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Poetry News In Review

April 22, 2016
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1816 — Philip James Bailey, English poet (Festus), is born.
1905 — Robert Choquette, French Canadian novelist, poet and diplomat (d. 1991), is born.
1914 — Charles Hubert Sisson, author/poet (Christopher Homm), is born.
1920— Jos de Haes, Flemish philological/poet (Misery of the Word), is born.
1943 — Louise Glück, American poet and 12th US Poet Laureate, is born.
1951 — Ana María Shua, Argentine poet, is born.

Cottonmouth Country

Fish bones walked the waves off Hatteras.
And there were other signs
That Death wooed us, by water, wooed us
By land: among the pines
An uncurled cottonmouth that rolled on moss
Reared in the polluted air.
Birth, not death, is the hard loss.
I know. I also left a skin there.

— Louise Glück

World Poetry

Germany to Prosecute German Comic over Erdogan Poem

Chancellor Angela Merkel has given the go-ahead for German authorities to launch a criminal prosecution of Jan Böhmermann, the comic whose satirical attack on Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan caused a diplomatic scandal. The decision will cause an outcry among Germany’s cultural elite, which has united behind Mr Böhmermann and has already accused the chancellor of kowtowing to Mr Erdogan, reports Guy Chazan in Berlin.

Poetic Injustice: Palestinian Poet Arrested over Facebook Post

Poet and activist Dareen Tatour spent six months under arrest for incitement. The main piece of evidence against her was a poem she published on Facebook. At 3 a.m., just before dawn on October 10, 2015, patrol cars from the Nazareth Police, escorted by a unit of Israel’s Border Police, surrounded a quiet house in the nearby village of Al-Reineh. They broke in and woke up the terrified inhabitants, searching for Dareen Tatour, 33, a Palestinian poet, photographer and activist. They didn’t have a search or an arrest warrant, but the dumbfounded Tatour was detained and forcibly removed anyway.

Wales' Former National Poet Gwyn Thomas Dies

The former National Poet of Wales and academic Gwyn Thomas has died, aged 79. Prof Thomas, from Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, was Emeritus Professor of Welsh at Bangor University. He published numerous volumes of poetry, was a literary and cultural critic and also translated the mythical Mabinogion stories into English. He also helped pioneer techniques to combine poetry and film.

Recent Reviews

Review: J. D. McClatchy’s Secret Autobiography, in Quotations
by Dwight Garner

The essayist Michel de Montaigne thought that quoting well, in a piece of writing, was akin to arranging other people’s flowers. It’s a skill; doing it well takes practice. The obvious place to look for smart things others have said is in a book of quotations. Mostly these are letdowns. They lean too heavily on the canned and the pretentious and the mock uplifting. They’re conveyor belts of Will Rogers-like nuggets, high or low variations on the theme of “life is like a box of chocolates.”

The Poetry of John Kinsella Review: A Voice that is Alive with a Sense of Danger
by Lisa Gorton

Few poets give such an intense sense of the present as John Kinsella. It is perhaps his most overlooked gift: the immediacy of his poetic voice. His poems often cast the reader into scenes charged with the possibility of violence or transfiguration. "In expectation of a lightning strike/ on Wireless Hill you sit and wait…" (In Expectation of a Lightning Strike on Wireless Hill).  Danger is close in a Kinsella poem and, one way or another, while you read you find yourself waiting for the lightning strike.

You’ve Listened Long Enough
by Colin Burrow

In one of those engagingly innocent-seeming anecdotes Seamus Heaney so skilfully used in both his poems and his prose, he relates (in an essay on Patrick Kavanagh from 1985) that one of his aunts ‘planted a chestnut in a jam jar’ in the year of his birth. In due course the seedling was planted out and grew to a fine height. Heaney says that ‘over the years I came to identify my own life with the life of the chestnut tree.’ When the aunt’s house was sold the chestnut tree was cut down. ‘Then, all of a sudden, a couple of years ago, I began to think of the space where the tree had been or would have been. In my mind’s eye I saw it as a kind of luminous emptiness, a warp and waver of light.’ That story is the Heaneyesque in miniature.

Less Is Moore
Observations is one of the great verbal works of art of the 20th century, in part because of Marianne Moore’s infectious devotion to everything small.
by James Longenbach 

On February 29, 1988, John Ashbery gave a poetry reading at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. The room was packed. Coincidentally, the Folger had mounted “Marianne Moore: Vision Into Verse,” an exhibition including an array of clippings and photographs that Moore includes in her poems—most prominently in “An Octopus,” the longest poem in her 1924 volume Observations. Speaking from the podium, Ashbery called “An Octopus” the most important poem of the 20th century; and while the remark provoked a few titters, he was reiterating a conviction that was neither novel nor idiosyncratic. “Despite the obvious grandeur of her chief competitors,” he’d written two decades earlier, in a 1967 review of Moore’s Complete Poems, “I am tempted simply to call her our greatest modern poet.”


Unfit for the Front Line
by Giorgio de Chirico 
Translated from the Italian by Stefania Heim

In 1916, during the First World War, the painter Giorgio de Chirico returned from living abroad in Paris to enlist in the Italian army. He was stationed in the north in Ferrara, where after a medical examination he was determined unfit for the front line and consequently worked as a non combatant at a desk, eventually spending the majority of his time in “a kind of hospital, or rather convalescent home.” This wartime period in Ferrara was to be a particularly productive creative and intellectual period for him, as he notes in his memoirs.

Talking to Poets
by Helena Nelson

Why would you want to talk to a poet? What are you supposed to SAY? Plenty of people do it. There are interviews all over the place. But over the years the questions have changed. I remember when the regular openers were, ‘Where do you get your inspiration?’ and ‘What started you writing poetry?’ These days the questions are many and various, and the web is a great medium for an interview. I’m not thinking of YouTube or Vimeo, here, so much as text. The Q & A format allows for short snaps (huge swathes of text are not so great on a screen), graphics (in some cases) and that marvellous business of live links that can swoop you right out of what you’re reading into something else.

Drafts & Framents

Poetry Podcasts are Back
by Adam Fitzgerald

All Up In Your Ears is a monthly podcast discussing, extolling, deviating from and disagreeing about recent poems. The format’s pretty simple. Each month, two of us pick out a poem and all four of us talk, hoping, in the process, to learn something about the ways that poems can matter—about what is found there and what, sometimes, for some of us, is not. At the end, we all talk about things that have caught our interest recently, and then one of us calls another poet for a short interview.

Light as Touch: Jenny Holzer’s Nighttime Poetry Projections
by Henri Cole

Jenny Holzer has been throwing light onto buildings and landscapes at night since 1991. Because her aim is to illuminate and reveal, she is different from the moon, whose light can create dangerous shadows in our everyday world.

Poetry In The News

North Jersey Native Wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

A North Jersey native earned a Pulitzer Prize on Monday. Peter Balakian, who was born and raised in Teaneck and Tenafly, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for “Ozone Journal,” a collection of his poems. The 64-year-old’s award-winning compilation contains “poems that bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that undergird a global age of danger and uncertainty,” according to the Pulitzer board

Carol Ann Duffy to Mark Phasing Out of Gas Meters with New Poem

Poetic inspiration can come from anywhere, be it windswept landscapes, dysfunctional parents – and even, it seems, gas meters. Carol Ann Duffy has revealed that her next work as the nation’s poet laureate will mark the passing of traditional “whirring” gas and electricity meters that have sat in British homes for more than 100 years. They are now due to be phased out by 2020, according to government plans, in favour of so-called modern smart meters.

New Books

ShallCross by C.D. Wright
[Hardcover] Copper Canyon Press, 140 pp., $23.00

In a turbulent world, C.D. Wright evokes a rebellious and dissonant ethos with characteristic genre-bending and expanding long-form poems. Accessing journalistic writing alongside filmic narratives, Wright ranges across seven poetic sequences, including a collaborative suite responding to photographic documentation of murder sites in New Orleans. ShallCross shows plain as day that C.D. Wright is our most thrilling and innovative poet.

Scattering the Dark: An Anthology of Polish Women Poets edited by Karen Kovacik
[Paperback] White Pine Press, 270 pp., $20.00

"Wow! What a book! The tradition of women's writing that flows out of the work of Symborska and Anna Swir—the way this mighty tradition turns in the hands of a younger generation from the traumatic history of their country to a poetics of everyday life, of play, and experiment. An absolutely rich and appealing book."—Robert Hass

Whosoever Has Let A Minotaur Enter Them, Or A Sonnet by Emily Carr
[Hardcover] McSweeney’s, 80 pp., $20.00 

How does a love poet fall out of her marriage and back in love with the world? What happens when you grow up to be the “kind of person who…”? These fairytales are for the heartbreakers as much as the heartbroken, for those smitten with wanderlust, for those who believe in loving this world through art. A singular flow of bewildered brilliance, Emily Carr’s swiftly flowing sequence of love poems—divorce poems, really—engages the very real problem of falling out of love because (admit it!) you never think you will. No matter how many times it’s happened before. Imagine it: not limiting love to the erotic but embracing endeavor, struggle, social change, and political action. Love as consciousness, inventiveness, and intention. In a world that hurts as much as it holds.

Standing Water: Poems by Eleanor Chai

[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 112 pp., $23.00 

A young woman in Paris encounters an uncanny presence on a tour of a small museum. A study by Rodin of the dancer Little Hanako--titled Head of Sorrow--triggers in the young woman recognition of her mother, a mother erased from her life since childhood. Thus begins Eleanor Chai's Standing Water, one of the most remarkable first books of poetry in recent years. 

Trouble the Water by Derrick Austin 
[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd., 104 pp., $16.00

Rich in religious and artistic imagery, Trouble the Water is an intriguing exploration of race, sexuality, and identity, particularly where self-hood is in constant flux. These intimate, sensual poems interweave pop culture and history—moving from the Bible through several artistic eras—to interrogate what it means to be, as Austin says, fully human as a “queer, black body” in 21st century America.


“Now the Writing Starts”: An Interview with Adonis
by Jonathan Guyer

In the Arab world, they say, everyone is a poet. And everyone knows Adonis, the Paris-based Syrian exile who invented the Arabic prose poem and who has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Since 2011, he has also been a controversial figure in the debate about the war in Syria. As the Syrian uprising began in early 2011, Arab intellectuals awaited Adonis’s comment, not only because of his stature as a poet but also because he is Alawite, the sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs. In June of that year, Adonis wrote an open letter to al-Assad, calling for a democratic transition. Yet the Assad regime had already killed some 1,400 civilians, and many criticized Adonis’s response as too little, too late.

A Conversation with Li-Young Lee
by Ashley Beene

When I met Li-Young Lee for the first time, I found him much different than the picture I had formed. Wearing a North Face jacket and UGGs, he tells me that his plane was three hours late and he left his suit in the car on the way to the airport. He greets me warmly, and even though we were conducting the interview during a literary conference — UC Riverside’s annual Writers Week — and there was constant interruption, he maintained a quiet composure that some of us can only dream of. Hand-selected to read at Writers Week by US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, Li-Young Lee and I had an incredibly candid conversation about art, fried chicken, and why teaching is not for everyone.

Michael Hofmann: ‘English is basically a trap. It’s almost a language for spies’
by Philip Oltermann

The savagery with which Michael Hofmann can wield a hatchet has earned him unlikely fans outside the literary circuit. A recent issue of Viz ran a cartoon of the critic, poet and translator urinating all over a phone booth, while two donnish FR Leavis types nodded appreciatively from a safe distance. Coming from a publication with a proud track record of showing disrespect to the great and good, it felt like an exaltation of sorts.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

On my summer reading list is a book I bought recently, titled "Silent Dialogues," about the duel lives and art of brother and sister, Diane Arbus and Howard Nemerov, written by Nemerov's son, art historian Alexander Nemerov. Flipping it open, I happened upon this poem:

Mud Turtle
by Howard Nemerov

Out of the earth beneath the water,
Dragging over the stubble field
Up to the hilltop in the sun
On his way from water to water,
He rests an hour in the garden,
His alien presence observed by all:
His lordly darkness decked in filth
Bearded with weed like a lady's favor,
He is a black planet, another world
Never till now appearing, even now
Not quite believably old and big,
Set in the summer morning's midst
A gloomy gemstone to the sun opposed.
Our measures of him do not matter,
He would be huge at any size;
And neither does the number of his years,
The time he comes from doesn't count.
When the boys tease him with sticks
He breaks the sticks, striking with
As great a suddenness as speed;
Fingers and toes would snap as soon,
Says one of us, and the others shudder.
Then when they turn him on his back
To see the belly heroically yellow,
He throws himself fiercely to his feet,
Brings down the whole weight of his shell,
Spreads out his claws and digs himself in
Immovably, invulnerably.
But for the front foot on the left,
Red-budded, with the toes torn off.
So over he goes again, and shows
Us where a swollen leech is fastened
Softly between plastron and shell.
Nobody wants to go close enough
To burn it loose; he can't be helped
Either, there is no help for him
As he makes it to his feet again
And drags away to the meadows edge.
We see the tall grass open and wave
Around him, it doses, he is gone
Over the hill toward another water,
Bearing his hard and chambered hurt
Down, down, down, beneath the water,
Beneath the earth beneath. He takes
A secret wound out of the world.

Oddly, the last sentence of this poem strikes me as exactly what Diane Arbus often captured in her photographs. Having read only the first two pages tonight, I know it will be a haunting and satisfying book to digest.

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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
Aime Cesaire
Bella Akhmadulina
George Herbert
Louis Simpson
Gerard Malanga
Mahmoud Darwish
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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A.M. Klein
David Ignatow
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Carriera Duke
Jon Stallworthy