November 28, 2010

Specimen Days: November 28

William Blake1582 – Playwright & poet William Shakespeare weds Anne Hathaway
1757 – William Blake, English poet/painter, is born
1880 – Alexander A Block, Russian poet, is born 

1881 – Stefan Zweig, Vienna Austria, poet/essayist/dramatist , is born
1907 – StanisÅ‚aw WyspiaÅ„ski, Polish dramatist, poet, painter, and architect (b. 1869) dies

1911 – Václav Renč, Czech poet (d. 1973)
, is born
1932 – Terence Frisby, poet/screenwriter, is born 

1935 – Randolph Stow, author/poet, is born
1994 – Franfo Fortini, poet, dies at 77

O the cunning wiles that creep
In thy little heart asleep!
When thy little heart doth wake,
Then the dreadful night shall break.
(from “Cradle Song” by William Blake)

Poetry in the News

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy Signals There will be No Engagement Poem

Carol Ann DuffyIt would be the perfect wedding present for Prince William and Kate Middleton – a new work specially written for the happy couple by the nation’s poet. But Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, has signalled that she will not be writing a poem to commemorate the royal match. Peter Straus, Ms Duffy’s agent at the Rogers, Coleridge & White literary agency, told The Sunday Telegraph: “She doesn’t want to do it and I don’t think she will. I don’t think she’ll do the engagement or wedding as a royal poem.” Read more at the Telegraph.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy Denies She Would Not Write a Poem for the Royal Wedding

Read more at the Mirror.
Carol Ann Duffy Photo: PA

Turning to Poetry in Hard Times

To the Editor:
I work for the Maine Humanities Council. Last week on a dark and stormy night, I was driving to the York Public Library to attend the last of five sessions of a poetry discussion series. I wondered whether the series would attract anybody who wasn’t already invested in the poetry scene. In this last session, people were expected to read their own favorite modern American poems; would anyone come?
Read more at Seacoast Online.

Fine Arts Work Center Fellows Settle in for Winter in Provincetown

Visual fellows at the Fine Arts Work CenterMore than 1,100 visual artists and writers submitted applications to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown for the 2010-2011 fellowship program. Whittling down the accepted fellows was a daunting task to be sure, but as of Oct. 1, 10 artists and 10 writers were awarded their fellowships and now they are hard at work honing their crafts. Here is a brief overview of the talented folks who will be presenting readings and art exhibitions over the winter at FAWC. Read more at Wicked Local.
Visual fellows at the Fine Arts Work Center: front, left to right, Gal Kinan, John Pena, Golnar Adili, Matt Bolinger; back, Jonggeon Lee, Julia Brown, Jonathan Edwards, Kirsten Ullrich, Bridget Mullen.

World Poetry

“My Political Party is My Poem”

Mourid BarghoutiIn today’s fast-paced culture poetry readings can seem a little old-fashioned. But the faithful fans of Mourid Barghouti who recently gathered in Doha, Qatar, to hear the Palestinian poet were treated to an evening that was anything but quaint.

The author holds a unique position in the Palestinian diaspora. His book, I saw Ramallah, is a seminal work. First published in Arabic in 1997, it has since been translated into many different languages and won him global acclaim. It is in turns warm and touching, funny and politically charged. The Palestinian intellectual Edward Said described it as “one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement we now have.” Read more at Aljazeera.
Mourid Barghouti feels that the Arabic language is under attack [Credit: Ahmed Alaidy]

Allow Taslima to Return to Kolkata: Mahasweta Devi

Taslima NasrinMagsaysay Award winning litterateur Mahasweta Devi Monday demanded that Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin be allowed to come back to Kolkata.She also requested all the people fighting for a political change in the West Bengal, to come forward and fight for the return of Nasrin. Read more at Sify.

New Books

Cover of On the Coast and Other Poems (Caribbean Modern Classics) by Wayne Brown On the Coast and Other Poems (Caribbean Modern Classics)
by Wayne Brown
[Paperback] Peepal Tree Press, 112 pp., $16.95
At the time this collection of poems was first published in 1972, Wayne Brown’s careful formalism—which belies a turbulence of ideas and emotions—was out of fashion and the poetry of revolution was in full swing. Now, however, these poems are seen as seminal in Caribbean poetry, both for their intrinsic qualities and for Brown’s crucial role as the mentor of a current generation of Caribbean poets. Exploring the ties between creativity and contentment, the poems enumerate the threats to these human goals, and through anecdotes—frequently drawn from the poet’s own family life—reflect on the rewards and pain of remaining in the Caribbean while others have gone abroad. To understand their exile, which has its own heartache, several poems are odes to the artists the author admires most, including Pablo Neruda, Vladimir Nabokov, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the Tobagan poet Eric Roach.

by Kwame Dawes
[Paperback] Peepal Tree Press, 120 pp., $18.95
Using the power of language to explore and discover patterns of meaning, this collection brings the lyric poem face to face with the external world—with its politics, social upheavals, and ideological complexity. Whether it is a poem about a near victim of a terrorist attack reflecting on the nature of grace, a president considering the function of art, or a Rastafarian defending his faith, the selections all seek illumination in understanding the world. They are as much about the quest for love and faith as they are about finding pathways of meaning through the current decade of wars and political and economic uncertainty.

Cover of Saint Erasure by Donna de la PerriereSaint Erasure
by Donna de la Perriere
[Paperback] Talisman House, 71 pp., $13.95
“Anyone who still wants to view experimentation as a purely intellectual exercise will be convinced otherwise by Donna de la Perriere’s exquisite second collection. Under the threat or promise of erasure and at the edge of silence, the poet deftly leads us through a shifting, minimalist landscape. Wrestling with change and stasis, with the resistance and sudden give of the real, she delicately monitors each stage of what feels like a pilgrimage, while defamiliarization pressures vision and makes each breath at once artful and endlessly brave. Saint Erasure saves us by exposing the beauty of our vulnerability: ’Welcome to the new body / tonight we lose everything.’”–Laura Mullen

Coronology and Other Poems by Claire Bateman
[Paperback] Etruscan, 72 pp., $17.95
“Nakedly beautiful, the book shimmers with insight, even as it creates an entirely other world, one I wish I could stay in for days, weeks, years. A one of a kind book—wistfully sweet and delicately wrought, brilliant and irresistible.”—Nin Andrews
Coronology explores the odd too-muchness/not-enoughness of imaginative experience—is this the neighborhood we signed up for? What was The Book That Consumed Everything seeking as it gobbled up all the other books? If the sky were to fall to earth, what would the recovery process involve?

Recent Reviews

Rescuing Canadian Poetry from International Obscurity

by Leah McLaren
If a major Canadian literary event occurs, and hardly a single Canadian is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?
This question crackled in the air last Wednesday night in Manchester, when 70-odd mostly British writers, readers, poets and poetry fanatics, gathered at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, around the corner from the warehouse where Coronation Street is filmed, to launch the most exhaustive and important anthology of Canadian poetry in two decades. Read more at The Globe and Mail.

Paul Batchelor Celebrates the Fluency and Variousness of the Late Edwin Morgan’s Poetry

by Paul Batchelor
An unrivalled appetite for formal challenges, a range of dramatic personae to shame Robert Browning, and a territory that stretches from Glasgow to Venus: Edwin Morgan, who died in August, is not a poet we can hope to pin down. He is distinguished chiefly by the speed and fluency of his line: his cadences emerge from a nervy, self-correcting responsiveness that keeps the world on the bounce. “O what a whack of a black of a sleek sweet cheeky tail in its big blue den / Of water! There were no bears then!” So begins “The Bearsden Shark”. The pulse races in such lines – making them, for all the celebrated variousness of their subject matter, immediately identifiable. Read more at the Guardian.

Review: “Here” by Wislawa Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

by Dana Goodyear
Winners of the Nobel Prize in literature often experience the loss of obscurity that accompanies the honor as a kind of curse. Their work becomes unassailable, marmoreal: It is “official,” static, statuesque. This is a complicated irony in the case of the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who was awarded the prize in 1996. Szymborska, in her younger years a supporter of Stalin and an author whose poems one critic called “agitation-propaganda in a chamber-music manner,” has spent her mature career writing against authority. This is not to say that her poems are political — only that they make an argument for the centrality of the seemingly inconsequential. Read more at the L.A. Times.

“We Press Ourselves Plainly”

by Christina Mengert
In a review of Touch to Affliction, Meg Hurtado describes Nathalie Stephens as “a tragic poet, in the word’s truest sense.” Stephens’ most recent book, We Press Ourselves Plainly, asks what happens to a body, a mind, a landscape that has absorbed the history of tragedy and then manifests that history within itself. It’s not a comfortable question, nor an easy one, and the speaker offers few answers, but rather attempts to embody that tragedy in a speaker’s voice.
Read more at Constant Critic.


Book Brahmin: Christian Wiman

Christian WimanChristian Wiman was born and raised in West Texas. He is the editor of Poetry magazine and the author of two previous collections of poems, Hard Night (2005) and The Long Home (2007), and one collection of prose, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (2007). His new book of poetry, Every Riven Thing, is a November 2010 publication from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He lives in Chicago with his family.
On your nightstand now:
Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope, a crisply written, devastating account of Osip Mandelstam’s last years. Hounded by Stalin, half-destroyed by torture, he wrote his finest poetry in a final blaze of defiance, derangement and pure genius.
Read more at Shelf Awareness.

Interview with the Moroccan Poet Siham Bouhlal

The Moroccan poet Siham Bouhlal has made a name for herself as a translator of both medieval and contemporary texts from the Arabic into French. She is currently on a residential scholarship at the Heinrich Böll House in Langenbroich near Cologne. Martina Sabra spoke to her about her experience of living and working in Germany. Read more at Qantara.

Small Press Spotlight: Shin Yu Pai

Shin Yu Paiby Rigoberto González

Shin Yu Pai’s previous books include Haiku Not Bombs (Booklyn Artists Alliance, 2008), Works on Paper (Convivio Bookworks, 2007), Sightings: Selected Works, 2000-2005 (1913 Press, 2007), The Love Hotel Poems (Press Lorentz, 2006), Unnecessary Roughness (xPress(ed), 2005), and Equivalence (La Alameda, 2003). Her work is anthologized in America Zen: A Gathering of Poets (Bottom Dog Press) and The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry (Wisdom Publications).
A number of your poems ask the reader to reflect and ponder an event or encounter. The philosophical questions are not spelled out, but that doesn’t seem to be the point. Rather, it’s the engagement of thought that matters. How do you reconcile intangibility and abstraction with the title of this collection? In the world of impermanence and technology, how has the role of the poet/ poem changed?
Read more at Critical Mass.
Author Photo: Kent Barker


The Rest Is Criticism

by David Yezzi
Time was when there was too much criticism around. Randall Jarrell thought so, when, in the early Fifties, he pronounced it “the bane of our age.” Auden, whose fourth doorstop volume of collected prose recently appeared from Princeton, was similarly disenchanted. In The Dyer’s Hand, Auden announced that, when his daydream College for Bards convened, “the library would contain no books of literary criticism, and the only critical exercise required of students would be the writing of parodies”—pretty hard cheese coming from someone who made some decent cheese writing the stuff. To Jarrell’s mind, the works of art—poems, plays, novels—were in danger of being replaced by the works written about them; no need to read Moby-Dick when one could more easily digest a book on Melville’s thorny masterpiece. And not only was there—like dark, casuistic clouds blotting out the rays of literature—too much of the stuff, it was also frequently the wrong kind of stuff. Read more at Contemporary Poetry Review.

A Life in Writing: Les Murray

“That’s when poetry seems to work best, when it takes in your dreaming mind, your intellect and the physical body.”
by Nicholas Wroe
For the last few decades all of Les Murray’s books of poetry have opened with the same two statements. A brief biographical note tells the reader that he was “born in 1938, and grew up on a dairy farm at Bunyah on the north coast of New South Wales.” The poems themselves are then dedicated to “The glory of God.” And there you pretty much have it. Murray is the poet of Australian rural life and work, and the natural world in which they are conducted. He invests the rituals, grandeur, wonder and hardships of both spheres with a powerful sense of the sacred. Read more at the Guardian.

Editor’s Notes: For What It’s Worth

Ronnie McGrath on “Data Trace”

Ronnie McGrathPerhaps it is a healthy thing, but poetry today remains divided and reflects the plethora of different voices which are all struggling to occupy, what the scholar Stuart Hall terms, the sites of popular position. However, in this jockeying for a preeminent place, the fetish of realism prevails as the dominant mode of representation in poetry, and as such, tends to suppress other forms of writing that do not engage in ‘logical’ ways of knowing and being in the world.
Read more at Salt Publishing.

I am no longer young; I’m overweight, and more often than not my body and soul are haplessly out of alignment. Still, this “broadside” by Ronnie McGrath, a young Brit poet, seems, well, also out of alignment. Beyond the tactics of self-identifying with historical rebels (Hendrix, Coltrane, and Sun Ra), or placing himself in opposition to the unidentified who adhere to the “fetish of realism,“ his attempt to grapple with the surreal-cum-experimental comes off not as new but as dated as any replication of academic poetry from the early fifties. In fact, I couldn’t help, when listening to his recitation of one of his poems, thinking of it as parody. Here is a stanza from one of his poems:

Summoning fire lighters out of wood sticks
Jimi dips me in the ancient syrup
of his incandescent light,
erect nipples on the cherries of their lips
and sends me drifting asexually
down the black-tongued highways of my fecund mind.

I wouldn’t single him out except for the gnawing suspicion that his voice is not unique but rather is representative of many in his generation. An ars poetica is a hard thing to develop. Surely with time his will become fuller, more thoughtful, and more encompassing. Passion is a good thing. To know yourself is a good thing, I’ve heard. Right now this seems all heat and no light. Certainly, no lightness (see Blake, above).
—David Sanders

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