Specimen Days: January 15
1803 – Marjory Fleming, Scottish writer and poet (d. 1811)â€¨ is born.
1850 – Mihail Eminesco, [Eminovici], Romanian poet, is born. â€¨
1891 – Osip E Mandelstam, Warsaw Poland, Russian poet (d. 1938), is born. â€¨
1897 – Xu Zhimo, Chinese poet (d. 1931), is born.â€¨
1923 – Ivor Cutler, Scottish poet (d. 2006), is born.
1985 – Bollingen Prize for poetry awarded to John Ashbery & Fred Chapell.
In Petersburg we’ll meet again,
As though we’d buried the sun there,
And for the first time utter
The blessed, senseless word.
In the black velvet of Soviet night,
In the velvet of worldwide emptiness,
The kind eyes of touched women still sing,
The immortal flowers still bloom.
—from “In Petersburg We’ll Meet Again” by Osip Mandelstam
Poetry in the News
Haiti, Through a Poet’s Eyes
The images from post-earthquake Haiti a year later remain hauntingly powerful, the facts strikingly sad — yet somehow, USC professor and poet Kwame Dawes — who has traveled there several times to document the aftermath among people with HIV/AIDS through poetry — finds as much hope as horror. Read more at The State.
Trio of Poets Bring Poetry Perspective to Fort Smith
“Giving of love is unconditional and with the animals returned unconditional too. She is on this earth to take care of you, heal all wounds, dole out food and water acting as a mother.”
The above is an excerpt of Jena Gessaman’s poetry she performed at Second Street Live! during the Trio of Poets show held Thursday (Jan. 13). About 40 people attended Trio of Poets where poetry came alive through the animated performance of Regie O’Hare Gibson, Timothy Mason and Jena Gessaman. The spoken word of poetry from the three moved the audience at times making them laugh and other times making them say “hum.” The poets have been on tour together for two years with the goal of changing people’s perspective about poetry. The poets made the words dance off the pages from which they had been written whether they were reciting it or singing the stanzas. They were exciting to watch as their words came to life through body movements or through the emotion they showed. Read more at the City Wire.
Mark States: Home-boy of Oakland Poetry Takes 3,000-Mile Leap for Love
Mark States is not afraid of change. In fact, he seems to court it. The latest redirection he has chosen was announced via Facebook over the holidays: he has become engaged to writer Kyha Floyd from Charlotte, North Carolina. At the end of February, the Oakland native will join his bride and her family and make that state his new home.This past Monday, States broke the news to his beloved Poetry Express family here. Read more at the Examiner.
Spoken Word Helped Save Poet Zaccheus Jackson’s Life
Five years ago, Zaccheus Jackson got in an argument with his girlfriend, and went out for a walk.The Vancouver resident, who grew up in Brocket, a town in southern Alberta, found himself standing outside Cafe du Soleil on Commercial Drive, the cultural heart of Vancouver’s east side. It was a vegan cafe, but that wasn’t what intrigued Jackson, who at that time was scarcely two months clean from a half-decade long crack addiction that had left him homeless on the streets of Calgary and Vancouver, interrupted by a brief stint in prison. Read more at the Calgary Herald.
Photograph by: Grant Black, Calgary Herald
CIA Welcomes Poet Nikki Giovanni for MLK Day Celebration
Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon E. Panetta today welcomed one of America’s best-known poets, Nikki Giovanni, to the Agency for its annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ms. Giovanni—the author of some 30 books for adults and children—first rose to prominence as an artist who gave voice to the African-American community in the years immediately following Dr. King’s assassination. Director Panetta introduced her, saying, “It is very fitting that we celebrate the life of Dr. King—a great orator, poet, activist, teacher, and leader—with words of wisdom from another great orator, poet, activist, teacher, and leader.” Read more at ttkn.
An Appeal for the Release of 20 poets from Azerbaijan Detained in Iran
In Iran, even poets who write in their own mother tongue are arrested and threatened with heavy sentences in the Islamic courts. And that is what happened in April 2010 to 20 poets, writers and journalists from Azerbaijan. International writers appeal for the release of 20 poets from Azerbaijan being detained and tortured in Iran. They risk six years’ imprisonment for writing in their native language. Read more at Tolerance.
In Centuries-Old Ritual, Japan’s Palace Hosts Poetry Reading
Japan’s emperor recalled planting birch seedlings on his golden anniversary, while his wife expressed the joy of seeing the first leaves of spring, during an ancient poetry reading ceremony Friday at the imperial palace. The unique and colorful ritual, which also includes selections from tens of thousands of entries from around the world, is one of the biggest events of the year for Japan’s royal household. It is broadcast live across the nation, and has been an imperial tradition since the 13th century. Read more at Canadian Press.
Iranian, German Literati to Introduce National Poetryâ€¨
The Iranian poet Ali Ghazanfari and a group of German poets plan to hold joint projects to introduce their national poetry to Iranians and Germans. “We are holding three projects to introduce Iranians and Germans with the contemporary poetry in two countries and we are negotiating for finding two first-rate publishers in the two countries for releasing the translations,” he told the Persian service of MNA. Read more at Tehran Times.
Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Rozewicz translated by Joanna Trzeciak
[Hardcover] W. W. Norton, 368 pp., $32.95
In the great constellation of postwar and contemporary Polish poets, Rózewicz has been a sort of dark star: neither pellucidly wise nor gravely witty, in the manner of Nobel laureates Milosz and Symborska, Rózewicz’s gritty, ragged verse has for more than half a century given his responses to the unanswerable conditions of history, beginning with the Holocaust and WWII. Rózewicz truly came into his own in the 1960s and in the 1990s, when longer forms given to free association allowed him to write without pretending that writing could alleviate the injustice that pervades any society. Trzeciak’s stripped-down translation (as her foreword explains) tries to convey both Rózewicz’s plain speech and his frequently intricate allusion to writers and works from Polish, German, Russian, and English, among them Franz Kafka and Ezra Pound. “Of course I try to write/ light carefree / even with my left foot/ but it’s tethered to a stone,” a recent poem complains in a poetry able to incorporate almost anything, from headlines to the simplest sentences a child might say, which a disillusioned adult might need to hear again: “this is a man/ this is a tree this is bread// people eat to live.”—Publishers Weekly
Traveling Light: Poems by Linda Pastan
[Hardcover] W. W. Norton, 77 pp., $24.95
A new collection from a poet long recognized for her “unfailing mastery of her medium” (New York Times).
Bringing the Shovel Down by Ross Gay
[Paperback] University of Pittsburgh Press, 80 pp., $14.95
“These poems speak out of a global consciousness as well as an individual wisdom that is bright with pity, terror, and rage, and which asks the reader to realize that she is not alone—that the grief he carries is not just his own. Gay is a poet of conscience, who echoes Tomas Tranströmer’s ‘We do not surrender. But want peace.’”—Jean Valentine
Expedition: New and Selected Poems by Arthur Vogelsang
[Paperback] Ashland Poetry Press, 200 pp., $22.95
“We have in Vogelsang a poet furious with history but attempting a mad escape. It’s a swollen poetry, maximal at the least and packed with his rare rage. Sexual, sizzling really, and full of indestructible stories of fragility. Local as Pop art, it has international shadows–demotic, properly tilted, and glowing. The stories are ardent; the double binds are musical. The museums in his poetry are perturbed or disturbed spaces, and the language of surveillance and trembling is upon us: the poetics of a panicked or manic Kafka”–David Shapiro.
Chickweed Wintergreen: Selected Poems by Harry Martinson
[Paperback] Bloodaxe, 192 pp., $12.13
Harry Martinson (1904-78) sailed the oceans from 1920 to 1927 as an escape from an unhappy childhood in rural southwest Sweden. Returning to his native tracts, he devoted himself to writing and eventually became one of the best-known authors of his time. His election to the Swedish Academy in 1949 was seen as a gesture towards a generation of more or less self-educated working-class writers, and he shared the 1974 Nobel Prize in Literature with novelist Eyvind Johnson. While his prose books have reached a wide readership in several languages, Martinson’s poems have appeared only sporadically in English. Robin Fulton’s translations provide the first substantial selection of Harry Martinson’s poetry for English-language readers.
“Love in Wartime”
by April Manteris
Elyse Fenton’s debut book, Clamor, occupies the space between “sound and soundlessness” while displaying the conflicts and uncertainty of love in wartime. In her opening poem, “Gratitude,” she recalls the devastating story of her husband treating a soldier injured “beyond recognition,” but protects our sense of hope when she states, “And I love you more for holding the last good flesh/ of that soldier’s cock in your hands, for startling his warm blood/ back to life.” Fenton brings the uncensored truth of war to the forefront. These poems don’t let up, but neither does Fenton let up a kind hand on the small of her reader’s back—she doesn’t expect us to go it alone. Read more at Coldfront.
How Snow Falls by Craig Raine – review
The showy poet’s first collection in 10 years is typically fearless
by Kate Kellaway
It is not often that a poem can be tested alongside reality. I have been reading Craig Raine’s How Snow Falls– his first collection for 10 years – through recent winter weeks and have found that the title poem tests poorly against actual snowfall. What the poem does best is to reintroduce Raine who, whatever else he may be, is incapable of being dull. He is a provoking impresario of a poet – a born showman (and, sometimes, show-off). The winter he describes is masculine and personal: “Like the unshaven prickle/ of a sharpened razor, this new coldness in the air, the pang/ of something intangible.” I struggled with that razor: shouldn’t the “unshaven prickle” belong to a cheek rather than to the razor itself? Read more at the Guardian.
Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe
Dana Goodyear is Giving Young Writers the Sounding Board She Lacked
Dana Goodyear has been a writer since before she arrived in St. Louis as a 12 year old. She still has the water-logged, speckled composition notebooks of her youth where she attempted to make sense of and organize the world around her. In the years since she moved away from St. Louis, she has honed and expanded her craft as a reporter and editor at The New Yorker and as a poet. Her second collection of poetry will be published early next year. Her latest endeavor eschews the written page entirely. With Jacob Lewis, a former managing editor of The New Yorker, Goodyear co-founded Figment.com, a website for young writers to connect with other writers, publish their work and receive feedback. Read more at the St. Louis Beacon.
Punk Laureate John Cooper Clarke Keeps Poetry Flame Burning
John Cooper Clarke is as distinctive as his hilarious poems. As the beanpole poet with the big hair and even bigger tales reveals to Andrew Arthur, he’s intent on keeping the punk flame burning brightly. John Cooper Clarke is English literature’s perennial black sheep. Lancashire’s legendary performance-poet, commonly dubbed the Bard of Salford by his legions of admirers, has led a fascinating life. Read more at Wales Online.
Robert Pinsky’s Poetry Strikes a Chord
Former US Poet Laureate uses a common touch to celebrate and explore our inner worlds
Despite the often raw intensity of his poetry,Robert Pinsky, a lanky, handsome man in his seventies, has the relaxed air of a jazz musician as he prepares to read an excerpt from his long poem “History of My Heart.” Read more at Voice of America News.
by Anton Vander Zee
When most honest with himself late in life, Walt Whitman thought he would be forgotten by the country that he had so decisively, so desperately, embraced. He would have been shocked to learn what has become of him at home and abroad. He has been a perpetual muse and menace to poets and novelists alike. His poetry has been given new life in over 1,000 musical settings. Mahatma Gandhi and Joseph Stalin both recited his work. Schoolchildren chant “O Captain, My Captain!” and scholars fill books with the most intrusive speculations about him. His visage sells hipster T-shirts in Greenwich Village. Whitman—to utter the words immortal, the words inevitable—contains multitudes. Read more at Agni .
Reading Writers’ Houses
Roughly one hundred miles west of the Chilean capital of Santiago, in the sleepy fishing village of Isla Negra, a cylindrical stone tower flanked by tiered, red-roofed corridors winds across a sloping bluff overlooking the Pacific’s black-rock beaches. On first glance, it resembles a maritime vessel grounded into the jagged coastal landscape, more of an aesthetic construct than an inhabitable space. Scattered about the yard are mounted anchors, sidewalks inlaid with seashells, triangulated wooden posts festooned with rusted bells and, incongruously, a red-and-black locomotive. Pablo Neruda purchased this house in 1940 and, through a process of continuous renovation and expansion that lasted until his death in 1973, managed to shape it into a manifestation of what a life dedicated to poetry might look like. And largely because of this, Neruda’s house in Isla Negra is exceptional among existing writers’ houses. Read more at The Millions.
Editor’s Notes: For What It’s Worth
At Play in the Fields of Poetry
by Marcus Goodyear
An invitation to TwitterSpeakPoetry
On September 9, 2009, L. L. Barkat, Glynn Young, Eric Swalberg, and Bradley J. Moore met together on Twitter to toss out some lines of poetry. L. L. and Glynn had rediscovered poetry through blogging, and they were trying to teach their executive friend why it was important. “Tweet Speak Poetry really began as a joke,” L. L. told me. “We were just trying to use hashtags, and Bradley didn’t understand those either.” (Hashtags are a way of creating categorizing material on twitter.) Their first shared poetry experience on Twitter was about teaching the technology of Twitter as much as pretending to teach poetry. Although they were being playful with each other, they didn’t seem to realize that they were playing a game.
Read more at Books and Culture.
I’m not much good when it comes to tweeting ( I think it’s a problem with my phone), but I do agree that poetry is, at times, a form of play, serious play. At center it is about the fascination with language and abstract ideas born out of a dramatic situation, and transformed into an attempt at articulation for no other reason than to witness the transformation. And certainly it can be a game, a contest, whether it’s a sonnet contest, or haiku (which started as a part of renga, wherein different writers would complete or add to a chain of tanka). So it was puzzling to see a response to this article in First Things, which says, in part:
“. . . the idea that poetry is nothing but a game is to ignore, or at least minimize, the moral nature of poetry. This view of poetry often goes hand in hand with a purely materialistic view of reality that reduces the self, love, good and evil to the neuron firings of the brain. According to this view, if love, good and evil do not really exist, it is naive for the poet to write about them. What is left for the poet to do is to play word games that produce immediate pleasure via witticisms or jeux de mots. Frank O’Hara espoused this view in part when he said that it was most important for a poet to be ’not boring.’”
I suppose this is true if you accept the premise that poetry is “nothing but a game,” although I would quarrel with the idea that there is an inherent “moral nature of poetry” any more than there is a moral nature to sculpture. But it misses out on the sentiment in the original article. It’s not the gamesmanship that is driving the Tweet Speak Poetry any more than it is at a Poetry Slam. It is the play. As with music, there is the joy of creation, working within the arbitrary confines that give it form. “The delight,” as Frost would have it. The lightness, as I imagine Frank O’Hara would have it. Sometimes, especially in the darkest of poems, it is that play and the push against the form, the attention to the “game” that provides solace to the poet and satisfaction to the reader.