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Poetry News In Review

December 3, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1800 – France Preseren, Slovenian poet (Krst pri Savici), is born.
1892 – Afanasy Fet, Russian poet (b. 1820), dies.

1944 – Delfien Vanhaute, Flemish pastor/poet (Ark of Noah), dies at 75.

2000 – Gwendolyn Brooks, American poet (b. 1917), dies.

2010 – Abdumalik Bahori, Tajik poet and fiction writer (b.1927), dies.

A Penitent Considers Another Coming of Mary

If Mary came would Mary   
Forgive, as Mothers may,   
And sad and second Saviour   
Furnish us today?
She would not shake her head and leave   
This military air,
But ratify a modern hay,
And put her Baby there.
Mary would not punish men—
If Mary came again.
— Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000)

World Poetry

Soviet-era Civil Rights Activist and Poet Natalya Gorbanevskaya Dies at 77

Russian poet Natalya Gorbanevskaya, one of the former Soviet Union’s foremost civil rights activists, has died in Paris at the age of 77, friends in Moscow told AFP. Gorbanevskaya, who died Friday, was a key figure in the dissident movement that fought for human rights in the Communist country and took a prominent role in the protests against the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. Read more at Raw Story.

Portugal's Judice Receives Queen Sofia Poetry Prize

Portuguese poet Nuno Judice on Wednesday evoked the transforming power of poetry after receiving the Queen Sofia Ibero-American Poetry Prize from the hand of the Spanish monarch for whom the award was named. Judice, who besides being a poet is also a novelist, essayist, critic, lecturer and diplomat, did not forget the difficult situation his country – and all of Europe – finds itself in when he mentioned the role of poets in times of crisis. Read more at Global Post.

Poetry Leads the Turkish Republic

Turkey’s prime minister has a poetry obsession. Barely a speech of his goes by without him quoting some. Back in his conservative democratic days, his favorite political slogan was a line of medieval Sufi verse: “Yaradılanı severim, Yaradan’dan ötürü” (“I love the created out of love for the Creator”). It was Islamic mystical love dressed up in modern secular clothes. Today he prefers the more belligerent stance of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, a mid-twentieth century poet and ideologist of a Turkish Islamic revival who dreamed of a generation of youngsters who would fight for “their religion . . . their hatred and their revenge.” Read more at Majalla.

Recent Reviews

Poetry Collections that Caught Our Attention in 2013

by Michael Robbins 
What are years? They're periods at whose conclusions — someone more adept at research than I should find out when this started — critics compile best-of lists.  Read more at the Chicago Tribune.

‘Incarnadine’ by Mary Szybist

by John Freeman

In prose, narrative forms the body, while in poetry it is language: The word made flesh. How appropriate then that Mary Syzbist should use a similar transmutation — the annunciation of Mary, wherein she learned she would carry the son of God — as the gateway to her second collection, “Incarnadine,” winner of the 2013 National Book Award for poetry. Not since Adrienne Rich’s early work has a collection thought so deeply about the permeable barrier between the spirit and the body, and motherhood. Read more at the Boston Globe.

Oh Walt, You’re A  Leaky Vessel

by David Malouf
A good many writers of fiction have also in the course of a busy writing life produced memorable poems, George Meredith for one, Thackeray for another, and several poets have produced single novels that stand as undisputed masterpieces: one thinks immediately of Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield,Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, Mörike’s novella Mozart’s Little Journey to Prague. But few writers have an equal reputation in both fields: Goethe in Germany, Pushkin in Russia, Hugo in France; in England Hardy, maybe Kipling. D.H. Lawrence is surely one of the few. Read more at the Sydney Review of Books.


by Sueyeun Juliette Lee
A mysterious package containing a strange Bible is delivered to a village and brings with it an immense sense of wretched misery and despair. A pair of exhausted lovers continuously—agonizingly—falls out of love. A young girl is abused by careless, angry elders and the butcher develops a hideous rash. A prose exploration of suffering and time, Janice Lee’s latest collection Damnation moves with poetic elegance and intensity, utilizing narrative elements to examine how dailiness can house biblical Judgment. In her text, the apocalypse is hardly a break with history or the catastrophic launching of a new order. It is instead the profuse stagnation of what we are already trapped in: Damnation is persistence. Read more at Constant Critic.

A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting 

 by Ian Pople
In Under Briggflatts, Donald Davie declared that Thom Gunn has a public, whereas Basil Bunting has a following.  That the former may no longer be guaranteed might have been confirmed with the recent news that August Kleinzahler has had to step in and buy the deceased Gunn’s library, because no-one else wanted to. But those who might have constituted Bunting’s ‘following’ might have been surprised to hear Richard Burton’s exhaustive new biography of Bunting, being discussed on Radio Three’s flagship arts programme, Night Waves. Perhaps more surprised to find ‘The Poet who Hated’ as the tagline atop one of ALDaily.com’s columns, when Matthew Sperling’s Literary Review review of this biography was linked in to the website.  And if the spikey poetry of Britain’s last major high modernist still remains a coterie interest, then a biography of the great man is likely to remain such, too. Perhaps that will all change when Faber finally publish Don Share’s long delayed Complete Poems. Read more at The Manchester Review.

Book Review: Headwaters: Poems by Ellen Bryant Voigt

by Julia Shipley
At the outset of this review you notice something a little strange the words are plain and familiar yes ordinary but there are no capitals no commas no poetic curbs or grammatical stop signs to impose a pause do you like it I like it I am both rushing into the current of words and searching for a rock of some sort to keep me from washing out to sea welcome to the newest collection of poems by Ellen Bryant Voigt whose verse is also like this a sluiceway OK, back to Chicago style before I drive you batty. Read more at Seven Days.


On Revenge

by Louise Glück
When I was a child, I was enormously sensitive to slights; my definition of slights was as broad as my sensitivity was deep. I trust my memory on this point because the child I describe corresponds so exactly to the evolved adult. I was also, then as now, rigidly proud, unwilling to show hurt or admit need. Pride governed my behavior. It precluded, to my mind, all show of anger (which seemed obviously retaliatory—by confirming the slight or wound, it gave satisfaction, I thought, to the tormentor). Anger was the show of blood that proved the arrow had penetrated. Moral or ethical anger (of the kind provoked by Concentration Camps) was exempt from these inhibitions. But most such focuses, like the Camps, aroused terror rather than rage. I had, if I can judge by my vast catalogue of slights and my icily theatrical self-protective disdain, a vast suppressed rage. Read more at the Threepenny Review.

Looking for Darwish

by Maya Jaggi
On a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem, a rock garden terraced like the surrounding landscape leads up to the white-stone tomb of Mahmoud Darwish, the bestselling poet of the Arab world, a world in which poets fill stadiums. Five years after his death at the age of 67, the bard from Galilee is still revered as Palestine's national poet - laurels he once told me he both cherished and chafed against. In a graceful conceit by the architect Jafar Tukan, Darwish's calligraphed tombstone, rising from a flowerbed, bookmarks an open volume. Its sloping pages to either side have pyramid-like portals to a recital hall and, opposite it, a museum. Read more at the Literary Review.

How Aimee Bender Feels After Memorizing a Poem: 'Caffeinated'

by Joe Fassler
 When I first heard “The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” at a funeral. A large funeral, and a very sad one. A poet read it to the people gathered, and I found it moving, and helpful, but in a kind of inexplicable way. It’s something of an oblique poem. It concerns mystery, and its language is itself mysterious. Yet there was something in it that I sensed, even listening for the first time, about a community coming together to support this family and pay tribute to this life. Read more at The Atlantic.

Why You Should Buy Poetry This Holiday Season

by Kelly Forsythe
While it may seem obvious that the term holiday implies one of the few moments of our year during which we can truly relax, shutdown our conceptual brains and tune-in to the inevitable repeat showings of A Christmas Story, let us stop to consider the amount of creativity that goes into gift-giving each season. Whether you are an online shopper or prefer to tackle the crowds in your local mall, you are brainstorming new ideas and thinking out-of-the box to discover that unpredictable, perfect gift for your loved ones, coworkers, and acquaintances. Perhaps we open our creative minds most intensely during the holidays, so, in theory, gifts which speak directly to these creative sensibilities should make it to the top of our must-have lists. Something that allows us to expand our minds just a tad further, pushing past the mundanity of office parties. Something that reminds us of the emotional connections we crave, particularly during the holidays. Enter: poetry. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Drafts & Framents

Osip Mandelʹshtam Papers

Poetry Isn't Safe: a new Best Reading Ever Film

Building on his successful Poetry Here Tonite, help filmmaker and poet G.M. Palmer bring the best poetry to the biggest audience.

Poetry In The News

Portland Poet Mary Szybist Wins National Book Award

Poet Mary Szybist has won a National Book Award for Poetry. Szybist teaches at Lewis and Clark College. Her poetry collection, Incarnadine,weaves spiritual inquiry with reflections on motherhood, mortality, and more. In her acceptance speech Wednesday night, which was webcast live, Szybist spoke of her occasional ambivalence toward poetry, but also of what she called, "the miracle of how much it can do", and the power of poems to make her consider things outside of her experience. Read more at the Portland Tribune.

New Books

Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower by Sarah Lindsay 

[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 88 pp., $16.00
In her fourth collection of poetry, National Book Award finalist and Lannan Fellowship winner Sarah Lindsay presents a lyric menagerie of bizarrely imagined personae and historic figures revealing their long-held secrets, alongside surprising scientific subjects and discoveries layered into quirky, dark-edged, sometimes macabre, always intimate and graceful poems. Imbued with a buoying sense of respect for the different, the unexpected, and the challenging, Lindsay's poems are alive with wonder. And when asked the obvious question about the title, you can say, "A 'bone-eating snotflower' is the inelegant slang for the worm-like creature, Osedax mucofloris, that feeds on the carcasses of minke whales in the North Sea."

Bleed Through: New and Selected Poems by Michael Davidson 

[Paperback] Coffee House Press, 256 pp., $17.95
Ghost texts—the overheard conversation, the remembered line, the daily paper—clamor to enter the poems in Michael Davidson’s Bleed Through. Here, the page is a plane for working out aesthetic problems, engaging the reader’s intellect and love of beauty. Each new word or phrase calls forth another; attentions create their own nimbus of associations. Davidson’s poems are a kind of battleground, where larger philosophical questions are grappled with through the sieve of language and form, but they are also a response to the vital use people make of everyday speech. Faced with hearing loss, he questions the acoustical models—voice, ear, rhyme, rhythm, text—upon which poetry depends and takes as his subject the problems and questions of our cultural history.

Glass Armonica: Poems by Rebecca Dunham 

[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 96 pp., $16.00

The 18th-century glass armonica, a musical instrument whose sound emits from rotating water-filled vessels, has long held the power to mesmerize with its hauntingly sorrowful tones. Just as its song, which was once thought to induce insanity, wraps itself in and around the mind, Rebecca Dunham probes the depths of human psyche, inhabiting the voices of historical female "hysterics" and inciting in readers a tranquil unease. These are poems spoken through and for the melancholic, the hysteric, the body dysmorphic — from Mary Glover to Lavinia Dickinson to Freud's famed patient, Dora. And like expert hands placed gently on the armonica’s rotating disks, Dunham offers unsettling depictions of uninvited human contact — of hands laid upon the female body, of touch at times unwanted, and ultimately unspeakable from behind the hysteric's "locked jaws." Winner of the 2013 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, Dunham’s stunning third collection is "lush yet septic" (G.C. Waldrep), at once beautiful and unnerving.

To Love That Well: New and Selected Poems, 1954-2013 by Robert Pack

[Paperback] Lost Horse Press,  334 pp., $25.00
One of America's most revered nature poets, Robert Pack has won the acclaim of critics throughout his long career. This collection, To Love That Well, reprises many of his best known poems, both lyric and narrative, comic and meditative. The poems dramatize and reflect upon Pack's sense of mortality and loss, his cherishing of friends, family, and the natural world. 


She Never Sniveled: Natalia Gorbanevskaya (1936-2013)

by Cynthia Haven
The Russian poet Natalia Gorbanevskaya declared unequivocally that, for a poet, living in an alien land is “a source of new potency.” It’s lucky that she thought so, because she really had no choice.  The dissident writer fled the Soviet Union for Paris in the 1970s. And that’s where she died, last night, at 77. Read more at Book Haven.

Ange Mlinko, “Marvelous Things Overheard”

by John Ebersole 
In Marvelous Things Overheard (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), Ange Mlinko‘s poems exhibit a sonically rich landscape articulated by a beautiful voice that is so measured and covert that history itself is seduced into singing to us who are decaying in the present. Mostly centered in the Mediterranean, Mlinko’s poems guide us into the prefectures of time to recover and reinvent the enchantment of our beginnings and by doing so enlarges our imagination as we move into the future. While her themes are global, her eye is local, and the combination yields a sort of prudence most of us have forgotten we need in order to live more truly and more fiercely. During out chat, we talk about her childhood in Philadelphia, her years in Morocco and Beirut, the Mediterranean’s impact on her poetry, and so much more. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. Read more at New Books in Poetry.

Poet Brenda Hillman Explores the Many Facets of Fire

Poet Brenda Hillman talks to chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown about her new collection, "Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire," her connection to the elements, and her understanding of social justice and being an activist. "I'm in love with the alphabet as a set of meanings that you can make anything of," says poet Brenda Hillman, a professor at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. Her new collection, "Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire," is the last in a series of four books that showcase Hillman's exploration of the elements: earth, air, water, fire. She attributes that recurring theme -- one she has explored for 20 years -- to her deep connection to nature. Read more at the News Hour.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Translator and Poet Daniel Weissbort, Obituary

Daniel Weissbort was self-effacing, appearing to underrate his own fine contributions to translation and literature. Daniel Weissbort, who has died aged 78, was the founder with Ted Hughes of Modern Poetry in Translation (MPT), a unique and quietly revolutionary magazine that publishes the best of world poetry in translation. Danny edited MPT for nearly 40 years, transforming what Hughes had intended to be, in his own words, "a fairly scrappy-looking thing" into an internationally renowned journal publishing most of the English-speaking world's best and brightest translators. Read more at The Guardian.
There are so many people whose names do not appear on the marquee, even on a marquee as small as that of poetry, that we sometimes don't think to recognize their achievement in service to the art. Daniel Weissport did have, for some, a recognizable name, but it is through his many contributions as a translator, editor, teacher, and scholar--that is, as a conduit, nearly invisible-- by which we recognize him. I remember having breakfast with him once about thirty years ago, when he was a guest of a friend of mine, the translator, John DuVal. What struck me was his engagement and generosity, what seem in retrospect to be common traits among those who are primarily translators. Reading his obituary, I am all the more impressed though not surprised by the connections he fostered, the work he did, and the difference he made. 

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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
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Robert Penn Warren
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George Herbert
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Mahmoud Darwish
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