November 23, 2017

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

615—Columbanus, Irish monastery founder/poet/saint (Poenitentiale), dies.

1572—Agnolo di Cosimo, Italian artist and poet (b. 1503), dies.
1872—Ten Bears (Parra-Wa-Samen), US poet/Comanche chief, dies.
1920—Paul Celan, [Antschell], German/Romanian poet (Collected Prose), is born.
1926—Christopher Logue, British poet/stage writer (Trials), is born.
1949—Gayl Jones, US author/poet (Corregidora, Song for Anninho), is born.
1965—Jennifer Michael Hecht, American poet and historian, is born.


We stand by the window embracing, and people look up from
the street:
it is time they knew!
It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.

It is time.

—from “Corona” by Paul Celan
[Translated by Michael Hamburger] 

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower,” – Celan

World Poetry

Iranian Writer and Poet Released on Bail

Author and poet Dr. Sedigheh Vasmaghi was released on bail on 4 November 2017. Vasmaghi had been held in Evin prison since 22 October where she was brought for interrogation after her return from Sweden.

Seamus Heaney's Biographer Races to See Poet's Faxes before They Fade

A race is on to track down faxes sent by Seamus Heaney before they fade. The outdated technology was the preferred form of communication for the late Nobel laureate and will be a vital source for Fintan O’Toole, who has just been signed up to write an authorised biography of the Irish poet. “My one terror is that his favourite communication mode was the fax, and faxes fade. So I’m going to have to find out who has faxes from him, and read them quickly. At the end, [Heaney’s publisher] Faber had a fax machine that was kept just for Seamus,” said O’Toole.

Author and poet Dr. Sedigheh Vasmaghi has been released from Iranian jail.

Recent Reviews

Wait for It: On Michael Robbins and Refrains
by Michael Devine

I’m a songwriter, which means I write refrains. Here’s one:
A kid just googled
Is God really dead?
Actually, that’s only half of it. If you want the rest, you’ll have to wait for it.

To Imagine Excellence
by A. M. Juster

Richard Wilbur died peacefully, surrounded by family, on October 14. Though he had a full life, he did not receive the Nobel Prize or the biography that he deserved. Readers of the biography he did get, written by Robert and Mary Bagg, will learn the contours of Wilbur’s life: his youth in New Jersey, emergence as a rising literary star at Amherst College, World War II service, graduate education at Harvard, long career as professor of English at Wesleyan University, tenure as Poet Laureate, and dedication to his wife, Charlee, and their children. What they will not get is much insight into Wilbur’s elegant, complex, and seemingly effortless verse.

Leontia Flynn: Serious about the Butts of her Jokes


‘The Radio’ is an outstanding book from a poet who is not only one of the best writers of her generation but who seems, more and more, to be the voice of that generation
by John McAuliffe
Leontia Flynn’s new, fourth collection The Radio (Cape, £10) is agonised, gabby, curt, meditative, cruel (and self-lacerating, too), smart and smarting, funny and, when she tells them, serious about the butts of her jokes. Here is the parody of a commissioned poem, Ode to Moy Park, “Oh Moy Park, supplier of own-label and customer-branded poultry / your contribution to my life, and lives of all in Northern Ireland, is far from paltry.”

Leontia Flynn’s The Radio is agonised, gabby, curt, meditative, cruel (and self-lacerating, too), smart and smarting, funny and serious.


‘The Rhymes Are Sometimes Poor’
by Seamus Perry


Matthew Arnold published New Poems – in which “Dover Beach” makes its first appearance – 150 years ago. It was his last substantial collection of verse, his farewell to the art. In the remaining years of his life he collected and re-collected his poems, and added a few minor pieces; but the poetry had all but dried up, and he re-trenched as a writer of tendentiously brilliant prose: religious controversy, cultural commentary, and literary criticism. W. H. Auden, always fascinated by the business of repression, analysed the phenomenon in his mercilessly clinical sonnet about Arnold who, he wrote, “thrust his gift in prison till it died”. Arnold himself saw it more as a desertion, the pity of which was not so much being unable to write poems any more as remembering that one could, once. 


Why Baudelaire Continues to Fascinate
Baudelaire sided neither with the right-thinking bourgeoisie nor with the progressives. For this reason, even though he achieved rapid fame, there were many who refused to acknowledge his genius.
by André Guyaux

On the 150th anniversary of the death of Baudelaire, André Guyaux, literary historian at the Sorbonne, explains why the poet’s work is more topical than ever.

What Mary Oliver’s Critics Don’t Understand
For America’s most beloved poet, paying attention to nature is a springboard to the sacred.
By Ruth Franklin


“Mary Oliver is saving my life,” Paul Chowder, the title character of Nicholson Baker’s novel “The Anthologist,” scrawls in the margins of Oliver’s “New and Selected Poems, Volume One.” A struggling poet, Chowder is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. His girlfriend, with whom he’s lived for eight years, has just left him, ostensibly because he has been unable to write the long-overdue introduction to a poetry anthology that he has been putting together. For solace and inspiration, he turns to poets who have been his touchstones—Louise Bogan, Theodore Roethke, Sara Teasdale—before discovering Oliver.

On the 150th anniversary of the death of Baudelaire, André Guyaux, historian at the Sorbonne, explains why the poet’s work is more topical than ever.

Drafts & Fragments

Wanted: Poet Laureate, Preferably without Controversy
by David Menconi 


Nominations for N,C. Poet Laureate open this week, and it’s a position whose recent history has some controversy. Coordinated by the N.C. Arts Council, nominations for the prestigious position begin Wednesday and go until Dec. 8. Laureates serve as advocates for poetry and literary ambassadors for the state, conducting programs and workshops. Their duties also include writing poems to commemorate “historical or culturally important occasions.”

This Artist 'Fixed' Louis C.K.'s Apology and Turned It into a Searing Poem about Sexual Misconduct
by Rachel Kraus

A pattern has emerged with every new allegation of sexual misconduct. After the bombshell comes an "apology" letter — now the accused's ubiquitous and perfunctory mechanism for responding. Many have found the letters hollow, insincere, and insufficient. But one woman has altered the apology letters to give them new meaning.

An artist fixed Louis C.K.’s apology letter, turning it into a searing poem about sexual misconduct.

Poetry In the News

Poet Frank Bidart Wins the National Book Award

Last night, the National Book Award winners were announced at a ceremony in New York City, among them the poet Frank Bidart, A.M. ’67. Per tradition, the long lists were released in September with 10 titles in each genre—poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and young adult literature—then halved a month later. This year, the National Book Foundation recognized six books by Harvard affiliates. Bidart, A.M. ’67, won for Half-Light, which assembles a half-century’s worth of verse from over his career.

Acclaimed Kansas City Poet Michelle Boisseau Dies At 62

"One thing that a poet needs more than anything else — well, you need a sense of language — but you need people who love you. And I have that," the poet Michelle Boisseau told New Letters on the Air host Angela Elam earlier this year. "I have incredible colleagues, and of course my husband Tom [Stroik], and people who believe in your work. Just keep doing it."

Acclaimed Kansas City poet Michelle Boisseau has passed away.

New Books

Concerto al-Quds by Adonis
[Hardcover] Yale University Press, 96 pp., $25.00 

At the age of eighty-six, Adonis, an Arabic poet with Syrian origins, a critic, an essayist, and a devoted secularist, has come out of retirement to pen an extended, innovative poem on Jerusalem/Al-Quds. It is a hymn to a troubled city embattled by the conflicting demands of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Adonis’s city, as a coveted land, ought to suggest the universal love of humanity; as a land of tragedy, a place of contending history and beliefs, and a locus of bitterness, conflict, hatred, rivalry, and blood. Wrapping multiple voices, historical references, and political viewpoints within his ecstatic lyricism, Adonis has created a provocative work of unique beauty and profound wisdom, beautifully rendered in English by award-winning poet Khaled Mattawa.

Projector by Michael Catherwood 
[Paperback] Stephen F. Austin University Press, 88 pp., $16.00 

Projector navigates past and present in Michael Catherwood’s world of colorful scenarios of a one-armed Vietnam Vet running pool tables, dreaming alternate endings to John Wayne films, a vacation photo of a father scalping his son next to a teepee in the deserts of Arizona, and a man frozen in time.


Camera by Maxine Chernoff 
[Paperback] Subito Press, 84 pp., $18.00

Camera is both paean and lament for a world in flux. To render such a world with its unresolvable tensions between time's embodiment and erasure is the focus of the collection. What does it mean to hold many irreconcilable presences? The task is to measure small changes, arrivals and departures. The work is a border between existence and disappearance. Moments named and described are "framed." Though the created world with its emotional truths will not last, it is a topography of words and a realm of heightened scrutiny. To hold and revere its presence is the poem's agency. A world is predicated by representation of nature, seasons, ritual, location, and the arts. Loss looming, love is attention given and the human bond holding writer and reader.

Fight Songs by Cal Freeman 
[Paperback] Eyewear Publishing, 84 pp., $14.49

Fight Songs exposes the rusted underbelly of the American Midwest, as experienced by young men, brutal cops, suicide cases, junkies, lovers, and minorities seeking justice. At turns as stark and thrilling as a Stooges track, as brutally desolate as a burnt-out Detroit factory, this is also an elegy for Michigan's vast and gorgeous wilderness. Freeman's poetry is unsparingly lyrical, and ethically limned with ecological, political, and local concerns. This is the riposte to Trump's vision we never expected—one that hails from the same husked landscape that elevated him, but this time, yearning for justice, hopeful of beauty among the bruised fighters leaning on frayed ropes.



Fortune Cookie by Jenna Clake 
[Paperback] Eyewear Publishing, 70 pp., $14.49

Fortune Cookie is Jenna Clake's debut collection. These poems deal with the everyday and ordinary: living with a partner, friendships, and chronic insomnia. At the same time, they contain confusing, absurd worlds: animals can talk, boyfriends are imagined or might be seals, and jellyfish are slowly taking over. At once humorous, poignant and unsettling, this collection considers how we might make sense of a world that really makes no sense at all.

At the age of 86, Adonis, an Arabic poet with Syrian origins, has come out of retirement with an extended, innovative poem on Jerusalem/Al-Quds.


Poet Sam Sax Chats About Queer Identity, Sex, & Mental Health
by  Phillip M. Miner

Sam Sax is the author of Madness (Penguin, 2017) winner of The National Poetry Series and ‘Bury It’ (Wesleyan University Press, 2018) winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Lambda Literary, & the MacDowell Colony. He’s the two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion, winner of the Gulf Coast Prize, The Iowa Review Award, & American Literary Award. He’s the poetry editor at BOAAT Press.  Sam and I got a few beers and falafel and talked about his newest book of poetry, Madness.

Cellular Portals: A Conversation with Ursula Andkjær Olsen
The Danish poet on corporeal poetics, pregnancy, and the influence of classical music.
by Morten Høi Jensen

Even by the relatively healthy standards of the Danish poetry scene—it is not at all unusual for collections of poetry to appear on bestseller lists—Ursula Andkjær Olsen has reached an assured position as one of the most critically acclaimed poets in Denmark. In 2005 the publication of her fourth book, The Marriage between the Path and the Exit (Gyldendal), made headlines when the late editor of the Danish broadsheet Politiken, Tøger Seidenfaden, devoted one of his regular columns to praising Olsen. Since then she has published several collections of conceptual, polyphonic poetry, including The Sea is a Stage(Gyldendal), which was nominated for the 2008 Nordic Council Literature Prize, and Third-Millenium Heart (Broken Dimanche Press/Action Books), now published in English in an inventive and fluent translation by the Brooklyn-based editor and journalist Katrine Øgaard Jensen.

Clayton Eshleman: The First & Last Questions 
by Irakli Qolbaia


[What follows are two sections from a longer interview conducted by the Georgian poet and translator Irakli Qolbaia, in which Eshleman takes on two key words in his work – “origin” and “penetralia” – and ties them to his own emergence and development as a poet and major searcher for the origins of poetry and the imagination.  The full interview was originally published in Jerrold Shiroma’s important on-line magazine Seedings (Duration Press) and can be found here and here on the internet. (J.R.)]

Sam Sax is the author of Madness and ‘Bury It’.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

It's been a few years since North Carolina made a mess of things, poet-laureately speaking. Certainly, the folks in charge have taken to heart the object lesson of the experience. It shouldn't be too great a task. I can think of five fine poets off the top of my head— Alan Shapiro, Heather Ross Miller, Al Maginnes, Eric Nelson, and Beth Copeland— who would make impressive stewards of poetry in the Tarheel state. I am sure those closer to the ground there could come up with a dozen more. Good luck to all.

It’s been a few years since North Carolina made a mess of things, poet-laureately speaking.