"As readers of contemporary poetry, Helen Vendler and David Lehman could not be more different or more necessary. In his Best American Poetry series, Lehman has demonstrated a big tent approach to poetry, open to the lively variety of the contemporary scene, and enlisted a range of poets as editors to address that variety and make choices for the yearly anthology. Helen Vendler, on the other hand, like other formidable critics before her, is engaged in constructing something less inclusive, for her job is to identify what will be worth reading in the future among all that is being written today." The Judgment of Poetry
"Language is inherently under pressure, even this sentence. There’s the restriction of time, the constrictions of page space. There are the limits of understanding. 'The thing itself always escapes,' Derrida wrote. And yet, an utterance’s ultimate inability to fully represent the mysterious source material of its existence can reveal other layers of meanings, which ripple outward from a speech act in ways the speaker doesn’t always control.
"I’m just beginning to describe a quality within poetry I’m going to call decomposition, something we as poets can not only identify, but cultivate. For what is a poem other than a tantalizing glimpse at meaning dissolving, a ceremonialized 'experience of almost' slipping through our hands?" Decomposition as a Spiritual Value in Poetry
"The poetry of Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), who with the passage of time seems more and more one of the great poets of the twentieth century, is deceptively accessible in translation. He was part of a group of young Israeli poets in the early 1950s who effected a vernacular revolution in Hebrew verse, rejecting the high literary language and the rhetorical thrust of the previous generation of Hebrew poets and finding ways to make poetry out of the plain words of everyday speech. His first volume of poetry, Now and in Other Days (1955), was widely recognized after it appeared as the turning point in the vernacular revolution. This effort to use the plain language and images of ordinary experience is clearly visible in a good deal of what Amichai wrote. It has a lot to do with the enormous popularity his work has enjoyed in Israel from the late 1950s to the present. It is also what makes at least some of his poems seem perfectly transparent in English, almost as if nothing were lost in translation. But his language is scarcely as vernacular, and not at all as simple, as it is often imagined to be." Introduction to The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
Pól Ó Muirí:
"I doubt if many reviewers will be queuing up to tell John F Deane how brave he is in undertaking this poetic examination of his conscience. Faith? Holy God, most will run a mile. More is the pity because this is a good, intelligent read and one which is deserving of a wide readership for the measured and articulate conversation Deane holds with Christianity and poetry in Ireland over his lifetime."
Give Dust a Tongue: A Faith & Poetry Memoir
"Sexing chickens, which is apparently a finely honed skill. 'Ice pick' lobotomies, as evidenced in no less than three efforts, one a rather lengthy sequence on the lamentable career of Walter Freeman, the psychiatrist who—on a annual summer joyride in his station wagon that took him to dozens of states and state hospitals—performed the procedure on upward of three thousand patients. Amy Winehouse, a triolet...
"Is it any wonder that Google searches have produced Google poems, poems that derive from superficial knowledge about an endless number of things but deeper knowledge about very few. I'll call this sort of poem a 'Stuff' poem rather than a Google poem, if only so that Google's lawyers, a very active bunch, don't go after me. And I fear the Stuff Poem is with us to stay." "And Not Releasing the Genie": The Poetry of Stuff vs. the Poetry of Knowledge
"... The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out is Solie's best book. That Michael Hofmann includes her along with Frederick Seidel and Lawrence Joseph as an exemplar of a modern poet is telling: her voice is trenchant, variable, and up-to-the-minute. While some of Hofmann's assertions are hyperbolic, Solie is already one of Canada's most internationally acclaimed poets, needing only five books to ascend to the head of her class." In Transit: The Poetry of Karen Solie
"The story is simple. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, fate intervenes. They are victims of circumstance, timing, each other and themselves. Their story takes place within a city under siege in the midst of a long, intractable war. There are walls within walls, actual and otherwise." Introduction to A Double Sorrow: A Version of Troilus and Criseyde
"I once felt quite famous as a poet. Indeed, now that I think of it, I have felt famous twice. These two periods of really unsettling fame came back to me recently as I dealt with a young poet at the lending desk of the public library where I’ve worked for over thirty years. The young poet had been coming into my city-center branch for over a year, dropping grease-stained envelopes stuffed with five or six poems and then returning a few days later to listen to my responses to his raw and energetic work. But there was this one morning when we’d had a very strenuous, useful exchange of ideas around his improving technique. In that pause when a conversation just ends and an older poet adroitly excuses himself, the young man suddenly said to me: 'You know so much about poetry; you read it so closely. Have you ever thought of writing anything yourself?'" Poetry and the Memory of Fame
"Indeed, the struggle of art against death is [Daryl] Hine's great subject. As Edward Hirsch puts it in his book The Demon and the Angel, 'highly formal and traditional work deepens immeasurably when one feels the primal murkiness threatening to swell up underneath the geometric clarity, the verbal concision and the ironic wit,' and this is precisely true of Hine's best poems. It is not so much that they 'have duende' as the Spanish say; they are not inspired by death, exactly. Rather, they are engaged in what Hirsch calls 'a hard-fought battle with the duende through formal means, in a formal arena.' In this sense Hine is like Horace and Paul Valéry and Anthony Hecht: a matador of art, fighting the toro of death with consummate style."
Foreword to The Essential Daryl Hine
"I seldom go to films. They are too exciting.”
Dream Song 53
"In my retrospective imagining, which is surely inaccurate, I discover them both, film and poetry, on the same day. It’s mid-afternoon, sometime in the mid-80s. I am in high school. On this day I am alone and at loose ends, browsing the shelves of my small town’s public library, uncertain, as usual, of what I am doing, and my hand, for whatever reason, pulls from the shelf a copy of The Pisan Cantos. I open the book. I don’t understand what I see. I take it home. And that evening, at a friend’s house, he has a VHS copy of Blue Velvet, which we watch. I have seen movies before, of course. But not like this.""Just to Watch Them Is to Feel Again": Film & Poetry, Time & Image
"In the later stages of his strange, illustrious, and very long career, Robert Frost was often talked about as if he were two different poets, or possibly even two different people—a phenomenon that continues even now, half a century after his death in 1963. The first poet is the familiar New England icon, the salty, no-nonsense dispenser of rustic wisdom whose lines have the sturdiness and warmth of hearthstones knelt upon by generations of yeoman farmers. This Frost is the Robert Frost of the common reader, the Frost of birches and fields and snow and spring pools. He writes plain poems that make plain sense, or seem to...
"The second Frost—'the other Frost,' as Randall Jarrell described him in 1953—is nearly the opposite of the first." Introduction to The Road Not Taken and Other Poems
"As the once-common formalist aesthetic fades deeper into the past, more and more poets have eschewed the idea that they must first learn to write in received forms before going on to other, looser styles. Now it's more likely that, rather than beginning with strict forms and later evolving out of them, poets begin writing in a freer verse. The three volumes of new and selected poems under discussion here, each by a poet born after the advent of World War II, suggest that the rise of free verse in the late 1950s has reduced the likelihood of poets going through dramatic shifts in style as did so many of their peers from the preceding generation. The verse of Barbara Hamby, Charlie Smith, and B. H. Fairchild may be marked by nuanced adjustments in style over time, but the modernist dictum to "make it new" doesn't assert itself in radical changes during the middle and later stages of their respective careers." To Make It New
"There is such an enormous amount of poetry criticism and poetic theory published at present that it seems impossible that any significant topic is neglected. Yet there are inevitably blind spots. As scholars and critics pursue the themes and theories of the moment, other subjects remain overlooked. Some topics have been neglected so long that they now seem not merely unfashionable but quaint, eccentric, even disreputable. This essay explores one of those disreputable subjects, one that I'm quaint enough to consider important, perhaps essential, to the art of poetry. It is a topic so remote from contemporary literary studies that there is no respectable critical term for it. Lacking a more stylish appellation, I'll borrow an antiquarian term, enchantment. That very word should cause responsible readers to cringe. What comes next? A damsel with a dulcimer? The horns of Elfland faintly blowing?" Poetry as Enchantment
"To call an author—especially a poet—conventional is, usually, an insult. But maybe it shouldn't be. Modernism taught us to prize poets who seemed sui generis, reinventing whatever they used. Yet even those poets—even Gertrude Stein, never mind Yeats—encountered, and learned, and passed on complex conventions, if not from older poetry then from other parts of language and culture. No artist can throw out every convention at once. To learn to enjoy a poet, and to think we understand what a poet is doing, is to learn to understand that poet's conventions: to see what's new, and what's changed, in poets who seem (at first) to repeat themselves, and to recognize patterns, repetitions, inheritance in work that seems alien, chaotic, or all too new." Poetry in Review
"In his last interview, given just weeks before his death in 1987, Carlos Drummond de Andrade (droo-MOHND djee ahn-DRAH-djee) said that his long and prolific career of poetry was not motivated by literary ambition but by 'the need to express sensations and emotions that troubled my spirit and caused me anguish.' Poetry, he explained, had served him as an 'analyst's couch.' It is hard to take seriously his denial of literary ambition, since as a young man his goal in life was clearly to write the finest poetry he could write. Once he became established as Brazil's greatest living poet (his only competitor for the title was João Cabral de Melo Neto, 1920-1999), he could relax, and the decreased poetic tension of his later work shows that he did relax. But what about the notion of poetry as self-expression and psychological self-analysis? It is a notion not necessarily in conflict with the idea of poetry as an artistic pursuit." Introduction to Multitudinous Heart: Selected Poems of Carlos Drummond de Andrade
"The opening poem in Gerald Dawe’s latest collection, 'Déjà vu', establishes both the territory of Mickey Finn’s Air and its method. The territory is memory; the poem enacts memory in its loose-limbed, tumbling lines, reminisces of a lost friend ('Now, a short life later, at the drop of a hat, / a mere seventy years on, you go and bow out on us') and of a lost city:
I should say first of all that the Bank of Ireland
on the corner of North Street next to where your pal
Carly’s mother ran the photographic studio
we all went to for annual portraits until that stopped,
in the ’60s, that that wonderful art deco
building, is closed and boarded up, the doors
scrawled over—what would you expect
after all the mayhem?
"It was a dog that introduced me to the work of Ronald Johnson. Or rather it was the dog's owner, a friend and poet, who—having named his dog Ronald Johnson—ensured that I'd never forget that rather forgettable name, or that one could yell "Ronald Johnson" into a field. Years later I'd meet a Milton scholar who had never heard of Johnson, a fact which, though it still surprises me today, was downright heartbreaking at the time. I tried to describe Radi os (a sustained erasure of Paradise Lost) to him in earnest, but kept leaping into my different theories for how best to understand the book. More so than with any other poem I admired, I didn't know where to start." Ten New Ways to Read Ronald Johnson's Radi os
"I take care of Grazina in lieu of paying rent. It's the only way I manage to live and write in New York City on my own. Like most young writers before me, I came to the city hoping to better inform my art. But, more practically, I came to the city to go to school. My single mother, being an immigrant from Vietnam and living in a housing project in Hartford, Connecticut, cannot afford to pay for my education let alone support my vague ambition to become a writer. As the oldest son in a Vietnamese household, it's my "filial duty" to obtain an education and provide a house, a home for my mother to grow old in. It's a responsibility I accept and embrace with pride." Unconventional Bonds
"A poet who has discovered his powers often resorts to a little grandstanding (“We are the lost note in the chord of la / Musique éternelle plus grande that was us,” “Nacre-gnarled écorchés of ought / And nought air”). The book’s youthful exuberance, fatuous in its way—like his taste for sentimental uplift as the poems end—offers a fistful of promissory notes and scribbled IOUs. If too many poems don’t come to much, there are delicious hints of mastery scattered throughout ..."
Doing as the Romans Do
"I'm trying to make Allen Ginsberg's borscht, but it just ain't happening. I've got his recipe: "Boil 2 big bunches of chopped beets and beet greens for one hour in two quarts (1.9 litres) of water with a little salt and a bay leaf, and one cup (190 g) of sugar as for lemonade. When cooked, add enough lemon to balance the sugar, as for lemonade (4 or 5 lemons or more)." I've got everything I need. I read the recipe three more times, although it's not much of a recipe." The Poet Tasters
"[C]ontemporary poetry is endlessly accused, even by many poets themselves, as a “marginal” activity, a cultic endeavor that puts it on a par with people who attend Star Trek conventions or engage in Civil War reenactments. And make no mistake, dear reader, there are quite a few instances of poetry not saving your life, but shortening it considerably or simply making you miserable. The great British Romantic poet John Clare, after his poetry career had tanked, was condemned to live the second half of his relatively long life in Northampton General Lunatic Asylum. (He once opined to a visitor: 'Literature destroyed my head and brought me here.')" Can Poetry Save Your Life? A Brief Investigation
Luis Muñoz, translated by Curtis Bauer:
"What always pulls at me, like a persistent hand tugging on my shirt sleeve or at my pant leg, is the poem I haven't written. Hey, it asks me, when is it my turn?
"The blank code of my unwritten poem is inflated with announcements of what it could be and swagger. Much more than a poem already written, where limitations have already ended up imposing themselves and where initial intentions end up lowering their head in embarrassment ... " Fragments / Fragmentos" on poetics — "What Always Pulls at Me" and "Poetry Never Stops Defining and Redefining Its Terrain
"I remember when the Carter administration invited several hundred poets to the White House for a celebration of American poetry. There was a reception, handshakes with the president, the pop of flashbulbs. Concurrent poetry readings in various White House rooms capped off the festivities. In each room a few poets had been asked to read. The rest of the poets, the ones who hadn't been asked to read, could attend the reading of their choice. A year later, Jimmy Carter lost the presidency." The question of poetry and its audience
"In India, I remember reading as a child, there once lived people who were called Sciapodes. They had a single large foot on which they moved with great speed and which they also employed as an umbrella against the burning sun. The rest of their marvelous lives was up to the reader to imagine. The book was full of such creatures. I kept turning its pages, reading the brief descriptions and carefully examining the drawings. There was Cerberus, the dog with three heads, the Centaur, the Chinese Dragon, the Manticore, which has the face of a man, the body of a lion, and a tail like the sting of a scorpion, and many other wonders. They resembled, I realized years later, the creations of Cadavre Exquis, the surrealist game of chance. I was also reminded of Max Ernst's surrealist novels in collage where bird wings sprout from people's backs and rooster-headed men carry off naked women." The Little Venus of the Eskimos
"'I merely live to work.' That's James Merrill replying to David Kalstone. Merrill had been needling him about how slow a writer he was, and Kalstone, a professor of literature, defended himself: 'Some of us have to work for a living'—referring to how little time he had left over after teaching.
"Typical of Merrill to turn a cliché on its head. Typical of him to pack a serious statement into a quip. As his friend pointed out, he had no need to work: the wealth he was born to ensured that. But rather than freeing him from work, his money allowed him to devote himself to the work he wanted to do. It was a kind of work—the writing of poetry—that drew on and shaped the rest of his life, giving meaning and design, a tone and a style, to everything he did. 'Poetry made me who I am,' he commented on another occasion, slyly reversing the usual relation between maker and made." Foreword to James Merrill: Life and Art
"Reading all the works of anyone, especially a poet, can challenge, frustrate, and fatigue as well as please even the most avid fan. Novelists can change their subjects, tell different tales. Poets sing the same songs in different keys. Once someone has—as they say in writing classes—found "his or her voice," it can become wearying in its sameness, unless interesting formal experimentation and compelling changes in subject matter, a refocusing of attention, or subtle shifts in the tone of that voice offer evidence of artistic growth, personal transformation, a sounding of the depths or a reaching for new heights. And if a poet's primary tones are nostalgic, an even greater threat faces the reader: how many times can we hear the same old song without feeling we have been listening to it forever?" Poetry in Review (on Collected Poems by Mark Strand)
"Because poetry operates on allusion and symbol, it is frighteningly open-ended. Ambiguity can impel readers to search for what seems concrete, stable, familiar. Reading literally soothes our anxiety about getting it 'wrong'—a worry I've heard a generation of students express—since we take no risk by repeating only what is on the page.
"Thus Elizabeth Bishop's 'One Art' is about Alzheimer's disease because it describes losing 'names' and a 'you' in addition to keys; her poem 'The Fish' is a rousing tall tale of unlikely angling; W. H. Auden's 'Musée des Beaux Art' concerns animal rights and husbandry, since its one 'innocent' equine belongs to a torturer and 'scratches its ... behind on a tree.' Except that this mode of reading is not in fact saying only what is 'there'; it is more a tendency to make up a story over here while the poem itself languishes idly over there, waiting to be engaged." 'Is there a basement in this poem?' On Making Story of Verse
"It happens more often than I care to admit. Some smarty says in the course of a conversation that he can't stand poems that rhyme, and when he happens onto a poem that rhymes—as if he just trips over them everywhere he goes—he says he's easily bored and can't read on." Three Columns on Poetry
"At a time when almost everyone writes poetry but scarcely anyone can write a poem, it is hard not to wish for a return to some less accommodating era, when the status of 'poet' was not so easily aspired to, and the only hankering was to get something said in a memorable form. Alas, we would have to go a long way back." The Necessary Minimum
"Love, loss, rage, envy, loyalty, heroism, spiritual aspiration, ethical and political dilemmas—the Mahabharata brings to life all these timeless human experiences, and more. I had been familiar with the story in outline for many years, but there came a point, in about 2007, when dissatisfaction with the various translations, abridgments, and versions of it in English prose crystallized into a wish to try to retell it myself—in the form of a poem, as the original is a poem. The sheer scale and grandeur of the epic were both daunting and exhilarating—the literary equivalent of the soaring Himalayan peaks which are a reference point for so many of its characters." Preface to Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling
"When a city puts on a big show, a World's Fair or an Olympics, it tries to contain the undesirables, especially the political undesirables. In 1964, there was a roundup of dissenters who descended upon the World's Fair. They were not permitted the usual niceties, like a hearing or a phone call. My father was arrested and disappeared into the jail on Hart's Island in the East River, which also serves as the Potter's Field for the city of New York. My mother didn't know his whereabouts. Being only seven, I concluded that my father was dead." An Interview with Martín Espada by Chard deNiord
"Keeper, custodian, a traditionalist whose work is stringent, formalist, always elegant: critical judgments on Michael Longley's work fence him round too closely, running the risk of misleading, even discouraging, new readers." Nunc Dimittis...
"Theo Dorgan gathers together poems that seek to go beyond terrestrial experience, but at its heart there is also a desire to write against the feeling of isolation that would leave the self 'one and all alone'. Facing up to the deaths of friends and family members while also acknowledging his own mortality, Nine Bright Shiners is finally a collection that sings and celebrates the self in all of its worldly and otherworldy connections." The Better Truth
"I have had your delightful letter for a long while and I have wanted to answer you sooner, but so many things have intervened, a bad cold and a birthday, —I am twenty-one!" Selected Letters
"Among the representatives of the people at Westminster during [the 1386] session was Geoffrey Chaucer, Esquire, controller of customs for the wool trade, created a temporary 'knight of the shire' for the county of Kent, although he had not been dubbed Sir Geoffrey, specifically so that he could attend Parliament. The historian Gerald Harriss has described the 1386 session as 'the turning point of the reign' in its laying bare the opposition between king and commons; Paul Strohm's argument, in his compact and lively new book, is that it was also a turning point in Chaucer's life." To Be a Pilgrim
"Hyperbaton, in Greek, means "overstepping," and in classical rhetoric it refers to an inversion or dislocation of normal word order. ... Hyperbaton is one gesture among many that poets might use to produce an effect of strangeness, formality, and literariness. It has particular force when it appears in a poem whose general method tends toward norms of natural speech. Instead of illustrating hyperbaton in a poet of stylized eccentricity, like Gerard Manley Hopkins, I'd like to consider two poets who usually respect what Frost would recognize as sentence sounds." Stepping Out and Stepping Over: The Figure of Hyperbaton
"Lorca writes, 'Duende is a force not a labor, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: 'The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.' Meaning, it's not a question of skill, but of a style that's truly alive: meaning, it's in the veins; meaning, it's of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.'" Duende and Gravity
"It is now generally accepted that Harry Clifton, recent Ireland Professor of Poetry, is a poet of the first rank. His critical writing and statements from the academic podium have been trenchant, unequivocal, and sometimes ill-advised. It’s been clear for many years that he has no conventional wish to make friends, but he is determined to influence people, especially those who intend to add their sod of turf to the damp wall that is Irish poetry... Yet, to tell others what to write, or even how to write, is a daft ambition: if poets don’t strike gold for themselves then they should move on to something else. The work in this new Selected is full of the most glittering nuggets ever exposed in an Irish goldfield. This material, or his use of it, is unique to him. There is nothing in it for someone else..." Sharp Words from Elsewhere
Rowan Ricardo Phillips:
"Marvelous Things Overheard, sumptuous as it is, has nothing to do with philosophy, and this is to its merit. We are hitting our head against the same wall that we do with Stevens: the poetry is not philosophy, not better understood via philosophy, does not enhance our understanding of philosophy, nor is it a replacement for philosophy. It's poetry. Beautiful poetry." No to Aristotle (a review of Ange Mlinko's Marvelous Things Overheard) [Start 2015]
"The rhythms of economic history show us that bull markets, even when they do not plunge headlong into their bearish counterparts, are subject to periodic corrections. These corrections, painful as they may feel in the short run, are a necessary part of the process in capitalist economies. Although the analogy will not please everyone, the rhythms of literary criticism often appear to move in comparable ways. With respect to poetry, interest in the formal patterns of verse has been enjoying a bullish stretch for perhaps a decade now, and it is time for a correction. In this case, what needs correction are some of the ways that readers of verse try to connect their observations about the formal patterns of that verse with what they think it is trying to say to them." On Middlebrow Formalism, or the Fallacy of Imitative Form Revisited
"Donald Hall is that rarest of literary breeds: a poet popular in his lifetime. His public persona, cultivated with decades of memorable poems and diverting essays, was burnished by appearances on public television and radio—Hall and his second wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, are the subject of a full-length 1993 PBS documentary, A Life Together—a successful stint as the nation’s poet laureate, and a 2010 visit to the White House, where he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama." A Life of Writing
"... riskiness surely attends all reviewing, but it also seems particularly acute when it is a Collected edition that we are talking about. It remains an abiding concern whether the Collected is the product of a post-mortem ruckus between academics and editors, for example Larkin, or the fidgety self-arranging of a still-living poet, as with Derek Mahon’s ongoing reshuffles of his work through a series of Collected editions (in this respect, he is the closest we have to an Irish Walt Whitman). All of this is informed by death, of course ...." Mister Perfect (a review of Collected Poems, by Michael Donaghy)
"In the beginning were speed, celerity, swiftness of thought. A poet who gabbled his poems like an auctioneer or a racing commentator, because that was the speed of his thought (how did his hand, taking dictation, keep up, even with the special make of pen my son likes to call an 'autopilot'?). Adapting, as Joseph Brodsky liked to do, 'bird' to 'bard,' Murray truly is the original 'High-speed Bard,' the pendant to the stunned—and stunning—kingfisher in his poem, with its 'gold under-eye whiskers' and 'beak closing in recovery.' We, listening, managed to follow between one- and three-fifths of the action. (It was enough, thanks, it was plenty.) Speed begat range, sweep, domain. At the far end of range, there was still a full tank." Les Murray
"...if Leopardi's book of songs, the Canti, was 'one of the most influential works of the nineteenth century,' as Jonathan Galassi writes in the introduction to his translation, its influence was owed in part to the amount of resistance it generated. For Leopardi is the supreme poet of passive, helpless suffering—a writer who constantly reiterated in verse and prose that in human life 'there is everything to be endured, nothing to be done.'" Under the Volcano: Giacomo Leopardi
"... despite the fact that the Vallejo poem has been imitated by everyone from [Donald] Justice to my students' students, I’d like to challenge its status as an 'original,' because I now think that 'Black Stone on a White Stone' was itself an imitation — a variation, a departure. Vallejo does not, as Justice does, acknowledge his model, which has been largely, but not completely, forgotten."
"Certain poems have inside them the source of all poems. I've thought this, and probably said it many times. Because it is these I love instinctively, pretty much automatically, poems I read and reread. They share their bounty and radiate wildly or so quietly. They return me—and perhaps others—to the reason one writes poems in the first place. This is not sentimental. This is fact, real as fable to haunt and light the way forward, back to prehistory. Which is only to say I've been stuck for a while, like the ever-present but archaic needle to record (or to vinyl, as is said now), not on Seamus Heaney's well-known bog poems, admittedly quite wonderful, or on his childhood pieces dragging dusty behind father and plow, but on his curious later poem "St Kevin and the Blackbird," which seems to me a brilliantly deadpan and plain ars poetica as much as—what's the word for life in Latin?— a vita poetica, if only our days could be seen clearly enough." Saint Kevin, Saint Blackbird
"[Berryman's] protagonist, Henry, stumbles along through life, a kind of antihero or front man, who, according to Berryman, both is and isn't him. 'We touch at certain points,' he explained. 'But I am an actual human being; he [Henry] is nothing but a series of conceptions—my conceptions.' Still, like Berryman, who suffered from alcoholism and depression, Henry is troubled, vulnerable, vehement, libidinous—and he is a white American in early middle age living at some outer boundary where the soul is in crisis. You might say that the speaker of the Dream Songs, Henry, is a modern day Saint Augustine—a writer of particular interest to Berryman—who talks about himself in the first, second, and third person. 'Henry has a hard time. People don't like him, and he doesn't seem to like himself'" Berryman said about Henry. Sometimes he doesn't even know his name ..." "Deep in the Mess of Things"
Lisa Russ Spaar:
"Poetry is broken language. Even in its “prose” incarnations—proems, prose poems—when lineation is not formally observed, poetry works the break. It interrupts, truncates, burglarizes. Poetry ruptures and ameliorates. Hardly ever housebroken, it often acts as a breaker box for the incendiary currents coursing through us. Poems break hearts. They break the news, however difficult. Rarely garnering for their makers fame and fortune, poems may nonetheless embody—in their breaching and bridging of the large distances—a stroke of luck, a stroke of mercy." Breaking Bad:The Outlaw Stylings of Brock-Broido, Cushman, and Wright
W N Herbert:
"Silence in a poet is always interesting—Pound, MacDiarmid, (Riding) Jackson, Longley, spring to mind as writers who endured it in one way or another. Why poets enter silence, and how or whether they emerge from it is always intriguing. But Hill, in my ungenerous mid-Eighties reckoning, was hell-bent not on silence but significance; every poem appeared to be an engagement with another cataclysmic instance of historical brutality—the First World War, the Holocaust—that had to reach a grit-toothed cathexis." For the Time Being
"Omphalos, omphalos, omphalos ... The rhythm of the word that conjured up for Heaney the pump in his childhood yard—the Greek term for the center of things—calls to mind the helicopters hovering over the cityscape of my childhood, a constant part of the soundtrack of growing up. The army would use the racket of propellers to drown out speeches at Free Derry Corner. So in my mind, the blades are related to words, in opposition to our words, slicing up sentences in the wind." Omphalos
"Midway through my freshman year at college, my roommate, Roger, asked if I would read a poem he'd written and tell him what I thought. I was pleased to be considered a literary person whose opinion might be valued. And my roommate, who would major in geology, had previously shown no interest in poetry. 'Of course,' I said.
"The subject of the poem was the death of Roger's father, and I felt a small shock in reading it, since no one I knew had yet lost a parent. Unfortunately, Roger's poem was a very bad poem. I don't now remember the various ways in which it failed, but there seemed no doubt in my mind. Given the subject, however, what kind of criticism would be appropriate or bearable?
"I began by expressing my condolences, and Roger interrupted quickly to say, No, his father hadn't really died. That was just the subject of the poem. 'But you can't do that!' I exclaimed. Perhaps I didn't actually exclaim, or even say it directly. But it was what I felt. This was wrong, a violation of some rule or code. You couldn't do it, or you shouldn't.
"But why not? What if the poem had been good? Would I have condemned it because it wasn't 'true'? Would factual truth have been transformed into a larger 'truth' (quotation marks intended), determined by literary value? This essay is an attempt to think about these questions." Should Poems Tell the Truth?
"A great deal of contemporary poetry concerns itself with its own construction, and the difficulty of syntax and complications of conventional meaning in such work have their value and beauties. Many poets, however, still explore the worlds, both external and internal, that can be known through traditionally sustained imagery and compressed, resonant diction. As media and an expanding number of electronic devices allow instant communication of knowledge and trivia, it might seem that the known world has expanded unmeasurably, but these poets have found that the world is made up of individual experience—and that the lyric may in fact know more about the world than any twenty-four hour news program or Twitter account can tell us." The Known World
"For twenty-first-century poets, Eliot persists as a sonic obsession more vividly than as a poet who leveled important arguments or shaped literary history. As editor, critic, and builder of poetic landmarks from recycled materials, the man overshadowed Anglo-American poetry for generations. For William Carlos Williams, the atomic blast of The Waste Land knocked American poetry out of its groove. For poets born in the thirties and forties—Craig Raine, Wendy Cope, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney—Eliot is monumental, although those writers have different responses to his looming edifice. Poets born since, though, metabolized Eliot differently. It’s not that modernism is less relevant. Younger writers claim certain modernist poets over and over: Williams, W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, H.D., Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks. Eliot just isn’t on their public lists quite so often." Undead Eliot: How 'The Waste Land' Sounds Now
"We still haven't taken the measure of Stephen Berg's poetry. His achievement is hard to pin down, and criticism, which runs on fashion, hasn't caught up with him. He had an idiosyncratic voice—forthright, nervous, intimate, self-questioning. I would call him a confessional poet except he kept emptying out and interrogating the self that is the basis of that mode, which he felt was misunderstood."
"Being Here, Like This": The Poetry of Stephen Berg
Brandon R. Schrand:
"Thanks to Walter, on a bright spring morning I poured some coffee and headed upstairs to my office to sift through this book’s pages and give Dickinson her due. I had just taken the kids to school and had the house to myself. It was quiet save the occasional chirping from the parakeets downstairs and the clucking of chickens in our backyard. When I opened the book, I scanned a few lines and flipped back to the table of contents, divided into seven sections: Life, Nature, Love, Time and Eternity, The Single Hound, Further Poems, and, finally, Additional Poems. Then, when I gave the book a quick fanning with my thumb, it fell open to page 188, where I discovered something so strange, so startling, that I caught my breath." Finding Emily & Elizabeth
Carol Ann Davis:
"It can't be an accident that half the artwork I fixate on is devotional in nature; that the other half is abstract is interesting and not, I suspect, unrelated. Just as language is sometimes the medium by which I work and sometimes its subject, these two types of art-making feel, to me, both medium and subject. Or perhaps it's that the spirit is always both subject and medium." Against Exphrasis, or How Naming v. Bridging and Being Lonely Led Me to Gorky's Ghost's Mask
"Apollinaire seemed an unlikely candidate for following orders, not to mention the hardship and violence of war. His battles were aesthetic; his weapons were his tongue and pen.... But for Apollinaire, a soldier's life was a revelation. He loved his training in arms and horseback riding, learning to use and care for the famous French 75 cannon. He delighted in the discovery of his physical prowess, his ability to keep up with men fifteen years younger than he, the manly camaraderie of barracks life, the welter of new sights and sounds and information. 'Soldiering is my true profession,' he wrote his Parisian friends. To another he wrote, from training camp, 'I love art so much, I have joined the artillery.' And because waiting and idleness turned out to be a part of life in uniform, he wrote a great deal..." I Seem to Be at a Great Feast: The War Poems of Guillaume Apollinaire
"This book aims to introduce the reader to Dante's [Divine Comedy]. It is intended for the general reader who loves literature and poetry—for language lovers everywhere, whether or not they know Italian... The way I have chosen to introduce the poem is unorthodox. I do not offer a digest or summary of the facts of Dante's life, or the stages of his journey to the three realms of the afterlife. Such accounts can overwhelm with detail, especially if the reader is new to the poem, and make it difficult to recognise the power of its central ideas. Each chapter of the book is organised around a theme, and illustrated by key episodes from the poem. I have linked encounters and scenes that are widely spaced in the narrative in order to demonstrate their connections, rather than moving in methodical fashion from one episode to the next." Introduction to Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity
"To be a poet: it is a grave and austere responsibility, is it not? Well, yes and no. If you've been pondering Shelley, Arnold, Rilke, Eliot, Akhmatova, Hart Crane, Plath, Celan, Adrienne Rich, or Geoffrey Hill recently, you perhaps feel it is—but even those intensely dissatisfied and sometimes desperate poets must sometimes have felt shots of sheer joy in knowing themselves to be poets and participating in the great endless dialogue of poetry. Perhaps no important poet has more consistently acknowledged the manifold pleasures of the vocation than Kenneth Koch (1925-2002). Throughout his amazingly, indeed almost bizarrely various poetry, we can always hear Koch's charismatic voice urging us not to deny the fun in poetry—the fun in writing it, reading it, arguing about it, daydreaming about it, knowing it is in the world." Koch and the Fun of Being a Poet
Stephen Burt & Maureen N. McLane:
SB: "Some are gay / in an old way." When—if ever—is it important to you that representations of sexuality come across as sexy? What makes language sexy (and for whom)? (Sidelong look at "That Man," and at Sappho, and at the argument, associated with the critic Yopie Prins, that we make up the Sappho we want, sometimes out of nothing. Have you ever made up the poet you thought you would need, deliberately invented a historical or imaginary precursor?)
MNM: Hmm. Sometimes I feel that this zone—of sexuality and/or the sexy—is more controlled or informed by a poetic mode than by me (or any given poet): so, in a lyric zone, there's this pop and zing and swell and pulse, a linguistic erotics one can call on, from Sappho and Catullus and everyone onward. And one might say, for example, that Wallace Stevens's language is very sexy though there aren't many overt representations of sexuality. Emily Dickinson: crazy sexy! in both senses, at times. "Wild nights—Wild nights! ... Might I but moor—tonight— / in thee!"
"Up to this point ... Stevens has been writing increasingly accomplished but straightforward verse, from sonnets in the Harvard Advocate to the book of birthday lyrics he presented to his fiancée, Elsie Moll, in 1908. Suddenly in 1915 come the first poems which are in the unique Wallace Stevens voice, a voice which continues until his death forty years later. It is possible to propose a theory of what changed a competent craftsman into that unique voice. In 1908 and 1909, the two turning points of the life of this man in his early thirties occurred: he joined the staff of a bonding company, and he married. By 1915, he knew he would be spending the rest of his life with these two realities and he knew exactly what they encompassed." Wallace Stevens and the Ability to Deceive
"The room: full, but not crowded, perhaps sixty people. Relatively comfortable armchairs curl in a wide arc. At the front of the room, a moderator. I’m in the second row, an arm’s length from him, as he introduces the four poets to his left. Each reads her or his poems, some from manuscripts, some from a special March 2014 issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. No amplification, no raised platform, no lectern. No physical separation from the audience...." Split This Rock
"How many poets have written poems punning on feet? How many have done so while their days were numbered? I'm thinking of Denise Levertov's 'Feet,' collected posthumously. Is this an ars poetica, like Yeats's final sonnet ('Malachi Stilt-Jack am I...') also written by the poet on his—forgive me—last legs? If so, Levertov takes the via negativa: her poem makes no use of metrical feet, much less the Yeatsian "stilts" of elevated language. Nor does 'Feet' praise vigor and pomp; it grieves for the trudgers of the world, seared with trade and smeared with toil. There are no shapely sonnets here...." Walking on Knives
"All books converse with other books, but few do so in a manner so insistent as to annihilate their own authors. We expect editors to be eclipsed by the writers they assist. That a translator should live in the shadow of the original author goes with the territory. It's an occupational hazard. Yet an author who opts to take a backseat—or share the wheel—in his own vehicle is a rarer breed. Yet this is the tack David Ferry takes in his fifth collection of poetry, Bewilderment, winner of the 2012 National Book Award. By revisiting literature from the past, including his own early work, Ferry jettisons individuality to pursue an inclusive poetry, a kind of poetry as group effort, as ongoing process of absorption and transfiguration." Where Was I? Notes on David Ferry's Bewilderment
"Rilke wrote the following letter in April 1921 to Nanny Wunderly-Volkart. It's not a poem, not a crafted story, only one of 470 letters to one of his most generous supporters. Yet it is also the self-portrait of a poet trying to get the creative juices flowing with the description of a reedy pond (Rilke thought of his letters as an 'ascent into consciousness')... 'I am worried about the frogs. They had already achieved their ideal mating temperature and were behaving quite June-nightishly in the pond. They have such a heart to which their whole rubbery body yields, and with this heart they were singing. Elastically.—But during the night before the weather changed, one of them suddenly stopped, right in the middle of loudly poeticizing, and ceased singing along with the others....'" F for Frogs
"Like any other bearded, navel-gazing backpacker with an MFA, I've been reading the Transcendentalists this summer, sometimes just before gearing up and entering the water to dive. In the first section of "Nature," Emerson writes, "If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown." What if once a century the moon, huge and golden on the horizon, showed itself for an hour then disappeared?" The 23rd-Century Nature Poem
"The British exaggerate when they call this a road. It's at best a roadlet, a paved path. Something roadish. Across a fold of the map, and in my dreams for the next month, it has a four-digit, B-road number too blurred to decipher. Call it B-4XXX."
To Land’s End and Back: A 1,512-Mile Drive Around Southern England
I call. You're stone.
One day you'll look and find I'm gone.
"The teenage poet who uttered this folk poem called herself Rahila Muska. She lived in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the most restive of Afghanistan's thirty-four provinces since the U.S. invasion began on October 7, 2001. Muska, like many young and rural Afghan women, wasn't allowed to leave her home. Fearing that she'd be kidnapped or raped by warlords, her father pulled her out of school after the fifth grade. In her community, as in others, educating girls was seen as dishonorable as well as dangerous. Poetry, which she learned at home from women and on the radio, became her only continuing education." Introduction to I Am the Beggar of the World
"the dozens Playing the dozens is an African American verbal street game of escalating insults. In different communities, it is also called woofing, sounding, joning, screaming, cutting, capping, and chopping, among other things. There is a slight shift in the rules from place to place. Played by both males and females, it is sometimes 'clean,' more often 'dirty.'" .... Six Entries from A Poet's Glossary
"As a title, Women's Poetry: Poems and Advice suggests an earnest, seventies anthology aimed at redressing literary gender inequality, the kind of well-meaning effort that now seems slightly retrograde and isolating to those of us fortunate enough to have benefited from earlier feminist movements. Fried's arch title, and the poem of the same name, which begins, 'I, too, dislike it,' seems to dismiss the relevance of these sorts of movements and classifications, but the book as a whole presents a much more complex picture of the relationships between gender, work, family, and power." Three Reviews
"The spring he was twenty-two, D. H. Lawrence read Leaves of Grass. He had been writing verse for three years. That summer of 1908 he chose twenty-four poems to transcribe into his first college notebook, and two decades later included thirteen, variously revised, in his Collected Poems. His eye for nature and candid insight into romantic psychology are there from the start, as are his profuse musical invention and supple alignment of the shape of verse and sentence, but it was Whitman's song of the Body Electric that sparked Lawrence's vision and catalyzed his work. It liberated him from contending commandments that he regard his body as a trap of sin in a maze of temptation or as an interchangeable part for an economic machine. 'Whitman, this American, this Columbus of the soul' (as Lawrence called him in a 1922 essay) confirmed his own instincts, encouraged his tenderness, made his candor ardent, and freed him to become his time's key poet of love" The Recovery of the Creaturely World
"Reading 'Fine Work with Pitch and Copper' early in my life as a poet, I was still deep under the impression that poems needed a proper subject. More often than not, that subject was ultimately the poet him- or herself... Williams troubled that first understanding about the primacy of the self in poems. In 'Fine Work' and in other Williams poems, I encountered things that were things, and were valuable as subjects in themselves. His poems' things were decidedly ordinary, and were unlikely items to be found in poems precisely because of their ordinariness. The shards of glass behind a building, the weeds by the road, the sacks at a worksite: these images had a lucidity unencumbered by subjectivity or by heavy-handed meaning. The things were things." The Image Factory
"Logan doesn't go so far as to suggest, as Eliot did (and then later repented), that 'the poetic critic is criticizing poetry in order to create poetry.' It's more that Logan the poet has taken Logan the critic along for the ride: 'I began to write criticism,' he told one interviewer, 'because I needed the money, but I kept writing because I needed the discipline,' admitting elsewhere to 'the terrible knowledge that I was a better reader when I read for hire, that I read more intently when driven by necessity.' Despite such downplaying, the two projects are clearly related. How could they not be? The poet doesn't black out, only to come to hours later, a review steaming on his desk." The Perfect Moods of William Logan
"I have never been more aware of different generations of living British poets. First, there are the brilliant and passionate young, whose excellence may be amongst the few reasons for hope in difficult times. There seem to me to be far fewer middle-aged poets: almost a missing generation. Then comes a great galaxy, (including the Poet Laureate), born shortly after the Second World War, whose average age I would guess to be close to my own (sixty). But the most interesting generation may be far older. The ages of the poets in this review range from eighty-five to ninety-two. I feel justified in mentioning this, because the poets' own work is rich with references to time." Hungry Generations
"While he was impeccably diligent I was less so, but when our paths crossed I was always mightily impressed by Dennis’s utter conviction about how much poetry mattered. He was at the hub of an extraordinary nexus of contacts worldwide and though never a dropper of names—his prudential care on that score went way beyond the call of duty—he simply seemed to know everyone who published poetry of the first rank—Les Murray, Miłosz, Holub—you name them, he knew them. I was impressed, indeed a little overawed." The Listener (reviewing Dennis O'Driscoll's The Outnumbered Poet: Critical and Autobiographical Essays)
"John Ashbery once wrote of Frank O'Hara that he was too hip for the square and too square for the hip. The same might go for Robert Pinsky, who, in spite of his achievements and reputation, has not received the kind of scholarly attention one might expect. Of course, I would not want to claim that Pinsky is particularly hip. In spite of the fact that his fierceness increases with age, he is still the master of the Horatian middle style, and his work is still marked by the rigors of his early formalism. But for all that, Pinsky has indeed become somewhat unruly ...."
Robert Pinsky and Modern Memory
"When I called Stanley Kunitz to thank him for recommending me to Yaddo, he warned me about the ghosts that had driven him away after a single night. A tapping noise on his bedroom window had kept him awake. When he switched on the lamp, it stopped. When he turned the light off, the ticking began again, and with such intensity he thought the glass would break. He was sure he was being haunted by one of the two Trask children who had contracted diphtheria from their mother whose family founded the art colony and who died in the room in which he now slept. He left the next morning." A Stay at Yaddo
"We cannot escape metaphor: there are 'metaphors we live by,' according to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Philosophically minded modern writers from Jacques Derrida to William Gass have tried to make sure that we know how thoroughly metaphor saturates even the most apparently plain and clear speech. The sentence you have just read contains, by my count, at least four fossilized or unobtrusive metaphors; the sentence you are now reading has at least three more." "Like"
Jo Ann Clark:
"... Wheeler and Knox speak now, and they are not revolutionary. Instead, they are radically inclusionary, conserving our idioms and conducting ensembles of diverse aesthetic ideals. Their new books, Knox’s Flemish and Wheeler’s Meme, enlarge the scope of contemporary poetry without dumbing it down." Poems Seeking Readers
"Greatly beloved yet little understood, highly esteemed yet barely known outside of English departments, Marianne Moore is a poet of paradoxes. She was generous to a fault in answering queries and granting interviews, yet she revealed her deepest feelings to no one. Although she left to posterity an archive that chronicles virtually every week of her life, the archive reveals little about her private thoughts, emotions, fears, and aspirations. She had lifelong, deeply devoted friendships—including those with T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, and other well-known writers—but she never married and apparently never fell in love. 'No poet has been so chaste,' wrote the critic R. P. Blackmur in 1935." Preface to Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore [Start 2014]