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Poetry News In Review

October 29, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1618 – Walter Raleigh, English scholar/poet/historian, beheaded for treason.
1873 – Guillermo Valencia, Colombia, poet/translator/statesman, is born.
1974 – Victor E van Vriesland, poet (Mirror of Dutch Poetry), dies at 82.
1976 – Mohsen Emadi, Iranian Poet, is born.
In my language
people murmur confessions,
dress in black whispers,
are buried
in silence.
My language is silence.
Who will translate my silence?
How am I to cross this border?
—from “The Poem” by Mohsen Emadi

World Poetry

Kazakhstan – Where is the Imprisoned Poet Aron Atabek?

PEN International is deeply concerned by news that the poet and social activist Aron Atabek has been transferred from a high security prison in the city of Arkalyk to another – as yet unknown – prison.In 2012, Atabek was sentenced to serve two years in solitary confinement in Arkalyk Prison following the publication of his book, The Heart of Eurasia, a work that is highly critical of the Kazakh government. Since August 2013, PEN International has been campaigning for Atabak to be removed from solitary confinement and placed in a prison within reasonable visiting distance of his family. Read more at PEN International.

Recent Reviews

R. S. Thomas: Thoughts Trained to One Furrow

by Rory Waterman  
This year is the centenary of the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas’s birth. But Tony Brown and Jason Walford Davies, the editors of his Uncollected Poems, stress that their incentive is far greater than a desire to capitalize on that. Having studied Thomas’s uncollected poems – “that is, those published in magazines, newspapers, journals, pamphlets etc., but not included in any of his collections – it immediately became apparent that there were in fact a significant number of poems . . . that deserved to be reclaimed”. And here they are, in chronological order. Read more at The TLS.

Swamp Isthmus

by P.J. Gallo
In one of this book’s more intimate moments, a speaker recounts, “we put our clothes / back on // slowly before // our laughter turns us / into somebody else’s.” It’s an early flash of clarity in the book’s nighttime landscape, and if we squint through the poem’s carefully constructed atmosphere, we can imagine a light on in a bedroom. We can hear laughter as it courses over a yard into a neighbor’s house. And we can see a neighbor’s smirk in appreciation of all that’s good and perfect. This is strong stuff from a sensory perspective. Read more at Coldfront.

The Poetry World's Most Indiscriminate Fanboy

by Adam Plunkett
Among those of us who read new poetry with passion and often frustration, I suspect that I am far from the only one in whom Stephen Burt’s essays and reviews prompt both emotions nearly every time I read them. My reactions frustrate me as well, for which I have come to blame Burt’s essays and reviews. Let me explain. At just over forty, Burt has written well about more poets than more or less anyone who isn’t twice his age. Read more at the New Republic.



Poets’ Roundtable on Person and Persona 

by Metta Sáma, Alex Dimitrov & Lynn Melnick
I'm a little confused. Not long ago, coming off a string of out-of-town readings where I found myself in the company of mostly male poets, I noticed I was asked fewer questions about artistry, process, and craft than my male counterparts. Instead, I often heard more personal questions about my private life and history (not to mention my wardrobe). Poetry is always intimate, and it perhaps guides an intimacy between the writer and reader with which I am just not used to yet. I do not know if it’s because I write about sex and violence, and not, say, the sea, that these assumptions exist, but I’ve felt a little taken aback by the frequency and the disparity of these comments. Read more at the LA Review of Books.

Why I’m Not Reading Louise Glück

by Barry Schwabsky 
Do you pick a destination in order to have a reason to take a walk, or do you take a walk in order to get to a place you have in mind? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. Are the words a poet uses essentially a means to convey a thought or feeling he or she has in mind, or is the poem’s subject chosen mainly as a way of helping generate the poem’s language? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. But I confess to being more attracted to the second kind of poetry — or maybe it’s fairer to say I prefer reading poetry as if it were written that way. That doesn’t mean the walk’s endpoint (the poem’s subject) is finally irrelevant to the pleasures of the stroll (the poem). You might not want to end up in some alley where you’re going to get mugged. But the destination is only a small part of the journey you’ve embarked on. Read more at Hyperallergic.

The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to "Drop Everything and Be a Poet"

by Joe Fassler
Alexie never thought he could leave his reservation to pursue a writing career—but a line written by Adrian C. Louis taught him to venture outside the "reservation of his mind." Read more at The Atlantic.

Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Frost, and Robert Lowell

by Mark Richardson
Joyce Carol Oates has just published, in Harpers, a short-story in which Robert Frost figures, monstrously. I will soon write here a detailed account of how the story works, and of how Oates tendentiously distorts the biographical record. She tacks on a coy note at the close of the story to the effect that, although “Lovely, Dark, and Deep” is fiction, it is “based on (limited, selected) historical research. See Robert Frost: A Biography by Jeffery Meyers (1996).” This book is widely acknowledged among scholars of Frost (and of American poetry) as one of the worst biographies ever done on the poet. In her review of it, Helen Vendler condemned the book, suggesting that the sooner it was pulped, the better. Dabbling in it in a “limited, selected” way hardly amounts to “research.” I should hope Oates has some other scholarship in mind besides what’s on offer in Meyers. She ambiguously gives her reader to understand that she does; reading a third-rate biography is not historical inquiry. Read more at Era of Casual Fridays.


Drafts & Framents

Where Does Poetry Live in Your World?

Posted by Colleen Shalby 
How does poetry play a role in Americans' lives? That's the question PBS NewsHour is exploring over the next year. U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and NewsHour arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown are traveling the country to see how the recitation and creation of poetry stimulates the mind and allows people to overcome obstacles. Read more at the PBS Newshour.

Light Back On

Light Quarterly, "it’s been America’s only journal of light verse for more than 20 years," has returned! After announcing their final print issue in September of 2012, Light Quarterly has resurfaced as Light, an online journal publishing twice yearly. Read more at New Pages.

Poetry In The News

Seamus Heaney's Last Poem Published

What may have been Seamus Heaney's final poem, a "heartbreakingly prescient" reflection on the first world war, has been published for the first time by the Guardian. Heaney was invited by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to contribute to a memorial anthology marking the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. She asked poets to respond to poetry, letters and diary entries from the time. Read more at The Guardian.

Worcester Poet's Legacy, Room by Room

The towering three-story building on Woodford Street was not a happy home for Stanley Kunitz, who grew up to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and U.S. poet laureate.  It was where his stepfather died, where he spent hours alone reading, where his mother ripped up an old picture of his father, who committed suicide at Elm Park weeks before Mr. Kunitz was born on July 29, 1905.  But 4 Woodford St. also became the home of Carol and Gregory Stockmal. The couple bought it about 60 years later and slowly have restored the home, but with a new feeling of warmth and love. And then, in a chance meeting, they invited him in. Read more at the Telegram.

Bly Event a Poignant Evening of Poetry

He is not angry anymore, no longer a rabble-rouser. There was no sitar accompaniment, no drums, no rubber masks, no embroidered vest. Robert Bly is old now, and a wee bit forgetful, but he still knows how to put on a show, and he still comes deeply alive for poetry. On Wednesday evening, he launched his latest book, "Stealing Sugar From the Castle: Selected and New Poems 1950-2013," at the University of Minnesota in front of about 250 people. Read more at the Star Tribune.

New Books

Keeper by Kasey Jueds 

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 88 pp., $15.95 
The poems in Keeper explore, and long for, intimacy: with nature, with others, with the unknown. They delve into purely dark spaces (the insides of birdhouses and mailboxes, caves of prehistoric paintings) and in-between places, searching out, as Paul Eluard put it, the other world inside this one, pointing to the pervasive sensuality that connects all beings, and to the fact that essential goodness and sorrow often walk hand in hand.

Antidote by Corey Van Landingham

[Paperback] Ohio State University Press, $16.95
In Corey Van Landingham’s Antidote, love equates with disease, valediction is a contact sport, the moon is a lunatic, and someone is always watching. Here the uncanny coexists with the personal, so that each poem undergoes making and unmaking, is birthed and bound in an acute strangeness. Elegy is made new by a speaker both heartbreaking and transgressive. Van Landingham reveals the instability of self and perception in states of grief; she is not afraid to tip the world upside down and shake it out, gather the lint and change from its pockets and say, “I can make something with this.”

Hyperboreal by Joan Naviyuk Kane

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 80 pp., $15.95
Hyperboreal originates from diasporas. It attempts to make sense of change and to prepare for cultural, climate, and political turns that are sure to continue. The poems originate from the hope that our lives may be enriched by the expression of and reflection on the cultural strengths inherent to indigenous culture. It concerns King Island, the ancestral home of the author's family until the federal government's Bureau of Indian Affairs forcibly and permanently relocated its residents. The poems work towards the assembly of an identity, both collective and singular, that is capable of looking forward from the recollection and impact of an entire community's relocation to distant and arbitrary urban centers. Through language, Hyperboreal grants forum to issues of displacement, lack of access to traditional lands and resources and loss of family that King Island people—and all Inuit—are contending with.

Paper Bullets by Julie Kane

[Paperback] White Violet Press, 82 pp., $14.95
Wickedly clever Julie Kane is our 21st-century Dorothy Parker. Boldly upbeat, sassily downbeat, she’s laugh-out-loud funny. In Paper Bullets the wry Kane serves wit to the lugubrious and fun to the platitudinous. There’s a bon mot here for every sophisticate and rich humor for all who’ve forgotten that poetry knows how to tap the funny bone.~ Molly Peacock

Kimonos in the Closet by David Shumate  

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 72 pp., $15.95
“These are enormously arresting, odd, wryly humorous, gripping poems. And the variety of subject matter is astounding. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed reading a book so much.”—David Budbill


Beth Copeland: Poet Interview

by Robert Lee Brewer 
Please join me in welcoming Beth Copeland to the Poetic Asides blog. I first came across her work last year when I judged a North Carolina book contest. Her book, Transcendental Telemarketer (BlazeVOX), was among the finalists. Read more at Writers Digest.

A Poet With Words Trapped Inside

by John Leland 
Can computers talk black vernacular? This is a question that haunts Ntozake Shange. On a recent evening, three days before her 65th birthday, Ms. Shange sat at the front table of the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village, listening to rich vernacular lines pouring from three characters who were all versions of her. Ms. Shange, best known for her 1970s verse play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” wore a red dress and sat in a wheelchair facing the stage, her hands and feet dancing involuntarily in front of her. The show, called “Lost in Language and Sound: Or How I Found My Way to the Arts,” was her first new theatrical work in more than a decade, and the words onstage were unmistakably hers, attuned to the rhythms of the jazz musicians and dancers on stage. Read more at the New York Times.

Kerry James Evans: From Combat Engineer to Poet

by Dana Jennings
Kerry James Evans, who’s just 30, has hard-knock credentials for a poet. He grew up in the South among the working poor, then spent six years as a combat engineer with the Army National Guard. And the poems in his first collection, “Bangalore,” just published by Copper Canyon Press, reflect (and reflect on) those seemingly sub-poetic experiences. In a recent e-mail conversation Mr. Evans, who recently received his Ph.D. in English from Florida State University, talked about his poetry and subject matter. Read more at the New York Times.

Can Poetry Matter? Gioia’s Work Offers Absolute “Yes”

by Hamid Bendaas 
Dana Gioia has visited the city of Chicago more than 70 times, but had not set gaze on the University until Wednesday night. “It is an astonishingly handsome and impressive campus,” he noted, after a substantial pause. Even compliments such as this one carry a sense of serious intentionality when spoken by Gioia, who for the past two decades has gained international notoriety for his advocacy of arts in today’s culture. Read more at Chicago Maroon.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: Turner Cassity

One of the true pleasures and honors in my time as a publisher was being able to provide a home to the last three books of poetry that Turner Cassity published, beginning with The Destructive Element, his selected poems, and continuing with his final two individual collections No Second Eden and Devils and Islands. Following are quotes from Turner taken from an interview done in 1980:

"People ask me why I write in meter and rhyme and I can only give one answer: without it nothing comes into my head.” 
“You can write in any manner you please if you are not particular what the result sounds like. In the most successful poetry it seems to me that the structure is the art; just as in successful engineering. Not that I have any theoretical objection to free verse, although I myself could not possibly write it. Many free verse poems are interesting and beautiful. Many more are not, of course, and in any event the reason free verse is popular is that it is easier. That is, it is perceived as being easier. In actuality it is harder. It is much more difficult to write really good free verse than it is to write good metrical verse. The temptation to looseness is too strong. One can remain moral in a bordello, but it is likely to be a struggle.” 
“For me the great breakthrough came with the realization I was not interested in writing about myself, which, believe me, sets me apart from most other poets, who do not write about anything except themselves.” 
“How often have you ever read a poem about a bank? Yet think how large a part of our lives economics is. I have written poems about banks, and, though I say it, they are rather good poems. If you cannot make money interesting, you had better give up.” 
“I try to cover maximum ground in minimum space. The poet as narrator occupies a great many lines and contributes nothing.” 
“Even when I was young it was obvious to me that the worst poets are those who devote all their time to it. What sort of life have they? What is their contact with the real world? They socialize only with other writers, most of whom certainly are not real, and have in consequence no subject matter.” 
“I usually try to write happy poems when I am depressed and depressed poems when I am happy. I hope to bring to the writing more detachment that way.” 
“How can the general exist except through the particular? It may not exist at all.” 
“I should like to be a disappearing poet. I should hope that after reading my poems through, a reader would not have the least idea what sort of person I am, but would have derived very clear ideas on the places and people I have written about.” 
“I do not try to improve people. I was raised a Calvinist, and have the great advantage of never being surprised by the wickedness of the world. Do not allow them to put on my tombstone that I worked for a better world, because I didn’t. There is not going to be a better world. Unless we are careful there is not going to be one this good.” 
For more words from Turner Cassity, please visit Patrick Kurp's Antecdotal Evidence, which will direct you to the original document, or read Turner's poetry. In addition to Swallow Press, Cassity also published with the University of Chicago Press, R. L. Barth, Symposium Press, David Godine, George Braziller, and Wesleyan University Press.

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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