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Poetry News In Review

June 11, 2015
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1540 – Barnabe Googe, English poet (d. 1594), is born.
1572 – Ben Jonson, England, playwright/poet (Volpone, Alchemist), is born.
1865 – Jan H Leopold, Dutch poet (translated Omar Khayyam), is born.
1877 – Renee Vivien, English-born poet (d. 1909), is born.
1886 – Antonio C G Crespo, Brazilian/Portuguese poet, dies at 40.
1912 – Leon Dierx, French poet (Amants), dies at 74.
1949 – Oton Zupanic, Slavs poet (Zimzelen pod snegom), dies at 71.

Conditions Of Living

Living a whole life has three conditions: 
absorbing work which demands and brings fulfilment, 
a group of friends with whom to exchange minds, 
and a full love to be lost in all the time. 

Of these I have the easier two, 
but lack the third in lacking you. 

—Ben Jonson (1572–1637)

World Poetry

Wild Weekend for MP Hopeful Yahya Hassan

It’s not every day that a parliamentary candidate gets arrested after a late-night visit to a bar, but then again Yahya Hassan isn’t your typical candidate. The 20-year-old Hassan, who is attempting to make a transition to politics after becoming Denmark's best-selling poet of all time, was arrested by East Jutland Police after a visit to the Aarhus bar Under Masken. The poet told TV2 that he ordered a beer just before closing time and then got in to an argument with personnel when it was taken away. 

Griffin Poetry Prize 2015 Finalists on Bringing Poetry Back

The winners of the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize are announced Thursday night. Here’s what the Canadian finalists had to say. In bars, libraries and homes around the city and across the country, small groups of people gather regularly to hear poets read from their work. But on Thursday night, 1,100 people will fill Koerner Hall for the chance to hear the seven finalists of the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Attorney-General George Brandis Busted Reading Poetry Books During Estimates Hearing

Some of us might check our Facebook pages, scan emails, see if we've been double tapped on Instagram or perhaps sneak in a quick game of Solitaire or Angry Birds. I find it very easy to read and listen to Senate estimates at the same time. But not Attorney-General George Brandis.  Senator Brandis reads poetry while Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Peter Varghese answers questions. Faced with boredom after a tedious day in Senate estimates, the self-described "Minister for Books" delved into a volume of Australian bush poetry during a Wednesday evening hearing of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, according to footage viewed by Fairfax Media.

Lithuanian Poet Tomas Venclova Honoured in Wrocław

Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova has been presented with the Jan Nowak-Jeziorański Prize from the Ossoliński National Institute in Wrocław. Venclova was awarded for “creative fidelity to the values which comprise the foundation of European civilisation”. The ceremony took place on Wednesday at the Ossoliński National Institute, one of Poland’s oldest scientific libraries and research centres.

Who Needs Ambassadors When We Have Poets?

Cuban poet Nancy Morejón is in Washington this week. (David Montgomery/The Washington Post)
“Why wait for ambassadors when we have poets?” That was Washington writer E. Ethelbert Miller’s reaction when he heard that two distinguished Cuban poets were coincidentally visiting from Havana this week to participate in an equally coincidental movable feast of Latin American poetry events continuing through the weekend.

Recent Reviews

Doing as the Romans Do by William Logan

On Heaven, by Rowan Ricardo Phillips; Rome, by Dorothea Lasky; Breezeway, John Ashbery; A Woman Without a Country, by Eavan Boland; The Other Mountain, by Rowan Williams; and Nothing to Declare, by Henri Cole.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s slightly off-kilter poems promise more than they deliver, but they have crotchets and quavers (and notes too flat or sharp) that suggest a poetic imagination still under construction. Heaven, his second book, is full of heavens large and small—so many it seems he’s been taking backhanders from the heaven lobby for product placement.1 The poems have an ambitious range, moving trippingly through the minefield of pop culture, with titles that mark off large territory and over-the-shoulder glances at the Paradiso and Hamlet.

Signes: A Review of Ciarán Carson’s “From Elsewhere” by Farisa Khalid

For a poet, there are easier things than translations. The translating poet inevitably has to face the gnawing burden of writing for two people. “It’s a desperate system of double-entry bookkeeping,” Howard Nemerov lamented. The spectral presence of the author is always hovering somewhere, ready to strike whenever the nuance of a word or phrase falters. Even then, the process of translation is seductive.

Citizen, by Claudia Rankine. Graywolf, 2014 by Srikanth Reddy 

“The purpose of art,” James Baldwin writes in a passage cited by Claudia Rankine in her latest book, Citizen, “is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers.” Collating scenes from popular culture, personal histories, speculative video scripts, news media, visual works by black artists, and theoretical meditations, Citizen interrogates the proliferating answers that continue to obscure the hidden questions of race in contemporary American society over half a century after Baldwin’s remark. Such work offers no answers of its own, for Citizen is, if nothing else, a book of questions.


Poster Poems: Marriage by Billy Mills

For Shakespeare it is an ‘ever-fixed mark’, for Larkin it is a source of cynicism and renewal. This month, vow to reflect on wedlock with all its passions, trials and tribulations, then post your poems in the comments In the wake of last month’s historic Irish referendum vote to legalise same-sex marriage, it struck me that a Poster poems challenge to celebrate the august institution of wedlock might just be in order. There is, after all, something profoundly poetic about a popular vote to second Shakespeare’s refusal to admit impediment to a marriage of true minds, regardless of gender.

Miłosz and His Fans by Molly Wesling

For five years I worked part-time for the poet and Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz at his home in the Berkeley Hills. Miłosz was seventy-nine when I started taking dictation in Polish and English, helping him answer queries and invitations, mostly finding ways to say “no” in the gentlest of tones. Every so often though, I’d get to transcribe a gem like the letter above.

Drafts & Framents

Goofus and Gallant Read Poetry

Goofus is fruitlessly puzzling over the author’s objectives.
Gallant swears he’ll never commit the Intentional Fallacy.

Poetry In The News

Jacqueline Woodson Named Young People’s Poet Laureate

National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson has been named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. The award is given every two years to a poet who is recognized for writing “exceptional poetry for young readers.” The honor includes a $25,000 prize. The laureate’s role is to advise the Poetry Foundation on matters relating to young people’s literature. In addition, Woodson is responsible for promoting poetry to children, families, teachers, and librarians.

'Hydrogen Jukebox' a Timely Illumination of the American Experience

'Hydrogen Jukebox' mixes poet Allen Ginsberg's words with Philip Glass' music. "Whatever really great poetry I wrote," Allen Ginsberg once said, "I was actually able to chant, to use my whole body, whereas in lesser poetry, I wasn't. I was talking." Ginsberg would not have been the same world-changing poet without his inherent musicality. He made American poetry breathe physically and spiritually as it had never before.

Craig Raine Poem Prompts Twitterstorm

The poet Craig Raine is no stranger to the sexually risqué - his very first collection, The Onion, Memory, famously quoted the morning-after fantasy of the lascivious butler who Henry Green said had inspired his novel Loving. The borrowed line, in Raine’s poem Bed & Breakfast, involved smelly fingers and buttered toast, and - combined with the image “five pink farrow suckle at each foot” - prompted reviewer Gavin Ewart to reflect: “When the Metaphysicals went too far, weren’t they a bit like this?”

In Rutherford, Williams-Fox Applies Famed Poet Grandfather’s Words to GOP Mayoral Primary Action

Daphne Williams-Fox, a mayoral candidate in Tuesday’s Republican primary, woke up in her Rutherford home and before going to the polls saw something that synthesized politics and poetry. “This morning I walked out of my house, I looked up, and in the eaves of our porch a mother robin had just hatched her babies overnight,” said Williams-Fox, 52, an attorney seeking to oust incumbent Mayor Joe DeSalvo, moments after voting at Lincoln Elementary School. “For me this is a life event, and it’s a life event for my family. It’s a sign of new life for Rutherford and a new beginning.”

New Books

The Scarborough by Michael Lista
[Paperback] Véhicule Press, 68 pp., $17.99 

The Scarborough takes place over three days in 1992: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. It is the weekend 15-year-old Kristin French was abducted and murdered by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. In poems both opulent and stricken, ravishing and unflinching, Michael Lista—who was nine, at the time—revisits those dates, haunted by the horrifying facts he now possesses. Inspired, in part, by Dante’s Inferno, Virgil's tale of Orpheus’ descent into the underworld for Eurydice, as well as the Bernardo trial itself—where the judge ruled that the gallery could hear the video tapes of the crimes, but not see them—Lista’s poems adhere to a single rule: you cannot gaze at the beloved you seek to rescue. The Scarborough is a shiveringly bold book about Bernardo that doesn’t show us Bernardo, a conceptual project that ignores its concept.

Heaven: Poems by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
[Hardcover]  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 80 pp., $24.00

"Who the hell's heaven is this?" Rowan Ricardo Phillips offers many answers, and none at all, in Heaven, the piercing and revelatory encore to his award-winning debut, The Ground. Swerving elegantly from humor to heartbreak, from Colorado to Florida, from Dante's Paradise to Homer's Iliad, from knowledge to ignorance to awe, Phillips turns his gaze upward and outward, probing and upending notions of the beyond. "Feeling, real feeling / with all its faulty / Architecture, is / Beyond a god's touch"--but it does not elude Phillips. Meditating on feverish boyhood, on two paintings by Chuck Close, on Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, on a dead rooster by the side of the road in Ohio, on an elk grazing outside his window, his language remains eternally intoxicating, full of play, pathos, and surprise.

Vincent by Joseph Fasano
[Paperback] Cider Press Review, 88 pp., $17.95 

'Authorities say a man was stabbed to death, decapitated and partly cannibalized in what appears to be a random act of violence on board a bus that was en route to Winnipeg late Wednesday.' With these starkly haunting words from a 2008 Canadian news report, Joseph Fasano begins Vincent, a book-length poem based on Vince Li's killing of Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Using a fictionalized first-person narrative from the perspective of the killer, Fasano explores the inner workings of a disturbed mind trying to come to terms with a horrific act that even its perpetrator cannot fully comprehend. 'Have you smelled the rose oil / in the shoes of the dead...have you woken / and woken / and woken,' the speaker asks us. And the poem will not let us say no.

The Quotations of Bone by Norman Dubie
[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 110 pp., $16.00

In his twenty-ninth collection of poems, Norman Dubie returns to a rich, color-soaked vision of the world. Strangeness becomes a parable for compassion, each poem leading the reader to an uncommon way of understanding human capacities. In the futuristic sphere of The Quotation of Bone, the mind wanders meditatively into an imaginative and uncontainable history.

Pondlife: A Swimmer's Journal by Al Alvarez 
[Paperback] Bloomsbury USA, 288 pp., $17.00

The ponds of Hampstead Heath are small oases; fragments of wild nature nestled in the heart of north-west London. For the best part of his life Al Alvarez--poet, critic, novelist, rock-climber and poker player--has swum in them almost daily. An athlete in his youth, Alvarez, now in his eighties, chronicles what it is to grow old with humor and fierce honesty--from his relentlessly nagging ankle which makes daily life a struggle, to infuriating bureaucratic battles with the council to keep his disabled person's Blue Badge, the devastating effects of a stroke, and the salvation he finds in the three Ss--Swimming, Sex and Sleep.


On the Holiness of Plastic: Interviewing Dorothea Lasky by Max Ritvo

Lasky was my very first poetry professor at Columbia, where I'm studying for my MFA. I knew I was getting a teacher of ferocious passion and penetrating psychological insight from her poetry, which I had in read in The New Yorker, the Paris Review and in her four poetry collections. But I wasn't prepared for Dottie. She wears leopard print onesies and more plastic jewelry than all the tickets can win you at a Chuck E Cheese. Her eye contact is ferocious--it'd be lunatic if it wasn't so tender.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: A. E. Stallings
The Anti-Muses

Like the Muses, they are attracted to talent and promising projects, and the presence of several at once probably means you are on to something big. Still, they can frustrate or even destroy the most inspired tender new poem, and send the poet into despair, alcoholism, or flash fiction. The more we know about them, the better.

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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