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Posted inPoetry

Long on Ambition: The Public Poem in Books from Rachel Levitsky and Andrew Zawacki

According to Mark Edmundson’s uncritically nostalgic and, by now, notorious article “Poetry Slam: Or, The Decline of American Verse,” which was published in the July 2013 issue of Harper’s, “[o]ur most highly regarded poets—the gang now in their fifties, sixties, and beyond” (such as Sharon Olds, Robert Hass, and Mary Oliver) are, despite their lyric gifts, in a state of bland and unambitious decadence. “At a time when collective issues—communal issues, political issues—are pressing,” argues Edmundson, “the situation of American poetry … [is] timid, small, [and] in retreat.” As can be expected, a range of commentators have already taken Edmundson to task for his gross overgeneralizations and his extremely parochial and outdated understanding of the contemporary scene, but I would like to use his provocation as a starting point and foil to discuss what I take to be one of the most exciting trends in post-millennial American poetics: the importance and evolution of the long poem.

Posted inPoetry

Scrambled Sonnets, Prosthetic Limbs, and Little Bitter Teeth: Notes on Some Recent Poetry Publications

Ezra Pound said poetry was news that stays news. I thought that in gathering some notes on poetry I’ve read this year I’d bring a bit of news and only after doing so realized to what extent those notes would indicate how today’s poetry can be entwined with medieval Moorish Spain or fourteenth century Tuscany or Elizabethan London or sixteenth century Japan. Sometimes, apparently, poetry can also be ancientries made new again.

Posted inPoetry

Somewhere in the Back of the Stars Is the Poet Alfred Starr Hamilton

I bought The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton shortly after it came out and had it in my possession for many years. Somewhere in the midst of moving from one apartment to another it got lost. So when the publishers Ben Estes and Alan Felsenthal announced that their press, The Song Cave, was going to publish A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind: The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton, I preordered a copy. There was something about Hamilton’s poetry that I wanted to experience again.

Posted inPoetry

Lady Lazarus: Sylvia Plath’s Contested Afterlife

On February 11th it will be fifty years since Sylvia Plath’s death, an occasion marked by a predictable slew of new books, anniversary editions, and the revival of decades-long feuds over Plath’s contested legacy. In the Guardian, Olwyn Hughes (Ted Hughes’ sister and the supreme gatekeeper of the Plath estate) and Plath’s friend Elizabeth Sigmund keep up appearances as old foes and, to those of us without a dog in the fight, representatives of two opposing Plath camps: Olwyn as the protector of her brother (“Sylvia wasn’t the innocent victim … she was vicious and I think a bit crazy”) and Elizabeth as the tireless defendant of her poet-friend.

Posted inPoetry

On the Poems of John Godfrey

There are poets who wander around a city — from purposeful to aimlessly — and write about their experience. Charles Baudelaire trudged down the new broad avenues of Paris, alone among the window shoppers. While working at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Frank O’Hara liked to walk around midtown on his lunch hour. David Schubert and Paul Blackburn descended the concrete stairs and rode the subway to Coney Island and other stops along the way.