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Poetry News In Review

April 6, 2016
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1671– Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, French playwright/poet (Sacred Odes & Songs), is born.
1818– Aasmund Olavsson Vinje, Norwegian poet (d. 1870), is born.
1888– Daniel Andersson, Swedish poet/writer (Svarta Ballader), is born.
1889– Gabriela Mistral [Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga], poet (Nobel Prize 1945) and diplomat, born in Vicuña, Chile (d. 1957), is born.
1935– Edward Arlington Robinson, US poet, dies.
1953– Idris Davies, Welsh poet (b. 1905), dies.


I feel my heart melting
in the mildness like candles:
my veins are slow oil
and not wine,
and I feel my life fleeing
hushed and gentle like the gazelle. 

—Gabriela Mistral (1889–1945)

World Poetry

Daughter of Iconic Russian Poet Vladimir Mayakovsky Dies in U.S.

The daughter of Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky has died in the U.S. at the age of 89, director of Moscow's State Museum of Mayakovsky Alexei Lobov said on his Facebook page on Monday. Yelena Mayakovskaya — also known as Patricia Thompson — died in New York on April 1, according to the museum director.

Anthology of Polish Women Poets Set for US Release

A new English-language anthology of work by Polish women poets will be published in the US in April. “Scattering the Dark: An Anthology of Polish Women Poets” will comprise English translations of work of 31 poets, including Wisława Szymborska - a Polish Nobel Prize winner, Julia Hartwig and Ewa Lipska. The anthology covers periods both before and after the 1989 fall of communism in Poland.

Recent Reviews

Review: Poetry by Lucia Perillo and Amit Majmudar
by Dwight Garner

Among the American poets well up in the stratosphere, in terms of their freakish gifts, is Lucia Perillo. If you’ve heard of her, it might be because you’ve read a human-interest story. In 1988, shortly before her first book of poems was published, Ms. Perillo was found to have multiple sclerosis. She is now 58. Over time her ability to move has been severely restricted.

Book Review: Small Hours by Ilyse Kusnetz
by Patrick Hicks

Ilyse Kusnetz has been a finalist for such awards as the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, the Richard Snyder Poetry Prize, and the Crab Orchard First Book Award. Not only has her work appeared in such journals as The Cincinnati Review, Crazyhorse, Rattle, Poet Lore, and Atlanta Review, but her chapbook, The Gravity of Falling, was published by La Vita Poetica in 2006. Aside from being a poet, Kusnetz is also a journalist, and her work has appeared in The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, The New Statesman, and elsewhere. I mention all of this because it is important to note that Kusnetz brings to her work the necessary observational powers of a poet but, as we shall soon see, she also brings a deep and abiding appreciation of history. Her poems delicately balance the rigor of research against the artistry of language.


Jim Harrison's Poetry Saved Me from Thinking Poetry Was Boring
by Rich Smith

Poet, novelist, and essayist Jim Harrison died Saturday at 78. Jim Harrison's most widely known book was Legends of the Fall, a novella that was made into the eponymous 1994 film starring Brad Pitt. But I only knew him—surprise—by way of his poetry. I was having a talk with another poet friend at my tiny table in my cramped apartment in the CD. We were playing my favorite game. The game has no real name, but it might be called something like, Why Are We Still Writing Poetry?

The Wreck
Adrienne Rich’s feminist awakening, glimpsed through her never-before-published letters.
by Michelle Dean

It began with her fear of stairs. One day in November 1969, Adrienne Rich, a poet known to other poets but not yet to the wider world, paused at the top of the steps in her sister’s house in Boston, overwhelmed by a sense of peril, until her sister came to help. “Touching her, I felt no fear,” Rich wrote in a letter, “but what I did immediately feel was that something very serious had happened to me, something I had better fight—that I couldn’t let myself in for a life of being helped up and down staircases.”

“Transposingly in love”: Hecht & Shakespeare
by David Yezzi

Some writers win our respect, others our admiration, and a very few inspire something like love—is there a nearer word for the intensity of feeling, elevation, and devotion occasioned by the best writing?1 Poets enter into fond liaisons with their literary precursors, either promiscuously or chastely. Anthony Hecht (1923–2004) noted his affection for a range of poets—Donne, Herbert, and Hardy often chief among them—but none, I think, had a more profound affect on him, both personally and poetically, than Shakespeare. Not even the Bible—which Hecht read obsessively and which figures directly in many of his poems, particularly the late poems of The Darkness and the Light—quite rivals the Bard as a continual source for subjects and allusions, from Hecht’s juvenilia to his final poems.

Drafts & Framents

Poet Fatemeh Shams Takes on Politics in Post-revolution Iran
by Corinne Segal

Fatemeh Shams and Dick Davis have never met in person. She is a young Iranian poet living in London, a voice of Iran’s post-revolution dissident. He is a medievalist translator and poet who lives more than 3,000 miles away in Ohio. Several years ago, after a friend showed Davis some of the poems that Shams had written, he emailed her, asking if he could translate her work from Farsi to English.

Eileen Myles: ‘I write weird books. The next one’s about a time-travelling dog’
by Sophie Robinson

If I hadn’t given up drinking, I’d be dead. I’ll be 33 years sober in May, and I’m 66 years old. Thirty-three has been a magic number for me for so many years, because in a way it was the year that I died. When I first got sober and I walked through New York, I felt like a ghost. And there were so many ghosts of nights and stories around the city.

Poetry In The News

Ted Hughes Poetry Award: Ecologist David Morley Wins £5,000 Prize for The Invisible Gift

David Morley, an ecologist who studied the impact of acid rain in the Lake District, has won the Ted Hughes award for New Work in Poetry. The £5,000 prize, funded by Carol Ann Duffy from her honorarium as Poet Laureate, was awarded to the Blackpool-born poet for his collection, The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems. Morley’s subjects range from Romani tales and political allegory to poetry which “evokes the enchantment and truth of the natural world and our place in it.”

Award-Winning Poetry Cycle Citizen Sets NY Stage Premiere

The stage adaptation of Citizen, Claudia Rankine's award-winning book of poems about racism in America, will get its New York premiere next season. Subtitled “An American Lyric," Rankine's book won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and many other awards. Scheduled for January 2017, Citizen will headline the Primary Stages 2016-7 season. Rankine premiered the stage adaption at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles in 2015. She reportedly has updated the text with the help of playwright Stephen Sachs for the New York bow.

New Books

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 70 pp., $16.00

In his haunting and fearless debut, Ocean Vuong walks a tightrope of historic and personal violences, creating an interrogation of the American body as a borderless space of both failure and triumph. At once vulnerable and redemptive, dreamlike and visceral, compassionate and unforgiving, these poems seek a myriad existence without forgetting the prerequisite of self-preservation in a world bent on extinguishing its othered voices. Vuong's poems show, through breath, cadence, and unrepentant enthrallment, that a gentle palm on a chest can calm the most necessary of hungers.

Almost Nothing to Be Scared Of by David Clewell 
[Paperback] University of Wisconsin Press, 152 pp., $14.95

Full of Clewell’s distinctive blend of narrative and lyric, as well as his unabashed, idiosyncratic sense of wonder, these poems often spring from unlikely sources: Adam and Eve’s Paradisal do-over at the Jersey shore, the misguided promise of tinfoil hats, Uncle Bud on the Moon, Debbie Fuller on Pluto, debatable Bigfoot nomenclature, Richard Nixon’s social-media rejuvenation, and a Nebraska policeman’s run-in with space aliens who tell him, “We want you to believe in us—but not too much.”  In Almost Nothing to Be Scared Of, David Clewell’s most expansive work yet, readers will discover a multiplicity of new ways to take heart—surely no small thing in a world where we’re too often asked to take what we’d rather not.

System of Ghosts by Lindsay Tigue
[Paperback] University Of Iowa Press, 84 pp., $19.00

In System of Ghosts, Lindsay Tigue details the way landscape speaks to isolation and personhood, how virtual and lived networks alter experience. She questions how built environments structure lives, how we seek out information within these spaces, and, most fundamentally, how we love. Rooted in the personal, the speaker of this collection moves through society and history, with the aim of firmly placing herself within her own life and loss. Facts become an essential bridge between spatial and historical boundaries. 

Olio by Tyehimba Jess

[Paperback] Wave Books, 256 pp., $25.00

Part fact, part fiction, Tyehimba Jess's much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.

Rapture: Poems by Sjohnna McCray 
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 72 pp., $16.00

In this award-winning debut, Sjohnna McCray movingly recounts a life born out of wartime to a Korean mother and an American father serving during the Vietnam War. Their troubled histories, and McCray's own, are told with lyric passion and the mythic undercurrents of discovering one's own identity, one's own desires. What emerges is a self- and family portrait of grief and celebration, one that insists on our lives as anything, please, but singular. Rapture is an extraordinary first collection, with poems of rare grace and feeling.


A Writer’s Room: Kevin Young

When I’m in full-on writing mode, and have the day, I try to get in my office around 10 a.m. and stop once “Judge Judy” comes on at 4, when I quit and come down. Sometimes, I leave her on while I edit — if she can make the tough calls, then so can I. Writers need their totems, their altars. Mine, I feel, share the same randomness and utility of those belonging to painters I know, who are relentlessly visual and even poetic. I do keep some friends’ art here, along with some of my late father’s things, and black dolls. I also keep old blue bottles on one or two windowsills: It’s a black Southern belief that blue glass keeps out bad spirits. So far, so good.

Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate, on Eating Too Many Chilaquiles and Returning to L.A.
by Alex Espinoza

When he was young, Juan Felipe Herrera wanted to be a public speaker. "I dreamed of standing in front of an audience and giving these long speeches," he explains by phone. But then he discovered poetry, and the color of the world changed. "People talk about seeing things through rose-colored glasses, but I started seeing things through poetry-colored glasses.”

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Bishop's "A Cold Spring"

I remember being startled by the precision of the imagery when I first encountered this poem thirty-six years ago. 

Greenish-white dogwood infiltrated the wood,
each petal burned, apparently, by a cigarette-butt

Exactly. Walking home today, seeing the dogwoods a few days shy of opening, brought it to mind again.

A Cold Spring
by Elizabeth Bishop

for Jane Dewey, Maryland

Nothing is so beautiful as spring. –Hopkins

A cold spring:
the violet was flawed on the lawn.
For two weeks or more the trees hesitated;
the little leaves waited,
carefully indicating their characteristics.
Finally a grave green dust
settled over your big and aimless hills.
One day, in a chill white blast of sunshine,
on the side of one a calf was born.
The mother stopped lowing
and took a long time eating the after-birth,
a wretched flag,
but the calf got up promptly
and seemed inclined to feel gay.

The next day
was much warmer.
Greenish-white dogwood infiltrated the wood,
each petal burned, apparently, by a cigarette-butt;
and the blurred redbud stood
beside it, motionless, but almost more
like movement than any placeable color.
Four deer practiced leaping over your fences.
The infant oak-leaves swung through the sober oak.
Song-sparrows were wound up for the summer,
and in the maple the complementary cardinal
cracked a whip, and the sleeper awoke,
stretching miles of green limbs from the south.
In his cap the lilacs whitened,
then one day they fell like snow.
Now, in the evening,
a new moon comes.
The hills grow softer. Tufts of long grass show
where each cow-flop lies.
The bull-frogs are sounding,
slack strings plucked by heavy thumbs.
Beneath the light, against your white front door,
the smallest moths, like Chinese fans,
flatten themselves, silver and silver-gilt
over pale yellow, orange, or gray.
Now, from the thick grass, the fireflies
begin to rise:
up, then down, then up again:
lit on the ascending flight,
drifting simultaneously to the same height,
–exactly like the bubbles in champagne.
–Later on they rise much higher.
And your shadowy pastures will be able to offer
these particular glowing tributes
every evening now throughout the summer.

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