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Poetry News In Review

April 30, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

65 – Lucan, Roman poet (b. 39), dies.

1743 – Pedro de Peralta y Barnuevo, Peruvian playwright/poet, dies.

1864 – Juhan Liiv, Estonian poet (d. 1913), is born.

1888 – John Crowe Ransom, US poet/critic (God Without Thunder), is born.

1922 – David M. Chumaceiro, Curacaos poet, dies.

1936 – Alfred Edward Housman, English poet (b. 1859), dies.

1973 – Václav Renč, Czech poet, dramatist and translator (b. 1911), dies.

1980 – Luis Muñoz Marín, Puerto Rican poet, journalist, and politician (b. 1898), dies.

1998 – Nizar Qabbani, Syrian poet (b. 1926), dies.

Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail;

And I will cry with my loud lips and publish

Beauty which all our power shall never establish,

It is so frail.

For I could tell you a story which is true;

I know a woman with a terrible tongue,

Blear eyes fallen from blue,

All her perfections tarnished -- yet it is not long

Since she was lovelier than any of you. 

—John Crowe Ransom (1888–1974), from “Blue Girls”

World Poetry

Religious Police Deem Omar Too Sexy for Saudi Arabia

His dreamy eyes, chiselled face, and well-groomed beard proved just too much for Saudi Arabia’s authorities. Omar Borkan Al Gala, an actor, poet, and photographer, is deemed so sexy, in fact, that he’s been thrown out of Saudi Arabia due to the danger he poses to members of the opposite sex. Recently, three men were deported from Saudi Arabia as religious authorities deemed them “too handsome” amid fears that women would get too attracted to them and lose control of themselves. Read more at the Irish Examiner.

Netanyahu: Next Time,We’ll have Sephardi Poet on Bill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday tried to assuage public distress over the total omission of Sephardi poets in favor of their Ashkenazi counterparts on Israel’s new proposed banknotes. “Next time, we’ll depict representatives from Sephardi Judaism [on banknotes],” the prime minister said at the weekly cabinet meeting ahead of a vote on the decision to implement the new bills. Read more at the Times of Israel.


Recent Reviews

Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts – Review

by Kate Kellaway

A drysalter was a trader in salts, chemicals and dyes and these poems seem steeped in a single colour: it is clear they all proceed from the same pen. Michael Symmons Roberts won the Whitbread prize in 2004 with Corpus – a collection that, like this one, showed the surest command of a body of work in all senses. But this is his most ambitious collection to date: it contains 150 poems – each one 15 lines long. One could dub the form a super-sonnet, an experimental pushing at boundaries. He is quoted as saying he found the poems "terrifying" to write. Read more at the Guardian.

Recent Poetry: Phillips, Szybist, Leithauser

by Weston Cutter

I should just make a list of poets whose names I know but whose works I don’t, and I should post them somewhere so when I finally get off my ass and get my mind blown by well-known and -established writers, I can at least feel chagrined: of course this guy’s amazing, I can say, he’s been on the radar for how long now? Recent such discoveries for me include Lucie Brock-Brodio, and Eamon Grennan, and Albert Goldbarth, and that’s plenty I already feel bad and dumb. Read more at Corduroy Books.

Gunslinger Redux

by Matthew Sperling

In comparison to the work  of his American contemporaries Frank  O’Hara,  Allen Ginsberg or John Ashbery, the poetry of Edward Dorn (1929-1999) has been little read and published in Britain. His life-long rejection of schools and affiliations, and his preference for working outside  of metropolitan coteries, either of mainstream or avant-garde complexion, may not have helped. To most poetry readers he is known, if at all, as a junior member of the Black Mountain school or as the author of Gunslinger (1968-1975), a long poem of the American West which has never been in print in its complete form in the UK. Read more at The London Magazine.


A Poet on the Road

by Charles Simic

Like other poets of my generation, I’ve given hundreds of poetry readings. Over the last forty-five years, I’ve been to colleges and universities, but also to high schools, libraries, bookstores, grade schools, bars, nursing homes, jazz clubs, coffee houses, movie theaters, abandoned malls, and places that don’t fall into any of these categories, like that storefront where I shared the bill with a magician and a local rock band. It was packed, I remember, with a rough young crowd who were there to hear the band and who were okay with the magician being the first act, but grew unruly once they learned that a poet was to follow. Read more at the New York Review of Books.

The Bitter Fool

by David Yezzi

Poetry has become so docile, so domesticated, it’s like a spayed housecat lolling in a warm patch of sun. Most poets choose to play it safe, combining a few approved modes in a variety of unexceptional ways: lyrical, pastoral, whimsical, surrealist, lyrical-pastoral, pastoral-surrealist, interior-lyrical, whimsical-lyrical-interior-surrealist, and so on. These poems feel at home in coffee shops and on college campuses; they circulate breezily among crowds of like-minded poems and all of them work hard to be liked. Read more at the New Criterion.

From Dissections To Depositions, Poets' Second Jobs

by David Orr  

"No man but a blockhead," Samuel Johnson famously observed, "ever wrote, except for money." This is tough news for poets, since the writing they do is often less immediately profitable than a second-grader's math homework (the kid gets a cookie or a hug; the poet gets a rejection letter from The Kenyon Review). Poetry itself is tremendously valuable, of course, but that value is often realized many years after a poem's composition, and sometimes long after the end of its author's life. Read more at NPR.

National Poetry Month with a Poet-a-Day

by Timothy Donnelly

Sunday night as I started falling asleep I tried to think about what I might write this blog post on in the hopes that I might be able to dream up an answer. This method has worked for me in the past but not too reliably. I think I remember being told that eating strong cheese before you retire improves your results. Anyway, as it happened, I actually did end up having a poetry-related dream but it was almost too ridiculous and pretentious to deal with so I hesitate to relate it. But in the spirit of the month (NPM) and of the medium (blog), I will relate it nonetheless, but as succinctly as possible: Keats and Wordsworth were having a fancy panel discussion about the egotistical sublime. I was the moderator. Read more at National Poetry Month Daily.

Drafts & Framents

Poets without Clothes 

See more.

Poetic Euphemisms for Death on Early American Gravestones 

In 2008, history grad student Caitlin Hopkins began documenting pre-1825 American gravestones and posting the ones with epitaphs that describe death in a unique way. Her goal was to compile a list of 101, which she has — and more. Read more at 22 Words.



Poetry In The News

Don't Miss the Poetry Out Loud Finals This Week

Monday and Tuesday mark the national finals of this year's Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest. The 53 regional champions competing this week represent the best of more than 375,000 students that participated from about 2000 schools across the country. Nine finalists will advance to the final competition on Tuesday night. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Vita Sackville-West's Erotic Verse to her Lover Emerges from “intoxicating Night”

Scholar finds writer's poem to mistress Violet Trefusis as it falls out of book during conservation work at her Sissinghurst home

When Vita Sackville-West married the diplomat Sir Harold Nicolson in the chapel of the palatial family home at Knole in Kent in 1913, the society column-writers enthused over the 21-year-old bride's beauty and her magnificent wedding gown. But as a poem going on display this week for the first time makes clear, there was more to the marriage than a conventional fairytale romance. Read more at the Guardian.

New Books

Gossamurmur by Anne Waldman 

[Paperback] Penguin Books, 160 pp., $20.00

Acclaimed for her visionary, incantatory verse and her experimental ethos, Anne Waldman's newest book-length poem is an allegory of a radical spirit in lockdown, dominated by "Deciders" and "Imposters" who threaten the future of poetry and its archive. A doppelganger nightmare ensues: the imposter "Anne" is a succubus, and the original Anne has to break free from a metaphorical castle of torture and psychological domination. There are travels through Vedic cosmology and ancient Japan before resolution on a treeless tundra, where fragile life forms struggle to survive. Waldman's oracular poem is a witty meditation on identity theft and a searing plea for the primacy of imagination and for collective sanity in our provocative yet precarious time.

Landscape with Yellow Birds by Jose Angel Valente

[Paperback] Archipelago Books, 200 pp., $18.00

For the first time in English: a bilingual, comprehensive selection of poems from each of the published books by Spain's most important postwar poet, winner of the Premio Nacional de Literature. A "mystic poet in a modern mode," José Ángel Valente is renowned as a platonist of the word who strips language bare. Among a variety of forms, from experimental to prose, his poems conjure stunning, vibrant lyrics of absolute immediacy.

Metaphysical Dog: Poems by Frank Bidart

[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 128 pp., $24.00

In “Those Nights,” Frank Bidart writes: “We who could get / somewhere through / words through / sex could not.” Words and sex, art and flesh: In Metaphysical Dog, Bidart explores their nexus. The result stands among this deeply adventurous poet’s most powerful and achieved work, an emotionally naked, fearlessly candid journey through many of the central axes, the central conflicts, of his life, and ours.

Four Elemental Bodies by Claude Royet-Journoud

[Paperback] Burning Deck, 368 pp., $20.00

Claude Royet-Journoud is one of the most important contemporary French poets whose one-line manifesto: "Shall we escape analogy" marked a revolutionary turn away from Surrealism and its lush imagery. He explores the experience of loss as if absence were the threshold we have to cross to fully enter language.

September: Poems by Rachel Jamison Webster

[Paperback] Triquarterly, 104 pp., $16.95

The poems in Rachel Webster’s debut collection Septem­ber often address a fleeting moment. Like the month, the moment can be a single leaf falling or a season of life. Webster’s pastoral poems address personal physical change in the seasons of life, including childhood, love, motherhood, and death. Together they lead the reader through a lyrical landscape of conversation, meditation, and healing. The work of a poet sensitive to worlds ex­ternal and internal, September speaks to the core of life and the simplicity of human events and the natural world around us.


Out in the World: Rae Armantrout

by John Deming

Rae Armantrout’s new book, Just Saying, was released in February. I interviewed her at the AWP Conference in Boston in March; the following has been transcribed and edited. There is a review of Just Saying here. Read more at Coldfront.

Poet Kazim Ali On Poetry In Everyday Life

Poet Kazim Ali talks about poetry's importance in every day life for National Poetry Month. He is a contributing editor for AWP Writers Chronicle and founding editor of the small press, Nightboat Books. Read more at NPR.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis with Andy Fitch

Over the summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Blau DuPlessis’ book Purple Passages: Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley, and the Ends of Patriarchal Poetry (University of Iowa Press). November 9th. Transcribed by Maia Spotts. Read more at The Conversant.


Envoi: Editor's Notes

Nice Poem; I’ll Take It

by Sandra Beasley    

If you read British newspapers, you might have heard of Christian Ward. In 2011, Ward won the Exmoor Society’s Hope Bourne prize for his poem “The Deer at Exmoor,” only to have his work revealed as a copy of “The Deer,” by Helen Mort, which won the Café Writers Open Poetry Competition in England in 2009. Ward defended himself by saying, “I had no intention of deliberately plagiarizing,” and suggested he had used Mort’s work as a model and had submitted a premature draft. Read more at the New York Times.

Bob Dylan has long been a pilferer, a mockingbird. He appropriates lines (from Michael Drayton), adaptations (from Dave Von Ronk), images (from Anonymous, "O Western Wind"), even his name. He pulls them from the past, distant and not-so-distant, "repurposes" them. He picks up a good idea from someone else and runs with it in a different direction. Is that theft? In a way, yes. But it is less theft than a way to weave the past into the present (not entirely sure about the Dave Von Ronk example: listen to their versions of "House of the Rising Sun"). Not homage as much as the incorporation of cultural bric-a-brac into his own nest. 

This, the plagiarism of Christian Ward, is different. The "mad-libs" approach of changing a word here or there in someone else's poem and signing his name to it is astounding in its idiocy and disregard for self and others. It isn't the playful "unoriginal" nonsense of Kenneth Goldsmith or the attraction to the shiny object of Dylan. It would appear that his only goal is to publish as his own something that he knows has already met with some success. I can't fathom the deeper motivation, one that speaks not to his lack of awareness but to his hollow vision of personal worth. I imagine that it must be lonely there.

—David Sanders

View Past Issues

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
Kostis Palama
A.M. Klein
David Ignatow
Langston Hughes
Carriera Duke
Jon Stallworthy