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Poetry News In Review

August 6, 2014
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1637 – Ben Jonson, English playwright and poet, dies at 65.
1809 – Alfred Lord Tennyson, Somersby, England, Poet Laureate of Great Britain, is born.
1850 – Edward Walsh, Irish poet (b. 1805), dies.
1868 – Paul Claudel, France, diplomat/poet (L'Otage-1909), is born.
1889 – John Middleton Murry, English poet (d. 1957), is born.
1996 – Buland Al Haidari, Kurdish poet, dies at 69.


We used to have
A sea, shells, pearls    
And the hour of birth.
My apologies, my honoured guests,
The newsreader lied in his last bulletin:
There is no sea in Baghdad
Nor pearls
Not even an island.

—from “My Apologies” by Buland Al Haidari (1926-1996)

World Poetry

Syria's War Poets

Visiting Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, the American novelist Philip Roth reflected on what distinguished him from his peers behind the Iron Curtain: “It occurred to me that I work in a society where as a writer everything goes and nothing matters, while for the Czech writers I met in Prague, nothing goes and everything matters.” Roth could just as well have been speaking about the diaspora of Syrian poets now scattered throughout the Middle East. With the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine and renewed hostilities in Gaza, the nearly four-year-old Syrian Civil War has once again slipped from our collective consciousness. But mapping a consciousness of that war is precisely what injects the poetry of Aref Akrez and Ammar Tabbab with immediacy. More.

PET Stops Poet Yahya Hassan's Speech

Poet Yahya Hassan was prevented from speaking yesterday at an event in support of the civilian population in Gaza. National security police PET prevented the poet from speaking at Copenhagen’s City Hall Square yesterday, due to what the policing agency called “general security” concerns. More.

Iranian Author, Poet Sentenced to Death for Human Rights Work

The Iranian regime has sentenced to death Arzhang Davoodi, a writer and poet. He was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court on the charge of moharabeh,  "enmity against God." Neither he, nor his lawyer  were permitted to be present at the court when the verdict was handed down. His crime was allegedly being a member of the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), the main opposition group to the Iranian regime. More.

Recent Reviews

Ed Skoog’s Rough Day

by Katie Herman
“all I can tell you is my own experience / and I don’t want to get sideways with that power,” Ed Skoog writes in his second book of poetry. It’s an acknowledgment—almost a rule—that the collection sticks to closely. Rough Day is remarkably free of presumption or pronouncements. The book gives us personal experience, but not in the conventional confessional or narrative sense of the phrase. Rather, it’s the experience of inhabiting a restless, questioning, capacious mind. More.

Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan

by Michael Lista
Joshua Mehigan is one of the few living poets unfashionable enough to still be writing poems. He didn’t get the memo. While his contemporaries have been busy fine-tuning their algorithms, tweaking their genomes and re-mystifying their obscurantisms, Mehigan has been perfecting his lucid, plain-spoken, perspicuous ear worms that scan and rhyme and stick to your rib. His second book, Accepting the Disaster, is the most generous, deeply felt, and technically ingenious collection to appear in English in years. More.

David Scott Beyond the Drift: New and Selected Poems 

by Ian Pople
David Scott is an ex-Warden of the Winchester Diocese School of Spirituality, and a translator and editor of, amongst other things, Lancelot Andrewes.  He’s also written on what he describes as a ‘family’ of spiritual writers, including Andrewes, Herbert, Donne, Vaughan and Traherne.  In the volume under review, he also writes poems ‘On Not Knowing R.S. Thomas’, on David Jones, and on James Fenton’s father, Canon John Fenton, a noted New Testament authority and Canon of Christ Church Oxford.  I would imagine that he would also like mentioned his poems on Winston Churchill, Gertrude Jekyll and Sappho!  But others have called him a priest-poet in the tradition of Herbert, and that doesn’t seem like such a bad starting point. More.

Dorothea Lasky

by Jen Fitzgerald
Dorothea Lasky‘s Rome (Liveright, 2014) is a collection that will catch you off guard. Lasky lures the reader in with familiar language and imagery only to have them suddenly realize they’ve been brought to room where the walls wobble and collapse, eternally revealing darker passageways. She is undoubtedly a language poet but also one who sees language as a roadblock. The communication is in the sound. Just as with Hemingway, words are merely an entry point to meaning. Stripped of even punctuation, these lines hurl themselves at the reader. More.

Verse as a Cold Compress for Those of Us on the Verge of Fainting

by Dwight Garner
If you take poetry seriously, or even half-seriously, you read the dead-tree editions. Poetry seems tinned and trebly in digital formats, like Brahms’s Requiem played through smartphone speakers. One of the dirty literary secrets of the Internet, though, is that nearly every poem ever published is lurking out there somewhere, for those willing to spend 3.7 seconds to find it. I mention this only because in recent months, in need of flintier forms of solace, I’ve increasingly and somewhat guiltily been bookmarking on my laptop the poems of Mark Ford. More.


Better Angels: On Rilke in Translation

by Drew Calvert
Anyone who has scanned the poetry shelves of a well-stocked Barnes and Noble will have seen the name of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Along with Neruda, the Chilean bard, and Rumi, the Sufi mystic, Rilke is one of the few foreign poets to have made it big in America. It isn’t hard to understand why. Pretend, for a moment, that you are having a garden-variety emotional crisis. Your job has recently siphoned off your last kilowatt of youth, Janet from Human Resources hasn’t replied to your Facebook missive, the bars in Flagstaff or Buffalo play the same three inane songs, and existence itself has begun to feel like a passive-aggressive feud. And yet, inexplicably, you harbor a weird affection for life in the abstract—a blue flame of gratitude for your place in the world—even when your insurance provider keeps you on hold for over an hour. The paradox is inexpressible. You assume that you are uniquely troubled. But then you open an English version of Rilke’s Duino Elegies (say, for example, the one translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann). More.

“The Book” by FT Prince

A metaphysical love poem that orchestrates a wealth of feeling at the edges of body and soul
by Carol Rumens
This week's poem, The Book, is by the South African poet, FT (Frank Templeton) Prince, who died 11 years ago on 7 August at the age of 90. His undeserved obscurity reminds us of the randomness of poetic canonisation. TS Eliot picked up Prince's first collection, Poems (1938) for Faber, but rejected subsequent work, and the next collection, Soldiers Bathing (1954), where this week's poem first appeared, was brought out by Fortune Press. As so often, readers should be grateful to the restorative efforts of Carcanet, which brings together all Prince's publications, and some new late work, in the Collected Poems 1935-1992 (2012). More.

Marianne Boruch Brings Life to her ‘Favorite Cadaver’

by Victoria Fleischer
When poet Marianne Boruch took a gross anatomy class at Purdue University, she found she had a favorite cadaver — a female who had been nearly 100 years old — of the four bodies, donated for medical study, that were in the lab. “She was very moving to me, she reminded me of my grandmother. She physically was very similar and there was something about her that I felt connected to in some way… I stepped aside and let her be the speaker and it just totally opened up for me.” More.

Drafts & Framents

Poetry In The News

Poet Richard Hugo’s Daughter Minds Legacy-‘Making Certain It Goes On’ Featured

More than 30 years after his death, the daughter of acclaimed Northwest poet Richard Hugo is working to introduce a new generation of readers to his work. Hugo became part of Melissa Hansen’s life when he married her mother Ripley Hansen after the two met during a Halloween party. Hugo was the creative writing director at the University of Montana, where Ripley was also a English professor. More.

All-Women New York Poetry Slam Team Heads to the Nationals

As part of our ongoing “On Stage” series, we turn today to the world of poetry slam, or competitive poetry, which has a growing following around the country. Mahogany Browne, Amy Leon and Katherine George, three members of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe team, join Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the genre, as well as what it’s like to be competing as an all-women’s team on the national stage. According to Browne, this is the first time an all-female team has represented the tri-state region at the National Poetry Slam. More.

Bill Would Give Ohio Its Own Poet Laureate

Rap, hip hop and spoken word have led to a resurgence in an art form some consider archaic: poetry. Ohio is one of six states that doesn’t have an official state poet. However, a bill to create the position of Ohio poet laureate that passed the Senate could put the Buckeye State with the majority. More.

Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award Now the Most Valuable First-Book Publication Prize for Poetry in the United States

The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce two changes to its distinguished Walt Whitman Award, making it the most valuable first-book award for poetry in the United States. In addition to a $5,000 cash prize, the winner of the 2015 award will now receive publication of his or her manuscript by Graywolf Press, an award-winning independent publisher, and an all-expenses-paid six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy. These new partnerships are part of the Academy’s ongoing efforts to support poets at all stages of their careers. More.

New Books

Saint Friend by Carl Adamshick 

[Hardcover] McSweeney's, 65 pp., $20.00
Saint Friend is that rare book that speaks in the voice of a generation. The voice comes from an acclaimed young poet who, after working years in obscurity, was fêted with the prestigious Walt Whitman Award for his first collection. This, his second book, is a freewheeling explosion of celebrations, elegies, narratives, psychologically raw persona pieces (one in the voice of Amelia Earhart), and a handful of punchy lyric poems with a desperate humor. It is, as the title suggests, a book exalting love among friends in our scattered times.

Mimi's Trapeze by J. Allyn Rosser

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press,112 pp., $15.95
Rosser’s poems have always given a squinty sideways glance at cultural foibles and assumptions. Her distinctive brand of cheery skepticism implies that the genuine pursuit of truth is a virtue that renders tolerable the intolerable. These poems achieve a lyricism that gives free reign to the lush energies of language while remaining transparent enough to communicate something precise, fresh, and unsettling. A driving force behind the poems in Mimi’s Trapeze is Rosser’s profound curiosity about all forms and conditions of life. Without distorting fact or motive, her speakers seek to navigate the mazes of our messy quotidian infelicities, ranging from imperfect love to squashing turtles on the road—from the history of artistic misrepresentations of women to global warming—attempting to calibrate the beautifully complex balance between desire and responsibility.

The Americans by David Roderick

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 88 pp., $15.95
David Roderick’s second book, The Americans, pledges its allegiance to dirt. And to laptops. And to swimming pools, the Kennedys, a flower in a lapel, plastic stars hanging from the ceiling of a child’s room, churning locusts, a jar of blood, a gleam of sun on the wing of a plane. His poems swarm with life. They also ask an unanswerable question: What does it mean to be an American? Restless against the borders we build—between countries, between each other—Roderick roams from place to place in order to dig into the messy, political, idealistic and ultimately inexplicable idea of American-ness. His rangy, inquisitive lyrics stitch together a patchwork flag, which he stakes alongside all the noise of our construction, our obsessive building and making, while he imagines the fate of a nation built on desire.

The Winter Count by Dilys Leman

[Paperback] Mcgill Queens Univ Press, 136 pp., $14.95
Although relatively few First Nations joined the 1885 Métis insurgence, the Canadian government reacted punitively, instituting draconian "Indian" policies whose ill-effects continue to resonate today. The Winter Count traces these developments alongside another narrative - the debate over the sanity of Métis leader Louis Riel. Dilys Leman weaves original poems and reconstituted archival texts, including medical reports, diaries, treaties, recipes, even a phrenological analysis, to create a montage that both presents and disrupts official history.


A Poet Who Spoke to the Black Gay Experience, and a Quest to Make Him Heard

by Sarah Kaplan 
When Essex Hemphill spoke, people listened. Back in the 1980s, the poet and activist would fill the District’s coffeehouses and artsy theaters for his readings. He was the unofficial voice of the city’s black gay community — lyrical, charismatic and fiercely political. “He had this intensity,” his friend and performance partner Wayson Jones recalls. “And the audiences, he really had not just their attention but their whole energy.” More.

World War I Poets: An Interview With Alfred Corn

by Jonathan Hobratsch
July 28 marks the 100th anniversary of World War I. The military and political consequences of the Great War will be told and retold throughout the week. Therefore, I've decided to focus on the great poets of World War I through an interview with Alfred Corn, a poet equally well-recognized in both America and in the U.K. More.

Across the Universe: Interview with Nancy Vieira Couto

by Millicent Borges Accardi
The award-winning poet Nancy Vieira Couto is a Portuguese-American of Azorean descent. . . . Her book, The Face in the Water, received the prestigious 1989 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. Her chapbook, Carlisle & the Common Accident, was published by Foothills Publishing in 2011. For the past ten years, she has been poetry editor for Epoch magazine. Recently, at Split this Rock Poetry Festival, in Washington DC, Vieira Couto delivered a paper about DNA testing, Sephardic Jews and the poet as witness. . . . In this interview for the Portuguese American Journal, Vieira Couto answers questions about DNA testing, her Portuguese heritage, her poetry and her life as a writer. More.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: W. S. Merwin

"It is love, I imagine, more than learning, that may eventually make it possible to be aware of the living resonance before it has words, to keep the distinction clear between mere habit and the style that is some part, at least, of the man, and will impel one to be wary of any skill coming to shadow and doctor the source, and deftness usurping the authority it was reared to serve."
—from the foreword to Selected Translation, 1948–1968

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