November 16, 2017

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1587—Joost van den Vondel, Dutch poet/dramatist (Jephtha), born in Cologne, Germany.

1684—Abraham Alewijn, Dutch poet/playwright (Puiterveense Helleveeg), is born.
1839—Louis-Honoré Fréchette, French Canadian poet (d. 1908), is born.
1880—Alexander A Block, Russian poet (Dvenatsat) [NS=11/28], is born.
1888—Henri [Ferdinand M J] Bosco, French author/poet (Gogol), is born.
1895—Eduard Bagritsky, [Dzhubin], Russ poet/journalist (South-West), is born.
1967—Craig Arnold, American poet, is born.


You wish you could take the bird outside 
and set it free or (failing that) 
call a bird-understander 
to come help the bird 

All you can do is notice the bird 
and feel for the bird       and write 
to tell me how language feels 
impossibly useless 

but you are wrong 

—from “The Bird-Understander” by Craig Arnold

“You wish you could take the bird outside / and set it free or (failing that) / call a bird-understander” – Craig Arnold

World Poetry

Rupi Kaur Reinvents Poetry for the Social-media Generation

Rupi Kaur made her name on Instagram by attacking Instagram, a fitting ascent for the provocative 24-year-old poet who releases her short verses onto the slippery, reactive sphere of social media. In 2015, she uploaded a picture of herself lying in bed on sheets stained with menstrual blood. The post was removed, and she promptly hit back. “I will not apologise for feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but will not be okay with a small leak,” she wrote on Facebook and Tumblr. Vitriol and death threats came in droves, but so did followers. Today’s count is 1.7m.

Russian Teacher Faces Second Trial For Poetry Praising Ukraine


A former teacher of German in Russia's Oryol region who was fired from his job and convicted of inciting ethnic hatred for writing a pro-Ukraine poem says he now faces a new trial over a separate piece of writing. Aleksandr Byvshev wrote on Facebook on November 3 that police informed a day earlier that their investigation had been completed and the case sent to a court in the region, which is in western Russia close to Ukraine.

“Den poezie”: Poetry as a Guide through the Labyrinth of the World


For two weeks from November 12 the Czech Republic will be indulging in a feast of poetry with the 19th annual “Den poezie” poetry festival. It will include a wide variety of events, nearly two hundred in total, in sixty towns and villages across the country, and even if you do not speak Czech, you will not be left empty-handed.

A Russian poet who was fired from his job for writing a pro-Ukraine poem now faces a new trial over a separate piece of writing.

Recent Reviews

Robyn Sarah's Exquisitely Untrendy Poetry
The Montreal poet’s timeless world of leaves, rain, snow, wind, sidewalks and shadows
by Anita Lahey


My favourite poem by Robyn Sarah is a single sentence running in short, jagged lines halfway down the page. Called “Echoes in November,” it starts by reminding the reader that “correspondences are everywhere” and that things can “borrow / essence not their own,” before vividly depicting a kitchen scene in which leaves streaking past a window are juxtaposed against a figure chopping vegetables. 


Selected Poems of Thom Gunn edited by Clive Wilmer review – Life on the Edge


Thom Gunn was one of those poets you studied at school in the 1960s or 70s if your teacher had their finger on the pulse: Plath, Hughes, Heaney and Gunn. He had his first collection, Fighting Terms (1954), accepted for publication while still an undergraduate at Cambridge, and brought out his second, The Sense of Movement, in 1957 – the same year as Ted Hughes’s The Hawk in the Rain. Gunn and Hughes were prolific and famous enough, in 1962, to share a joint Selected Poems from Faber. Gunn met his life partner, Mike Kitay, an American visiting student, at Cambridge, and moved with him to California in 1954. By the time Gunn died at his home in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, he had lived in the US for nearly 60 years, and had become – as he put it – an “Anglo-American poet”.


Savage Vistas
by Calista McRae


The arresting title of Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence binds a neutral formula to two words that often appear in conjunction: in newspaper headlines, in film ratings, in academic journals. Sex and violence are embodied—wryly, bleakly—on the book’s cover, which features a black-and-white photograph of an abandoned, half-demolished strip club. Its sign once advertised TOPLESS DANCERS. Violence, in the form of an excavator with open jaws, approaches from the left.

The Summoning World: Mary Oliver’s (Re)Visionary Legacy
by Nicola Waldron


This summer, walking the wooded lanes of my husband’s Massachusetts hometown, I reached down to rescue a red eft that had wandered into the road: I mean, I pincered between my fingertips that flame-bright newt’s tiny tail, as firm-yet-gentle as I was able, and shifted it into the grass. Though I’d seen my spouse and young son do this with ease, it was, for me, raised in the London suburbs, a first. I had to face down fear to do it, override some reflex either inborn or else learned during the course of that airless, constrained upbringing, and reach across the paralyzing space between us.

Figuring It out in the Air: On “The Education of a Young Poet”
by Lisa Fetchko


David Biespiel is a Portland-based poet and critic with roots in Boston, Houston, Iowa, and Ukraine. The award-winning author of five collections of poetry, Biespiel is a prolific critic who is a regular contributor to The Rumpus and had a long-running column in the Oregonian. From the dense expressionism of his early poetry to the wry, intimate connections he makes between individual Americans and forgotten moments in our landscape and history in his latest collection, Biespiel’s poetry has always been concerned with rhythm, form, and sensuality. 

David Biespiel is a Portland-based poet and critic with roots in Boston, Houston, Iowa, and Ukraine.


Writing Poetry under Stalin: Samizdat and Memorization
by Martin Puchner


At first, Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet, worked on her poem in the usual way. She always composed by hand, writing out the lines on paper; then she would make corrections and perhaps read the lines aloud to see if they sounded right. Normally, she would produce a fair copy and send it to a magazine, or put it aside until a whole cycle of poems had emerged and then approach a book publisher. Before the Great War, she had published several volumes in this way, to great acclaim. She had become a celebrated poet in Russia while still in her early twenties, a dashing figure with her long shawls, black hair, and a bearing that betrayed her aristo­cratic heritage.


From Midcentury Confessional Poetry to Reality TV: How Did “Confession” Become a Dirty Word?
by Christopher Grobe


Studies of confession—even offhand remarks on the subject—must, by custom, begin with a few sweeping claims about Confession in the West. No essay on personal poetry, no think-piece on memoir feels complete until someone has lit a candle at the shrine of St. Augustine. Having witnessed a few such acts of historical hand-waving, you could be forgiven for thinking that a council of 13th-century bishops—or was it an 18th-century philosopher?—made the debut of The Real World in 1992 a historical inevitability. There is, however, a serious point to be made on this millennial scale. Our current culture of self-awareness, self-expression, and self-care rests on foundations laid long ago. We’ve risen to penthouse levels—millions of life stories high—so it’s only natural if we’ve lost sight of the ground. 


The Bloody History of Bible Translators
by Willis Barnstone


Let me begin with my own heresy. I recently published a book called Poets of the Bible: From Solomon’s Song of Songs to John’s Revelation. There are poems lurking everywhere in our two Testaments and yet, the iniquity is in collating the whole Bible into one concise poetry anthology. Poetry is often concealed in prose, as we know — think of Whitman, who found his paradigm for free verse in scripture. There were many before him of course, including John Milton, and many after, like Emily Dickinson and Dylan Thomas. Poems abound in the Bible like spring blooms.

Bible translators have an unlikely, and bloody, history.

Drafts & Fragments

I Pretended to Be Emily Dickinson on an Online Dating Site
And I found out that every guy wants to get with a famous dead poet

Like most brilliant ideas, it began as a joke. A friend and I were at lunch, discussing our frustrations with online dating, when I suddenly realized the ridiculousness of our conversation. Here we were, two modern, educated women, and we had spent nearly two hours talking about our romantic relationships! This wasn’t the sort of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be Gloria Steinem. I wanted to be Ruth Bader Ginsbuerg. I didn’t want to be the sort of woman who spends her entire life talking about boys.     

Unlikely Style Icons: Mr Philip Larkin
by Ashley Clarke

Famous for poetry that finds poignancy in the provinciality of British life, Mr Philip Larkin is undisputedly one of the literary greats of the 20th century. He is not, however, generally regarded as one of its greatest dressers – known more for his miseryguts persona than his clothes, Mr Larkin once likened his physique to that of “a pregnant salmon”.

Philip Larkin is an unlikely style icon for the 21st Century.

Poetry In the News

Dolores Kendrick, Washington’s ‘First lady of poetry,’ Dies at 90

Dolores Kendrick, a teacher and poet who channeled the voices of female slaves in her writing and advocated for an expansive role of poetry in public life, organizing festivals and youth programs in her nearly two decades as Washington's poet laureate, died Nov. 7 at her home in the District. She was 90 and had just completed the manuscript of her latest book, a collection of new and selected poems titled "Rainbow on Fire."

Mass Poetry Releases Poems Into The Wild — On The T

You may find yourself staring blankly at one of the many ads on the T this month, just to realize that you’re actually looking at a piece of poetry. Mass Poetry is repeating its annual “Poetry on the T” program, giving commuters the chance to see poetry in the wild. “Poetry on the T” will feature 10 poems by seven different poets, all with ties to Massachusetts. 

Dolores Kendrick, a teacher and poet who channeled the voices of female slaves in her writing, died Nov. 7 at her home in Washington D.C.

New Books

Season of the Second Thought by Lynn Powell
[Paperback] University of Wisconsin Press, 72 pp., $14.95 

Season of the Second Thought begins in a deep blue mood, longing to find words for what feels beyond saying. Lynn Powell's poems journey through the seasons, quarreling with the muse, reckoning with loss, questioning the heart and its "pedigree of Pentecost," and seeking out paintings in order to see inside the self. With their crisp observations and iridescent language, these poems accumulate the bounty of an examined life. These lines emerge from darkness into a shimmering equilibrium—witty, lush, and hard-won.

Street Calligraphy by Jim Daniels
[Paperback] Steel Toe Books, $12.00 

"In Street Calligraphy, Jim Daniels continues to enchant and transport us across state lines while rooting us in tragic heart lessons and the triumphs of love. These are moving, unflinching poems — brutal and brave in their pulse to assert that even after a world where "We drew lies with chalk / and the truth with tar. / We lit our hair on fire / to cover the smell," — there comes a beautiful reassembling of what it means to have people who sing you home." — Aimee Nezhukumathil

Solve for Desire: Poems by Caitlin Bailey 
[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 88 pp., $16.00

Georg Trakl is one of the most celebrated poets of the early twentieth century. Less is known about his sister, Grete: also gifted, also addicted to drugs, and dead by her own hand three years after Georg’s overdose. But in Solve for Desire―selected by Srikanth Reddy as the winner of the 2017 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry―Caitlin Bailey summons Grete from the shadows. At once sensual and acidic, obsessive and bereft, the Grete of these poems is a fairy-tale sister leaving “missives dropped around the city, crumbs / for your ghost.”

Thousands by Lightsey Darst
[Paperback] Coffee House Press, 104 pp., $16.95 

“Dear fear, dear darkness, dear misunderstandings, dear life, dear lost-in-myself, I am no longer afraid of you. Now I have this book. I have Lightsey Darst’s amazing and ecstatic meditation on being a person in the world, I have these poems to guide me, I have her bravery and wild mind, I have her spells and wisdom, I have these incredible poems to carry with me wherever I go.” —Matthew Dickman 

Saint Torch by Emily Fragos
[Paperback] Sheep Meadow, 76 pp., $21.93 

“Emily Fragos is a thin-skinned, tough-minded poet of this world. Her sensual sensibility is unrestrained by conventional perceptual grids. Her poems take us by surprise. . . . Fragos’s trust in language is fruitful, justified. No word she writes is an advertisement for herself. We are enlarged by her resonant verbal imagination.” —Marie Ponsot

Emily Fragos is a thin-skinned, tough-minded poet of this world. Her sensual sensibility is unrestrained by conventional perceptual grids.


A Poet, with Prison Behind Him, Becomes an Attorney
by Nicholas Dawidoff

Late Friday afternoon, in a small, sleepy, windowless fourth-floor courtroom at the New Haven State Superior Court, an official cried, “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!,” as Judge Omar Williams arrived from Hartford to conduct the final business of the week. Williams looked out upon two rows of pew-like wooden benches, all of them filled, and informed the public that the court had received word from the state that Reginald Dwayne Betts, age thirty-seven, had been “successfully” approved to practice law in Connecticut. 

12 or 20 (second series) Questions with Daniel Poppick
by Rob McLennan


Daniel Poppick is the author of The Police (Omnidawn, 2017). His poetry appears in BOMB, The New Republic, Granta, Hyperallergic, and Fence. The recipient of fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he currently lives in Brooklyn, where he co-edits the Catenary Press.


Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith to Aspiring Poets: ‘Read against your taste’
by Erin Woo

Tracy K. Smith, the current Poet Laureate of the United States, gave a reading at Cemex Auditorium on Monday as part of the Lane Lecture Series, which funds visits by noted contemporary writers throughout the year. During the lecture, she read poems from her upcoming poetry collection, “Wade in the Water,” which will be released in April 2018. Smith, a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University, was also a Stegner fellow at Stanford from 1997-1999. Since then, she has published three collections of poetry and a memoir, “Ordinary Light.” Her 2011 book, “Life on Mars,” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Smith counts Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney and Rita Dove among her literary inspirations.

Poet laureate Tracy K. Smith’s advice to aspiring poets: “Read against your taste.”

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Philip Larkin

"I think a poet should be judged by what he does with his subjects, not what his subjects are. Otherwise you're getting near the totalitarian attitude of wanting poems about steel-production figures rather than Mais où sont les neiges d'antan? Poetry isn't a kind of paint spray you use to cover selected objects with. A good poem about failure is a success."
—from The Paris Review, "Philip Larkin, The Art of Poetry No. 30"
Interviewed by Robert Phillips

“I think a poet should be judged by what he does with his subjects, not what his subjects are.” – Philip Larkin