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Poetry News In Review

October 8, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1619 – Philipp von Zesen, German poet/historian (Amsterdam), is born.
1985 – Ricardo Bacchelli, playwright/poet (Il malino del Po), dies at 94.
1992 – Nobel Prize for literature is given to West Indies poet Derek Walcott.

The Fist

The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved
past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.
Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.
—Derek Walcott (1930–  )

World Poetry

European Council President Publishes Second Haiku Book

Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president and former Belgium prime minister, has published a follow-up to his 2010 book of haiku poems. “Haiku II” is a collection of 32 poems originally written in Dutch by Van Rompuy, who is known as an enthusiast of the 17-syllable form of poetry that originated in Japan. Each haiku is accompanied with French, English, German and Japanese translations. Poems in the first volume were not translated into Japanese. “The Japanese translation now strikes a bridge to the homeland of haiku poetry,” Van Rompuy, 65, said in a speech at the book’s presentation ceremony on Oct. 3. “I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.” Read more at Asia and Japan Watch.

Israel’s National Poet Bialik Honored in Odessa

 A Tel Aviv museum has opened an exhibition on Israel’s national poet, Hayim Nahman Bialik, in the Ukrainian city where he published his first poem. Entitled “Poet’s Path,” the exhibition was curated by the Bialik Complex Museum and opened Saturday at the OK Odessa hotel during the kickoff event for the city’s third Limmud Jewish learning conference. Mayor Aleksey Kostusyev is expected to visit the exhibition later this week, organizers said. Read more at Jerusalem Post.

Prince Charles Records “Favourite” Poem for Poetry Day

Charles picked "Fern Hill" by Welsh writer Dylan Thomas for the annual nationwide event which is celebrated today. The Prince said: 'For National Poetry Day, I was very glad, if somewhat hesitant, to be able to record a reading of one of my personal favourites, "Fern Hill," with its poignant and moving evocation of a rural west Wales childhood.' Read more at ITV.


Recent Reviews

Backward Glances

by Meg Schoerke
In “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads,” Walt Whitman, at age seventy, called Leaves of Grass “a sortie—whether to prove triumphant, and conquer its field of aim and escape and construction, nothing less than a hundred years from now can fully answer.” More than a century after his death, Whitman is often portrayed, stereotypically, as opening vistas of possibility to young poets. But his example is just as vital to poets who have, like him, devoted long lives to the art. Whitman’s poetic legacy includes the elements he enumerated in the prefaces—his expansive self; his inclusive catalogues; his formal and linguistic variety; his optimism; his celebration of the body, of sexuality, and of love between men; and his ambition to be the poet of American democracy. That legacy encompasses not only Leaves of Grass, and his many invitations to future poets to follow him down that road, but also the canniness with which he looked back on his achievement from the perspective of old age. Like Whitman, the four poets under review cast backward glances over travelled roads. And, in following Whitman, Adrienne Rich, Daniel Hoffman, Gerald Stern, and Frank Bidart also accept his invitation, issued in “Song of Myself,” to honor his style even as they “kill the teacher.” Read more at the Hudson Review.

Ashbery's Poetry Continues to Defy Criticism in Quick Question

by Max Radwin
It’s hard to tell if John Ashbery is still writing everybody’s autobiography. He’s got to be done soon. Quick Question, a collection of 63 new poems, proves that America’s greatest living poet isn’t done just yet. Following its hardcover release nearly a year ago, Ashbery’s 26th book is now available in paperback. Ashbery is a machine. He churns out poems as epic in proportion as they are in quality. … Maybe. Who knows? I certainly don’t. Ashbery’s work defies criticism. Not just mine, not just Harold Bloom’s. Everyone’s. That’s the point. Or at least it was when poets like Robert Lowell were whining about daddy issues in the 1960s. Read more at Michigan Daily.


Notes on The Incredible Sestina Anthology

by Daniel Nester
1. Ten years ago I started a new job, one with the tongue-in-cheek title of Assistant Web Editor for Sestinas at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. How did this happen? I tell the story here. Long story short: I read hundreds, maybe thousands, of sestinas, that most particular of poetic forms, and published my choices here.
2. Through the course of that gig, I collected ones that didn’t fit the criteria of the site, with dreams of someday publishing the first all-sestina collection. All killer no filler. I wanted John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, Jonah Winter, Denise Duhamel, Patricia Smith, Alfred Corn, Florence Cassen-Mayers, Marilyn Nelson, Sherman Alexie, Matt Madden, all under one roof. Read more at Days of Note.

To Our Readers

Poetry's new editor on the motive of the magazine
by Don Share 
“I’ve received some letters asking me to state publicly my editorial position    ...”
Ezra Pound’s injunction to “Make it new” seems not to apply to the question of what an incoming editor of this magazine intends. Though Harriet Monroe established Poetry’s vision in an editorial in her first issue (“The Motive of the Magazine”) and in the famous “Open Door” policy published in the second, the question gets asked anew when there’s a change at the top of our masthead. In 1949 for example, when Hayden Carruth became the editor, one of the magazine’s long-standing guarantors posed it, commenting that though Poetry’s policy may have been clear to the staff, it certainly wasn’t to her. (“You don’t seem to get enough important names,” she complained.) Read more at the Poetry Foundation.

Drafts & Framents

Appleton Will Start Sidewalk Poetry Program in 2014

by Nick Penzenstadler
Neighborhoods around Appleton will soon become open-air books with poems stamped into the concrete of replaced sidewalks. The program will launch in 2014 and replicate a popular public art project in St. Paul, Minn., where 470 poems have been stamped on sidewalks since 2008. Authors have been as young as 4 and as old as 80. “Reaction in St. Paul has been great — they now have a group of walkers that go to specific neighborhoods and follow a map of the poems,” said Paula Vandehey, the city’s public works director. “It’s a great way to meet people and interact and add an element to the neighborhoods.” Read more at the Post Crescent.

London Transport Authority Tackles Tube Etiquette with Poetry

By John Reynolds
London: Transport for London is aiming to use poetry to teach the capital’s commuters “poetiquette” and think twice about dropping litter, obstructing doors and other antisocial behaviour that contributes to travel delays on the tube. From Monday until Friday a collection of London poets, including rising star Amy Acre who appeared at this year’s Latitude festival, will give recitals at some of London’s busiest train and tube stations as part of a wider TfL Travel Better London marketing campaign encouraging commuters to be more considerate towards their fellow travellers. Read more at Gulf News.

Poetry In The News

"Michigan Poem" Goes Viral: Kinetic Affect's Video about State Pride “Caught Fire” over the Weekend

Kirk Latimer and Gabriel Giron don't know how it happened, but they're enjoying the attention given to the "Michigan Poem." The duo makes up the Kalamazoo-based spoken word team, Kinetic Affect. Two years ago, they were commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to write a piece about the state of Michigan. They created what amounts to a battle cry for Michigan, which they felt had unfairly become a running joke for its economic downturn. The duo first performed the "Michigan Poem" in August, 2011, in Traverse City. They posted a YouTube video on Oct. 20. It experienced modest success with around 6,000 views, Latimer said. Read more at M Live.

Forché Wins Poetry Fellowship

Poet, human rights activist and Georgetown professor Carolyn Forché was the recipient of this year’s Academy of American Poets fellowship. Forché currently serves as director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown. She is also the author of four collections of poetry and most recently co-authored an anthology, “The Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English: 1500-2001” with English professor Duncan Wu. The Academy of American Poets fellowship, which has been awarded to poets for distinguished poetic achievement since 1936, includes a stipend of $25,000. Read more at The Hoya.

New Books

Headwaters: Poems by Ellen Bryant Voigt 

[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 64 pp., $24.95
Rash yet tender, chastened yet lush, Headwaters is a book of opposites, a book of wild abandon by one of the most formally exacting poets of our time. Animals populate its pages—owl, groundhog, fox, each with its own inimitable survival skills—and the poet who so meticulously observes their behaviors has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of skills herself: she too has survived. The power of these extraordinary poems lies in their recognition that all our experience is ultimately useless—that human beings are at every moment beginners, facing the earth as if for the first time. "Don’t you think I’m doing better," asks the first poem. "You got sick you got well you got sick," says the last.

Ascension Theory by Christopher Bolin

[Paperback] University of Iowa Press, 90 pp., $18.00 
“This meditation,” writes Christopher Bolin in Ascension Theory, “is about appearing without motes between us: / it is practice for presenting oneself to God.” Bolin’s stark and masterful debut collection records a deeply moving attempt to restore poetry to the possibilities of redemptive action. The physical and emotional landscapes of these poems, rendered with clear-eyed precision, are beyond the reaches of protection and consolation: tundra, frozen sea, barren woodlands, skies littered with satellite trash, fields marked by abandoned, makeshift shrines, sick rooms, vacant reaches that provide “nodes / in every direction // for sensing // the second coming.”

Corona: The Selected Poems of Paul Celan translated by Susan Gillespie

[Paperback] Barrytown/Station Hill Press, 250 pp., $16.95 
Paul Celan, arguably the mid-20th century’s most important German-language poet, is commonly pigeonholed as a poet of the Holocaust a term, however, he never used. Undoing facile assumptions about Celan, Corona charts a more idiosyncratic and personal path through Celan’s large oeuvre, choosing 103 poems from among the more than 900 Celan published. 

Collateral Light by Julia Cohen

[Paperback] Brooklyn Arts Press, 92 pp., $15.95

If you relish a poetry of the ear and eye, the light touch of vowels mingling in a breathing landscape, then you will feast on this book and these poems from Julia Cohen. Here the news is alive and subtly elegant. Here the cognate child builds her musings syllable by syllable to talk of insects on snow and little cliffs. Here the phrase is music and memory is inexhaustible. The things found in her night-garden mimicry should be deliberate; the colossal leaf; the broken dinner plate are replete with suggestive power. This is a voice indeed of an active and precise imagination. —Mark McMorris

Signaletics by Emilia Phillips 

[Hardcover] University of Akron Press, 72 pp., $49.95
Signaletics pits the measured against the immeasurable, the body against identity, and the political against the personal. With a defunct nineteenth-century body measurement system of criminal identification as a foundation, the poems move in and out of history, only to arrive at the immediate voice of a speaker, distraught about the death of a child brother, the removal of a father, and the estrangement of the personal with the politics of her country.

Dog Songs by Mary Oliver

[Hardcover] Penguin Press, 144 pp., $26.95

Beloved by her readers, special to the poet’s own heart, Mary Oliver’s dog poems offer a special window into her world. Dog Songs collects some of the most cherished poems together with new works, offering a portrait of Oliver’s relationship to the companions that have accompanied her daily walks, warmed her home, and inspired her work. To be illustrated with images of the dogs themselves, the subjects will come to colorful life here. Dog Songs is a testament to the power and depth of the human-animal exchange, from an observer of extraordinary vision.


Poet Gregory Orr: Poetry Is "Concentrated Testimony" of Being Human

Poet Gregory Orr rhapsodizes on a theme he has explored for nearly a decade: the "beloved," the things we love. Of course, what we love can change over time, he says. "It can make you crazy by ... shifting from one thing to another and yet, of course, that's also dazzling," he told the PBS NewsHour. Read more at PBS.

A Poem Close to Home

by Sadie Dingfelder 
About two years ago, inspiration struck local poet Joshua Weiner as he walked beside Rock Creek, down the hill from his Woodley Park home. “I was thinking about how many different kinds of experiences happen along the creek,” he says. “It’s the scene of love and murder and recreation and natural history and different kinds of human history.” Read more at the Washington Post.

A Poet Reckons With Her Inheritance

By Helen T. Verongos 
In her recently published collection of poems, The Forage House (Red Hen Press), Tess Taylor, a descendant of the white branch of Thomas Jefferson’s family, explores her personal history, sifting through not just records but the very dirt of her ancestors’ property and the bones buried there. She saw “unearthed remains of slave cabins — cracked pipes, a few buttons” and witnessed how archaeologists use these bits to recreate the past. In a recent e-mail interview she talked about her ancestors, including Appalachian forebears “who kept Scottish ballads alive for centuries” in remote parts of North Carolina, about slavery and about the role of poetry. Read more at the New York Times.

William Logan

William Logan is often thought of as a critic first and a poet second, so his verse doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. In Logan’s poetry we don’t find the spooky discursiveness or the back-breaking effort to avoid lyrical expression we often encounter in contemporary poetry. Instead, what we find is a poet who writes poetry simply because he must. He’s inspired to write and doesn’t write to be inspired. His poetry is meticulously crafted and sensitive to the seen and the unseen world we inhabit. The poems in Madame X (Penguin Books, 2002) are the result of what happens when you put tremendous pressure on yourself and language at the same time: beauty, death, and love emerge with terrifying clarity. In our conversation, the poet and I discuss his time living between Florida and England, his undergraduate years at Yale where he worked closely with poet Richard Howard and television writer David Milch, teaching poetry workshops at the University of Florida, old girlfriends, and so much more. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. Read more at New Books in Poetry.

Scratching a Muse’s Ears

Mary Oliver’s ‘Dog Songs’ Finds Poetry in Friends
by Dana Jennings
Mary Oliver has spent most of her life with a mind ripe with poems — and with at least one steadfast dog by her side. It seems fitting then that her latest collection revels in the carrying on of dogs. Dog Songs, out from Penguin Press on Tuesday, is a sweet golden retriever of a book that curls up with the reader, with 35 poems and one essay about the dogs who have shared Ms. Oliver’s days. Read more at the New York Times.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Vicente and Me

From the Archive, 7 October, 1977: The Loneliness of the Nobel Poet

The quiet, introspective world of the Spanish poet, Vicente Aleixandre, fell to pieces yesterday after he was awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize for literature. In his ochre villa in a Madrid backstreet, the telephone rang, the doorbell chimed, and reporters pushed antique furniture out of the way to get near him. "I am very surprised," the frail, 79 year-old poet said. He sat on a faded armchair in his study crammed from near to ceiling with books, including dusty works of the so-called "1927 generation" to which he belonged. The generation's leading voice was the poet and playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca, who was murdered by the nationalists at the start of the Civil War in 1936. Read more at The Guardian.

This article caught my eye. As the Nobel season is upon us, it's something of a memento mori to reflect on those who have won in the past and still have not achieved the height of recognition that we might naturally assume the award confers on its recipients. To be certain, I probably would not be familiar with Vicente Aleixandre had it not been for his Nobel Prize. But I feel as if my knowledge of him, a Nobel Prize winner within my adult life, is sorely lacking. There are so many new poets, new voices, new books that the ones from—when? 1977? —keep getting relegated to the bottom of the stack. But perhaps this is simply my own memento mori, the reminder that acquiring more books is not a stay against my own dwindling years, but a confirmation that if I were to stop now (which is unlikely), I would still have more books on my shelves than available time remaining in which to read them. But I will do not feel sorry for either Vicente or for myself. It's fall. The world is one big beautiful memento mori.

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