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Poetry News In Review

November 12, 2015
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1650 – Thomas May, English poet and historian (b. 1595), dies.
1714 – William Shenstone, English poet (d. 1763), is born.
1813 – Peter II Petrovic Njegos, poet/ruler of Montenegro (1830-51), is born.
1930 – Nico Scheepmaker, Dutch columnist/poet, is born.
1938 – Gérald Godin, French Canadian poet and politician (d. 1994), is born.
1975 – Olga Berggolts, Russian poet (b. 1910), dies.
1982 – Babette Deutsch, US poet (Honey out of the Rock), dies at 87.


Coming too close
Is monstrous, like a doll
That is alive and bigger than the child
Who tries to hold it.
It is a clock that tolls the thirteenth hour.
It is a theatre
On fire.

—from “History” by Babette Deutsch (1895–1982)

World Poetry

Darfur Poet Triumphs in International Poetry Slam

“When I was 7, she cradled bullets in the billows of her robes,” writes Emtithal Mahmoud in the poem Mama, with which she won the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship in Washington DC. “That same night, she taught me how to get gunpowder out of cotton with a bar of soap.” But Mahmoud, who comes from Darfur and is currently a senior at Yale University studying anthropology and molecular biology, says her mother has yet to hear the poem she inspired; she left for Sudan on the first day of the poetry competition, which was also the day of Mahmoud’s grandmother’s death.

New Mystery Surfaces 4 Decades After Pablo Neruda’s Deat

Many Chileans have long suspected foul play in the death of the poet Pablo Neruda, who died 12 days after the 1973 coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Now, the government of Chile has said it is “highly probable” that those suspicions are correct. The Interior Ministry released a statement on Thursday saying that “it is clearly possible and highly probable” that the death of Mr. Neruda “was caused by third-party intervention.”

Recent Reviews

Within Earshot
by David Yezzi

Where do poems exist, in the voice or on the page? Surely the answer is “both,” though the page might be best likened to a musical score. It greatly guides our understanding of the piece, but the full life of the thing is in the playing. W. H. Auden (following Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch) famously thought of a poem as “memorable speech,” something to be uttered. A good poem produces a physical response in the listener, akin to a body swaying to music. Even reading a poem on the page, one hears an inner voice speaking. In this sense, there is no such thing as silent reading, nor is it possible to speed-read a poem.

Bright Scythe: Selected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer
by Andrew Singer

Sometimes a new piece of shared cultural heritage seems to click into place; the appearance of Bright Scythe—selected poems by Swedish Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Patty Crane—feels like such an occasion. These poems are adamantly delicate parcels of offhand eternity, dwelling in a space few have inhabited usefully in any sustained way.

Poets, Angry
by Peter Riley

I’ve reviewed both Simon Smith and Steve Ely recently (here and here) and their new books confirm what I found then: Simon Smith’s free-running obliquity powered by wit and perceptiveness, and Steve Ely’s alliterative drive powered by a sense of outraged injustice, battles and names, gospels of class warfare. But I wanted to bring them together now because they make an instructive comparison and both of the new books focus on “England” as a place to make you very angry, which is shared with a lot of other poets, especially the young and “innovative”.

Blue Fasa by Nathaniel Mackey
by John Tamplin

If I were to describe as “new” the most persistent strain in Nathaniel Mackey’s most recent collection of poetry, Blue Fasa, I would only demonstrate an indifference to the work’s place in an ongoing serial poem of Mackey’s making. “Serial” does not only mean “sequential”; the uninitiated reader should not avoid this book for lack of familiarity with its predecessors. As Mackey himself notes in the book’s preface, the role of the serial form is analogous to the role of the sympathetic string: “A sympathetic string on the sitar, sarangi and other Indian instruments vibrates in response to a note played on the corresponding main string, sounding, by way of sympathetic resonance, the same note in unison or an octave above or below, or at an interval such as a fifth or a fourth away.” Each instantiation of the serial poem sympathetically vibrates with all its predecessors and successors, to a greater or lesser degree.

Truth or Beauty—Pick One
The harder Carl Phillips’ poems look for beauty, the further they go from home.
by Jonathan Farmer

“Beauty is truth,” said Keats’ still, cold, silent, ancient urn, “truth beauty,” and the saying persists, frozen just outside of time. That line, and the even more didactic one that follows (which may or may not be “spoken” by the urn), has led to no end of critical dismay and debate, its icy Platonic consolation braiding two divergent ideals into a Mobius strip, impossible to encompass, impossible to complete.


“Familiar, Unbidden”: Finding Home with Elizabeth Bishop
by Elisa Wouk Almino

Having grown up in seven different cities, there is no place I have ever felt particularly at home. My nationality, Brazilian, confuses most as I have lived in Brazil only three years out of my 25. And yet Brazil provokes a particular sense of longing for home — a sense made effable through the wave-like inflections of Portuguese and the quick, circular rhythms of samba; through the weight of a coconut in my hands in Rio de Janeiro and the landscape of scissor-shaped roads in Brasília. But, over time, I’ve found that home is not always attached to place. I’d long struggled to define what home meant to me, until I read Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry in college.

Drafts & Framents

Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies
A guide for the perplexed
by Mark Yakich

At one time or another, when face-to-face with a poem, most everyone has been perplexed. The experience of reading a poem itself is as likely to turn us off, intellectually or emotionally, as it is to move us. Unless patronized by celebrities, set to music, accompanied by visuals, or penned by our own children, poems do a terrible job of marketing themselves

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
by Julian Peters

My complete 24-page comic-book adaptation of the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. To those who have asked me where they can find this in print: The comic only exists online for the time being, but I am currently in the process of looking for a publisher for it.

Poetry In The News

Web Poets’ Society: New Breed Succeeds in Taking Verse Viral

Online poets like Tyler Knott Gregson are finding success on bookshelves. Mr. Gregson’s first book has 120,000 copies in print. On a recent Friday night, Tyler Knott Gregson, a blond, tattooed poet from Montana, took the stage at a Manhattan bookstore and beamed at the crowd that had come to celebrate his new haiku collection. “This is rad. I appreciate it,” he said, taking in the roughly 150 people who had crowded into Barnes & Noble. The response from the mostly young, mostly female audience amounted to a collective swoon.

The Curious Persistence of Poetry Shops

On a recent afternoon on Front Street in Dumbo, a patron approached Jared White, the owner of Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, and asked for recommendations of Spanish-language and Scandinavian poets. He pointed to “Poems,” by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Milán, and “Remainland,” by the Swedish poet Aase Berg. White and his wife, Farrah Field, opened the storefront two years ago, after several years of breaking even at the Brooklyn Flea, selling books on the ground floor of the Williamsburg Savings Bank building alongside soap and ceramics on artisans row.

New Books

Second Empire by Richie Hofmann 
[Paperback] Alice James Books, 100 pp., $15.95

This debut's spare, delicate poems explore ways we experience the afterlife of beauty while ornately examining lust, loss, and identity. Drawing upon traditions of amorous sonnets, these love-elegies desire an artistic and sexual connection to others--other times, other places--in order to understand aesthetic pleasures the speaker craves. Distant and formal, the poems feel both ancient and contemporary.

Bright Scythe: Selected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer
[Hardcover] Sarabande Books, 240 pp., $17.95 

Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is Sweden’s most acclaimed poet. Known for sharp imagery, startling metaphors and deceptively simple diction, his luminous poems offer mysterious glimpses into the deepest facets of humanity, often through the lens of the natural world. These new translations by Patty Crane, presented side by side with the original Swedish, are tautly rendered and elegantly cadenced. They are also deeply informed by Crane’s personal relationship with the poet and his wife during the years she lived in Sweden, where she was afforded greater insight into the nuances of his poetics and the man himself.

The Gospel of Household Plants by Brenna Lemieux        
[Paperback] Quercus Review Press, 102 pp., $12.00

"Brenna Lemieux's a wonder—and it is her sense of wonder for both the natural and intellectual worlds, those slippery worlds we all inhabit, both in our heads and out of doors, that make her poems so profoundly satisfying. Her poems are tender and whimsical, but never precious or cute—her lines are confident and easy, thrilling in their embrace of the off-balance world we all walk through. She's a poet who goes beyond the mere noticing of detail to the delicate labor of seeing all the colors in the many swaths of her experience. The Gospel of Household Plants is a book to immerse yourself in, to revel in, and find yourself changed by." —Allison Joseph

On Earth and in Hell: Early Poems by Thomas Bernhard 
[Paperback] Three Rooms Press, 256 pp., $19.95 

The first English translation of the earliest poetry of brilliant and disruptive Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, widely considered one of the most innovative and original authors of the twentieth century and often associated with fellow mavericks Beckett, Kafka and Dostoevsky. A master of language, whose body of work was described in a New York Times book review as “the most significant literary achievement since World War II,” Bernhard’s On Earth and in Hell offers a distilled perspective on the essence of his artistry and his theme of death as the only reality. A remarkable achievement by highly-respected translator Peter Waugh.

Echo System by Julie Agoos
[Paperback] Sheep Meadow, 120 pp., $18.95

“Until the forms of life are clearly felt, the forms of art will mean little .... Here are the proportions that ease the heart, the images agleam with use, the spoken phrases of a fluency so natural that we forget how we distrusted it back home, where to grope for words proved our utter sincerity…. Agoos makes her connections, and uses those foreign ways, as directly or obliquely as she pleases.” – James Merrill


“If We Change the World We Also Change Its Meaning”: An Interview with Syrian Poet Adonis
by Erkut Tokman

Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Esber), born in Syria in 1930, is considered the most influential living Arab poet of our times. Due to his opposition to the political regime at the time, he fled to Beirut in 1956, where he played an important role for Arab culture, especially by editing and directing the poetry magazines Majallat Shi’r and Mawaqif with Yousuf Al-Khal, which opened a new path in Arabic poetry in terms of modernism and the evolution of free verse and prose poetry. In 1981 he settled in Paris because of the civil war in Lebanon. This led to new directions in his poetry: reshaping mysticism without religion and the traditional possibilities of Sufism as well as widening and exploring its borders through the surrealist and metaphysical side of individualism.

“It’s all so goddamn compelling.”
by Kaveh Akbar

Ross Gay is the author of three books: Against Which, Bringing the Shovel Down, and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. He is also the co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of the chapbook Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens, in addition to being co-author, with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., of the chapbook, River. He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin', in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press. Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ross teaches at Indiana University.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Apropos of nothing, I thought I'd share with you the opening poem from Andrew Hudgins' amazing first book of poems, Saints and Strangers, published in 1985.


The Persistence of Nature in Our Lives

You find them in the darker woods
occasionally–those swollen lumps
of fungus, twisted, moist, and yellow–
but when they show up on the lawn
it’s like they’ve tracked me home. In spring
the persistence of nature in our lives
rises from below, drifts from above.
The pollen settles on my skin
and waits for me to bloom, trying
to work green magic on my flesh.
They’re indiscriminate, these firs.
They’ll mate with anything. A great
green-yellow cloud of pollen sifts
across the house. The waste of it
leaves nothing out–not even men.
The pollen doesn’t care I’m not
a tree. The golden storm descends.
Wind lifts it from the branches, lofts
it in descending arches of need
and search, a grainy yellow haze
that settles over everything
as if it’s all the same. I love
the utter waste of pollen, a scum
of it on every pond and puddle.
It rides the ripples and, when they dry,
remains, a line of yellow dust
zigzagging in the shape of waves.
One night, perhaps a little drunk,
I stretched out on the porch, watching
the Milky Way. At dawn I woke
to find a man-shape on the hard
wood floor, outlined in pollen–a sharp
spread-eagle figure drawn there like
the body at a murder scene.
Except for that spot, the whole damn house
glittered, green-gold. I wandered out
across the lawn, my bare feet damp
with dew, the wet ground soft, forgiving,
beneath my step. I understood
I am, as much as anyone,
the golden beast who staggers home,
in June, beneath the yearning trees.

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