Archive for the ‘ Poetry Review ’ Category

Stephen Burt on Contemporary American Poetry

The poetry we’re going to talk about today belongs to the era that began in the 80s and ended around 2015. It’s an era characterised by an increased distance from the pre-modern past; by an increasing but in a lot of ways insufficient attention to the diversity of experiences and backgrounds, especially among white poets; by the integration of avant-garde techniques, techniques for avoiding prose sense, into poetry that ultimately did make prose sense. It’s also an era characterised by the integration of techniques and attitudes towards poetry that in the 50s, 60s, 70s and early 80s would have seemed to belong to distinct camps.

from Stephen Burt on Contemporary American Poetry.

Michael Lista on Anne Carson

Among my favorite poetry critics (William Logan, Michael Hofmann, David Orr, Ange Mlinko, and Michael Robbins) perhaps no one can be as cutting as Michael Lista:

Carson is popular because she has given poetry back to the only people who still want it—academically educated poets. Her fame coincided with poetry’s extinction in the wild. Gone was the general readership that Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, and Sylvia Plath once enjoyed. Poetry retreated into fine-arts programs and comparative-literature departments: it now survives only in captivity. In other words, Carson is the poet we deserve. Two hundred years ago, in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth wrote that poetry should cleave “near to the language of men.” Wordsworth’s own verse hums with the mental energy of the ordinary readers who inspired him. In a weird way, Carson may be just as representative of our own time and of her main readers: arts and humanities graduates with more student debt than talent. Carson now produces “texts”—genre-less, amorphous pieces of writing. Her abstruse, down-tuned music is the soundtrack to poetry’s institutionalized life in the twenty-first century.

Michael Lista, Is Anne Carson the First Poet with More Fans than Readers?

Michael Hofmann Reviews New Stevens Bio

A great review teaches me things just reading the book won’t. This one’s a gem, if not positive:

‘[Stevens] was always going to fruit stores to buy things.’ Surely it is here and not in the ponderous, source-laden lectures that we feel Stevens’s life, or at least as much. Similarly, the Adagia that count are less the prim-grim, expectable things like ‘Poetry is the scholar’s art’ or ‘We live in the mind’ or ‘Hermit of poetry’ so much as ‘A poem is a meteor’ or (better) ‘A poem is a pheasant’ or even: ‘Parfait Martinique: coffee mousse, rum on top, a little cream on top of that.’ This is the decadent hero of Huysmans’s A rebours, getting Sri Lanka sent to him by mail, acknowledging ‘the box from Peking’, experiencing the world without leaving home (the index to Stevens’s letters seems to include every major European country). An account of Stevens must be sensual, or it is nothing.

Snap among the WitherlingsMichael Hofmann reviews The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens by Paul Mariani

Moar Emily

This review from 1999 is worth revisiting, including Benfey’s take on Franklin’s masterwork, The Poems of Emily Dickinson (“I think there will be wide agreement regarding most of Franklin’s editorial decisions.”)

The insights on Dickinson herself are marvelous:

It was at this juncture that Dickinson’s courage as a poet was confirmed, for Higginson was not encouraging. A conventional poet and nature writer himself, he dutifully pointed out her departures from those conventions. We don’t know exactly what he said (his letters, like most others sent to Dickinson, were destroyed at her request after her death), but her follow-up letters quoted some of his strictures. She thanked him, twice, for his “surgery,” but didn’t change a thing in her poems. 

The Mystery of Emily Dickinson, by Christopher Benfey, New York Review of Books.

31 Contemporary Poets You Need to Read

A great list, including D.A. Powell (one of my favorite middle-career poets right now) and bright new(ish) star Danez Smith. Among other favorites listed is Carolyn Forchè:

David Shankbone / CC by 2.0

Harper Perennial

Carolyn Forche most famously coined the term “poetry of witness,” which came in the aftermath of her observations with Amnesty International of civil war in El Salvador in the late 1970s, resulting in The Country Between Us. Her poetry challenges the distinctions between personal and political when writing about the world around us.

31 Contemporary Poets You Need To Read:

George Szirtes: “Jeremy Paxman doesn’t see that poetry is felt, not fathomed”

This is an interesting response to Paxman, and I love the ending:

Eliot thought poetry in his time had to be difficult, and indeed he can be difficult if you try to read him as though he had written prose. Read him as voices echoing between speakers and events in time, and you enter a world as real as that in which we actually live. He was a major poet, as was WH Auden. Neither was necessarily easy listening for the People.

The committee would have had no time for either of them. But committees are like that. Poetry is treated as a problem by them, whereas it is a sea into which you dive.

George Szirtes

Choosing Subjects

I’ve often felt like this:

As Matthew is writing this, there are child soldiers fighting wars in faraway places. There are places where food is not available 24 hours a day to order through a jumbo speaker, giant-sized with a plastic toy. There are places where genocide and genital mutilation aren’t just words.


Matthew could have written about any of these things, but instead he chose to write about James Franco.

Directing James Franco, by Matthew Burnside.

The poem is a response to Franco’s Directing Herbert White, which to me seems interesting as a documentary but not so much as a poem.