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Poetry News In Review

May 21, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1639 – Giovan D "Tommaso" Campanella, Italian philosopher/poet, dies at 70.

1647 – Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, poet/playwright (Warenar), dies at about 65.

1771 – Christopher Smart, English poet (b. 1722), dies.

1790 – Thomas Warton, English poet (Oxford sausage), dies.

1688 – Alexander Pope, London, English poet (Rape of the Lock, translation of Homer) (d.1744), is born.

1855 – Emile Verhaeren, Belgian poet/writer (Les Flammes Hautes), is born.

1884 – Manuel Pérez y Curis, Uruguayan poet (d. 1920), is born.

1892 – John Peale Bishop, US poet (This Side of Paradise), is born.

1895 – Franz von Suppe, Austrian composer (Poet und Bauer), dies at 76.

1926 – Robert Creeley, Mass, poet/novelist (Island), is born.


When you close my eyes to the light,

Kiss them slowly, for they will bear

All of the passion of love that is there

In the fading fervor of their fading sight.


Under the lantern's harsh, still bloom,

Bend your sad and beautiful face

Over my eyes that they can fix in place

The image of you they will take to the tomb.


—from "When You Close My Eyes" by Emile Verhaeren, 1855-1916

World Poetry

Manipur Activist "Iron Lady" Irom Sharmila's 1000-word Poem

A 1000-word "very long" poem, penned by Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for the past 12 years to protest against what she calls repressive laws allowing widespread human rights abuses, forms part of a new book on the activist from Manipur. Titled "Birth" the poem concludes "Iron Irom Two Journeys - Where the Abnormal is Normal," a book written by author and documentary filmmaker Minnie Vaid and published by Rajpal and Sons. Read more at ZeeNews.

Recent Reviews

Scrambled Sonnets, Prosthetic Limbs, and Little Bitter Teeth: Notes on Some Recent Poetry Publications

by Barry Schwabsky 

Ezra Pound said poetry was news that stays news. I thought that in gathering some notes on poetry I’ve read this year I’d bring a bit of news and only after doing so realized to what extent those notes would indicate how today’s poetry can be entwined with medieval Moorish Spain or fourteenth century Tuscany or Elizabethan London or sixteenth century Japan. Sometimes, apparently, poetry can also be ancientries made new again. Read more at Hyperallergic.

What the Hell

Dante in translation and in Dan Brown’s new novel.

by Joan Acocella

People can’t seem to let go of the Divine Comedy. You’d think that a fourteenth-century allegorical poem on sin and redemption, written in a medieval Italian vernacular and in accord with the Scholastic theology of that period, would have been turned over, long ago, to the scholars in the back carrels. But no. By my count there have been something like a hundred English-language translations, and not just by scholars but by blue-chip poets: in the past half century, John Ciardi, Allen Mandelbaum, Robert Pinsky, W. S. Merwin. Read more at the New Yorker.

Formal Address

The correspondence of Anthony Hecht

by William Pritchard

Of the generation of American poets born in the 1920s, three are preeminent: Richard Wilbur (b. 1921), Anthony Hecht (b. 1923), and James Merrill (b. 1926). This judgment will, of course, be contested by those who are most excited by the high nonsense of a John Ashbery, the manic improvisations of an Allen Ginsberg, or the solemn proclamations of an Adrienne Rich. But for those admiring of “formal” verse—of meter, rhyme, and stanza—the trio named above (one of whom, Wilbur, is still alive and writing) are master practitioners. They were united in respecting their near-predecessors Elizabeth Bishop (b. 1911) and Robert Lowell (b. 1917), especially Bishop, about whom all three wrote essays. Going further back, Robert Frost and W. B. Yeats also figure for them as exemplars of the centrality of technique whose “modernism,” unlike that of Ezra Pound or T. S. Eliot, never abandoned poetry’s established forms. Read more at the Weekly Standard.

James Longenbach’s The Virtues of Poetry

by Matt Kilbane

My admiration for James Longenbach’s new collection of essays, The Virtues of Poetry, has everything to do with this poet-critic’s bifocals, his capacity to take the short- and long-view simultaneously and with equal rigor. It’s a bird’s eye intimacy, made possible by a kind of thoroughgoing poetic piety, an abiding reverence for the poets under discussion. We’re talking Shakespeare, Marvell, Donne, Blake, Dickinson, Whitman, Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Oppen, Bishop, Lowell, Ashbery and Glück. No surprises there. But these canonical pillars are strangely illumined in Longenbach’s loving hands. Read more at the Sycamore Review.


Painted Clear, Painted Black

by Eileen Myles

I feel like the back story of Marjorie’s avant garde mandate is mourning. I think Perloff has sustained an enormous amount of loss in her life and along with her championing of avant garde practice in her criticism she’s also deeply engaged in controlling the emotional climate of the room she’s in. Who gets to feel what when, and how! And that’s a problem because poetry is a community not an institution and we’re always at multiple purposes here in this room. When she opens her piece with Jed Rasula’s assertion of the problem of there being too many poets I wonder why neither of them notice that in the mainstream there aren’t any poets. We’re mainly hearing that no poets are being read. That there’s no understanding of poetry today. Then the writer, whoever cites something they used to like or understands as poetry. Anything will do because poetry has no relevance. Read more at The Volta.

Poetry: The News that Stays News

by Stephen Burt

The most famous statements about poetry and journalism hide an equation inside an opposition: “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack// of what is found there” (William Carlos Williams). Or else they hide an opposition inside an equation: “Poetry is news that stays news” (Ezra Pound). Read more at the Nieman Reports.

Hurt Into Poetry: On Poetry and Greece 

by Stephanos Papadopoulos

My father loved C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933). With a scowl of deep concentration, he would read poems like “Ithaca,” or “The God Abandons Antony.” He was amazed that this scrawny, reclusive dandy from Alexandria could be so powerful in his verse. It was the magic of poetry at work, or as poet Glyn Maxwell says, “what’s signaled by the black shapes is a human presence.”  Read more at the LA Review of Books.

A More Ordinary Poet

Seeking Emily Dickinson

by Gillian Osborne

For many of her readers, Emily Dickinson remains the quintessential nineteenth-century poetess: the Belle of Amherst, spooking into high school English classes in virginal white, a real-life Ophelia, her poems full of spiders, flowers, and carriage rides with death. And yet, at least since the publication of R.W. Franklin’s 1981 volume charting Dickinson’s manuscripts and his 1998 variorum edition of her complete poems—both of which reveal the textual complexity of Dickinson’s originals, their variants, and their positions in letters and fascicles or sets—this poet has also been read as a nineteenth-century Gertrude Stein. Read more at the Boston Review.

Drafts & Framents

A planet-hunter's Ode to Kepler, Inspired by W.H. Auden

by Amina Khan

NASA's announcement that the Kepler planet-hunting telescope may be near the end of its scientific life inspired a UC Berkeley astrophysicist to write a poem based on W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues." Read more at the LA Times.

Poetry In The News

After Complaints, Franklin Regional Stifles a “Howl”

Franklin Regional administrators have removed a controversial poem from the district's curriculum after parents complained about its explicit language and graphic nature. “Howl,” a poem published by beat poet Allan Ginsberg in 1956, had been used in senior English elective “Alternative Voices” since 2007, but no longer is on the district's approved-resource list, said Shelley Shaneyfelt, director of instructional services and public relations. Read more at Trib Live.  

Poems Join eBook Revolution —But Progress Is Not without its Hiccups

 Over the past two years, publishers have been steadily filling one of the largest gaps in the ebook catalogue — poetry. Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and Wallace Stevens have been among the poets whose work recently became available in electronic format. And Random House Inc., W.W. Norton and several other publishers now routinely release new books in both print and digital versions, including last month’s Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, Sharon Olds’ Stag’s Leap. Read more at the Vancouver Sun. 

New Books

Body Thesaurus by Jennifer Militello

[Paperback] Tupelo Press, 72 pp., $16.95

In her second book, Jennifer Militello investigates the tensions of identity as a source of illness and health. Body Thesaurus presents the human physique as a flawed conduit and, through poems highlighting symptoms, antidotes, and diagnostic tests, seeks alternate renderings for the complexities of self. Even as the endangered psyche supplies a filter, gods are confronted, maladies are faced, and actualities are marked, remembered, or lost. The beauty of struggle and the chance for redemption act as counterstream, increasingly evident and--again and again in the poet's verse--indisputably real.

Rough Day by Ed Skoog

 [Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 96 pp., $16.00

Composed during long walks throughout Washington, DC, and careful to err on the side of recklessness, Rough Day finds its essential unity in a fixation on American events and landscapes—from Yellowstone and New Orleans to Kansas and the Pacific Northwest. Throughout, Ed Skoog maintains an openness to discovery that unveils rare and prismatic views into his country.

Spiral Trace by Jack Marshall 

[Paperback] Coffee House Press 248 pp., $17.95

"[Marshall] understands that all worlds, the material and the spiritual, are one, and that the neighborhoods and cities that no longer exist can be conjured by memory and reanimated by art."—San Francisco Chronicle

Choir of the Wells by Bruce Bond 

[Paperback] Etruscan Press, 200 pp., $17.00

Choir of the Wells is a tetralogy of new books that cohere as an exploration of the mind-body enigma.

Centaur by Greg Wrenn 

[Paperback] University of Wisconsin Press, 92 pp., $16.95

Greg Wrenn's debut collection opens with a long poem in which a man undergoes surgery to become a centaur. Other poems speak in voices as varied as those of Robert Mapplethorpe, Hercules, and a Wise Man at the birth of Jesus. Centaur skitters along the blurred lines between compulsivity and following one's heart, stasis and self-realization, human and animal. Here, suffering and transcendence are restlessly conjoined.


Charles Henry Rowell Is "Prepared to Do Battle" Using Poetry

For nearly four decades, Charles Henry Rowell has been a talent scout of sorts, looking for young and often ignored African-American artists. His mission is to identify, nurture, promote and publish new black writers. It began with a literary journal he started in 1974, when Rowell says Southern black writers were mostly ignored by publishers. He called the magazine "Callaloo," after a popular Caribbean stew, hoping the journal would be a spicy mixture of poetry, fiction and essays. At age 74, Rowell has had remarkable success. His journal has helped introduce several generations of now high-profile writers, including many who have been featured on the PBS NewsHour. Read more at the NewsHour.

A Tale of Two Poets

Rachida Madani and Marilyn Hacker

SIROCCO blog: The Mediterranean wind whipped up in the Sahara and blown across the Maghreb region. In North Africa, it is known by its Arabic name, qibli. ‘Sirocco’ provides a blow-by-blow account of events occurring in the Arabic-speaking countries west of Egypt. Multiculturalism has lately taken a bit of a thrashing from the political and intellectual elite in the West. It used to be the answer for everything, the epitome of respect, inclusiveness and fostering tolerance. Somewhere along the line it suddenly became inadequate, something that created segregation, prevented national unity and common purpose, among other things. A recent Chatham House brief, The Roots of Extremism, suggests that there are a growing number of people in Europe who believe that inter communal conflict is inevitable. Yet perhaps the relationship between the award-winning poet Rachida Madani her translator, American poet Marilyn Hacker, is a great example of how to reverse this worrying trend. Read more at Majalla.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Prison Poetry Website Awarded $75,000 NEA Grant

by Howard Portnoy

Thanks to sequestration, there is not enough money in the government coffers to keep “the people’s house” (aka the White House) open for tours. You’ll be pleased to know, however, that there’s plenty of money — $75,000 worth — for prison poetry. Read more at the Examiner.

Truth be told, I am pleased to know this. Thank you, Howard. And thanks to the NEA.

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