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Poetry News In Review

December 10, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1572 – Cornelis Musius, Dutch humanist/poet, murdered at 72.
1821 – Nikolai A Nekrasov, Russian poet, writer and publisher (Russkije Zjenjshiny), is born.
1830 – Emily Dickinson, Amherst Mass, poet (Collected Poems), (d. 1886), is born.
1870 – Pierre Louijs, France, novelist/poet (Aphrodite, Woman & Puppet,) is born.
1891 – Leonie "Nelly" Sachs, German/Swedish poet (O the Chimneys-Nobel 1966), (d. 1970), is born.
1931 – Max Elskamp, Belgian author/poet (Six Chansons), dies at 69.
1946 – Thomas Lux, American poet, is born.
1995 – Mary Madge Lascelles, literary critic/poet, dies at 95.


The weights of life and death
sink down with your wings
on the rose
which wanders with the light ripening homewards.
What lovely aftermath
is painted in your dust.
What royal sign
in the secret of the air.

—from “Butterfly” by Nelly Sachs (1891–1970)

World Poetry

Farewell Ahmed Fouad Negm: Egypt Loses Star of Satirical Poetry

Negm, renowned for his revolutionary poetry and for his harsh criticism of political leaders, dies at age of 84. Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, renowned for his revolutionary poetry and for his harsh criticism of political leaders, died on Tuesday at the age of 84, a publisher said. "Ahmed Fouad Negm passed away. He was 84," Mohammed Hashem said. Negm spent a total of 18 years in jail for his strident criticism of former Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. Read more at Middle East Online.

Bust of Poet Qeisar Aminpur Unveiled in Tehran

A bust of contemporary poet Qeisar Aminpur (1958-2007) was unveiled in Tehran’s Saadatabad neighborhood during a ceremony on Monday. The bust was situated at the square which has been named after Aminpur, Persian media reported on Tuesday. Tehran City Council Chairman Ahmad Masjed-Jamei along with a group of contemporary poets including Soheil Mahmudi and Iranian Poets’ Society Director Fatemeh Rakei attended the event. Read more at Tehran Times.

Recent Reviews

Seeing the Elephant

by William Logan
Reviews of Westerly by Will Schutt, The Boss by Victoria Chang, 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri, Nefertiti in the Flak Tower by Clive James & Marvelous Things Overheard by Ange Mlinko. Read more at the New Criterion.

Sarah Kennedy: Review 

by Paul David Adkins
There’s nothing like the lives of saints to spin a tapestry as beautiful as that found in Sarah Kennedy’s seventh full-length poetry collection The Gold Thread.  The author introduces an extensive chronology of women Christian mystics, outcasts, and seers, from the second century A.D. to the 1940s.  And, as with any tapestry, the glory lies in enhancing the finest details, a task for which Kennedy is uniquely suited. Understanding the title is vital to knowing how the author approaches the subject.  Kennedy quotes Ursula King, author of Christian Mystics: “. . . communion with God runs like a golden thread throughout the Christian centuries . . .” However, this explanation only partly reveals Kennedy’s intent.  The poet, as in her previous volume A Witch’s Dictionary, confronts contemporary issues including The Global War on Terror, The Patriot Act, and electronic surveillance.  The gold thread Kennedy really traces is the ongoing communion between fear and individuals living in its omnipresent shadow. Read more at the Valparaiso Review.

The Best Poetry of 2013

by Adam Newey 
The poetic year was sharply punctuated by the death of Seamus Heaney at the end of August. It's hard to think of any poet more determined to stay true to the topologies of language, culture and identity, and in particular to the bogs, mists and mizzling rain of the land that grew him, and his loss is incalculable. The coming years, no doubt, will see the publication of unfinished work, along with the scholarly editions, biographies and academic tomes that inevitably mark the translation from living poet to canonical great. Read more at The Guardian.

Brad Leithauser: Review 

by David Danoff
For a poet as elegant, skilled, well-mannered, and sane as Brad Leithauser, a little bit of disaster may be a necessity. His poems need some spur of pain or compulsion to overcome complacency. The work gathered inThe Oldest Word for Dawn shows an incremental rise in temperature, book by book, with Leithauser spending less time on lacquered still-lifes, amiable nature poems, and breezy travelogues, and beginning to tell more interesting stories. But the real heat comes when a subject grips him and refuses to let go. Leithauser was capable of beautiful descriptions from the start. Of horses in a neighboring pasture: “offered shoots from your side of the fence, / they’ll joggle forward to inhale / a verdant airy handful.” Of a toad crossing a road: “landing each / time like a splattered / egg, he regathers, heavily pauses / in the baking sun, and heaves / aloft again.” Read more at the Valparaiso Review.


“This world is nothing except it tend to another”: Herbert’s “Vertue” (and a parting glance at Nietzsche)

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” —Romans 12: 19-20
With that sweet, charitable, Pauline sentiment, let us begin. And though I shall do my best in what follows to read George Herbert’s “Vertue” as well as I can, candour constrains me to say, at the outset, that I mean a good deal of it to be irreverent, if only for purposes of trial (in fact, I love reading Herbert). Like Al Pacino, I will play the Devil’s advocate, which in this case means the world’s advocate. And I will hold that a certain strain of ressentiment, such as sorts well with the book of Romans, runs through all of Herbert’s ascetic enterprises. Read more at the Era of Casual Fridays.

Awkward, Diligent: Liu Xiaobo's Love Poetry

by Nick Admussen
Like many people my age who write poetry, I am occasionally uncomfortable being called a poet. The word strikes me as the description of an identity rather than an undertaking: it not only insinuates some level of achievement, it raises a set of expectations about how one might act or think. I get needled by other academics about the contradiction between being a poet and being a “law and order” type—more painfully, I’ve been a participating member of communities of young writers who are searching frantically for some kind of trouble to get into, some sliver of unexplored, consciousness-raising hedonism, an invented and externally legible uniqueness that justifies their art. Writers and readers both have a drive to see poets living out their poetry, or at least living in some way informed by their poetry, and one shape that expectation takes is some combination of the Romantics and the Beats: moony, unwashed, a bit stoned, a little mad, writing out a private drama. It makes sense, in this tradition, to reject any necessary connection between poetry and self-identity, especially considering that the average contemporary American poet of note is most likely a schoolteacher by trade, and can’t afford a life spent on the conceptual or practical edge. Read more at the Boston Review.

Drafts & Framents

Drawing on Poetry

by Matthew Gilbert 
“Archie,” “Garfield,” “Spider-Man,” “Dilbert,” “Dick Tracy,” and “J. Alfred Prufrock”?
Poetry and comics. It sounds like an uncomfortable union of arts, joining the spiritual desolation of T. S. Eliot or the restlessness of Arthur Rimbaud with the text balloons and exclamation points that have traditionally filled a newspaper’s “fun pages.” But the forms merge beautifully in the work of Julian Peters. A 34-year-old Canadian artist, Peters has spent the last few years creating comic books of his favorite poems, including John Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” They’re all posted at his website, JulianPetersComics.com, including panels from his extraordinary version of Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which he is currently trying to finish. Read more at the Boston Globe.

Poetry In The News

New Orleans' New Poetry Scene 

Coffee shop patrons on Frenchmen Street are accustomed to hearing the quiet clicking of computer keys. But at a small intersection at Frenchmen and Royal streets, the clackity-clack of a few metal Underwoods (or maybe Remingtons) rings down the street, stopping tourists struck by sudden nostalgia. "It's the sound of their youth," says Ben Aleshire, a "poet for hire," who sits in the streets of Faubourg Marigny with about four other poets-on-demand, armed with well-oiled typewriters and stacks of carbon paper, waiting for curious passersby. Read more at the Best of New Orleans.

Historic Property of Poet Witter Bynner on the Market

This is one of Santa Fe’s historic jewels. It’s also one that is easily viewed, especially if you want to stay there, because it’s a bed-and-breakfast inn. Or you can buy it and live there all the time. Located on East Buena Vista Street at the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail, it was the home of poet and essayist Witter Bynner for more than 40 years. It boasts handsome, extensive landscaping at the front, and plenty of parking, as well as 11 bedrooms. Read more at the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Poetry, and Motion

Since we are now entering the time of year when theater producers turn to Rockettes and blessings from Tiny Tim, consider “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a new staged reading of the harrowing 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, counterprogramming. The epic poem, performed by the illustrious Irish actress Fiona Shaw, features a sailor stopping a man on a way to a wedding to tell of a trip at sea that becomes cursed after he shot an albatross. His crew mates force him to wear the dead bird, which gives us the expression “albatross around your neck.” Read more at the New York Times.

New Books

Waiting for Bluebeard by Helen Ivory 

[Paperback] Bloodaxe Books, 112 pp., $22.95
Waiting for Bluebeard tries to understand how a girl could grow up to be the woman living in Bluebeard's house. The story begins with a part-remembered, part-imagined childhood, where seances are held, and a father drowns in oil beneath the skeleton of his car. The girl enters Bluebeard's house paying the tariff of a single layer of skin. This is only the first stage of her disappearing, as she searches for a phantom child in a house where Bluebeard haunts the corridors like a sobbing wolf. Waiting for Bluebeard is Helen Ivory's fourth book of poems.

Correspondences: A Poem and Portraits by Anne Michaels

[Hardcover] Knopf, 128 pp., $35.00 
A rare and beautifully produced "accordion" book by renowned novelist and poet Anne Michaels and acclaimed artist and writer Bernice Eisenstein that will cause a stir for both its form and its content. Anne Michaels's resonant book-length poem--which unfolds on one side of the pages of this accordion book--ranges from the universal to the intimate, as she writes of historical figures for whom language was the closest thing to salvation; on the other side, we have Bernice Eisenstein's luminous portraits of and quotes from such twentieth-century writers and thinkers as Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs, W. G. Sebald, Anna Akhmatova, Primo Levi, and Albert Einstein. The poetry and portraits join together in a dialogue that can be read in any direction and any order, in a format that perfectly reflects the thematic interconnectedness of this collaboration: "an alphabet of spirits and spirit; an elegy of remembrance" (Eisenstein); "just as a conversation becomes the third side of the page . . . the moment one life becomes another" (Michaels). 

Glass Wings by Fleur Adcock 

[Paperback] Bloodaxe, 80 pp., $22.95
Fleur Adcock's title refers to the transparent, glittering wings of some of the species - bees, mosquitoes, dragonflies - celebrated or lamented in a sequence of poems on encounters with arthropods, from the stick insects and crayfish of her native New Zealand to the clothes' moths that infest her London house. Other sections of the book include elegies for human beings and poems based on family wills from the 16th and 20th centuries, as well as birthday greetings for old friends and for a new great-grandson.

A Bloom of Stones: A Tri-lingual Anthology of Haitian Poems After the Earthquake edited by Kwame Dawes

[Paperback] Peepal Tree Press, 340 pp., $39.95
On January 12, 2010, an earthquake broke apart the city of Port au Prince and stretches of the Haitian landscape, killing almost 300,000 and leaving 1.2 million people homeless. Collecting the work of more than 30 Haitian poets, this anthology offers a complex and sophisticated range of responses to the tragedy—poems about the rupture of love, the shock of a sudden catastrophe, the hunger for more beauty in the world, the shattering of landscapes, and ultimately, explorations of the incomprehensible nature of our mortality. Presenting French and Haitian Creole poems alongside their English translations, this trilingual work seeks to make sense of the natural disaster and its aftermath.


J. T. Welsch: Interrogatives 

by Fionn Wills 
Here he is, the man himself, a travelling troubadour following a tradition of St. Louis men settling in the cultural miasma of Great Britain. With three chapbooks of poetry published and another intriguing project on the way, Interrobang‽ catch up with J.T. Welsch to talk shop. Read more atInterrobang.

The Left Hand of Ogden Nash

by Mark Richardson
In 2012, Frederick Seidel published his thirteenth volume of new verse, Nice Weather. Readers familiar with the blurbs that happily disgrace the back covers of his books will know that Seidel is, or is said to be, a poet who enjoys cutting a mean figure. Read more at the Era of Casual Fridays.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

National Poetry Series, a Promoter of Poetry in Print, Faces a Shortfall

by Julie Bosman 
The National Poetry Series, a 35-year-old organization that facilitates the publication of five books of poetry each year, is in danger of closing. Daniel Halpern, the director of the nonprofit organization and also the publisher of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, said on Wednesday that annual fund-raising efforts have fallen short and that he was  not sure that the organization could continue into 2014. In a letter that Mr. Halpern plans to send to supporters on Wednesday evening, he says that $25,000 is needed by the end of December to pay staff salaries and rent. The National Poetry Series has helped publish books by Mark Doty, Terrance Hayes and Nathaniel Mackey. Read more at the New York Times.

The rest of this report goes on to say that the series needs an annual budget of $100,000. Does this budget include the $30 required for each submitted entry? How many staff does it take to process the manuscripts for five books of poetry a year? Remember this is not about publishing the books, although it says the series subsidizes the publication. That is seen to by the presses themselves. And since the letter states that this is to pay staff and rent, we can assume that any prize money or payment to judges is covered by the entry fee. So, salaries and rent. How about relocating to somewhere that is not so pricey, somewhere other than the Eastern seaboard? I would like to see the financials. One solution would be to return the National Poetry Series back to its original concept, as I understand it. That is, a series devoted to overseeing the promotion of the work of newcomers handpicked by established poets and publishing them in conjunction with commercial publishers equipped to distribute and market them widely. If the winners were chosen personally by the established poets, it would make for a unique and relatively inexpensive process. In such a world, the staff could be reduced drastically (since there won't be an open competition to manage); the need for a rented space would be all but eliminated; the costs will shrink; the arbitrariness of the choices are justified, and the responsibility for the quality of the books would rest firmly with the personal tastes of the judges. Such an idea predates this series. Marianne Moore recommended her protégé Elizabeth Bishop's book for the Houghton Mifflin Prize. Auden chose Ashbery for the Yale Prize. The literary passing of the torch has a rich heritage in American poetry. And it didn't cost $100,000.

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