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Poetry News In Review

September 4, 2013
David Sanders

Specimen Days

1596 – Constantine Huygens, Dutch poet/diplomat (Delightful Folly), is born.

1709 –Jean-Francois Regnard, French comedic poet/slave in Algeria, dies.

1746 – Bernardus Bosch, Dutch Patriot/poet/writer, baptised.

1768 – Francois RenĂ© de Chateaubriand, France, poet/novelist (Atala), is born.

1824 – Phoebe Cary, Cincinnati, American poet (Poems of Alice & Phoebe Cary), is born.

1906 – Hendrikus G "Han" Hoekstra, poet (Ongerijmde life), is born.





He dwelt among “apartments let,”

      About five stories high;

A man I thought that none would get,

      And very few would try.


A boulder, by a larger stone

      Half hidden in the mud,

Fair as a man when only one

      Is in the neighborhood.


He lived unknown, and few could tell

      When Jacob was not free;

But he has got a wife,—and O!

      The difference to me!


—Phoebe Cary (1824–1871)

World Poetry

Benjamin Britten Honoured with First Coin to Feature Poetry

The centenary of the birth of composer and conductor Benjamin Britten will be marked tomorrow by the issue of a new 50p coin, the first of Britain's decimalised currency to feature a line of poetry. Instead of an image of Britten himself, the designer of the new coin, artist Tom Phillips, has taken a line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls, which was set to music by Britten in his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. "Blow Bugle Blow, set the wild echoes flying" is written around Britten's name. Phillips joked that he wanted to preserve the nation's ability to toss a coin and cry "heads or tails." Read more at The Guardian.


Recent Reviews

"Seeing Is Not Believing"

by Edward Mendelson

Anthony Hecht, more than any other American poet of the past half-century, wrote as a champion of traditional forms and elevated syntax. Formal verse, in his eyes, embodied the dignity and grandeur of law itself. He titled one of his books of criticism The Hidden Law (1993), another On the Laws of the Poetic Art (1995). The laws that governed poems were for him the symbols of universal moral law, and equally demanding. Read more at the New York Review of Books.


Book Review: "Part of the Darkness"

by James Srodes

Whether it is politics, the law, journalism or the arts in general, life in Washington always seems to be in a cycle of crisis and then resolution. The state of poetry in our city is no different; it ebbs and flows between episodes of neglect and renewal. Happily, this summer is one of those times of a flowering of the poetic arts in our community. What follows are reviews of three new books about poets and their art that I can recommend, plus a recounting of the conversation that led me to tie all three together. Read more at the Washington Times.


Free Range

Louis MacNeice’s Collected Poems

by David Orr 

Major poets, like trick-or-treaters, tend to arrive in pairs or small groups (whether this is a matter of fate or academic convenience may be debated). And yet from roughly 1930 to 1950, British and Irish poetry seemed to fall under the sway of a single writer: W. H. Auden. Auden was hardly a solitary figure, of course — his compatriots included Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis (father of Daniel), and the four writers were once thought to be so intimately related that the poet Roy Campbell referred to them as “MacSpaunday.” But it wasn’t a relationship of equals: the MacSpaunday poets were usually considered notable not because of how closely they resembled one another, but because of how much the other three looked like Auden. Read more at the New York Times.


Drafts & Framents

160-Meter Long Poem Forms A Bridge Between Two Museums

by Ross Brooks 



As part of plans to turn a large area surrounding Kew Bridge Steam Museum in West London, Future City has commissioned a range of works from various artists, curators and cultural partners. Designer Harry Pearce of Pentagram came up with the concept to create a physical link between the Steam Museum and the nearby Musical Museum, home to a collection of self-playing musical instruments. The first stage of a 160 metre-long typographic installation is the text of a specially commissioned poem, “The Self-Playing Instrument of Water,” written by TS Eliot Prize-winning poet Alice Oswald. The path it will be set on is the site of old filtration beds that were once used by the Grand Junction Waterworks Company. Oswald’s series of ten couplets will be set in what is believed to be the first ever slab serif typeface, Double Pica Antique – designed around the same time as the pumping station at Kew Bridge was built. Read more at PSFK.


15 Videos That Will Make You Rethink Everything

by Steve Williams

Spoken word and slam poetry: you might not know much about it now, but what if I told you that thanks to video sharing sites like YouTube, these are mediums of self expression that are cultivating progressive voices. Groups like Button Poetry, Speak Easy NYC and Project V.O.I.C.E., to name just a few, are enabling young and old to lift their voices and create a chorus of strong, often progressive, voices who are making powerful statements on racial prejudice, feminism, gay rights, body image, on love, on empowering our youth and so much more. Here is just a small list of powerful spoken verse performances from the last few years. Read more at Care 2.

Poetry In The News

Benjamin Britten Honoured with First Coin to Feature Poetry

The centenary of the birth of composer and conductor Benjamin Britten will be marked tomorrow by the issue of a new 50p coin, the first of Britain's decimalised currency to feature a line of poetry. Instead of an image of Britten himself, the designer of the new coin, artist Tom Phillips, has taken a line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls, which was set to music by Britten in his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. "Blow Bugle Blow, set the wild echoes flying" is written around Britten's name. Phillips joked that he wanted to preserve the nation's ability to toss a coin and cry "heads or tails." Read more at The Guardian.

New Books

The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia edited by Garrett Caples

[Hardcover] University of California Press, 512 pp., $49.95

The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia represents the lifework of the most visionary poet of the American postwar generation. Philip Lamantia (1927-2005) played a major role in shaping the poetics of both the Beat and the Surrealist movements in the United States. First mentored by the San Francisco poet Kenneth Rexroth, the teenage Lamantia also came to the attention of the French Surrealist leader AndrĂ© Breton, who, after reading Lamantia’s youthful work, hailed him as a “voice that rises once in a hundred years.” Later, Lamantia went “on the road” with Jack Kerouac and shared the stage with Allen Ginsberg at the famous Six Gallery reading in San Francisco, where Ginsburg first read “Howl.” Throughout his life, Lamantia sought to extend and renew the visionary tradition of Romanticism in a distinctly American vernacular, drawing on mystical lore and drug experience in the process. The Collected Poems gathers not only his published work but also an extensive selection of unpublished or uncollected work; the editors have also provided a biographical introduction.

Stealing Sugar from the Castle: Selected and New Poems, 1950–2013 by Robert Bly 

[Hardcover] W. W. Norton & Company, 400 pp., $35.00



Selected from throughout Robert Bly’s monumental body of work from 1950 through the present, Stealing Sugar from the Castle represents the culmination of an astonishing career in American letters. Bly has long been the voice of transcendentalism and meditative mysticism for his generation. Influenced by Emerson and Thoreau, inspired by spiritual traditions from Sufism to Gnosticism, his vision is “oracular” (Antioch Review). From the rich, earthy simplicity of Silence in the Snowy Fields (1962) to the wild yet intricately formal ghazals of My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy (2005) and the striking richness and authority of Talking into the Ear of a Donkey (2011), Bly’s poetry is spiritual yet worldly, celebrating the uncanny beauty of the everyday. “I am happy, / The moon rising above the turkey sheds. // The small world of the car / Plunges through the deep fields of the night,” he writes in “Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River.” Here is a poet moved by the mysteries of the world around him, speaking the language of images in a voice brilliant and bold.


Birth Marks by Jim Daniels 

[Paperback] BOA Editions Ltd., 120 pp., $16.00

A poet of the working-class and city streets, Jim Daniels's fourteenth poetry collection travels from Detroit to Ohio to Pittsburgh, from one post-industrial city to another, across jobs and generations. Daniels focuses on the urban landscape and its effects on its inhabitants as they struggle to establish community on streets hissing with distrust and random violence.


Charming Gardeners by David Biespiel 

[Hardcover] University of Washington Press, 144 pp., $24.95

The formally nuanced and wise epistolary poems in David Biespiel's new collection are grounded in friendship, camaraderie, and the vulnerability and boldness that defines America. Roving from the old Confederacy of Biespiel's native South to Portland, Oregon, Charming Gardeners explores the wildness of the Northwest, the avenues of Washington, D.C., the coal fields of West Virginia, and an endless stretch of airplanes and hotel rooms from New York to Texas to California. These poems explore the "insistent murmurs" of memory and the emotional connections between individuals and history, as well as the bonds of brotherhood, the ghosts of America's wars, and the vibrancy of love, sex, and intimacy. We are offered poems addressed to family, friends, poets, and political rivals -- all in a masterful idiom Robert Pinsky has called Biespiel's "own original grand style."


Fetish: Poems by Orlando Ricardo Menes

[Paperback] University of Nebraska Press, 96 pp., $17.95 

From sensual pleasures and perils, moments and memories of darkness and light, the poems in Orlando Ricardo Menes’s new collection sew together stories of dislocation and loss, of survival and hope, of a world patched together by a family over five generations of diaspora. This is Menes’s tapestry of the Americas. From Miami to Cuba, Panama to Bolivia and Peru, through the textures, sounds, colors, shapes, and scents of exile and emigration, we find refuge at last in a sense of wholeness and belonging residing in this intensely felt, finely crafted poetry. 


The Ogre's Wife by Ron Koertge 

[Paperback] Red Hen Press,  80 pp., $17.95



Ron Koertge wants to do nothing but delight. Armed with his trademark wit, he introduces readers to Little Red Riding Hood all grown up with a fondness for salsa and chips, explores the thorny relationship of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, spies a Trojan pony and the children it bamboozles, and offers an alternate reading to the Icarus story. He meets Walt Whitman on the set of an X-rated movie, attends his gardener’s funeral, and goes to his beloved race track. Seminal figures from pop mythology speak up in unexpected ways: The Beast, transformed by Beauty, hints that his new life isn’t exactly what he expected. Gretel enrolls in night school, the ogre’s wife from the beanstalk yarn writes a heart-rending story on her cutting board, and a group of fourth-graders on a field trip encounters Death. Occasionally setting aside free verse, there are couplets about a Bette Davis movie, a sestina about routine blood tests, a villanelle set in a topless bar, and a set of haibun that chronicles an entire day. Reverend Ike and John Lennon said, “Whatever gets you through the night.” This book will do just that and carry you right on in to the next day, guaranteed. 



The Great Explainer

by Willard Spiegelman 

I have known two geniuses in my life. The first was James Merrill, a paragon of poetic wit and shimmering, Mozartean sensibility. The second was John Hollander, the pre-eminent poet-critic of his generation, a polymath who was my most important "unofficial" teacher, the man who taught me more than any of my graduate-school professors ever did. He died on Aug. 17, at the age of 83. His influence lives on through his work. Read more at the Wall Street Journal.


Mojgani Talks Loss, Love, and Biscuits

By Kait Burrier 

Anis Mojgani’s TED Talks, book sales, YouTube hits, National Book Award nomination, and back-to-back Slam championships craft an impressive profile of the poet, but it isn’t until you read his poetry, experience his performance, or meet the friendly, gracious writer that it really strikes you: Anis Mojgani is a super cool guy – like, the super coolest. In both his writing and onstage banter, Mojgani approaches all kinds of topics – loss, love, biscuits – with grace, humility, and an effervescent sense of humor. Read more at the Times Leader.


Talking With Poet Cynthia Lowen

By Joelle Metcalfe

JRT sat down with award-winning American poet Cynthia Lowen to discuss her upcoming book, “The Cloud that Contained the Lightning,” a chronological series of poems that revolve around the creation of the atomic bomb with a creative depiction of the perspectives of J. Robert Oppenheimer, his wife, and the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings known as hibakusha. Red more at Japan Real Time.



Why Poetry Makes Sense: An Interview With Stephen Burt

by Laura Cococcia


Poetry can be an excellent teacher. It educates readers on places we know well and those we've never been. It honors celebrated people and ordinary ones. Without pretension or over-analysis, poetry teaches the most practical lessons on love, friendship, romance and the loss of all these things. The trick to appreciating poetry? Seeking out and finding the poetry that really speaks to us, that we find instructive, enriching, useful and perhaps even beautiful. Through a few excellent poetry teachers and writers I've worked with during the past two years, I've discovered there is poetry - a design of words -- to fit any lifestyle, taste and set of beliefs. Read more at the Huffington Post.

Envoi: Editor's Notes

"The squat pen rests"



There's only one piece of news this week and it fell across us like a clap of thunder:



Ireland mourned the loss of its Nobel laureate poet, Seamus Heaney, with equal measures of poetry and pain Monday in a funeral full of grace notes and a final message from the great man himself: Don't be afraid. Among those packing the pews of Dublin's Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart were government leaders from both parts of Ireland; poets, playwrights and novelists; all four members of the rock band U2; the actor Stephen Rea, and former Lebanese hostage Brian Keenan. Ireland's foremost uilleann piper, Liam O'Flynn, played a wailing lament before family members and friends offered a string of readings from the Bible and their own often-lyrical remembrances of the country's most celebrated writer of the late 20th century. Read more at The Republic.


When I told a friend on Friday morning of the news, all she said was "that means now the rest of us have to write that much better."

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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