November 20, 2010

Specimen Days: November 20

Sheema Kalbasi1752 – Thomas Chatterton, English poet, is born.
1960 — Jacob Cohen, Hebrew poet/writer, dies

1972 – Sheema Kalbasi, Iranian poet, is born.
1978 – Vasilisk Gnedov, Russian poet (b. 1890), dies.

1994 – Saeedi Sirjani, poet, dies at 64.

2005 – Manouchehr Atashi, Iranian poet (b. 1931), dies.

Remember the night we danced
quietly on the sands where music
was played? Your words were
wonderers, said quietly
in the pockets of my ears.
—from “Dancing Tango” by Sheema Kalbasi

Poetry in the News

Poet Treks 9,000 Miles to Read for Two Minutes

Julie KaneWriter Julie Kane is jetting over 9,000 miles – just to read a 16-line poem on Tyneside.
One of Julie’s poems is featured in a new book of humorous verse by Tyneside-based IRON Press, which will be launched at Newcastle’s Hyena Comedy Cafe tonight. Read More at Journal Alive.

Mills College Graduate Assistantship in Community Poetics

Mills College is pleased to introduce a two-year, full-tuition assistantship to one student pursuing a master of fine arts (MFA) degree in poetry beginning fall 2011. Candidates for the assistantship will design and implement a poetry-related community project during the course of their two-year degree program. Read more from the course catalog.

Students’ Writing on Motel Sign

Students' Writing on Motel SignMost people probably don’t know where the poetry is coming from.
On a sign at the southeast corner of Central and San Mateo that once advertised the Tradewinds motel, poems have been appearing periodically over the past year, staying up for a few weeks before they are traded for new verse. At first, the word “closed” was in the center of the board, so the poetry was built around it: “The bus is never closed to crazy,” it read at one time. Another time it said, “Forget closed dreams wanted,” with one word on each line. And another time it said, “The eyes are never closed just the mind that refuses to see.”

The poems are contributed by the slam poetry club at Highland High School, a group of teenagers who get together weekly to write and share poetry, critique one another and prepare for spoken poetry competitions. The teens also write poetry for the sign, in collaboration with Friends of the Orphan Signs, a group started by University of New Mexico professor Ellen Babcock. As part of the project, Babcock has a two-year lease for the Tradewinds sign. Lilly Lawrence-Metzler, 17, is the president of the poetry club, and she said putting poems on the sign is a good motivator for the club. She said it was especially exciting when her own words were on display. “I’m driving down the street and I’m like, ’I wrote that. It’s up there,’” she said. “It’s definitely cool.” Read more at Albuquerque Journal.

World Poetry

“Poetry itself is a language, which transcends language barriers”

It was a highly appreciative and interactive audience that gathered to listen to poets and writers at the three-day The Week Hay Festival in Thiruvananthapuram which ended on Sunday. The Week Hay Festival concluded at the Kanakakunnu Palace here on Sunday evening after three days of thought-sharing among novelists, poets and other creative writers on the subtle topic of creativity. Read more at The Hindu.

Truck Poetry in Pakistan

Truck Poetry in PakistanOne aspect of Pakistan that generally doesn’t hit headlines is the traffic. If you’re someone who thinks drivers in Boston or New York or Los Angeles are nuts, you haven’t been to Karachi.
But amidst the mess of it all, there is one source of pleasure for me. That is the sight of the wonderfully decorated public transport vehicles. The buses, trucks, auto-rickshaws and taxi cabs are decked out in brightly colored paint with intricate designs. Sometimes they have larger-than-life portraits or sceneries painted on them.
The icing on the cake though are the verses of poetry that are often written on the back of the vehicles. I sometimes even find myself chasing down a rickshaw or a truck just to read the entire verse properly. Read more at The World.
Pakistan’s trucks are decorated with ornate designs and poetry (Photo: Fahad Desmukh)

Italy: Poetry and Podcasts Mix

One typical school day near Lake Como, a group of eighth graders walked up to the principal’s door with a rare request. They wanted to stay after school to study poetry. Their new literature teacher was “very cool,” they said. The principal was stunned, but agreed. Read more at Global Post.

New Books

Cover of Milk Dress by Nicole CooleyMilk Dress by Nicole Cooley
[Paperback] Alice James Books, 96 pp., $16.95
“Milk Dress is a meticulous chronicle of devotion and terror, love and responsibility. To watch a poet with a poet’s skill address what is that which without which we would have nothing is exhilarating and what we have poetry for.”—Dara Wier
In this cool, manifold chronicle of motherhood, Nicole Cooley tackles the experience of creation, occupying a new vernacular of love within danger. Her poems—animate self-reflections of both merged bodies and violent separation—confront the turbulence of fear and safety.

Driven to Abstraction by Rosmarie Waldrop
[Paperback] New Directions, 144 pp., $16.95
Driven to Abstraction is Rosmarie Waldrop’s sixth collection of poetry with New Directions. The first of its two sections, “Sway-Backed Powerlines,” consists of five sequences of prose poems whose subject matter ranges from voyages of discovery and the second Iraq war to geometry, memory, and the music of John Cage. Part two, the title sequence, investigates the tendency to abstraction in our lives which, in the West, began with the Renaissance introduction of zero into arithmetic, the vanishing point into perspective, and imaginary money in economics. Driven by the tension between abstraction and the concrete, and written in the shadow of ongoing wars, these poems are among Waldrop’s most engaging and thrilling works to date, the writing of a master poet at the height of her creative powers.

Recent Reviews

Catch the Dying Light

The Bride of E 
by Mary Jo Bang
by Lindsay Turner
Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy (2007), a critical success, was on its own terms a failure. Read more at the Boston Review.

The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive: Colonialism and the Poetry of Rebellion in Puerto Rico

by Martín Espada
“Forbidden to correspond in any language but English, the poet—who was actually fluent in English—refused on principle to correspond with anyone at all. This spirit of defiance characterized him.” Read more at the Massachusetts Review.

The Word Exchange: Anglo Saxon Poems in Translation

On December 6th, W. W. Norton will publish The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation edited by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto. It collects new translations of the best known poems of the Old English canon. The one hundred and twenty-three poems included are a reminder, as Seamus Heaney notes in the Foreword, that “Anglo-Saxon poetry isn’t all stoicism and melancholy, isn’t all about battle and exile and a gray dawn breaking: it can be unexpectedly rapturous…and happily didactic. It can be intimate and domestic, and take us to places far behind the shield wall. And everywhere…it rejoices in its own word-craft, its inventiveness, its appositive imagining and fundamental awareness of itself as a play of language.”
Over the next few weeks Poems Out Loud will be proudly featuring readings of many of these fresh new translations from contemporary poets. This post will be updated to include links to each reading as they go live. Read more at Poems Out Loud.


Stealing Air – The Story of a Dissident Poet

Katia KapovichRussian poet Katia Kapovich believes that poetry is about the forbidden, that it thrives on “stealing air” and challenging convention. She tells host Jonathan Groubert about her brushes with Russian police… and why she likes to be photographed while smoking cigarettes. Read more at Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Eleanor Cooke in Interview with her Daughter, Siân Hughes

Salt invited Eleanor Cooke and her daughter Siân Hughes, winner of the 2010 Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry, to interview each other about their work. Eleanor Cooke lives in Cheshire with her husband, the artist Hugh Child, and has four children.Her previous collections include A Kind of Memory (Seren), Who Killed Prees Heath? (Bristol Classical Press & SWT), Secret Files (Cape Poetry), December (Redlake Press) and I Saw My Lady Weepe (Tern Press). She has written for radio and for the stage.
Siân Hughes was born in 1965 and grew up in a village in Cheshire. She studied English at Durham, Birmingham and Reading, and is now a postgraduate student at The University of Warwick. Her debut collection The Missing won the inaugural Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry in 2010. Read more at Salt Publishing.

A Day with Richard Wilbur

Watch it on YouTube.


A Poet Well Versed in Grief

by Mary Plummer
Born to a family who ran a funeral home in small-town Michigan, the poet Thomas Lynch began pondering aging and death at a young age, as a child leafing through the gory pages of his father’s mortician texts. “A lot of 15-year-olds think they’re going to live forever,” he said. “But when I was 15, I sort of knew I wasn’t, because I spent a lot of time at the funeral home.” Read more at the New York Times.

The Virtue of Verse

by George Watson
Is poetry dangerous? The question hardly sounds worth answering, until you recall with a start that there have been times or places when it was. In the China of the Gang of Four, according to Kang Zhengguo in his Confessions, poetry was “the most dangerous career you could possibly choose” – or so his father, a man of letters, told him. It was like working as a circus acrobat without a net. Read more at the Times Higher Education.

Editor’s Notes: For What It’s Worth

Breaking the Poetry Code

The future of poetry e-books, and why it’s not what you think

by Alizah Salario
Long before the advent of e-publishing, poet Reb Livingston was a believer in the do-it-yourself ethos. As editor and publisher of No Tell Books, a micro-press devoted to poetry, she churns out up to five books a year through her one-woman operation. Livingston wants her titles to remain just as accessible in today’s shifting book culture as those produced by publishing powerhouses. So when the e-book frenzy hit, Livingston embraced the change. She didn’t have a fancy Web team or a contract with an electronic distributor, but she did have Internet access, a coupon from an online publishing platform called Lulu, and enough pluck to give it a shot. Read more at the Poetry Foundation.

Poetry e-readerI have a copy of North of Boston printed in 1915, in which the lines of the poems sometimes run on to the next line. The printer’s enjambment is indicated by a paragraph indent. The poems appear differently in the Selected Poems (1929) with different run-on lines. In The Poems of Robert Frost, published in 1946, some lines run on to the next line again, though not in the same poems as in the original edition of North of Boston or the Selected Poems. All were obviously published in Frost’s lifetime, and he wasn’t known to be particularly casual about the typographical treatment of his work. Somehow these compromises, brought about by the limitations of the text box on the page, made it through.

One of the issues troubling to the critics here is that because of the diversity of style, especially regarding line length, the standard markers for indicating that a line is not broken but is simply running on to accommodate the width of the page, are, for some reason, no longer acceptable. We lived with such indicators for a long while (get out your Whitman) and we will continue to do so, if we want to participate in the dialogue. I’m not sure what has changed.

The fact of the matter is that the size and type is adjustable on some platforms, such as the iPhone, the iPad, and the Sony Reader. If anything, the new technology should and can allow greater flexibility of an accurate representation of the poet’s typographical intentions.

A larger problem is one of quality control. In a paper publication, the production and design team at the publisher’s, along with the poet, look closely at the page proofs before the book is published to make sure that it adheres to their expectations. Oftentimes, as a result of contractual outsourcing of the digitized piece to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc., so that they can adjust the files to their own standards, there is no such quality control afforded to the publisher. This is a flaw in the system that needs to be corrected. The customer will not be willing to pay for a flawed product forever. Why should she?

There is also the threat that with poetry’s small market, and the reticence of some readers, poets, and poetry publishers, to let loose their romance with the paper product as the authorized version, any effort to make the poetry e-book attractive or even to correct flaws will be put on the back-burner.

I do sympathize with the small publisher who is scrambling around trying to incorporate the ever-changing technologies, making detailed agreements with the suppliers and wholesalers, and trying to merge it all into the everyday operations of running a business, when e-books still represent roughly the same percentage as overseas sales but with much more hassle.

This will all change. Things will standardize; the foreign will look less so. As poets and readers and publishers engage the world of digital publishing and recognize that it’s not an either/or proposition and that the availability of the work is the real goal, there will be relief from this anxiety.

Why wouldn’t you want to have all your poetry library stashed in your pocket, available at the tap of a finger? In addition to my 1915 and 1936 editions of North of Boston, it’s on my iPhone too, alongside Pound, Yeats, Verlaine, Hass, and Simic. Who doesn’t want to dip into a little “Home Burial” while waiting for the movie to start?
—David Sanders

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