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Poetry News In Review

August 25, 2016
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1649—Richard Crashaw, English clergyman/poet, dies at about 36.
1744—Johann G von Herder, German philosopher/theologist/poet, is born.
1935—Charles Wright, American poet, is born.


Tomorrow is dark.                         
                            Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
                                                             up from the damp grass.
Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.

—from “After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard” by Charles Wright

World Poetry

Federico Garcia Lorca: Who Really Killed the Acclaimed Poet and Playwright?

An Argentine judge has started an investigation into the death of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, who is believed to have been executed in 1936 by forces loyal to General Francisco Franco

Poet Afrizal Malna Turns Down Bakrie Award

Noted poet and writer Afrizal Malna has turned down the 2016 Achmad Bakrie Award for literature, saying he did not want to be associated with the Bakrie family's group of businesses. "That means I would become part of their construction [Achmad Bakrie Awards]; therefore it is better for me not to accept it," he told tempo.co on Sunday.

Recent Reviews

Best in Show
by Abigail Deutsch

“The poem isn’t complete on the page,” David Yezzi has remarked. “It needs to be spoken out loud. The performance is just as important as the poem itself.” Yezzi’s third book of poems, Birds of the Air, offers a suite of diverse and distinguished performances: His speakers toggle between warm and wicked, appealing and repulsive. Meanwhile, the poet tries on different stylistic personalities. While his first two books showed off his exquisite formalism, his third presents a balance of formal marvels and looser-lined, looser-lipped dramatic monologues—works different in sound from his lyric poems but similar in sensibility. No matter his mode, Yezzi’s sad, often funny poems pick at complex knots of emotion, focusing on the entanglement of love and ugliness, sweetness and bitterness, promise and loss.

Ghazal, Guitars, and Dumb Blocks
by Ange Mlinko

It seems there is always some plot afoot to get poetry “off the page,” always some recrudescent hope that poetry might evolve beyond reading. Which is odd, because the written is what poetry evolved into. Reading is harder than it looks, according to neurologists, who theorize that our eyes and neural networks have adapted to this relatively new task only with difficulty. And, to put it kindly, it’s not the most convivial activity. So the public poetry reading arose to broadcast and socialize an asocial art; and yet it is universally acknowledged that poetry readings are a colossal bore

The Consolations of Strangeness
by Charles Simic

There has been so much poetry written in the United States in the last thirty years that it has become difficult for even its most passionate readers, among whom I count myself, to pretend to have a broad, comprehensive view of the thousands of poems that have been published in books and literary magazines over that time. That was not always the case. In the 1950s, American poetry was a small pond with a few big fish in it and others of various sizes swimming around them, so it was easy to see who was imitating whose moves, whose progeny were multiplying and whose were looking sickly. Of course, there were others too, sulking on the murky bottom of the pond and keeping their own counsel, but they were by and large invisible.

What’s The Matter With Poetry?
For Ben Lerner, poems are the perfect medium for failure. So how can they negotiate with the politics of real life?
by Ken Chen

Once, in my youth, I took a graduate philosophy seminar I thought would be about law and justice: Instead we discussed the semantic implications of punctuation marks. After class, I found myself venting to a friend who’d been a literature professor. I told her I was unsatiated by the course—it felt like when I had discovered poetry and found, in practice, this most lyric of arts often meant writing about flowers or describing an epiphany in the grocery store checkout line. My friend laughed. “You know your problem?” she said. “You thought that philosophy would be Truth and poetry would be Beauty.”


How Poet Marianne Moore Was Inspired By the Jews
by Benjamin Ivry

American modernist poets, including T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams, were notorious for differing degrees of anti-Semitism, but their colleague Marianne Moore (1887–1972) was uniquely inspired by Jewish tradition and lore. Linda Leavell edited a recently published edition of Marianne Moore’s landmark first poetry collection, “Observations” (1924). She has also published on Moore and the visual arts, and a biography of the poet from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. A professor emerita of English at Oklahoma State University, Leavell spoke with “The Forward’s” Benjamin Ivry from her home in Fayetteville, Arkansas about what drew Marianne Moore to Yiddishkeit.

Blue Grief, Unforgettable: The Late Poems of Georg Trakl
by Stephen Kuusisto 

I have for some time been in possession of a ragged copy of Twenty Poems of George Trakl, translated by James Wright & Robert Bly, published by The Sixties Press in 1961. I bought the book around 1972 when, at 17, I was discovering poetry, though discovering isn’t quite right as I was very ill and close to dying from anorexia, and poignant as it may seem, poetry was showing me a bridge back to life. It was fitting that one lane of that bridge would be Trakl, who saw battle in the first world war, attempted to shoot himself, and wrote Wittgenstein for solace.

One Long Poem
by Heather Treseler

“The enormous power of reticence,” Octavio Paz wrote in 1977, “is the great lesson of the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.” Many critics have echoed his praise since her death in 1979. “Bishop wrote delicately and elliptically,” Kathleen Spivack sums up in her 2012 memoir With Robert Lowell and His Circle. “What is most important is what is not said.” Bishop’s reputed reserve has taken on new significance in light of personal correspondence discovered in 2009. When Bishop’s lover Alice Methfessel passed away, her heir found a locked box containing some of Bishop’s photographs and personal documents, including three remarkable letters she wrote to her psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Foster, in 1947. 

Subjective Correlative
by Mary-Kay Wilmers

In January 1961 I came to London and started looking for a job. I’d graduated the previous June and been told by the person in charge of women’s appointments that the best I could hope for was a job as a typist. In March I started work at Faber, as the advertising manager’s secretary. Faber was T.S. Eliot’s firm: my father was very impressed. I shared an office with two other secretaries, one of them Eliot’s. She was called Angela, not Valerie: Valerie had married Eliot four years before, in 1957. (We all know now that she’d decided to marry him long before she first came to Faber, but some people knew even then that she kept a pair of white shoes in a drawer in her desk to wear when he summoned her to his room.)

Drafts & Framents

Amazon Publishing Announces Winner of Little A Poetry Contest

Today, Amazon Publishing announced the winner of the Little A Poetry Contest, dedicated to the discovery of emerging poets. Judges Jericho Brown, Cornelius Eady and Kimiko Hahn selected Rummage, a poetry collection by Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa, as the winner. Oputa received $5,000 in prize money and a publishing contract featuring a $2,000 advance with Little A, Amazon Publishing’s literary imprint. Little A will publish Oputa’s debut collection, Rummage, in 2017.

Taking Poetry to the Streets of Calgary, Typewriter in Hand
by Eva Ferguson

Considering the daily dialogue in our head, conversations on the corner, emails, even silly texts to our friends — we are all writers, even poets, every day. And local wordsmiths, from writers and teachers to the City of Calgary’s own poet laureates, all tapped into that ordinary inspiration Tuesday at a unique event downtown promoting poetry, writing and community arts. Described as “Pop-Up Poetry,” the event had writers put their unique talents on display, producing custom poems from random words and phrases provided by passersby, all at a breakneck pace and using vintage typewriters.

Poetry In The News

Beth Ann Fennelly Named Mississippi's Poet Laureate

Poet Beth Ann Fennelly’s move to Mississippi was only supposed to be a temporary one. Fennelly’s contribution to Mississippi’s rich literary history means her name will be immortalized alongside the names that helped keep her in the state. Fennelly was named the state’s fifth poet laureate by Gov. Phil Bryant on Wednesday. Fennelly replaces Natasha Trethewey at the end of her four-year term. The laureate is responsible for promoting the literary arts through readings across the state

National Park Signs in Michigan Now Sport Poetry

Visitors to Michigan’s three national parks this summer are in for a treat. In addition to the wonders of nature, they might also get an unexpected dose of literature. In a highly unusual collaboration, the National Park Service posted nature poems by Egyptian-American poet and artist Moheb Soliman at various points in five Midwestern parks, including Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pictured Rocks and Isle Royale.

Affrilachian Poets Reject Governor’s Award in the Arts, Citing Bevin’s Stances

The Affrilachian Poets, a diverse Lexington-based collective of writers directly or indirectly connected to Appalachia, has rejected its 2016 Governor’s Award in the Arts, citing Gov. Matt Bevin’s positions on education, the humanities and other issues.

New Books

Lacunae: 100 Imagined Ancient Love Poems by Daniel Nadler 
[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 128 pp., $23.00

Lacunae, Daniel Nadler’s debut collection, is an exercise in poetics of vital import. In it, Nadler imagines himself into those moments of unintelligibility―blank spaces in time―where constraint and expansion coincide. When faced with such ellipses, like where a few decisive hieroglyphs have worn off a wall, he infers and reconstructs the flora, fauna, and pleasures of an ancient world.

hover over her by Leah Poole Osowski

[Paperback] Kent State, 72 pp., $15.00    

In Leah Osowski s exquisite debut, hover over her, the poet immerses us in geographies of unrealized adolescence, where young women are singular amidst their cacophonous backdrops, whether beside a lake, inside a Dali painting, or stretched out in a flower garden. These spaces are turned inside out for us through Osowski’s linguistic curiosity and unforgettable imagistic palate. Negative possibilities hang around every corner as well, showing us the ways in which we are also complicit in the constructions and obstructions of gender. As the speaker in she as pronoun says, she's I and she's you everytime you hid beneath your own arms. But through the evolution and renaissance of Osowski’s speaker, we find affirmation in these shared connections, transparency in the landscapes of growth and escape, and the freedom that comes from the task of unflinchingly examining our whereabouts inside of them.—Adrian Matejka

Falling Awake: Poems by Alice Oswald
[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 96 pp., $19.98

Alice Oswald’s award-winning and highly acclaimed volume Memorial (“wryly ingenious,” said the New York Times Book Review) portrays fallen soldiers from Homer’s Iliad. Falling Awake expands on that imagery―defining life as a slowly falling weight, where beings fight against their inevitable end. Oswald reimagines classical figures such as Orpheus and Tithonus alive in an English landscape together with shadows, flies, villagers, dew, crickets―all characterized in tension between the weight of death and their own willpower.

Infinite Altars: Poems by James Brasfield
[Paperback] LSU Press, 92 pp., $17.95

In his second poetry collection, Infinite Altars, James Brasfield tracks restless interplays of light on a fallen feather outside an Italian chapel, the surface of the Gowanus Canal, and a forest footpath after an evening of rain. Atmospheric and reflective, these poems travel with equal ease through the world of fine arts and the places where we live, highlighting the vivid sights and sounds of each in turn. At a sudden encounter with everyday beauty, serenity suffuses through the author: “Something of that calmness goes with us / back into the world.” Brasfield’s poems invite readers to embrace these unexpected and arresting experiences.


Why Poets Can Make Better Search Engines
by Nathaniel Popper

Daniel Nadler spends most of his waking hours running the technology start-up Kensho, which has become a darling of the financial industry, attracting big investments from Goldman Sachs and venture capitalists. But in the mornings and on weekends, Mr. Nadler, 33, writes poetry — an art he studied while at Harvard, where he was a student of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham. Mr. Nadler’s first collection, “Lacunae: 100 Imagined Ancient Love Poems,” is being published this week by Farrar Straus and Giroux.

Dareen Tatour, Palestinian Poet Imprisoned by Israel for Social Media Posts, Shares Her Story
by Ben Norton

Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was arrested because of her posts on social media. In October, police raided her home in the middle of the night. They handcuffed Tatour, a 35-year-old poet, and took her away. “You look like a terrorist,” an interrogator told her. The Israeli government accused Tatour of inciting violence with her poetry and Facebook posts.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Every poet depends upon generations who wrote in his native tongue; he inherits styles and forms elaborated by those who lived before him. At the same time, though, he feels that those old means of expression are not adequate to his own experience. 
—Czesław Miłosz

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Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Norman MacCaig
Ezra Pound
Robert Bridges
Robert Herrick
Nicanor Parra
John Betjeman
Mary Jo Salter
Rosario Castellanos
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Ahmad Shamlou
Donald Davie
Kenneth Fearing
Geoffrey Hill
Sandro Penna
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Emily Dickinson
Gary Snyder
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