November 9, 2017

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1492—Jami [Mowlanā Nūr Od-dīn ʿabd Or-raḥmān Ebn Aḥmad], Persian poet (Lava'ih), dies at 78.

1656–Paul Aler, French jesuit/poet (Gradus ad Parnassum), is born.
1721—Mark Akenside, English poet and physician (d. 1770)
1818—Ivan Turgenev, Russian novelist, poet and playwright (Fathers & Sons), born in Oryol, Russian Empire (d. 1883).
1872—Bohdan Lepky, Ukrainian writer and poet (d. 1941), is born.
1877—Allama Iqbal, Pakistani poet/philosophe, is born.
1911—Tabish Dehlvi, Pakistani poet (d. 2004), is born.
1918—Guillaume Apollinaire, [Kostrowitsky], Fr poet (Alcools), dies at 38.
1928—Anne Sexton, poet (Live or Die; Pulitzer 1967), born in Newton, Massachusetts.
1937—Roger McCough, British poet, is born.
1953—Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet (Child's Christmas in Wales), dies at 39.


I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

—from “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton

“I have ridden in your cart, driver, / waved my nude arms at villages going by” – Anne Sexton

World Poetry

Writer and Poet Arrested upon Return to Iran

PEN International is deeply concerned about the well-being and safety of Dr. Sedigheh Vasmaghi, an Iranian author and poet who was arrested by the Iranian authorities upon her arrival to Iran from Sweden in October 2017. Vasmaghi had been residing in Sweden since 2012 as a guest of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), a close partner organisation of PEN International.

Statue of Late Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish to be Erected in Romania

The Romanian capital of Bucharest is set to erect a statue of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian embassy in Romania announced on Saturday. According to official Palestinian Authority (PA)-owned Wafa news agency the Palestinian ambassador to Romania Fouad Kokaly held a meeting with Daniel Tudorache, the mayor of District One in Bucharest. Durng the meeting, Kokaly reportedly asked the mayor to approve the building of a Darwish statue in the town.

Solomon Deressa, Prominent Ethiopian Poet Dies

Solomon Deressa – a prominent Ethiopian poet – passed away today at the age of 80, sources close to the family disclosed. Regarding family, his obituary published in Star Tribune reads he is “survived by his brother Berhane, sister Ijigayehu, daughter Galanne, step-daughter Eva, grandchildren, Mosissa, Ella, Sarah and Ian, many other relatives and friends.” Ethiopians are shocked as the news quickly spread on social media. He lived in the United States since the 1980s and died in Minnesota. He has put his own marks in Ethiopian literature, especially in poetry.

Solomon Deressa – a prominent Ethiopian poet – passed away this week at the age of 80.

Recent Reviews

Salvadoran Poet Javier Zamora Retraces Trauma and Memory across Borders
by Brandon Yu

In 1999, Javier Zamora traveled from his home country of El Salvador to the United States. He was 9 and migrated alone, attempting to reach his parents. They had individually fled the country, due to civil war and its aftermath, when he was a toddler. What was meant to be a two-week journey through a smuggling network instead lasted two months. This period, and the painful history it carries, make up the San Rafael poet’s powerful debut book of poems, “Unaccompanied” (Copper Canyon Press; $16). Split into sections, the collection provides details on the harrowing journey, along with accounts of family history and a ravaged El Salvador — all of which build a fuller picture of trauma.

Silk Poems
by Martha Ronk

Silk Poems, in its small, delicate package, is monumental in scope, in its place as one part of Jen Bervin’s larger research project and also in its wide-ranging suggestiveness. The material book itself has a shiny gray cover, garment-like and silken to the touch, imprinted with reproduced strands of silk composed of tiny letters. The pages are filmy and transparent. Each page contains a poem and a small corner image of a strand that loops into longer and longer strands throughout the book. Like all of Bervin’s projects, this one is based on the fusion of text and the material world, and on careful, extensive research (a short bibliography is at the end) and travel. She makes “interdisciplinary” seem too narrow a word to describe the scope of the work, and her singular fabrication of wonder.

No Coda: On Mandy Kahn’s “Glenn Gould’s Chair”
by Lara Schoorl


The act of writing, like the act of reading, is often done in solitude. I am not sure if it is for this reason that both writing and reading can bring the comfort of a lover who knows where I begin and end as well as an anxiety that paralyzes. I do not think the latter is necessarily a bad thing — it is an ache waiting to be soothed, but an ache that we, readers and writers alike, may sometimes need. Humans must overcome obstacles; that is part of the process. The second poem in Mandy Kahn’s new book, Glenn Gould’s Chair, contains the following lines: “We tend to favor / our most difficult projects, those painful loves, / so much of ourselves have been left / on their knife-blades and cutting boards.” We do do that.

“Unaccompanied” (Copper Canyon Press; $16) provides details on the harrowing journey of Javier Zamora from El Salvador to the United States.


The First Woman to Translate the ‘Odyssey’ Into English
The classicist Emily Wilson has Ggiven Homer’s epic a radically contemporary voice.
by Wyatt Mason


Late in August, as a shadow 70 miles wide was traveling across the United States, turning day briefly to night and millions of Americans into watchers of the skies, the British classicist Emily Wilson, a woman of 45 prone to energetic explanations and un-self-conscious laughter, was leading me through a line of Ancient Greek. “Polytropos,” Wilson said, in her deep, buoyant voice, pointing to the fifth word — πολuτροπον — of the 12,110-line epic poem that I had come to her office at the University of Pennsylvania to discuss. On the wall hung pictures of Wilson’s three young daughters; the windows behind her framed a gray sky that, as I arrived, was just beginning to dim. The poem lying open before us was Homer’s “Odyssey,” the second-oldest text, after his earlier poem, the “Iliad,” in a Western tradition impossible to imagine without them.

Chasing the Spirit of a Fractured Spain Through García Lorca Footsteps
by Doreen Carvajal

It takes about five miles along a red dirt road in the semidesert of Andalusia to reach the 18th-century ruins of the Cortijo del Fraile. Alone in the scorching sun and dry winds, the decaying Dominican farmhouse and chapel seems to stand through some sheer force of its literary fame. It holds together with stones and mortar — a neglected national treasure that was the real-life setting for a classic tragedy of betrayal and murder in Spain’s southernmost region.

No One Cares about Your Dreams—Unless You’re a Famous Writer
by Emily Temple 

It’s true: no one likes to listen to other people describe their dreams. It’s unfair, of course, because pretty much everyone loves to describe their dreams—even if they’re too polite to do so most of the time. (Is this a flaw of evolution?) That said, it’s certainly fair to say that the dreams of some are more interesting than the dreams of others, and the dreams of artists (in this case writers, because hey, look around) fall into that former camp. After stumbling upon Katherine Mansfield describing the dream she had about a “very shabby” Oscar Wilde, I wondered what else my favorite authors spent their sleeping hours dreaming about. Some of them chronicled their dreams in journals—others, less polite, wrote about them at length in letters to their friends.

The classicist Emily Wilsonis the first woman to translate Homer’s Odyssey into English.

Drafts & Fragments

How Amanda Gorman Became the Nation’s First Youth Poet Laureate
by Alex Hawgood

Amanda Gorman
Age 19
Hometown Los Angeles

Now Lives As a sophomore at Harvard University, she lives in campus housing with two of her best friends.
Claim to Fame Ms. Gorman is a poet, author and activist who is the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. Celebrated by such prominent women as Hillary Clinton (Ms. Gorman helped introduce Ms. Clinton at the 2017 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards in March) and Cynthia Erivo, her poetry is a cleareyed mix of autobiography, social issues like Islamophobia, and historical motifs picked up from her college’s library. “I want to create poems that stand the test of time and counter the fragmented news culture of today,” she said.

Macron Sends Poem to 13-year-old British Girl


The verse, published in French and English, was a birthday thank you to 13-year-old Sophie after she sent Mr. Macron a verse about the Eiffel Tower. The British teen wrote the poem in April, when she was enchanted by the sky scraping landmark on a family holiday to Paris.

Amanda Gorman’s poetry is a clear-eyed mix of autobiography, social issues like Islamophobia, and historical motifs picked up from the library.

Poetry In the News

Celebrated Authors and Artists Call On China to Release Poet Liu Xia, Wife of Late Dissident, Ahead of Trump Visit


Ahead of President Trump’s visit to China on November 8, more than fifty authors and artists have called for complete and unconditional freedom for the Chinese poet and painter Liu Xia, wife to the late author and political dissident Liu Xiaobo, who has suffered under extralegal house arrest for more than seven years without charge. Luminaries of art and literature, including Chimamanda Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Robert Pinsky, Philip Roth, and Stephen Sondheim issued an open letter to raise Liu Xia’s case with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who consolidated his power as President last week at the Chinese Communist Party Congress. 


Women Writers Event Honors Arkansas-born Poet


Ozarks-born poet C.D. Wright, whose work was part country, part sophisticate, wrote that after she left Arkansas, she pined for "the speech of its citizens.” That speech, and Wright's legacy, are being celebrated at the inaugural C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. The event, which opened Friday and continues today, came together in February 2016, a month after Wright died at age 67 in her home in Barrington, R.I.

Roy Moore Used Holocaust Poem To Protest Gay Marriage


Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s senate race, has long been passionate about his opposition to same-sex marriage — so much so that he used one of the most famous poems from Nazi Germany to claim that those who share his views were being persecuted. “We’re going through something in our country that other countries have gone through,” Moore said in a 2015 speech. “Germany went through it when the state took all power.” He then went on to quote Martin Niemöller’s famous poem “First they came…,” which addresses the silence of the German public in the face of the Holocaust.

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore recently quoted a poem condemning the Holocaust in a rant against gay marriage.

New Books

Joy: 100 Poems by Christian Wiman
[Hardcover] Yale University Press, 232 pp., $24.02 

Christian Wiman, a poet known for his meditations on mortality, has long been fascinated by joy and by its relative absence in modern literature. Why is joy so resistant to language? How has it become so suspect in our times? Manipulated by advertisers, religious leaders, and politicians, joy can seem disquieting, even offensive. How does one speak of joy amid such ubiquitous injustice and suffering in the world? In this revelatory anthology, Wiman takes readers on a profound and surprising journey through some of the most underexplored terrain in contemporary life. Rather than define joy for readers, he wants them to experience it. Ranging from Emily Dickinson to Mahmoud Darwish and from Sylvia Plath to Wendell Berry, he brings together diverse and provocative works as a kind of counter to the old, modernist maxim “light writes white”—no agony, no art. His rich selections awaken us to the essential role joy plays in human life.

Instead of Dying by Lauren Haldeman
[Paperback] Center for Literary Publishing, 86 pp., $16.93

Invoking spiders and senators, physicists and aliens, Lauren Haldeman’s second book, Instead of Dying, decodes the world of death with a powerful mix of humor, epiphany, and agonizing grief. In the spirit of Calvino’s Invisible Cities, these poems compulsively imagine alternate realities for a lost sibling (“Instead of dying, they inject you with sunlight & you live” or “Instead of dying, you join a dog-sledding team in Quebec”), relentlessly recording the unlived possibilities that blossom from the purgative magical thinking of mourning. Whether she is channeling Google Maps Street View to visit a scene of murder (“Because / a picture of this place is / also a picture of you”) or investigating the origins of consciousness (“Yes, alien / life-forms exist / they are your thoughts”), Haldeman wrenches verse into new sublime forms, attempting to both translate the human experience as well as encrypt it, inviting readers into realms where we hover, plunge, rise again, and ascend.

Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang
[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 96 pp., $16.00 

In Barbie Chang, Victoria Chang explores racial prejudice, sexual privilege, and the disillusionment of love through a reimagining of Barbie―perfect in the cultural imagination yet repeatedly falling short as she pursues the American dream. This energetic string of linked poems is full of wordplay, humor, and biting social commentary involving the quote-unquote speaker, Barbie Chang, a disillusioned Asian-American suburbanite. By turns woeful and passionate, playful and incisive, these poems reveal a voice insisting that "even silence is not silent."

Saudade by Traci Brimhall
[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 120 pp., $16.00 

"Saudade" is a Portuguese word referring to a quality of longing that has no direct translation into English. Inspired by stories from her Brazilian-born mother, Traci Brimhall's third collection―a lush and startling "autobiomythography"―is reminiscent of the rich imaginative worlds of Latin American magical realists. Set in the Brazilian Amazon, Saudade is one part ghost story, one part revival, and is populated by a colorful cast of characters and a recurring chorus of irreverent Marias.

Supply Chain by Pimone Triplett
[Paperback] University of Iowa Press, 68 pp., $18.00 

With their extravagant musicality, Triplett’s poems explore the thinning lines between responsibility and complicity, the tangled “supply chain” that unnervingly connects the domestic to the political, personal memory to social practice, and age-old familial discords to our new place in the anthropocentric world. Equal parts celebration and lament for the mechanisms we shape and are shaped by, these poetic acts reveal the poet as an entangled mediator among registers of public and private, intimate and historical, voicings. Here we traffic in the blessings and burdens of the human will to shape a world. What’s more, as we follow these linked enchainings of the deeply en-worlded citizen, we reawaken to the central paradox of our time, the need to refuse easy answers, to stay open, trilling, between these necessary notes of critique and of compassion. 

Christian Wiman, a poet known for his meditations on mortality, has long been fascinated by joy and by its relative absence in modern literature.


Meet Ali Cobby Eckermann, the Poet who Writes about being Native in Australia
by Jasmine Garsd

When Ali Cobby Eckermann was a teenager, she ran away to the desert in central Australia. “It was either running away to the desert or going to prison because I was starting to get into a lot of trouble,” she explains. “And I knew I couldn’t control my behavior. And I left because I didn’t want to see the hurt in my adoptive parents’ eyes.” Later as an adult, Eckermann would put all that pain into writing. Today, the 54-year-old is one of Australia’s most celebrated poets. Earlier this year, she became the first aboriginal Australian to get the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize, which Yale University bestows annually for excellence in writing.

An Interview with Dorian Geisler about his New Poetry Collection, Flowers of Anti-Martyrdom 
by Dominic Luxford and Jesse Nathan

Dorian Geisler’s beguiling debut collection solves the problems of audacity — with audacity. A darkly uncanny romp through everyday American life, Geisler’s understated poetry and minimalist aesthetic conveys a burgeoning landscape featuring Main Street America in all its often-questionable Americanness.

Donald Hall, Former U.S. Poet Laureate, Reflects on Writing in his 89th Year
by Leah Willingham

Donald Hall can’t help but smile when he thinks about “Mount Kearsarge,” the poem he wrote decades ago about his grandparents’ Wilmot farmhouse. “I will not rock on this porch when I am old,” the former U.S. Poet Laureate wrote, then middle-aged, about the place he often visited as a boy. “But, I’m still here,” he said recently. At 89, Hall spends much of his time looking out his living room window. He sits in his favorite, blue-faded armchair in sweatpants and oxfords, observing as juncos and chickadees gather at the bird feeder on his porch.

This year Ali Cobby Eckermann became the first aboriginal Australian to get the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Lessons from the Past: Anne Sexton

"As Kafka said about prose, "A book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us." And that's what I want from a poem. A poem should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us."

“As Kafka said about prose, “A book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us.” And that’s what I want from a poem.” – Anne Sexton