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Poetry News In Review

March 3, 2017
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1606—Edmund Waller, England, poet (Penshust), is born.
1652—Thomas Otway, England, playwright/poet (Venice Preserved), is born.
1886—Tore Ørjasæter, Norwegian poet (d. 1968), is born.
1903—Rabbe A Enckell, Fins author/poet (Lutad about Brunnen), is born.    
1909—Kenton Kilmer, poet/translator, is born.
1926—James Ingram Merrill, US poet/author (Scripts for the Pageant), is born.
1939—Hans Pieter Verhagen, Dutch poet (Hoepla/Holland's Hole), is born.
1947—Clifton Snider, American poet and writer, is born.
1991—Clara Eggink, [Ebbele], Dutch poet (Life with J C Bloem), dies at 84.
2006—Ivor Cutler, Scottish poet (b. 1923), dies.

Another April 

The panes flash, tremble with your ghostly passage
Through them, an x-ray sheerness billowing, and I have risen
But cannot speak, remembering only that one was meant
To rise and not to speak. Young storm, this house is yours.
Let our eye darken, your rain come, the candle reeling
Deep in what still reflects control itself and me.
Daybreak's great gray rust-veined irises humble and proud
Along your path will have laid their foreheads in the dust. 

—James Merrill

World Poetry

Seraiki Poet Turns Down Punjab Award

Famous Seraiki poet Rifat Abbas has turned down the Pride of Punjab Award carrying a Rs300,000 prize, conferred on him by the Punjab government, citing moral and ideological reasons.

Clive James Announces New Poetry Collection – Injury Time

The much-loved broadcaster, critic, memoirist, novelist and poet Clive James was not expected to live for long after his short-poem collection Sentenced to Life was published, to great acclaim, in 2015. But Picador has announced that it will publish its sequel, Injury Time, in May.

Recent Reviews

Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds and Robyn Schiff, A Woman of Property 
by Ian Pople

Ocean Vuong’s extensive first book emerges one of the most difficult episodes in recent American history, the Vietnam war. Vuong, born in Vietnam, but brought up in the US, explores the legacy of that war not only in terms of its effect on his own life and the lives of his family. Vuong also, and perhaps this sounds a bit obvious, explores the legacy of the war in its effects on the imagination. For Vuong, these effects may involve relating the Vietnam war to the Trojan wars; a relation which might remind an Irish and British reader of Michael Longley. However, as I shall illustrate, Vuong’s take on this is as much part of the Oedipal drama with which this collection is shot-through.

Trouble the Water by Derrick Austin
by Ray McDaniel

I’m fascinated by the adjective inhuman. Applied to non-human subjects, it is redundant; applied to human ones, it is false by definition. It’s the tautology of how a thing is never more or less than itself that guarantees the falsehood. Nothing that is human can be inhuman. And yet even if you resist the most grotesque and oppressive instances of how we’ve applied the term inhuman (just think of the crimes humans justify against other humans thereby), it’s difficult to deny the temptation to describe human things as more human or less human, even though I know perfectly well how treacherous this can be.


Introduction to New Selected Poems by Robert Lowell
by Katie Peterson 

In his time, Robert Lowell achieved unquestionable stardom. The author of twelve collections, countless translations, adaptations from Greek plays, and an original drama, he won the Pulitzer in 1947 for his second book, Lord Weary's Castle, and again in 1974 for his penultimate collection, The Dolphin (one of three books he published in 1973 alone). Neither of these collections, though, brought him the fame of his fourth volume, Life Studies (1959), which includes an exquisitely matter-of-fact prose memoir of growing up in Boston as the son of a Brahmin family in decline and a series of family portraits written in a detail-rich, sensually baroque free verse many poets have imitated but none have matched. Life Studies, with its candor and intimacy, may have invented "personal" poetry—it may also be the one collection of Lowell's that twenty-first-century readers have heard of—but he refused to brand his patent with repetition. His subsequent books each attempt something new.

The Lost Poetry of the Angel Island Detention Center
by Beenish Ahmed  

When immigrants were detained at Angel Island, in the San Francisco Bay, they wrote poetry on the walls.
Although it was widely known as the Ellis Island of the West, Angel Island wasn’t meant to herald immigrants to the United States so much as to keep them out. Located just across from Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay, the immigration station started operating in 1910, largely to process the cases of Chinese laborers, who, three decades before, had become the first group of people to be specifically blocked by federal U.S. immigration policy. After the first of the Chinese-exclusionary laws was passed by Congress, in 1882, working-class Chinese men and women were only allowed into the U.S. if they could prove that they were related to American citizens.

Elizabeth Bishop's Art of Losing
by Claudia Roth Pierpont

The first of Elizabeth Bishop’s losses was her father, who died when she was eight months old. The second loss was more protracted: Bishop’s mother, shattered by her husband’s death, suffered a series of breakdowns. Sometimes loving in her behavior, sometimes violent, she went in and out of mental hospitals and was finally committed permanently, when Elizabeth was five. At the time, in the spring of 1916, the little girl was living with her mother’s family in a tiny town in Nova Scotia, a comforting place where she had often stayed before. Like many uprooted children, she had vivid memories: the pictures on the pages of the family’s Bible, the rhyme that her grandmother made when shining her shoes (using imaginary “gasoline” and “Vaseline”), and, when she was six, being taken away—“kidnapped,” she felt—by her father’s far more prosperous family, to live in their large and loveless house in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Drafts & Framents

W.H. Auden’s Melancholy, Timeless Poem ‘Funeral Blues,’ Illustrated
by Nathan Gelgud

As he tells it in his Paris Review interview, when W.H. Auden was fifteen, a friend of his asked him if he ever wrote poetry. No, Auden replied, the thought had never really occurred to him. His friend asked “Why don’t you?” And in that moment, it became clear to Auden that writing poetry is what he would do with his life.

Poetry In The News

First Native Pacific Islander Receives Prestigious Poetry Fellowship

"I never thought my poetry would circulate, or be recognized, at a national level," Perez, who received a 2016 fellowship, told NBC News. "I hope this signals a turn of attention towards Pacific Islander poetry by American readers and literary organizations. This is especially important now, with the threats of militarism, colonialism, capitalism, and environmental injustice impacting the Pacific region."

U.S. Poet Laureate Decries Trump Wall

At five years old, U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera watched border patrol arrive at a neighbor’s home, pull the family into a van and leave. Nearly 60 years later, he still remembers that day. “Everything was just left,” he told the Wheel. “The land, the house. But we had to pack up because my father worked for them, find something else.”

New Books

WHEREAS: Poems by Layli Long Soldier
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 114 pp., $16.95

WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.

Ground, Wind, This Body: Poems by Tina Carlson 
[Paperback] University of New Mexico Press, 80 pp., $18.95

This debut collection explores the vestiges of war and the effects those can have on a family. Carlson excavates the personal experience of violence and abuse that follows a traumatized soldier home and also reveals veins of redemption.

Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure edited by Shannon Maguire
[Paperback] Wesleyan, 208 pp., $19.95

Planetary Noise: Selected Poetry of Erín Moure gathers four decades of poetry from a celebrated Canadian poet and translator who has persistently reconfigured the linguistic and material relations of English. Moure’s poems and networked sequences are hybrid and often polylingual; they work with contradiction, paradox, and verbal detritus— linguistic hics and blips often too quickly dismissed as noise—to create new conditions for thought and pleasure. From postdramatic theatre to queer and feminist theory, from the politics of citizenship and genocide to the minutiae of digital poetics, from the clamor of love to the shadows of grief and memory, Moure has joyously toppled hierarchies of meaning and parasited dominant discourses to create poetry that crosses borders, embracing hope, not war.

You, Beast: Poems by Nick Lantz 
[Paperback] University of Wisconsin Press, 112 pp., $14.95 

With macabre humor, You, Beast explores the roots and limits of human empathy. Nick Lantz examines our strange, absurd, and often brutal relationship with other animals, from roaches scuttling across the kitchen floor to pigs whose heart valves can replace our own. In poems ranging from found text to villanelles, and from short plays to fables, this lyric collection tracks the troubled ways we define our humanity through mythology, language, politics, art, and food.

MEAN/TIME: Poems by Grace Bauer 
[Paperback] University of New Mexico Press, 88 pp., $18.95

Bauer’s newest collection is an exploration of time: how we perceive it and its passing, how we use language to describe the lived experience that time informs, and the transformations we undergo during its passing.


In Conversation: Kwame Alexander and Nikki Grimes on the Power of Poetry

Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander is widely acclaimed for his middle-grade verse novels, The Crossover and Booked, set in the world of competitive basketball; his recent title, The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life, offers motivational words for success both on and off the court. But his new picture book projects mark a return to poetry. In Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Alexander teams up with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth to form a kaleidoscopic anthology inspired by 20 of their favorite poets. In Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures, Alexander’s poems are paired with animal photographs by Joel Sartore, crafting an ode to the animal kingdom. Fellow poet and friend Nikki Grimes spoke with Alexander about their shared passion for verse and for empowering young people through poetry.

Ana Božičević: On Using Poetry to Make Sense of the World
by Michael Valinsky

In her newest work, Joy of Missing Out (JOMO), Ana Božičević uses her word bank as would the sky with its stars: she disperses it in such a way as to illuminate the pages and shed light on the complexities of social life. Embedded in the text are Božičević’s wandering eyes, constantly looking up and forward, but seldom backward into the nostalgia of words already uttered.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: James Merrill

"Whether you’re at your desk or not when a poem’s under way, isn’t there that constant eddy in your mind? If it’s strong enough all sorts of random flotsam gets drawn into it, how selectively it’s hopeless to decide at the time. I try to break off, get away from the page, into the kitchen for a spell of mixing and marinating which gives the words a chance to sort themselves out behind my back. But there’s really no escape, except perhaps the third drink. On “ordinary” days, days when you’ve nothing on the burner, it might be safe to say that you’re not a poet at all: more like a doctor at a dinner party, just another guest until his hostess slumps to the floor or his little beeper goes off. Most of those signals are false alarms—only they’re not. Language is your medium. You can be talking or writing a letter, and out comes an observation, a “sentence-sound” you rather like. It needn’t be your own. And it’s not going to make a poem, or even fit into one. But the twinge it gives you—and it’s this, I daresay, that distinguishes you from the “citizen”—reminds you you’ve got to be careful, that you’ve a condition that needs watching . . ."
—from The Paris Review, James Merrill, The Art of Poetry No. 31,
interviewed by J.D. McClatchy

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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