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Poetry News In Review

September 13, 2017
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1889—Pierre Reverdy, French poet (Nord-Sud), born in Occitanie (d. 1960), is born.

1894—Julian Tuwim, Polish poet (d. 1953), is born.
1962—Tõnu Õnnepalu, Estonian poet and author, is born.


A woman was laughing 
                     With her head thrown back 
And the man who came mistook us 
Who didn't know each other all three of us 
And yet we formed 
                        A world full of hope

—from “Memory” by Pierre Reverdy
[translated Kenneth Rexroth]

World Poetry

Maya Angelou and Tupac Among Authors Plagiarized By Canadian Poet Laureate
Poetry sleuths are shocked that an esteemed writer would lift passages directly from famous works.

It’s puzzling to literary experts that a highly-esteemed Canadian poet would take the words of other writers and pass it off as his own. Poetry detectives uncovered the apparent unabashed plagiarism of the Canadian poet laureate Pierre DesRuisseaux from a number of writers, including Maya Angelou and Tupac Shakur, reports the National Post, a Toronto-based publication.

From Australia’s ‘Stolen Generation’ to Celebrated Poet

When Ali Cobby Eckermann met her biological mother for the first time at age 34, she did not think her life could be enlarged further, she said. Four years later, in 2001, Ms. Cobby Eckermann was reunited with her son, then 18, who had been taken from her at birth.

Recent Reviews

Ian Parks, Citizens 
by Ian Pople

Over the years, Ian Parks has produced about a dozen books and pamphlets, from a variety of publishers. His shtick seems to be to have a new book out with a new publisher. But that variety of publisher never seems to diminish or dilute the quality of Parks’ writing, which is, surely, amongst the finest poetry being currently produced in these islands. This short review is of Parks’ latest book, Citizens, but it is also a meditation on why Parks’ writing is not more lauded; although Rory Waterman, no less, has presented on Parks poetry in conferences.

Frank Bidart’s Poetry of Saying the Unsaid
A collection of poems about the gay body, in childhood and adulthood.
by Hilton Als

No matter how you slice it, gay children with straight parents are born to people who are not their type. Growing up in a milieu that doesn’t reflect their desires, queer kids can’t help questioning their difference and what it means, in relation to Mom and Dad’s more socially acceptable union—even if that marriage happens to fail. (“Always that same old story— / Father Time and Mother Earth, / A marriage on the rocks,” James Merrill wrote, in “The Broken Home.”) Standing both inside and outside the parental home, or their fantasies of it, gay and lesbian poets, such as Elizabeth Bishop, Audre Lorde, Ronaldo V. Wilson, and Frank Bidart, can become astute sociologists of the ways in which people respond to gay difference and to difference in general.

Second Acts: A Second Look at Second Books of Poetry: Amy Clampitt and Richard Deming
by Lisa Russ Spaar

Amy Clampitt’s name will be familiar to many contemporary poets because of the eponymous Amy Clampitt Residency, a prestigious fellowship program that has been sponsoring retreats for poets since 2003. One presumes that readers of contemporary poetry also know, or know of, Amy Clampitt’s own rich, original poetry (although a recipient of the coveted Stegner Fellowship at Stanford did once wonder aloud to me why the award was called “the Stegner”), and perhaps are even aware of the story of her career’s trajectory, which can read something like a fairy tale.

When a Poem’s Wrongness Is Right
The leap between image and utterance in Anthony Madrid’s poetry is the challenge and, sometimes, the delight.
by Robert Archambeau

“There was an old man of Toulouse,” Edward Lear once wrote, “Who purchased a new pair of shoes.” He continues his limerick this way: “When they asked, ‘Are they pleasant?’ he said, ‘Not at present!’/That turbid old man of Toulouse.” Anthony Madrid, a lover of limericks (along with ghazals, and more or less any kind of formal verse), says this about the Lear’s poem: Someone could say it’s clever. To which I shrug. It is clever; there’s a technical ingenuity involved, OK. But the beauty of the thing has everything to do with the slight incongruities of asking a person if his new shoes are “pleasant,” and of that person’s responding that they currently are not. This is a very choice example of the “right wrong thing.” The wrongness is right.


John Ashbery, the Gift of Quiet Moments
by David Orr


In 1965, when he was nearly 40 and his unorthodox talent was in full bloom, John Ashbery joined his friend Kenneth Koch for a mutual interview commissioned by a small press in Arizona. After a brief tongue-in-cheek discussion of how poems communicate, or don’t, Koch remarked that some uncertainties “enable the reader to escape from his ordinary consciousness of himself,” and suggested that it could be “very enjoyable” to feel like “a person you know nothing about.”

Five Hundred Glass Negatives
by Mary Jo Bang


On the Bauhaus photographer Lucia Moholy (1894–1989), who inspired Mary Jo Bang’s latest collection, A Doll for Throwing. 
Next year, Germany will celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus, a school that stressed the unity of industrial design and all other arts. The celebration will include Moholy’s work. In 1915, twenty-one-year-old Lucia Schulz wrote in her journal that she could imagine herself using photography as “a passive artist,” recording everything from the best perspective, putting the film through the chemical processes she’d learned, and adding to the image her sense of “how the objects act on me.”

The Ascetic Insight of W. S. Merwin
After escaping the anxiety of influence, the poet discovered a brilliant, elemental poetry.
by Dan Chiasson



The American poet W. S. Merwin, who turns ninety this year, has for decades written his scanty, unpunctuated poems from a palm forest on the remote north shore of Maui. Merwin bought the property in 1977, and began restoring the ancient trees lost when loggers and the commercial pineapple and sugar farmers started to move in more than a century ago. “After an age of leaves and feathers / someone dead / thought of this mountain as money,” Merwin writes in “Rain at Night.” He has reclaimed the mountain, and much else, for poetry. His poems, written in an environment refashioned by his hard restorative work, are adjuncts of that work, and operate according to their own stringent verbal restrictions.

Drafts & Framents

Christopher Lloyd Will Play Poet Ezra Pound in Off-Broadway Reading of Pound
by Andrew Gans

Triumvirate Artists will present a one-night-only reading of playwright Sean O’Leary’s Pound September 18 at 7 PM at The Vineyard Theatre. Emmy winner Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Taxi) will star as Ezra Pound. Kathleen Butler directs. The play is produced by Triumvirate Artists' Kathleen and Daniel Butler and John Essay.

Is It OK to Make Fun of Instagram Poets?
by Lisa Marie Basile

It was 2000. We were very, very poor, living in Elizabeth, NJ, and life was very much by-the-paycheck. Bear with me here; we're going to talk sob-story and then move onto the bigger picture. My father wasn't in the picture, and my mother was struggling. I was the sort of teenager who, despite my bravado, mostly stayed out of trouble. I was lively, energetic, and creative—but I did spend most of my time dissolving into a sea of music or writing hundreds of bad poems (which I'd then proudly tape to my bedroom wall). 

Poetry In The News

Literary Landmark Named for this Bethlehem Poet


Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West. Pete’s Tavern in Manhattan, where O. Henry wrote “Gift of the Magi.” Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Missouri. Those are some of the 160 literary landmarks honored by United for Libraries, and now a spot in Bethlehem will be added to celebrate an important poet. Hilda Doolittle, whose childhood home once stood on Church Street near what is now the Bethlehem Area Public Library, is being honored for her experimental writing that established her as a leading modernist poet alongside literary contemporaries Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.

British Schoolgirl Named First non-Japanese Winner of Haiku Contest

A British schoolgirl inspired by an autumnal stroll across a newly mown lawn has become the first non-Japanese person to win a prestigious haiku competition. Gracie Starkey, 14, from Gloucestershire, beat more than 18,000 entries to take the prize in the English-language section of the contest organised annually by a Japanese tea company.

New Books

Madness by Sam Sax
[Paperback] Penguin Books, 96 pp., $18.00 

In this ­­­powerful debut collection, sam sax explores and explodes the linkages between desire, addiction, and the history of mental health. These brave, formally dexterous poems examine antiquated diagnoses and procedures from hysteria to lobotomy; offer meditations on risky sex; and take up the poet’s personal and family histories as mental health patients and practitioners. Ultimately, Madness attempts to build a queer lineage out of inherited language and cultural artifacts; these poems trouble the static categories of sanity, heterosexuality, masculinity, normality, and health. sax’s innovative collection embodies the strange and disjunctive workings of the mind as it grapples to make sense of the world around it.

Don't Call Us Dead: Poems by Danez Smith
[Paperback] Graywolf Press, 96 pp., $16.00


Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality―the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood―and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America―“Dear White America”―where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.

bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
[Paperback] Penguin Books, 160 pp., $15.00 

The poems in Yrsa Daley-Ward’s collection bone are exactly that: reflections on a particular life honed to their essence—so clear and pared-down, they become universal. From navigating the oft competing worlds of religion and desire, to balancing society’s expectations with the raw experience of being a woman in the world; from detailing the experiences of growing up as a first generation black British woman, to working through situations of dependence and abuse; from finding solace in the echoing caverns of depression and loss, to exploring the vulnerability and redemption in falling in love, each of the raw and immediate poems in Daley-Ward’s bone resonate to the core of what it means to be human.


Begin with a Failed Body: Poems by Natalie Graham
[Paperback] University of Georgia Press, 88 pp., $19.95

This collection of poems begins rooted in the landscape of the U.S. South as it voices singular lives carved out of immediate and historical trauma. While these poems dwell in the body, often meditating on its frailty and desire, they also question the weight that literary, historical, and religious icons are expected to bear. Within the vast scope of this volume, the poems arc from a pig farmer’s funeral to Georges de la Tour’s paintings and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. With an ear tuned to the lift and lilt of speech, they wring song from sorrow and plant in every dirge a seed of jubilation. Rich in clarity and decisive in her attention to image, Natalie J. Graham writes resonant, lush poetry.

Thaw: Poems by Chelsea Dingman 
[Paperback] University of Georgia Press, 96 pp., $19.95

Thaw delves into the issues at the core of a resilient family: kin ship, poverty, violence, death, abuse, and grief. The poems follow the speaker, as both mother and daughter, as she travels through harsh and beautiful landscapes in Canada, Sweden, and the United States. Moving through these places, she examines how her surroundings affect her inner landscape; the natural world becomes both a place of refuge and a threat. As these themes unfold, the histories and cold truths of her family and country intertwine and impinge on her, even as she tries to outrun them. 


The Non-expressible Part of Thinking: Talking to Etel Adnan
by Andy Fitch

This conversation focuses on Etel Adnan’s two-volume selected works To look at the sea is to become what one is: An Etel Adnan Reader and her more recent diptych SEA and FOG (winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry, and the California Book Award for Poetry). Just as Adnan’s work has spread widely across a range of artistic and intellectual practices (most consistently, perhaps, painting, poetry, journalism, philosophy), an adventurous and indefatigable disposition has taken her across the world many times over. Born in Beirut in 1925, Adnan studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, at UC-Berkeley, and at Harvard, and taught at Dominican College in San Rafael from 1958 to 1972. In solidarity with the Algerian War of Independence, Adnan began to resist the political implications of writing in French and became a painter. Through her participation in the movement against the Vietnam War, Adnan then began to write poetry and became, in her words, “an American poet.”

Danez Smith Writes Poetry on Queerness, Blackness, and Love
by Erica Rivera 

The writer’s maxim is “write what you know.” For Danez Smith, that means writing about life as a black, queer, HIV-positive person. In the St. Paul-born poet’s second book of poems, Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press), Smith comes to terms with that diagnosis: “i have too many words for sadness / i touched the stove & the house burned down.”

Punk Poet Eileen Myles on Combating Trump, Capitalism With Art
With a new generation of fans from Twitter and 'Transparent,' the legendary artist is basking in latest literary renaissance
by Helena Fitzgerald


Eileen Myles sits at a small café in the East Village, near the apartment they has called home for 40 years. Myles, who now prefers to use gender-neutral pronouns, explains that they know people who have been in the apartment building even longer. "There were people who came in in the Sixties, kids who moved to the city when they were 18 and are still living here now."

Envoi: Editor's Notes

Lessons from the Past: Ashbery on Reverdy

"The lines drift across the page as overheard human speech drifts across our hearing: fragments of conversation, dismembered advertising slogans or warning signs in the Metro appear and remain the rock crystal of the poem. And far from banishing poetry to the unconscious, he lets it move freely in and out of the conscious and unconscious. Since we do not inhabit either world exclusively, the result is moving and lifelike."

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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