November 12, 2013

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1651 – Juana Ines de La Cruz, Mexico, poet/nun/feminist (Primero Sueno), is born.

1656 – English poet and author of epic "Paradise Lost" John Milton (47) marries 2nd wife Katherine Woodcock.
1757 – Jacobus Bellamy, [Zelandus], Zealand poet, is born.

1757 – Colley Cibber, English poet (b. 1671), dies.
1898 – Abraham J D van Oosten, Dutch poet/author (His Master's Voice), is born.

1911 – William Thomas Pennar Davies, poet author/theologian, is born.

1944 – Johan van Doorn, [Johnny the Selfkicker], Dutch poet (War & Porridge), is born.
1990 – Yannis Ritsos, Greek poet, dies at 81.

1997 – William Matthews, poet, dies at 55.
If to die is to lose
All detail, then death is not
So distinguished, but a profusion
Of detail, a last gossip, character
Passed wholly into fate and fate
In flecks, like dust, like flour, like snow.
—from  "Spring Snow" by  William Matthews (1942–1997)

“If to die is to lose / All detail, then death is not // So distinguished” —from “Spring Snow” by William Matthews (1942–1997)

World Poetry

40 Years On, No Foul Play Found in Chilean Poet’s Death

Chilean and international forensics experts have ruled out poisoning or other foul play in the death of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda in 1973, according to a report released Friday. The report concluded that there were no “relevant chemical agents” present that could be related to Mr. Neruda’s death and “no forensic evidence whatsoever” pointing to a cause of death other than prostate cancer. Read more at  the New York Times.

Court Finds Poet Guilty of Defaming President Park

A district court on Thursday found a renowned poet guilty of defaming President Park Geun-hye ahead of last year's presidential election, overturning the jury's not-guilty verdict. Ahn Do-hyun was found guilty of raising accusations on his Twitter account 17 times ahead of the Dec. 19 vote that Park, the then ruling presidential candidate, actually owns stolen relics of Ahn Joong-geun, a prominent freedom fighter during Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula a century ago. Read more at the Global Post.

Forensics experts have ruled out poisoning or other foul play in the death of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda.

Recent Reviews

Nothing By Design by Mary Jo Salter

by Baynard Woods
William Carlos Williams was right when he said that a poem is a “machine made out of words,” but he neglected to say that it is an infernal machine most likely to blow up in your face and leave you looking like Wile E. Coyote, all seared and singed. If writing a good poem was almost an impossibility before, it became even more so early in the 20th century, when free verse began to dominate. To reverse the so-called Assassin’s Creed, when everything is permitted, perhaps nothing is true. And, finally, to make things even more bleak: If other genres of literature have lost their readers, it is infinitely worse for poetry. Read more at the City Paper.

Selected Poems by Robert Graves 

by Fran Brearton
"I write poems for poets, and satires or grotesques for wits. For people in general I write prose, and am content that they should be unaware that I do anything else. To write poems for other than poets is wasteful." This is Robert Graves in 1945, with the characteristic blend of arrogance and self-effacement that later led him to proclaim his own status as "minor" while simultaneously damning every "major" poet on the block. He is right in one sense too, since such bestselling works as I, Claudius or Goodbye to All That are probably more widely known than anything else he ever wrote. But it's also fair to say he didn't make life easy for his poetry-reading fans. Read more at The Guardian.

The Boss

by Rachel Mennies Goodmanson
“[T]he middle finger,” declares Victoria Chang’s poem “The Boss Wears Wrist Guards,” “is the longest the /middle is used by those without power.” The Boss, Chang’s third poetry collection, tangles with work and sacrifice, examining power relationships as they exist in our most essential and contested arenas: the office, the home. Here, we witness a speaker hard at work, who must hold up a father and a daughter and her work, caring for many even as the workplace exacts its demands in all corners of her life. Read more at Coldfront.

A Tree Grows in LA: 'Urban' Meets Pastoral In 366 Short Poems

by Carmen Giménez Smith
The pastoral is one of literature's oldest forms; it's safe to say our ideas about nature, however, have changed rapidly and radically in the modern age. Poet Harryette Mullen makes a beautiful marriage between those new ideas and a classic poetic form in her first collection in over a decade, Urban Tumbleweed: Notes From a Tanka Diary. The tanka is a Japanese form dating back centuries. It's a 31-syllable poem that usually includes what Mullen calls "a refined awareness of seasonal changes and a classical repertoire of fleeting impressions." In Urban Tumbleweed, Mullen has written 366 tankas, describing a year of living in Los Angeles and traveling to places like Texas, Ohio, and Sweden while taking careful note of the natural world around her. Read more at NPR.

Hello, the Roses by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge 

by Karla Kelsey
As a term, Empathy, from the Greek em-pathos, in-feeling, is the translation that Edward Titchener, a psychologist working at the turn of the nineteenth century, gave to the German Einfühlung—sympathetic understanding, or, literally, feeling into another’s subject-position. Since the late 18th century the concept has had more, and then less, and now more attention in the fields of psychology and aesthetics. As affect, as one of the ways we act and are acted upon, this state of being has likely always been with us. It comes upon us unwilled, but we also consider it a state that can be cultivated, practiced, and theorized. The desired end of such projective feeling is to understand another from his or her perspective. Read more at Constant Critic.


by Elizabeth O’Brien
Thus begins “Scythe,” the opening poem in Hailey Leithauser’s Swoop, the lines operating as a double entendre inscribing the essence of the poem’s scythe as a poetic mission statement for the collection in whole. The book is constructed from several sets of poems that overlap thematically or tonally, including a handful of poems scattered throughout titled “From the Grandiloquent Dictionary,” which toy with words like katzenjammer and illaqueable and tragematopolist; a series of ruminations on sex (“Sex Fiasco,” “Sex Circumspect,” and so on); and several poems imagining inner lives for inanimate human tools. Read more at New Pages.

If other genres of literature have lost their readers, it is infinitely worse for poetry.


“Like A Muscle Under Tension Too Long”

The Correspondence of Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell
by Sean Campbell
Robert Lowell was a constant rewriter throughout his career, particularly of already published material. Frank Bidart in his introduction to the Collected Poems writes: "What most people think of as his first book, Lord Weary's Castle, is not a "revision" of Land of Unlikeness—less than a quarter of it transforms material from the earlier book—but it is, I think, the book that Land of Unlikeness wanted to be" (Bidart xiii). Through this revision period, roughly 1944 through 1946, he corresponded with Randall Jarrell, sending him poems from Land of Unlikeness, and new poems, including the Jonathan Edwards poems and "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket." Jarrell responded with marginal annotations and full letters detailing what Lowell needed to improve. Read more at The Battersea Review.

Secret Agents of Sense

by Sasha Dugdale
In Seamus Heaney’s essay ‘The Impact of Translation’, included in a book of essays memorably entitled The Government of the Tongue, Heaney considers how poetry in translation affects poets and their understanding of poetry, how translations work on poets by showing them other paths – the roads they might have taken but didn’t. Heaney is talking specifically about the poets of Eastern Europe and their effect on English-language poetry. The essay begins with a poem by Miłosz, typical, as Heaney writes, of poets ‘whose poetry not only witnesses the poet’s refusal to lose his or her cultural memory but also testifies thereby to the continuing efficacy of poetry itself as a necessary and fundamental human act’. Heaney shared with MPT’s first co-editor Ted Hughes a sense of excitement and wonder at the work of these poets, who wrote in the teeth of oppression, invasion and war and whose poetry, in the post-war landscape of Britain, must have rung out as strange and heroic, strident and uninhibited. Read more at Modern Poetry in Translation.

Squeezing the Universe into a Ball: Poetry and Meaning

by Lindsay Brownell
“How are you feeling?” asked the doctor. His patient was suffering from semantic dementia, a condition in which damage to part of the brain’s temporal lobe disrupts the connection between words and their meanings. Her vocabulary had been reduced to just 3,000-4,000 words, fewer than what a four-year-old can use (the average adult English speaker knows 20,000–35,000). She was a widow, her husband having passed away not long before, and lived by herself.  Answering the doctor’s simple question was a difficult task; she had no words to express abstract concepts like being alone. After a few moments she was able to respond, “Well, when I am at my place, it’s only me and the place.” Read more at the Public Library of Science.

W.H. Auden and Ecopoetics

by Robert Archambeau
W.H. Auden is a Greek poet, at least when it comes to nature. No, I don’t mean that he is all about olive trees and white sand beaches: I mean there is something fundamentally classical in his attitude toward the natural world, something that puts him at odds with the two dominant modes of nature poetry of our time—something that, indeed, casts light on the outlines of those norms. The two most common attitudes toward non-human nature in contemporary poetry are the Romantic (or sentimental—if we can use that word without condescension) and the ecopoetic. Read more at the Boston Review.

Robert Lowell was a constant rewriter throughout his career, particularly of already published material.

Drafts & Fragments

Flying Monkeys

Suddenly, poetry is hot. “Aimless Love,” a collection of new and selected poems by Billy Collins, climbs to No. 12 in its second week on the hardcover fiction list — higher than novels by John Sandford and James Patterson! — while Mary Oliver’s “Dog Songs” is still bouncing around the extended list after making its debut a few weeks ago at No. 5. Read more at the New York Times.

A collection of poems by Billy Collins climbs to No. 12 on the hardcover fiction list — higher than novels by John Sandford and James Patterson!

Poetry In the News

Discovery At Frost Place

Frost Place Director Maudelle Driskell says volunteer Dee Macoun was emptying the contents of a small closet during a routine clean up when she noticed something unusual about the large slab of wood supporting a shelf.  She said that she'd found something and we should come over and take a look.  And she just brought it out very matter-of-factly and we put it on the ground. And it took everyone's breath away. A couple people were brought to tears.  And we just looked at it for a second and were like, "What?  Can this be?" Driskell flips the old shelf support around. Two aged squares of ink-stained cardstock are nailed to the front. That handwriting is pretty unmistakable. Read more at New Hampshire Public Radio.

“The House We Live In”: Elizabeth Bishop on the Big Screen

When I first traveled to Rio de Janeiro to research all things Elizabeth Bishop, in 2002, I did not understand how or why everyone—from university professors to taxi drivers, artisans, artists, and entrepreneurs—had something to say about a poeta norteamericana. I quickly learned that I had to spend less time explaining why I was in Brazil and more time listening to stories and parsing through advice on how to find the things I might be looking for, new clues to understanding Bishop’s creative period in the country with “too many waterfalls.”  Read more at the Paris Review.

A breathtaking discovery was recently made at Frost Place.

New Books

The Empty Air: New Poems 2006-2012 by Tony Connor 

[Paperback] Anvil Press, 128 pp., $16.95

Tony Connor’s tenth collection is framed by military encounters. In the first poem a young man grapples with a malfunctioning machine-gun, while the author grapples with the poem he is making from this event, memory or fantasy. In the surrealistic sequence that ends the book, a strange army invades a country collapsing into societal and semantic dissolution. Connor’s abiding preoccupations continue into his eighties: his own life and the lives around him, passing time and its traps, poetry and its transfiguration of the commonplace. His new poems mix fantasy and reality in unexpected ways, always with the unobtrusive hand of a skilled craftsman.

Jade Mirror: Women Poets of China edited by Michael Farman

[Paperback] White Pine Press, 192 pp., $17.00 

This anthology spans twenty-five hundred years of writing by women. These are voices that were most often left out of the official anthologies and represent a hidden tradition that deserves a wider audience.

New and Selected Poems by David Lehman 

[Paperback] Scribner, 320 pp., $20.00

Drawing from a wealth of material produced over the course of more than forty years, David Lehman’s New and Selected Poems displays the remarkable range of his poetic genius. A gathering of stunning new poems, prose poems, and translations from modern French masters ushers in the book. Selections from each of Lehman’s seven full-length books of poetry follow and are capped off by a coda of important early and previously uncollected works. Lehman writes poems that captivate as they stimulate thought, poems that capture the romance, irony, and pathos of love, and poems that are lyrical and lovely in unexpected, sometimes even comic ways. This is David Lehman at his best.

Out Loud  by Peter B. Hyland

[Paperback] Sheep Meadow Press, 76 pp., $19.00

"Peter Hyland's poems are both elegantly wrought and meditatively wild. They testify to an original, restless intelligence. He can cast his imagination into a woman's dress, the mind of a grasshopper, or into the glass eyeballs of a buffalo head mounted on the wall of a home in suburban Texas to contemplate 'man's tireless ingenuity.'" –Tony Hoagland

Scratching the Ghost: Poems by Dexter L. Booth 

[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 88 pp., $15.00                  

“In Dexter Booth’s Scratching the Ghost, a cracked egg means the universe is splitting, the slap of a double-dutch rope is a broken-throated hymn, and splitting a squealing hog is akin to lovemaking. These are poems loyal to their own intrepid logic and reckless plausibility. Yet, lest the reader get too giddy in a fun house of mirrors, here, too, are the melodic laments and remarkable lyric passages of a poet who acknowledges the infinite current of melancholy that underlines his journey.” —Major Jackson

Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary by Harryette Mullen 

[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 120 pp., $15.00
Urban Tumbleweed is the poet Harryette Mullen’s exploration of spaces where the city and the natural world collide. Written out of a daily practice of walking, Mullen’s stanzas adapt the traditional Japanese tanka, a poetic form suited for recording fleeting impressions, describing environmental transitions, and contemplating the human being’s place in the natural world. But, as she writes in her preface, “What is natural about being human? What to make of a city dweller taking a ‘nature walk’ in a public park while listening to a podcast with ear-bud headphones?”

Alternative Medicine by Rafael Campo 

[Hardcover] Duke University Press, 88 pp., $69.95
In his sixth collection of poetry, the celebrated poet-physician Rafael Campo examines the primal relationship between language, empathy, and healing. As masterfully crafted as they are viscerally powerful, these poems propose voice itself as a kind of therapeutic medium. For all that most ails us, Alternative Medicine offers the balm of song and the salve of the imagination: from the wounds of our stubborn differences of identity, to the pain of alienation in a world of unfeeling technologies, to the shame of the persistent injustices in our society, Campo's poetry displays a deep understanding of hurt as the possibility for healing. Demonstrating an abiding faith in our survival, this stunning, heartfelt book ultimately embraces the great diversity of our ways of knowing and dreaming, of needing and loving, and of living and dying.

“Jade Mirror: Women Poets of China” spans twenty-five hundred years of writing by women, voices that represent a hidden tradition that deserves a wider audience.


Doing Wicked Things

Ricardo Maldonado interviews Lucie Brock-Broido
In the reading materials Lucie Brock-Broido gives students attending her “Practice of Poetry” seminar at Columbia University, she references an anonymous passage I feel compelled to quote whenever I talk shop with a younger poet: “Yesterday I told my girls, I told them, if somebody interesting talks to you, you say a few things too. You might as well breathe at the same time & let the words out in the air. Don’t just ask questions, I told them. Give things away. Give yourself away.” Read more at Guernica.

Poetry Profiles: Graywolf Press

by Dana Jennings 
The latest in a series of occasional profiles of poetry publishers. These questions were answered by Jeffrey Shotts, Graywolf’s executive editor, with Fiona McCrae, the press’s director and publisher. Wish List I: What book in the last five years do you wish you had published? A great wish for poetry would be for Tomas Transtromer to be able to write with full powers and to continue publishing his work. Imagine the poems he might have written if he hadn’t suffered the stroke in 1990 that left him partly paralyzed. Imagine the book or books that might have been published in the last 15 years. We do get to read, at least, some of his poems written on the other side of his stroke, and they are marvels. Read more at the New York Times.

Yves Bonnefoy

Dialogical: Fifty Years
by Anthony Rudolf 
Note: In my new book Silent Conversations: A Reader’s Life 1, I draw on the work of writers central to my own work, among them Baudelaire, Levi, Oppen, Celan, Barthes and Paz, and the writer whose poetry and prose I have been translating for fifty years, Yves Bonnefoy, who was 90 in June. To mark this occasion, the Presses universitaires de Strasbourg published Yves Bonnefoy: Poésie et dialogue, edited by Michèle Finck and Patrick Werly earlier in 2013. As my contribution to this book, I adapted and rewrote those sections of Silent Conversations which reveal implicitly or explicitly my indebtedness to Bonnefoy and my gratitude to him for being there, always open to dialogue, always awaiting the possibility of learning something new, like all great teachers. Read more at Fortnightly Review.


“if somebody interesting talks to you, you say a few things too. You might as well breathe at the same time & let the words out in the air.”

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

"You Have to be a Poet to Write a Good Children’s Book" 

NPR’s All Things Considered spent time this weekend with children’s book writer (and poet) Cynthia Rylant, to talk about her connection to poetry and her own childhood. Read more at Harriet.

It's good to have a fall-back position.

Children’s book writer (and poet) Cynthia Rylant on her connection to poetry and her own childhood.