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Poetry News In Review

May 3, 2018
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1294—John I, Duke of Brabant and Limburg and poet, dies murdered aged 41 or 42.

1707—Michiel de Swaen, South Netherlands physician/poet, dies at 53.
1826—Charles XV Louis E, King of Sweden/Norway (1859-72)/poet, is born.
1891—Tadeusz Peiper, Polish poet (d. 1969), is born.
1916 —Pierre Emmanuel, French poet (Sodome), is born.
1924—Yehuda Amichai, Israeli poet (d. 2000), is born.
1930—Juan Gelman, Argentine poet, born in Buenos Aires.
1932—Anton Wildgans, Austrian poet and playwright (Armut), dies at 51.


A great and royal animal is dying 
all through the night under the jasmine 
tree with a constant stare at the world.

A man whose son died in the war walks in the street
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

—from “Memorial Day for the War Dead” by Yehuda Amichai

World Poetry

Praise Poet ‘Inaugurates’ Ramaphosa on Comair Flight

A beaming President Cyril Ramaphosa was given an unofficial inauguration and welcome aboard a flight from Durban to Johannesburg earlier this week, much to the delight of fellow passengers. Comair honoured the president by sending first-time flyer and praise poet Lutendo Evans Mugagadeli, known as “Vendaboy Poet”, to give him a warm welcome on board.

Recent Reviews

In Her New Work, a Public Poet Balances the Personal and Political
by Charles Simic


Tracy K. Smith’s previous collection of poems, “Life on Mars,” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. With an ambition and range unequaled among her contemporaries, that book more than realized the promise of two earlier, somewhat more uneven volumes, “The Body’s Question” (2003) and “Duende” (2007), both of which also contained some stunningly beautiful poems. There has been quite a bit of good poetry written over the last 20 years in this country, and Smith — who since June 2017 has also served as the United States poet laureate — has produced among the most original of it.


The News from Poems
by Lorna Knowles Blake


One can get a lot of news from the poems in Philip Schultz’s most recent collection, Luxury.[1] Schultz is the author of a memoir, a novel-in-verse and seven previous collections of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Failure. This new collection, which consists of twenty shorter poems and the four-part title poem, is written in Schultz’s emotionally direct style. In language rueful and compassionate, he explores contemporary complexities and preoccupations, whether at the grocery store, the Social Security Office, the wedding of gay friends, the 9/11 Memorial, the Women’s March or in his study with his border collie mix, Penelope. 


‘Mancunia’ by Michael Symmons Roberts, ‘Oysterlight’ by Cheryl Pearson, ‘Inside the Wave’ by Helen Dunmore
by Katharine Towers



It is a mark of the significant writer that she or he forges a distinctive and commanding context into which their own work must be received. Michael Symmons Roberts is one such poet, and any reading of his eighth collection Mancunia is enriched by a familiarity with earlier works such as Corpus and the multi-award winning Drysalter, as well as his recent Selected Poems. After such heights, Mancunia does not disappoint.


Carl Phillips, Wild is the Wind
by Ian Pople



‘Wild is the Wind’ is one of the great songs from the American Songbook. Originally recorded by Johnny Mathis for the film of the same name, it has picked up a range of interpreters from Nina Simone and David Bowie, to Bat For Lashes, Esperanza Spalding and Dame Shirley Bassey. Simone’s interpretation is one of the most haunting, if only because Nina Simone was a singer who inhabited a song. 


‘The Fatal Conscience’: Julia de Burgos, Puerto Rico’s Greatest Poet
by Molly Crabapple


In 1928, when Julia de Burgos was fourteen, Hurricane San Felipe devastated Puerto Rico. The Category Five storm left not a single building unscathed, least of all the wood casita in a mountain barrio in Carolina where De Burgos was born. Three hundred people died in what would be, for the next ninety years, the most violent storm in the island’s history. Julia de Burgos did not record her experience. Puerto Rico’s most famous poet and greatest literary figure, De Burgos is as significant a cultural icon for the island commonwealth as the artist Frida Kahlo is for Mexico.

Beyond Poet Voice: Sampling the (Non-) Performance Styles of 100 American Poets
by Marit J. MacArthur, Georgia Zellou, and Lee M. Miller

Literary readings provoke strong feelings, which feed intense critical debates.1And while recorded literary readings have long been available for study, few scholars have applied to them the empirical methods that the digital humanities and interdisciplinary sound studies now offer.

Drafts & Framents

‘Poet to Poet’ Finds an English Voice for Japan’s Female Poets


Translating poetry depends as much on artistic ability as linguistic talent, where understanding often hinges on punctuation and line break, sound and omission, or multiple layers of meaning. A new bilingual publication, “Poet to Poet: Contemporary Women Poets from Japan,” tackled this challenge by striving, not for direct translation, but for “transformation,” a cross-cultural creative experiment that grew into a full collection of poetry. 


Artificial Intelligence Writes Bad Poems Just Like An Angsty Teen

the sun is a beautiful thing
in silence is drawn
between the trees
only the beginning of light
Was that poem written by an angsty middle schooler or an artificially intelligent algorithm? Is it easy to tell?
Yeah, it’s not easy for us, either. Or for poetry experts, for that matter.

Poetry In The News

Rita Dove to Become New York Times Magazine's Poetry Editor

Rita Dove, Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, will begin sharing her keen eye and ear for poetry as the New York Times Magazine’s next poetry editor, starting in June.


Uma Thurman, Patty Griffin among Readers at Poetry Tribute


As Uma Thurman rose from her chair during a poetry tribute at Lincoln Center, she turned and bowed to the reader who preceded her, visual artist Lorna Simpson. "That's called when the evening peaks," Thurman said Wednesday night after Simpson had completed June Jordan's "Poem About My Rights," an impassioned statement of resilience in the face of male violence and oppression.


Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Farmhouse Faces Closure


Mark Twain had Quarry Farm. Pablo Neruda had his Valparaiso home on the hill. And Edna St. Vincent Millay had Steepletop, her farmhouse home in Austerlitz, N.Y., where she wrote poetry about its sprawling, lush grounds. But the house, now a museum and a National Historic Landmark, is in danger of being shuttered. The Millay Society has started a fund-raising campaign, and said that the site will close in November unless $1 million is raised.

New Books

Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl: Poems by Diane Seuss
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 120 pp., $16.00 

Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl takes its title from Rembrandt’s painting, a dark emblem of femininity, violence, and the viewer’s own troubled gaze. In Diane Seuss’s new collection, the notion of the still life is shattered and Rembrandt’s painting is presented across the book in pieces―details that hide more than they reveal until they’re assembled into a whole. With invention and irreverence, these poems escape gilded frames and overturn traditional representations of gender, class, and luxury. Instead, Seuss invites in the alienated, the washed-up, the ugly, and the freakish―the overlooked many of us who might more often stand in a Walmart parking lot than before the canvases of Pollock, O’Keeffe, and Rothko. Rendered with precision and profound empathy, this extraordinary gallery of lives in shards shows us that “our memories are local, acute, and unrelenting.”



Do Angels Need Haircuts? by Lou Reed
[Hardcover] Anthology Editions, 80 pp., $40.00


Do Angels Need Haircuts? is an extraordinary snapshot of this turning point in Reed s career. This book, the first to be produced by the Lou Reed Archive, gathers poems, photographs from the era by Mick Rock, Moe Tucker, and others images from rare poetry zines, and a 7 record of previously unreleased audio of the 1971 St. Mark s Church reading. Featuring a new foreword by Anne Waldman, archival notes by Don Fleming, and an afterword by Laurie Anderson, Do Angels Need Haircuts? provides a window to a little-known chapter in the life of one of the most singular and uncompromising voices in American popular culture.

Tropic of Squalor: Poems by Mary Karr
[Hardcover] Harper, 96 pp., $22.99 

Long before she earned accolades for her genre-defining memoirs, Mary Karr was winning poetry prizes. Now the beloved author returns with a collection of bracing poems as visceral and deeply felt and hilarious as her memoirs. In Tropic of Squalor, Karr dares to address the numinous—that mystery some of us hope towards in secret, or maybe dare to pray to. The "squalor" of meaninglessness that every thoughtful person wrestles with sits at the core of human suffering, and Karr renders it with power—illness, death, love’s agonized disappointments. Her brazen verse calls us out of our psychic swamplands and into that hard-won awareness of the divine hiding in the small moments that make us human. In a single poem she can generate tears, horror, empathy, laughter, and peace. She never preaches. But whether you’re an adamant atheist, a pilgrim, or skeptically curious, these poems will urge you to find an inner light in the most baffling hours of darkness.


4:30 Movie: Poems by Donna Masini 
[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 80 pp., $25.95


In poems that are by turns intimate and wild, provocative and tender, award-winning poet Donna Masini explores personal loss, global violence, and the consolations of art. She brings her wit, grief, fury, and propulsive energy to bear on the preoccupations of our daily lives and our attempts to bargain with endings of every kind. Equal parts lament and praise, 4:30 Movie is fueled by despair and humor, governed by the ways in which movies enter our imaginations and frame our experiences. The movie theater becomes a presiding metaphor: part waiting room, part childhood, part underground depths where the self is a bit player, riding the subway with “its engine of extras.” Masini's exquisite wordplay shows the mind wrestling ferociously to forestall grief, as if finding the right words might somehow allow us to extend our beautiful, foreshortened run.

Kindest Regards: New and Selected by Ted Kooser 
[Hardcover] Copper Canyon Press, 256 pp., $29.67

Four decades of poetry―and a generous selection of new work―make up this extraordinary collection by Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser. Firmly rooted in the landscapes of the Midwest, Kooser’s poetry succeeds in finding the emotional resonances within the ordinary. Kooser’s language of quiet intensity trains itself on the intricacies of human relationships, as well as the animals and objects that make up our days. As Poetry magazine said of his work, “Kooser documents the dignities, habits, and small griefs of daily life, our hunger for connection, our struggle to find balance.”


An Interview with Poet Ron Padgett
by Stephanie LaCava


I met with poet Ron Padgett at his East Village apartment, where he and his wife have lived since 1967. He and I sat surrounded by books, archive boxes, and artwork. I asked about the oil painting just above my head, a navy blue background with thirty-odd cigarette butts falling every which way. Padgett told me it is by Joe Brainard, the late writer and artist, and Padgett's close friend since their childhood in Oklahoma. Padgett wrote about him in Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard (2004). His most recent book, Motor Maids across the Continent, came out in the spring of 2017. Fifty years earlier he had found an old adventure novel intended for teen girls, The Motor Maids across the Continent (1911), in a used book shop. Later that day his teacher at Columbia, Kenneth Koch, took the book out of his hands, crossed out a few passages, and on page 3 wrote “The End,” kicking off Padgett’s own exploration and transformation of the found material. 

“I don’t like to be told what to do, and poems are very bossy.”: Airea D. Matthews
by Kaveh Akbar

Airea D. Matthews is the author of Simulacra, winner of the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets. Her work has appeared in Callaloo, Best American Poets 2015, Harvard Review, American Poet, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College, where she directs the Creative Writing Program.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Artificial Poems


If artificial intelligence can write poems indistinguishable from poems by people, that might say less about AI and more about us or about what we expect out of poetry. Identifying emotive images and making comparative relationships is the beginning of poetic intelligence not the end. Below is a sonnet from Edna St. Vincent Millay. When machines can be programmed to replicate the wit and depth of feeling encompassed here, then we're on to something.

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
That you were gone, not to return again—
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man—who happened to be you—
At noon to-day had happened to be killed,    
I should not cry aloud—I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place—
I should but watch the station lights rush by
With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

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