

I visited poet Dareen Tatour, under house arrest at her home in the Arab town of Reineh on April 17, known here as “Palestinian Prisoners Day.” Two and a half years ago Dareen was arrested for publishing a poem, and since then she underwent a trial and is now awaiting the verdict expected on May 3 — all, of course, while still under house arrest.

Lisa Wells is a poet and nonfiction writer originally from Portland.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Poetry News of Our Times

I've noticed for a while an interesting phenomenon about the news in this newsletter. As it's divided into "Poetry in the News," which concerns itself mainly with poetry in the U.S. or Canada or the U. K., and "World Poetry," which touches on everywhere else, it's easy to see the differences between the two. To put it simply, more often than not, the news found in "Poetry in the News" involves career achievements of every make and hue: book prizes, lifetime achievements, finalists for book prizes, appointments, etc. The news of "World Poetry," on the other hand, too often deals with poets who are fined, imprisoned, or charged with crimes for publishing their poems. Bear in mind that I choose the news featured here from a variety of sources that aggregate the stories from all across the country and around the world. I generally try to select stories in which poetry has reached into the general population on some level and made an impact. This week's news features are a good example of the bifurcated phenomenon I described.
      I don't know what to make of this distinction, except to say that I think it's been a while since anyone has gone to prison or stood trial for poetry in this country, and that's a good thing. On the other hand, the idea that the state, any state, is threatened enough by poetry to censor and jail the poet indeed says something about the regime that imposes such sanctions on poetry but also about the real and perceived power of poetry remaining in many corners of the world. I think it deserves at least our passing attention. 

David Sanders reflects on the strange difference between “Poetry in the News” and “World Poetry.”