October 20, 2015

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1475 – Giovanni Rucellai, Italian poet (Le Api), is born.
1854 – Arthur Rimbaud, Charleville, France, poet/adventurer (Illuminations), is born.
1882 – Olegario Victor Andrade, Argentina poet (El arpa perdida), dies.
1900 – Naim Frashëri, Albanian poet (b. 1846), dies.
1921 – Hans Warren, Dutch writer/poet/critic (Secret Diary), is born.
1940 – Robert Pinsky, American poet and Poet Laureate of the United States, is born.
2004 – Anthony Hecht, American poet (b. 1923), dies.
2011 – Tone Pavček, Slovenian poet and translator (b. 1928), dies.


I sat in a third-class railway car; an old priest
By the window took out his pipe—antique, at least—
And leaned against the window an old chin stained puce.
Then this christian, ignoring insulting abuse,
Turning to me, made a request, forceful, but sad,
For some tobacco—which, as it happened, I had—
He was once, it appeared, chaplain and confessor
To a proscribed nobleman and his successor—
To while away the length of a tunnel—dark vein
Laid open for travelers—by Soissons, near Aisne.

—Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891)

Arthur Rimbaud was born this week in 1854.

World Poetry

Two Poets Sentenced to Flogging and Nine and Eleven Years in Prison

A Tehran Revolutionary Court has sentenced the poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi to 9 years and 6 months and 99 lashes, and 11 years and 99 lashes, respectively, on charges of “insulting the sacred” for the social criticism expressed in their poetry. The flogging sentences were a result of the charge of “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery,” for shaking hands with strangers (a person of the opposite sex who is not one’s immediate kin or spouse), according to Amir Raeesian, the lawyer representing Ms. Ekhtesari and Mr. Moosavi, who spoke with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Bengal Poet Returns Sahitya Akademi Award

Eminent poet of Bengal, Mandakranta Sen, who received Sahitya Akademi in 2004, returned her award on Tuesday night. She told The Hindu that this was to protest against “growing communalism and the attacks on rationalists.” Ms. Sen received Young Writers Special Award at the age of 30 for her body of work on Bengali poetry. “Even though I was awarded when a different government was in power, by returning the award I am registering my protest,” she said.

Punjabi Poet Surjit Patar Returns Sahitya Akademi Award Against Intolerance, Communal Violence

Punjabi poet Surjit Patar returned his Sahitya Akademi Award on Monday to register his protest against the growing incidents of intolerance and communal violence in the country. Recently, poets Jaswinder and Darshan Buttar, and prose writer Baldev Singh Sadaknama also returned their awards, taking the total number of such writers from Punjab to eight.

212 Haiku from Edo Period Poet Buson Found in Library Collection

Amongst a collection of haiku held by the Tenri Central Library here are 212 previously unknown haiku by the Edo period poet Yosa Buson (1716-1783), announced the library on Oct. 14. The new discoveries join some 2,900 haiku by Buson that were known. The library says the new collection is called the "Yahantei Buson" haiku collection, and is thought to have previously been kept in the home of the Kyoto disciple of Buson, Teramura Hyakuchi. The collection was described in a 1934 edition of the magazine "Haiku Kenkyu," after which the collection went missing until it was acquired by the library around four years ago from a bookstore.

A Tehran Revolutionary Court has imprisoned poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi.

Recent Reviews

Rebirth of Venus
by Dan Chiasson

Robin Coste Lewis’s début poetry collection, “Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems” (Knopf), derives its title from a notorious eighteenth-century engraving by Thomas Stothard, “The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies.” The image was slave-trade propaganda: it shows an African woman posed like Botticelli’s Venus on a weirdly upholstered half shell. She glides serenely across the Middle Passage, attended by an entourage of cherubs and dolphins and escorted by a predatory Triton, who looks as though he’d read the poem on which the engraving is based: Isaac Teale’s “The Sable Venus, An Ode,” which celebrates the pleasures of raping slave women, since black and white—Sable Venus and Botticelli’s Venus—are, after all, the same “at night.”

Review: ‘Bastards of the Reagan Era,’ a Book of Poetry
by Michiko Kakutani

Fierce, lyrical and unsparing, the poems in Reginald Dwayne Betts’s new book, “Bastards of the Reagan Era,” bear witness to the author’s difficult journey from prison to law school, and the experiences of the men he got to know in prison.

R.F.Langley Complete Poems 
by Ian Pople

This volume is a Complete Poems in the sense that Elizabeth Bishop published her Complete Poems in 1969: these are the poems which Roger Langley completed for publication.  This volume is also similar to Bishop’s book in that it is full of poems which seem both perfected and perfect. Perhaps Langley, for whom Pound was a guiding light, would be averse to further comparisons with Bishop, but comparisons there are.  Both Bishop and Langley were obsessed, that much is clear, with looking and seeing clearly.  Jeremy Noel-Tod in his comprehensive introduction to this volume quotes Ruskin, ‘The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way,’ to indicate how Langley might have voiced a credo on this matter.  Langley’s poetic roots are clearly in that aspect of the Romantic tradition;  Noel-Tod quotes Langley as citing Coleridge’s ‘conversation’ poems as an important influence on the writing of the poems, and in particular Coleridge’s ‘This Lime-tree bower my prison’.

At A Tilt
by Jamie McKendrick

In ‘Confession’, published in his seventieth year, Hans Magnus Enzensberger admits to a weakness: the stirrings of admiration: Harder and harder for me are hatred, envy, contempt, the youthful feelings. The poem assembles a team of losers, “almost all” of whom have won his respect, and we are left to guess which one hasn’t. They are found at the end “unstoppably / feeling their way and burrowing”. These figures include an abstemious eater of eggs, an imprisoned politician, “that wife with her six face-lifts” and “the dosser in his kraal of plastic bags”. The final word “wühlen” (from the verb ‘to burrow’) suggests a kind of blind activity on their part, an attempt to make themselves at home in a comfortless zone. His admiration is described as “A habit / sweeter than rage / and more dangerous than smoking.” Questions hang in the air. Is the poet abjuring his earlier, adversarial politics and settling into mellow old age? Are those youthful feelings more, or less, dangerous?

Impossible Bottle by Claudia Emerson
by Ellen F. Brown

In a 2014 interview, Pulitzer Prize winner Claudia Emerson described poetry as a way to transform the trauma of life into something that is true to what happened but also elevated to something finer and more beautiful. She accomplishes that lofty goal with skill and charm in her most recent collection impossible bottle. Finished shortly before her death from cancer last December at the age of fifty-seven, impossible bottle is a fond farewell, a final gift to us from a woman who had much to say but was caught short on time.

Claudia Emerson has described poetry as a way to transform the trauma of life into something finer and more beautiful.


Would Vanessa Place Be a Better Poet If She Had Better Opinions?
by Aaron Kunin 

Poets and critics have had some trouble discussing Vanessa Place’s piece Tweeting Gone with the Wind. I have a suggestion. Why not say that her piece is poorly written? Under her own name, Place, a poet and performance artist, used a Twitter account to reproduce the entire text of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind. For several years, she posted a few lines a day on the feed @vanessaplace, framing the text with images of racist stereotypes from the 1939 film version of the novel and illustrated sheet music from a late nineteenth-century minstrel show. In May 2015, an anonymous group of writers called the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo publicly denounced the racism they saw in Place’s writing. On Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, they called on all working poets to join their campaign, and many poets responded by contributing their own denunciations. In response to an online petition, the administration of the Associated Writing Programs removed Place from the subcommittee that evaluates panel proposals for the organization’s 2016 conference in Los Angeles.

Vagrancy in the Park
The Essence of Wallace Stevens: Roses, roses. Fable and dream. The pilgrim sun.
by Susan Howe

“Singeth spells.” The poetry of Wallace Stevens makes me happy. This is the simple truth. Pleasure springs from the sense of fluid sound patterns phonetic utterance excites in us. Beauty, harmony, and order are represented by the arrangement, and repetition, of particular words on paper. No matter how many theoretical and critical interpretations there are, in the end each new clarity of discipline and delight contains inexplicable intricacies of form and measure. The last poems Wallace Stevens gathered together under the general title The Rock are moving, lyric meditations on the civil and particular. As if from some unfathomable source, knowledge derived from sense perception fails, and the unreality of what seems most real floods over us.

by Julian Stannard

I came to Seidel rather late. The friend who slipped me Ooga-Booga said, “I think you’ll like this”. He was right. I even liked the title –voodoo-istic, body- swaying, tantalisingly rhythmic. Forget salsa, I wanted a little Ooga-Booga: “I am civilised, but I see the silence” (‘Kill Poem’). Frederick Seidel was born in 1936, into wealth and privilege, a poet in the lap of luxury – there’s a thing. When I signed up I took the habitual vow of poverty, the unheated garret, the cheque in the post. I don’t wear Savile Row suits and nor do I write poems about the Four Seasons Ritz Hotel in Lisbon (“I have to say / I’ve had a pleasant stay”), and not a word about Ducati motorcycles. And never will I write a poem about Diane Von Furstenburg. Which is why I’m pleased that Seidel does.

How 555 Nights in Jail Helped to Make Paul Verlaine a ‘Prince of poets’
A new exhibition in Mons recalls the drunken row with fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud that led to a charge of attempted murder
by Kim Willsher

Sitting in prison cell number 252 in Mons city jail, Paul Verlaine, the then little-known French poet, drew sketches and composed what many literary critics consider to be his finest poetry. Unlike his contemporary and friend Oscar Wilde, who was sentenced to hard labour in Reading jail, the Frenchman – who had been convicted of shooting his fellow poet and lover, Arthur Rimbaud – had a relatively easy incarceration. Away from the Parisian cafes, the beer and, particularly, the absinthe that was to destroy his health, Verlaine converted to Roman Catholicism and spent his 555 days behind bars reading, and writing work that would later earn him the title of “prince of poets” among his peers.

Paul Verlaine composed what many critics to be his finest poetry while sitting in a prison cell.

Drafts & Fragments

Ode to Whataburger' by Houston Poet Goes Viral
By Craig Hlavaty

Accomplished Houston poet Amir Safi recently wrote a passionate ode to Texas’ fast food gem Whataburger and performed it this past weekend in front of 600 people at the recent Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival, which he founded four years ago while in college. The fast food folks with the large ‘W’ took notice and retweeted Safi’s video and he’s currently basking in a bright orange glow it seems.

Sandy Poems Drawn by A Robot Named Skryf
by James Hobson

If you were lucky at the 2015 World Maker Faire you may have stumbled upon strange writings of poetry on the ground — written in sand.  While at first confusing, if you followed the poetry along you also caught a glimpse of Skryf, a draw bot by [Gijs van Bon]. The creator was asked to perform poems for a festival about transition and letting go. Naturally, building a robot to write poetry in sand was the downright obvious answer to the question.

Accomplished Houston poet Amir Safi recently wrote a passionate ode to Texas’ fast food gem Whataburger.

Poetry In the News

You Wouldn't Think a Poetry Collection Could Scare Off Printers, but Third Man Books' Latest Did

Publishing Pain: The Board Game, a poetry collection by Brooklyn-based poet Sampson Starkweather arriving this week in bookstores, should have been a routine matter for Third Man Books. But it wasn't. Just before the local printer who handled all of their previous projects was to press the book, TMB chief Chet Weise got a call from the printer's representative. While the rep didn't have an issue with the book, someone in the review process found Jon-Michael Frank's illustrations for the first part of the book objectionable. Under a long-standing company policy, they had to turn it down.

Is Topeka the Most Poetic City in America?

There’s an old joke told among residents of Topeka, Kansas that goes like this: “What’s the difference between Topeka and yogurt?” “Yogurt has an active culture.” It perhaps goes without saying that Topeka, the capital city of Kansas, is known less for its cultural output than for the late Pastor Fred Phelps and his nefarious Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). Throughout the state, and beyond, the city keeps a reputation of violence, bigotry, poverty, and far-right conservatism. In recent months, if national broadcasters have mentioned Topeka at all, it’s been in the context of the devastating impact Governor Sam Brownback’s austerity plan has had on the Kansas economy. In short, Topeka is not the kind of place one expects to produce great poetry. And yet, it has. A lot of it.

Third Man Books’ newest title had some trouble getting printed.

New Books

Emblems of the Passing World: Poems after Photographs by August Sander by Adam Kirsch
[Hardcover] Other Press,144 pp., $24.95

Through his portraits of ordinary people—soldiers, housewives, children, peasants, and city dwellers—August Sander, the German photographer whose work chronicled the extreme tensions and transitions of the twentieth century, captured a moment in history whose consequences he himself couldn’t have predicted. Using these photographs as a lens, Adam Kirsch’s poems connect the legacy of the First World War with the turmoil of the Weimar Republic with moving immediacy and meditative insight, and foreshadow the Nazi era. Kirsch writes both urgently and poignantly about these photographs, creating a unique dialogue of word and image that will speak to all readers interested in history, past and present.

Calle Florista by Connie Voisine 
[Paperback] University Of Chicago Press, 88 pp., $18.00 

Connie Voisine’s third book of poems centers on the border between the United States and Mexico, celebrating the stunning, severe desert landscape found there. This setting marks the occasion as well for Voisine to explore themes of splitting and friction in both human and political contexts. Whose space is this border, she asks, and what voice can possibly tell the story of this place? In a wry, elegiac mode, the poems of Calle Florista take us both to the edge of our country and the edge of our faith in art and the world.

Ardour by Nicole Brossard
[Paperback] Coach House Books,112 pp., $17.95

Even as vowels tremble in danger and worldly destruction repeats itself on the horizon, Ardour reminds us that the silence pulsing within us is also a language of connection. In these poems, intimacy with the other is another astonishment—a pleasant gasp, a "pause that transforms light and breath into language and threshold of fire." Since her first book appeared fifty years ago, Nicole Brossard has left us breathless, expanding our notion of poetry and its possibilities.

Trout's Lie by Percival Everett    
[Paperback] Red Hen Press, 72 pp., $16.95

In Trout's Lie, Percival Everett explores the semantic relationship between sense and so-called nonsense—and questions whether either is actually possible.

Dismantlements of Silence: Poems Selected and New by William Virgil Davis
[Paperback] Texas Review Press, 200 pp., $12.95

William Virgil Davis is a widely published, award-winning poet. Among his many honors, fellowships, and awards are the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, the New Criterion Poetry Prize, and the Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for Poetry. His poems regularly appear in leading journals, both in this country and abroad. His Dismantlements of Silence: Poems Selected and New brings together a generous selection of Davis’s poetry to date. It includes samples of his early uncollected work, poems from his previously published books, and selections from his most recently published work.

Nicole Brossard’s Ardour is a pleasant gasp, a “pause that transforms light and breath into language and threshold of fire.”


Tony Norman: Poet Gerald Stern Remains Riveting

By his third or fourth anecdote, 90-year-old poet and essayist Gerald Stern had me eating out of his hand — metaphorically speaking, of course. He’s back in his hometown to give a lecture tonight in Oakland, and I met him for the first time at his hotel Monday to hear him one on one. When I asked whether he found it necessary long ago to leave Pittsburgh to “find his voice,” the National Book Award winner and author of two dozen books and thousands of poems denied the question’s premise.

Saul Williams: A Poet Who Generates his Own Electricity
by Tony Clayton-Lea

Struggling for recognition never came into it for US poet, writer and actor Saul Williams. On a dodgy phone line from Paris, a city he lived in from 2009 to 2013, Williams says that there was no transition from pauper to prince, and as for trying to be heard as a poet back in the mid-1990s – well, there was no question of that. “I was in graduate school for acting at NYU when I started writing poetry,” he says over the crackle and buzz. “I actually happened upon an open-mic night in the city. It was a place where a lot of people were experimenting with language, performance art and writing, and so I found a community in Brooklyn that was fun to participate in. From that night onwards, a lot of doors opened for me."

Saul Williams never had difficulty being heard as a poet.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Storm Windows

It's the time of year when more poems than normal start rattling around my head. None are more evocative for me in describing the autumnal pull than "Storm Windows" by Howard Nemerov.

Storm Windows

People are putting up storm windows now,   
Or were, this morning, until the heavy rain   
Drove them indoors. So, coming home at noon,   
I saw storm windows lying on the ground,   
Frame-full of rain; through the water and glass
I saw the crushed grass, how it seemed to stream   
Away in lines like seaweed on the tide
Or blades of wheat leaning under the wind.
The ripple and splash of rain on the blurred glass   
Seemed that it briefly said, as I walked by,   
Something I should have liked to say to you,
Something … the dry grass bent under the pane   
Brimful of bouncing water … something of   
A swaying clarity which blindly echoes
This lonely afternoon of memories
And missed desires, while the wintry rain   
(Unspeakable, the distance in the mind!)
Runs on the standing windows and away.

Go here, to listen to Mr. Nemerov read it.