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Poetry News In Review

November 5, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1613 – Isaac de Benserade, French poet (d. 1691), is born.

1836 – Karel Hynek Mácha, Czech poet (b. 1810), dies.
1850 – Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American author and poet (d. 1919), is born.

1884 – James Elroy Flecker, English poet/dramatist (Hassan), is born.
2010 – Adrian Păunescu, Romanian poet and politician (b. 1943), dies.
I shall not dare

To gaze upon your countenance,

But I shall huddle in my chair,

Turn to the fire my fireless glance,

And listen, while that slow and grave

Immutable sweet voice of yours

Rises and falls, as falls a wave

In summer on forgotten shores. 
—from “Gravis Dulcis Immutabilis” by James Elroy Flecker (1884–1915)


World Poetry

Poetry Graduate Student Wins National Translation Prize

When graduate student Miller Oberman heard that he had won Poetry magazine’s John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize for Translation – whose past winners include Pulitzer Prize-winners and National Book Award-winners – for his translation of an Old English rune poem, he was incredulous. “At first I though it was some sort of mistake,” says Oberman, a third-year Ph.D student in the Department of English. “But it also solidified something for me. Some people have asked, ‘Why are you doing this? You study contemporary poetry.’ This language is one ancestor of our language, and it can still speak to us.”

 Read more at UConn Today.

Qatar: A Poet Sits in a Desert Cell for Reciting his Work at Home

 We stood outside the guard house in the desert wind on the outskirts of the city. Doha Central Prison rose on the horizon of a barren, rock-strewn landscape, electric wires cutting across a cloudless sky. We had been told we had permission to visit Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami, whose 15-year sentence for two poems had been confirmed the previous day by the high court. Read more at Global Post.

Remembering Tato Laviera, Nuyorican Poet and Author

Poet, musician, and dramatist Abraham “Tato” Laviera, one of the greatest representatives of the Nuyorican movement, died on November 1 (Día de los Muertos in the Catholic calendar) at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, his family announced. Mr. Laviera, who had been bed-ridden and unconscious for most of this year, suffered from advanced diabetes. Read more at NBC Latino.

Recent Reviews

Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin: The Double Act

by Neil Powell 
The best recipe for a successful literary friendship, as perhaps for any other sort, is a solid base of common ingredients spiced with touches of absolute difference: English literature’s most celebrated double acts – Wordsworth and Coleridge, Auden and Isherwood, Amis and Larkin – are all like that. Each pair has a background of broadly compatible class and education, shared background interests and cultural tastes; yet as writers they diverge in ways that both sustain and endanger their relationships. Kingsley Amis had an explicit, if ironic, sense of the footsteps in which he and Philip Larkin were following: “Well with you as the Auden and me as the Isherwood de nos jours, ‘our society’ is not doing so bad”, he told his friend in October 1957. Read more at TLS.

The Book of Twenty Million Pages: Leopardi and the “Zibaldone”

By Brian Patrick Eha 
On the fifteenth of February, 1828, the last Friday of Carnival in Pisa, while others were making merry, the twenty-nine-year-old Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi was thinking about old age. Already his youthful passions and aspirations were at a low ebb. Nevertheless he hoped, as he wrote in his diary, to be able in his dotage to savor their distilled essence in his poetry and thereby derive some comfort from his unfulfilled desires. Old before his time, he desired in maturity “no other satisfaction than that of having made something beautiful in this world, whether or not it is recognized as such by others.” Leopardi would never see old age, though his youth and early middle age were autumnal enough. He died in Naples just shy of his thirty-ninth birthday, still largely unknown. Recognizing the loss, posterity has been grateful. Every nation loves its dead poets, and he is by common consent Italy’s greatest poet after Dante. Read more at The American Reader.

Martin Rock’s Dear Mark

by Levi Rubeck 
When teaching poetry to middle school students, “ekphrasis” was often our go-to source of instant inspiration. Many kids freeze at open writing, and actively rebel against instructions (rightfully so), but when presented with an image, film, song, or other piece of art to write against, opinions would fly and reflect around the room. Which isn’t to say that ekphrastic writing is easy. As something to dig from, great lines can be mined, but there’s no guarantee. To really connect with a work, to entwine your contribution as inseparably as possible, is a next-level challenge for the ekphrastic writer. With Dear Mark, a chapbook recently published by the Brooklyn Arts Press, poet Martin Rock opens a dialogue with the work of visual artist Mark Rothko, with engaging results. Read more at The The Poetry.

For the Greek Spring by Kelvin Corcoran – Review

by Frances Leviston
English writers have often struggled to reconcile the glories of classicalGreece with the country as it is today. On first visiting Greece in 1906,Virginia Woolf's disappointment led her to snobbishly contrast the "rustic dialect of barbarous use" she heard with the "classical speech of pure bred races", and to conclude that modern Greeks were a "mongrel element". Her expectations took no account of demotic Greek or the waves of occupation, immigration and exodus that had been changing Greece's cultural composition for centuries. Kelvin Corcoran is careful to avoid such traps. The poems in For the Greek Spring, written over the past 30 years, drift in and out of conversation with Homer and Xenophanes, but they also register, with equal care, the cultural pressures of modern Greek life, in which one sees "the newly immiserated / in procession under the Parthenon" ("Sea Table"), and Albanian refugees who sell stolen iPads on the beach. Read more at The Guardian.


Platt du Jour: Two Poets, One Chevelle

by Charles Platt
“About those car deliveries that you do,” my friend Tom said. “How would you like to take me and Marilyn with you on the next one?” His full name was Thomas M. Disch, and he was a writer and a poet. His friend was Marilyn Hacker, and she was also a poet (eventually, she became a famous one). I had doubts about going coast-to-coast with a couple of poets, especially because they said they would be writing poetry collaboratively along the way. That didn’t exactly sound like a fun road trip. Also, Marilyn could not share the driving, because she had never learned to drive. But I always find it hard to say no. So I said, “Yes.” Read more at Curbside Classic.

Beyond The Like Factory & The Hatchet: Rethinking Poetry Reviewing

by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
I don’t consider myself much of a critic. I never really blogged, and I’ve only written a few reviews, here and there—mostly for The Volta, which my mom refers to as my ‘blog’ anyway. There are plenty of books that appear that I’m moved by, but I don’t necessarily see a path into ways to talk about how I understand what moved me about what they’re doing. Writing prose about poetry is hard, if pleasing, work to me. Sometimes the force of that book opens itself up in writing about what it’s like, even in just trying to describe its forms and choices; sometimes it dead ends disconcertingly quickly. I now know what I was moved by and it’s not new; it’s more of the same, a new iteration of the same species with which I’m already familiar, perhaps. And in studying it more carefully, my delight diminishes and I abandon it—the review I’d planned and often enough the book itself. Read more at Evening Will Come.

NBCC Reads: Sandra Gilbert Picks Ruth Stone

by Jane Ciabattari  
In 2014 the National Book Critics Circle prepares to celebrate nearly forty years of the best work selected by the critics themselves, and also to launch the new John Leonard award for first book. So we're looking back at the winners and finalists, all archived on our website, and we've asked our members and former honorees to pick a favorite. Here's the fourth of dozens of choices in our latest in six years of NBCC Reads surveys. Ruth Stone's "Ordinary Words" won the NBCC poetry award in 1999. Read more at Book Critics.

Visiting Writers' Houses: Who's at Home?

by Liz Bury
The news that a three-bedroom "colonial" property in Cleveland, Ohio, has been put up for sale would not usually make a newspaper headline, but when it is the teenage home of poet and writer Langston Hughes, it suddenly becomes interesting. Read more at The Guardian.

Drafts & Framents

The War Poets Revisited: A Modern-Day Response to 1914

To mark the centenary of the first world war, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy invited poets to respond to the poetry, letters and diary entries from the trenches and the home front – including Seamus Heaney, whose specially written poem is posthumously published here for the first time. Read more at The Guardian.

The Poetry Foundation Would Like to Help More

by Rauan Klassnik
Here’s an excerpt from an update on the Facebook Page created to help gather support of Sandra Simonds’ call for the Poetry Foundation to do more to help poets in need: “This afternoon Jenny Gropp Hess participated in a conference call with Elizabeth Burke-Dain, the Poetry Foundation’s Media and Marketing Director, and Ydalmi Noriega, the Special Assistant to President Robert Polito. Burke-Dain and Noriega communicated that the letter and petition introduced a real need for the Foundation to change and refine some of its processes, such as figuring out how to better support programs like Poets in Need and how to communicate the availability of already existing emergency funds. Read more at HTML Giant.

Not My Job: Poet Billy Collins Takes A Quiz About Phil Collins

by Suzannah Gilman
We've invited Billy Collins — who served as U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003 — to play a game called, "I can feel it coming in the air tonight." Three questions about musician Phil Collins. Read more at NPR.

Poetry In The News

In Whitman’s Backyard, a Salute to Poetry

Faith Lieberman is a poet and former teacher, among other things, who in the late 1990s discovered that she also had a talent for organization. Starting in 1997, she put together three poetry festivals in Huntington, the last of which was shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and resonated with the trauma of that event, she said. “I felt I needed a rest,” said Ms. Lieberman, who lives in Lloyd Harbor. The festivals, featuring nationally recognized poets, were all based on “The Best American Poetry,” an anthology series published annually by Scribner. Read more at the New York Times.

Enigmatic Dickinson Revealed Online

The manuscripts of Emily Dickinson have long been scattered across multiple archives, meaning scholars had to knock on numerous doors to see all the handwritten drafts of a poet whose work went almost entirely unpublished in her lifetime. The online Emily Dickinson Archive, to be inaugurated on Wednesday, promises to change all that by bringing together on a single open-access Web site thousands of manuscripts held by Harvard University, Amherst College, the Boston Public Library and five other institutions. Read more at the New York Times.

Teen Kicked Off Football Team, and Suspended Over Poem

A high school football player in Ohio said that he was suspended from school and kicked off of the football team after he wrote a poem for his English class. According to Fox, Nick Andre, 16, said that the poem was critical of his team, and he was punished after he read it in class. Read more at Digital Journal.

New Books

Sailing through Cassiopeia by Dan Gerber

[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 103 pp., $16.00
Dan Gerber's mastery of layered imagery and crystalline vision marry European Romanticism with American Zen. These meditative poems engage the natural landscape of California's oak savannas and memories of childhood, means to be linguistically alive in an animal world. As ForeWord magazine wrote, "Dan Gerber's poems are quick, graceful, alert to their surroundings, and rarely wasting a motion."

Hum by Jamaal May

[Paperback] Alice James Books, 80 pp., $15.95

In May's debut collection, poems buzz and purr like a well-oiled chassis. Grit, trial, and song thrum through tight syntax and deft prosody. From the resilient pulse of an abandoned machine to the sinuous lament of origami animals, here is the ever-changing hum that vibrates through us all, connecting one mind to the next.

Black Stars: Poems by Ngo Tu Lap, translated by Martha Collins 

[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 104 pp., $16.00

Simultaneously occupying past, present, and future, Black Stars escapes the confines of time and space, suffusing image with memory, abstraction with meaning, and darkness with abundant light. In these masterful translations, the poems sing out with the kind of wisdom that comes to those who have lived through war, traveled far, and seen a great deal. While the past may evoke village life and the present a postmodern urban world, the poems often exhibit a dual consciousness that allows the poet to reside in both at once. From the universe to the self, we see Lap’s landscapes grow wider before they focus: black stars receding to dark stairways, infinity giving way to now. Lap’s universe is boundless, yes, but also “just big enough / To have four directions / With just enough wind, rain, and trouble to last.”

What Euclid's Third Axiom Neglects To Mention About Circles by Carolyn Moore

[Paperback] White Pine Press, 108 pp., $16.00

"Carolyn Moore is a poet whose lyrics, meditations, and elegies use language from geology, botany, and mathematics to explore the human condition. She uses the conventions of contemporary poetry with confidence, but much of the lyricism comes from a vocabulary from scientific categories that is not often used. However, these poems share a deep faith in the power of poetry to connect a life in science, the complexities of family, recognition of desire and suffering to a passion for words."—Patricia Spears Jones

Collected Poems by Ron Padgett

[Hardcover] Coffee House Press, 840 pp., $44.00 

Gathering the work of more than fifty years, Ron Padgett's Collected Poems is the record of one of the most dynamic careers in twentieth-century American poetry. Padgett's poems reverberate with his reading and friendships, from Andrew Marvell to Woody Guthrie and Kenneth Koch. Wry, insightful, and direct, they offer readers the rewards of his endless curiosity and generous spirit.

The Oasis of Now: Selected Poems by Sohrab Sepehri, translated by Kazim Ali 

[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd, 96 pp., $16.00 

The Oasis of Now is the first U.S. book publication of the works of Sohrab Sepehri (1928–1980), one of the major Iranian poets of the twentieth century. Well-versed in Buddhism, mysticism, and Western traditions, Sepehri mingled Western concepts with Eastern ones, creating a poetry unsurpassed in the history of Persian literature. In Iran, his Persian verses are often recited in public gatherings and lines from them were used as slogans by the protesters in 2009. This first full-length American volume collects poems from three of Sepehri's most important books, including the highly acclaimed Water's Footfall.

There's a Box in the Garage You Can Beat With a Stick by Michael Teig

[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd., 136 pp., $16.00
Michael Teig's poems are moving, intelligent, full of delight, and—most refreshingly—a pleasure to read. Stephen Dobyns says of Teig's poems, "they have this ability to make the world fresh again and make us realize why we love the world, despite its failings and our own."


Poetry Profiles: Copper Canyon Press

By Dana Jennings 
Small presses are the lifeblood of poetry. Whether tucked behind the nurturing skirts of a university press, or weathering (mostly) harsh cultural indifference on their own, small presses are often the first to ferret out new and vital voices, to exhume lost masterpieces or to translate essential work from other languages. Many smart people say they’re panic-stricken by poetry, as if it were an iambic migraine to be ducked. One purpose of these occasional profiles in poetry is to educate readers who might be tempted by the art, but who aren’t sure where to start. We mean to gradually create a guide to the vast archipelago of independent-press poetry publishing. Read more at the New York Times.

Poet Christian Wiman

“I have a hard time conceiving of a God completely removed from suffering,” says Christian Wiman, a lecturer in religion and literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. “Once I understand the notion of Christ participating in suffering, then it makes more sense to me.” Read more at PBS.

"I Feel A Bit Like A Spy": A Q&A With Poet David Lehman

by Camila Domonoske 
Seventeen years ago, the poet, writer and editor David Lehman resolved to write a poem every day. It sounds a little similar to National Novel Writing Month, which kicked off yesterday — except that Lehman kept it up for five years, publishing many of the daily poems in literary journals and in two well-received collections Lehman's reputation for prolific output extends beyond his poem-a-day project. Read more at NPR.

Mary Ruefle

by John Ebersole  
Mary Ruefle‘s newest book of poems Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013) is brilliant. Her poems have the confidence of a poet who is utterly fearless, but wise enough to never come out and brag about it. Her poetry is honest, but dignified, thoughtful and bizarre, and with a felicity to lived experience that is heartbreaking. During our chat we talk about childhood, the life and mind of the artist, her neighborhood in Vermont, and so much more. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. Read more at New Books in Poetry.


Envoi: Editor's Notes

Book Review: What WH Auden Can Do For You

by Tom Adair 
The extraordinary influence of the 20th century poet on the latter-day best-selling novelist is set out in What WH Auden Can Do For You, McCall Smith’s testimony to the poet’s far-reaching effect. Part of the Princeton University Press’s series, Writers on Writers, McCall Smith’s brief but intense account bears personal witness, yet it also measures Auden’s poetry and importance with the scruple and integrity which readers of his most popular books have instinctively come to trust. From the outset McCall Smith tells us: “This small book does not purport to be a work of criticism. It does not claim to shed new light on a body of work… It is an attempt to share an enthusiasm with others… It is not a hagiography…” If there is zealousness at all here, it is tempered by an intellect which critically appraises as well as appreciates Auden’s value – the metrical wizardry, Auden’s ear for a rhythmic English which disguised itself as conversational speech, so that the poet seems virtually present at one’s elbow when you read him. Read more at the Scotsman.
It just so happens that this afternoon I talked with my class about a couple of Auden's best-known poems, "As I Walked Out" and Musée des Beaux Arts." I think they understood that, more than just a transitional figure, Auden brought poetry into the twentieth century in a way the Moderns wouldn't or couldn't.  His poems demonstrate, I think, that a change in world-view is more (or perhaps less) than a difference in language or appearance or attention to literary devices, nor does it have to call attention to itself in order to manifest its departure from what preceded it. His poems behold the new world of the twentieth century as inhabitants rather than as visitors or explorers. I might be exerting too much pressure on the difference, but I am curious to see what McCall Smith brings to our appreciation of Auden as the quintessential twentieth-century poet.

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Faiz Ahmed Faiz
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Robert Herrick
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