September 25, 2012

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

September 25, 2012

1501 – Dzore Drzic, Croatish poet, dies.

1680 – Samuel Butler, poet/satirist, dies.
1793 – Felicia Dorothea Hermans, poet, is born.

1921 – Remy C, de Kerckhove, Flemish poet, is born.

1931 – Manouchehr Atashi, Iranian poet (d. 2005), is born.
1953 – Dimitur Poljanov, [Popov], Bulgaria poet (Iron Verses), dies.

1980 – Marie Under, Estonian author and poet (b. 1883), dies.

2000 – R. S. Thomas, Welsh poet (b. 1913), dies.

2006 – John M. Ford, American author and poet (b. 1957), dies.

I have no where to go
The swift satellites show
The clock of my whole being is slow,

It is too late to start
For destinations not of the heart.
I must stay here with my hurt.

—from “Here” by R. S. Thomas, 1913–2000

Poetry In The News

In Defense of the Future L.A. Poet Laureate

In August, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the creation of the first-ever Poet Laureate Program, and nominations for the poet are open until 5 p.m. on October 10. The future poet laureate will be announced in October, and the poet will receive a $10,000-annual grant for a two-year term from the Department of Cultural Affairs. Some Angelenos are wondering: How can you give money to a poet during the Great Recession? Read more at L A Weekly.

Sleepless in Kandahar or Mosul, in Raw Verse

“Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project,” the third long-form collaboration between the jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer and the poet Mike Ladd, is a multimedia work about minority veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It’s from the inside: about divided selves and awful dreams, the opioids the ex-soldiers take to sleep, and their desire to return to who they were before they reported for duty. It’s dense, intense, provocative and honorable. Read more at the New York Times.

World Poetry

The Medieval Jewish Poet Who Preceded Chaucer

In 2011, Palestinian poet and musician Tarik Hamdan (b. 1983) performed his concert, Awal al-Kalam (The Beginning of Speech), for the first time, in Ramallah. After that, he went on to perform in Alexandria, at al-Kabina Cultural Centre, Cairo, in the Ahmed Shawki Museum, and in Amman in al-Balad Theater. Recently, Hamdan arrived in Paris. Read more at Albawaba.

SA Poet Wins Shoko Festival Contest

South African poet Thabiso Mohave, whose stage name is “Afurakan,” walked away with the International Poetry Slam title at Shoko Festival after he managed to outclass Zimbabwe’s Arnold Chirimika, a.k.a Soul Profound, in the last round of the competition at Book Café on Thursday. Read more at Newsday.

New Books

Whirlwind by Sharon Dolin

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 88 pp., $15.95
Whirlwind is one woman’s frank, witty, mordant, sexy look at the breakup of a marriage and its emotional aftermath. With her characteristic linguistic play and mixture of poetic registers and styles, Sharon Dolin takes her readers on an off-the-tracks emotional ride through the whirlwind that goes by the name of divorce. Hang on tight. Her poems are never merely confessional, but use formal aplomb to ride the white-heat rage, hurt, denial, reflection, regret, wistfulness, desire, and sexual passion as they go hurtling through the many stages of grief after the death of a relationship and the rebirth of a more vital self.

Public Figures by Jena Osman

[Hardcover] Wesleyan, 96 pp., $22.95
Public Figures is an essay-poem with photographs and text that begins with a playful thought experiment: statues of people in public spaces have eyes, but what are they looking at? To answer that question, Jena Osman sets up a camera to track the gaze of a number of statues in Philadelphia–mostly 19th century military figures carrying weapons. How does their point of view differ from our own? And how does it compare, say, to the point of view of other watchful military figures, such as drone pilots? In this book, Osman combines the histories behind these statues with poetic narratives that ask us to think about our own relational positions, and how our own everyday gaze may be complicit with the gun-sights of war.

By Herself by Debora Greger

[Paperback] Penguin Books, 112 pp., $18.00
In her eighth book of poetry, Debora Greger travels not just the present but the past, looking for some strange place to call home. She takes a taxi to Stonehenge. She writes letters to Li Po and Tu Fu, Shakespeare and Jane Austen, always seeking out the beast that is man and the beast that is woman. She explores both the remoteness of the past (those radioactive fifties that were her childhood), and the weight of it—or, better, the responsibility of it. These modern traveler’s tales—musing, insistent, marvelous—place one woman’s collection of pasts into a world inhabited by Horace, Chekhov, the bank vault of England, and the giant octopus of Puget Sound.

The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of “Poetry” Magazine edited by Christian Wiman and Don Share

[Hardcover] University Of Chicago Press, 224 pp., $20.00
When Harriet Monroe founded Poetry magazine in Chicago in 1912, she began with an image: the Open Door. “May the great poet we are looking for never find it shut, or half-shut, against his ample genius!” For a century, the most important and enduring poets have walked through that door—William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens in its first years, Rae Armantrout and Kay Ryan in 2011. And at the same time, Poetry continues to discover the new voices who will be read a century from now.

Engine Empire by Cathy Park Hong

by John Deming
The ultimate futility of human endeavor is a pleasure in Engine Empire, a new triptych of poems by Cathy Park Hong. She begins in the boomtowns of the old west, pinballs over to what she has called a “fantastical reimagining of present day industrial China,” and finishes in a human future that is lived almost entirely digitally—the kind of thing Google is slouching towards here. The three sections of the book are like points on a triangle, each pointing in its own direction, but relying on the other two for structural integrity. They are set in ostensibly dissimilar times, but each correspondingly betrays an era of human “progress” as a giant lateral step—boom and bust, boom and bust—where metaphysical longing remains a constant. Read more at Cold Front.

Recent Reviews

poem for the house by Katie Yates

by Mark DuCharme
In Katie Yates’s carefully spare meditation on domesticity, poem for the house, situations of common suburban dailiness are explored in a series of fragmentary poetic entries. Formally, Yates’s book consists entirely of tiny prose blocks wedged into the middle of the broad, blank page. Here, the objects and routines of domestic life provide a backdrop to the contemplative impulse, which lies at the heart of Yates’s project. Although a few of these poems are in two or three parts—that is, extending over two or three pages—the majority consist of a single prose block framed and floating within white space. Beyond the enclosure created by this abundance of white space, the poems also share a rather elaborate dating mechanism. Read more at The Volta.

John Keats Was an Opium Addict, Claims A New Biography of the Poet

by Amelia Hill
John Keats, the poet of “beauty”, a devotee of aesthetic isolation who swooned at the thought of his so-called “bright star” Fanny Brawne and succumbed to TB when he was 25, was an opium addict. The claim is made in a new biography, to be published on Monday, by Prof Nicholas Roe, chair of the Keats Foundation and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Read more at The Guardian.

A Rebel Act: Michael Hartnett’s Farewell to English

by Peter Sirr
In 1974 Michael Hartnett made the decision to take his leave of English and from then to write in Irish only. Or did he? Well, he wouldn’t necessarily stop writing in English – if a poem presented itself in that language it would have to be accommodated. But he wouldn’t publish any more English poems. Ciaran Carson’s reaction, reviewing the volume which announced the decision, A Farewell to English, was to suggest, in a review quoted in Pat Walsh’s book, that the volume might have been more usefully titled A Farewell to Published Poems Written in the English Language. Read more at Imram.


“Words are Weapons of the Strong”: An Interview with Nikki Giovanni

by Michael Solano-Mullings
In June Giovanni traveled to Pittsburgh to participate in the annual Cave Canem poets retreat, and made a surprise onstage appearance at the African-American poetry organization’s annual reading at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. In this interview, conducted via email, Giovanni discusses her views on censorship, discusses voter suppression in the wake of the upcoming presidential elections, talks about the tribute she’s organizing to celebrate Toni Morrison’s legacy, and offers a message to young black poets. Read more at Sampsonia Way.

The Last Poet of Lodz

by Chava Rosenfarb
Simkha-Bunim Shayevitch’s name is known only to a very few people. He would have joined the mass of nameless ghetto Jews who perished without a trace had it not been for the fact that during his time in the ghetto Shayevitch found himself in extremely difficult circumstances. Read more at Tablet.

An American in Dante’s Inferno

by E.C. Belli
As if to leave a voice echoing in the hallway of years, as if to say This is now, This is us, Mary Jo Bang presents a volume of Dante’s Inferno that has gnawed at and digested the elements of our present. The filth, the grime, the greed is ours. We recognize it: it bears the marks of our today. Read more at Circumference.


M@h*(pOet)?ica – Louis Zukofsky’s Integral

by Bob Grumman

Two fun poems to begin with–because after that the going will be tough: calculus, no less! The first is on a card I got from my friend Endwar. Read more at Scientific American.

Canadian Poetry’s Unlikely Renaissance

by Russell Smith
You know where Canadian literature is excelling? In its poetry. There hasn’t been so much challenging work around – so much that is playful, amusing, dazzling or simply exasperating – for as long as I can remember. Some of this has to do with a new generation of tough-minded editors, some of it has to do with the fading of a certain kind of weepy folksiness, and a lot of it has to do with the Internet. Quite simply, it is easier to read and share poems now, and people are actually doing it. Read more at The Globe and Mail.

Bigger, Funnier, and Messier: What I Want from Narrative Poetry

by Kathleen Ossip

“A story! A story!” That’s how I feel all the time. A lot of the time, I want my stories from poems. Back in the olden days, when I was in an MFA program, I didn’t acknowledge this even to myself. You remember those bad old days, maybe: To call a poem “narrative” was a putdown, almost as bad as “confessional.” Both suggested a kind of technophobia—a narrative poet was clinging to an outmoded technology. In my grad-student naïveté, I once asked my teacher David Trinidad, tireless practitioner of very cool, very clear, very literal narrative poems, whether he was aware that what he was up to would be seen by some as passé. He gave the only possible answer: “Yes, but I don’t care.” Read more at Evening Will Come.

Drafts & Fragments

Poetry With Your Chard? A Farmers Market Encounter

by Kennan Walsh
When I get heat from my friends for not writing, I go to great pains to defend my “poet” title. I guess that comes with the territory. But it’s something Burlington poet Ben Aleshirenever has to worry about. He’s my antithesis: the kind of poet who’s always writing, who never stops. If mine is a full-time endeavor — in Borges’ view — his is an all-consuming one. Read more at Seven Days.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Louis Simpson, Poet of Everyday Life, Dies at 89

by Mervyn Rothstein
Louis Simpson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who told characteristically American tales of common people and often cast a skeptical eye on the American dream, died on Friday at his home in Stony Brook, N.Y. He was 89. Read more at the New York Times.

I did not know Louis Simpson. I corresponded with him a bit in the nineties, and met him once or twice a few years later. He struck me as a generous man whose generosity was heightened by his forthrightness. A compliment from him was more than that; it was an unvarnished appraisal—those are the best kind. But I first encountered his work much earlier in the mid-seventies while a student. His work was in two texts I used: American Poets in 1976 and The New Naked Poetry. I remember noticing that he, along with a few others—David Ignatow, John Malcolm Brinnin—looked decidedly “unpoetic” in their manner and dress alongside the likes of Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder, and others. Those guys fit the part. And perhaps it was that dissonance that forced me to look more closely at his work. His work had the same Romantic foundation as the others but with a harder, heavier edge. Born of a Russian mother and Jamaican father, he moved to New York when he was 16. He saw the War up close in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He received his doctorate at Columbia, and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1964. He was contrary (I gather) and held firm opinions. He was more Wordsworth than Blake. Even though he might not have looked to a twenty-year-old like it, he was a real poet. As the poet Mark Jarman said recently, “He took poetry seriously. People like that need to be valued, no matter how prickly they are.” Louis Simpson was valued, by me and by people whose judgment I hold in high regard.

—David Sanders