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Poetry News In Review

March 12, 2014
David Sanders

Specimen Days

March 11, 2014
1544 – Torquato Tasso, Italy, Renaissance poet (Aminta, Apologia), is born.
1549 – Henric/Hendrik Spieghel, Dutch Renaissance writer and poet (Hertspiegel), is born.
1786 – Jacobus Bellamy, [Zelandus], Dutch/Swiss poet, dies at 28.
1846 – Antonio C G Crespo, Brazilian/Portuguese poet, is born.
1857 – Manuel Jose Quintana, Spanish author/poet (A la paz), dies at 84.
1920 – D J Enright, England, poet/novelist (Some Men are Brothers), is born.
1982 – Horace Gregory, American poet (b. 1898), dies.
1984 – Nakagawa Soen, Zen teacher/poet, dies in Rytutakuji monastery at 76.


Sound of mountain
sound of ocean
everywhere spring rain.

— Nakagawa Soen (1907–1984)





World Poetry

The Abuse of Ukraine's Best-Known Poet

“Friends, with me everything is okay,” read the message posted on Facebook by Serhiy Zhadan, Ukraine’s most famous counterculture writer. A few hours earlier, photos of his face, covered in blood, had circulated on the Internet, and friends and fans were worried. He described his injuries: “Cuts on the head, eyebrow dissected, concussion, broken nose suspected.” Read more at the New Yorker.

The Secret Lives of Afghanistan’s Female Poets

A few years ago, award-winning journalist and poet Eliza Griswold learned the story of Zarmina, a young girl in Afghanistan who had regularly phoned a radio hotline for women who wanted to share poems called “landays.” Landays are couplets expressing laments, jokes, and frustrations; they are forbidden to many Afghan women because they imply dishonor and free will. When Zarmina was discovered writing them, her brothers beat her badly, and she protested by setting herself on fire. She later died in a Kandahar hospital. Read more at Slate.

Thousands Bid Farewell To Famed Belarusian Poet

Belarusians say farewell to national poet Ryhor Baradulin in Minsk on March 4. Thousands of Belarusians have gathered in Minsk to bid farewell to prominent poet Ryhor Baradulin. Baradulin was the last Belarusian poet to be awarded the title of the "people's poet," the highest such title in Soviet Belarus, in 1992. He died on March 2 at the age of 79. Read more at Radio Free Europe.

Recent Reviews

The God of Robert Duncan

by Peter Riley  
I find myself looking back, across forty years, at an episode of American poetry which at one time seemed to be the answer to everything, and in which three poets in particular, conceived works of immense and unprecedented ambition, whose purpose was to transform human consciousness completely, to re-form and re-think the world from top to bottom: history, society, culture, politics, perception, language, religion… everything was cast into the cauldron to undergo total change. The world was to be set right at last, and through poetry. They were, of course, Ezra Pound (in The Cantos), Charles Olson (in The Maximus Poems), and Robert Duncan. Read more at Fortnightly Review.

A Poet’s Ode to His Late Father

by Charlotte Druckman 
On the jacket cover of Kevin Young’s forthcoming collection of poems Book of Hours (Alfred A. Knopf, out tomorrow), tears fall from the all-seeing eye; inside, in a piece called “Rosetta,” he writes that “The grammar of grief gets written each day.” This is just what Young conveys in these new pages, where no sorrow is spared. Read more at the New York Times.

‘The Widow’s Handbook’ Describes Loss through Poetry

by Bella English 
Carl Steinbaum was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in December 1995 and died 10 months later. He was 58 and left behind his wife, Ellen, and their three daughters. College sweethearts, the couple married when she was 20 and he 24. Though Ellen knew what the likely outcome of his illness would be, his death stunned her. “Death wasn’t something I thought about,” says Steinbaum, who lives in Cambridge. “I realized how innocently I had lived my life.” She had lost beloved grandparents, aunts, and her father, but no one “out of generational sequence.” Read more at the Boston Globe.

A New Anthology of Baghdadi Poetry for Western Readers

by Joseph Braude 
An Arabic poem about Baghdad, like a Hebrew poem about Jerusalem, inevitably evokes the collective memory that binds the place, the language, and its people together. Iraq's 1,251-year-old capital was built by a Muslim empire that held the torch of civilization in the eighth and ninth centuries. In the 13th century it was sacked by Mongol invaders who, according to legend, made the river Tigris flow red with blood and blue with the ink of books from the city's great libraries. It was resurrected in the twentieth century by modern state builders who made it a capital of tolerance, prosperity, and Arab nationalism -- only to be ruined again by a dictator and his wars and further destabilized by American occupation. A vigorous yet densely complex poetic tradition has traced popular memories of this tumultuous history, and a small portion of that literature can be found inBaghdad: The City in Verse, a sleek and informative volume edited by Reuven Snir, a professor of Arabic literature and dean of humanities at the University of Haifa. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Spectacle and Speculation

Reflecting on Elizabeth Bishop in the Twenty-First Century: Reading the New Editions
by Frances Leviston
When Elizabeth Bishop died in 1979 at the age of 68, she had published four books containing seventy-seven poems between them (seventy-four if you count ‘Four Poems’ as a single piece). Her last, Geography III (1976), had just nine poems in it, among them two of her best (‘Crusoe in England’ and ‘The Moose’) and the villanelle ‘One Art’, certainly her most well-known. The Complete Poems (1983) added another seventeen published but uncollected works, as well as juvenilia and translation. So it is that Bishop’s considerable reputation, encompassing both scholarly and popular renown, has until recently rested on fewer than a hundred original poems. Read more at the Edinburg Review.

Lives of a Poet: Denise Levertov

by Mark Jarman
Lovers of Denise Levertov—and I am one—may wonder what has happened to her as a presence in contemporary American poetry since her death in 1997. That is, what has happened to her reputation? Certainly other poets of note in their lifetimes have experienced an eclipse once they were deceased; it seems to be a necessary period of forgetfulness, a sort of anti-wake, waiting for a new generation to stir up the ashes. But anyone who has loved the poetry of Denise Levertov knows that she began to suffer an eclipse well before she left us. Red more at the Hudson Review.


Letters from Ukraine

by Ilya Kaminsky
This week, Russian troops invaded Crimea. Putin claims this invasion is an effort to protect the Russian-language population of the peninsula from Ukrainian nationalists.
I was born in the former USSR, and my home town, Odessa, is now a part of Ukraine. I came to the USA when I was sixteen, but kept in touch with family and friends in the region. However, rather than using this space for personal reflection, I want to include some communications I have had with Ukrainians, and particularly poets, in the region, to give voice to those whose world is in turmoil, and to give English speakers a better sense of current events. Read more at Poetry International.

The Poetic Torture-House of Language

How poetry relates to ethnic cleansing
by Slavoj Žižek
Plato’s reputation suffers because of his claim that poets should be thrown out of the city — rather sensible advice, judging from this post-Yugoslav experience, where ethnic cleansing was prepared by poets’ dangerous dreams. True, Slobodan Milošević “manipulated” nationalist passions — but it was the poets who delivered him the stuff that lent itself to manipulation. They — the sincere poets, not the corrupted politicians — were at the origin of it all, when, back in the seventies and early eighties, they started to sow the seeds of aggressive nationalism not only in Serbia, but also in other ex-Yugoslav republics. Instead of the industrial-military complex, we in post-Yugoslavia had the poetic-military complex, personified in the twin figures of Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. Karadžić was not only a ruthless political and military leader, but also a poet. Read more at the Poetry Foundation.

Drafts & Framents

Bot or Not

This website is a Turing test for poetry. You, the judge, have to guess whether the poem you’re reading is written by a human or by a computer. If you think a poem was written by a computer, choose 'bot'. If you think it was written by a human, choose 'not'. Read more at botpoet.

Poetry In The News

Yale Younger Poets Prize Goes to Ansel Elkins

Ansel Elkins has been selected as the winner of the 2014 Yale Younger Poets Prize. The competition is among the oldest literary awards in the U.S. Elkins' manuscript "Blue Yodel" was selected by judge Carl Phillips, who praised her work in a release. “Through her arresting use of persona, in particular, Ansel Elkins reminds us of the pivotal role of compassion in understanding others and — more deeply and often more disturbingly — our various inner selves,” he said. “Razor-edged in their intelligence, southern gothic in their sensibility, these poems enter the strangenesses of others and return us to a world at once charged, changed, brutal, and luminous.” Read more at LA Times.

NBCC Poetry Judges Consider a Dazzling Variety of Verse

Last year in Harper’s, Mark Edmundson, an English professor at the University of Virginia, delivered a jeremiad against contemporary poetry. He upbraided our leading bards for being “oblique, equivocal, painfully self-questioning . . . timid, small, in retreat . . . ever more private, idiosyncratic, and withdrawn.” And then he went negative. This Thursday, we’ll have another good opportunity to test that judgment. The National Book Critics Circle will announce award winners in several categories, including poetry. Read more at the Washington Post.

New Books

Otherwise Unseeable by Betsy Sholl 

[Paperback] University of Wisconsin Press, 90 pp., $16.95
What if ruin is a good thing? What if each day is built on the ruin of the one before? What if all our attempts to avoid ruin only make us bitter or closed off from what's around us? What if only by exploring our ruins do we become human? The poems in Otherwise Unseeable examine such questions. It is a poetry full of music and surprise, in voices that are personal, invented, and historical, sometimes belonging to the poet and sometimes to others. Betsy Sholl probes what there is still to learn from the devastations of the twentieth century, and she explores the roots of human envy, greed, and generosity in lively, unexpected ways, enacting the kinds of arguments we have with ourselves: between control and relinquishment, grief and ecstasy, regret and acceptance, faith and skepticism. The end result is a book of verbal wrestling, a girl-Jacob mixing it up with one kind of angel or another, limping for sure, but still blessed.

Caribou: Poems by Charles Wright

[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 96 pp., $23.00
A powerfully moving meditation on life and the beyond, from one of our finest American poets. Charles Wright’s truth—the truth of nature, of man’s yearning for the divine, of aging—is at the heart of the renowned poet’s latest collection, Caribou. This is an elegy to transient beauty, a song for the "stepchild hour, / belonging to neither the light nor dark, / The hour of disappearing things," and an expression of Wright’s restless questing for a reality beyond the one before our eyes ("We are all going into a world of dark . . . It’s okay. That’s where the secrets are, / The big ones, the ones too tall to tell"). Caribou’s strength is in its quiet, wry profundity.

Seam by Tarfia Faizullah

[Paperback] Southern Illinois University Press, 80 pp., $15.95
The poems in this captivating collection weave beauty with violence, the personal with the historic as they recount the harrowing experiences of the two hundred thousand female victims of rape and torture at the hands of the Pakistani army during the 1971 Liberation War. As the child of Bangladeshi immigrants, the poet in turn explores her own losses, as well as the complexities of bearing witness to the atrocities these war heroines endured. Throughout the volume, the narrator endeavors to bridge generational and cultural gaps even as the victims recount the horror of grief and personal loss. As we read, we discover the profound yet fragile seam that unites the fields, rivers, and prisons of the 1971 war with the poet’s modern-day hotel, or the tragic death of a loved one with the holocaust of a nation.

Afternoon Masala: Poems by Vandana Khanna

[Paperback] University of Arkansas Press, 62 pp., $16.95
"In Vandana Khanna's breathtaking volume, Afternoon Masala, Indian American identity comes of age within the hybrid, liminal space of cinema. Lit up by the spangled sashay of Bollywood films and the glittery paparazzi of the American red carpet, femininity and ethnicity are simultaneously revealed as complexly intertwined performances. Here, the allure of representation seduces the real, fleeting glimpses of which are recovered in the gorgeously fierce and musical lines of another tongue, while diaspora's nostalgia aches for spice and fire." —Lee Ann Roripaugh

Labor by Jill Magi

[Paperback] Nightboat, 88 pp., $15.95
Jill Magi's new book—comprised of fiction, poetry, and archival research—Labor explores relations between workplace and workers, race-class-gender, the institution and the body, the "personal" budget and the economy, the archive and undisciplined paper trails. An "employee handbook" sequence runs throughout the text, providing a set of directions for ritual practices toward individual agency and workplace/worker transformation. But unlike the archived ideologies and hopes of traditional labor history that Labor's characters eventually abandon or never fully embraced, the transformation does not look like traditional progress or reform.

Control Bird Alt Delete by Alexandria Peary

[Paperback] University of Iowa Press, 98 pp., $19.00
In Control Bird Alt Delete, the reader is invited to explore strange landscapes: some based on the ruins of New England and others following the architectural prints of the unconscious. The reader walks through woods filled with cellar holes, rock walls, and lilac bushes, and is made to think of people gone missing. Robert Frost meets Times Square. Nature intrudes in unexpected ways on domestic settings—and vice versa—domestic and industrial settings appear in bits inside the pastoral. Birds, one-dimensional but strangely wise, flit back and forth and rebelliously tape up their songs. The senses are thoroughly blended, leading to strange combinations and sensory experiences, to states of mindfulness and blizzard distraction.

My Favorite Tyrants by Joanne Diaz

[Paperback] University of Wisconsin Press, 80 pp., $16.95 Winner of the 2014 Brittingham Prize in Poetry, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye The word "tyrant" carries negative connotations, but in this new collection, Joanne Diaz tries to understand what makes tyranny so compelling, even seductive. These dynamic, funny, often poignant poems investigate the nature of tyranny in all of its forms-political, cultural, familial, and erotic. Poems about Stalin, Lenin, and Castro appear beside poems about deeply personal histories. The result is a powerful exploration of desire, grief, and loss in a world where private relationships are always illuminated and informed by larger, more despotic forces.

Abide by Jake Adam York

[Paperback] Southern Illinois University Press, 96 pp., $15.95
In the years leading up to his recent passing, Alabama poet Jake Adam York set out on a journey to elegize the 126 martyrs of the civil rights movement, murdered in the years between 1954 and 1968. Abide is the stunning follow-up to York’s earlier volumes, a memorial in verse for those fallen. From Birmingham to Okemah, Memphis to Houston, York’s poems both mourn and inspire in their quest for justice, ownership, and understanding. Within are anthems to John Earl Reese, a sixteen-year-old shot by Klansmen through the window of a café in Mayflower, Texas, where he was dancing in 1955; to victims lynched on the Oklahoma prairies; to the four children who perished in the Birmingham church bombing of 1963; and to families who saw the white hoods of the Klan illuminated by burning crosses. Juxtaposed with these horrors are more loving images of the South: the aroma of greens simmering on the stove, “tornado-strong” houses built by loved ones long gone, and the power of rivers “dark as roux.” 

The Tatters by Brenda Coultas

[Hardcover] Wesleyan, 68 pp., $22.95
In this nuanced and moving new collection of poems, Brenda Coultas weaves a meditation on contemporary life and our place in it. Coultas, who is known for her investigative documentary approach, turns her attention to landfills and the odd histories embedded in the materials found there. The poems make their home among urban and rural detritus, waste, trinkets, and found objects. The title poem, for example, takes its cue from the random, often perfect, pigeon feathers found on city streets. In a seamless weave of poetic sentences, The Tatters explores how our human processes of examination are often bound up with destruction. These poems enable us to be present with the sorrow and horror of our destructive nature, and to honor the natural world while acknowledging that this world no longer exists in any pure form, calling to us instead from cracks in the sidewalk, trash heaps, and old objects. Check for the online reader's companion at tatters.site.wesleyan.edu.


Getting to Know: Rhina Espaillat

by Jacquelyn Malone
When I think of Rhina Espaillat I don’t think immediately about her wonderful writing accomplishments—how she published her first collection, Lapsing to Grace: Poems and Drawings, at age 60; how she’s published ten more collections since; or about her numerous prizes, which include:  a Richard Wilbur Award, a T.S Eliot Prize, two Howard Nemerov Sonnet Awards, three Poetry Society Awards, a Der-Hovanessian Translation Prize, a  Robert Frost Foundation—Tree at my Window Award, and a 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award from Salem State University. No. I think about her warmth. I think about the time I rushed into a sunny room at the Newburyport Public Library, late, and tucked into a large circle of chuckling poets gathered there. These folks turned out to be The Powow River Poets—core “members” of the New Formalist movement. But, what did I know? Read more at Mass Poetry.

Rachel Zucker Pulls Inspiration from the Noise of New York

by Victoria Fleischer 
Rachel Zucker was once told that poets either write out of noise or out of silence and she has no doubt which category she falls into. Zucker just published a new collection of poems called The Pedestrians. A native of New York, she has lived in the city for almost her entire life, which has greatly influenced her poetry. Read more at the NewsHour.

Ghost Poet

An Interview with the Korean Poet Kim Kyung Ju
by Jake Levine
Kim Kyung Ju's poetry operates on the threshold where “the living are born in the dead people's world, and the dead are born in the living,” a world where no one seems to belong. Destructive forces like social isolation and disease are often transformed into gateways to the sublime—zones of verisimilitude, where human action takes on the mythic and chaotic quality of nature, and in turn, nature acquires human fragility. Hence the title of his first collection, I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World. Perhaps it is this conflation of human agency and natural order that has led some critics to call Kim's poems “both a blessing and a curse to Korean literature.” Read more at the Boston Review.

An Interview with Rodney Jones

by Lee Rossi
Rodney Jones is the author of nine books of poetry. Born in rural Alabama, a place “that resembled much of the present third world, essentially feudal, agrarian, unelectrified,” his poems delight in the stories and language of his youth. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Award, for which he received $100,000. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. For the past twenty-five years he has taught at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale. As the judges for the Griffin Trust award acknowledged, “There are not many poets who get as much of American life in their poems as Rodney Jones.” Reaad more at The Pedestal Magazine.

The Elusive Aaron Belz, Lauded Poet, Public Misanthrope and Private Seeker

by Brian Howe 
Aaron Belz does not add up. Everything about him misleads. Start with his poetry. John Ashbery praised his second book, Lovely, Raspberry, as "bright, friendly, surprising." Influential poetry critic Marjorie Perloff hails Glitter Bomb, due out in June from Persea Press, as "irreverent, devastating, even nasty at times." These high-profile endorsements paint a picture of a major American poet ensconced in literary spheres at a prestigious university. Not quite—Belz lives in a small apartment in Hillsborough, where he owns an even smaller bike shop with his teenage son and teaches writing part time at Durham Tech. Though he's on the board of the Hillsborough Arts Council, he admits that, at 42, he doesn't get out to many soirees, preferring to sit on his stoop and chat with passersby. This makes him sound like an earnest rural shopkeeper, penning quaint dispatches on small town life. Red more at Indy Weekly.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: Richard Wilbur

“I remember Frost saying once that he had written only one nature poem in his life. I thought hard about that, and I decided that he was right, and that the poem was a very early one called "In a Vale," a poem in which he claims that as a child he knew where the flower was before it grew, and where the bird was before it flew. There he is saying that his spirit is continuous with that of nature, though he is saying it rather fancifully, in a way that almost negates what he is saying. Elsewhere, of course, in his poetry, Frost, though he gives us some of the most marvelous and loving evocations of natural things, is always saying that there is a dividing line between us and the world out there, and that our relations with it are unilateral.”  [from Conversations with Richard Wilbur]

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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