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Poetry News In Review

December 16, 2014
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1863 – George Santayana, Spain, philosopher/poet/humanist (Last Puritan), is born.
1902 – Rafael Alberti, Spanish poet (El hombre deshabitado), is born.
1905 – Piet Hein, poet/inventor, is born.
1928 – Elinor Wylie, American poet and writer (b. 1885). dies.

Peñaranda de Duero
Why look so serious, dear road?
You have four grey mules,
A horse in front,
A carriage with green wheels,
And the road,
All to yourself,
Dear road.
What more do you need?

 — Rafael Alberti (1902–1999)

World Poetry

World Book Night Adds Poetry to Mass Giveaway Next April

The people of Britain are set to become a little better versed in the works of some of modern poetry’s greatest names after a poetry anthology made it on to the list of titles to be given away in their thousands as part of World Book Night next spring. Featuring well-known modern poetry including TS Eliot’s Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and Philip Larkin’s An Arundel Tomb, as well as lesser-known poems by the late Scots Makar Edwin Morgan, Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska and Australia’s Les Murray, Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy is the first poetry anthology to be part of the nationwide giveaway since it launched in 2011.

Recent Reviews

On Errings and Pilgrims

by Lisa Russ Spaar
In an essay honoring her friend and sister poet Adrienne Rich in the Spring 2006 issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review, Jean Valentine said of Rich that “she was pretty much beyond prizes or dis-prizes: I just don’t think those things have ever interested her much, for herself or for anyone else.” The same might be said of Jean Valentine.

Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism, and Living in Places by Gary Snyder

by Larry Smith
This is a healthy and thoughtful collection of interviews and correspondence between two writers of the earth: Pulitzer Prize winning poet and essayist Gary Snyder and South African author and scholar Julia Martin. Covering the decades from 1980 onward, the two activist thinkers and friends share their visions. Their subjects and themes range from Buddhism, writing, art, ecological and gender politics, issues of community, bioregionalism, and place sense. But it also contains the authors’ musings on family, suffering, age, and death.

From a Slim Book, Many Observations

by Dwight Garner
The poet Erin Belieu was born in Nebraska. It’s a place where, she once wrote,
football is to life what sleep deprivation is
to Amnesty International, that is,
the best researched and the most effective method
of breaking a soul.
Ms. Belieu got out, soul entirely unbroken. She’s spent the past two decades composing smart and nettling books of poems, beginning with “Infanta” (1995), which was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Hayden Carruth. I’ve admired her three previous books, but her new one, “Slant Six,” seems to me better by an order of magnitude. It’s got more smoke, more confidence, more wit and less tolerance for obscurity. Her crisp free verse has as many subcurrents as a magnetic field.

The Poetry of Politics, the Politics of Poetry: On Claudia Rankine's Citizen

by Dean Rader
The most-talked-about book of American poetry of 2014 is Claudia Rankine's Citizen. In fact, it is hard to think of a book of poems in recent memory that has received more acclaim. Citizen has been called "especially vital" by The New Yorker, "urgent" by The New York Times, "unforgettable" by the influential literary critic Marjorie Perloff, and "a major work of American poetry that deserves to win the National Book Award" by Flavorwire. The Los Angeles Times, though, gives some of the highest praise I've ever seen for recent book of poems, claiming Citizen is "so groundbreaking... it's almost impossible to describe."

Performative Criticism and Against Conceptual Poetry

Ron Silliman
by Vanessa Place
I recently participated in a panel discussion on the topic of performative criticism at REVERSE, the Copenhagen International Poetry Festival held at their LiteraturHaus. My co-panelists were Danish-Norwegian critic Susanne Christensen, Swedish critic and poet Magnus William-Olsson, and Danish writer Kamilla Löftström. The conversation was reasonably lively, focusing on performative criticism as a critical phenomenon, most often seen in the wild: critics deploying what could be called, for lack of a better handle, themself as part of their critical apparatus. The choice of the grammatically incorrect singular is of course intentional, for the self that is critically performed is a self whose unity comes forth in the purported disjunct (or performed disjunctification) between the person and the critic (or the author as I and the authorial I). So far, so postmodern-y good. There’s a certain metafictional-metaphysical comfort in publicly playing the torsion between oneself and one’s self.1 The notes of contention were duly supplied by me, who disapproves of the meta, no matter how performatively messy.


The Both-And Principle: Zagajewski’s Dichotomies

by Norman Minnick
In Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film The Double Life of Veronique we are presented with a box that is being opened by a pair of hands. The hands pull out a marionette and slowly turn the head as if to scan an audience of schoolchildren before manipulating the doll in a delicate ballet. This is one of the most moving scenes in modern cinema and although we can see the hands, we are as captivated as the children at the beauty and wonder of the dance. Many readers of today’s poetry are troubled by this conflicting notion of reality and imagination. 

Mister Perfect

by Michael Hinds
[on the work of Michael Donaghy]
Randall Jarrell is a reliably anxious authority to call on when questioning the canonical dynamics of reviewing a Collected Poems:
Back in the stacks, in libraries; in bookcases in people’s living rooms; on brick-and-plank bookshelves beside studio couches, one sees big dark books in black bindings, the Collected Poems of the great poets. Once, long ago, the poems were new: the book went by post—so many horses and a coach—to a man in a country house, and the letter along with it asked him to describe, evaluate, and fix the place in English literature, in 12,000 words, by January 25, of the poems of William Wordsworth. And the man did.

Drafts & Framents

Poets' Holiday Greetings Cards: an Intimate Glimpse into Genius

by Joanna Scutts
One year, Langston Hughes’s Christmas cards were elegant and unique, printed with a line illustration, Africanesque, by fellow Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas. Another year, he scrawled a quick greeting on the back of a mass-produced card with a generic holiday verse printed on the back. Sometimes, even poets get too busy to put their personal stamp on the holidays. Hughes’s cards, along with some 40 other celebratory greetings, announcements, and private correspondence are currently on display in the exhibition Winter Wedding: Holiday Cards by Poets at Poets House in New York.

Poetry In The News

Long-lost Dylan Thomas Notebook Heads to Wales after Auction

Swansea university bids £85,000 for notebook containing drafts of some of Thomas’s 
A lost notebook containing drafts of some of Dylan Thomas’s most challenging poems is to remain in the UK and more importantly, is heading to Wales after Swansea university successfully bid £85,000 for it at auction in London. The previously unknown notebook emerged earlier this year and was described by one astonished scholar as the most exciting Thomas discovery since the poet’s death in 1953.

Are Poetry and Psychosis Linked?

The idea that ‘genius’ is just one step removed from ‘madness’ is a venerable one, and psychiatrists and psychologists have spent a great (perhaps an inordinate) amount of time looking for correlations between mental illness and creativity. Now a new British study has examined whether poets exhibit more traits of psychosis than other people.

New Books

The Night We're Not Sleeping In by Sean Bishop

[Paperback] Sarabande Books, 65 pp., $14.95 
"Reading these poems is an uncanny experience. . . . We enter into this book alert to possibility, and leave knowing how asleep we've been."—Nick Flynn

You Must Remember This: Poems by Michael Bazzett 

[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 96 pp., $16.00
A meditation on who we are, who we’ve been, and what we might become, Bazzett’s writing is like a note written in invisible ink: partially what we see on the page, but also but also the “many dozen doorways that we don’t walk through each day.” You Must Remember This is a consistently slippery, enrapturing collection of poems.

Paper Doll Fetus: Poems by Cynthia Marie Hoffman 

[Paperback] Persea, 80 pp., $15.95
These visceral, mystical poems give voice to the phantom and the embryonic (homunculi, ectopic twins, fleeced lambskin) and to those who create them, biologically or otherwise. Part spell-book, part anatomical primer, Paper Doll Fetus surveys the landscape of the womb and offers us a haunting chorus of its denizens.


J. Allyn Rosser Finds Deeper Meaning through Humor

by Victoria Fleischer
“Mimi’s Trapeze,” a new book by J. Allyn Rosser, starts with a quote by Balzac in the original French. The poet translates it roughly as, “Being human — what an appalling condition! in which every happy moment depends on an ignorance of some sort.” Or in other words, ignorance is bliss. “This is an awful thing to say and such a true thing to say,” Rosser told Art Beat.

Ailish Hopper

by Jen Fitzgerald
I won’t say Ailish Hopper‘s collection Dark~Sky Society (New Issues Press, 2014) is “about” anything because that would do it a disservice. These poems are human. They move like legs on a street, like a mind at work that calls you to ruminate with it. Because we can’t understand everything, we have to be comfortable in that space of being unsure.

Small Press Spotlight: Eugenia Leigh

by Rigoberto González 
Eugenia Leigh is the recipient of awards and fellowships from Poets & Writers Magazine, Kundiman, Rattle, and The Asian American Literary Review. She earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications including the Best New Poets 2010 anthology. Eugenia serves as Poetry Editor of Kartika Review and lives in Chicago.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

A Poetry Contest About Race

by Nicholas Kristof
Do you fancy yourself a poet? Then post a poem about race below as a comment, and I’ll pick the best ones and run them either in my column or in a new blog post.
    I did this years ago, with a poetry contest about the Iraq war, and I found many of the poems very moving. Race likewise seems one of those topics that calls for the kind of soul-searching that poetry is well suited for. I’d also invite school or college classes to participate as an assignment; if I choose one of yours, I’ll give your school a shout-out.
    Any kind of poem is fine, from haiku to epic, but it’s always easier to quote from shorter poems. Feel free to also say something about yourself and why you wrote the poem in your comment. I’ll give you a week to post entries, so the deadline is Dec. 18.


Thank you New York Times. I wonder what next week's topic will be?

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