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Poetry News In Review

January 7, 2014
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1722 – Antoine Coypel, French painter/poet, dies at 60.
1758 – Allan Ramsay Sr, Scottish poet (Gentle Shepherd), dies at 71.
1876 – Juste Olivier, Swiss poet (b. 1807), dies.
1910 – Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pakistani poet (d. 1984), is born.
1944 – Napoleon Lapathiotis, Greek poet (b. 1888),dies.
1972 – John Berryman, US poet (Imaginary Jew), dies.
1973 – US poet James Merrill wins Bollingen Prize.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz


When whatever you want to do cannot be done, 
When nothing is of any use; 
—At this hour when night comes down, 
When night comes, dragging its long face,
                                            dressed in mourning, 
Be with me, 
My tormenter, my love, be near me.

—from “Be Near Me” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911–1984)

World Poetry

2 Iranian Poets Imprisoned

Fateme Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi

As friends and colleagues of the poets and activists Fateme Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi, we want to call your attention to the fact that they have been missing from their homes in Iran since December 7. On Christmas Eve it was confirmed that they are in the infamous Evin Prison in Teheran. Read more at Montevidayo.

Queen's Medal for Scottish Poet Dunn

Scottish poet Douglas Dunn has been named as the winner of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry 2013. Mr Dunn, a protege of the poet Philip Larkin, was recognised for his body of work spanning more than four decades. Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who chaired the medal's judging committee, said: "Douglas Dunn's sparkling, erudite and distinguished body of work has long been one of the grace notes of British poetry. "He stands deservedly among the greatest poets that Scotland has produced." Read more at the Herald Scotland.

Dylan Thomas Centenary: South Wales Gets Ready to Welcome the World

Dylan Thomas

The bookshops are stocking up, the hotels undergoing spring-cleans and the pubs preparing to welcome guests keen to follow in the footsteps of Wales's most famous poet and hellraiser. Admirers of Dylan Thomas are expected to descend in droves on South Wales this year not just from across the UK but from the US, Europe and the far east to join a year-long celebration marking the centenary of his birth. At the same time, as part of the Dylan Thomas 100 festivities, the Welsh government and the British Council Wales are organising a series of cultural events and education initiatives across North America, India, Australia and Argentina to further spread the word about Thomas – and Wales. Read more at The Guardian.

Recent Reviews

Or and Or

Carl Phillips

by Jonathan Farmer
Bruised past ripeness, all the action offstage, overwhelmed with beauty and always threatening to dissolve, Carl Phillips’ Silverchest is an unlikely candidate for my favorite book of the year. Yet I doubt any new poetry collection has given me as much pleasure as this unusually—generously—slender, wintering tome. Part of that comes down to abundance: Phillips just writes so damned well, a rich ear interlocking his phenomenal powers of perception and imagination. Read more at Slate.

Interrobang by Jessica Piazza

by Mag Gabbert 
In the first sonnet of the sonnet sequence “People Like Us,” the speaker says,
“By day I play nonstop if/then, internally pluck
a love me, love me not lament…”
This game—the jostle between possibilities and outcomes, the constant, obsessive evaluation of one’s self and the value of that self to others—is at play within each of the poems in Jessica Piazza’s debut collection, Interrobang, which was selected as the 2011 recipient of A Room of Her Own Foundation’s To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize. Read more at The Rumpus.

Poems Seeking Readers

by Jo Ann Clark
Something is astir when very different new works by mature writers reveal such similar attitudes toward their traditions and trade. Call that something an impulse toward thrift—saving or fixing, salvaging or reassembling, conducting from unlikely parts something that is whole. Caroline Knox and Susan Wheeler can imagine that any passing idiom or aesthetic ideal might, some day, be put to good poetic use. They therefore eschew iconoclasm—the paradox-of-creation ideal according to which something, or someone, must be destroyed for new art to be made. This approach may disappoint those seeking forward-looking poetry amidst ashes, written by poets so justifiably outraged by the disasters of our here and now—political, environmental, economic—that they can conceive of a more perfect poetry future only by way of a pyrrhic march through its past. We doubtless need such revolutionary measures if poets are to speak to generations who must survive the blighted world we are leaving them. But Wheeler and Knox speak now, and they are not revolutionary. Read more at the Boston Review.

Yahia Lababidi, Egypt’s “Spokesperson of Silence” and Modern Mystic Poet

by Sharif Nassef  
When a few fateful re-tweets put me into contact with Egyptian-American poet and ‘seeker’ Yahia Labadidi, I never expected to come across a work with such suave girth. A work of 21st century mysticism grounded in earthly reality, its call directs us not to the transcendental ‘upwards’ but all around and within. The poet’s flow trickles as an ode to sacred silence; stanzas articulate the ubiquitous truth, as his natural simplicity in word choice colors the work organically, like a handpicked selection for an autumn cornucopia. Yet in its sleek simplicity of layout and tender word choice, Barely There whispers Truth with an echoing boom. Read more at The The Poetry.


Findings from the Brasilian Basement*

by Elizabeth Neely
As Bishop researchers well know, The Elizabeth Bishop Papers of Vassar College have been the source of research on her work throughout the recent past. While this collection has been the attic for Bishop studies, there is also a basement full of fresh though somewhat dusty material which, for the most part, researchers have only recently delved into: Brasil itself. Though the sources are not corralled into one place, Bishop’s presence, even 34 years after her death, is on the upswing here for not only Brasilian Bishop scholars but also within popular culture. I’m spending nine months based in Belo Horizonte on a Fulbright Grant for Dissertation Research exploring some of these sources for my dissertation, “Elizabeth Bishop in Brasil: an Ongoing Acculturation.” Read more at the Elizabeth Bishop Society Bulletin.


by John Foy
We all make mistakes. This can include killing baby rabbits. For those attuned to this sad sort of thing, there is a macabre sub-genre of contemporary poetry about mistakenly killing small creatures with power mowers.  Philip Larkin famously killed a hedgehog while cutting the grass (“The Mower”), and Richard Wilbur clipped off the leg of an unlucky toad (“The Death of a Toad”). In Robert Frost’s poem “The Exposed Nest,” a father and daughter contemplate a cluster of baby birds who narrowly escaped—who knows how—the cutting blade of a mower that was pulled over their hidden nest in a field. In a less-well-known poem by James Wright called “Small Frogs Killed on the Highway,” the speaker observes how speeding cars obliterate the frogs as they try to reach “the green stalk of the field / On the other side of the road.” Read more at the Best American Poetry.

Extracting the Woodchuck

Robert Frost

by Adam Kirsch
It’s not often that a poet is famous enough to become the target of character assassination 50 years after his death. But in November 2013, a half-century after Robert Frost died, Harper’s Magazine published a withering attack on his legend, in the form of a short story by Joyce Carol Oates. The story, “Lovely, Dark, Deep”—its title drawn ironically from one of Frost’s most famous poems, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”—describes the attempt of a young woman, Evangeline Fife, to interview the aging Frost in 1951. But the Frost on display here is so odious that the interview soon turns into a confrontation, then an inquisition. Read more at the Harvard Magazine.

I Found Myself in a Dark Wood

by Joseph Luzzi
“In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.”
So begins one of the most celebrated and difficult poems ever written, Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” a more than 14,000-line epic on the soul’s journey through the afterlife. The tension between the pronouns says it all: Although the “I” belongs to Dante, who died in 1321, his journey is also part of “our life.” We will all find ourselves in a dark wood one day, the lines suggest. That day came six years ago for me, when my pregnant wife, Katherine, died suddenly in a car accident. Read more at the New York Times.

Drafts & Framents

Dick Davis on "Faces of Love" and Poetry in Iranian Culture

As a young man, Dick Davis fell in love with Iran and ever since he has dedicated his life to bringing its culture to the west. "Its been a wonderful odyssey." He recently published "Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz." He spoke to chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown's about Hafez and the importance of poetry in Iranian culture. Read more at PBS.

Philip Levine on America’s Workers

Poet Philip Levine joins Bill to discuss why Americans have lost sight of who really keeps the country afloat – the hardworking men and women who toil, unsung and unknown, in our nation’s fields and factories. During the years he himself spent in the grit, noise and heat of the assembly lines of Detroit auto plants, Levine discovered that his gift for verse could provide “a voice for the voiceless.” In his conversation with Bill, Levine reads from his collection of poetry and reflects on the personalities that inspired him, including women he met while working in a plumbing parts factory. “The work was hard and the women would get very tired and you couldn’t help but feel, ‘Oh my God, this is so tough; this is so dehumanizing,” Levine tells Moyers. Read more at Bill Moyers.

Beyoncé’s New Fragrance Was Inspired by Maya Angelou and Smells Like Overcoming Adversity

By Katy Waldman
Women’s Wear Daily reports this week that Beyoncé, not content to just drop a new album out of the sky and force everyone to Google “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,” will soon release a new fragrance inspired by a Maya Angelou poem. According to Marsha Brooks, vice president of global marketing for a firm that oversees Bey’s fragrance business, the perfume, called Rise, will give off a “strong sense of ‘overcoming adversity and rising above it all.’” Read more at Slate.

For Seamus

by Kerrin Sheldon and Elaine McMillion Sheldon
This short film celebrates the life and work of Seamus Heaney, the most famous contemporary poet in Ireland. Read more at the New York Times.

Poetry In The News

Poetry and Trains, Operating at Strolling Speed

Billy Collins

The works of the poet Billy Collins, at home, are being featured at a poetry walk that is part of the New York Botanical Garden’s annual holiday train show. The New York Botanical Garden is bringing the magic of its annual holiday train show outdoors to its bare but still beautiful Bronx grounds this winter, with a special poetry walk featuring the works of Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States and of the State of New York. Read more at the New York Times.

First Stanford Code Poetry Slam Reveals the Literary Side of Computer Code

Stanford Code Poetry Slam

The high-tech poetry competition, which explored how computer code can be read as poetic language, is accepting submissions for the next competition. Leslie Wu, a Stanford graduate student in computer science, presents her code poem, "Say 23," which won first place in the Stanford Code Poetry Slam. Leslie Wu, a doctoral student in computer science at Stanford, took an appropriately high-tech approach to presenting her poem "Say 23" at the first Stanford Code Poetry Slam. Wu wore Google Glass as she typed 16 lines of computer code that were projected onto a screen while she simultaneously recited the code aloud. Read more at Stanford News.

“So much to say” Project Inspires Strangers to Write Poems on NYC Subway

NYC Subway Poetry

Madeline Schwartzman was just riding the New York City subway one day this spring on her normal commute when an idea came to her "with a thunk": "Ask a stranger to write a poem!" The architecture professor says she had the brainwave while "sitting and staring at passengers on the 2 train," and that it snowballed from there. "I started that day, using my iPhone as the repository," she told TODAY.com. "When I got off the train I purchased my first notebook." Read more at the Today Show.

Rhythm is the Key to Good Sex: Why Leading Poet is Launching Anthology of Steamy Verse

Is it easier to write about coupling in rhyming couplets than lines of torrid prose? The poet Sophie Hannah is about to test the theory with a Penguin anthology of poetry about sex that puts lusting about Daniel Craig side by side with Andrew Marvell's lascivious 17th-century plea "To His Coy Mistress." Hannah's new selection, The Poetry of Sex, follows last year's controversial Bad Sex Awards and makes a clear argument that a sense of rhythm is the key to good sex. The Bad Sex Awards for novelists, organised by the Literary Review, annually shames authors deemed guilty of embarrassing passages of erotic fiction and has now caused British writers to argue that expressing sexual desire or describing the act of intercourse in print is in retreat. Read more at The Guardian.

New Books

Fifteen Iraqi Poets edited by Dunya Mikhail

Fifteen Iraqi Poets edited by Dunya Mikhail

[Paperback] New Directions, 48 pp., $10.95
Fifteen Iraqi Poets compiles fifteen poems, each written by a different, prominent twentieth-century Iraqi poet. Selected, with commentary, by award-winning Iraqi-American poet, Dunya Mikhail, this little anthology is the perfect introduction to a glorious literature that traces its roots back to ancient Sumer — a poetry written by those who have lived through a state of continuous wars and massacres, their laments often opening with a plea to their destroyed homeland, “O Iraq.”

The Republic of Virtue by Paul Lake

[Hardcover] University of Evansville Press, 80 pp., $15.00 
The Republic of Virtue by Paul Lake, recipient of the 2013 Richard Wilbur Award, is an exceptionally powerful collection of new poems, unique in their range and exquisite in their craftsmanship. Some of the poems in this collection, with constant and remarkable clarity, boldly dissect some of the crucial, underlying philosophical and political questions of western civilization, often focusing on how language is used to subvert the truth and how radical idealisms can often lead to violence and terror. Yet other poems in this disparate collection are affectingly personal, even tender, dealing with problems that we face in our everyday lives. Whether his mode is narrative, satiric, or lyric, Lake's poems are always uniquely honest, insightful, and provocative.

Best Poems of Stevie Smith

Best Poems of Stevie Smith

[Paperback] New Directions, 160 pp., $14.95
Extraordinarily funny, with the fresh eye of a visitor from another world, Stevie Smith is a poet to savor. Wielding a throwaway wit and the strangest irony,Stevie Smith was deeply read in the classics and yet sprinkled her poetry with delightful doodles. Her poems are often very dark; her characters are perpetually saying “goodbye” to their friends or welcoming death. At the same time her work has an eerie levity. Countless are her witty ways.

Peccadilloes by Jan Schreiber

[Paperback] White Violet Press, 88 pp., $16.95
The poems in Jan Schreiber’s remarkable new collection enter through the ear as well as the eye, but they quickly capture the mind and the heart. Subtle and multi-layered, sensuous, witty, and often deeply moving, they enlist the reader as an ally, one able to share the poet’s sense of wonder, his probing curiosity, and his wry astonishment at the quirky eccentricities of humankind.

Dangerous Goods: Poems by Sean Hill 

[Paperback] Milkweed Editions,104 pp., $16.00
From the poet whose stunning debut was praised as "transcendent" by Kevin Young and "steadily confident" by Carl Phillips, Dangerous Goods tracks its speaker throughout North America and abroad, illuminating the ways in which home and place may inhabit one another comfortably or uncomfortably — or both simultaneously. From the Bahamas, London, and Cairo, to Bemidji, Minnesota, and Milledgeville, Georgia, Sean Hill interweaves the contemporary with the historical, and explores with urgency the relationship between travel, migration, alienation, and home. Here, playful "postcard" poems addressed to Nostalgia and My Third Crush Today sit alongside powerful reflections on the immigration of African Americans to Liberia during and after the era of slavery. Such range and formal innovation make Hill's second collection both rare and exhilarating. Part shadowbox, part migration map, part travelogue-in-verse, Dangerous Goods is poignant, elegant, and deeply moving.

Best New Poets 2013: 50 Poems from Emerging Writers edited by Brenda Shaughnessy

 50 Poems from Emerging Writers edited by Brenda Shaughnessy

[Paperback] University of Virginia Press, 117 pp., $11.95
Entering its ninth year, Best New Poets has established itself as a crucial venue for rising poets and a valuable resource for poetry lovers. The only publication of its kind, this annual anthology is made up exclusively of work by writers who have not yet published a full-length book. The poems included in this eclectic sampling represent the best from the many that have been nominated by the country's top literary magazines and writing programs, as well as some four thousand additional poems submitted through an open online competition. The work of the fifty writers represented here provides the best perspective available on the continuing vitality of poetry as it is being practiced today.


Could Poetry Start an Educational Revolution?

by Travis Nichols
Dorothea Lasky is a force of nature. Not only has she published three full-length books and numerous chapbooks of magnificent poetry, she is also a fierce advocate for placing creativity at the core of childhood education. She is the co-editor of Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry (McSweeney's, 2013), and is the first Bagley Wright Lecturer on Poetry, delivering a series of lectures around the country with titles such as "On the Materiality of the Imagination" and "The Beast: How Poetry Makes Us Human." In this conversation, we talked about how poetry can change minds and lives in schools, as well as a fascinating new endeavor called The Ashbery Home School. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Geoffrey Hill: Poetry Should Be Shocking and Surprising

Geoffrey Hill

by Sameer Rahim
Geoffrey Hill is arguably our greatest post-war poet. Over the past 50 years he has produced searching, searing work on England's troubled history, the Holocaust, the meaning of Christianity and the decline of modern culture. When I interviewed Seamus Heaney in 2009, he was full of praise for Hill: “He has a strong sense of the importance of the maintenance of speech,” Heaney told me, “a deep scholarly sense of the religious and political underpinning of everything in Britain”. The novelist Colm Tóibín is another admirer. “Every phrase he uses has a sense that it was examined and sifted not only in the light of mere experience,” he tells me via email, “but in the full light of knowledge, and with the full realisation of how dark, ambiguous and misleading knowledge can be.” He is a poet, adds Tóibín, who “seeks to lift language beyond itself”. Read more at the Telegraph.

Messy Continuum: An Interview With Matthew Welton 

Matthew Welton

by Sam Riviere 
Matthew Welton is a poet who's become increasingly admired by and influential on an emerging generation of UK poets, but his work remains difficult to categorise – British in sensibility, yet orientated towards European and US poetry traditions, an acknowledged part of the mainstream, with books that are formally daring and often experimental in structure. Read more at The Quietus.

Young women Poets like Camille Rankine, Trisha Low and Lisa Marie Basile Bring New Energy to World of Words

Monica McClure

by Lawrence Schwartzwald
These women have a way with words. Female poets across the boroughs are breathing new life into a literary genre that’s long been dominated by older white men. Scribes like Chelsea’s Lee Ann Brown and Oprah favorite Camille Rankine dare to pen lines about subjects like menstruation, orgasms and lady parts that their bros in prose are afraid to touch. Read more at the New York Daily News.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Evidently, while many of us were playing with shiny ribbons dangling in front of our faces, or chasing balls of crumpled-up wrapping-paper across the floor, others were examining the true significance of the spotlight on a number of poets in the New York Daily News article above. Below, are the responses offered by the poets themselves posted in Montevidayo. They can speak for themselves, being poets and all.

Poets in The New York Daily News Article Respond: LISA MARIE BASILE
Poets Featured In The New York Daily News Feature Respond: TRISHA LOW
Poets in The New York Daily News Article Respond: ANA BOZICEVIC
Poets in The New York Daily News Article Respond: CAMILLE RANKINE
Poets Featured In The New York Daily News Feature Respond: MONICA MCCLURE

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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
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