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Poetry News In Review

September 24, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1536 – Janus Secundus, neo latin poet (Basia), dies at 24
1707 – Vincenzo da Filicaja, Italian poet (b. 1642)
1762 – William Lisle Bowles, English poet (14 Sonnets)
1817 – Ramon de Campoamor Campoosorio, Spanish poet (Doloras)
1821 – Cyprian K Norwid, Polish painter/poet/playwright (Wanda)
1930 – Józef Krupiński, Polish poet (d. 1998)
1951 – Georges Rency, Belgian poet/literature, dies at 75
The joyous conch sounds in the high wood loud,
O'er all the beach now stream the busy crowd;
Fresh breezes stir the waving plantain grove;
The fisher carols in the winding cove;
And light canoes along the lucid tide
With painted shells and sparkling paddles glide.
I linger on the desert rock alone,
Heartless, and cry for thee, my son, my son. 
—from "Abba Thule's Lament For His Son Prince Le Boo" by William Lisle Bowles (1762–1850)

World Poetry

Renowned Ghanaian Poet Killed at Westgate

Renowned Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor was among the 59 people confirmed dead so far in an attack by Somali Islamist militants on a Nairobi shopping mall, Ghana’s president said Sunday. John Dramani Mahama said in a statement: “I am shocked to hear the death of Prof. Kofi Awoonor in Nairobi mall terrorist attack. Such a sad twist of fate…” Awoonor, 78, was killed while shopping with his son in the Westgate mall, Ghana’s Deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu said. His son was injured and has been discharged from the hospital, Ofosu said. Awoonor had been due to appear at the Storymoja Hay literary festival in Nairobi on Saturday. Read more at Capital News.

Poet Arrives In Scilly After Walking From Somerset Without Money

A poet who’s walked 260 miles from Somerset without any money, relying on the generosity of people he meets along the way, has ended his journey in Scilly. Simon Armitage reached the islands yesterday after three weeks walking along the Southwest Coastal path. He left Minehead on August 29th and has been paying his way with poetry, performing every night en route in village halls, churches and libraries in return for his board and lodgings. Read more at Scilly Today.

Recent Reviews

Brass Tacks

by A. E. Stallings
Athens is not the most obviously poetic of cities. Sure, the Parthenon, stripped of its garish paint as well as its marbles, stands in timeless glamour over the city, but twentieth-century influxes of population from the countryside resulted in the decimation of its handsome neoclassical buildings to make way for graceless concrete apartment blocks, plunked down willy-nilly with no sense of town planning. In the center, little green space was set aside—cemeteries and ancient sites perform the function of parks. The financial crisis of recent years has brought periodic garbage strikes and turned every available wall into a canvas for graffiti and street artists. The statues of famous poets, warriors, philosophers, and statesmen now look out over frequent protest marches and occasional street battles, their blank marble eyes assailed by clouds of tear gas. Athens is a Balkan backwater at the omphalos of the world, a confrontation of edgy youthful energy and lethargic pensioner despair, a series of paradoxes, a city of losses and erasures. And Kiki Dimoula is her poet. Read more at Parnassus Review.

The Ground: Poems by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

by Heather Treseler
Rowan Phillips’s first collection takes as its epigraph unusually exultant lines from the Book of Job: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning starres sang together, and all the sonnes of God shouted for joy?” These divine interrogations reframe the question acquaintances often pose to one another in order to locate themselves in relation to a historically defining event: Where were you when X occurred? Read more at the Harvard Review.

Top Brazilian Poet’s Work is Elegant, Energetic

by Sonja James 
Brazilian poet Adelia Prado's "Ex-Voto" is an extraordinary book of poetry. Above all, it is the profound meditation of a Catholic mystic as she journeys toward a God both transcendant and accessible. American poet Ellen Dore Watson has translated the work from the Portuguese. Watson's translation of Prado's work is elegant and energetic. Read more at the Journal-News.


On the Poetry of William Logan

by Patrick Gillespie
I probably haven’t looked hard enough, but while I’ve found lots of criticism of William Logan’s criticism, I haven’t yet found criticism of his poetry. Perhaps one exception is an article in Slate magazine by Eric McHenry. McHenry demonstrates what others have only claimed, and that’s that Logan’s criticisms of others could be equally applied to his own poetry. Read more at PoemShape.

The Cape Breton-Born Poet, Don Domanski, Shines Again in His Newest Release - Bite Down Little Whisper

Bite Down Little Whisper is the strongest new book of poetry I have read this century. Readers who have noticed previous rants concerning the length and prosaic nature of poetry these days, bite your tongues, this doesn’t apply to Domanski. Every word sings as though part of an inherited deep structure of language common to Cape Bretoners, who have memories of fiddle airs fused to language centres of the brain, guiding the melody of written words. Although his lines are long, they are broken perfectly with timed spaces to pace the reader and show us where to breathe. Because we want to read them aloud, softly and reverently, constantly in awe of how anyone could write such eloquent and sometimes difficult language, and still make it sing. Read more at The Chronicle Herald.


Alexander McCall Smith on Why W. H. Auden Still Matters

by Alexander McCall Smith  
He wrote a poem in praise of limestone. He wrote a poem about Sigmund Freud. He wrote poems about cats and opera, about the minute organisms that live on human skin. He wrote an achingly beautiful love poem, a lullaby that stands among the gentlest and most forgiving poetry of the 20th century. Years after his death, when the World Trade Center towers were brought to the ground, traumatised New Yorkers faxed each other copies of a poem he had written for an earlier and greater crisis, “September 1, 1939”. They took comfort in his words even if many of those who received them must have had no idea who he was. Read more at the New Statesman.

The Surprising History of Poetical Misprints

by Jonathan Law
On a hazy day at the close of August Frank Key gave us his startling revisionist take on a well-known poem by Sylvia Plath:
"In her mad poem ‘Daddy’, Sylvia Plath makes mention of “a bag full of God”. I have always taken this to be a misprint … I am as sure as eggs is eggs that what Plath originally wrote was “a bag full of Goo”. A slapdash printer made “Goo” into “God”, and the error has persisted for half a century …"
I’m not enough of a Plath scholar to say whether Frank could be right, but the history of these things suggests that it’s far from impossible. Given Wilde’s dictum that “a poet can survive anything but a misprint”, you’d think that printers and publishers would take fierce pains to avoid even minor errata in poetry: but this just isn’t the case. If anything, radical, outrageous, sense-subverting typos are more common in verse than in the workaday medium of prose. Read more at The Dabbler. 

Drafts & Framents

A Poem For (Almost) Every Meal

By Kit Steinkellner 
Our Eating Lives features stories about how food, cooking, and eating have shaped who we are and how we live. Recently I started reading a lot of poetry again (I talk about this in greater depth on our sister site Book Riot). One thing I’ve learned is that my favorite poems are not about what you normally think of poems being about: technicolor sunsets, mooshy-gooshy kissing stuff, the sound of rain, whatever. I like poems about animals and the everyday and parents and their children and yes, food. The less flowery and more relatable the poem is, for me, the more likely the poem is to land in a meaningful place. Below, some of my favorite food poems I’ve come across and the meals they go with. Read more at Food Riot.

Leonard Bernstein's Unconventional "Anxiety"

Like Leonard Bernstein himself, there is absolutely nothing predictable about the music he wrote. None of the three amazing works Bernstein labeled as "symphonies" in any way resemble a conventional orchestral symphony. His second symphony, The Age of Anxiety, draws its inspiration from W.H. Auden's epic poem of the same name. Like so much of Bernstein's music, this piece is an amalgam, a hybrid of tone poem and piano concerto with a highly dramatic and compelling narrative. Bernstein himself said, "If the charge of 'theatricality' in a symphonic work is a valid one, I am willing to plead guilty. I have a deep suspicion that every work I write, for whatever medium, is really theater music in some way." Read more at WAMC.


M@h*(pOet)?ica – PlayDay, Part Two

by Bob Grumman 
Mathematics is not a science.  Is counting mathematics?  I’d call it “pre-mathematics.”  No, make that, “prerithmetic.” As should be obvious by now, I am still in my “You-Can’t-Criticize-Me-’Cause-I’m-Just-Playin’” operating mode.  To get myself started, I just made a grab for the nearest thought happening to be in my brain about this blog’s subjects, poetry and mathematics–and came up with two! Read more at Scientific American.

Enabling New Platforms for Poetry

by An Xiao 
Twitter has often been likened to haiku. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was quoted making the comparison in The Atlantic recently: “Sometimes I get asked, ‘Don’t you feel that the 140 characters has meant that people don’t think about things deeply anymore?’ The reality is that you don’t look at haiku and say, ‘You know, aren’t you worried that this format is going to prevent people from thinking deeply when you can only use this many words and it has to be set this way?’” The brevity of the form makes the link inevitable. Read more at Hyperallergic.

Poetry In The News

Harvard’s Indian College Poet

For nearly 300 years, Harvard student Benjamin Larnell (c. 1694–1714) was simply a footnote to scholars of Native American history. They knew that he was the last student of the colonial era associated with Harvard’s Indian College, that he died from fever before graduating with the Class of 1716, that he liked to socialize and fight, and that he was an accomplished student poet. Read more at Harvard News.

Mao Didn’t Show Up, but Many Other Stars Did

92nd Street Y’s Poetry Center Celebrates ‘75 at 75’
Almost since its opening in 1939, the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center has been the Carnegie Hall of American literary life, host to just about everybody who was anybody, and site of more than one dramatic evening. But who knew that the Y once tried to book a poetry reading by Mao Zedong? “I have written to Chairman Mao,” Grace Schulman, the center’s director at the time, wrote to one of his translators in 1974, two years after President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to China. Read more at the New York Times.

How Motionpoems, Rap Genius, APR Are Driving A Poetry Renaissance

by Ava Seave
Digital tools and platforms are driving young, hip readers and writers of poetry in ever increasing numbers to practice and appreciate the ancient art. Here’s a round up of four to watch. Read more at Forbes.

Watching Memories Slip From the Mind

Some years ago the documentarian Alan Berliner was going to make a movie about a California woman with superabundant autobiographical memory. “She remembered everything in her past,” Mr. Berliner said. “The neurologists studied her at UC Irvine for five years, and she was the real deal. No tricks. Extraordinary.” The project didn’t work out, and Mr. Berliner sought solace in a familiar source. “I went to see Edwin,” he said, meaning his cousin, Edwin Honig, the renowned poet and translator, who was living in Providence, R.I., where he had taught at Brown University. “I told him I still wanted to do something about memory, and he said, ‘I’m worried about mine. Something’s happening.’ I said, ‘Can I bring a camera next time?’ ” Read more at the New York Times.

New Books

Holy Heathen Rhapsody by Pattiann Rogers 

[Paperback] Penguin Books,112 pp., $20.00
Pattiann Rogers has won acclaim as one of the most original voices in contemporary American poetry. The poems in her new collection, Holy Heathen Rhapsody, embrace and embody the forces of the Earth and the creative power of its lifeforms in all the wildness of their varieties. Love in these poems is a force infused with the same creative power and intensity, the purest manifestation of the will-to-be. This vision and its making contend that even a shadow or a floating seed, a frond of green or a midnight spider, even a mongrel dog, wind over water, the human voice, the human witness, peace and weapons, all—every aspect and feature encountered—are fully endowed players in the dynamic music of the Earth.

Almanac: Poems by Austin Smith 

[Hardcover] Princeton University Press, 96 pp., $35.00
Almanac is a collection of lyrical and narrative poems that celebrate, and mourn the passing of, the world of the small family farm. But while the poems are all involved in some way with the rural Midwest, particularly with the people and land of the northwestern Illinois dairy farm where Austin Smith was born and raised, they are anything but merely regional. As the poems reflect on farm life, they open out to speak about childhood and death, the loss of tradition, the destruction of the natural world, and the severing of connections between people and the land.

Uncollected Poems by R.S. Thomas 

[Paperback] Bloodaxe Books, 192 pp., $22.95
R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) is a major writer of our time. A substantial number of his poems, however, have hitherto remained uncollected, and often elusive - poems published in newspapers, magazines, and journals, as well as in private or limited editions. Uncollected Poems -— published to mark the centenary of Thomas' birth — brings together for the first time a rigorous selection of the best of these. Spanning the whole of Thomas' career, from an early sonnet to his first wife, M.E. Eldridge, to poems which are powerful expressions of the metaphysical meditations of his later years. It gives readers of R.S. Thomas' work access to much new and fascinating material.

Under the Sign by Ann Lauterbach 

[Paperback] Penguin Books,160 pp., $22.00
Ann Lauterbach is one of America’s most innovative and provocative poets, acclaimed for her fierce, sensuous and intellectually charged poems.  In this, her ninth book of poems, Lauterbach pursues longstanding inquiries into how language forms and informs our understanding of the relation between empirical observation and subjective response; worldly attachment and inwardness; the given and the chosen. The poems set out not so much to find cogent resolutions to these fluid dyads as to open them to the fact of unknowing that is at the core of all human curiosity and desire. A central prose section tracks along a meditative edge, engaging the risky task of opening the mind to the limits of apprehension; the final section evokes, in the figure of the instructor, the essential contemporary question of how information becomes knowledge.

Without a Claim by Grace Schulman 

[Paperback] Mariner Books, 96 pp., $14.95 
Grace Schulman, who has been called “a vital and permanent poet” (Harold Bloom), makes new the life she finds in other cultures and in the distant past. In Without a Claim, she masterfully encompasses music, faith, art, and history. The title poem alludes to the Montauk sachem who sold land without any concept of rights to property, and meditates on our own notion of ownership: “No more than geese in flight, shadowing the lawn, / cries piercing wind, do we possess these fields, / given the title, never the dominion.” She traces the illusion of rights, from land to objects, from our loves to our very selves. Alternatively, she finds permanence in art, whether in galleries or on cave walls, and in music, whether in the concert hall, on the streets of New York, or in the waves at sea.

Go Giants: Poems by Nick Laird 

[Paperback] W. W. Norton & Company, 80 pp., $15.95
Go Giants, Nick Laird’s stunning third volume of poetry, is full of "epic ambition." In a collection that’s "easily his most accomplished to date…[Laird] gives everything of himself in a poetry as expansive and thought-provoking as his considered response to an infinitely complicated universe needs it to be" (The Guardian). Laird boldly engages with topics ranging from fatherhood and marriage to mass destruction and the cosmos. Go Giants is a brash, brave, and wildly imaginative new collection.


“People become the poem” — Interview with Syrian-American Poet Amal Kassir

by Erik Campano 
One of the strongest young voices speaking about the Syrian crisis is a young poet, living in Denver, named Amal Kassir. Her mother is from Iowa, her father from Syria, and justice — political justice, social justice — is a theme that has been on her mind since childhood, when her parents would take her to Palestinian rallies, and talk about war and famine in the land of her origin. Kassir now delivers her poetry across the United States — when I saw her at NYU’s Islamic Center in New York, she had the audience in what seemed like breathless silence — and is planning a tour to Jordanian and Turkish refugee camps. Over the five years that she has been performing, Kassir says, her poetry has become a prayer of justice. Read more at Patheos.

Todd Boss: A Generous New Voice in American Poetry

by Katie Leo 
Todd Boss is something of a rarity—a poet whose work reaches beyond the increasingly impenetrable walls of contemporary verse and generously welcomes readers into its fragile, beautiful world. The poems in his debut book Yellowrocket unfold with a quiet elegance born of spare, deeply considered language.  The book has garnered its author a wealth of positive attention, including rave reviews in the Christian Science Monitor and Charleston Post Courier. Boss won the Emily Clark Balch Prize in the Virginia Quarterly Review, which named Yellowrocket one of the ten best poetry books of the year. Read more at Utne.

Criticism as Conversation, Conversation as Criticism: An Interview with John Clegg

by Henry M. King
It’s been a good twelve months for John Clegg: his debut collection, Antler, was published by Salt last year, and his poem ‘Mermaids’ was included in the Salt anthology The Best British Poetry 2012 and The Forward Book of Poetry 2013; earlier in this year, he won the Eric Gregory Award, one of only four winners chosen. So it seemed like a good moment to ask him a few questions about his poetry, how he began writing, and what poetry shares with climate change denial. This interview was conducted by email between 4/07/13 and 05/08/13. Read more at Between Sound and Sense.

Mary Jo Salter's Nothing By Design a Mixture of Darkness and Whimsy

by Mike Melia 
A new collection from poet Mary Jo Salter hits bookstores on Tuesday. "Nothing By Design" is a mix of light and dark. In it, Salter explores the end of a marriage, the loss of friends, having fun with MFA programs and responding to "The Waste Land" in a three-line poem called "T.S. Lightweight and Ezra Profound":
Give Ezra his due credit for that amazing edit. Still, T.S. is the one who said it.
A self-described formal poet, Salter uses meter and rhyme to elevate seemingly mundane memories into lyric. Read more at the Newshour.


Envoi: Editor's Notes

There is nothing else much on my mind in terms of poetry since Sunday except that day's news of the killing of Ghanian poet Kofi Awoonor in the Nairobi shopping mall massacre. Death seems in fuller force when we seem less removed from it. And so when I came across the first article (see World Poetry, above) about his death, I was saddened and then shocked when I saw mention that he was there in Kenya to attend a literary festival with Kwame Dawes, whom you all know as the editor of Prairie Schooner and who also is a friend and relative of Kofi Awooner. The death of a poet isn't any greater than that of anyone else, of course. But, for better or worse, we respond more deeply when tragedy strikes our community, as splintered and veined as it is. For more on the story, here is an account with words from Kwame Dawes, which appears on the Atlantic Wire. And here is Kwame's tribute to Awoonor on the Poetry Foundation Ghana website.

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