Articles in criticism
In Alice Fulton’s new book Barely Composed, her poems flash across the whole of the language, whip it into a froth, playfully distort it, and sometimes bypass it altogether. Open Letters‘ Poetry Editor reads along.
Two poetry volumes – one concerned with how to be ourselves, alone, inside, the other concerned with making multifacted connections with external reality – are reviewed in a gentle dialogue with each other.
When sudden death claimed poet Jake Adam York at the age of 40, it cut short his life’s work of commemorating all the martyrs of the American Civil Rights movement; Teow Lim Goh re-reads the man and his work.
Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway mines American history–the early colonies, slavery, the Civil War–for the material of her poetry. Teow Lim Goh visits with the figures she’s brought back to life.
Modernist poet P. K. Page may be the most important Canadian author you’ve never heard of. An impressive new biography, replete with examples of Page’s poetry and prose, seeks to remedy that.
Cover art from Omni, the new-age science mag of yore, is now a coffee table book: Giger, Frazetta, and Grant Wood are all here, but something crucial has been left out.
Maxine Kumin, friend of Anne Sexton, master of poetic form and meter, died just before her eighteenth book was published. Maureen Thorson dives into her allusive, welcoming last poems.
Two new books of poetry take different approaches to the written word and its conundrums. Can words express the truth, or are we asking too much of them?
John Cotter looks into new mixed-media books of poetry by Bill Knott and John Yau to discover shades of meaning in the interplay of artwork and verse.
When we read poetry, we want the transcendence of art: how is that compatible with being at work? A new collection of poems explores the possibilities.
He was the greatest Italian poet since Dante, but he was tormented by a strict upbringing, ruinous health, and moods of black pessmism. He was Giacomo Leopardi, and this is his story.
Building on his previous work, in New Poems Ben Mazer tries to find a balance between structure and fluidity.
What kind of reader would she be, our Poetry Editor asks, if she didn’t allow herself to be susceptible to Ange Mlinko’s sublime, piercing unreason?
In “Belmont,” Stephen Burt, poet of Boston’s byways, offers readers verses that so court the senses as almost to confound them, shifting from technical confidence to unstructured questioning. As Kirsten Kaschock writes, “Burt attempts in these pages what Shylock did not dare” …
Hospital visits, supermarket checkouts, and casseroles – the odd, unassuming verse of Jenny Bornholdt might leave some critics wondering if it’s actually poetry at all. Critic Stephen Akey says her work is intimate yet reserved – and warns us not to expect The Duino Elegies.
Shane Book’s evocative collection Ceiling of Sticks shows us our familiar world in ways that might surprise even the most jaded reader into optimism about poetry.
Constructing a “walrus itself” is a difficult thing to do – but it’s just one of the transubstantiations Ben Mirov attempts in his latest collection of poems
Even the speaker in Jennifer Denrow’s new book knows that the California she imagines is one she’ll never visit, one that cannot possibly be real – but that’s what makes it so alluring.
“He said he would have Crispin Glover play him in a movie”–Alejandro Ventura’s image-rich and always funny poetry is on full display in Puerto Rico. Joe Betz reviews.
It is said that Thomas Hardy fell deeply in love with his wife, Emma, only after she died. Stephen Akey revisits the stunning, elegiac poetry he wrote in her memory.
What do Christopher Marlowe and the newly discovered Higgs boson particle have in common? Anthony Lock explores the connection, by way of unified fields.
Kathleen Rooney’s poems in Robinson Alone can be read two ways–as standalone pieces and as connected parts that form a single poetic narrative of a character’s life
A look back at Anne Carson’s book-length elegy “Nox,” in which readers are asked not only to unfold the poetry’s symbols and allusions but also the accordion-like book itself.
The fairy tale has been through several metamorphoses; the next might result in its extinction. Max Ross reviews Jack Zipes’s cultural history of the genre.
In sparse and contrapuntal verse, familiar words are warped out of their comfortable meanings, and sharpened to juxtapose – but is Joyelle McSweeney’s latest experiment a success?
Sufi mystics, barbaric yawps, and the comedy of the sexes are what’s inside Anthony Madrid’s new collection of ghazals. What does our poetry editor make of this puzzling Persian pattern?
Emily Pettit turns nonsense into horse sense, or goat sense, in her new collection Goat in the Snow
Madman, lothario, despot, drug fiend, friend and enemy of Mussolini – and immortal poet. Gabriele D’Annunzio was all of these things and many more in his whirlwind of a life.
Myth and fairy tale seem as far from true as can be, but Feng Sun Chen’s poetry uses them to explore the necessities and unavoidable transformations of life.
Pound wrote The Pisan Cantos on toilet paper while prisoner in an open-air metal cage during WWII, and he spent many of the following years in mental hospitals. “I can get along with crazy people,” he quipped. “It’s only the fools I can’t stand.”
There are warring schools of fad and interpretation, there are critical readings of an hour or a season – and then there’s Wordsworth’s verse itself, annotating and amplifying the personal reading experience.
William Shakespeare meets Halo 2 in Colby Somerville’s new chapbook Death TV (1-6): the drone of bees in ancient glades and the drone of Lockheed Martin. What’s the poet onto?
Matvei Yankelevich’s poetry may seem direct and plainspoken, but as a new collection shows, his verse reveals a long battle with the uncertainty of language.
The great Antonio Machado loved his native Spain and was disgusted by its descent into fascism; that fusion of enchantment and grief vivifies his unforgettable poetry.
In Soviet Russia, Joseph Brodsky was persecuted by the authorities, but memorized by ordinary people. In the capitalist West, he was feted by the authorities, but ignored by ordinary people. Perhaps it’s just as well he thought reality “nonsense or a nuisance.”
The verses of the neglected poet James Schuyler seem to ramble, but they don’t really ramble; they seem dishevelled, but they aren’t; they seem miniaturist, but they contain whole worlds. Stephen Akey makes the case for your renewed attention.
Derek Walcott’s long Homeric tribute “Omeros” will likely stand as his masterpiece and reward detailed study for centuries. And as with Homer, even small fragments of the world can yield fascinating insights.
Known as much for how she exited her life as for the poetry she wrote during it, Sylvia Plath remains a polarizing figure in the world of verse. What are we reading, when we subject ourselves to her poems?
Randall Jarrell was suspicious of attempts to turn criticism into a science: he wrote as a reader, for other readers, with the work itself foremost in his mind.
The work of the Roman poet Catullus has always challenged the received idioms of poetry and society, and a daring new translation both underscores and undermines that iconoclastic Catullan stance.
How should we relate to our cities? To ourselves? Kate Schapira couldn’t be asking more important questions in her latest collections of poems, How We Saved The City, and The Bounty: Four Addresses
Nobody would accuse the mature Larkin of being a greeting card poet, and yet a warm and even vulnerable sentimentality bubbles up in his verse, often when it’s least expected.
The late Akilah Oliver’s poetry uses language to escape the trap of consciousness–verse “as rapture, as rupture” alike
A new graphic novel reworks Coleridge’s classic confrontation between man and nature for our times, taking us on a grand tour of environmental degradation.
Between the abstract and the solid, between Michigan and New York City, in and out of love, Gina Myers brings betweeness to the fore in her first collection of poems
In her new collection of poems, Claire Becker probes the matter between what we intuit and what we learn, between what we choose and how we change.
French trailblazer Raymond Roussel created teeming and fertile worlds from a secret process of wordplay. Two of his most spectacular works are coming back into print after a long, undeserved absence.
Best known today as the muse and lover of Edna St. Vincent Millay, George Dillon was a formidable poet and personality in his own right, and one well worth rereading.
FSG gave fifty poets almost no time at all to write a nation-and-epoch-spanning poem based on ancient Japanese techniques. What could possibly go wrong? Or, more interestingly, what went right?
In his latest collection, The Wrecking Light, Robin Robertson blends the voices of generations of Scottish/Celtic bards and balladeers into his own unique style of poetry.
There is nothing conventional about Christina Mengert’s new book of poetry, nor can it be read the same way twice.
Shin Yu Pai engages with history, tradition, and the world around her in her new collection of poems.
The slim body of work of the late New York poet Rachel Wetzsteon skips the faux-Horatian filigree in favor of an unsentimental depiction of modern life and contradictory emotion. And yet, her poems are both outspoken and intimate, and Manhattan is her Rome. Horace might have been flattered after all.
“A Glyn Maxwell poem encourages us towards an emotion or a point of view not by stating it, often not even by showing it, but by bringing us in stages to cooperate in doing the work of recreating it.”
In addition to their gods and goddesses, the ancient Greeks worshiped youth and athletic prowess, and their foremost bard was Pindar.
In his study of the poetry and life of dissolute writer Alexander Trocchi, our intrepid corespondent follows him into the dark corners he described, and consorts with smoky ghosts.
From Wyatt to Wordsworth to Bishop (and not forgetting that Shakespeare fellow), that waltz of verse, the sonnet, has survived and thrived. A new collection has some fresh faces.
Woe to the critic who calls Edith Grossman’s translations “seamless.” In her combative new treatise she argues for a greater recognition of the artistry of translation–but how many liberties can a translator take while staying true to the original?
The personas and poetics of five new books by American women are examined in with an eye toward concealment and of revelation: Matthea Harvey, Katy Lederer, Brenda Shaugnessey, Robyn Schiff, and Karen Volkman.
He was a soldier, a lover, an exile, and a wanderer – he was Ugo Foscolo,and thanks to a new translation, readers will learn he was one thing more: a powerful poet.
“opium” Georgias, “hotwired” Georgias, and “mercury” Georgias, are cataloged and blasted in Andrew Zawacki’s new collection Petals of Zero / Petals of One. But who or what or where is Georgia’s eponym?
Long before he wrote some of the most powerful poems in English, John Milton, as a brainy teenager, wrote verse in Latin. Celebrated translator David Slavitt tells us a little about them.
Karl Parker’s moves are more than merely clever: I-less one minute, present & friendly the next, he darts behind masks and speaks IN BOLD, as our contributing editor discovers in her review.
John Madera reviews Michael Leong’s e.s.p. and recounts the scramble of names, idioms, puns, and wild associations he finds in the poems
As Ingrid Norton reports, the eerie and heartbroken poems of W.S. Merwin’s The Lice continue to resonate thirty years on: whispering, creeping, shaking.
Wave Books, 2009
Maggie Nelson’s Bluets starts with its worst sentence: “Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.” I am suspicious of this sentence; I find …
Exile, displacement, and polyglot discovery fill the verses of Fiona Sze-Lorrain; Edward McFadden journeys through Water the Moon.
He was everybody’s friend, and his poetry breathes with life even today. He was Horace, and “A Year with the Romans” makes his acquaintance.
Black Maze Books, 2009
Survey Says is a short book of white margins and large type, considering solely of answers provided on The Family Feud (in 2005 and 2008):
I soak my dishes. Bambi. Hamburger. …
Steve Donoghue’s “A Year with the Romans” continues with a look at the obscure Roman poet Persius – and the great new book about him.
Nixon, Bushes, and the War on Terror have been surprisingly good for poetry. Maureen Thorson releases her findings on National Anthem and Dick of the Dead.
From the forbidding North to the torrid South, the poetry debuts of Joshua Harmon and Farrah Field explore the geography of words. John Cotter gives centrality to locality.
Great Britain has finally made a woman poet laureate—and a lesbian no less. As Bryn Haworth reports, when she’s isn’t writing about the Royals, she’s plenty worthy of the honor. Since writing about the Royals is one of the job’s few requirements, what changes might we expect from the post?
Sarah Ruden, the latest and greatest translator of Vergil’s Aeneid, offers a funny and fascinating glimpse inside the classicist’s world in this Open Letters interview.
Poet’s poet Lyn Hejinian has turned poet’s novelist in Lola, half of her new collection Saga/Circus. John Cotter circles its sagacity.
The Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, was compiled in the early 19th century from a much older oral tradition—can it possibly have anything to teach the modern reader? Sean Hughes has some surprising answers.
W.W. Norton, 2009
Most of the poems in this collection, the fourth from April Bernard (whom W.S. Merwin deems “brilliant” on the flap copy, a poet of “power and ambition”) are rather lovely—and at …
by Chelsey Minnis
Wave Books, 2008
Chelsey Minnis is something of a poet’s poet, and to certain readers her third book, Poemland, will come off as undisciplined, even ridiculous. But to readers who want to be in …
Virgil’s Aeneid has been attracting translators for centuries, and Sarah Ruden’s rendering is notable in more ways than one. (She calls him Vergil, for one thing, but that’s just the start.) Steve Donoghue regards her efforts in the latest “A Year with the Romans.”
Being pregnant, giving birth, and raising a child is both the most mundane of processes and the most miraculous. In the hands of the wrong poet, it is a subject that can …
Elinor Wylie has not received the respect of posterity that she herself thought she deserved. John G. Rodwan, Jr. explores the reasons for that neglect, and the poetry that survives it.
Tin House Books
In Satellite Convulsions: Poems from Tin House, Portland’s Tin House Books has released an enticing anthology of contemporary poetry: It’s got one of those nice paperback covers with page-marking flaps, proclaiming contents …
When Jack Spicer was alive, his books could only be had in small editions, in and around the Bay area. Thanks to a new collection, My Vocabulary Did This to Me, that work has finally arrived. Jared White takes us deep into Spicer’s magical, reckless world.
Poetry meets anatomy when Lianne Habinek reads Donne, who, in “The Flea” and other poems, aimed to discover the seat of the soul
John Taggart’s most recent book, There Are Birds, might net him a wider audience, thanks to a personal touch in those trademark cadences. Adam Golaski guides us into Taggart’s songlike sonorities.
C.D. Wright collects her poems from scraps of overheard conversation, wandering memories, newspaper headlines. In his review of Rising, Falling, Hovering, John Cotter surveys the damage suspended in that scaffolding.
The lyric I and the lyric eye are in play and in question in Stephanie Young’s second book, Picture Palace. Elisa Gabbert illuminates its pitfalls and its charms.
It may be debatable whether the most maudit of all the poètes deserves the tribute, but Gaston Frontenac finds the nasty, beautiful Rimbaud well served by Edmund White’s new Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel
Lorine Niedecker knew the literary life in New York, fell for Louis Zukofsky, published in Objectivist magazines, then returned to Wisconsin, where her poems continued growing spare, surreal, and deep. Heather Green reviews what the new collection Radical Varnacular adds to our understanding of her world.
Sharon Fulton reviews Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, a “resonant and devastating” examination of the Katrina disaster and the Bush administration’s failure to contain its fallout.
State of the Union
Eds. Joshua Beckman and Matthew Zapruder
Wave Books, 2008
There are many things I like about the new political anthology from Wave Books, State of the Union. I like its size–very manageable at just …
In the second of two essays, Chad Reynolds adjudges that in The Presentable Art of Reading Absence Wright himself could have stood to evanesce a smidge of his own ego in the course of his “users guide to evanescence”
What defines an anthology? What are the limits of verse? Derek Henderson definitively answers these and thousands of other questions in his detailed and celebratory review of A Sing Economy.
There can be no more obvious target in the literary landscape than a popularly selling book-length poem. With Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow has dared to write such a thing, and John Cotter has responded accordingly.
Wave Books, 2008
Caroline Knox is a serious goofball. In Quaker Guns, her sixth and latest book of poetry, her over-the-top whimsy pays off more often than not, sometimes with big dividends.
Though Knox’s poems …
Analfabeto / An Alphabet
Dictionary lists intersperse the fragmentary text of Analfabeto / An Alphabet, but they are always incomplete. We have the English, but we don’t have all the Portuguese. So, for the …
In the first of two essays on Jay Wright’s new Dalkey Archive books, Chad Reynolds describes the work of an old poet not half ready to go under the earth and still coming to terms with what it means to live on the surface in Polynomials and Pollen.
August Kleinzahler is not an old man, yet Sleeping It Off in Rapid City is his fourth Selected Poems. John Cotter explores why you’ll need the old ones too and why you may find yourself with a use for the word “Kleinzahleresque.”
At a poetry reading on the Palatine 2,000 years ago, you’d have spent a week’s pay to hear him read. Today he’s unknown, except to our Steve Donoghue (and a few of our readers, no doubt). Here, after a long time gone, is the Roman poet Tibullus.
Jeffrey Eaton absorbs himself in the weirdly familiar and the familiarly weird worlds of Shafer Hall’s Never Cry Woof and PF Potvin’s The Attention Lesson.
Two poets gather up the treasures of the past, one by tossing them in a pile, the other by building a gallery. Chad Reynolds digs into new books by Amy England and Priscilla Sneff.
John Cotter leads us to the interior of two extremely different books of poetry, Charles Wright’s reflective and naturalist Littlefoot and Frederick Seidel’s garish and weird Ooga-Booga.
Chris Tonelli tackles the wily metaphysics of Zachary Schomburg’s
The Man Suit and Paula Cisewski’s Upon Arrival.
John Cotter guides us through Clayton Eshleman’s translations of the startling, invigorating poetry of César Vallejo, one of the earliest and most underrepresented of the modernists.
Adam Golaski champions the “difficult read” in his review of the poetry of a. rawlings, Christian Bök, and Nathalie Stephens.
Steve Donoghue reviews John Donne: The Reformed Soul, a new “cuss-and-codpiece” biography by the inconceivably youthful John Stubbs
Kathy Rooney makes a close study of the cool-quotient of new books of poetry by Eileen Myles, Matthew Rohrer, and Christian Hawkey.
Elisa Gabbert examines two genre-expanding books of poetry by Jenny Boully and Max Winter.