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Poetry News In Review

October 20, 2017
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1475 Giovanni Rucellai, Italian poet (Le Api), is born.

1854—Arthur Rimbaud, French poet and adventurer (Illuminations), born in Charleville, France (d. 1891), is born.
1882—Olegario Victor Andrade, Argentina poet (El arpa perdida), dies at 41.
1900—Naim Frashëri, Albanian poet (b. 1846), dies.
1921—Hans Warren, Dutch writer/poet/critic (Secret Diary), is born.
1940—Robert Pinsky, American poet and Poet Laureate of the United States, is born.
2004—Anthony Hecht, American poet (b. 1923), dies.
2011—Tone Pavček, Slovenian poet and translator (b. 1928), dies.


If I want a water of Europe, it is the black
Cold puddle where in the sweet-smelling twilight
A squatting child full of sadness releases
A boat as fragile as a May butterfly.
No longer can I, bathed in your languor, o waves,
Follow in the wake of the cotton boats,
Nor cross through the pride of flags and flames,
Nor swim under the terrible eyes of prison ships.

—from “The Drunken Boat" by Arthur Rimbaud
[ translated by Wallace Fowlie]

World Poetry

Baha'i Poet Jailed in Iran Wins Free Speech PEN Pinter Prize

A Baha'i poet who was jailed for almost a decade in Iran has won a writing award celebrating free speech. Mahvash Sabet shares the PEN Pinter prize with Northern Ireland poet Michael Longley. The award was announced Tuesday in London. Sabet was one of seven Baha'i leaders detained in 2008 and sentenced for espionage in 2010. She was released in September. A volume of her verses, "Prison Poems," was published in Britain in 2013.

Arab Poet Adonis Celebrates Passion for Chinese Culture


Syrian poet Adonis, a master of Arabic literature, took part in an event in Beijing celebrating Chinese culture on Saturday. The serial nominee for the Nobel Prize wrote a poem with a brush pen dipped in Chinese ink, which read "live a bright life and write a poem" in Arabic, exhibiting his skill in combining the two ancient cultures into one piece of art. At the event, Adonis also recited a fragment of his Arabic poem, in which the poet called ink a "gorgeous black liquid" and expressed his regret on the failure to bring Chinese ink on board a flight after a visit to Beijing.

Recent Reviews

'James Wright: A Life in Poetry,' by Jonathan Blunk
by Mark Gustafson


An extraordinarily gifted and beloved poet, as well as a translator and an English professor, James Wright left an indelible mark on American poetry. At least several of his often anthologized poems (among them “A Blessing,” “Milkweed” and “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”) seem likely to be remembered for a long time.

‘Field Theories’ by Samiya Bashir
by Shane Michael Manieri

Samiya Bashir is the author of Field Theories and the founding member of Fire & Ink: A festival for LGBTQ writers of African descent. Along with Field Theories, Bashir has written Where the Apple Falls, a collection about the intersection between woman and female, and Gospel, “…a book you’ll constantly come back to,” says Patricia Smith, “for both beauty and guidance.” Samiya Bashir has also co-edited Roll Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature & Art, which of June Jordan said there is, “Nothing predictable here: no re-run, and no ho-hum, neither. Roll Call is news!” And so is Field Theories.


Grasped by What We Cannot Grasp: The Elemental Poems of Dan Gerber
by Dean Kuipers


Dan Gerber and I I bounced down the riffle waters of the Madison River in Montana, talking about his new poem, “Particles.” It was September 2016 and the clouds were high and the winds light and cool across the grizzly-yellow hills and there was a minor hatch of baetis mayflies, or blue-winged olives. Dan had already landed six or seven nice trout and I’d pulled in one. Our guide, Mike Pollack, was making excuses for me, like how the person standing in the back of the boat never caught as many fish. “Dan and I have made this same run with Jim Harrison in the back, and Harrison was pretty grumpy about it,” said Mike, leaning on his oars.

What Happened When a Poet was Sent to the Biggest US Mall to Write for Shoppers
Brian Sonia-Wallace was selected to pen poems at the Mall of America. In a shrine to consumerism, he regularly brought visitors to tears
by Brian Sonia-Wallace

In March of 2017, I responded to a ridiculous post that a friend shared on Facebook. “Apply now! Mall of America seeks writer-in-residence to celebrate its 25th birthday!”

Drafts & Framents

The Japanese Poet who Inspired Nobel Economist Richard Thaler University of Chicago scholar got 'nudge' at Mitsuo Aida Museum
by Ayako Hirono

Back in 2009, behavioral economist Richard Thaler found a kindred spirit in a small museum nestled in the heart of Tokyo. This year's Nobel Prize winner in economics was struck by the simple words of calligrapher and poet Mitsuo Aida, written with brash, broad strokes in black ink.

Poetry In The News

Richard Wilbur, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Winner, Dies at 96

Richard Wilbur, whose meticulous, urbane poems earned him two Pulitzer Prizes and selection as the national poet laureate, died on Saturday in Belmont, Mass. He was 96. His son Christopher confirmed his death, in a nursing home. Across more than 60 years as an acclaimed American poet, Mr. Wilbur followed a muse who prized traditional virtuosity over self-dramatization; as a consequence he often found himself out of favor with the literary authorities who preferred the heat of artists like Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsburg.


School Reviewing Rules After Student's Poem Draws Criticism


A Holyoke, Mass. school says it's reviewing its policies after a student's poetry reading blaming whites for oppression drew criticism online.  The Springfield Republican reports Holyoke High School sent a letter to families Monday saying some were offended by the Friday performance at an annual event for Latino Heritage Month. The school said the assembly included a number of student presentations.

New Books

James Wright: A Life in Poetry by Jonathan Blunk
[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 512 pp., $40.00

Using meticulous research, hundreds of interviews, and Wright’s public readings, Jonathan Blunk’s authorized biography explores the poet’s life and work with exceptional candor, making full use of Wright’s extensive unpublished work―letters, poems, translations, and personal journals. Focusing on the tensions that forced Wright’s poetic breakthroughs and the relationships that plunged him to emotional depths, Blunk provides a spirited portrait, and a fascinating depiction of this turbulent period in American letters.

Who Reads Poetry: 50 Views from “Poetry” Magazine edited by Fred Sasaki and Don Share
[Hardcover] University Of Chicago Press, 240 pp., $24.00 

Who reads poetry? We know that poets do, but what about the rest of us?  When and why do we turn to verse?  Seeking the answer, Poetry magazine since 2005 has published a column called “The View From Here,” which has invited readers “from outside the world of poetry” to describe what has drawn them to poetry. Over the years, the incredibly diverse set of contributors have included philosophers, journalists, musicians, and artists, as well as doctors and soldiers, an iron-worker, an anthropologist, and an economist. This collection brings together fifty compelling pieces, which are in turns surprising, provocative, touching, and funny.

The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 1: 1940-1956 by Sylvia Plath
[Hardcover] Harper, 1424 pp., $45.00 

The Letters of Sylvia Plath includes her correspondence from her years at Smith, her summer editorial internship in New York City, her time at Cambridge, her experiences touring Europe, and the early days of her marriage to Ted Hughes in 1956. Most of the letters are previously unseen, including sixteen letters written by Plath to Hughes when they were apart after their honeymoon. This magnificent compendium also includes twenty-seven of Plath’s own elegant line drawings taken from the letters she sent to her friends and family, as well as twenty-two previously unpublished photographs.

semiautomatic by Evie Shockley
[Hardcover] Wesleyan, 104 pp., $24.95 

Art can’t shield our bodies or stabilize the earth’s climate, but Evie Shockley’s semiautomatic insists that it can feed the spirit and reawaken the imagination. The volume responds primarily to the twenty-first century’s inescapable evidence of the terms of black life—not so much new as newly visible. The poems trace a whole web of connections between the kinds of violence that affect people across the racial, ethnic, gender, class, sexual, national, and linguistic boundaries that do and do not divide us.


For Want of Water: and other poems by Sasha Pimentel
[Paperback] Beacon Press, 120 pp., $16.00 

El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States, while across the river, Ciudad Juárez suffers a history of femicides and a horrific drug war. Witnessing this, a Filipina’s life unravels as she tries to love an addict, the murders growing just a city—but the breadth of a country—away. This collection weaves the personal with recent history, the domestic with the tragic, asking how much “a body will hold,” reaching from the border to the poet’s own Philippines. These poems thirst in the desert, want for water, searching the brutal and tender territories between bodies, families, and nations.


Yrssa Daley-Ward on Self-Love, Short Attention Spans and Making Poetry Cool Again
The Instagram poet of the moment talks to ELLE about unlearning society's pressure to 'be pretty'
by Marta Bausells

Yrsa Daley-Ward is the poet making your heart melt and your brain jump with empathy. A former model and current Instagram star, the British poet manages to write about the darkest, most vulnerable and most glorious corners of the human experience with beautiful, arresting language. Her brand new collection, bone, compiles many of the poems that have done the rounds on Daley-Ward's and thousands of other Instagrams for a while – like the epic, heart-wrenching, comforting Mental Health – with mostly autobiographical observations about being a queer African-British woman in the world today; it also includes two longer pieces of fictions.

How Poet Beth Ann Fennelly Discovered She had Accidentally Written a Micro-memoir
by Barbara Chai

Author Beth Ann Fennelly never meant to write her new book, “Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs” (W.W. Norton). She had just finished a four-year collaboration with her husband, Tom Franklin, on their novel “The Tilted World.” It required tremendous amounts of research on the flood of the Mississippi River in 1927 and after it published, Fennelly says she didn’t write for a year. At least, she didn’t think so.


What it Means to Be an 'Experimental Computer Poet'
A conversation with Allison Parrish, the artist behind your favorite Twitter bots.
by Mariana Fernandez

Allison Parrish loves words. She loves putting words in order, in disorder, and in uncomfortable, erratic sequences. She loves words that don't make sense. A Dada artist of sorts, Parrish calls herself an "experimental computer poet." She uses computers to find unexpected things about language beyond the bounds of human semantic constraints. Her conceptual poetry often takes the form of Twitter bots, like her beloved 2007 experiment, @everyword, which Tweeted each word in the English language over the course of seven years.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Richard Wilbur, 1921–2017

I have an elderly friend who calls me from time to time. As entrée into each conversation, she invariably asks me how Richard Wilbur is doing. Richard Wilbur and I did meet several years ago, once or twice, and had a minimal correspondence. We were friendly, but we were not friends in any sense, although I greatly admired his work and valued his opinion. Still, I would relate to her that as far as I knew he was fine, which she found reassuring. I didn't know how reassuring it was for me as well, until today when I had to call her to tell her that he had died. The world is a little more unruly today without his civilizing mind.

Here is a poem by Richard Wilbur, a broadside of which hangs on my study wall—written in, what I call, Wilbur haiku stanzas.


This yellow striped green
Caterpillar, climbing up
The steep window screen,

Constantly (for lack
Of a full set of legs) keeps
Humping up his back.

It’s as if he sent
By a sort of semaphore
Dark omegas meant

To warn of Last Things.
Although he doesn’t know it,
He will soon have wings,

And I, too, don’t know
Toward what undreamt condition
Inch by inch I go.

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