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Poetry News In Review

February 19, 2013

Poetry News In Review

Edited By David Sanders

Specimen Days

February 19, 2013

1620 – Roemer P. Visscher, poet, buried in Amsterdam, dies.

1716 – Dorthe Engelbrechtsdatter, Norwegian poet (b. 1634), dies.
1754 – Vincenzo Monti, Italian poet/translator (Al Signor di Montgolfier), is born.

1889 – Jose Eustasio Rivera, Colombia, poet/novelist (Vortex), is born.

1896 – André Breton, French poet (d. 1966), is born.

1941 – Stephen Dobyns, US author/poet (Cold Dog Soup), is born.

I do not matter to life

But the branches of salt the white branches

All the shadow bubbles

And the sea-anemones

Come down and breathe within my thoughts

They come from tears that are not mine

From steps I do not take that are steps twice

And of which the sand remembers the flood-tide

—from “The Spectral Attitudes” by André Breton, 1896–1966

World Poetry

Pablo Neruda's Foundation Supports Decision to Exhume Poet's Body for Autopsy

The body of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda will be exhumed for an autopsy seeking clues to what killed him. Neruda died days after the 1973 military coup that ended the life of his close friend, socialist President Salvador Allende. With Gen. Augusto Pinochet's forces killing prominent leftists, friends had a plane waiting to carry Neruda into exile. Read more at Fox News.

Israeli Poet Longs for Iraq He Never Knew

“I was waiting for this call,” said Ronny Someck. The Baghdad-born Israeli poet was glad to hear the words of Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr. Speaking in the holy city of Najaf, al-Sadr called on Iraqi Jews to come back and help rebuild their homeland. Someck, 61, who was born in Baghdad but never went back to visit, has flirted with his country of origin for many years. A state of enmity exists between Baghdad and Jerusalem and Jews have yet to be granted the Right of Return. Read more at Al-Monitor.

Turkish Poet Edip Cansever’s Verses Become Latest Victim of Censors

Two verses of the poem “Table,” which was written by renowned Turkish poet Edip Cansever, were omitted from high school books since they include the word “beer.” The books, published by Ekoyay Publishing House, were selected to be read in high schools by the National Education Ministry. The omitted verses are as follows: “So many days he had wanted to drink a beer! He put on the table the pouring of that beer.”  Read more at Hurriyet Daily News.

Recent Reviews

Letters to Madeleine by Guillaume Apollinaire

by Christopher Winks

Perhaps the most famous single line in Guillaume Apollinaire’s body of work is the opening declaration of his 1912 poem “Zone:” “You’re tired of this old world at last.” “Zone” heralds modernity—with its urban setting, its montage of images (the Eiffel Tower, billboards, a “ghetto clock running backwards”), and its jump cuts through time and space. The poem marks a transition between the lyricism of a prior generation of French verse and changing ways of seeing and imagining fostered by the proliferation of new technologies of speed and mechanization. Read more at Book Forum.

Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

by Sean O'Brien

The modernist phase of Burmese poetry, known as khitsan (meaning "testing the times"), emerged in the 1930s from Rangoon University and was associated with opposition to British colonial rule. Since then, poetry in Burma has retained a political significance unthinkable in the west.  Read more at the Guardian.

Poet Crossing: Regarding Word on the Street, Rock Lyrics by Paul Muldoon

by Michael H. Miller 

Paul Muldoon’s new collection of poems feels nearly inevitable: it is actually a book of rock lyrics, complete with an accompanying CD of a band called Wayside Shrines playing some selections. Mr. Muldoon famously collaborated with Warren Zevon, and much of the poet’s work has played with lyric in some way. . . . He’s also written a poem, loosely structured as a blues song with one short line repeating twice, about Bob Dylan receiving an honorary degree from Princeton, where Mr. Muldoon, who was born in Northern Ireland, now lives and teaches. Read more at the Observer.

Ulterior Hands: The Poetry of Dean Young

by Bobby Elliott

When people talk about Dean Young, they talk about how his poems are loved by a.) poets and b.) everyone else. I don't know if that's true, I haven't conducted a survey, but after reading Bender: New and Selected Poems, a book that plays by its own rules at all times, I hope that it is. Read more at the Huffington Post.


"Daddy” Is Mommy

Is Sylvia Plath’s famous poem really about her mother?

by Katie Roiphe

On the 50th anniversary of the day Sylvia Plath left milk on a tray for her two sleeping children and put her head into an oven, the cultural fascination with her shows no signs of abating. Though one might think that Janet Malcolm’s sublime study The Silent Woman, would be the last word on Plath, there is a spate of new books feeding the myth: Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted; An American Isis:The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath; Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953; and a new edition of The Bell Jar. Quite sensibly biographers and critics have always thought that Plath’s most famous poem, “Daddy,” was about her father. I would like to float out the theory that it is really about her mother. Read more at Slate.

Awkwardly Charming

Thomas Hardy and the strangeness of bad writing that is somehow good.

by Mark Halliday

Poems need some element of strangeness to cut through the familiarity of our daily discourse; they find some way to startle us—or nettle us—into sharpened attention. Strangeness can arise through diction, or syntax, or structure, or sound pattern. Or it can be a function of a poem’s whole personality, implying a speaker who is somehow askew, injured, jazzed, or desperate. There is the strangeness of the outlandish, but there can also be a strangeness of the eerily flat or the chillingly calm. Some poems by Thomas Hardy have prompted me to think about a particular kind of strangeness we might call the fascination of the deliberately awkward; or, to put it more tendentiously, the strangeness of bad writing that is somehow good. Read more at Slate.

The Contemporary of Our Grandchildren

A view from the eighties

by Richard Sieburth

My friendship with Marjorie dates back to the early eighties — and, more specifically, to two Ezra Pound conferences, the first held at the University of Maine–Orono (where we sat together listening to Basil Bunting recite his “Briggflats”), and the second at Sheffield University (William Empson’s old redoubt and home that year of the World Snooker Championship). We immediately hit it off, especially upon discovering that we shared a mentor in common in the person of Craig La Driere. The latter had been my professor at Harvard — an elderly, chain-smoking figure of impeccable attire and academic etiquette, one of Pound’s “I Vechii” (“They will come no more, / The old men with beautiful manners”). Read more at Jacket 2.

Drafts & Fragments

Not a Blacksmith, an Irish poet Priest in Camden Still Works the Bellows Following an Old Farmer’s Philosophy

by Jim Lowney

It’s a terrible day: Thanks be to God. Michael Doyle’s grandfather would say those words coming home soaked to the bone after plowing his fields in a cold rain with the help of the neighbors and their horses in north County Longford many years ago. He had done what he had to and it was good to be home by a warm fire. Another day soon he’d be out in the same helping the neighbors with their fields. Read more at Irish Central. 

Poetry In The News

Robert Pinsky, America's Poet Laureate, Goes to Israel

In person as muscular and direct as in his verse, Pinsky relishes the role of an intellectual in the public sphere. Pinsky hopes Obama's coming visit to Israel will help people see the president is "not anti-Israel."  As befitting a celebrated poet at the height of his powers, Robert Pinsky strides toward an interview in the company of a striking flame-haired woman in black. Read more at Global Post.

Dub Poet Jean "Binta" Breeze Awarded MBE

Jamaica's first female dub poet, who found fame in the UK, has described her delight at being awarded an MBE - despite criticism from a few of her friends. Jean Breeze has been a leading light in performance poetry after moving to the UK in the 1980s, bringing a distinct Caribbean voice to theatres across the country. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Poet and Prophet of El Barrio May Soon Be a Pauper

The poems of Jesus “Papoleto” Melendez have a bopping rhythm, where words cascade down the page and – when he recites them – swirl around the room, through the window and out onto the streets of El Barrio. Among the founders of the Nuyorican Poetry movement, his poems are carefully crafted reflections on urban life, with equal doses of humor, anger, love and absurdity. Read more at the New York Times.

New Books

Translations from the Flesh by Elton Glaser

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 96 pp., $15.95

“Like the moon moving toward eclipse, the luminous realm of desire in Elton Glaser’s superb new collection is always in danger of erasure by the mortal shadow thrown by the earth. Translations from the Flesh is a stunning journal of passage from adolescent audacity to mature reflection, and these poems are without question Elton Glaser’s finest and most powerful work yet.”—David St. John

Natural Takeover of Small Things by Tim Z. Hernandez

[Paperback] University of Arizona Press, 80 pp., $15.95

Natural Takeover of Small Things is a collection of poetry that offers an unflinching view of “California’s Heartland,” the San Joaquin Valley. In his distinctive, lyrical, pull-no-punches style, Tim Z. Hernandez offers a glimpse of the people, the landscape, the rhythm, and the detritus of the rural West. As Hernandez peels back the façade of the place, he reveals that home is not always where the heart is.

Just Saying by Rae Armantrout

[Hardcover] Wesleyan, 124 pp., $22.95

In Just Saying, improbable and even untenable speakers are briefly constituted--only to disappear. The result is part carnival, part nightmare. A television pundit's rhetoric segues into an unusual succulent with writhing maroon tongues. When the world suddenly becomes legible, is that revelation or psychosis? In this book, the voice of the Lord and/or the voice of the security state can come from anyplace. 

Easy Math by Lauren Shapiro

[Paperback] Sarabande Books, 64 pp., $14.95

Selected by Marie Howe for the 2011 Kathryn A. Morton Prize, Easy Math is anxious and exuberant both. Lauren Shapiro’s poems are Aesop stood on end, wry fables that defy our instinct to find a moral to the story. Instead, she offers us a gimlet eye to the disappointments of the world, tall tale-telling by turns rickety, defiant, and brave. 

The Oldest Word for Dawn: New and Selected Poems by Brad Leithauser

[Hardcover] Knopf, 256 pp., $27.95

From the outset, Brad Leithauser has displayed a venturesome taste for quirky patterns, innovative designs sprung loose from traditional forms. . . . The Oldest Word for Dawn reveals Brad Leithauser as a poet of surpassing tenderness and exactitude, a poet whose work, at sixty, fulfills the promise noted by James Merrill on the publication of his first book: “The observations glisten, the feelings ring true. These poems by a young, unostentatious craftsman are made to something very like perfection. No one should overlook them.”  


Interview with a Writer: John Ashbery

by J. P.  O'Malley 

John Ashbery is recognized as one of the most eminent American poets of the twentieth-century. He also been called America’s greatest living poet today. . . . In a telephone call that lasted nearly two hours, I talked to Ashbery primarily about poetry. Browsing through some of his earliest and most recent work, Ashbery, very patiently, even read me some of his poems: giving me the background to their subject matter in the process. But as he explained over the course of our long chat, trying to put ordered sense into a chaotic world, through language, is not an easy task. Read more at the Spectator.

Diagram This: On Adrienne Rich

by Ange Mlinko 

When Adrienne Rich died last March in Santa Cruz, California, of complications from rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 82, the world lost a polarizing poet from a countercultural generation that included Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka, Betty Friedan and William Burroughs. A public intellectual and an icon for the “triply marginalized—as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew” (according to her New York Times obituary), Rich allowed her poetry to serve her ideas on feminism and social justice. As a result, her poems and essays—more than thirty books over six decades—reached a broad and passionate audience, far beyond what most poets enjoy, and she was a hero to generations of feminists. Read more at The Nation.

Anselm Hollo: Poet, Translator and Teacher

by Tom Raworth

Anselm Hollo was a major poet, a prolific and fine translator and an inspiring teacher. His death is a loss to the world of letters and intelligence. He was born in Helsinki five years before the Winter War into a cosmopolitan and intellectual family. His professor father translated Cervantes, Dostoevsky and Henry James into Finnish, his mother taught music, his grandfather Paul, a chemist, invented the Walden Inversion. Read more at the Independent.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Jack McCarthy Proved that Poetry Matters

by Joanna Weiss

One night more than a decade ago, I was sitting at an open mic in a small suburban coffeeshop, wondering what was up with the grizzled guy across the room. He was significantly older and slightly more disheveled than the rest of the hipsters with acoustic guitars. I figured he was just passing through. But then he stepped up to the mic and introduced himself as Jack McCarthy, and once he started to recite an original poem — a rambling, funny piece that ended with an emotional zing — I realized that I knew precisely who he was. He was a star in Boston’s poetry scene, and I had spoken to him by phone for a silly feature about joke haikus. He had loved the idea that anyone, by virtue of being able to count, could automatically be a poet. Read more at the Boston Globe.



Scrolling back up this week's News, most of us will recognize the names Hardy, Plath, Hollo, Rich, Ashbery, Muldoon, Apollinaire, and on. But I've never heard of Jack McCarthy, and there's no reason I should have. As the tribute here says, he was a fixture of the Boston poetry scene, someone who found in poetry a rewarding experience and who brought joy to many through his engagement with poetry. It's a reminder, for me at any rate, that poetry is only tangentially about the names. What is more central is the hold it has on a person's psyche, its gift of communion, and its generative power that is found in the talents, passions, and enthusiasm of many, of the unknown and the known, of all the Jack McCarthys we cross paths with and are or strive to be.


—David Sanders

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