Specimen Days: January 8
1824 – Francisco González Bocanegra, Mexican poet (d. 1861), is born.â€¨
1896 – Paul Verlaine, French poet (b. 1844), dies.
1927 – Charles Tomlinson, British poet and translator, is born.â€¨
1928 – Gaston Miron, Quebec poet and editor (d. 1996), is born.â€¨
1933 – Ko Un, Korean poet, is born.
1963 – Kay Sage, American artist and poet (b. 1898), is born.â€¨
1975 – Louis de Bourbon, Dutch writer/poet (Gypsy Blood), dies at 66.
â€¨1986 – Yaroslav Seifert, Czech poet (Nobel 1984), dies at 84.
High-heels were struggling with a full-length dress
So that, between the wind and the terrain,
At times a shining stocking would be seen,
And gone too soon. We liked that foolishness.
Also, at times a jealous insect’s dart
Bothered out beauties. Suddenly a white
Nape flashed beneath the branches, and this sight
Was a delicate feast for a young fool’s heart.
Evening fell, equivocal, dissembling,
The women who hung dreaming on our arms
Spoke in low voices, words that had such charms
That ever since our stunned soul has been trembling.
Poetry in the News
NYC: The Poetry Brothel’s Top Spots for Poets
The Poetry Brothel, produced by The Poetry Society of New York, is a conceptual group that presents poets as characters—or “high courtesans,” as they say. The Brothel aims to take poetry outside the classroom and lecture hall and “place it in the lush interiors of a bordello.” Made up of a cast of “Whores” who put on innovative events staged to feel like the fin-de-siècle brothels in New Orleans and Paris, this band of poets strives to evoke the avant-garde movements and French Symbolists of the 19th century. The poets act as whores, calling their audience their “Johns” and, as you can imagine, the events are not your Mother’s poetry readings. Their next event isn’t until January 23rd at The Back Room, but the group has offered up a list of their favorite nightlife places where poets can bide their time until then. Here is the Poetry Brothel’s top places to live the poet’s life: places where poetry is inspired, where poets hang out, or maybe where one can find the ghosts poets past. Read more at Black Box.
Janine Pommy Vega, Restless Poet, Dies at 68
Janine Pommy Vega, a poet and intimate of the Beat generation luminaries Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky whose lifelong quest for transcendence took her to San Francisco in the 1960s and on a pilgrimage to neolithic goddess-worship sites in the 1980s, died on Dec. 23 at her home in Willow, N.Y. She was 68. Read more at the New York Times.
Scotland Stalls on New Poet Laureate
Post remains unfilled three months after first makar’s death and confusion surrounds selection criteria
Edwin Morgan was Scotland’s greatest living poet and the natural choice in 2004 to become the country’s first makar – its national poet laureate. In fact, the role was created for him. Finding a successor, though, is proving a little more controversial. More than three months after Morgan’s death, confusion surrounds the post and who should fill it, leaving many in the arts community perplexed. Prominent poets including Liz Lochhead, Douglas Dunn, Don Paterson, Jackie Kay, John Burnside and Kathleen Jamie have all been linked to the position, with Lochhead and Dunn emerging as early favorites. Read more at the Guardian.
In order to celebrate National Poetry Month (which happens in April), The Poetry Foundation is giving away a limited number of copies of their April 2011 issue of Poetry magazine. Read more at Gapers Block.
A Chinese Poet’s Sympathy for Mother of a Japanese Soldier
In China, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, there was a young man by the name of Chen Hui. He was born in 1920 in Hunan province. When he was 17, the Japanese and Chinese armies clashed near the Lugou Bridge, aka Marco Polo Bridge, on the outskirts of Beijing. It was the spark that triggered full-scale war. While participating in the resistance movement against the Japanese in northern China, Chen began to write poems. His poetry collection “Shi yue de ge” (October Songs) was not released until 1958, or 13 years after his death. Read more at Asahi.
Kukio Akiyoshi (Photo by Yoichi Jomaru)
Idrisi Community “Lays Claim” to Poet Iqbal, Havildar Abdul Hameed
The caste-ridden Indian society witnessed another fall when the Idrisi community (a Muslim caste group) came up to claim that Urdu poet Allama Iqbal and Param Veer Chakra recipient Havildar Abdul Hameed were member of the Idrisi (tailor) community. A meeting of the community here on Sunday hailed him as community’s role model and demanded patronising their ancient trade of tailoring. Read more at Two Circles.
Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
[Paperback] Tupelo, 90 pp., $16.95
Nezhukumatathil’s fourth book is fascinated with the small mechanisms of being, whether natural, personal, or imagined. Everything from eating eels in the Ozark mountains to the history of red dye finds a rich life in her poems. At times her lush settings and small stories are reminiscent of fairy tales (“The frog who wanted to see the sea was mostly disappointed”), while at others Nezhukumatathil (At the Drive-In Volcano) speaks with resonance and fierceness: “The center of my hands boiled/ with blossoms when we made a family. I would never flee that garden. I swear to/ you here and now: If I ever go missing, know that I am trying to come home.” —Publishers Weekly
Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems by Michael McClure
[Hardcover] California, 344 pp., $34.95
“Like Philip Whalen, Charles Bukowski, and Jim Morrison (to whom one section is dedicated), McClure infuses ecstatic direct address and colloquial diction with an exquisite sensibility.”–Publishers Weekly
A Human Pattern: Selected Poems by Judith Wright
Carcanet, 244 pp., $24.95
Judith Wright (1915-2000) is one of Australia’s best loved, and essential, poets, devoted to place, responsive to landscape and to the violence done to the land and its inhabitants. As John Kinsella writes in his introduction, ’she looked inwards into Australia, and in doing so made the local…universal’. A Human Pattern, a selected poems she prepared after she had abandoned writing poetry in order to devote her time to fighting for Aboriginal rights and conservation, presents her best work from 1946 to her last collection, Phantom Dwelling (1986). Australia, alive with human and natural history, is vibrant in this selection. She is, John Kinsella writes, ’a poet of human contact with the land’. She speaks directly to our perennial concerns.
Panic by Laura McCullough
[Paperback] Alice James, 80 pp., $15.95
“Lovely and vigilant poems lay bare those seen and unseen forces that expose us again and again to our own mortality, to our daily yearning for beauty and grace. Embracing the narrative range of a novelist, Laura McCullough writes with the razored scrutiny of the fine poet she is, making Panic a timely and important book you simply must read.”—Andre Dubus III
by David Orr
It’s tough to be a Grand Old Man of — well, anything, really. At this point Joe Paterno must feel less like a person than a physical feature of the Penn State campus, like the Nittany Lion Shrine. In his elegy for Yeats, Auden claims that the poet, upon dying, “became his admirers,” but it would’ve been more accurate to say that like most Grand Old Men (and not just the ones who actually are men), Yeats had much earlier become shorthand for an array of generalizations. Stick around long enough and, to most people, you’re no longer an artist; you’re a brand. Richard Wilbur (born in 1921) has been for decades a Grand Old Man of American poetry, and he’s spent most of his career being alternately praised and condemned for the same three things.
Red more at the New York Times.
No More Irony: A Review of Monica Youn’s Ignatz
by Siobhan Phillips
I was suspicious of Ignatz before I had read anything more than the table of contents. I shouldn’t have been; I liked Monica Youn’s first book, Barter, a collection of lovely, wary lyrics with strange but precise allusive force. But I was suspicious of Ignatz’s subgenre: poetry books that are designedly books rather than collections, their titles linked by a single unifying conceit. The category was proliferating, it seemed to me, cultured by a world of book prizes and writing programs, or encouraged by distinguished precedents and obvious advantages. A constitutive donnée, in a book of poems, offers the writer a ballast and the reader a guide; a thematized volume can presume on an initial trust, or expand on an initial idea, rather than hope for repeated, different arrests of attention. But then, such arrest is one of the genre’s glories—the intense singularity of each bounded, ramifying lyric. It would be a shame to forgo that energy too often, I thought, to read poems merely as stepping-stones on a narrative path or pieces of a nonfictional whole. Read more at The Millions.
“All these words look the same to me”
by Ken L. Walker
The “mean free path” Wikipedia page is a boringly fascinating, prosaically interesting piece of internet writing on something that is almost unintelligible because of its many percentages, graphs and physical formulas. One might need a translator. Then, there are appealing statements like this: “A classic application of a mean free path is to estimate the size of atoms or molecules.” Oh, right. We have to estimate the size of those things we cannot see. Science remains abstract. Basically, the distance a thing travels prior to colliding with another thing is its “mean free path,” or is its love or is its significance, or is its coincidence. This also happens to be the title of Ben Lerner’s third book of poetry, Mean Free Path, a work that closely examines the need to complete a statement, which is to say, repair a statement until it is never complete. Read more at Cold Front.
An Interview with Ben Lerner
by Ken L. Walker
To recall the first breach or encounter I had with the idea of a Ben Lerner poem: I was helping with a presentation on Angle of Yaw in my workshop at Brooklyn College and wanted to bring up the idea that poets should have more audacity—that too many seem too afraid. Lerner was firing shots at Regan, breaking down the American response to 9/11 without pretense, cataloging the oppressive and repressive mannerisms of culture, demonstrating the blood-thirst of profiteering, and is pretty damn smart about how to attack each animal, offering up a fresh poetics to boot. Angle of Yaw wound up nominated for the 2006 National Book Award. His follow-up, the exceptional Mean Free Path, was released this year.
Following many e-mail exchanges, Lerner and I compiled the following conversation. Read more at Cold Front.
Lemony Snicket, AKA Daniel Handler, On WHERE To Read Poetry
by Daniel Handler
I’ve never had any of the problems with poetry that most people do, i.e., that it’s boring and/or incomprehensible. A voracious reader, I spent my childhood reading things for adults, and learned early to find peace in the stasis of literature. Having read The Rainbow at fourteen (I’d heard D.H. Lawrence was dirty), a Robert Hass poem feels action-packed. And as far as comprehension goes, I find poetry actually has very little mystery compared to anything else. Just this morning at the bus stop, a little electronic sign told me my bus was arriving in two minutes, then one minute, then “arriving,” although the street remained empty. Then it was gone. I’d missed a bus that had never arrived. Not a phrase in The Tennis Court Oath can touch that for sheer befuddlement.
Read more at the Huffington Post.
At the Heart of Communities
by Meena Kandasamy
Celebrated British poet and performer Lemn Sissay pinpoints the exact nature of our problematic relationship with poetry: As a society we don’t know where to place poetry: On the one hand, we accuse poetry of being elitist and out of bounds for the masses. On the other, we are rudely dismissive of finding poetry anywhere but on the page. When we see it in advertising, or in Bollywood songs — like Gulzar’s work in “Slumdog Millionaire”— we refuse to even recognise that it is poetry. Read more at Hindu.
Editor’s Notes: For What It’s Worth
Online Poetry Reading Group Launched by Poetry Book Society
The Poetry Book Society has announced that it has launched a major new initiative: an online poetry reading group which will be open to everyone. Using its new Poetry Bookshop Online, www.poetrybookshoponline.com, the reading group will be free to join and is aimed at a wide audience of poetry readers. The PBS has been running the Poetry Book Society since its foundation by T. S. Eliot and friends in 1953, focusing on bringing the best new poetry to keen poetry readers with its Poet Selectors’ quarterly selections. Now this new venture will enable the organisation to attract a whole new audience of poetry lovers to its new website. Read more at Salt.
I commend the Poetry Foundation in the US for giving away copies of its April issue of Poetry magazine to reading groups (see Free Poetry! above). But I’ve long imagined that the Poetry Book Society in the UK was on to something and have been hoping for something like it in the States. I imagine that PBS has worked something out with poetry publishers to buy copies at a deep discount against a guarantee of a certain number of sales, which would help the unit price and increase the publishers’ overall profit margin, or at least make it more palatable to publish poetry. So why can’t the Poetry Foundation mimic the success of the Poetry Book Society? They have millions and millions of dollars thanks to Miss Lilly. Is it logistics? Certainly they could work with a wholesaler (Ingram’s or Baker and Taylor) to be involved in distribution. And wouldn’t this drive their mission of making poetry available, of creating a larger audience for it? This is not a criticism; the Foundation has been active in recent years. You can visit their website or Harriet: The Blog and see how they are trying to engage the reader. But a Poetry Book Society would be a service to the readers, the poets, and the art. If they have done it successfully in the UK since 1953, why not investigate what it would take—and how much—to replicate that success here?