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Poetry News In Review

June 2, 2017
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1802—Adrian van der Hoop Jr, Dutch poet/critic, is born.
1840—Thomas Hardy, poet and novelist (Far from the Madding Crowd), born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset (d. 1928), is born.
1842—Constantly AM Cap, Flemish poet/etcher, is born.
1857—Karl Adolph Gjellerup, poet (Poutnici Svetem, Nobel 1917), born in Roholte, Denmark (d. 1919).
1879—Adolf Herckenrath, Flemish playwright/poet (Avondvlam), is born.
1951—John Erskine, US writer/poet/pianist (Venus Love Goddess), dies at 71.


The Self-Unseeing

Here is the ancient floor,
Footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door
Where the dead feet walked in.

She sat here in her chair,
Smiling into the fire;
He who played stood there,
Bowing it higher and higher.

Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!
—Thomas Hardy

World Poetry

At a Vigil, Manchester Gets the Poem it Needs

Who would have thought that a poet could have offered succor on a day like this? But he did. His name is Tony Walsh, a Manchester writer who goes by the handle “Longfella”—because of his greater-than-average height, one assumes. In front of a crowd of many thousands in Albert Square, in the civic heart of Manchester, as late-afternoon sunshine bathed the Victorian façade of the town hall, and as people in the crush climbed on statues to find a better view, and as a few held up homemade banners expressing love and solidarity, and others held bunches of flowers that they had brought to the ceremony, Walsh delivered a performance of a poem so resonant that the crowd cheered and laughed, and the eyes of the grown men who stood on either side of me grew glassy.

Che Guevara’s Son, Poet Omar Perez, Comes to Seoul

Poet Omar Perez, the son of the late Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, visited Korea to attend the Seoul International Literature Forum on Tuesday, according to reports. Perez, 53, spoke at a session titled “Us and Others” at the event, hosted by the Daesan Culture Foundation. The poet said that misunderstanding between people rises when one is unable to clearly express one’s thoughts. “We need to foster the ability to express our thoughts as they are,” he said.

Recent Reviews

Alex Dimitrov: Review 
by Mark Wagenaar

I’m finishing this review on a flight to Dublin, on which I watched the short film Forever Roars the Vast Atlantic—the entire film is a voiceover recitation of a poem as two swimmers repeatedly dive and swim into the waters off the coast of Ireland: cliffs and roaring waters, fantastic tides that surge up channels. At times, these tides feel like the people who swirl around the speaker of the poems in Alex Dimitrov’s book Together and by Ourselves. Many of the poems find a singular speaker in transit, in New York or LA, driving down freeways and flying on airplanes, after parties and between destinations. The landscapes—place itself—leave indelible, if often invisible, watermarks in us, and yet Dimitrov shows how travel does often the same thing. It’s something of a paradox: both to reside and to travel tend to efface us.

Devastating Remaking: On Melissa Buzzeo’s “The Devastation”
by Maria Damon

At 15, I had an unforgettable dream in which Antonin Artaud gave a lecture in Rodez, the psychiatric hospital where he had, during the Nazi occupation of France, undergone ECT and undertook art therapy. In my dream, the lecture, whose theme was friendship, culminated in Artaud’s observation that, “I’ve never seen a man take off his skin and give it to another man, but that’s really what we’re doing when we inscribe the fly-leaf of a book and present it to a friend.” Then I helped Artaud escape from the asylum, which, once we were outside in the fresh and beautiful snow, turned out to have been my very strict and WASPy girls’ school. So in effect he rescued me as well as I him.


Political Knott: on Biill Knott’s “Voi(poem)ces”
by David Rivard

I didn't know the late Bill Knott very well. By the time I arrived in Boston in 1987, Bill was firmly ensconced by his lonesome at the back of the room during readings at the Blacksmith House or the Grolier—nose down in a book, wearing his chunky black glasses (their stems frequently taped up in repair), he radiated a very definite “approach me not” vibe. I would have liked to tell him how much his poems meant to me—but I’d heard the stories, and stared forewarned from the edges of what I imagined to be his swirling inner galaxy. I kept my distance. I was shier then, and I understood that there were some rare poets in this world who neither needed to hear nor enjoyed hearing about your estimation of their genius. Alan Dugan—who I’d recently spent some time around—was another of these. At the time it seemed a little graceless; thirty years later it occurs to me that it might be a sign of saintliness.

Czeslaw Milosz’s Battle for Truth
Having experienced both Nazi and Communist rule, Poland’s great exile poet arrived at a unique blend of skepticism and sincerity.
by Adam Kirsch

In July, 1950, Czeslaw Milosz, the cultural attaché at the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C., received a letter from Jerzy Putrament, the general secretary of the Polish Writers’ Union. The two men had known each other for many years—they had been contributors to the same student magazine in college, in the early nineteen-thirties—but their paths had diverged widely. Now the arch-commissar of Polish literature told the poet, “I heard that you are to be moved to Paris. . . . I am happy that you will be coming here, because I have been worried about you a little: whether the splendor of material goods in America has overshadowed poverty in other aspects of life.”

Drafts & Framents

Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium: A Forgotten Treasure at the Intersection of Science and Poetry
An elegy for time and the mortality of beauty, composed with passionate patience and a sensuous cadence.
by Maria Popova

In an era when the scientific establishment barred and bolted its gates to women, botany allowed Victorian women to enter science through the permissible backdoor of art, most famously in Beatrix Potter’s scientific drawings of mushrooms and Margaret Gatty’s stunning illustrated classification of seaweed. Across the Atlantic, this art-science adventure in botany found an improbable yet impassioned practitioner in one of humanity’s most beloved and influential poets: Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830–May 15, 1886). Long before she began writing poems, Dickinson undertook a rather different yet unexpectedly parallel art of contemplation and composition — the gathering, growing, classification, and pressing of flowers, which she saw as manifestations of the Muse not that dissimilar to poems.

Death of a Debut: The Publisher that Let Heaney Slip Away
Thomas Kinsella reveals truth behind myth that Dolmen rejected Nobel laureate’s debut
by Thomas Kinsella

I read occasionally that Seamus Heaney’s poetry was rejected by the Dolmen Press. This is a fiction, and has gone uncorrected until now only because I was unaware of its appearance at the proper time. For its latest appearance, an article on the Irish Times website on May 18th, where Heaney’s poems are returned possibly unread, I happen to be on hand.

Poetry In The News

Unseen Sylvia Plath Poems Deciphered in Carbon Paper

A carbon paper hidden in the back of an old notebook owned by Sylvia Plath has revealed two previously unknown poems by The Bell Jar author. The paper, which was discovered by scholars working on a new book, has lain undiscovered for 50 years and offers a tantalising glimpse of how the poet worked with her then husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The academics, Gail Crowther and Peter K Steinberg, have also found a clutch of poems abandoned by Hughes that reveal the depth of his turmoil over his wife’s death. The poems had been written for his final collection, Birthday Letters, in which he broke his silence about his tumultuous relationship with Plath, which ended after she discovered he was having an affair.

Vassar College in Poughkeepsie Gets Books, Papers Relating to Poet James Merrill

A collection of books and papers relating to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill has been donated to the Vassar College Libraries by alumna and longtime Merrill friend and neighbor Bannon McHenry. Merrill and McHenry’s friendship spanned many years. They lived in the same building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side immortalized in Merrill’s poem, “164 East 72nd Street.” McHenry created an extensive archive of her friend’s works, including a number of items inscribed to her by Merrill.

New Books

Quickening Fields by Pattiann Rogers
[Paperback] Penguin Books, 128 pp., $20.00

Denise Levertov has called Pattiann Rogers a “visionary of reality, perceiving the material world with such intensity of response that impulse, intention, meaning, interconnections beyond the skin of appearance are revealed.” Quickening Fields gathers fifty-three poems that focus on the wide variety of life forms present on earth and their unceasing zeal to exist, their constant “push against the beyond” and the human experience among these lives. Whether a glassy filament of flying insect, a spiny spider crab, a swath of switch grass, barking short-eared owls, screeching coyotes, or racing rat-tailed sperm, all are testifying to their complete devotion to being. Many of the poems also address celestial phenomena, the vision of the earth immersed in a dynamic cosmic milieu and the effects of this vision on the human spirit. While primarily lyrical and celebratory in tone, these poems acknowledge, as well, the terror, suffering, and unpredictability of the human condition.

Last Window in the Punk Hotel by Rob Cook
[Paperback]Rain Mountain Press, 158 pp., $12.00

"Last Window in the Punk Hotel is the most recent collection from one of Americas most daring poets. It can be unnerving to read the reality Rob Cook brings to his language, especially when it gets so close to your face. If you don't flinch, or run off, however, his work brings a lot more to you than you might think of bringing to it. Reading these poems closely, looking into their eyes, you can't help but know that no matter which side of the mirror Cook appears to be on, his reflection is pretty much your own. And if it just so happens to be one you've never faced before—which is most likely—then, it's obvious you should have been paying closer attention." —Paul Roth

In Darwin's Room by Debora Greger
[Paperback] Penguin Books, 128 pp., $18.00

In her tenth volume of poetry, Debora Greger looks outward from the broadmindedness of the interior. Whether she finds herself in Venice, in London, or young again in the sagebrush desert of her childhood, the reader may feel Greger is both there and not there—her landscapes are haunted by memory, even in the act of experience. Not shying from the raw or savage in life, not ignoring the small moments of salvation or grace, she finds in every room an entrance to another world. Darwin’s college quarters prove not far from his cabin on the Beagle. A dress shop in Virginia reveals itself a Federal parlor through which a battle of the Civil War was fought. Returning to old scenes with a new eye, Greger proves herself a poet of quiet cunning, of grand scenes and small awakenings.

May All My Wounds Be Mortal by Karen Locascio
[Paperback] Hanging Loose Press, 64 pp., $18.00 

"A ferocious appetite for life underlies May All My Wounds Be Mortal. The humor and ache in these unforgettable poems are a matter of life and death."—Lloyd Schwartz

Nightmare Running on a Meadow of Absolute Light by Maria Baranda
[Paperback] Shearsman Books, 94 pp., $18.00

María Baranda is one of the leading Mexican poets of the generation born in the 1960s. Her work has received Mexico's distinguished Efraín Huerta and Aguascalientes national poetry prizes, as well as Spain's Francisco de Quevedo Prize for Ibero-American Poetry. She is increasingly known for her sweeping and incisive long poems and book- length projects, and this volume contains two such works: 'To Tell' and the title poem.


The Lyric in Theory: A Conversation with Jonathan Culler
by Francesco Giusti

Not “What is the lyric?” — but rather, “How does the lyric work?” That is the question Jonathan Culler poses in his Theory of the Lyric, published by Harvard University Press in 2015. After decades of relative neglect, the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in the theory of the lyric, and Culler’s wide-ranging study is undoubtedly a milestone in this complicated process. 

The Rise of Veronica Forrest-Thomson
A literary cult figure who died decades ago is more relevant than ever.
by Adrienne Raphel

“My name is Veronica Forrest-Thomson,” writes Veronica Forrest-Thomson in one of her final poems, “Cordelia: or ‘A Poem Should not Mean but Be.’” But who is Veronica Forrest-Thomson? For the uninitiated: she’s a literary cult figure, a rising star of British post-World War II poetry and criticism whose career came to an abrupt halt when she died suddenly in 1975, at age 27. Though she wrote only one volume of criticism, she established a legacy essential to post-modern poetry.

Slight Exaggeration: An Interview with Adam Zagajewski
by Louise Steinman

A week after the September 11 attacks, The New Yorker ran Adam Zagajewski’s poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” on its back page. Though he’d written it a year and a half earlier, the poem sang to the heart of our collective sorrow in that troubled time and, as well, to the immutable beauty of life. The celebrated poet (most recently the recipient of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award) was himself born into a “mutilated world” at the end of World War II, in the once-Polish city of Lwów (Lviv in Ukrainian, Lvov in Russian) — twice occupied during the war — where his family had lived for generations.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: Thomas Hardy

Well, here is Thomas Hardy as Oscar Levant:
"Perhaps I can express more fully in verse ideas and emotions which run counter to the inert crystallized opinion -- hard as a rock -- which the vast body of men have vested interests in supporting.... If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the Inquisition might have let him alone."

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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