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Poetry News In Review

April 1, 2015
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1647 – John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, English poet (d. 1680), is born.
1807 – Fredrik Cygnaeus, Finnish poet/literature critic, is born.
1868 – Edmond Rostand, France, poet/playwright (Cyrano de Bergerac), is born.
1902 – Maria Polydouri, Greek poet (d. 1930), is born.
1904 – Juan Gil-Albert, poet, is born.


But again, I should have to say,
when in clear altering situations
the land exhales the somnolence
of not knowing the source of one’s fatigue,
when the blue sky pulses like an hallucination
and fruit follows fruit on the white tables
and great windows set ajar cool
in the semi-light, we seek out a bower
where we may fall beneath that soft weight.

—from “What is the Earth?” by Juan Gil-Albert (1904–1994)

World Poetry

Tomas Transtromer, Nobel-Winning Poet, Dies at 83

Tomas Transtromer, a Swedish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011 for a body of work known for shrewd metaphors couched in deceptively spare language, crystalline descriptions of natural beauty and explorations of the mysteries of identity and creativity, died on Thursday in Stockholm. He was 83.

Recent Reviews

Summer Requiem by Vikram Seth, Review: 'Serene'
by James Walton

Long before his novel A Suitable Boy conquered the world in the Nineties, Vikram Seth was a highly regarded poet, with his second collection, The Humble Administrator’s Garden, winning a Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1983. Only three years later did he produce his first novel, The Golden Gate, a 300-page tale of San Francisco life written entirely in sonnets. (Fortunately, it was a lot more fun than it sounds.) More recently, the news about Seth has been dominated by the non-appearance of A Suitable Girl: a sequel that Penguin had planned to publish on the 20th anniversary of A Suitable Boy in 2013, but that’s now promised for 2016 from Weidenfeld & Nicolson after Seth reportedly had to return his million-pound Penguin advance.

Tomaž Šalamun, Soy Realidad
by Joey Frances

One of my favourites of the contradictory things Walter Benjamin says about translation is: “all translation is only a somewhat provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of language.” This isn’t merely relevant because Soy Realidad was written in Slovenian, and appears in English here for the first time; only the ninth of Šalamun’s almost forty collections to do so, it’s a small glimpse of his work for those who speak only English, where translation is of course only anyway a partial and oblique glimpsing.

Poet Paul Durcan Uses Poetry to Criticise but Doesn’t Want to Offend
by Caroline O’Doherty

But that’s what Durcan does as he flicks through his new collection, asking tentatively for an opinion on two of the poems he worried about including. ‘Irish Bankers Shoot Dead Fifty-Seven Homeless Children’ is an angry commentary on the grotesque behaviours of the Celtic Tiger, while ‘1916 Not To Be Commemorated’ is a satirical lament on the loss of idealism and independence.


Reading and Rumor: The Problem with Kenneth Goldsmith
by Brian Droitcour

Last weekend I attended "Interrupt 3," a conference on poetry and digital media at Brown University in Providence. I was in the audience Friday night when Kenneth Goldsmith read the autopsy of Michael Brown, the teenager who was murdered by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014. An image of Michael Brown—his graduation picture, which many used as Facebook profile pictures to honor his memory and counter the images spread by the media to portray him as a delinquent—was projected on the screen above the stage as Goldsmith read, rocking and pacing, delivering the autopsy as an incantation.

Drafts & Framents

The Divine Comedy Poetry Contest

The exhibition The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists, opening at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on April 8, 2015, explores Dante’s The Divine Comedy through the work of over 40 African artists. Curated by the internationally acclaimed writer and art critic Simon Njami, this dramatic multimedia exhibition reveals the ongoing global relevance of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic as part of a shared intellectual heritage. Including original commissions and renowned works of art by more than 40 of the most dynamic contemporary artists from 18 African nations and the diaspora, this visually stunning exhibition will be the first to take advantage of the entire museum space, including the pavilion and staircases.

Poetry In The News

Poetry Everywhere, and They Mean Everywhere, in Miami Festival

On April 1 the organizers of the O, Miami Poetry Festival begin their annual monthlong campaign to put a poem in front of all 2.6 million residents of Miami-Dade County. “Miamians should watch out for poems on buildings, on fences, in the mail, even in the bathroom,” Scott Cunningham, the festival director, said. This year’s edition includes 30 events and 23 projects, some orthodox, others not. “Ode to the Code,” a joint project with WLRN, the local public radio station, asks area residents to write poems based on their ZIP codes: five lines, with the number of words per line matching the numbers in their codes.

Benedict Cumberbatch to Read Poem at Richard III Reburial

Benedict Cumberbatch is to read a poem at the reburial service of Richard III, his distant cousin. The actor, who is playing the king in a forthcoming BBC production, will read a newly-commissioned poem by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate.  The poem, called Richard, is “a meditation on the impact of his finding and the legacy of his story”. Cumberbatch is Richard’s third cousin 16 times removed, according to a genealogist at the University of Leicester. Prof Kevin Schurer traced the line of descent from Edward III, Richard III’s great-great-grandfather, to the Oscar-nominated actor.

Secret Memoir Uncovers the Real Life and Loves of Doomed War Poet Rupert Brooke

On 23 April a bundle of neglected love letters and a devastating, secret memoir, released by the British Library after almost a century, will open a window on to one of the enduring mysteries of 20th-century English literature: the life and loves of the first world war poet Rupert Brooke. Throughout his short career, the precocious author of The Soldier was an elfin figure of fascination, once described by WB Yeats as “the handsomest young man in England”. In our own time, Brooke has become the haunting symbol of a doomed generation, flitting across the pages of novels by Alan Hollinghurst and AS Byatt like a volatile and irreverent Peter Pan. Androgynous in fact and fiction, his true character has been tantalisingly elusive.

New Books

Far-Fetched: Poems by Devin Johnston
[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 96 pp., $23.00

Through birdcalls and ancient songs, rain patter and a child's scribble, the poems in Far-Fetched "sound the empty space / to test how long / how far." They follow the contours of Appalachian hillsides, Missouri river bends, and remote Australian coastlines, tuning language to landscape. They register emotional life with great care; this is a work of fierce and delicate attention to the world. It is also poetry meant to be heard, alert to the pleasures of sound. As August Kleinzahler has observed, "In Devin Johnston's poetry every syllable is alive; the vowels and consonants combine to make a distinctive, lovely, austere music."

The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014 by David Lehman [Hardcover] University of Pittsburgh Press, 240 pp., $24.95

The acclaimed annual, The Best American Poetry, is the most prestigious showcase of new poetry in the United States and Canada. Each year since the series began in 1988, David Lehman has contributed a foreword, and this has evolved into a sort of state-of-the-art address that surveys new developments and explores various matters facing poets and their readers today. This book collects all twenty-nine forewords (including the two written for the retrospective “Best of the Best” volumes for the tenth and twenty-fifth anniversaries.)  Beginning with a new introduction by Lehman and a foreword by poet Denise Duhamel (guest editor for The Best American Poetry 2013), the collection conveys a sense of American poetry in the making, year by year, over the course of a quarter of a century.

Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy by Joanna Klink
[Paperback] Penguin, 80 pp., $20.00

Joanna Klink has won acclaim for poetry of bracing emotional intensity. Of her most recent book, Raptus, Carolyn Forché has written that she is “a genuine poet, a born poet, and I am in awe of her achievement.” The poems in Klink’s new collection offer a closely keyed meditation on being alone—on a self fighting its way out of isolation, toward connection with other people and a vanishing world.

Made in Detroit: Poems by Marge Piercy
[Hardcover] Knopf, 192 pp., $27.95

A treasure trove of new poems by one of our most sought-after poets: poems that range from descriptions of the Detroit of her childhood to her current life on Cape Cod, from deep appreciations of the natural world to elegies for lost friends and relationships, from a vision of her Jewish heritage to a hard-hitting take on today’s political ironies.

Service: Poems by Bruce Lack
[Hardcover] Texas Tech University Press, 104 pp., $30.00

What Bruce Lack offers in the poems in Service is truth—complex, ambiguous, paradoxical, contradictory, impossible—about the experiences of a Marine fighting the Iraq War and the jarring transition that comes with returning home to find the war reduced to background noise for a remote civilian population. Bruce Lack’s forceful, authentic poetry confronts the human cost of sending young men and women to fight a war of questionable justification against an insurgency unbound by rules of engagement. Lack’s poems engage honestly with the frustration of fighting an elusive, ruthless enemy, the guilt of surviving when others do not, and the residual anger that may never leave the generation of veterans of the War on Terror. Written in the voice of the Marine but directed toward and accessible to the civilian, Service is a book that seeks to close the communication gap between the two.

Anyone by Nate Klug
[Paperback] University Of Chicago Press, 64 pp., $18.00

Using a variety of forms and achieving a range of musical effects, Nate Klug’s Anyone traces the unraveling of astonishment upon small scenes—natural and domestic, political and religious—across America’s East and Midwest. The book’s title foregrounds the anonymity it seeks through several means: first, through close observation (a concrete saw, a goshawk, a bicyclist); and, second, via translation (satires from Horace and Catullus, and excerpts from Virgil’s Aeneid). Uniquely among contemporary poetry volumes, Anyone demonstrates fluency in the paradoxes of a religious existence: “To stand sometime / outside my faith . . . or keep waiting / to be claimed in it.”


Galaxies Inside His Head
by Stephen Burt

Fifty students sat at bright white desks in concentric rows in the sterile new computer center at Woodland Hills High School, their eyes on the poet Terrance Hayes. At 6-foot-5, Hayes, who is 43, is easy to see from anywhere, and he seemed eminently approachable, neither teacher nor teen: bluejeans, a black sweater, a leather cellphone case clipped to his belt. He had come to the school, in a racially mixed district that serves several disadvantaged communities in Pittsburgh, to read poetry. The students — Goths, hip-hop fans in giant sweatshirts and jocks in sports jerseys — grew quiet, ready to listen.

The Mother-Daughter Thing
by Christine Smallwood

Susan Howe and R.H. Quaytman are mother and daughter, a poet and a painter, both widely admired and fiercely cerebral and quietly a lot of fun. They did not want to do an interview together, and it’s not hard to understand why. What daughter wants a stranger to point out all the ways that she is like her mother? What mother wants to risk eclipse by her daughter’s fame? But their reluctance was more subtle. Howe and Quaytman objected to the idea that the mother-daughter relationship is the most important one in their family. They are only two in a web of artists: Howe’s mother, Mary, was an actress and playwright; Quaytman’s father, Harvey, a painter; Howe’s second husband, the sculptor David von Schlegell; their son, the science fiction writer Mark von Schlegell. Except for Mark, who lives in Germany, all of those people are dead, but no matter; when you are dealing with Howe and Quaytman, hauntings are very much on the table.

Envoi: Editor's Notes


2 a.m.: moonlight. The train has stopped
out in a field. Far off sparks of light from a town
flickering coldly on the horizon.

As when a man goes so deep into his dream
he will never remember that he was there
when he returns again to his room.

Or when a person goes so deep into a sickness
that his days all become some flickering sparks, a swarm,
feeble and cold on the horizon.

The train is entirely motionless.
2 o’clock: strong moonlight, few stars.

—Tomas Transtromer (April 15, 1931–March 26, 2015)

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Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Norman MacCaig
Ezra Pound
Robert Bridges
Robert Herrick
Nicanor Parra
John Betjeman
Mary Jo Salter
Rosario Castellanos
Anne Hebert
Ahmad Shamlou
Donald Davie
Kenneth Fearing
Geoffrey Hill
Sandro Penna
Juan Ramon Jimenez
Julia Randall
Emily Dickinson
Gary Snyder
Yannis Ritsos
Robert Penn Warren
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Bella Akhmadulina
George Herbert
Louis Simpson
Gerard Malanga
Mahmoud Darwish
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Kostis Palama
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