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Poetry News In Review

January 20, 2016
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1622 – Susanna van Baerle, Dutch poet/wife of Geeraert Burns, is born.
1654 – Michiel de Swaen, South Netherland physician/poet, is born.
1873 – Johannes V Jensen, Denmark, novelist/poet (Energy Storage, Nobel 1944), is born.
1926 – Jamiluddin Aali, Pakistani poet, essayist and columnist, is born.
1950 – Edward Hirsch. American poet, is born.
1962 – Robinson Jeffers, poet/playwright (Dear Judas), dies at 75.
1974 – Edmund Blunden, British poet/critic, dies at 77.


We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
walkers who rise out of their calm beds

and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised. 

—from “For the Sleepwalkers” by Edward Hirsch

World Poetry

Detained Poet Describes Being Transported in a Cage and Watched “Like a Murderer”

The poet Hila Sedighi, who was arrested and held for two days amidst an intensifying crackdown on independent artistic and cultural figures in Iran, has posted a description of her 48-hour detention on her Facebook page,  stating that she was watched throughout her detention “as if they were watching a murderer.”

Palestinians Appeal for Poet on Death Row in Saudi Arabia

Palestinian intellectuals and writers have gathered in the West Bank to read poems and call for the release of a Palestinian poet awaiting execution in Saudi Arabia. Thursday's readings in the city of Ramallah were part of a campaign launched by the International Literature Festival in Berlin for works of Ashraf Fayadh to be read in 42 countries to press that his life be spared.

Egypt: Poet, Omar Hazek, Denied Exit from Country

PEN International and Oxfam Novib are deeply disturbed by reports that Egyptian authorities have today refused internationally acclaimed poet Omar Hazek permission to travel to the Netherlands. Hazek was on his way to The Hague to accept the 2016 Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression.  According to reports, Hazek was detained at Cairo airport, questioned, and later released after his passport was confiscated by airport authorities.

2 Iranian Poets, Facing Lashings and Prison, Escape Country

Two Iranian poets who face lashings and prison sentences have fled Iran, one of the writers said Monday, a rare escape for local artists and activists ensnared in an ongoing crackdown on expression in the country. Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi's freedom came as world powers lifted sanctions on Iran over its contested nuclear program and as the country separately freed four Iranian-Americans in exchange for seven Iranians held in the U.S.

Recent Reviews

Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe Review – the Winner of the TS Eliot Prize
This playful, memorable and affecting poetry collection reconciles the tensions between opposing worlds
by Ben Wilkinson

Poetry, as RS Thomas once claimed, is that which arrives at the intellect by way of the heart. The poet’s task is to find the effective middle ground; to perform that lyric trick whereby thought and emotion seem to effortlessly combine. Seek to provoke only feeling, and crude sentimentality ensues; indulge in the cerebral, and the poem might be interesting enough, but it will remain lifeless – a kind of versified intelligence. In Loop of Jade, Sarah Howe’s debut collection, winner this week of this year’s TS Eliot prize, the poet attempts to merge personal accounts of her dual Anglo-Chinese heritage with her scholar’s penchant for the intellectually abstruse. The result is a book of poems that are as playfully and frustratingly recondite as they are memorable and unusually affecting.

Stu Watson: A Review of NINE 
by Anne Tardos

Anne Tardos’s Nine is a sequence of nine-word lines grouped in nine-line stanzas. This metric which involves the counting of words rather than accents or syllables has a radically leveling quality. Suddenly “temporomandibular” and “I” are of the same metrical value, based on their simple, monadic quality as “words.”

On Shaving Off His Face 
by Shane Neilson

Okay, forget “accessible”.  All I want is to be alert enough to what’s on the page to eventually understand or more deeply feel “something”, to find my sea legs in the bump and swell of busted rhythms and disparate images so I can say, “You know, this ain’t bad; from here it’s actually pretty smooth sailing.” For sure there’s no end to roiled waters in Shane Neilson’s latest book: fracturing our attention along elided or conflated syntax embedded with strong, associative images in rapid fire, tightly compressed succession.

Angela Veronica Wong has an Appetite for Destruction in 25 Little Red Poems
by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens

In Angela Veronica Wong’s 25 little red poems (Dancing Girl Press, 2013), sparse, thought-bubble-like poems without titles deliver us into a dark thematic forest of growth, desire, and destruction. The wolf—always a symbol of appetite and lone freedom, and sometimes of destruction—pads atop the pages, along with a bone–white moon, and winter branches. Wong is no Little Red Riding Hood, however, and at times, she is the predator, the danger, wanting to rip at her own flesh or someone else’s

A Timeshare
by Karla Kelsey

My favorite thought experiment, run by analytic philosophers, is called “The Brain in a Vat Argument.” Imagine that instead of being the living, breathing body that you think you are, you are actually just a brain in a vat in a lab hooked up to a computer simulating the experience of a body and of an outside world. Think about it: how can you know for certain that this is not the case? Furthermore: given this uncertainty, how can you assume that any of your beliefs about the world and about your self outside the mind’s environment are true?


Where is Wislawa Szymborska’s Teeming Crowd? 
Remembering the great poet 20 years after her Nobel Prize
by Jonathan Russell Clark

Twenty years have now passed since WisÅ‚awa Szymborska won the Nobel Prize, and four years since Szymborska’s death at 88. Her poetry, though still known, has dwindled in its readership. But now that Szymborska is dead, we no longer have to worry about annoying her with attention. As she’d always wanted, it’s just about the poetry now.

The Aesthetics of Nostalgia: Ashbery's Cornell-like Poems
by Andrew Michael Field

Joseph Cornell and John Ashbery are united by an aesthetics of nostalgia. Each artist is enchanted and disturbed by the past, and they consequently invest their poems with a longing which can only be called nostalgic. They are nostalgic because time is passing, like a ribbon one is chasing that constantly eludes one’s grip or grasp; and because time is passing, ultimately leading to death, Cornell and Ashbery are possessed by a homesickness, a nostalgia, an ironic (because the past is out of reach, and therefore inescapably remote) sentimentality (because the past is out of reach, and therefore a springboard for subjective fantasy and reverie about the past).

Drafts & Framents

Seattle to Pay Poet to Live in a Bridge

The City of Seattle wants to pay someone $10,000 to live part time in the Fremont Bridge’s northwest tower and write poetry… this is not a joke. “The poet or writer selected for the Fremont Bridge post will be expected to produce at least one work that can be presented by the city. (Office of Arts & Culture spokeswoman Calandra ) Childers said that could be a spoken-word piece, an essay or a collection of poetry, or something different.

Man Writing Poetry Locked Inside Jones Library
by Diane Lederman

Maybe the muse was calling so the poet didn't see the Jones Library was closing and staff did not notice there was a man inside until after they locked the building Friday night.

Poetry In The News

Poet and Literary Arts Professor C. D. Wright Dies Unexpectedly

“Poetry,” C. D. Wright once said, “is a necessity of life.” She could not imagine how to live without it. Only poetry, she believed, was capable of giving voice to the “zones inside us” that yearned to be freed. Wright, the Israel J. Kapstein Professor of English and a professor of literary arts who had taught and written at Brown since 1983, died unexpectedly on January 12.

TS Eliot prize: Poet Sarah Howe Wins with 'Amazing' Debut

A new voice, who judges say “will change British poetry”, has won the TS Eliot poetry prize. Sarah Howe, a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute, was awarded the £20,000 prize for Loop of Jade, which explores her dual British and Chinese heritage. Howe’s work – the first debut poetry collection to win the British prize since it was inaugurated in 1993 – triumphed over a particularly strong shortlist, which featured some of poetry’s biggest names, including Don Paterson, Claudia Rankine, Sean O’Brien and Les Murray.

Brenda Hillman Named Chancellor of Poets Academy

Brenda Hillman, an award-winning poet for her eclectic and sensual style, has been named chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. The academy told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Hillman will serve for six years as chancellor, an honorary position for which duties range from consulting on programming to judging for prizes. W.H. Auden, John Ashbery and Adrienne Rich are among the previous chancellors.

New Books

Dead Man's Float by Jim Harrison    
[Hardcover] Copper Canyon Press, 156 pp., $23.00

“Harrison pours himself into everything he writes… in poems, you do meet Harrison head-on. As he navigates his seventies, he continues to marvel with succinct awe and earthy lyricism over the wonders of birds, dogs, and stars as he pays haunting homage to his dead and contends with age’s assaults. The sagely mischievous poet of the North Woods and the Arizona desert laughs at himself as he tries to relax by imagining that he’s doing the dead man’s float only to sink into troubling memories…Bracingly candid, gracefully elegiac, tough, and passionate, Harrison travels the deep river of the spirit, from the wailing precincts of a hospital to a “green glade of soft marsh grass near a pool in a creek” to the moon-bright sea.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist

Body Switch by Terri Witek
[Paperback] Orchises Press, 102 pp., $18.95 

A collection of personal, tragic, and wildly experimental poems that, to quote Erica Dawson, "shapeshift before our eyes.

Swallows and Waves by Paula Bohince
[Paperback] Sarabande Books, 72 pp., $14.95

Equal parts ekphrasis and Rorschach test, Paula Bohince’s third collection Swallows and Waves draws from a palette of Japanese scroll paintings and woodblock prints created centuries ago. Looking deeply into images of birds, animals, flowers, mothers, soldiers, and lovers, she returns with poems that risk everything in their transformation, reflecting loneliness and eros, doubt and reassurance.

The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All by C.D. Wright
[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 150 pp., $18.00

Part study, part elliptical love song to poetics, MacArthur Fellow C.D. Wright’s latest collection of prosimetrical essays argues that poetry is less a genre than a way of being and seeing. She rightfully insists that the answer to the many questions of poetry is poetry. Here, as in Cooling Time, a companion volume, Wright explores the province of poetic language in her own tricked out literary ATV.

Winterkill by Todd Davis 
[Paperback] Michigan State University Press, 114 pp., $19.95

In Winterkill, Todd Davis, who, according to Gray’s Sporting Journal, “observes nature in the great tradition of Robert Frost, James Dickey, and Jim Harrison,” offers an unflinching portrait of the cycles of birth and death in the woods and streams of Pennsylvania, while never leaving behind the tragedies and joys of the human world. Fusing narrative and lyrical impulses, in his fifth book of poetry Davis seeks to address the living world through a lens of transformation.


Marrying Music And Meaning With Spanish Translations Of Robert Frost Poetry

Translating a sentence from one language to another is difficult enough, but what about art and poetry? How do you capture the music of one language in another? That is the challenge faced by Rhina Espaillat, an award-winning bilingual writer and translator of poetry. Among her many accolades, she’s known as the most prominent translator of Robert Frost’s poetry into Spanish. Born in the Dominican Republic, she came to the U.S. when she was 7 years old, already attracted to poetry. We spoke about why poetry is universal and the intricacies of translating the iconic works of Robert Frost.

Eileen Myles, the Poet Muse of ‘Transparent’
by Brooks Barnes

Rocking a pinstriped Paul Smith suit and boots that she had picked up in Paris, Eileen Myles rolled into the Golden Globes here last weekend on the arm of her girlfriend, Jill Soloway, the creator of the Amazon series “Transparent,” who was outfitted in a pink tuxedo and platform sneakers. Cool? The epitome. But talk about a “dyke out of water,” as Ms. Myles later described herself. At 66, she has spent the last four decades in the relative obscurity of punk poet-dom, publishing over 20 books of poetry, fiction and criticism, almost all with maverick presses. A generation of female writer-performers view her as indispensable.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Kenneth Patchen's poetry is one of the few hold-overs from my early days. I don't go back to his poetry often, but now and then it rises to the surface. For some reason, this poem entered my mind this morning as I thought about the week just past. C. D. Wright has been in my thoughts. I listened to David Bowie's "Five Years" last night. I'm sure those both had something to do with it. Enjoy.

AND WHAT WITH THE BLUNDERS, what with the real humor of the address, the end is sure to be attained, that of roarous fun in the roused hamlet or mountain village which pours forth its whole population in a swarm round the amorous orator, down to the baby that can but just toddle and the curs that join in the clamor, mad with ecstasy at the novelty of some noise besides that of trees and the horrible clamor of the grass

We talked of things but all the time we wanted each other
and finally we were silent and I knelt above your body

a closing of eyes
and falling unfalteringly
over a warm pure country and something crying

when I was a child things being hurt made me sorry
for them but it seemed the way men and women did
and we had not made the world

coming into it crying
(I wanted so not to hurt you)
and going out of it like a sudden pouring of salt

later, being tired and overflowing with tenderness
girl’s body to boy’s body lying there and wondering what it had been
we got to our feet very quietly so that they would not waken
but we felt their shy sorrowful look on us as we left them alone there

*  *  *  *  *  *

All things are one to the earth
rayless as a blind leper Blake lies with everyman
and the fat lord sleeps beside his bastard at last
and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t mean what we think it does
for we two will never lie there
we shall not be there when death reaches out his sparkling hands

there are so many little dyings that it doesn’t matter which of them is death

—Kenneth Patchen

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