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Poetry News In Review

May 5, 2016
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1862— Max Elskamp, Belgian author/poet (Lesson Joies Blondes, Maya), is born.
1980— Edmond Vandercammen, Belgian writer/poet (Grand Combat), dies at 79.
1996— Ai Qing, Chinese poet, dies at 86.

The Chilean Cigarette Pack

A Chilean cigarette pack
bears the portrait of the Statue
of Liberty. Holding her torch on high, 
still, she stands in shadow.

As an ad or trademark,
she is allowed her place on the packet. 
You can buy the thing for a few cents 
and it will go up in smoke…

be thrown to the roadside; 
walked and spat upon.
In symbol or in fact,
liberty is but a pack of cigarettes.

—Ai Qing (1910–1996)

World Poetry

Chilean Poet Neruda Reburied at his Coastal Home

The remains of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda were reburied on Tuesday at his favorite home in a Chilean town overlooking the Pacific Ocean, despite lingering questions surrounding his mysterious death.

Recent Reviews

Poetry Ha Ha
by Robert Archambeau

Comedy is a funny kind of art: much loved, but rarely held in the highest esteem. Aristotle ranked it lower than tragedy, and the last unambiguously genre-specific comedy to win the Oscar for best picture was Annie Hall, in 1977. Comic poetry suffers a similar fate: it is under-represented in anthologies and rarely given systematic critical consideration. But do we even know what comic poetry is? Well, it’s poetry, for starters, although the worms that spill out of the can when we ask what constitutes poetry are too numerous to count. As for what constitutes comedy, the theories are a bit more manageable, and fall into three main categories: incongruity theory; relief theory; and superiority theory. All of these are encompassed, implicitly or otherwise, by Henri Bergson’s treatise Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, which forms the basis of Aaron Belz’s theoretical speculations on comedy.  If I’m not mistaken, though, Belz warps Bergson’s theory in interesting ways, ways that help us understand the very serious intent—and rather dark view of the world—of the comic poetry in Belz’s book Glitter Bomb.


Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness
by John Keene

In “Translating Poetry, Translating Blackness,” John Keene argues that “we need more translation of literary works by non-Anglophone black diasporic authors into English, particularly by U.S.-based translators, and that these translations should then be published by U.S.-based publishing organs, including literary periodicals, as well as by publishing houses large and small.”

Drafts & Framents

Beyond April: 5 Ways to Bring Poetry to Life    

by L.L. Barkat

I love National Poetry Month and will always be among the first to promote it and participate in it. The extended holiday raises awareness, spurs creative thinking, and draws communities together for a time—just as holidays of all kinds are meant to do. But, in the matter of poetry, I’m not satisfied to let it begin and end in April. There is simply too much need for poetry during the other eleven months of the year. What I really want is poetry for life—a constancy, if only low-key, that brings insight to ordinary people as they go about their regular lives, year after year.

Poetry In The News

Warsan Shire: the Somali-British Poet Quoted by Beyoncé in Lemonade

She writes of places where many Beyoncé fans rarely go, the portions of London where the faces are black and brown, where men huddle outside shop-front mosques and veiled women are trailed by long chains of children. Warsan Shire, the Somali-British poet whose words are featured in Beyoncé’s new globe-shaking Lemonade album, is a bard of these marginalised areas – she was even named the first Young Poet Laureate for London at 25.

Walt Whitman Promoted a Paleo Diet. Who Knew?

In 1858, when Walt Whitman sat down to write a manifesto on healthy living, he came up with advice that might not seem out of place in an infomercial today. “Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else,” Whitman wrote, sounding more than a little paleo.

Poetry Behind Bars: The Lines That Save Lives — Sometimes Literally

The way Jimmy Santiago Baca tells it, poetry saved his life — but he's not speaking in hyperbole. Long before the poet won an American Book Award, Baca was in prison on a drug conviction, where he was facing down a prison-yard fight with another inmate. Baca sought padding however he could get it. "So I got a bunch of tape and a bunch of books on the library cart and strapped them around my stomach," he recalls, "and when this guy pulled out his shank, I was like, wow, this ain't just a fight — this guy wants to kill me."The guy he was fighting connected on a few swipes, he says, but each time, the books — and one big one, in particular — took the blow. "Had the book not been there, I would have been dead; it would've cut all the way to the tailbone. When i went back to my cell, I looked at this one book where he had gouged it about an inch deep. And it was a thick anthology of Romantic poets."

Daniel Berrigan, U.S. Anti-war Priest and Poet, Dies at 94

Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, poet and peace activist who was imprisoned for burning draft files to protest the Vietnam War, died on Saturday at 94, a Jesuit magazine reported. Berrigan died at the Murray-Weigel Jesuit Community in New York's Bronx borough, America magazine said. It did not give a cause of death.

New Books

Sex & Love & by Bob Hicok
[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 80 pp., $17.00 

In Sex & Love &, Bob Hicok attempts the impossible task of confronting love and its consequences, in which "everything is allowed, minus forever." Switching gracefully between witty confessions and blunt confrontations, Hicok muses on age, distance, secret messages, and, of course, sex. Throughout, poetry is discovered to be among our most effective tools to examine the delirium of making contact.

December Poems by Ben Mazer
[Paperback] Pen & Anvil Press, 60 pp., $11.95 

A collection of new poems written after the publication of The Glass Piano. Includes the first appearance of the title sequence December Poems in print. Important poems by a new master of American verse. These love poems are Mazer's pinnacle so far. They have his poetics and the poetry combined at his highest level. These new poems will make any person, poet or otherwise, love him, cry with him, and be him. — Kevin Gallagher, publisher of spoKe

May Day: Poems by Gretchen Marquette
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 80 pp., $16.00        

May Day is both a distress call and a celebration of the arrival of spring. In this rich and unusually assured first collection, the poet Gretchen Marquette writes of the losses of a brother gone off to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a great love--losses that have left the world charged with absence and grief. But there is also the wonder of the natural world: the deer at the edge of the forest, the dog reliably coaxing the poet beyond herself and into the city park where by tradition every May Day is pageantry, a festival of surviving the long winter. "What does it mean to be in love?" one poem asks. "As it turns out, / the second best thing that can happen to you / is a broken heart." May Day introduces readers to a new poet of depth and power.

Tornadoesque by Donald Platt
[Paperback] Cavankerry, 96 pp., $18.00 

Through Platt’s trademark of alternating long and short lines, and through occasional lyric prose, Tornadoesque becomes a weather report from middle age, as the poet discovers his bisexuality in a heterosexual marriage of longstanding passion, responds to war in the Middle East and the deaths and illnesses of friends, and gives an eyewitness account of what is lost and what’s saved when a tornado touches down.

To Fold the Evening Star: New and Selected Poems by Ian McMillan
[Paperback] Carcanet Press, 96 pp., $14.99 

Lauded as a 'national treasure' and 'world class' by his contemporaries, 'Bard of Barnsley' Ian McMillan is one of Britain's well-loved poets, performers, broadcasters and entertainers. The host of The Verb, BBC Radio 3's Cabaret of The Word, McMillan has been injecting soul and vibrancy into the UK literary scene for over two decades. His humorous and witty observations of everyday life, fused with his northern, working-class voice has made him a household name. This long-awaited collection brings together poems from his previous publications plus new and unseen ones.


The Poet on the Poem: Ginger Murchison
by Diane Lockwood

I am pleased to feature Ginger Murchison in The Poet on the Poem. Ginger Murchison earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College. Together with Thomas Lux, she helped found Poetry at Tech, where she served as associate director for five years and since as one of its visiting McEver Chairs in Poetry. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Frost Place, a member of the conference faculty for the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, a regular guest at the Bread Loaf Writers’Conference, and Editor-in-Chief of the acclaimed The Cortland Review. She lives in Ft. Myers, Florida.

Soraya Peerbaye on Writing Poetry about the Murder of Reena Virk

For eight days, Reena Virk's lifeless body lay in the Gorge Waterway in Victoria, B.C. Virk, 14 and the daughter of Indian immigrants, had been brutally beaten by a group of teenagers. Two of her peers, Kelly Ellard, 15, and Warren Glowatski, 16, were convicted of murder and six girls - aged 14 to 16 were sentenced for their role in the assault. The case made international headlines. Toronto poet Soraya Peerbaye captures the 1997 case in her poetry collection Tell: poems for a girlhood, which is nominated for a Griffin Poetry Prize. In her own words, Peerbaye talks about writing the collection, travelling to Vancouver to watch the trials and visiting the scene of the crime.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Several months ago, I resisted the urge to post what I thought would be the final news story on the death of Pablo Neruda. Instead, I included in my Editor's Note one of his more well-known poems. I hope that the story above will indeed close the book on this episode. In that spirit, I am posting here a lesser-known Neruda poem, written while he was afflicted by terminal cancer, in hopes we can concentrate more on the poetry and less the man.

Leave Me A Place Underground

Leave me a place underground, a labyrinth,
where I can go, when I wish to turn,
without eyes, without touch,
in the void, to dumb stone,
or the finger of shadow.

I know that you cannot, no one, no thing
can deliver up that place, or that path,
but what can I do with my pitiful passions,
if they are no use, on the surface
of everyday life,
if I cannot look to survive,
except by dying, going beyond, entering
into the state, metallic and slumbering, 
of primeval flame? 

—Pablo Neruda

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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