November 5, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1613 – Isaac de Benserade, French poet (d. 1691), is born.
1836 – Karel Hynek Mácha, Czech poet (b. 1810), dies.
1850 – Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American author and poet (d. 1919), is born.
1884 – James Elroy Flecker, English poet/dramatist (Hassan), is born.
2010 – Adrian Păunescu, Romanian poet and politician (b. 1943), dies.


So what if Primăvara comes?
There's so much winter left in us
That March and the migrating cranes
Can turn around and travel back

In us there's space only for winter
We'll freeze under the final frost.
Trying to find our way on thin ice
Like an embarrassment toward another

And from the warmer countries come
The geese of the last Fall
And their nests under the roof have dried
And next to me there is no you.

—from “Antiprimavara” by Adrian Păunescu (1943–2010)

World Poetry

‘The Storm of Reality’: Chinese Poetic Voices From the Lower Tier of Society

Who are the most penetrating chroniclers of the dramatic economic and social transformation of China since 1978, which led hundreds of millions of people to leave rural communities for work in factories or cities, their lives torn up and pieced back together, differently? Perhaps poets?

New Search Planned for Grave of Spanish Poet Lorca

Archeologists will start inspecting land in southern Spain near where the acclaimed poet Federico Garcia Lorca is believed to have been executed and buried at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, officials said Friday. Soundings will begin on Nov. 17 in a 300-square meter (360-square yard) hillside close to the southern city of Granada, Luis Naranjo of the southern regional government of Andalusia said. He said the project is aimed at discovering the remains of Civil War victims, not specifically those of Lorca. He stressed that the studies did not involve any digging. If signs of bones are detected it will be up to a court to decide the next step.

The New Poet’s Old Favourite

There is a certain romance to the sight of poetry set in vintage typewriter font on a yellowing scrap of paper marked by stains of coffee. Transfer the idea on to social media and it becomes an altogether new literature-meets-art form.  A rising number of young poets are now using the almost-extinct typewriter to write out poems, photographing these and posting them on networking sites like Instagram and Facebook. This typewritten poetry now has huge following across the world and in India. Some of the biggest names in Instagram typed poetry such as Christopher Poindexter and Tyler Knott Gregson have over one lakh followers — in the fickle virtual world they command a rare loyalty among poetry lovers. 

Slain Afghan Official, a Poet, Embodied Hope of Youth

To those who knew him, Abdul Qadim Patyal, the 32-year-old deputy governor of Kandahar province, was a rarity among Afghan officials: a politician with the soul of a poet. Patyal, a well-known writer, was gunned down Sunday while sitting in a Kandahar University classroom, attending a night course on Pashto literature. He was in his final semester, months from earning an education degree.

Recent Reviews

Death and Revelations

by Stephen Burt
If you follow contemporary poetry closely — and maybe even if you don’t — it can get all too easy to mistake the poetry for the debates about it: should it get populist, or turn digital, or speak to an elite? Can its forms respond to the latest late capitalism, or compete with quality television? How can it be, as Rimbaud put it, “absolutely modern”? Beset by such questions we may forget why many of us came to poetry in the first place: it can use words — nothing but words and the sounds of words — to show us what’s wrong and what’s right in the shapes of our lives.

Wunderkammer by Cynthia Cruz

by Diana Whitney
I recently heard Cynthia Cruz read at the Brattleboro Literary Festival. Fine-boned and soft-spoken, she walked up to the lectern and showed us the cover of her third book, Wunderkammer. “That’s James Joyce’s daughter,” she said, indicating a gorgeous young dancer slinking sideways in a scaled and feathery costume. “She ended up dying in a mental asylum. But I just love this photo.”

A Chance to Read Between the Lines

John Berryman Is Reconsidered in 4 New Books
by Dwight Garner
“Let’s shuck an obligation,” John Berryman (1914-72) wrote in one of the poems he called dream songs. This is the same cluster of poems in which this indelible and unbuttoned American poet also commented, “I look less weird/without my beard.” It’s the centennial of Berryman’s birth, and not to pay heed would be to shuck a very large obligation indeed. This poet’s achievement looms larger by the year. And Berryman did, truth be told, look more weird without his beard.

Tintinnabulation, Nevermore!

by Scott McLemee
It is difficult to recite “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe without sounding like an idiot. The first line is navigable without much trouble; the two lines near the close (“From the bells, bells, bells, bells/Bells, bells, bells –”) are just vocal calisthenics. But they return at the same point in the following stanza, with an additional three “bells” for good measure. By the fourth and final stanza, the word repeats twelve times in five lines, and dignity is just a memory. In one of the harsher evaluations of Poe, the critic Yvor Winters complained about “such resounding puerilities as ‘the pallid bust of Pallas’ ” in “The Raven,” which he called “that attenuated exercise for elocutionists.”

How to Understand the Frailties of Life with HIV? Poetry

by Julian Gewirtz
In the 1990s, so eager were young gay men to forget the ravages of the AIDS epidemic that they helped to legitimate a cultural shift toward a conversation around its non-existence. Troubling words like “clean” and “disease-free” began to be used to signal HIV-negative status, stigmatizing those who lived with the disease as unclean or worse. “One month after it’s ended,” said Ford Maddox Ford about World War I, “it will be forgotten. Everybody will want to forget it—it will be bad form to mention it.” The same could be said of many of the twentieth century’s crises. An intentional forgetting seeks to hold at bay the uncertainty and frailty that history exposed on its battlegrounds—whether those battlegrounds were the Western Front or, as in the case of HIV/AIDS, others’ bodies. The first three books of the American poet D.A. Powell, newly collected asRepast and published this November by Graywolf Press, refute that kind of forgetting.


Exhuming Vallejo

by Geoffrey Brock
I first read César Vallejo in college, when a Peruvian friend presented me with several of his poems as if they were national treasures she had smuggled through customs. I was struck most forcefully by a strange sonnet called “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca,” and though I knew none of the existing translations, I was minoring in Spanish and could read the original well enough. 

Killing a Pig at Farmstead

By Patrick Hutchison
In the dappled early-morning sun, under a bigleaf maple, Ben Killian is finishing a Robert Francis poem and getting pretty choked up. 
And deeper yet down to the earth-dark root.
I am in love with what resists my loving,
With what I have to labor to make live.
The poem is dedicated to Killian’s pig, a 350-pound Black Tam heritage hybrid. It is a pig that is about to be butchered. 

FL: Spencer Reece’s “Gilgamesh,” or S. Reece Is a Mean Bastard & Heartsick

by William Emery
The grand weird gesture of the title “Gilgamesh” and the gentle cruelty of the first line—‘We lived on a lake with Muscovy ducks’—gives the prevailing past tense of ‘to live’ a suffocating force. As the stanza beads, hazy sounds invoke the sensibility of epic: Thr, ucks, ust, sco: these are inescapable. The repetition of ‘ducks’ and the repetitions of ‘thrust,’ combined with all that came before, give the reader a sense of time’s long cycle, of the hard nostalgia of the condemned. Then Reece changes the tune.

Cathy Park Hong Calls Out the Avant-Garde for ‘Delusions of Whiteness’

Over at Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion, find a new essay by Cathy Park Hong, author of Engine Empire. “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde” is an indictment of what Hong calls avant-garde poetry’s racist tradition and its lazy effort to rid itself of that tradition, the results of which are mere “tokenism.”

Drafts & Fragments

Billy Collins on Craft

by Diane Lockward
Last weekend I attended the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. I not only attended, I also worked there. One of my assignments was to introduce Billy Collins at his craft talk on Saturday morning. This was held in the gymnasium of the North Star Academy, one of several charter schools in Newark. The room was packed. Collins began his talk with some thoughts about what poetry is. 

24 October (1956): Robert Lowell to Elizabeth Bishop

Dearest Elizabeth:
U R 2 good 2 B 4 got 10. 

Poetry In the News

Should He Be 'telling this with a sigh'? – Minister Noonan's Budget Speech Was Utter Poetry'

The road not taken' by Robert Frost is now trending on Twitter after Minister Noonan quoted the obscure poem in his Budget 2015 speech, where he outlined many of the cuts and charges included in this year's Budget. In his speech summary, Noonan quoted the famous poem, describing the Irish people as having "travelled the long road" and adding that the country is "at a very important crossroads".

Chinese Taxi Driver Recites Poem in Support of Anwar

Despite having a sore throat, senior citizen Saw Hock Hin, 65, stood out among the crowd of people supporting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim outside the Federal Court with his poetry recital in Malay. Saw, an ordinary PKR member, said his command of the Malay language was not good but was determined to improve on the language to show his support for the party’s de facto leader. Saw thrilled the crowd with his rhythmic poem recital with a lively expression and appeared to go on and on until he had to stop due to his cough.

New Books

Divine Nothingness: Poems by Gerald Stern

[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 112 pp., $24.95
From the National Book Award–winning author of This Time, a new volume of poems that explore the very nature of existence. Divine Nothingness is a meditative reflection on the poet’s past and an elegy to love and the experience of the senses in the face of mortality. From the Jersey side of the Delaware River in Lambertville, Gerald Stern explores questions about who and why we are, locating nothingness in the divine and the divine in nothingness.

The Grief Muscles by Brandon Courtney

[Paperback] Sheep Meadow, 94 pp., $18.95
“There is a beautiful disparity in Brandon Courtney’s poems. The hard is represented by the blade of a field knife, bullets, sickles, the scorched earth of Baghdad, and the hardscrabble farming of Iowa. Soft is the mouth’s soft palate, flower petals, fruit, the flesh of the beloved, wet soil, and the body. The Fallujah/Ramadi poems are harrowing, feverish, stunning, piercing as Sky Spear and Jericho missiles. The poems offer a counterweight to the amputations of blast injuries in war. His language is his grief. His is a distinguished first book.”—Bruce Smith

Diana's Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik

[Paperback] Ugly Duckling Presse, 56 pp., $16.00
In 1962, Pizarnik published her fourth collection, DIANA'S TREE, the book that would both change and establish her poetic voice, and it contained the slimmest verses the poet would ever write. It also carried a glowing introduction by Octavio Paz, who by that point served as a prominent Mexican diplomat in Paris and had become a leader of the city's expatriate literary circles. DIANA'S TREE, wrote Paz, was a feat of alchemical prowess, a work of precocious linguistic transparency that let off "a luminous heat 

Vellum – Poems by Chelsea Woodard

[Paperback] Able Muse Press, 106 pp., $18.95
Chelsea Woodard’s Vellum, a finalist for the 2013 Able Muse Book Award, propels the reader along new paths of discovery in the quotidian as in the mythical. Its scope is far-ranging: a flower press received as a gift in childhood, Tarot reading with a favorite aunt, unexpected reflections at a tattoo parlor, reminiscing about an old flame, the discovery of rare volumes at the local library, or auctioning off old toys on eBay. Woodward’s insights and sensibilities in the visual and performing arts are deftly realized in fine or broad strokes—as in “Coppélia,” “The Painter and the Color-blind,” “Degas’s Nudes,” or as in “Still Life,” which muses that “It’s difficult/ to give back life/ to what’s been cut off from the living.” Stories and scenes represented in popular artwork are reimagined in ekphrastics such as “Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.” With excursions into the surreal, myth is made, lived or remade, as in “Philomela,” “Pegasus” and “The Feral Child.” This is an exquisite debut collection that rewards the mind and senses with its formal impetus and deft musicality, its precise and lively language, its emotional compass.

Selected Poems by Thomas Lux

[Paperback] Bloodaxe Books, 160 pp., $12.86 
After starting out as a neo-surrealist American poet in the 1970s, Thomas Lux 'drifted away from surrealism and the arbitrariness of all that. I got more interested in subjects, identifiable subjects other than my own angst or ennui.' The later Lux writes more directly in response to more familiar but no less strange human experience, creating a body of work that is at once simple and complex, wildly imaginative and totally relevant. He uses humour or satire 'to help combat the darkness – to make the reader laugh – and then steal that laugh, right out of the throat. Because I think life is like that, tragedy right alongside humour.' Each of Lux's multi-faceted poems is self-contained, whether it is musing or ranting, lamenting or lambasting, first person personal or first person universal. 'Usually, the speaker of my poems is a little agitated,' says Lux, 'a little smart-ass, a little angry, satirical, despairing. Or, sometimes he's goofy, somewhat elegiac, full of praise and gratitude.'


Jen Fitzgerald and the Art of Work 

(by Leslie McGrath
I first heard Jen Fitzgerald’s name in early 2010 when the organization that would soon become VIDA (Women in Literary Arts) came into being. Fitzgerald was a student in Lesley University’s low residency MFA program and was one of the early volunteers who participated in VIDA’s now-famous “count” of the gender of writers whose work is published in well-known literary magazines. That was five years ago. In the years since, Fitzgerald’s name has begun to appear regularly in the literary news that arrives in my inbox. And not only for her poetry, which has a distinctly direct and morally clear voice, but for her work on behalf of literature. 

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies

A Guide for the Perplexed
by Mark Yakich
At one time or another, when face-to-face with a poem, most everyone has been perplexed. The experience of reading a poem itself is as likely to turn us off, intellectually or emotionally, as it is to move us. Unless patronized by celebrities, set to music, accompanied by visuals, or penned by our own children, poems do a terrible job of marketing themselves. All those ragged lines and affected white spaces make them appear as though they should be treated only as pieces of solemn art. Look but don’t get too close, and definitely don’t touch.

Getting Plants to Write Poems

by Amanda Ackerman
This will be my final post about the compromised body. It is becoming more prevalent for plants to make music. Here, the sound artist Mileese takes the electrical impulses (or “micro-voltages”) emitted by plants “through the virtue of their livingness” and converts them into binary code. In turn, the plants generate sound through the mediatory device of a synthesizer.

I'm not sure if it will be of assistance or not to read the first item regarding strategies to read a poem before delving into the second item, which contains poems generated by plants. But that would be my advice. The excerpt above from Billy Collins on craft, on the other hand, may, if applied to this situation, confuse rather than clarify.