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Poetry News In Review

June 3, 2014
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1649 – Manuel de Faria e Sousa, Portuguese historian and poet (b. 1590), dies.
1764 – Hans A Brorson, Danish poet/bishop of Ribe, dies at 69.
1840 – Eugeen van Oye, Flemish writer/poet (Morning Twilight), is born.
1844 – Detlev [Freiherr Friedrich A von] Liliencron, German poet, is born.
1900 – Gerard den Brabander, [Jan G Jofriet], poet (Nothing New, is born.
1913 – Pedro Mir, Dominican Poet Laureate (d. 2000), is born.
1926 – Allen Ginsberg, Newark, New Jersey, American beat poet (Howl), is born.
1963 – Nazim Hikmet, Turkish poet (b. 1902), dies.
1995 – Alastair Webster Mackie, poet/teacher, dies at 69.

Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Letters

Pigeons shake their wings on the copper church roof
out my window across the street, a bird perched on the cross
surveys the city's blue-grey clouds. Larry Rivers
'll come at 10 AM and take my picture. I'm taking
your picture, pigeons. I'm writing you down, Dawn.
I'm immortalizing your exhaust, Avenue A bus.
O Thought, now you'll have to think the same thing forever! 

—Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997)

World Poetry

Clive James 'Saying Goodbye' through His Poetry

Terminally ill author and critic Clive James says he has "started saying goodbye" through his poetry. The 74-year-old, who has leukaemia and emphysema, has written of having "lungs of dust" in his most recent work, Sentenced To Life. "Inevitably, you start saying goodbye," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "I like to think that I hit a sort of plangent tone. A sort of last post, a recessional tone. But the trick is not to overdo it." Read more at the BBC.

For Lovers of Verse…iPoems! Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion Launches New App that Features Celebrities Reading Their Favourites

Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, has launched an iTunes-style website for poetry featuring a host of famous names reading their favourite verse. More than 1,600 different recordings of work by hundreds of writers can be listened to for free or downloaded to keep for a fee from the Poetry Archive. Recordings include Sir Spike Milligan reading "The Land Of The Bumbly Boo" and war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s "The Dug Out" as well as contemporary figures including Carol Ann Duffy who succeeded Sir Andrew as Poet Laureate. Read more at the Daily Mail.

Recent Reviews

Sing the Bruised Heart

by Zachary Kluckman
When Picasso declared that his iconic anti-war painting “Guernica” would never be delivered to Spain until that country was restored to peace, he demanded that we consider the experience of the individual in a sometimes frightening world. With a title inspired by Picasso’s depiction of the suffering inflicted by the Spanish Civil War, Richard Vargas’ new poetry collection, Guernica, revisited, tackles similar themes. Cultural identity, enduring violence and struggle, love and stubborn hope for growth resonate from every page. Read more at Alibi.

Bright Travellers Review – Fiona Benson's First Collection of Poetry

by Ben Wilkinson
Never mind movements, schools and styles: fundamentally, there are two types of poet – those who see spirits, and those who just drink them. As Sean O'Brien noted when reviewing her Faber New Poets pamphlet in these pages in 2009, Fiona Benson is a sober, contemplative sort. But as her first full collection Bright Travellers reveals, she is as much drawn to the metaphysical as to the mystical, treating the poem as a kind of secular prayer. Read more at The Guardian.

Master Of Apostrophe

by Sudeep Sen  
The book’s title, Central Time, is both an allusion to Ranjit Hoskote’s mid-life output, as much as how the idea of time is so obliquely central to his work. This volume contains a hundred poems written between 2006 and 2014, and it serves a perfect sequel to his Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems 1985-2005. Read more at Outlook India.

Book Review: ‘Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert,’ by John Drury

by Michael Dirda, 
I once took a college course titled “Seventeenth-Century Metaphysical Poetry” and, like most young people, was bowled over by the poems of John Donne (1572-1631). They possess a fire and theatrical immediacy that leap from the page: “For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love. . . . License my roving hands. . . . Death be not proud.” It took a while for me to come round to the quieter, more God-obsessed poetry of George Herbert (1593-1633). Read more at the Washington Post.

Adrift in the Blue Yonder: Peter Gizzi’s Selected Poems

by Alan Gilbert 
After steadily increasing for much of the twentieth century, and especially after World War II, real wages for the average worker in the United States have remained stagnant since around 1978, if in fact they haven’t slightly declined. At the time of this economic shift, Peter Gizzi was somewhere between high school and college. His poetry ranges across the terrain of post-Reagan America, not as witness or document, but as a register of its heartbreaking and contradictory mixture of abundance and scarcity. Read more at Hyperallergic.


“Here where she shouldn’t be”: On Conceptual Reading

by Lindsay Turner
As it is described in an interview published last year in Jacket2, poet Steven Zultanski’s version of conceptual poetry has less to do with rules and concepts than it does with transgression and creativity: It’s not so much about blending as about testing what counts as poetry […] The worst thing that could happen is that “Conceptualism” just becomes the name for anything weird, or un-poetic in certain ways, or unconcerned with the preciousness (or allusiveness) of the individual line or sentence. The best thing that could happen is that it functions as a spring-board for things we can’t imagine yet. Read more at the Boston Review.

Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems: 21st-Century Poetry Written in 1964

by Micah Mattix 
Some poets shape how we speak. Others use an idiom that, through some combination of chance and insight, anticipates changes in a language. Frank O’Hara is in the second group: When O’Hara’s Lunch Poems was published 50 years ago, novelist Gilbert Sorrentino wrote that it had a “strictly New York joie de vivre: slightly down at heels and rumpled, but with the kind of style always a step above current ‘style’.” With its references to Park Avenue, Times Square, Pennsylvania Station, liver sausage sandwiches, the Five Spot, the Seagram Building, the opening of the American Folk Art Museum, and much more, it is a very New York book. Read more at The Atlantic.

Rosemary Tonks – A Mystery Solved

by Jonathan Law
Last year we ran a post by Jonathan Law about the mysterious disappearance in the 1970s of the strange and brilliant poet Rosemary Tonks. Last month, new information about her vanishing act came to light. Here is Jonathan’s original post, with an update… If you’ve ever come across the work of Rosemary Tonks, then I think I might hazard a guess where: probably, you’re one of that vast horde of readers – at last count, some quarter million strong – who have armed themselves with copies of the Bloodaxe Books anthology Staying Alive: Real Poetry for Unreal Times (2002). While this militantly eclectic volume has become far-and-away the country’s best-selling anthology of contemporary verse, Tonks’s own books have been impossible to obtain for some 40 years; there is no Collected or Selected Poems. The reasons for this – and very strange reasons they are too – will emerge by the end of this post. Read more at The Dabbler.

Drafts & Framents

Poet Richard Wilbur at Amherst College

by Mary Serreze 
 Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Richard Wilbur, 93, reads his poem "Seed Leaves" at Amherst College's 193rd commencement Sunday. The 1964 poem was originally dedicated to Robert Frost. Wilbur rededicated the poem to the Class of 2014, wishing them "every good thing." Read more at Mass Live.

Oh What a Lovely War: Larkin Poem Inspires Comic Play An August Bank Holiday Lark Coming to Rose

by Jon Sharman
The First World War might strike you as an unlikely topic for a comic play – but the Northern Broadsides theatre company have made it work in An August Bank Holiday Lark. Inspired by a Philip Larkin poem, the story is set in Greenmill, a Lancashire village preparing for an annual harvest festival. A rogue cockerel features alongside clog-dancing and a blossoming romance in a tale that takes an alternative view of the war’s effect on Britain. Read more at Your Local Guardian.

Poetry In The News

The Dark Room Collective: Where Black Poetry Took Wing

Late in 1987, two young poets made the trek to New York to attend the funeral of James Baldwin at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Deeply moved by the ceremony, yet distressed that they had never met an African-American literary lion of Mr. Baldwin’s stature, the poets, Thomas Sayers Ellis and Sharan Strange, hatched a plan: They would bring young black writers and artists together to read their work aloud, to bond with mentors and to foster the sort of comradeship that had nurtured many a cultural movement. They called the group the Dark Room Collective. Read more at the New York Times.

$5 Million to Endow Yale Poetry Chair

Yale University has received a $5 million gift from Frederick Iseman, the founder and chief executive of CI Capital Partners, a private equity firm, to be used partly to endow the school’s first chair in poetry and partly to extend a program that gives Yale students free access to the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcasts as well its Met on Demand archives, the university announced. Mr. Iseman, a 1974 graduate from the school, began underwriting the Metropolitan Opera program in 2010 and renewed his support in 2013. From his current gift, $2 million will be used to support that program, which is administered by Yale’s School of Music. The remaining $3 million is earmarked for the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry Fund, which will support a recognized poet or poetry scholar. Read more at the New York Times.

Abramson Publisher “Distressed” by His Elliot Rodger “Remix”

Fearing silence would be seen as approval, the editors of Omnidawn have issued a statement clarifying that they are “dismayed, disheartened, distressed” by a Seth Abramson poem published in Huffington Post a day after the Isla Vista massacre last Friday. In “Last Words for Elliot Rodger,” Abramson, who edits Omnidawn’s annual Best American Experimental Writing anthology, “remixes” language used in Rodger’s final YouTube video into what he calls a “metamodernist” poem. Readers expressed their rage on Facebook and Twitter, suggesting that Abramson’s post was tasteless and exploitative. Read more at Coldfront.

New Books

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood 

[Paperback] Penguin, 80 pp., $20.00
Colloquial and incantatory, the poems in Patricia Lockwood’s second collection address the most urgent questions of our time, like: what if a deer did porn? Is America going down on Canada? What happens when Niagara Falls gets drunk at a wedding? Is it legal to marry a stuffed owl exhibit? What would Walt Whitman’s tit-pics look like? Why isn’t anyone named Gary anymore? Did the Hatfield and McCoy babies ever fall in love? The steep tilt of Lockwood’s lines sends the reader snowballing downhill, accumulating pieces of the scenery with every turn.       

Its Day Being Gone by Rose McLarney

[Paperback] Penguin,112 pp., $20.00
Rose McLarney has won acclaim for image-rich poems that explore her native southern Appalachia and those who love and live and lose on it. Her second collection broadens these investigations in poems that examine the shape-shifting quality of memory, as seen in folktales that have traveled across oceans and through centuries, and in how we form recollections of our own lives.

Glitter Bomb: Poems by Aaron Belz

[Paperback] Persea, 96 pp., $15.95
From the author of Lovely, Raspberry (Persea 2010) comes a collection of new poems which alternate between deadpan and slapstick in their madcap depictions of human foibles. "The poems in Glitter Bomb pull no punches: irreverent, devastating, even nasty at times, they capture the present moment in all its absurdity and hyper-reality. 'Lampwise by altarlight' (pace Dylan Thomas), Aaron Belz keeps his eye on the object: often hilarious, he is also wise." —Marjorie Perloff

The World Shared by Dariusz Sosnicki

[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd., 112 pp.,$16.00
Dariusz Sosnicki's poems open our eyes to the sublime just beneath the surface of the mundane: a train carrying children away from their parents for summer vacation turns into a ravenous monster; a meal at a Chinese restaurant inspires a surreal journey through the zodiac; a malfunctioning printer is a reminder of the ghosts that haunt us no matter where we find ourselves.

Backup Singers by Sommer Browning

[Paperback] Birds, 88 pp., $18.00
Browning follows up her sold out debut, Either Way I'm Celebrating, with an even rawer and starker, and again darkly humorous navigation of friendship, marriage, and motherhood. The result is a more overtly political assessment of the absurd deficit between what we're confronted with and what we're equipped with to deal with those confrontations: "It's a girl, / and the wires she needs // open her hands / before they're fists." Browning combats this deficit with relentless anaphora and repetition, reducing seemingly impossible relationships to their most basic element—a love that begets an unconditional loyalty: "I'm here! I didn't run!"

Terror by Toby Martinez de las Rivas 

[Paperback] Faber & Faber, 80 pp., $12.75 
In Terror, Toby Martinez de las Rivas leads us on a high-wire act of verbal dexterity and inventive syntax in pursuit of a new kind of communication. Set against landscapes fallen just short of paradise, but which retain the possibility of redemption, these poems work intimately with the reader, interrogating us and encouraging us never to settle for inadequate answers. Formally adventurous and wide-ranging, Terror examines ideas of conflict, betrayal, sexual and divine love, history and hope, and holds each up to the light of our own fate and frailty, in search of a language which might console us, a language with which we might commune in our most private and fearful moments. Terror is a thrilling and powerful debut.


The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas

by Jesse Lichtenstein 
Just before she took the microphone one soggy night in Portland, Ore., the poet Patricia Lockwood downed a shot of cheap bourbon. She had never had a drink right before a reading, but she often enacts some private joke when she speaks in public. It might be slurping her water loudly into the microphone, or rolling (instead of stepping) onto a stage, or, in this case, ingesting something that tasted to her like a puddle in a forest — anything to erase what she calls the “anxiety kegels” leading up to a performance. Read more at the New York Times.

The Poets in the Distance

Charles Simic
Two poets, Russell Edson (1935–2014) and Bill Knott (1940–2014), both of whom I was friendly with and whose poetry was very important to me, died this spring, each one leaving behind many original and memorable poems and many devoted readers, despite keeping their distance from our literary scene. Anyone who was fortunate enough to hear them read their poems over the last forty-five years is not likely to have forgotten the experience. Read more at the New York Review of Books.

Dan Chiasson and His Poetry Time Machine

by Victoria Fleischer 
Poet Dan Chiasson started working on his book “Bicentennial” after the death of his father, who left when Chiasson was 7 months old. While the two never really knew each other, that event prompted Chiasson to revisit his childhood in a series of poems that play with memory and a sense of time. “I feel like, almost in an H. G. Wells way, poems are like a time machine. You can go back and bring the past to life again. So that’s what I did, what I tried to do … I’m looking back at myself as a child looking forward in time.” Read more at the NewsHour.

I Revolve a Skull that Knows: On José García Villa

Robert Nery
In my teenage years, the poet José García Villa had withdrawn into legend and silence in New York, an absent god from whom only the occasional witticism was relayed to Manila. In 1973, when my adolescence was coming to an end, he was 65 and teaching at the New School for Social Research. I would have been surprised had I been told he was still working. From his first American volume, Have Come, Am Here, that made his reputation in 1942, his poems mentioned nothing specific to the Philippine milieu.They continued to fascinate Filipinos who came across them, but his celebrity preceded his poems. Read more at Cordite.

A Quick Interview with Dara Weir

by Corey Zeller
Corey Zeller: First of all, you are a poetic institution in Massachusetts. You work at University of Massachusetts Amherst, run the Juniper Workshops, and edit at the awesome Factory Hollow Press. How did you end up at Amherst? Do you still like it there? How does it feel to see many of your students go on to acclaim and success? Is there a student you feel most proud of? Was there a student you ever feel you failed? Also, you are married to the poet James Tate. I am really interested in hearing how you two met. What was that courtship like?  Read more at Ampersand Review.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

It makes me feel good to begin a post with a poem by Allan Ginsberg and end it with one by Philip Larkin. So here's the Larkin poem referred to in the story above:


Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat's restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word - the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

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