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Poetry News In Review

October 22, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1071 – William IX, Duke of Aquitaine and poet (d. 1126), is born.
1870 – Ivan Bunin, Russia, poet/novelist (Gentleman from SF-Nobel 1933), is born.
1882 – Janos Arany, Hungarians poet (Toldi Szerelme), dies at 65.
1898 – Damaso Alonso, Spanish poet (Hijos de la ira), is born.
1921 - Georges Brassens, French poet/cabaret singer, is born.
1954 – Jibanananda Das, Bengali poet (b. 1899), dies.
1978 – John Riley, English poet (murdered) (b. 1937), dies.
A stillness encompassing movement.
With enormous beauty still to answer to. 
Blackness seeps through the closed door, douses the lamp. 
It is a longing for the same world, and a different world. 
—from “The World Itself, the Long Poem Foundered” by John Riley (1937–1978)

World Poetry

Nigeria: NLNG's Poet Laureate

The tension inside the room was palpable. Necks craned forward. And though people sat under a cool atmosphere, where the event was held, beads of sweat still formed on foreheads. The silence was not graveyard quality, but it was quiet enough for one to listen to the slow, paced breathing of the air conditioners. The angels of anxiety and hope were walking through the room, and they seemed to smile at the rate at which hearts beat, and pulse quickened. Then, the whole suspense was punctured, like a pin pricking an inflated balloon, as the words so dearly anticipated were announced: "...the winner is Tade Ipadeola." Read more at All Africa.

Maanshan Fest Honors Ancient Anhui Poet

To commemorate one of China's greatest poets, the 25th China Li Bai Poetry Festival kicked off on Oct 13 in Maanshan, Anhui province. Li Bai (AD 701-762), lived and died in the locale that would later be called Maanshan, where he wrote about 60 famous poems and essays. Many other ancient Chinese poets and writers also lived in the area and created works that are today used in textbooks. One of five major events begun by the provincial government in 1995, the theme of the annual festival this year is culture in daily life. Organizers aim to make it "a festival for all people, a gathering of friends and a trading platform". Read more at Anhui News.

Recent Reviews

Lost at Shore

by Chad Campbell
Confessional, metaphor-driven, and drawing on a distinctly Nova Scotian landscape, Sue Goyette’s poems have never dawdled. Since her first book’s lyric treatments of motherhood and grief, Goyette has, collection by collection, introduced more social and historical elements into her poems: artists in Undone, retooled environmental texts in Outskirts, and now, in Ocean (Gaspereau Press, 2013), a world reimagined. Ocean seems very much an extension of Goyette’s previous collection, Outskirts, published only two years ago. The ocean figured prominently there, she began experimenting with numbered sequences and, by embedding government texts, she stretched the reach of her poems from the confines of house and home to include province and country. In Ocean’s fifty-six linked poems we find not so much a marriage of the personal/familial and government/ecological, but instead a chronicle of a society undergoing feverous and protean changes. Red more at Maison Neuve.

He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs by Leonard Gontarek

by A. V. Christie
In Leonard Gontarek’s poems, the unsaid is operating just as surely as the said. Watch closely Gontarek’s new poems in He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs and you will see a sort of dance-chart delicacy at the same time as they hum with blunt observation and the colloquial:
There was the wolf that ate his leg, then his other one.
Then ate all of him. You would think sorrow would disappear too,
he writes in the poem “Imago Mundi.” This tension between the delicate pause and the yearning, quirky, cheeky voice is at the very heart of Gontarek’s aesthetic. What Gontarek can get done in 10 to 12 lines should inspire envy in any poet and a clean and clear kind of enjoyment in the lucky reader who comes across his work. Read more at the Rumpus.

On The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarmé's Coup de dés Book of Numbers: Meillassoux on Mallarmé

by Brian Kim Stefans
The French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé presents such an enigma to English language audiences that it’s really quite difficult to discern his influence. While Ezra Pound admired the poetry of the one major English language symbolist, W.B. Yeats, and championed some figures loosely associated with the movement, like Jules Laforgue and Arthur Rimbaud, he railed against the use of the “symbol” in his early polemics, and doesn’t mention Mallarmé in his frequent lists of literary greats. Certainly Mallarmé, whose deeply philosophical works unfold with the precision of a mathematical formula, and yet whose sound and syntax aspired to the ambiguity of music, could not be accused of the “direct treatment of the ‘thing.’” Hart Crane was clearly a deep reader of Mallarmé, but his own poems were written in much looser meters than that of the Master, and fused such a variety of American influences (Whitman and Eliot) that it’s difficult to discern the Mallarméan flavor — redolent of the Paris literary salons, fussed over like hothouse flowers — in such ecstatic reveries as “Voyages” and “The Bridge.” British and American contemporaries of Mallarmé, like Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde, and Stuart Merrill, all of whom frequented Mallarmé’s famous Tuesday evenings, never themselves achieved the level of music and inscrutable perfection of his poems, leaving us mostly with what seems like pale chinoiserie compared to his heights of synesthetic reverie. Read more at the LA Review of Books.

Last of the Modernists

by Matthew Sperling
No other poet in English sounds like Basil Bunting. In his first published poem, 'Villon', written under the guidance of Ezra Pound in 1925, he had already worked out a brusque music of his own, with an ear for rhyme unusual in modernist poets. Read more at the Literary Review.


The Dylan Thomas Question

by Katy Evans-Bush
This afternoon I’m part of a panel discussion at the London Welsh Centre in Gray’s Inn Road, talking about Dylan Thomas. (It’s at 5pm if you want to come along; it’s FREE.) The talk is being run by Rack Press, as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, because Rack is based in both Wales and, er, Bloomsbury. I was surprised to be asked to speak about Dylan Thomas, but I said yes because I thought it would be a good chance to confront the problem. It felt like a problem, and I think there is a sort of  Dylan Thomas Question, a knotty thing to be disentangled… I felt a bit bad about this until I read Seamus Heaney’s essay on him in The Redress of Poetry, where he approaches Thomas from exactly the same position. He begins, ‘Dylan Thomas is by now as much a case history as a chapter in the history of poetry’, and lists a ‘multi-channel set of associations’: ‘Thomas the Voice, Thomas the Booze, Thomas the Debts, Thomas the Jokes, Thomas the Wales, Thomas the Sex, Thomas the Lies…’ Read more at Baroque in Hackney.

Across Serpentine Lake—Frank Bidart and Du Fu

by Nick Admussen
 I am allowed to study Chinese poetry in an academic setting in part because it has world historical importance. Lyric poetry is a crucial part of China’s earliest literary canon, and it has figured in almost every major political, social, and spiritual transformation the country has undergone. This includes the fall of the Han Dynasty (Cao Cao: “Facing my wine, I burst into song / how long can a man’s life last?”), the rise of communism (Mao Zedong: “The Red Army fears not the pain of long marches”), as well as the quieter, more cerebral revolutions of the late 1970s (Bei Dao: “I’m telling you, world, / I — do — not — believe!”). Poetry is both a participant in and a reflection of Chinese history, so those who are interested in China are usually interested in poetry, and that is fairly straightforward. But I am also interested in Chinese poetry because I am an American and an English speaker, and because I care about English-language poetry and the local politics of the Western hemisphere. Read more at the Boston Review.


Drafts & Framents

Joyce Carol Oates Skewers Robert Frost as a Sexist, Racist Old Bore

by Ron Charles 
In July, Harper’s magazine ran a snide broadside against modern poetry. But next month, it gets personal. The magazine’s November issue contains a wicked takedown of the kindly grandfather of 20th-century American verse: Robert Frost. “Lovely, Dark, Deep” is a sly short story by Joyce Carol Oates. Old Man Frost never stands a chance. Read more at the Washington Post.

Poetry In The News

Poet Louise Gluck Inspires Composer

The work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Louise Gluck has inspired award-winning composer John Harbison throughout his career. He used some of her texts in his fifth symphony written in 2007 and in his vocal chamber piece “The Seven Ages,” which was composed in 2008. Harbison’s latest work “Crossroads” is set to poems from Gluck’s book “A Village Life.” Mezzo-soprano Krista River will perform with Serenata of Santa Fe. “The poems are about the passage of time,” said Harbison by phone from Massachusetts. “In all of her work there’s a certain sense of being alone in the world.” Read more at ABQ Journal.

Emmett Till

James A. Emanuel, an African-American poet who created poetry out of the scourge of racism, died on September 27 at the age of 92. His death was announced last week. His poetry has been somewhat neglected, at least in his native country, possibly because he spent much of his long life living in Europe. At the time of his death, he lived in Paris. In addition to his work as a poet, he had served as a professor of English at the University of Grenoble and the University of Toulouse, among others. Read more at The Nature of Things.

University of Illinois Acquires Gwendolyn Brooks Archives

The University of Illinois Rare Book and Manuscript Library has acquired the archives of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Brooks was born in Kansas, but her family moved to Chicago when she was an infant, and she became closely associated with that city. She was the poet laureate of Illinois for 32 years, until her death in 2000. Among many other honors, she won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for her collection “Annie Allen.” Valerie Hotchkiss, the director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, said the institution also holds the archives of Carl Sandburg, another writer famously from Chicago, and the state’s poet laureate before Brooks. Read more at the New York Times.

Trove of Emily Dickinson Manuscripts to Appear Online

Amherst College said the Emily Dickinson project at Harvard makes little mention of its role. Emily Dickinson was well known for her reluctance to publish her work. Only a smattering of her poems appeared in print during her lifetime, anonymously and likely without her knowledge. A fellow author scolded her for her reticence: “You are a great poet — and it is a wrong to the day you live in, that you will not sing aloud.” Now, Harvard will sing aloud for Dickinson. This week, the university plans to roll out the Emily Dickinson Archive that digitally gathers, for the first time in one place, all surviving Dickinson autograph manuscripts and letters, along with contemporary transcripts of Dickinson poems that did not survive in autograph. The website says the aim is to provide a resource from which scholarship can be produced. Read more at the Boston Globe.

New Books

Who Said by Jennifer Michael Hecht

[Paperback] Copper Canyon Press, 88 pp., $16.00
Who Said is a meditation on life's profound questions told through playful engagement with iconic poems and lyrics. Jennifer Michael Hecht's book is a magic echo chamber wherein great poems come back to us, altered to fit the concerns of our moment. This wildly interpretive treatment of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and the rock band Nirvana is original, occasionally hilarious, and always moving.

Nefertiti in the Flak Tower: Poems by Clive James 

[Hardcover] Liveright, 96 pp., $24.95
Clive James’s renown as an internationally celebrated poet continues to expand, and there is no stronger evidence for this than Nefertiti in the Flak Tower, a collection “steeped in the lessons of Philip Larkin and W.B. Yeats” (London Times). Here, his polymathic learning and technical virtuosity are worn more lightly than ever; the effect is to produce a deep sense of trust into which the reader gratefully sinks, knowing they are in the presence of a master. The most obvious token of that mastery is the book’s breathtaking range of theme: there are moving elegies, a meditation on the later Yeats, a Hollywood Iliad, and odes to rare orchids, wartime typewriters, and sharks—as well as a poem on the fate of Queen Nefertiti in Nazi Germany.

Pilgrim's Flower by Rachael Boast

[Paperback] Picador, 96 pp., $13.55
Rachael Boast's first collection, Sidereal, was one of the most highly regarded debuts of recent years, winning the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize. Her second, Pilgrim's Flower, richly confirms and dramatically extends that talent -- but where Sidereal's gaze was often firmly fixed on the heavens, Boast's focus here has shifted earthward. The book sings life's intoxicants -- love, nature, literature, friendship, and other forms and methods of transcendence -- and sees Boast's pitch-perfect lyrical metaphysic challenge itself at every turn. Pilgrim's Flower gives an almost Rilkean attention to the spaces between things -- the slippage between what we think we know, and what is actually there -- and in doing so brings the language of rite, observance and rune to the details of our daily lives.

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins

[Hardcover] Random House, 288 pp., $26.00
From the two-term Poet Laureate of the United States Billy Collins comes his first compilation of new and selected poems in twelve years. Aimless Love combines more than fifty new poems with selections from four previous books—Nine Horses, The Trouble with Poetry, Ballistics, and Horoscopes for the Dead. Collins’s unmistakable voice, which brings together plain speech with imaginative surprise, is clearly heard on every page, reminding us how he has managed to enrich the tapestry of contemporary poetry and greatly expand its audience. His work is featured in top literary magazines such as The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Atlantic, and he sells out reading venues all across the country. Appearing regularly in The Best American Poetry series, his poems appeal to readers and live audiences far and wide and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. By turns playful, ironic, and serious, Collins’s poetry captures the nuances of everyday life while leading the reader into zones of inspired wonder. In the poet’s own words, he hopes that his poems “begin in Kansas and end in Oz.”

Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore by Linda Leavell

[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 480 pp., $30.00
An engaging blend of literary criticism and biography, this ambitious work by literature professor and Moore scholar Leavell challenges the persistent image of the modernist poet as a repressed and withdrawn spinster. From Moore's birth in Missouri in 1887, the book follows her lively intellectual development and years of unpublished obscurity, up until 1915, when she began to find outlets for her work. Her dense, cryptic, and complicated poems attracted the attention of avant-garde writers like T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and H.D. Torn between her closeness to her mother (with whom she lived all her life) and her desire to achieve literary celebrity, Moore went on to work at The Dial in the late 1920s and became a fixture of literary society. She toiled away for years as a poet's poet with a scant popular readership, eventually rising to national prominence when her Collected Poems swept the literary prizes in 1952, establishing Moore as a doyenne of letters until her death 20 years later. Where Leavell's biography stakes its claim is in its unprecedented insight into Moore's family relationships, made possible through previously unavailable materials furnished by her estate. In this well-researched biography, Moore emerges as a poet of freedom with a passionate inner life. —Publishers Weekly


Snapshot: Wendy Xu

It would seem impossible to be interested in contemporary poetry and not know the poems of Wendy Xu. Her first book, You Are Not Dead, was published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center earlier this year. You cannot not read it. For instance, it’s fine you haven’t seen Frasier, but what do you mean you haven’t seen Seinfeld? Or maybe you know Wendy’s poems but haven’t read iO, the journal and chapbook press she co-edits with Kyle McCord? That’d be like saying you like Neutral Milk Hotel without ever listening to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. There would be a Wendy Xu-shaped hole in my life without Wendy Xu in it. That’s not a window I want. I hope that her intelligent, savvy, and enormously kind responses to these questions will make her poems as necessary a part of your life and thinking as they have been in mine. Read more at Coldfront.

Poetry in Motion

by Phoowadon Duangmee
Myanmar's SEA Write laureate Maung Sein Win talks about the new freedom in this country. With its long and distinguished history in Myanmar, poetry is a form of literature to which the country's readers naturally turn. Sentimental but also rebellious, Myanmar's poets have conveyed threatening messages to the ruling military regime in their verses for much of the last 50 years. Under the permafrost of dictatorship and oppressive censorship, though, the poets have needed to find ways to write without finding half the words inked out. They've proved as ingenious in metaphor as the times have required. The bird you're reading about, says Maung Sein Win, may not be a bird. Read more at the Nation (Thailand).

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: Howard Moss

"I have read several reviews in which the term 'New Critics' was used as a phrase meant to evoke an automatic response, like 'imperialist aggressor.' It was meant to stand for everything sterile, impersonal, and academic, and particularly, the last. Actually, the opposite was true. At the time Warren, Brooks, Tate, Ransom, and Winters began to publish, their work was a radical way of reading poetry and a way of saving poetry from the academics, who were teaching literature as if it were history. The New Criticism was an antidote to literature's being conceived as the amber in which the history of ideas was embedded. Ideas were taught, not poems. The new critics said that whatever these may be, they are poems first, and anything else second; they are not merely history, philosophy, astronomy, etc." from "From a Notebook" in Whatever is Moving

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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