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Poetry News In Review

September 10, 2015
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.


Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what the soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape 
and so, last week,
when I found on the beach
the ear bone
of a pilot whale that may have died
hundreds of years ago, I thought
maybe I was close
to discovering something 

—from “Bone” by Mary Oliver

World Poetry

P J Kavanagh, Poet - Obituary

P J Kavanagh, who has died aged 84, wrote poetry that by pared-back observation caught at the transcendent. But his first literary success came in 1966 with The Perfect Stranger. Ostensibly an autobiography of his first 27 years, it was informed by the presence of his wife, Sally, who had died suddenly of polio aged only 24, at four in the morning on Midsummer’s Day 1958.

Thirty Years Later, Mystery Surrounds Death of Ukrainian Dissident Poet Vasyl Stus

Ukrainians are marking 30 years since the death of Vasyl Stus, a famous dissident poet. He spent 23 out of his 47 years in Soviet prison camps. The Ukrainian poet died while on hunger strike in a prison in the Urals region. His last few months alive he shared a cell block with several other dissidents, among them, fellow Ukrainian Vasyl Ovsienko.

German Peace Prize for Syrian Poet Adonis Sparks Outrage

Syrian poet Adonis has not vocally criticized the Assad regime. Now the decision to award him a German peace prize named after the pacifist writer Erich Maria Remarque is under fire. Literarily, Ali Ahmad Said, who uses the pen name Adonis, never budged. For decades, he has shaped the avant-garde poetry scene not only in Syria, but in the entire Arab world. In his own way, he put words to the deep political and cultural unrest that has shaken the region for the past 200 years, since European colonialism. "A time between ashes and roses is coming / When everything shall be extinguished / When everything shall begin," he wrote in 1972, juxtaposing hope and upheaval.

Recent Reviews

Prose on Poetry
By Joel Brouwer

Vendler has done perhaps more than any other living critic to shape — I might almost say “create” — our understanding of poetry in English. (Were it not for Harold Bloom, the “perhaps” would be unnecessary.) The poems of Wallace Stevens would say what they say without Vendler’s having written about them, but they would not mean what they mean, because Vendler’s masterly early readings set the standard for how those odd and outlandish verses were to be understood and enjoyed.

Keepers of History
by Elizabeth Metzger

When you let go after taking someone’s pulse, it is hard not to feel your own. Three years after her postmodern translation of Dante’s Inferno, Mary Jo Bang conjures her own hell—and we recognize it as ours. Her seventh collection of poems, The Last Two Seconds, is littered with terrible omens, from cockroaches to bleeding dolls to the Doomsday Clock itself. Ruins and dead things tick us toward the end of time. There are no Virgils here. Instead, the cockroaches of the first poem, “The Earthquake She Slept Through,” point the way toward the future: “the dead / antennae announced the future by pointing to the silver mouth // that would later gulp the water she washed her face with.” This is our fate, a quintessential Bang remix of we are going down the drain.

Second Acts: A Second Look at Second Books of Poetry by Eleanor Stanford and Arthur Sze
by Lisa Russ Spaar

One pleasure for me in revisiting a poet’s second book of poems has been exploring the myriad formats these sophomore offerings can take. If the volume has won an award, or is appearing from one of the big publishing houses, it may be issued in hardcover initially, with an elegant slip jacket, or at the very least in high-end, substantial paperback format, perhaps with those fancy (and memorably named) “French flaps.” Others, no less significant in terms of content, appear for a variety of reasons in more modest ways — the ubiquitous standard perfect-bound paperback, for example, sometimes under the imprimatur of an established press and sometimes vetted through the portals of various self-publishing venues, or even occasionally ink-jetted onto folded papers and stapled or stitched into cardstock covers. Or, in lucky circumstances, these second collections come out in small-run, fine letterpress editions. At other times these books appear as part of a visually uniform “series”: the iconic small, square, two-tone volumes in the Pocket Poets Series published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books, for instance, or the waxy sheen of Tuumba covers — I think, too, of the “branded,” easily identified covers and format of early poetry titles published by New Issues Press and Braziller Books.


Pablo Neruda and Translation's Losses
by Claire Armitstead

Perhaps it’s down to his wonderfully refreshing manifesto for “an impure poetry” or maybe (whisper it not) it’s due to the seduction of David Soul, whose one-man show featured gloriously on the books podcast, but I’ve become more than usually obsessed with Chile’s Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. What’s not to love about a poet who wrote odes to artichokes and laundry and argued for “a poetry impure as the clothing we wear, or our bodies, soup-stained, soiled with our shameful behaviour, our wrinkles and vigils and dreams, observations and prophecies, declarations of loathing and love, idylls and beasts, the shocks of encounter, political loyalties, denials and doubts, affirmations and taxes.”

Ecstasy of Influence
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s American poetry.
by Dan Chiasson

In January of 1842, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s firstborn child, Waldo, contracted scarlet fever and died within a week. He was five. He had been his father’s exuberant companion, who had, Emerson wrote, “touched with his lively curiosity every trivial fact & circumstance in the household.” Henry David Thoreau, who had lodged with the Emersons, “charmed Waldo by the variety of toys whistles boats popguns & all kinds of instruments which he could make & mend.” The death was a shock to the entire village of Concord, Massachusetts. When the nine-year-old Louisa May Alcott came to the Emersons’ door to ask about Waldo, she was greeted, she wrote, by an Emerson “worn with watching and changed by sorrow.” All he said was “Child, he is dead.” Alcott called it her “first glimpse of a great grief.”

Poetry and the Memory of Fame
On accidental anonymity.
by Thomas McCarthy

I once felt quite famous as a poet. Indeed, now that I think of it, I have felt famous twice. These two periods of really unsettling fame came back to me recently as I dealt with a young poet at the lending desk of the public library where I’ve worked for over thirty years. The young poet had been coming into my city-center branch for over a year, dropping grease-stained envelopes stuffed with five or six poems and then returning a few days later to listen to my responses to his raw and energetic work. But there was this one morning when we’d had a very strenuous, useful exchange of ideas around his improving technique. In that pause when a conversation just ends and an older poet adroitly excuses himself, the young man suddenly said to me: “You know so much about poetry; you read it so closely. Have you ever thought of writing anything yourself?”

Drafts & Framents

Do We Really Need More Poetry?
by L.L. Barkat

A wall went viral. Multiple people pinged me about its poetic sentiment. I haven't retweeted it or reshared it. Sometimes I simply want to mull a message before casting my social media vote. The message in this case: "More Poetry is Needed."

Poetry In The News

Unseen Ezra Pound Poem Sold at Auction

An unpublished poem by Ezra Pound, in which the American poet extols in an Elizabethan sonnet the “pools” that are the “dearest eyes” of his friend, the British painter Isabel Codrington, has been sold at auction for £7,500. Pound wrote to Codrington, who was then Isabel Konody, married to the art critic Paul George Konody, in April 1909, telling her: “I can’t find an old poem fit to gratify your modest ambition so I have made a new one which I hope you will grace with acceptance.”

Poet Spends $500K Grant on Vacation — for Others

Earning the MacArthur Foundation's $500,000 "Genius Grant" provided Seattle poet Heather McHugh enough money to travel the globe or pamper herself. Instead, McHugh proved why she earned the funds in the first place, doing something both genius and selfless, according to Upworthy.

New Books

Monograph by Simeon Berry        
[Paperback] University of Georgia Press, 96 pp., $16.95

Written in narrow sections that blur the distinction between flash fiction and prose poetry, between memoir and meditation, Monograph veers from the elliptical to the explosive as it dissects the Gordian knot of a marriage’s intellectual, sexual, and domestic lives. Invoking Raymond Chandler, Pythagoras, Joan Didion, and Virginia Woolf as presiding spirits, Simeon Berry curates the negative space of each wry tableau, destabilizing the high seriousness of every lyric aside and slipping quantum uncertainty into the stark lineaments of loss.

Boy with Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis
[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 104 pp., $15.95

In a landscape at once the brutal American South as it is the brutal mind, Boy with Thorn interrogates the genesis of all poetic creation—the imagination itself, questioning what role it plays in both our fascinations with and repulsion from a national history of racial and sexual violence. The personal and political crash into one language here, gothic as it is supple, meditating on visual art and myth, to desire, the practice of lynching and Hurricane Katrina. Always at its center, though, is the poet himself—confessing a double song of pleasure and inevitable pain.

Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera
[Hardcover] City Lights Publishers, 104 pp., $19.95

Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Latino Poet Laureate of the United States and son of Mexican immigrants, grew up in the migrant fields of California. Exuberant and socially engaged, reflective and healing, this collection of new work from the nation's first Latino Poet Laureate is brimming with the wide-open vision and hard-won wisdom of a poet whose life and creative arc have spanned chasms of culture in an endless crossing, dreaming and back again.

Tender the Maker by Christina Hutchins
[Hardcover] Utah State University Press, 80 pp., $19.95

"Again and again in Christina Hutchins’s exquisite Tender the Maker, poems startle us into awareness of the overlooked, the nearly always invisible (such as a library’s unused dictionary), and the marvelous, those aspects of life that come under the rubric of ‘mystery,’ in all senses of the word. Hutchins combines a pitch-perfect and precise lyricism with a postmodern sensibility of language’s materiality.”—Cynthia Hogue

Wild Hundreds by Nate Marshall 
[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 80 pp., $15.95

Wild Hundreds is a long love song to Chicago. The book celebrates the people, culture, and places often left out of the civic discourse and the travel guides. Wild Hundreds is a book that displays the beauty of black survival and mourns the tragedy of black death.


'The presence of the past' 
A Q&A with poet Davis McCombs
by Caitlin Love

Poet Davis McCombs was awarded the 2015 Porter Fund Literary Prize earlier this month, joining Arkansas writers Mara Leveritt, Trenton Lee Stewart, Kevin Brockmeier and others in literary recognition. Born and raised in Kentucky, McCombs has lived with his family for nearly 14 years in Fayetteville, where he teaches and directs the Program in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas. His poems, which have appeared in the New Yorker, the Oxford American and "The Best American Poetry 2008," are dense, lyric visions of silence and solitude and history and, lately, Arkansas — especially the Ozarks. We recently talked over email about books, his writing and how Arkansas has only recently begun to unroll itself in his work

Remembering Life in Romania under Communist Rule
by L. P.

On a recent Thursday night, a handful of Romanian poets gathered inside a Soviet-era themed bar in New York’s East Village to commemorate the Romanian revolution. The irony was not lost on the writers, many of whom shared painful memories of life under Romania’s communist regime, a 42-year slog marked by poverty, food shortages, and profound misery that culminated in swift and bloody revolution in the winter of 1989. Romania’s dictator of 24 years, Nicolae CeauČ™escu, was publicly executed by firing squad after an hour-long trial televised across the nation.

Interview: C.K. Stead
by Michele Hewitson

The writer C.K. Stead is the new poet laureate which I, for one, am really quite chuffed about. I'm fairly sure he is too although, as effusiveness is not in his nature and "chuffed" unlikely to be in his vocabulary, I did rather have to wring it out of him. I already knew this and so it was silly of me to attempt to get him to tell me just how pleased he was. I said: "You really wanted to be the laureate, didn't you?" He gave me one of his long, cool looks and said: "Well, I'm certainly not averse to the idea. Ha."

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: Tom Disch

". . . Why bother panning the likes of God Hunger at all, in that case? Because sometimes, as one watches the emperor's latest fashion show or reads reports of it in the press, it is reassuring to hear someone else echo one's own sense of the event. This can't be done for every show, just as one could not work up a passion of indignation over each headline reporting on perpetual scandals such asWatergate or HUD. I also feel that every critic is obligated to give his or her aversions at least a regular airing, if not equal time with the enthusiasms, for to do otherwise os to take place in a conspiracy of silence."

—from "Products of the Workshop" in The Castle of Indolence

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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