Poetry

Genre Benders: Novels in Verse

Cover Art: Sharp Teeth by Toby BarlowNovels in verse, while currently trendy in Children’s and Young Adult lit, don’t often get published for an adult audience as there hasn’t been much demand for them in a couple of centuries. Making such a deliberately uncommon choice in form would lead us to assume the verse acts as a crucial vessel, necessary for facilitating whatever story is being told. Compiled below are a sampling of verse novels published in the last few years. From the life of Shakespeare’s ghost writer to a lycanthrope-invaded L.A., there may be something on the list that interests you. I dare you to read one. Let’s find out if the genre can make a comeback. 

Mark Strand (1934 - 2014)

Cover Art: Almost Invisible by Mark Strand

Pulitzer Award-winning poet Mark Strand passed away this weekend after 80 years of life. Known to dwell on tropes of absence, death, and identity, his writings have both primed us for and will carry us through his departure. Though he has created art and criticism across several genres as a children’s book author, essayist, translator, and collage artist, he will be best remembered for his sizeable and enduring contribution to contemporary American poetry.

Poet Spotlight: Louise Gluck -- 2014 National Book Award Winner!

Cover Art: Faithful and Virtuous NightThis year’s prestigious National Book Award has been awarded to Louise Gluck for her latest collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night. Last night’s award joins an already long list of accolades for Gluck including the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1985, the Pulitzer in 1993, and the Bollingen Prize in 2001. Her career as a published poet has spanned nearly half a century, and in 2003 she served as U.S. Poet Laureate. You can already find her name printed in most anthologies of contemporary American poetry, and her latest work promises evolution of thought and form while still encircling familiar themes of existentialism, renewal, and their relationship to art.

National Book Awards 2014: Poetry Edition

If you have been looking for a gateway into contemporary American poetry, the National Book Award finalists are not a terrible place to start. Five poets  acting as judges have declared these five books to be “the best” of all poetry collections published this year, with the winner being announced at the black tie awards ceremony next Wednesday evening, November 19th at 7pm. 

  • Cover Art: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia RankineCover Art: Second Childhood by Fanny Howe
  • Cover Art: This Blue by Maureen N. McLaneCover Art: Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck

New Arrivals for National Poetry Month 2014

Nat'lPoMo Poster 2014It is perhaps no accident that National Poetry Month always begins on April Fools’ Day. Poetry is a foolish thing. It, more than prose in all its various forms, assumes it can draw a bead on, and ultimately make some kind of meaning (no matter how fleeting) from the messy and provisional stuff that is life in the 21st century. It is foolish because for nearly everyone but poets themselves, it has become an object of derision, and worse—indifference.

Yet, the world continues to spawn poets. Why? Because, I think, human beings, when you look at them in their best possible light, are fundamentally seekers. We are all looking for something with a big, amorphous name: grace, salvation, contentment, etc. --in short, we are looking for answers to questions we can't even quite formulate.

Seamus Heaney (1939 - 2013)

cover art: Electric Light by Seamus HeaneyThe Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, had the great good fortune to be born in a place that values poetry in a way that most Americans cannot imagine. He was an honest-to-goodness celebrity in his native Ireland, not perhaps on a Bieberian scale, but solidly, unostentatiously famous nonetheless. Right around the time he accepted the Nobel laurels, he became something beyond the poet and teacher he started out to be. He became a sage, a go-to quote-maker on the Big Questions of the day, and I think to some extent he relished those extracurricular roles. I know he was awfully good at them.

It's always tempting to see a softening in the work when someone in any profession has reached that level of success, and perhaps the poems became bigger, more aware of their place in his country's sociopolitical discourse, and his own legacy, but they were still masterful. For me, there will always be something in his early work when all that talent was balling up into a fist and he was finding new ways to say what had to be said, when he hadn't quite become the master (though so much better, more naturally gifted than anyone working at the time). Those are the poems I suspect I'll return to most.

Family Curses: When Writers Beget Writers

I am the luckiest of fathers and have been since the beginning. If any newborn can be said to be calm, it would have been our daughter. Even factoring in a big honkin' dollop of paternal bias, she was pretty much perfect. She didn’t even cry much, and the crying she did seemed almost perfunctory, as if she only wanted to assure us she had a superior set of lungs. Her personality hasn’t changed much since those first moments of life. She has grown up to be a remarkably poised and intelligent young woman. It seems like all my wife and I had to do was remind her of the basics: 1). Treat everyone with respect and kindness, and if, for whatever reason that proves impossible, then at least be polite, 2). Don’t cheat or lie, 3). Boredom is for losers, 4). Be open to new experiences, and 5). Don’t put things up your nose.  That’s about it.

Can't Sleep? We can help: Documentaries about Poets

cover art poetry in motionIt would take a genuine, back-slapping-swimming-pool-blue-sportcoat-and-shiny-white-loafers-with-matching-belt-wearing used car salesman with 90 proof snake oil coursing through his double-thick Teflon-coated veins to convince most folks to read a blog on this particular subject—I'm talking some mutant mix of Tony Robbins, the late Billy Mays and LBJ in his arm-twisting-brow-beating-Uncle-Lyndie-with-a-lollipop-cooing prime.

This is a subject so fearsomely, so ostentatiously, dull that if your eyes are not by now rolling up into your head like slot machine tumblers you should think about a career as a statue. The very thought of documentaries about poets is so baroquely and perversely boring as to produce uncontrollable yawning in double espresso drinking Chihuahuas. I've nodded off twice already, and I (heaven help me) actually care about this stuff.

Words in the Air: Poetry on Audio

Caedmon in stained glassAs most of us know, listening to poetry is nothing new. Poetry started out in the audio format. Rhyme and meter and many other poetic conventions were essentially mnemonic devices to help itinerant poets keep the story going so that they might earn a place by the fire for the night. Back then, a poet couldn’t read his stuff off the page making minimal eye-contact with the audience like we do now. For one thing, until relatively recently, there were no pages to read off of. For another, after getting conked on the head by a flying tankard or turkey leg hurled by some philistine in chain mail, poets figured out it paid to keep their hands free and their eyes peeled.

Scary Monsters, Super Creeps: Poets Behaving Badly (or Not).

When Nosferatu's ShadowRimbaud was introduced to the leading lights of Parisian poetry, he managed to alienate dang near every one of them within minutes. After the group's tres gentile dinner, each poet stood and read his verse aloud. Rimbaud listened more or less politely for a time, then pronounced each man's poem...um...not good. Actually, he used a scatological term more appropriate to the barnyard than to a literary salon. That it turns out his assessment was by and large correct, makes it no less rude.

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