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Poetry News In Review

September 10, 2014
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1877 – Georgia B D Camp Johnson, US, poet/playwright (Autumn Love Cycle), is born.
1912 – Brother William Oliver Antoninus Everson, poet, is born.
1917 – Franfo Fortini, poet, is born.
1935 – Mary Oliver, American poet, is born.
1979 – Agostinho Neto, poet/1st pres of Angola, dies at 56.
1994 – Amy Clampitt, British poet (Silence Opens), dies at 74.


The process
goes on forever: they came from sand,
they go back to gravel,
along with the treasuries
of Murano, the buttressed
astonishments of Chartres,
which even now are readying
for being turned over and over as gravely
and gradually as an intellect
engaged in the hazardous
redefinition of structures
no one has yet looked at.

—from “Beach Glass” by Amy Clampitt (1920–1994)

World Poetry

Bulgaria's Poet Valeri Petrov Dies

Bulgaria's poet, playwright, script writer and translator Valeri Petrov passed away at the age of 94 in Sofia Military Hospital on Wednesday, reports the Bulgarian National Radio. In the past few days he was in a coma the intensive care unit of the hospital, after suffering a massive stroke in the end of last week. Petrov was born Valeri Nisim Mevorah on April 22, 1920 in Sofia, to the family of a lawyer and a teacher. Valeri Petrov studied at the Italian School in the city, finishing in 1939. He graduated in medicine from Sofia University in 1944. When he was 15, Petrov published his first book: the poem Ptitsi kam sever ("Birds Northwards"). More. 

Chilean Poet Nicanor Parra Turns 100

Chile celebrated the 100th birthday of poet Nicanor Parra on Friday, with ceremonies nationwide for the man considered one of the greatest Latin American poets of his time. The activities ranged from public readings to book fairs and art exhibits honoring the poet, essayist and physics graduate. President Michelle Bachelet had visited the centenarian at his home located in Chile's central coast, where he has been living away from the public eye for years. More.

Recent Reviews

Brilliant, Unsparing 'Prelude' Will Leave A Bruise

by Amal el-Mohtar
The difficulty in reviewing excellent poetry is to keep from responding in kind. When I've thoroughly enjoyed a collection, it isn't enough to praise the rhythm, the intensity, the clarity of the work I've just read; I find myself writing about how the book is "seamed in smoke" or observing "the supple twisting of its narrative spine." But I don't want to do that here — Saeed Jones' Prelude to Bruise is so visceral and affecting, I can't risk burying it in my own figurative language. More.

Review: “Once in the West: Poems”

 by Paul Otremba
Bertolt Brecht’s poetic assurance that in dark times there will also be singing is a motto suited to poetry facing traumas of historical scale. Yet, it also is fitting for poetry looking for light among the many local pains experienced within an individual life. “Once in the West,” Christian Wiman’s fourth and latest collection of poems, searches for such a light when faced with the multitude of indignities and sufferings that accompany the mortal coil. Wiman’s book confronts illness, loneliness, doubt, economic hardship and aging, as well as the suddenness of death, which makes no accommodation for young or old. More.

Life Affirming

by Belinda Cooke
Dennis O'Driscoll's 'The Poetry of Bureaucracy: Thomas Kinsella's Two Careers' (The Outnumbered Poet: Critical and Autobiographical Essays[Gallery Press, 2013]) is a great way into Thomas Kinsella's life and unusual poetry - with its quirky, matter of fact, often abrasive tone. Kinsella's years in the Finance department as assistant to T. K. Whitaker (voted 'Irishman of the 20th century' in an RTE poll 2001 for spearheading Ireland's transformation into the Celtic Tiger of the nineties) aided his work life balance. Kinsella explains: 'After a day in the civil service and an evening meal, I'd simply take it up in the same way one would take up a hobby'. O'Driscoll describes the resulting poetry as similarly 'efficient' triggering a marmite debate with Peter Sirr noting that he: 'uses personal material with the flinty objectivity of a Tribunal report', while Kit Fryatt finds his 'chilly and mock-verbose' manner 'unlovable' (p. 289). Clearly enough people love it, given Thomas Kinsella's (b. 1928) international reputation, numerous awards and honours including freedom of the city of Dublin 2007. More.

For Me, Meeting the British Blew Away the Very Idea of Certainty

by Giles Foden

In 1986, fresh from Africa, I arrived at university with a sheaf of poems. Nothing unusual there, except in that year Paul Muldoon was the Judith E Wilson fellow at Cambridge, and by good fortune he was in residence at my own college, Fitzwilliam. There, once a week, at about six in the evening, he convened a writing group. It wasn’t a creative writing workshop, but something more fluid. People would read out poems or short pieces of prose. Once, I remember, Lee Hall, later the writer of Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters, brought along his guitar and sang a song. The group was a mixture of students and Cambridge residents, of varying ages. We all smoked, of course, and there was a fair bit of covert flirting. Muldoon’s responses to the work were elliptical, like his own writing, which we were beginning to discover in collections such as Quoof (1983) and a slim Selected Poems (1986). Once he described one of my poems – I think it was about cycling – as “very regular”. It took me some time to realise he probably wasn’t just talking about the metre. More.

Seamus Heaney’s Places

by Rosie Lavan
In 1998, the poet and critic Sean O’Brien could write with confidence of the “industrial” scale of scholarship on Seamus Heaney’s writing. Over the 15 years which followed, Heaney gave his critics still more to work with: three further collections of poetry; translations of Beowulf, Robert Henryson’s poetry, and another Sophoclean tragedy; and a volume each of collected poems and prose. This is not to mention the satellite contributions to periodicals, occasional volumes, and the mainstream media, which he made throughout his life. During this period, two other publications greatly expanded the possible approaches critics and readers could make to the poet: the comprehensive bibliography of Heaney’s work assembled by Rand Brandes and Michael J. Durkan and Stepping Stones, the extraordinary collection of interviews Dennis O’Driscoll conducted with the poet, which stands in place of an autobiography. Published this month, Richard Rankin Russell’s new study, Seamus Heaney’s Regions, is the first which is able to take account of the full run of Heaney’s oeuvre. While it was completed before August 2013, it is also, of course, the first study to appear since Heaney’s death last summer, a loss which has been keenly felt at the commemorative events held all over the world since then. More.


The Poet’s Journey: Chapter 11

by David Biespiel
What does it mean to triumph as a poet? Doesn’t our poetic awareness sometimes take us to some rock bottom sense of ourselves, on the one hand, and, other times, on the other hand, to some elevated pinnacle of what we understand about ourselves — ourselves and our subjects, our metaphors and our communion with readers? Does it make a difference whether this place is a sanctuary cleansed by ritual or some darker, more remote cave in your mind and your heart? I’m not sure what the answer is here. I do feel that overcoming the obstacles you face when writing poems helps you become a poet, and that we often triumph in the writing of a poem at the far edges of our awareness. The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s early poem, “God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children,” as translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell, sites his edge of awareness as the headwaters where compassion begins, not in the sanctity of God, but in the sanctity of the female, in particular, the mother. More.

Empathy and the Poetic Imagination (Sections 4 and 5)

by Bruce Bond
The Unconscious Political
 It may seem counter-intuitive that a surreal aesthetics, such as that of Pablo Neruda, should lend itself to politics, particularly as conceived by the Communist Party that Neruda represented as a senator in 1945. Surrealism has had, since early in its development, a troubled relationship to the Communist Party and its competing notions about art’s political efficacy. When, in his first manifesto, AndrĂ© Breton framed his central notion of “psychic automatism,” he specified that it be “dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern” (p. 26). However, in both France and the Americas, surrealism as a movement and a practice carries with it a strong history of socialist aspirations, as evidenced in AndrĂ© Breton’s joining of the French Communist Party in 1927 and his expulsion in 1933. The expulsion did little to dim Breton’s enthusiasm as he went on to write The Political Position of Surrealism in 1935 and to visit Leon Trotsky, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera in Mexico in the late 30s. Clearly the aesthetic of surrealism, with its enigmatic inwardness, is diametrically opposed to the desired pragmatics and lucidity of Stalinist social realism. More.

Drafts & Framents

Transy Professors’ Tattoo Project Goes Global with Launch of ‘Love Letter to the World’

If you considered the Lexington Tattoo Project sort of a mom and pop endeavor, think of it now as World Wide Inc. (Make that Ink.) Transylvania University professors Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde have launched “Love Letter to the World,” a variation on their local project that was recognized as one of the nation’s top public artworks and featured on CNN. More.

Poetry In The News

Zaccheus Jackson, 'firecracker' East Van Poet, Dead at 36

A void has been ripped into the lives of family, friends and Canada's spoken word community with the death of 36-year-old Zaccheus Jackson this week. Jackson, who became a fixture and inspiration in Vancouver's slam poetry scene starting nine years ago, was struck and killed by a train in Toronto on Wednesday. More.

Young Island Poet to Address Ban Ki-moon Climate Summit

A young female poet from the Marshall Islands has been selected to address an audience including more than 100 heads of state at the opening ceremony of the U.N. secretary-general's climate change summit later this month. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, 26, the co-founder of an environmental NGO, as well as a teacher and journalist, is "really excited for this opportunity to speak on an issue that is really close to my heart", according to astatement on the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 website. “I want to bring my people's message out to the world, that climate change is a threat that we need to take more seriously," she added. More.

‘This Is Where The Picture Goes Gray’: A Friend’s Poem For James Foley

In an email to supporters this week, 826 Boston Executive Director Daniel Johnson wrote about James Foley, not just as the journalist who was killed by militants in Syria last month, but as a man who was like a brother to him. More.

Poetry Can Be an Early Form of Artistic Response to Trauma

During the Ferguson protests, Poets.org documented a surge of interest in Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.” “We’ve had 13,000 people read “Let America Be America Again” since Aug. 9 — so in the past 10 days,” emailed Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets in New York. “This is a huge number of people reading one poem in a short amount of time, based on our experience. And another 25,000 have read it/shared it on our Facebook page. What this says to us is that poetry remains an art form people turn to in times of crisis.” More.

New Books

Small Hours by Ilyse Kusnetz

[Paperback] Truman State University Press, 96 pp., $18.00
By turns poignant and hopeful, raging and joyful, Small Hours interweaves the personal and the political, connecting family history to moments within a larger historical arc of injustice and oppression. The poems in this collection bear witness to those whose stories have fallen into the fractures of history and been lost, their mouths opening / below earth, their bodies / burning like forbidden books, about whom we know almost nothing. These poems ask us to recall the tyrants of the past as similar abuses of power repeat themselves in the present. Forgiveness and understanding vie with the memory of events that can never be redressed, only remembered, and sometimes redeemed.

What Ridiculous Things We Could Ask of Each Other by Jeffrey Schultz

[Paperback] University of Georgia Press, 88 pp., $16.95
The poems in What Ridiculous Things We Could Ask of Each Other comb through the rubble of everyday life in search of the shards of beauty and hope that might still be found there. At the same time, these poems struggle to conceive of the beautiful and the hopeful in some way that can escape the purely naive. They confront loss and wrong, but because “Elegy / is stupid, if you can avoid it,” they seek, so much as is possible, not to offer consolation in exchange for what ought not to have happened in the first place. If making the world right with itself would be simultaneously the simplest and the most difficult thing, these poems try to imagine the moment right before that change would become possible and try to imagine the questions we’d be confronted with then, in hope of opening the possibility of imagining the answers.

Zion by TJ Jarrett

[Paperback] Southern Illinois University Press, 88 pp., $15.95
Zion, the latest collection of poems by TJ Jarrett, is the poignant study of the resonating effects of the civil rights movement on one family. Jarrett lovingly explores the minutiae of mortality and race across three generations of “Dark Girls” who have come together one summer to grieve and to remember as one of them passes to the farther shore—a place beyond retribution, where there is only forgiveness. The Mississippi of Jarrett’s collection is alive with fireflies and locusts and murders of crows; yet for some, it is a wasteland of unanswered prayers, burning evenings, and the shades of dead or disappeared loved ones. There, the dark nights of the soul weigh long and heavy, and “every heart has its solstice, and its ache is unrelenting.”

Best Bones by Sarah Rose Nordgren

[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 88 pp., $15.95
Best Bones is a house. When you walk around the rooms of the house, you overhear the desires and griefs of a family, as well as the unresolved concerns of lingering ghosts. The various voices in the house struggle against the family roles and social identities that they must wear like heavy garments—mother, father, wife, husband, sister, brother, servant, and master. All these voices crave unification; they want to join themselves into one whole sentient being, into “a mansion steering itself.” The poems in Best Bones also explore the experience of living in a physical body, and how the natural world intersects with manmade landscapes and technologies. In it, mother has a reset button, servants blend into the furniture, and a doctor patiently oversees the pregnancy of the earth. In these poems, the body is a working machine, a repository of childhood myth and archetype, and a window to the spiritual world.       

Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser by Luisa A. Igloria

[Hardcover] Utah State University Press, 70 pp., $19.95
“When Luisa Igloria cites Epictetus—‘as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place’—she introduces the crowded and contradictory world her poems portray: a realm of transience, yes, where the vulnerable come to harm and everything disappears, but also a scene of tremendous, unpredictable bounty, the gloriously hued density this poet loves to detail. ‘I was raised / to believe not only the beautiful can live on / Parnassus,’ she tells us, and she makes it true, by including in the cyclonic swirl of her poems practically everything: a gorgeous, troubling over-brimming universe."—Mark Doty


On Being Seen: An Interview with Claudia Rankine from Ferguson

by Alexandra Schwartz
“Let America Be America Again,” with its famous parenthetical—“(America never was America to me)”—is an anthem for a split nation, a nation that, nevertheless, in Hughes’s words, can’t stop trying to fulfill its own hopeful mythology to “bring back our mighty dream again.” On Thursday morning, I spoke on the phone with the poet Claudia Rankine, who was visiting St. Louis and Ferguson, about Hughes’s poem, and about Rankine’s new book, “Citizen: An American Lyric,” which will be published in October by Graywolf Press. More.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Imaginative Surety

by Joseph Spece 
A used book was gifted me by the Ma: The New Poetry: An Anthology, published 1917, edited by Harriet Monroe. It is sobering—perhaps encouraging?—to note that, though hindsight colors the trajectory of Modern poetry bright red at every bend, nine-tenths of this 550-page collection is utter dross, Fireside-style stuff (yes, it includes H.D., Eliot, Lawrence, Pound, Frost). What’s most interested me about The New Poetry is the method of its insufficiency—while contemporary poetry boasts quiescence (when it’s quiescent) by irony, academic confessionalism, and a flotsam sensibility, 1917 had deadening rote metrics, telegraphed rhyme and rhythm. Nor, in either case, is much imagination evinced. (Strange how blanched Pound reads: ‘Sing we for love and idleness, / Naught else is worth the having. // Though I have been in many a land, / There is naught else in living.’) More.

I think I have this volume too, hiding on some shelf. And while I agree in principle with what the author of this piece claims regarding what we consider the "quality" of much of the material in the anthology, I find myself wondering if he isn't too generous in his appraisal of contemporary poetry in contrast to the poetry of a century ago. My guess is that in a hundred years' time there will be those making similar claims about the dearth of quality poetry today, and that what afflicted the anthologists in 1917 afflicts them now. Still, I salute his recognition of the one poem ("Wild Plum") he found that seems to stand out of the sampling from the one obscure poet he talks about, Orrick Johns. And I appreciate his saving that poem, temporarily, from obscurity.

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