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Poetry News In Review

February 24, 2015
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1595 – Matthias C Sarbiewski, [Sarbievius], Polish jesuit/poet, is born.
1597 – Vincent Voiture, French poet (d. 1648), is born.
1662 – English Poet and author of "Paradise Lost" John Milton marries 3rd wife Elizabeth Mynshull, 31 years his junior.
1721 – John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, English statesman and poet (b. 1648), dies.
1837 – Rosalía de Castro, Santiago de Compostela Galician writer and poet ('Séculos Escuros') (d. 1885), is born.
1876 – Jan Pieter Heije, Dutch physician/writer/poet, dies at 67.
1927 – David Mourao-Ferreira, poet/politician, is born.
1958 – Fernand Baldensperger [Fernand Baldenne], French poet, dies at 86.

And sometimes we pretend we remember
And sometimes we remember that sometimes

as we feel the taste of the oceans
only the residues of the nights not the months
do we find at the bottom of the glasses

And sometimes we smile or weep
And sometimes sometimes oh sometimes
in a second only so many years fade away

—from “And Sometimes” by David Mourão-Ferreira (1927–1996)

World Poetry

Michael D Higgins First Poem as President of Ireland

Irish President Michael D Higgins has published his first poem since becoming head of state in 2011. "The Prophets are Weeping" is thought to have been inspired by the plight of refugees in Syria and elsewhere. It also touches on the rise of religious extremism, with lines like: "Rumour has it that, the prophets are weeping at their texts distorted, the death and destruction imposed in their name."

To Egypt: No Cover-up into Death of Poet Shaimaa el-Sabbagh 

The killing of poet Shaimaa el-Sabbagh as she walked in a peaceful procession on 24 January 2015, must be fully and promptly investigated, PEN International said today.  The global writers’ organisation which promotes literature and protects freedom of expression also called for a lifting of the ban on media from reporting on the death of the 31-year-old and the on-going investigation into it, imposed by the Egyptian authorities on Thursday.

Recent Reviews

Praising Kane
by A.E. Stallings

It is said that gentlemen prefer blondes (“it is possible that blondes also prefer gentlemen,” as Mamie Van Doren would have it), but Julie Kane knows there is a breed of “Men Who Love Redheads.” Her poem of this title could be read as a retort to Yeats’ “Poem for Anne Gregory” in which the poet assures Anne that no young man can love her for herself and not her yellow hair.  Even should she “get a hair-dye,/ And set such color there,/ Black or brown or carrot,” only God, Yeats assures us, can love the girl for herself and not her gold locks. Evidently Yeats (perhaps inured to “carrot” because surrounded by fiery Irish beauties?) was not the type of man whom, according to Kane, you can pick out in a crowd.

Amiri Baraka’s ‘S O S’
by Claudia Rankine

Amiri Baraka eulogized James Baldwin on Dec. 8, 1987, by saying: “He was all the way live, all the way conscious, turned all the way up, receiving and broadcasting. . . . He always made us know we were dangerously intelligent and as courageous as the will to be free.” This eulogy can aptly be turned back on Baraka himself, as “S O S: Poems 1961-2013” arrives a year after his own death.

Munster Poetry Is Finding Its Rhythm

“There's a buzz about Irish poetry in France at the moment,” says Cork academic, Cliona Ní Riordáin, who has co-edited the bilingual Poetes du Munster: 1960-2015, which will be launched at the Cork Spring Poetry Festival and is published by Illador. Ní Riordáin, who teaches literature and translation at the Sorbonne in Paris, recently edited an anthology of Irish women poets from 1973-2013, which is also a French publication.

House of Cards: The Poetry of Lev Rubinstein
by Douglas Messerli

Russian poet Lev Rubinstein (b. 1947) is generally described as a conceptualist artist, and is associated, as a founding member, with the group called the Moscow Conceptualists. But before we begin to categorize his poetry, it is helpful to perceive that Russian conceptualism, at least as Rubinstein and others practice it, is not focused on a shell into which content is purposefully or accidentally “poured,” but is best conceived as a literary form into which very specific, even if quite disjunctive content is shaped by the poet into a more abstract expression of ideas. If conceptualists from the United States (Kenneth Goldsmith, for example) might begin with an overriding construct such as a single daily issue of The New York Times or a series of radio weather or traffic reports (as in Day of 2003, Weather of 2005, and Traffic of 2007), allowing the content to be defined by the form, Rubinstein focuses upon fixed units of content which function together in a manner converging upon a more abstract whole.

Tess Taylor and Walton Muyumba on Claudia Rankine’s ‘Citizen’
by Tess Taylor and Walton Muyumba

In the weeks leading up to the March 12 announcement of the 2014 NBCC award winners, Critical Mass highlights the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board members Tess Taylor, representing the poetry committee, and Walton Muyumba, chair of the criticism committee, offer an appreciation--a dialogue of sorts--of Claudia Rankine's "Citizen," (Graywolf Press), which made NBCC history when the board voted it a finalist in two categories--criticism and poetry. Since the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the death of Michael Brown, since the unrest in Ferguson, and right now, at the moment when we await judgments facing the police officers who shot Tamir Rice, we keep watching the painful spectacle of seemingly sanctioned violence against black bodies. These men’s deaths announce and re-announce painful questions:  Do we live in a country in which the lives of black men matter less than the lives of white ones? In which ways does racial violence persist to this day?  What does it feel like--for any of us--to live in the presence of disparity overwhelmingly marked along racial lines? These are large questions. What Claudia Rankine’s book "Citizen" does, miraculously, is break racism’s intractability down into human-sized installations, accounts of relationships, and examples of speech.


To Recall, To Praise
by Spencer Reese

Christmas time. Madrid. No snow. Every five years or so snow falls over the statues on the rooftops of these buildings and over the statues of the Retiro, our city park, including one from the 1800s of the devil as a fallen angel. This statue is reported, inaccurately, to be the only public statue of the devil. Spaniards say it is the only one anyway. But this year our fallen angel has no white covering.

The Too Small House: Lola Ridge and I 
by Terese Svoboda

In 2012, I dropped everything else — my novels, my stories, my poetry, my teaching — and waded into the complexities of biography, a genre I knew nothing about, swam in murky unknown modernist waters, dove into the archives of a dozen libraries, and worst of all, discovered footnotes. All for Lola Ridge.

Why Jihadists Love Postmodern Poetry
by David Biespiel

We live in a world overflowing with cynicism about the meaning of language and the power of metaphor. For decades we’ve needed to look no further than college English departments and the pages of literary journals and the many books stuffed full of genre-bending postmodern poetry. Now postmodernism is playing with live ammo. Literally.

No We Are More Decent Than That
by Fady Joudah

Both David Biespiel’s recent piece, about Jihadis and postmodern poetry, and G.C. Waldrep’s reply to it are disappointing; the former far more so than the latter. Ironically Biespiel commits a similar complicity to the one he accuses contemporary poets of condoning. His use of Arabic is simply a conduit for necropolitics, the perpetuation of the Arab and Muslim image as primarily one associated with death and murder.

Hearing the Tone of the Self: Toward An Alternative Ethics of Translation
by V. Joshua Adams

In 1965, the American poet Ron Padgett went to Paris on a Fulbright fellowship. There he discovered Pierre Reverdy’s first book, Poèmes en prose. “I fell for [it] the first time I read it,” he writes. “I loved its austerity, its spookiness, and what I imagined to be its cubism.”2 Padgett decided to translate the book, making drafts while still in France, and then worked on them intermittently over the next twenty-five years. After a flurry of revisions in the early 90s and the publication of a few of the translations in magazines, he put the manuscript aside again, finally publishing it in 2007.

Drafts & Framents

Four Poems by Richard Milhous Nixon
by Dan Piepenbring

Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, and Jimmy Carter all published collections of poetry—and I don’t mean to diminish their stately, often tender contributions to arts and letters by what follows. But the simple fact of the matter is, their poetical efforts pale in comparison to Richard Nixon, who was, and remains, the most essential poet-president the United States of America has ever produced.

Blacklisted from Birth: A Letter from Langston Hughes

In this week’s magazine, Hilton Als writes about the elusive life of Langston Hughes, and about a collection of Hughes’s letters that is out this month from Knopf. Below is one item from that volume: a 1952 letter that Hughes wrote to the playwright Elmer Rice, responding to a questionnaire that Hughes had received as part of an investigation, carried out by Rice and the Authors League of America, into the blacklisting of writers in the radio and TV industries. Rice, who had worked with Hughes on the musical “Street Scene,” spearheaded the investigation after resigning from a group of playwrights whose commercial sponsor had begun scrutinizing the political affiliations of its actors. The questionnaire, reproduced below courtesy of the Authors Guild, was sent to Hughes and fifty other authors who had been identified as suspected Communists in the pamphlet Red Channels. In 1953, Hughes would testify before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Subcommittee on Un-American Activities. But in his letter to Rice he focussed on a unique set of challenges that writers like him faced—“not due to being red but due to being colored.”

Poetry In The News

Philip Levine, Former U.S. Poet Laureate Who Won Pulitzer, Dies at 87

The former United States poet laureate whose work was vibrantly, angrily and often painfully alive with the sound, smell and sinew of heavy manual labor, died on Saturday morning at his home in Fresno, Calif. He was 87. The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Christopher Buckley, a longtime friend and fellow poet.

The Top 6 British Poets to Watch in 2015

In an age of e-books and tablets, it’s often easy to forget - or at least disregard - the more traditional forms of literature, especially poetry. The genre, however, still very much alive and kicking. New ideas and styles are being developed all the time: from Byron to Heaney, poetry is a powerful vehicle of expression, often offering hidden snapshots of other people’s lives. But what about the people taking the genre even further? Taking inspiration from the places they live in, most particularly London, these new poets are making waves through their unique style, outlook, or the way in which their poems are delivered.

The Typewriter is the Machine of Poetry at Staten Island Museum's 'Love Fest'

Typewriters, poetry and Valentine's Day made for the perfect mix at Betty's Typewriter Love Fest in the Staten Island Museum. "Betty" is minimalist artist Betty Bressi who died last year at the age of 96. The museum has mounted a retrospective that is up until April 8.

Alumnus Noah Warren ’11 Named the Yale Younger Poet

Yale College graduate Noah Warren ’11 has been named the 2015 Yale Younger Poet. His manuscript, “The Destroyer in the Glass,” was chosen from among over 500 entries by the prize-winning poet Carl Phillips, judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize competition. Of the manuscript, Phillips says: “ ‘The Destroyer in the Glass’ impresses at once with its wedding of intellect, heart, sly humor, and formal dexterity, all in the service of negotiating those moments when an impulse toward communion with others competes with an instinct for a more isolated self. The poems both examine and embody the nexus of joy and sorrow, of certainty and confusion, without which there’d be none of the restlessness that makes us uniquely human. Warren’s vision is a generous one indeed —and itself a gift.”

New Books

From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 by Jorie Graham
[Hardcover] Ecco, 384 pp., $29.99

An indispensable volume of poems, selected from almost four decades of work, that tracks the evolution of one of our most renowned contemporary poets, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jorie Graham. The Poetry Foundation has named Jorie Graham “one of the most celebrated poets of the American post-war generation.” In 1996, her volume of poetry selected from her first five books, Dream of a Unified Field, won the Pulitzer Prize. Now, twenty years later, Graham returns with a new selection, this time from eleven volumes, including previously unpublished work, which, in its breathtaking overview, illuminates of the development of her remarkable poetry thus far.

Itself by Rae Armantrout
[Hardcover] Wesleyan,112 pp., $24.95

What do “self” and “it” have in common? In Rae Armantrout’s new poems, there is no inert substance. Self and it (word and particle) are ritual and rigmarole, song-and-dance and long distance call into whatever dark matter might exist. How could a self not be selfish? Armantrout accesses the strangeness of everyday occurrence with wit, sensuality, and an eye alert to underlying trauma, as in the poem "Price Points" where a man conducts an imaginary orchestra but "gets no points for originality." In their investigations of the cosmically mundane, Armantrout’s poems use an extraordinary microscopic lens—even when she’s glancing backwards from the outer reaches of space.

The Overhaul: Poems by Kathleen Jamie
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 64 pp., $16.00

The Overhaul continues Kathleen Jamie’s lyric inquiry into the aspects of the world our rushing lives elide, and even threaten. Whether she is addressing birds or rivers, or the need to accept loss, or, sometimes, the desire to escape our own lives, her poetry is earthy and rigorous, her language at once elemental and tender. The Overhaul is a midlife book of repair, restitution, and ultimately hope—of the wisest and most worldly kind.

It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time: Poems by Angela Jackson 
[Paperback] Triquarterly, 144 pp., $18.95

Angela Jackson’s latest collection of poetry borrows its title from a lyric in Barbara Lewis’s 1963 hit single “Hello Stranger,” recorded at Chess Records in Chicago. Like the song, Jackson’s poems are a melodic ode to the African American experience, informed by both individual lives and community history, from the arrival of the first African slave in Virginia in 1619 to post-Obama America. It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time reflects the maturity of Jackson’s poetic vision. The Great Migration, the American South, and Chicago all serve as signposts, but it is the complexity of individual lives—both her own and those who have gone before, walk beside, and come after—that invigorate this collection. Upon surveying so vast a landscape, Jackson finds that sorrow meets delight, and joy lifts up anger and despair. And for all this time, love is the agent, the wise and just rule and guide.

Local Fauna by Brian Brodeur 
[Paperback] Kent State Univ, 46 pp., $7.00

Local Fauna opens with a meta-poem about Jack Spicer, and I couldn't help but think of his dictated poetry, poetry as vessel, poetry getting down what needs to be said. Brian Brodeur's poems have this urgency life, death, cruelty, politics, war, capitalism, and love. Hard truths come through the past, radio interviews, zoo animals, neighbors, personas, and pop songs. Brian Broduer's poetry has insistence and morality, inclusivity and beauty. Local Fauna is terrific.—Denise Duhamel


Professor and Poet Linda Gregerson Bestows Wisdom upon Young Writers
by Carolyn Darr

Someone who describes lines as gorgeous and certain writing as a miracle can only be a poet. Surprisingly, Linda Gregerson didn’t start writing poetry until her early twenties, after she had finished her undergraduate education.
“Of course I loved reading poetry and especially my scholarly period of 16th and 17th-century poetry,” Gregerson said. “I’ve always read Shakespeare, read Donne. Donne was probably how I first learned how to be in love with poetry, but I did not feel confident reading contemporary poetry. It was just something I was very frightened of.”

Philip Levine, The Art of Poetry No. 39
by Mona Simpson

I was first introduced to Philip Levine through the mail in the summer of 1976. I was studying literature at Berkeley, and my friends and I, all college freshmen and sophomores, were ardent readers of Levine, W. S. Merwin, Donald Justice, Gary Snyder, and Hart Crane. A friend from the college literary magazine, The Berkeley Poetry Review, introduced me to Ernest Benck, a California poet, who kindly sent some of both of our poems to Levine. Levine wrote back to us, marking our poems assiduously. Since then I have received many letters from him, always on yellow legal paper with comments like, “I’m not sure my remarks, which are fairly nasty at times, really indicate . . .”

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the (recent) Past: Charles Simic
(on Ingeborg Bachmann)

"What is it that makes certain poems immediately memorable? Obviously, it could be the sheer mastery of form and originality of the imagination that captivate us. Still, this is not always an explanation. Tastes change, newness wears out. Poems that once seemed unforgettable because of their shocking imagery or content suddenly cease to seduce us. Long after dazzling virtuosity of one kind or another, the absence of something far more important becomes noticeable. I have here in mind that elusive property known as the poet's voice. In the case of Bachmann, it is not so much what she says, or even how she says it, rather, it is her voice that one always remembers. A voice that touches the heart. One could go as far as to claim that the sound of a living voice is all that lyric poetry conveys."

—from Charles Simic's foreword to Darkness Spoken: The Collected Poems by Ingeborg Bachmann

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