September 28, 2018

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1493—Agnolo Firenzuola, Italian poet and litterateur, born in Florence, Italy (d. 1543), is born.

1596—Vredius, [Olivier de Wree], Flemish historian/poet/mayor, is born.
1824—Francis Turner Palgrave, England, poet (Golden Treasury)/prof (Oxford), is born.
1875—Aleksei K. Tolstoi, Russian poet and writer, dies at 58 [OS].
1909—Stephen Spender, poet [or Feb 28], is born.
1924—Antonio Jacinto, Portuguese West Africa, Angolan poet, is born.


Tasting the meats, we imitate your voice
Speaking in flat benign objective tones
The night before you died. In the packed hall
You are your words. Your listeners see
Written on your face the poems they hear
Like letters carved in a tree's bark
The sight and sound of solitudes endured.

—from “Auden’s Funeral” by Stephen Spender

“Tasting the meats, we imitate your voice / Speaking in flat benign objective tones / The night before you died.” – Stephen Spender

World Poetry

George the Poet Says Police Stereotyping Was behind Strip-search

Spoken-word artist says search was unjustified and officers were rude to his parents

The acclaimed spoken-word artist George the Poet has said police strip-searched him because officers stereotype young black men, lacking any positive interactions with them. The 27-year-old poet, real name George Mpanga, who counts Prince Harry among his friends and appeared on BBC Question Time this year, was searched by police in a van outside his parents’ house in Neasden, north London. He said it was unjustified and accused police of being rude to his parents and friends.

George the Poet has said police strip-searched him because officers stereotype black men, lacking any positive interactions with them.

Recent Reviews

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume II: 1956-1963 – review
Infidelity, agony rage … Plath’s correspondence captures life with Ted Hughes and her terror of being alive
by Elizabeth Lowry

Volume one of the collected letters of Sylvia Plath – one of the most original poets of the 20th century, and a prolific correspondent – ended with her marriage, while studying at Cambridge on a Fulbright scholarship from America, to fellow poet Ted Hughes in June 1956. The second volume begins with her 24th birthday in October. The new Mr and Mrs Hughes are penniless and without a home of their own, but she has absolute faith in him as a writer and human being. He is “a genius”, the best poet “since Yeats & Dylan Thomas”. Inconveniently, he is also unpublished, and has no strategy for getting into print – but Plath is equal to the challenge. She is an old hand at approaching poetry magazines in Britain and her native US and promptly sets herself up as his agent.


The Possibilities Of Poetry: On ‘Be With’ By Forrest Gander 
by Lotte Lewis


While translating the Bolivian writer Jaime Saenz’s work into English, Forrest Gander learned of the influence of the South American Aymara language on Saenz’s writing. According to Rafael Nuñez, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Aymara is the only studied culture for which the past is linguistically and conceptually in front of its speakers, while the future lies behind them. The word for future is also the word for behind, as is the word past the same as front. When people talk in Aymara about the future they gesture backwards; when they mention the past they gesture forward. Gander’s work, often collaborative, spans decades and disavows genre: poetry, photography, film, translation, prose, dance. 

Compulsive and Inventive: New Poetry from Nick Laird
by John McAuliffe

"Autocomplete" is not the finest poem in Nick Laird’s excellent new book Feel Free (Faber, £14.99), but it does lay out a problem which his poems set about resolving with relish. “Begin with the others and do what they do,” it tells us, though this poem will not settle for default and borrowed phrases. “The wax seal,” he continues, “began as a personal stamp of authenticity / before it grew into a tool of the administrators / used to represent you”. Imitation and replication turn suddenly sinister. If other people’s signs and words retain a life of their own, it becomes impossible to say exactly what you mean with them. The language which connects us also imprisons.


"A Skeptic's Affirmation" – Notes on Some Recent Work by Alli Warren
by David Grundy


Based in the Bay Area for years, a co-editor of the Poetic Labor Project, Alli Warren is also — more importantly — and for my money — one of the best Anglophone lyric poets around. OK, yes, that's one of those blurbable statements that the business of evaluation and writing on contemporary work can tend towards, and what, anyway, is meant by lyric? Well one answer to that might be that we have to turn to poetry like Warren's to see how a term like lyric, at once vague and specific, might have a real purchase and a real purpose, and we have to turn to it to see how we can retain some faith in the real workings of real poetry without worrying about the other networks that structure its perception or reception. Which is just to say: her work is quietly singular; without fuss and with calm commitment, she has for the last few years been building up an achieved and purposive poetry, with none of the bravado or braggadocio that terms like ‘achieved’ build up in the bloated corpus of their own self-awareness, bestowing laurel wreaths in parades of categorising, crowning, dividing.

Compulsive and Inventive: New Poetry from Nick Laird


Alone with Elizabeth Bishop
by Gabrielle Bellot


“When you write my epitaph,” Elizabeth Bishop famously told the poet Robert Lowell in 1974, “you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.” The sentiment was hardly new for her. She had written, between 1935 and 1936, in an untitled poem she never published, that her life to come should be associated with a heavy, pelagic solitude: “The future / sinks through water / fast as a stone, / alone alone.” Yet, for all the sea-weight of her sadness, she sought to protect and preserve her solitude, as aloneness, she clarified in a brief essay in 1929, was a special state—distinct from loneliness—that we should cherish. “Why is it,” she asked, “that so many of us seem to dread being alone?”


Poetry as a Weapon for Peaceful Dissent
by Regine Cabato


“What an intelligent Greek reference,” an unwitting editor must have thought when he happened across “Prometheus Unbound” by a certain Ruben Cuevas. Little did he know it referenced something else — an oversight that reportedly cost him his job, in a regime steeped in censorship and human rights violations. The iconic, infamous acrostic piece had actually seen the light of publication before the military pulled it out of newsstands. The initials of its lines read: “Marcos Hitler diktador tuta,” a rally chant against the dictatorship. Now a classroom staple and literary classic, it is referenced again in rallies today. Journalist Jose Lacaba, the true name of the poem’s author, was suffering torture in a jail cell, entirely unaware of the trouble his piece had caused. His brother was the revolutionary and poet Emmanuel Lacaba, who was killed in Davao in 1976.

On Greatness and Uselessness
by Sumana Roy


I was carrying a copy of the Bengali poet Binoy Majumdar’s Hashpatal Thhekey Lekha Kobitaguchho (Poems Written from Hospital) with me. In these poems written from the psychiatry ward of a hospital, I was encountering language that had been broken to reveal its innards, so that I couldn’t be sure whether it was skeleton or flesh. I’d read the poems on the plane – noticing the beat of the stonecutter working away on breaking down stone as it were. I had begun noticing something about them that I might not have had before, had I not read Friend of My Youth, Amit Chaudhuri’s last novel – in these poems was what Chaudhuri had been calling the ‘writing-living’ space, the indistinguishability between writing and living, at least temporally, and the simultaneity of writing and living.

“When you write my epitaph,” Elizabeth Bishop told Robert Lowell in 1974, “you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.”

Drafts & Fragments

The Weeknd and Daft Punk Are Being Sued over Claims They ‘Ripped off’ a Poet on ‘Starboy’
by Samantha Maine


Daft Punk and The Weeknd – real name Abel Makkonen Tesfaye – are reportedly being sued by Somali-American poet Yasminah for ‘ripping off’ her song ‘Hooyo’. In the $5 million lawsuit, Yasminah accuses the French duo and Tesfaye of “stealing the beat” for their track, ‘Starboy’. She also accuses them of using the “same hook, same key and a similar tempo.”

Daft Punk and The Weeknd are reportedly being sued by Somali-American poet Yasminah for ‘ripping off’ her song ‘Hooyo’.

Poetry In the News

US Poet Danez Smith Wins Prestigious Forward Prize

American performance poet Danez Smith has won the prestigious Forward Prize for the collection "Don't Call Us Dead.” At 29, the poet from St. Paul, Minnesota is the youngest-ever winner of the 10,000 pound ($13,000) award, founded in 1992. Smith, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun "they," was praised for "jubilant and confrontational" verses reflecting their experiences as a young, HIV-positive African American.

American performance poet Danez Smith has won the prestigious Forward Prize for the collection “Don’t Call Us Dead.”

New Books

That's What I Thought: Poems by Gary Young
[Paperback] Persea, 80 pp., $15.95

Gary Young builds on his remarkable oeuvre with this heartening volume, his seventh. His new poems, full of the pleasures and concerns of everyday life, brim with subtle wit and wisdom. Set implicitly along the coastal landscape of northern California, Young’s longtime home, they are latest achievements of a poet renown for “the capturing of small, daily miracles” (Dorianne Laux) in his masterful prose poems.

View from True North by Sara Henning
[Paperback] Southern Illinois University Press, 88 pp., $15.95

In these edgy poems of witness, Sara Henning’s speaker serves as both conduit and curator of the destructive legacies of alcoholism and multigenerational closeting. Considering the impact of addiction and sexual repression in the family and on its individual members, Henning explores with deft compassion the psychological ramifications of traumas across multiple generations.

Blood Labors by Daniel Tobin 
[Paperback] Four Way,136 pp., $15.95

The title Blood Labors is a double entendre: labors as both the thing and the action. Split into four sections, which act as musical movements more than section breaks, there are poems about space and matter, the human impulse to create, and the artist’s work.


The Final Voicemails: Poems by Max Ritvo 
[Hardcover] Milkweed Editions, 88 pp., $22.00 


Diagnosed with terminal cancer at sixteen, Ritvo spent the next decade of his life writing with frenetic energy, culminating in the publication of Four Reincarnations. As with his debut, The Final Voicemails brushes up against the pain, fear, and isolation that accompany a long illness, but with all the creative force of an artist in full command of his craft and the teeming affection of a human utterly in love with the world.

A Cruelty Special to Our Species: Poems by Emily Jungmin Yoon 
[Hardcover] Ecco, 80 pp., $25.95

In her arresting collection, urgently relevant for our times, poet Emily Jungmin Yoon confronts the histories of sexual violence against women, focusing in particular on Korean so-called “comfort women,” women who were forced into sexual labor in Japanese-occupied territories during World War II. In wrenching language, A Cruelty Special to Our Species unforgettably describes the brutalities of war and the fear and sorrow of those whose lives and bodies were swept up by a colonizing power, bringing powerful voice to an oppressed group of people whose histories have often been erased and overlooked. “What is a body in a stolen country,” Yoon asks. “What is right in war.”


In her arresting collection, urgently for our times, poet Emily Jungmin Yoon confronts the histories of sexual violence against women.


Meet Atticus, the Instagram Poet Who Never Takes off his Mask
by Emma Winters


Atticus entered the poetry reading at The Strand in New York City in black jeans, a black hoodie with the hood up (a piece of his own merchandise) and a silver mask with an unnaturally stretched smile. The audience clapped enthusiastically as he sat down at the stool in front of the room. “Holey-moley so many people on a stormy night and a Jewish holiday,” Atticus opened. “I’m a little hot do you guys mind if I take off my mask?” Gasps, cheers and “yeahs” moved through the crowd. “Ok, I’ll take it off,” Atticus said. An anxious hush fell over the crowd as Atticus removes his mask to reveal…another mask, the same, silver one.


Tracy K. Smith’s Poetry of Desire
Smith is a storyteller who loves to explore how the body can respond to a lover, to family, and to history.
by Hilton Als


“I only got one body,” a black woman says, deadly earnest, on a recent episode of “Random Acts of Flyness,” the HBO series about race. She pauses before adding, “And I got plans for it.” It can be startling to hear a woman of color describe and claim her own body: despite advances in our culture, some eyes still roll when a black woman says “I” or puts herself forward; in this political climate, it can be perceived as an aggressive act or as hysteria or—the worst—as special pleading. This has been an on-again, off-again problem in American letters since the nineteen-seventies, when authors ranging from Toni Morrison to Lucille Clifton, Gayle Jones, and Ntozake Shange began to write from inside black women’s lives, from a landscape that was dominated not by visible or invisible men but by black female characters, living intricately and boldly in their times, in their minds, and in their bodies, and pursuing joyful and complicated sexual lives. This was no small achievement, as the poet and activist Audre Lorde argued in her 1978 essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”: “In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives.” Forty years later, it is still a bold move for black women to take on the erotic in writing. 

Lattice: Molly Peacock in Conversation
by Susan Gillis

The force of poetry known as Molly Peacock has brushed my life in several ways over the years, most recently in her thoughtful and moving essay "The Plexiglass Wall and the Vital Verb," from Judith Scherer Herz's 2017 anthology John Donne and Contemporary Poetry (Palgrave). (This anthology brings together essays and poems by scholars and poets in surprising and wonderfully resonant ways — highly recommended.) Molly graciously and generously agreed to explore with me some of the various paths that brought her to poetry, that essay, and beyond.

The Force of Poetry Known as Molly Peacock

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

"Poetry does not state truth, it states the conditions within which something felt is true. Even while he is writing about the little portion of reality which is part of his experience, the poet may be conscious of a different reality outside. His problem is to relate the small truth to the sense of a wider, perhaps theoretically known, truth outside his experience."

—from The Still Centre (1939)

“Poetry does not state truth, it states the conditions within which something felt is true.”