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Poetry News In Review

May 20, 2015
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1864 – John Clare, English poet (Little Trotty Wagtail), dies at 70.
1876 – Khristo Botev, Bulgarian poet, dies.
1905 – Gerrit Achterberg, Dutch poet (Sailing), is born.
1929 – Andre Carolus Cirino, Suriname/Indian poet, is born.
1956 – William Michaelian, American novelist and poet, is born.
1971 – Waldo Williams, Welsh poet (b. 1904), dies.


The twilight falls like ground.
In Holland walks a hound.
A hound with very long teeth.
He goes through all the lands
a large and very black hound.

We're scattered all around.
No longer with one another.
What bound us together
died between our teeth.

—Gerrit Achterberg (1905–1962)

World Poetry

Sir Andrew Motion Moves from 'Suffocating' UK to US

Poet Sir Andrew Motion is to leave Britain for a new job in the US, saying being known as a former poet laureate in the UK can be "suffocating". He will become professor of the arts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Sir Andrew said: "I feel I'm spending roughly half my time hiding in plain sight because I used to be something. "And the other half of the time I feel still so hard pressed to the national bosom that I'm suffocating. So I'd quite like to go and live in America."

Now the Leftie Laureate Snubs ANOTHER Royal Birth

The title of Poet Laureate is bestowed upon those whose work is deemed of national significance, previously held by distinguished metrists Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Ted Hughes. But while the appointment to the Royal Household is historically charged with marking state events, its current incumbent, Carol Ann Duffy, appears dogged in her reluctance to acknowledge such occasions.

Children’s Book Guru on ‘Chew up mom’ Poem Controversy

A poem by a 10-year-old girl has stirred up a controversy in Korea that touches upon an array of thorny issues from the literary freedom of expression to the country’s obsession with private education. The poem, titled “Days I Don’t Want To Go To Hagwon,” depicts how the author would like to “chew up mom” as painfully as possible, “digging out her eyes and pulling out all her teeth” to escape hagwon, private educational institutes. Accompanied by an illustration, cruel words from the fifth-grader at an elementary school shocked many adult readers, with some strongly denouncing the publisher and the parents for the decision to publish it.

Recent Reviews

‘James Merrill: Life and Art,’ by Langdon Hammer
by Jay Parini

Some people are born with a silver spoon, but the poet James Merrill — son of a founder of Merrill Lynch — had whole place settings jammed down his throat. His family was exceedingly rich, with houses in Greenwich Village and Southampton, where an estate named the Orchard became a showplace for weekends and summers. “Broad lawns unrolled on either side of the drive, with huge squat boxwood hedges for sentinels and wistful, champagne-glass-shaped elms shading the gravel circle at the front door,” Langdon Hammer (chairman of the English department at Yale) writes in his eloquent and sympathetic new biography, “James Merrill: Life and Art.” That such great wealth never sapped Merrill’s ambition as a poet seems remarkable in itself. “Jimmy was no less of a competitor than his father,” Hammer notes, “and no less hungry for public recognition.”

Poetry in the Age of Hip-hop 
by Leor Galil

Hip-hop was built on four basic elements: MCing, DJing, graffitiing, and breaking. Then came the fifth element, knowledge. Influential rapper KRS-One introduced four more in 2003's "9 Elements," but knowledge holds a place of supremacy among the elements, at least to me: it's the circumference within which the other elements are able to coexist, the lens hip-hop devotees use to see the world. Hip-hop is a lifestyle, and those who adhere to it don't stop living once the DJ packs up for the night or their spray-paint cans run dry. These are the devotees who contribute to The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.

Poems by JH Prynne
by David Wheatley

In The Making of the Reader, David Trotter proposes a useful distinction between “pathos” and what he terms “anti-pathos”. In any poem the voice of the self and the voice of the text are subtly different. For a Romantic poet their clash results in pathos: the pathos of origins, sincerity and feeling. In modernist poetry, what we frequently get instead is “anti-pathos”, which rejects appeals to origins and insists on dissonance, not harmony, as the defining condition of art.

In ‘Selfish,’ Wichita Poet Albert Goldbarth Explores the Ways the Self Encounters the Cosmos
by Arlice Davenport

By turns playful and profound, exuberant and esoteric, Albert Goldbarth has built a formidable career as a poet, publishing more than 25 volumes in the past 40 years. He has won the National Book Critics Circle Award an unprecedented two times. And he remains the Adele B. Davis Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Wichita State University, a position he has held for more than 35 years. Goldbarth has shaped a long, fruitful legacy that looks difficult to improve upon. Yet “Selfish,” his latest creation, may be his best, perfecting the art of saying much by saying little and saying more by saying much.


The WW1 Poet Kids are Taught to Dislike
by Marek Pruszewicz

Jessie Pope is no longer a household name, but during World War One she was one of the most widely read poets. After decades in obscurity she has re-emerged to become a fixture on the English literature syllabus, but for all the wrong reasons. Which war poets do today's English literature students know? A recent survey of 100 British secondary schools found that Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were the two most commonly studied. But just behind those two chroniclers of the Great War's slaughter came a less familiar name - Jessie Pope.

Rilke and Things
by Idris Parry

When I first heard about Rilke, many years ago, one of the things that impressed me was the way he packed his suitcase. I read in some learned work that when he went on his travels (and he travelled a lot) he put everything in his bag as carefully as he structured his poems. I suppose I remember this because I had never thought before of the arrangement of shirts and socks as an aspect of artistic endeavour. But of course it sums him up. It was characteristic. For Rilke nothing was trivial, and order was to be found, and had to be found, in all things.

Drafts & Framents

Taiwanese Miniaturist Carves Poem on Pencil Lead

Taiwan’s famous miniaturist Chen Forng-shean shows the poem he carved on a 0.5mm pencil lead - “Song of a Wandering Son” by Tang Dynasty poet Meng Jiao (751-814). Chen carved the well-known Classical Chinese poem to mark Mother’s Day and also show thanks to his mother who encouraged him in his career in art. It took him 10 days and five failed attempts to finally finish the artwork.

Poetry In The News

Poetry Readings Removed From Atlantic City's Summer Plans

Poetry has been sent packing from Atlantic City's summer entertainment offerings after complaints it would be a waste of money. New Jersey's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority had planned to pay for readings as entertainment alongside music at a farmers market it sponsors. But three lawmakers called the readings the "height of absurdity" as a way to attract people to the struggling resort city.

Wole Soyinka Leads Candidates for Oxford Professor of Poetry

Nobel laureate and political activist Wole Soyinka has put himself forward as one of three candidates for the position of Oxford professor of poetry, a 300-year-old elected post which is seen as the top academic poetry role in the UK. First held by Joseph Trapp in 1708, the professorship, second only in prestige to that of poet laureate, has been filled in the past by Matthew Arnold, Cecil Day-Lewis, WH Auden, Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon. 

Franz Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet, Dead at Age 62

Franz Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, has died at age 62. His friend Alex Green, owner of Back Pages Books in Waltham, Mass., said that Mr. Wright died Thursday after a long battle with cancer.

Alice Notley Wins $100,000 Poetry Prize

Alice Notley, a poet who has worked in a wide variety of forms and styles in more than 25 books, has been awarded the lucrative and prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The prize, presented annually by the Poetry Foundation to to a living American poet for lifetime accomplishment, comes with $100,000.

Poet Apologises for 'Appropriations' as Poems are Withdrawn and Book is Pulped

A poet has apologised “to my readers, the poetry community and most of all to the poets whose work I have unintentionally appropriated”, over a number of uncredited borrowings from other poets in her book. Middlesbrough-based Smokestack Books has pulped remaining copies of Laventille, by Sheree Mack, but plans to reprint it next year with some poems removed. Mack said in her statement, issued to friends on Facebook: “What I have been guilty of is a slackness and carelessness in separating out writing exercises, workshops creations, prompts, lines collected in journals, words and lines and inspirations from my readings, and it is a habit, a practice I have gotten into over time but did not realise.

New Books

Breezeway: New Poems by John Ashbery
[Hardcover] Ecco, 128 pp., $22.99

With more than twenty poetry collections to his name, John Ashbery is one of our most agile, philosophically complex, and visionary poets. In Breezeway, Ashbery’s powers of observation are at their most astute; his insight at its most penetrating. Demonstrating his extraordinary command of language and his ability to move fluidly and elegantly between wide-ranging thoughts and ideas—from the irreverent and slyly humorous to the tender, the sad, and the heartbreaking—Ashbery shows that he is a virtuoso fluent in diverse styles and tones of language, from the chatty and whimsical to the lyrical and urbane. 

The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar: Essays on Poets and Poetry by Helen Vendler
[Hardcover] Harvard University Press, 464 pp., $35.00

One of our foremost commentators on poetry examines the work of a broad range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century English, Irish, and American poets. The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar gathers two decades’ worth of Helen Vendler’s essays, book reviews, and occasional prose—including the 2004 Jefferson Lecture—in a single volume. Taken together, they serve as a reminder that if the arts and the patina of culture they cast over the world were deleted, we would, in Wallace Stevens’s memorable formulation, inhabit “a geography of the dead.” These essays also remind us that without the enthusiasm, critiques, and books of each century’s scholars, there would be imperfect perpetuation and transmission of culture.

The Glory Gets by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
[Hardcover] Wesleyan, 84 pp., $24.95

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has explored themes of African American history, Southern culture, and intergenerational trauma. Now, in her fourth and most accomplished collection, Jeffers turns to the task of seeking and reconciling the blues and its three movements—identification, exploration, and resolution—with wisdom. Poems in The Glory Gets ask, “What happens on the road to wisdom? What now in this bewildering place?” Using the metaphor of “gets”—the concessional returns of living—Jeffers travels this fraught yet exhilarating journey, employing unexpected improvisations while navigating womanhood. The spirit and spirituality of her muse, the late poet Lucille Clifton, guide the poet through the treacherous territories other women have encountered and survived yet kept secret from their daughters. An online reader’s companion will be available.

Teratology: Poems by Susannah Nevison
[Paperback] Persea, 64 pp., $15.95

A striking poetic reckoning, Teratology explores the psychic existence of physical abnormality and imperfection. Susannah Nevison’s poems name and reclaim, making and unmaking the body and the “marvelous monsters” that inhabit them. Winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry, this unique debut collection explores the psychic existences beget by physical abnormality and imperfection. Susannah Nevison’s poems name and reclaim the body, making and unmaking it , portraying the “marvelous monsters” that we all are—whether outside or in. Unflinching and brave, Teratology marks the emergence of a highly imaginative and compassionate poetic voice.

Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles by Lee Upton
[Paperback] Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 100 pp., $15.95

"Lee Upton is a poet of rare intelligence and craft. She has a cold eye and a warm heart, and her poems are well-made, moving, intellectually stimulating. Among my favorites in BOTTLE THE BOTTLES THE BOTTLES THE BOTTLES, her admirable new collection, are poems that resemble an unconventional verse essay on a subject disclosed in the poem's title. Anyone who has spent dreary hours in time-consuming meetings will enjoy Upton's transmutation of the experience in 'The Committee.' A meditation on 'The Defeatists'—people whose reflexive mantra is 'we're not out of the woods yet'—includes the paradox that even their search for disappointment is bound to result in failure. In 'Modesty,' Scheherazade, the 'patron saint of suspense,' beguiles her tyrant with her tales, though 'At some level // she could do nothing for him.' This thought is capped off with the stunning couplet that ends the poem: 'Neither could have / Chekhov.' These are poems to read, reread, and ponder. The rich heritage of English poetry—Herrick, Keats, Poe, Dickinson, Wallace Stevens—hovers over Upton's labors and adds an extra layer of wit for the discerning reader."—David Lehman


John Ashbery: By the Book

The poet, whose latest collection is “Breezeway,” enjoys reading novels. “I’m no doubt a frustrated novelist. Maybe I should try, but at barely three months shy of 88 it seems unlikely.”

Questions of Faith: J.D. McClatchy
by Dianne Bilyak

"Questions of Faith" is a selection of excerpts from interviews that Dianne Bilyak has conducted over the past decade. The interviews began as her master's thesis for The Institute of Sacred Music & Arts at Yale Divinity School. The poets were queried about their religious upbringing, current practices, and how these may or may not have influenced their writing, as well as general questions related to faith, doubt, and meaning, and more specific questions related to each poet's work.

A Famous Poet Explains How Great Verse Can Help Solve Big Social Problems (and Reads You a Poem!)
by Carole Burns

Jane Hirshfield, the award-winning poet, translator and essayist, has lofty ideas about poetry’s role in human lives, which she sets out in her new book about poetry, “Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World.” On the same day, she released her new book of poems, “The Beauty.” She spoke from her home in the San Francisco area.

Interview with Erica Dawson
by Stephanie Selander

Erica Dawson is the author of two collection of poems: Big-Eyed Afraid, winner of the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, and The Small Blades Hurt, winner of the 2013 Florida Book Awards Bronze medal in poetry. 

Two Poets Named Dunstan Thompson
by Dana Gioia

Like most poets, Dunstan Thompson has been neglected. His early work has been out of print for seventy years. His later work appeared only in a posthumous edition that was never commercially distributed. No current anthologies reprint his poems. His critical prose has never been collected. His novel and travel book have become items for antiquarian booksellers. Although Thompson enjoyed considerable fame in the 1940s, his reputation evaporated within his own lifetime. 

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: Wisława Szymborska

“Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counseled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defense one of the most esoteric poets in world literature—and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!” 


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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