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Poetry News In Review

August 1, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1763 – Samuel Rogers, English poet (Italy, a poem), is born.

1771 – Thomas Gray, English poet, dies at 54.

1918 – Joyce Kilmer, American poet, dies at 31.

1971 – Kenneth Slessor, Australian poet (b. 1901), dies.



Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,

         Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;

Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile

         The short and simple annals of the poor.


The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,

         And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,

Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.

         The paths of glory lead but to the grave.


—from “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray (1716–1771)

World Poetry

Controversial Poem No More in Kerala Varsity Syllabus 

Following protests, a poem written by an alleged Al Qaeda leader was withdrawn temporarily from the syllabus for undergraduates in Kerala's Calicut University, an official said Thursday. The poem, "Ode to the Sea," written by Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a former detainee of Guantanamo Bay camp of the US, was part of the text 'Literature and Contemporary Issue Studies' for third semester BA and BSc students. Read more at South Asia Mail.

Mayakovsky Anniversary Reveals Struggle Over Poet's Legacy

On July 19, Moscow marked the 120th anniversary of Vladimir Mayakovsky, the rebellious Futurist poet who rose from a childhood in Georgia to become the voice of the October Revolution. The commemorations came on the eve of the controversial renovation of Moscow's Mayakovsky Museum, which some fear will remove its Futurist-inspired displays and put a 21st-century gloss on the Soviet icon. As a member of a groundbreaking circle of poets that sprung up just before the Revolution, Mayakovsky believed in destroying Russia's literary firmament and creating an entirely new type of art — a credo summarized in the Futurists' 1912 manifesto, "A Slap in the Face of Public Taste." Read more at The Moscow News.

Japan Police Arrest Haiku Poet after Five Killings

 Japanese police on Friday arrested a man who left a "haiku" poem when he disappeared after five people were murdered in a tiny mountain village. Investigators found Kosei Homi, 63, dressed only in his underwear early Friday in mountains near the hamlet in western Yamaguchi prefecture, police and reports said. The manhunt began on Sunday after officers found three corpses inside two burned-out houses. They subsequently uncovered two more bodies in separate homes. Read more at Fox News.

Yemeni Journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaea and Belarusian Writer and Poet Vladimir Neklyaev Released from Prison

Pen International welcomes the news that investigative journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaea (or Shaye) was released from jail on Tuesday 23 July 2013. Shaea has spent the last three years in prison in Yemen, charged with having links to Al-Qaeda. PEN is is also delighted to hear that a court in Belarus overturned a two-year suspended sentence imposed on 67-year-old writer and poet Vladimir Neklyaev (Ulazimir Njakljajeu). Read more at PEN International.

Recent Reviews

Begging for It by Alex Dimitrov

by David Eye

Alex Dimitrov’s Begging for It is filled with intensely personal, affecting, disarming poems. Dimitrov had me at pretty much the first line: “In America, I stopped to listen for God.” Four lines later, “Let the blood wet the ashes, / let the semen wet the mouth.” America makes several appearances in this book, starting with the brief and powerful opening gambit, “Heartland.” In “Leaving for America, May 1991” and “American Youth,” the speaker recounts arriving in the U.S. as a child with his family. His homeland is referred to in “This Is Not a Personal Poem” only as “a former Communist country,” and the speaker goes so far as to say his foreign birth “may or may not matter.” Read more at Coldfront.

Dear Editor: Poems

by Ray McDaniel

It is a pity that Amy Newman’s Dear Editor sounds like such a terrible idea, because it is in fact a smart and beautiful book, one that proves no concept, however halt in principle, is a match for someone hellbent on its execution. In this case, the idea can be summarized thus: here’s a book of epistolary prose poems, half a year’s worth of letters to the unnamed editor of an identified literary journal, that refer to a manuscript of poems that we never get to read. The only way to do justice to this is to quote an entire letter, for which I beg your patience and Newman’s forgiveness, but you really need to see the whole of one to successfully imagine the magnified effect of a book full of them. Read more at Constant Critic.

Evil is an Author of Beauty

The Selected Works of José Antonio Ramos Sucre, trans. Guillermo Parra

by Joyelle McSweeney  

Comrades, I have read a book of such maddeningly delightful savour that I must urge you to immediately devour it with all possible haste and candelabra-infused solemnity. Perhaps by the light of a ‘candelabra-app’. Read more at Montevidayo.

Seamus Heaney’s North

by Joseph Spece

If ever I swear off the larger part of contemporary poetry, figuring I’d be better served to read Macbeth for the twelfth time before laboring through another droll, uninspired, ironic, self-reflexive volume, I remind myself of a single thing: in 1975, Seamus Heaney’s North was brand new. Read more at Sharkpack Poetry.

Lake Superior by Lorine Niedecker

by Laura Sims

Like the eponymous Niedecker poem at its heart, Lake Superior is a richly layered and deftly allusive work of art, one that requires the reader to collaborate in its making. The poem appears first in the collection, but supplemental literary and historical documents are layered in after it to create a vastly enriching context, one that amplifies its images and lines and brings the reader to a deeper, fuller comprehension of the poem. The documents include: selections from Niedecker’s journal and letters, a Wisconsin travel guide Niedecker worked on for the WPA, the writings of two explorers who appear in the poem, a critical essay on “Lake Superior,” and writings by companion voices Aldo Leopold and Matsuo Basho. Read more at Coldfront.


Sylvia Plath’s Neighborhood

by Roger Cohen

 I go past her door every other day when I walk the dog. There is the blue-and-white English Heritage plaque: “Sylvia Plath 1932-1963 Poet lived here 1960-61.” I tend to pause and gaze at it, imagining her walking to the top of Primrose Hill. It has been a half-century since her suicide, an anniversary marked by the publication this year of several books. “The blood jet is poetry,” she wrote, “There is no stopping it” — lines from “Kindness” that capture the implacability of her verse. And there has been no stopping the Plath polemics these past 50 years. Read more at the New York Times.

Against Conceptualism

Defending the Poetry of Affect

by Calvin Bedient

The under-examined bone of contention in today’s poetry is the value of affect in art. More and more poets are suspicious of lyrical expression and devote themselves to emotionally neutral methods. The representation of affects—feelings that are often either transports or afflictions—has been increasingly muted in American and European art since the 1960s. Vehemence of feeling nonplusses the modern personality, a hostage to ambiguity and irony. This turn against strong emotion leaves much at stake. Read more at the Boston Review.

Drafts & Framents

Three Seconds: Poems, Cubes, and the Brain*

by Jalees Rehman

A child drops a chocolate chip cookie on the floor, immediately picks it up, looks quizzically at a parental eye-witness and proceeds to munch on it after receiving an approving nod. This is one of the versions of the "three second rule", which suggests that food can be safely consumed if it has had less than three seconds contact with the floor. There is really no scientific basis for this legend, because noxious chemicals or microbial flora do not bide their time, counting "One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand,…" Read more at 3 Quarks Daily.

Poetry In The News

Lockwood’s “Rape Joke” Goes Viral

Patricia Lockwood’s long poem “Rape Joke,” published yesterday by Mark Bibbins at The Awl, received more than 10,000 Facebook “likes” within hours of being posted, according to a report in The Guardian. In The Guardian and all over social media, readers have been analyzing the deceptively accessible poem. Prachi Gupta at Salon says the poem is strong enough to “end the rape joke debate.” Read more at Coldfront.

New Books

The Mining Road by Leanne O'Sullivan 

[Paperback] Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 64 pp., $21.95

This third poetry collection finds inspiration in the disused copper mines that haunt the rugged terrain of West Cork. Like remnants of a lost world, the mines' ruined towers, shafts, man-engines, and dressing floors evoke an elemental landscape. Mining promotes a sense of memory, and the riches embedded in the landscape are human as well as material. But things brought to the surface can have a startling ability to shine in the present, and O'Sullivan's poems move and provoke as they resonate with experiences at the heart of contemporary Ireland.

Industrial Loop by Joel Dailey

[Paperback] Lavender Ink, 120 pp., $15.00

To quote Anselm Hollo: "On a planet entranced by Amerikana, Joel Dailey's works are bound for international and eventually intergalactic acclaim! No question! Any questions? No? Well, then (to mildly paraphrase Doc Williams), fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to laugh like hell!" Don't miss this latest work by America's unproclaimed laureate.

Ransack and Dance: Poems by Chris Forhan 

[Paperback] Silver Birch Press, 38 pp., $12.00

"Ransack and Dance is a book by a poet reaching the heights of his art. Every word is where it is for a reason, and every sound is where it is for a reason. And those reasons add up to surprise and delight. This is the rarest thing for a collection of poems: there is not a line of prose in it!" —Thomas Lux

for Holding Silence by Nura Yingling

[Paperback] BlazeVOX, 112 pp., $16.00

Yingling’s poems in for Holding Silence map the direction out of Lost up each scouring step to Found, or at least to the essential human truth that “the woman who could be you, is.” Rigorously raw and personal, they yet show us ourselves —in spite of all the wily ways we try to avoid such mirrors—with music, vision, and great compassion. “No need anymore for efforting,” she discovers in Eleven, “Here in weightless stillness is what/ you've always wanted.” Human poems opening out and up. — Sheryl Robbins

Zibaldone by Giacomo Leopardi

[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2592 pp., $75.00

Giacomo Leopardi was the greatest Italian poet of the nineteenth century and was recognized by readers from Nietzsche to Beckett as one of the towering literary figures in Italian history. To many, he is the finest Italian poet after Dante. He was also a prodigious scholar of classical literature and philosophy, and a voracious reader in numerous ancient and modern languages. For most of his writing career, he kept an immense notebook, known as the Zibaldone, or “hodge-podge,” as Harold Bloom has called it, in which Leopardi put down his original, wide-ranging, radically modern responses to his reading. His comments about religion, philosophy, language, history, anthropology, astronomy, literature, poetry, and love are unprecedented in their brilliance and suggestiveness, and the Zibaldone, which was only published at the turn of the twentieth century, has been recognized as one of the foundational books of modern culture. 


Poetry Salon: Debra Bruce

by Diane Lockward

I am happy to host today's Poetry Salon for Debra Bruce. I first met Debra on the Wompo Poetry Listserv. I then had the pleasure of meeting her in person at the West Chester Poetry Conference when we both served as panelists on a critical seminar exploring undervalued women poets. Debra's latest poetry collection is Survivors' Picnic, a collection filled with a variety of masterful form poems. Debra is also the author of three previous collections. She lives in Illinois and is a professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University. Debra is going to speak with us about Survivors' Picnic. Read more at Blogalicious.

Direct Expression

An interview with the dissident Russian poet and essayist Kirill Medvedev

by Emma Goldhammer

 Kirill Medvedev is difficult to classify. He has spent much of the past several years as a stay-at-home father and dropped out of the prestigious Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. As an act of protest against the capitalist corruption of the Russian publishing world, he has denied all copyright to his works, even refusing a lucrative deal with a well-known leftist press because, he says, there are no rights. At the same time, he’s gained an international reputation as a poet; his first English-language collection, It’s No Good, edited by N+1’s Keith Gessen, was recently published by N+1 and Ugly Duckling Presse. Medvedev also performs with the boisterous radical rock band Arkady Kots. Read more at the Boston Review.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

After you read the essay above, titled "Three Seconds: Poems, Cubes, and the Brain," I suggest you take the time to read one of the sources of that essay, which is itself an essay—this one by Frederick Turner and Ernst Pöppel. It is titled THE NEURAL LYRE: POETIC METER, THE BRAIN, AND TIME and first appeared in Poetry Magazine in 1983. Even thirty years later it is likely to raise eyebrows. Here is an excerpt:

"Modernist esthetic theory may be ignoring the following possibility: that our species' special adaptation may in fact be to expect more order and meaning in the world than it can deliver; and that those expectations may constitute, paradoxically, an excellent survival strategy. We are strongly motivated to restore the equilibrium between reality and our expectations by altering reality so as to validate our models of it-to "make the world a better place," as we put it. The modernist attack on beauty in art would therefore constitute an attack on our very nature itself; and the modernist and post-modernist criticism of moral and philosophical idealism likewise flies in the face of the apparent facts about human neural organization. What William James called "the will to believe" is written in our genes; teleology is the best policy; and paradoxically, it is utopian to attempt to do battle against our natural idealism. Much more sensible to adjust reality to the ideal.

  But our discussion of the effects of metered verse on the human brain has ignored, so far, the subcortical levels of brain activity. Let us substitute, as pars pro toto, "metered verse" for "rituals" in the following summary by Barbara Lex:

'The raison d'etre of rituals is the readjustment of dysphasic biological and social rhythms by manipulation of neurophysiological structures under controlled conditions. Rituals properly executed promote a feeling of well-being and relief, not only because prolonged or intense stresses are alleviated, but also because the driving techniques employed in rituals are designed to sensitize and "tune" the nervous system and thereby lessen inhibition of the right hemisphere and permit temporary right-hemisphere dominance, as well as mixed trophotropic-ergotropic excitation, to achieve synchronization of cortical rhythms in both hemispheres and evoke trophotropic rebound.' "

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