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Poetry News In Review

May 13, 2014
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1904 — Alfred Earle Birney, poet, is born.
1921 — Jean Aicard, French poet and novelist (b. 1848)
1962 — Kathleen Jamie, Scottish poet, is born.
1966 — Henk [Hendrik M] of Randwijk, poet/editor in chief (illegal), dies


The Dipper

It was winter, near freezing,   
I'd walked through a forest of firs   
when I saw issue out of the waterfall   
a solitary bird.   

It lit on a damp rock,   
and, as water swept stupidly on,   
wrung from its own throat   
supple, undammable song.   

It isn't mine to give.   
I can't coax this bird to my hand   
that knows the depth of the river   
yet sings of it on land.

—Kathleen Jamie

World Poetry

Faiz Night: Revolutionary Poet Remembered as Work Gets Sindhi Translation

Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a revolutionary and for his troubles, he was given a maximum sentence during his lifetime. Today, he is celebrated by the world and continues to be a symbol of resistance and struggle for rights and the provincial culture department paid tribute to the great poet on Sunday evening at Frere Hall. Lit up by fairylights, the Frere Hall looked a surreal red and a large stage was set up beneath the open sky for the event. Read more at the Tribune.

Teenagers Embrace the Poem, Chapter and Verse

Twenty-five years ago, the Atlantic magazine declared poetry to be an insular sub-culture, lessening in its influence. Newsweek officially declared the art dead in 2003. But 39 teenagers from across Canada who plan to raise the rafters — and possibly a few dead poets — at a unique poetry recitation competition in Vancouver, are a sign that the art form is very much alive. Roan Shankaruk, 17, is one of the students competing in the finals of Poetry In Voice, a cross-Canada recitation competition that comes to its rousing finish at a ticketed event at the Fei and Milton Wong Theatre on Friday night. Poetry In Voice was started four years ago by Scott Griffin, founder of the prestigious Griffin Poetry prize. Griffin is known for reciting poetry from memory each year at the announcement of the Griffin shortlist. Read more at the Vancouver Sun.

Recent Reviews

No Same River

by Eric McHenry
In 1914, when the English journalist Edward Thomas confessed to his American friend Robert Frost that he wanted to write poetry, Frost informed him that he was already doing so. “Right at that moment he was writing as good a poetry as anybody alive,” Frost would recall, “but in prose form where it didnt [sic] declare itself and gain him recognition.” Frost suggested that Thomas take the rich descriptive sentences in his book In Pursuit of Spring and recast them in verse lines of “exactly the same cadence.” Thomas obliged, and in the three years before his death in World War I created poems of surpassing, and surpassingly quiet, beauty.  . . .An homage to Edward Thomas appears about three-quarters of the way through Into Daylight, Jeffrey Harrison’s new book of poems, by which point it seems almost inevitable. Read more at Columbia.

John Ashbery's Collected French Translations

by Richard Sieburth
This is something of an impromptu book review, to mark the publication three weeks ago by FSG of John Ashbery’s Collected French Translations, volume I devoted to poetry, volume II to prose. I take this to be a major publishing event. As do its superb editors Rosanna Wasserman and Eugene Richie, who go so far to quote Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy in a widely reported remark he made to the Guardian in 2008: “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue.” So one of the things these two ample FSG tomes want to officialize is that Ashbery is definitely a player in the Big Dialogue. And therefore, as they say in French, perhaps even nobĂ©lisable. Read more at BookForum.


Age, Death and Tulips

by Helena Nelson
“The god of grump” someone called him on a FaceBook thread recently. Old Larkin, old love. But how a grumpy god can haunt the reader! The last line of ‘Dockery and Son’revisits me regularly: “And age, and then the only end of age.” Not to mention the bit in that nightmare of a poem ‘The Old Fools’. Read more at Happenstance.

With the Four Quartets, TS Eliot's Poetic Powers Trump his Mysticism

by Roz Kaveney
Eliot at his best is one of the greatest of poets, but it is impossible to divorce much of the best of his work from the most despicable or disturbing parts of his life. We have to accept that art is alchemy, that memories, reading, love and fear fuse together, and are transmuted in the process. The rapist Byron, the whoremonger Rochester and the Stalinist quasi-plagiarist Brecht were contemptible human beings, and yet I love their work, and have been changed and influenced by it often for the better. So it is with Eliot. Even if, in the end, we turn our face away from the particular kind of mystical spirituality that in his last and greatest poems he expresses, it is not because of any thinning of his poetic powers. Read more at The Guardian.

Drafts & Framents

Teaching with Heart: A Teaser Video

by Kevin Hodgson
I am one of a number of contributors to a new collection coming out this month in which educators write short essays about poems that are near and dear to their heart. Teaching with Heart: Poetry That Speaks to the Courage to Teach follows the path of two other collections that also engaged teachers in reflective inquiry and pointing to powerful poetry. As part of the pre-publication push, I created a short Tellegami video about the poem that I chose, which was Taylor Mali’s famous “What Teachers Make” poetic response to a question posed to him at a dinner party. The poem is powerful on the page, but not nearly as powerful as watching Mali (who wrote the introduction to Teaching with Heart) perform his piece as a poetry slam in person. Read more at Dogtrax.

Poetry In The News

The American Scholar Crowdsources a Sonnet

Statisticians and late-night dorm-room bull session partisans have long debated whether a monkey banging away at a typewriter for an infinite amount of time would inevitably tap out the complete works of Shakespeare. But can a swarm of people on the Internet write a plausible sonnet in 14 weeks? The American Scholar is betting yes. With its just-begun “Next Line, Please” project, the journal is inviting the public to help crowdsource a sonnet, building on this first line: “How like a prison is my cubicle.” Read more at the New York Times.

$100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize goes to Nathaniel Mackey

The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for Lifetime Achievement will be awarded to Nathaniel Mackey, the Poetry Foundation announced Tuesday. The prize comes with an award of $100,000, making it (alongside the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award) one of the largest poetry prizes in the country.  Read more at the LA Times.

Philip Larkin Special Train Marks 50th Birthday of Whitsun Weddings Poem

In "The Whitsun Weddings," one of the best loved poems of the 20th century, Philip Larkin transformed a dull bank holiday weekend train journey into a characteristically grumpy transport of romance and delight. The poem will be celebrated next month in a 200-mile onboard performance between Hull and London, involving scores of actors, 200 miles of track, eight towns and cities, recordings of some of the poet's beloved jazz tunes, and the voice of actor Bill Nighy reading his work over the train's Tannoy. Read more at The Guardian.

Poet Russell Edson of Darien Is Dead

Stamford Hospital officials have confirmed that Russell Edson, a noted poet and illustrator who was a long-time resident of Stamford and Darien, has died April 29 after a long illness. He was born in New York on December 12, 1928, attended the famous Black Mountain College and was a Guggenheim fellow.  The Lawrence Funeral Home in Darien is handling arrangements. Edson illustrated his own books of surrealistic poems, including “The Childhood of an Equestrian,” (1973),”The Reason Why the Closet Man is Never Sad,” (1977), “The Wounded Breakfast,” (1978), “With Sincerest Regrets,” (1980), “The Tunnel,” (1994), “The Tormented Mirror,” (2001), and “The Rooster’s Wife,” (2005). Read more at CT News.

Anita Norman is the 2014 POL National Champion!

From a competitive field of 365,000 students nationwide, Anita Norman, a student at Arlington High School in Arlington, Tennessee, won the title of 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Champion at the National Finals held in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. With this achievement, Norman received a $20,000 award and her high school received a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. Read more at Poetry Out Loud.

New Books

Train Songs: Poetry of the Railway edited by Sean O'Brien and Don Paterson 

[Paperback] Faber & Faber, 192 pp., $11.46
Co-edited by two of our most distinguished poets, Train Songs offers a round tour — from Wordsworth to Hugo Williams and beyond — starting from the poetry of departures and brief encounters, but taking in the American Blues, the troop trains of two world wars, and the addiction to speed which characterised the European revolutions. 

Hustle by David Tomas Martinez 

[Paperback] Sarabande Books, 84 pp., $14.95
"David Martinez is like an algebra problem invented by America—he's polynomial, and fractioned, full of identity variables and unsolved narrative coefficients. . . . Hustle is full of dashing nerve, linguistic flair, and unfakeable heart."—Tony Hoagland

The Tranquilized Tongue by Eric Baus

[Paperback] City Lights Publishers, 70 pp., $13.95
In the tradition of French poets like Francis Ponge, Pierre Reverdy, and RenĂ© Char, The Tranquilized Tongue offers a series of prose meditations in the form of surrealist declaratives, each sentence unfolding like an alchemical riddle in which sounds, images, and figures appear, dissolve, and re-emerge to offer a glimpse of a complex unconscious roiling below the surface of everyday reality. 

Laughing Cult: Poems by Kevin McCaffrey 

[Paperback] Four Winds Press,112 pp., $13.95
Inspired by the spirit and approach of Bertolt Brecht's Manual of Piety, the poems of Laughing Cult often employ the structures of ballads, folksongs, and other traditional forms to create miniature sketches marked by romantic ambiguity, occultism, science fiction, and quirky angst. As cool in tone as a Lee Konitz solo and as lacking in affect as pop art, this first collection includes numerous poems that have appeared on the Exquisite Corpse website. To shape something aesthetically charged out of the spent elements and enervated thoughts of a slowly failing society: that's the challenge Laughing Cult has set for itself. 

Inheritance by Joseph Fasano

[Paperback] Cider Press Review, 80 pp., $17.95
Almost everywhere you turn in Inheritance, you find a poet brave enough to return poetry to its troubled and eternal origins. . . Fasano's otherworldly melancholy and grace turns out to also be a 'worldly clarity.' This is the poet I trust to see the world as it is, quietly writhing around us, like Kafka and Rilke before him. This is the poet who proves the world isn't what needs restoring so much as us. With Inheritance, the necessary gifts of one poet's visionary spirit are now not just his but thankfully ours. -—Dorothea Lasky

In the Night Orchard: Selected Poems by R.T. Smith 

[Paperback] Texas Review Press, 192 pp., $14.95
In the Night Orchard is a retrospective collection of poems gleaned from over three decades of writing by a poet absorbed by nature and culture in the American South. These often-narrative poems are concerned with history, race, indigenous music, the many Southern dialects and customs and the quest for authentic identity.


Don’t You Wish Everything Could Be as Pruned and Pretty As The Poetry Of Amy Key: An Interview about Luxe

by Leah Umansky
Amy Key is a UK poet and author of Luxe. I’m happy to have come across her and her work online.  We became friends on twitter earlier this year and discovered we both had first books coming out in the Poetry World. That linked us and encouraged my interest in not only becoming her friend, but in reading and getting to know her poetry and the  online journal she co-edits: Poems in Which. ( a fabulous site I love. Check it out).  Amy’s work is both interesting and telling. Her poems use the page creatively and powerfully, margin to margin, and play with the reader in their use of  line breaks and the use of their catchy titles. They are like small little teasings. What I enjoy about Luxe is her willingness to take the reader up-close; show them the image of the word and then let them walk away on their own time.  Her poems resonate with the reader and make us want to keep reading,  and keep gazing into her words. Read more at LunaLuna.

Jason Koo

by Jen Fitzgerald
In Jason Koo’s new collection, America’s Favorite Poem (C&R Press, 2014), we see a poet placing himself on the timeline of his art. This timeline covers an ethnic, geographic, and artistic lineage that pays homage to Brooklyn’s literary heritage. As founder of “Brooklyn Poets,”  he extends his literary citizenship to offer community to disparate groups of poets who live and work in the borough. With Whitmanesque, sprawling lines, Koo finds the minutia of introspective content and sound to populate his pieces. What initially appears conversational, contains multitudes. He faces the darkness with an innate humor that assures the reader, nothing is so awful that it can’t be laughed at. This extends to the poet’s lighthearted demeanor and ease with the world. Read more at New Books in Poetry.

Shoshanna Wingate Shares Memories in Upcoming Book

Sammy David Roberts of South Carolina had no last words, other than to thank a chaplain who had come to help him make peace before he died. After eating a final meal that included salad, fried shrimp, french fries, hush puppies and Coke, Roberts, 40, was strapped to a gurney and given a lethal injection of drugs which stopped his heart — a more peaceful death, some might say, than that of his three victims, almost 20 years earlier. St. John’s poet Shoshanna Wingate, as a 10-year-old in South Carolina, knew Roberts. Her father did prison work and would take   her to visit inmates, especially Roberts, with whom they struck up a particular friendship. She remembers Roberts being kind to her, telling her he was serving time for an armed robbery his girlfriend had pushed him to commit before later turning him in to police. Read more at The Telegram.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Darwin’s Regret: That He Did Not Spend Enough Time Reading Poetry and Listening to Music

In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin he writes: I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. . .  A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine, would not, I suppose, have thus suffered; and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature. Read more at War in Context.

I have vowed not to have the same regrets that Darwin had. I'll find some of my own.

View Past Issues

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