October 30, 2010

Specimen Days: October 30

1602 – Jean-Jacques Boissard, French poet (b. 1528) dies.

1785 – Gustaf P. Creutz, Swedish diplomat/poet, dies at 54.

1842 – Allan Cunningham, Scottish poet and author (b. 1784) dies.
1881– Elizabeth Madox Roberts, American poet and author (d. 1941) was born.

1885 – Ezra Loomis Pound, Idaho, poet was born. (see New Books below)

1896 – Kostas Karyotakis, Greek poet (d. 1928) was born.

1898 – Yakov Petrovich Polonsky, Russian poet, dies at 78.
1910 – Miguel Hernadez Gilabert, Spain, poet was born. (see World Poetry story below)

Ezra Pound
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass
—Ezra Pound (1885–1972)

Poetry in the News

New Lit on the Block : Telephone

Editors Sharmila Cohen & Paul Legault have brought about a playfully serious new lit mag: Telephone —“like the children’s game in which phrases change as you whisper them from one person to the next.” The publication features four to five poems from one foreign poet in each issue, which are then translated roughly ten times by multiple different poets and translators. There are no rules about how each poem should be translated and Cohen and Legault solicit a variety of interpretations. Read more at New Pages.

Focus on Middle East at London Poetry Festival

Da Thao PhuongOn the belief that poets, not politicians, can help bring about tangible political change, London’s Southbank Center will again host its biennial Poetry International festival, nine days’ worth of readings, music, translations and new poetry commissions. The festival, which runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7 in various venues within Southbank (Belvedere Road; 44-844-875-0073; www.southbankcentre.co.uk), has political roots. Ted Hughes, Charles Osborne and Patrick Garland created the first Poetry International as a space for artistic dialogue in 1967, a time of “radical political change and transcultural revolutions,” said Rachel Holmes, Southbank’s head of literature and spoken word. Read more at The New York Times.
The Vietnamese poet Da Thao Phuong performing at the Poetry International festival in 2008. Courtesy of Southbank Center

World Poetry

Three Bosnian poems

Writing about contemporary poetry in Bosnia risks recalling the famous Monty Python catchphrase: “And now for something completely different.” Damir Arsenijević, a lecturer at Tuzla University, has just published (in English) Forgotten Future: The Politics of Poetry in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He traces the development of Bosnian poetry from the years of Yugoslav decline, through the Bosnian war, and since its end in 1995. His aim, he writes, is to redress the lack of work on Bosnian literary historiography since the late 1980s. Even for those passionately interested in the subject, this makes for pretty specialised reading. Read more at The Economist.

Instituto Cervantes celebrates Miguel Hernandez with chain poetry reading

Miguel HernándezTragic poet and Spanish playwright Miguel Hernndez would have turned 100 this Oct. 30. In honor of Hernndez’s centennial, Instituto Cervantes de Manila is organizing the country’s first Non-stop Public Poetry Reading of Hernandez’s works on Oct. 28, starting 11 a.m., at Instituto Cervantes’ Miguel Hernandez Library.
Titled “Para la Libertad: Can poetry change the world?” the Spanish Cultural Center in Manila will feature 217 poems by Hernndez with a total of 1,072 verses in an eight-hour uninterrupted reading. Read more at PhilStar.

New Books

New Selected Poems and Translations (Second Edition) by Ezra Pound, edited by Richard Sieburth
[Paperback] New Directions, 416 pp., $15.95
The essential collection of Ezra Pound’s poetry—newly expanded and annotated with essays by Richard Sieburth, T. S. Eliot, and John Berryman. This newly revised and greatly expanded edition of Ezra Pound’s
Selected Poems is intended to articulate Pound for the twenty-first century. Gone are many of the “stale creampuffs” (as Pound called them) of the 1949 edition. Instead, new emphasis has been laid on the interpenetration of original composition and translation within Pound’s career. New features of this edition include the complete “Homage to Sextus Propertius” in its original lineation, early translations from Cavalcanti, Heine, and the troubadours, as well as late translations of Sophocles, and the Confucian Odes.

Cover of Honeycomb: Poems by Carol Frost Honeycomb: Poems by Carol Frost
[Paperback] Triquarterly, 57 pp., $16.95
The poems in PEN Award–winning author Carol Frost’s ninth collection spring from her experiences with her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, forming a deeply moving meditation on memory and its role in the creation and evolution of identity and relationships. Frost maintains complete command of her imaginative leaps between the natural and spiritual worlds in diverse poetic forms. Using the disappearance of bees as her prevailing metaphoric backdrop, the poet deftly explores the varied emotions occasioned by her mother’s slow deterioration. Like its eponym, Honeycomb is stunning in its details, but it wears its craftsmanship lightly, yielding an accessible yet profound work.

The Paris Poems by Suzanne Burns
[Paperback] BlazeVOX, 84 pp., $16.00
“Reading Suzanne Burns’s Paris Poems is a joy no matter what city you live in. Though set in the City of Love, these are not only love poems, nor are they a kind of travelogue. Burns’s poems, in rich conversational lines, light up the mind’s sky like The Eiffel Tower on New Year’s. These poems are human, fun, and smart. Each page is a passport to a kind of energetic poetry rarely found traveling out of the MFA empires.”—Matthew Dickman

Cover of Walking Papers: Poems by Thomas LynchWalking Papers: Poems by Thomas Lynch
[Hardcover] Norton, 88 pp., $24.95
A decade’s worth of poems by one of our most reliable witnesses, National Book Award finalist Thomas Lynch. In his fourth collection of poems, Thomas Lynch attends to flora, fauna, and fellow pilgrims: dead poets and living masters, a former president and his factotums, a sin-eater and inseminator. Faux-bardic and mock-epic, deft at lament and lampoon, fete and feint, Lynch’s poems are powerful medicines, tonics for the long haul and home-going.

The Book of Things (Lannan Translations Selection Series) by Aleteger, translated by Brian Henry
[Paperback] BOA Editions, 92 pp., $16.00
From his first book of poems, Chessboards of Hours (1995), Aleteger has been one of Slovenia’s most promising poets. The philosophical and lyrical sophistication of his poems, along with his work as a leading book editor and festival organizer, quickly spread teger’s reputation beyond the borders of Slovenia. The Book of Things is teger’s most widely praised book of poetry and his first American collection. The book consists of fifty poems that look at "things" (i.e. aspirin, chair, cork) which are transformed by teger’s unique poetic alchemy.

Recent Reviews

Stupid Hope by Jason Shinder

Reviewed by Adam Eaglin
When Jason Shinder lost his battle with lymphoma and leukemia in April 2008 at the age of 52, he was perhaps better known as a teacher, editor, and advocate for poetry, than as a poet himself. This is not to diminish his first two volumes, but more to recognize the scope of his work as poetry’s supporter. Shinder founded and directed the YMCA National Writer’s Voice, taught in graduate writing programs at the New School and Bennington College, and edited numerous anthologies, including The Poem That Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years Later, a collection to which Shinder had a personal connection as a former apprentice to Allen Ginsberg. Read more at the Harvard Review.

American Rendering: New and Selected Poems by Andrew Hudgins

Reviewed by Jordan Davis
It comes toward the end of his Michigan collection of essays and interviews, but Andrew Hudgins’s remark about the self-analysis that led to his mature (or rather, slightly immature) style is a good place to start with his work: "In my despair at not getting published, not getting a good job, not getting anywhere with the inert poems I was writing, I asked myself for the first time if I would bother to read the poems I was writing if I hadn’t written them. The answer was no. After I recovered from the shock of that answer—and it took a couple of not very pleasant months—I asked myself what were the characteristics of the poems I liked to read. The answer was poems with very strong rhythms, usually in meter, with a clean, quick, tight movement, often narrative, with the complexities in the tone, drama, and psychology, not in the syntax or allusions." Read more at The Constant Critic.

Almost Poetry: Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Reviewed by Simon Callow
Still from West Side Story“A printed collection [of lyrics],” says Stephen Sondheim at the beginning of Finishing the Hat, “is a dubious proposition.” Indeed: like making a musical out of the invasion of Japan by the west, or the tortuous painting of a canvas, or the intimate relationships of a group of New Yorkers, or the assassination of American presidents. All dubious propositions, all triumphantly carried off, as is this book, one of the greatest books ever written about craft in the theatre, which also happens to be a self-portrait of one of the most striking and original artists of our time. It is entirely typical of Sondheim that in writing a book of such apparently narrow focus, he should have produced a work of vast breadth and scope. The surprise is how moving, how deeply romantic the book is – surprising, that is, to those who persist in thinking of Sondheim as merely ingenious, a deviser of musical crossword puzzles, instead of the passionate explorer that he is, irrepressibly searching for the new forms that will keep alive the art to which he has devoted his life.Read more at The Guardian.
From the 1961 film of West Side Story. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Feature



Titsian TabidzeRebecca Gould interviews the descendants of Titsian Tabidze, August 2010
The Soviets were a menace to Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze’s generation. As his daughter and granddaughter recount, the legacy continues.

I do not know what to expect when I climb the dark stairs to the former home of Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze on a cold March afternoon. The building is situated on an elegant street in downtown Tbilisi, Georgia, not far from Freedom Square, scene of multiple revolutions. As I climb, I wonder whether the walls resemble the prison in which Titsian had been confined before his execution during the 1937 purge of Georgian intellectuals.

Child of the fin de siècle, Titsian and his friends (Paolo Iashvili and Galaktion Tabidze) were inspired by literary modernist movements across the world, and formed their own in the years following the 1917 Revolution. They called themselves the Blue Horns. The name signaled a love of feasting and life, as imbibing from horns was a custom at Georgian feasts. For a few brief years, Titsian played a leading role in making the ambition of the Georgian avant-garde to transform the poetics and politics of their time appear within reach. Read more at Guernica Magazine.

An Interview with W. S. Merwin, Poet Laureate

By Ed Rampell
Q: What do you hope to do as poet laureate?
Merwin: I’d like to be able to bring poetry to people by doing readings. Very often people will come up after a reading and say they’ve “never heard poetry before.” One of the differences between prose and poetry is that prose doesn’t have to be heard. That’s not true of poetry. If you don’t hear a sonnet of Shakespeare, it just doesn’t make any sense to you. A large number of the people who say, “I don’t read poetry because I don’t understand it,” are simply saying, “I don’t read poetry because I don’t hear it.” Or they are saying, “I’m not used to it, so I don’t know what to make of it.” But when they hear poems read out loud, they think: “Oh, I see. It’s something different.” Read more at The Progressive.

Small Press Spotlight: Diane Seuss

by Rigoberto Gonzlez

Diane Seuss is writer-in-residence at Kalamazoo College. Her first poetry collection was It Blows Your Hollow (New Issues, 1998), and her poems have been published in many literary magazines, including Poetry, New Orleans Review, North American Review, and The Georgia Review.

Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open is a collection full of startling poems and images that leave the reader breathless. One piece that continues to haunt me is “Men displayed the things we didn’t want to see,” which catalogues a series of “truths” shown to children as life lessons about death, the ephemeral/ vulnerable body and the fragility of things: “the woman in the car that had been/ crushed by a train, or anything born with two heads/ or an eye in the center of its forehead, or the burned/ velvet curtains flapping in the wind around the black/ stage when the opera house burned down.” A number of the poems in the first section of the book are terrifying/ dazzling encounters in childhood, like the poem “The Lee girls had it bad,” which pave the way for the adult speaker’s articulation of grief and trauma in other poems. How is the hard-knocks environment of the book connected to the Michigan landscape and the experiences of the working class? Read more at Book Critics.


Philip Larkin and His Adjectives

His Plain Far-Reaching Singleness 
As Reviewed by Bill Coyle
I have two of Philip Larkin’s poems by heart—“Sad Steps” and “Aubade”—though I admire many more, and it was while reciting the former poem silently to myself during a particularly boring meeting that I noticed a number of things for the first time, most of them related in one way or another to the poet’s use of adjectives:

Groping back to bed after a piss

I part thick curtains and am startled by

The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie 

Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.

There’s something laughable about this . . .

There’s much here that’s typical Larkin, from the word “piss,” to the metrical compression of the line it ends, to the off rhyme it makes with “cleanliness.” What struck me most, though, was the adjective “cavernous” modifying “sky” in line two of the second stanza. I’d noted it before, noted the way it renders the space described at once enormous and claustrophobic. What I hadn’t seen was the allusion to Plato’s metaphor of the cave. This being Larkin, of course, there’s no sense that there is a higher world beyond the cave to which we might escape. Read more at Contemporary Poetry Review.

Editor’s Notes: For What It’s Worth

Even when I loved it, I secretly knew Beat poetry was rubbish

Jack Kerouac (1993 Gap campaign)Since watching two new films about the Beat Generation, I have a confession to make: I could never actually finish Kerouac’s On the Road, writes Lucy Jones.
When I was a teenager, I spent hours loafing around my patchouli-soaked bedroom reading Beat poetry, listening to Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg’s benzedrine-fuelled babbling on CD, pinning pictures of Neal Cassady to my wall. I felt that these were my people and cursed my Eighties birth for being too late. My friends and I bought into the lifestyles of the Beat Generation, their libertarian values, their coffee and cigarettes, their berets and black turtlenecks. We dreamed of swapping Chelsea for San Francisco and felt our tortured middle-class souls were matched by their world-weary, anti-conformist cynicism. We traded dog-eared editions, scrawled quotes on to our exercise books and adopted Howl as our creed. In short, we thought we were extremely cool.
Read more at The Telegraph.
Jack Kerouac outside a bar in New York: this image was used in a 1993 Gap campaign. Photo: AP

John Clellon HolmesWhat the Beats left us, more so than the discrete poems or novels, was a legacy of believing. By the time I came on the Beats in the late 60s or early 70s, (through Dylan, if I remember right), Kerouac was dead and Ginsberg was more showman than shaman. But reading them led to Patchen and Snyder, to Blake and Pound and Rexroth, writers who led to a widening river of other influences. And it was in 1978, reading a biography of Kerouac as told through the voices of others, that, as a young man, I found the eloquent and insightful voice of Beat “chronicler,”John Clellon Holmes. Tired of working the late shift in a bookstore and coming home late at night to write my poems dead tired, I thought that going back to school would give me time to work on writing, and in that book I read that Holmes was teaching at the University of Arkansas. And Arkansas, while far from the working-class suburbs of Philadelphia where I had ended up, seemed good enough for me if it was good enough for Holmes.

I had read my Ginsberg and Corso and Ferlinghetti, and had even had a go with Kerouac, though his conventional novels, The Town and the City and Maggie Cassidy were the ones I was most drawn to. And most of the poems of the bunch seemed to meld together and be a continuous and flawed wellspring of exclamation with little filter. But in John Clellon Holmes, I found a spirit that was Beat, in any sense of the word. I remember listening to reel-to-reel tapes of Dick Williams and other jazz singers and musicians of the 40s and 50s in his living room, as he sat smoking and drinking, late into the night. I remember talking with him at his kitchen table, his head propped up by his hand, smoking, and weary, while his wonderful wife, Shirley, would keep the conversation lively and spirited. But I never saw him let go of that Beat spirit, even amid the halls of academe, of resume-building, of getting the next piece published. His generosity, passion, and gentleness came to embody for me what it meant to be “Beat.”

Though one thing led to another, and I soon embraced Bishop and Hecht and Justice, alongside Roethke, Lowell, and Larkin, something remained. That Beat spirit, which reached beyond the coterie of the Beats, but which they embodied: the unlubricated plates of youth and adulthood shifting against one another, resisting one another, recognizing, eventually, the value of what the other brought to bear. Those were heady times for me, and I’ve probably romanticized them here. But the fact is that the Beats, via John Clellon Holmes, changed the course of my life. I believe I retain a spark of that spirit that I came to share with him. I believe it exists in the best poetry.
—David Sanders

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