Features

On Poetry

From the Western Front and Beyond: The Writings of World War

Below ground in the stacks of call numbers 940.48 and 821, the literature of WWI waits open to members of the New York Society Library. Some of these books, as well as books from the Library's rare book collection, are now on special display in the library's new exhibition "From the Western Front and Beyond: The Writings of World War One." The New York Society Library was founded in 1754, and the books in this exhibit have been acquired over the past 100 years. The Library's catalog of WWI literature spans all the way back to when the original head librarian, Robert Bigelow, acquired the literature throughout the war. This offers NYSE a unique historical perspective on these writings, allowing them to chart what their readers were most interested in at the time and what pieces of writing have endured and grown in popularity.

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Student Poet Picks

I was one of the entranced jurors this year for the National Student Poets Program, jointly sponsored by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.

Other jurors included Richard Blanco, President Obama's second Inaugural poet; Robert Casper, Head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress;  poet Terrance Hayes; David Lynn, editor of The Kenyon Review; and Rose Styron, poet and longtime patron of the Academy of American Poets. All of us were asked to evaluate student submissions based on exceptional creativity, dedication to craft, and promise. We read the entries, poems by national medalists in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, in a spirit of great pleasure and excitement and then reviewed videos of the young poets speaking about their passion for poetry. At the celebration of the five who were chosen for this honor this year and who have been travelling as ambassadors for the art all around the country, I asked each of them to name a favorite poet or two and voilà, this feature!

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On Dread, Love, and Poetry

My former teacher, the poet Mary Ruefle, has an essay in the June 2012 issue of Poetry on the relationship between dread/fear and poetry. She considers the poet's fear that "one day it will be revealed that I consecrated my life to an imbecility….something intrinsically unnecessary and superfluous and thereby unintentionally cruel"[i] as well as the fear of pain and torture, the difference between emotions and feelings, and negative capability, among other things. 

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Burning Deck: Still Burning Brightly

When we started Burning Deck Magazine in 1961, it happened to be the moment when letterpress printing was being replaced by offset, and print shops were dumping their letterpress equipment. We were graduate students at the University of Michigan, so buying a letterpress and learning to print seemed the only way we could afford publishing. 

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By Design: 15 Poetry Book Covers

1.
Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud

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Drive Through

A fetching show of watercolors and oils by Wendy Mark, a New York based artist, will be up at the Jill Newhouse Gallery  at 4 East 81st Street until October 29th (open Monday - Friday 10 - 5:30 and Saturday 11 - 5), and we want to alert you to it with this note and the accompanying images, selected by our Managing Director and Web Editor, Brett Fletcher Lauer.


Wendy started out as a writer, attending the Sarah Lawrence College program in Florence, Italy in 1970, and then receiving her MFA in Poetry from the Writing Division of Columbia University's School of the Arts.

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Demolition

Detroit's old Central Station is abandoned, dilapidated, crumbling from the inside. People have come into the former train station to mine it for scrap copper tubing, and urban artists have used the dirty walls and columns as canvas. The Beau-Arts Classical architecture is now a postmodern palimpsest, declaiming everything from myspace urls, artist tag names, declarations that one Fred loves one Rachel—a love that annotates, perhaps, the words "Ouch" and "Overdose," all fabulously scripted in colorful graffiti letters that seem to glow and leap off of the brick and stone underneath. 

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Poems Could Be Pop

Michael Zapruder is a songwriter living in Oakland, CA. For years he played lead guitar in other people's bands, until 1999, when he released an album under his own name, 52 Songs. For Zapruder's ambitious debut, he composed and recorded a song a week for an entire year. Each album since has marked his evolution through the restless development of his arrangements, recording techniques, and unique lyrical approach, earning him the 2009 Independent Music Award for Best Folk/Singer-songwriter Album, Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope.

Zapruder's most recent album, the soon to be released,
Pink Thunder, is a collaboration with poets who toured on the Poetry Bus, a rock-style tour of performing poets. The Poetry Bus project is organized by Wave Books, which is co-run by Michael's brother, poet Matthew Zapruder.

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On Chapbooks: Greta Goetz's "Dendrochronology"

These are poems of immediacy, that's what I meant, but they're also poems concerned with a human self and its history, which in this case seems to be a cuisinart of languages and places. Now, confusion and immediacy have a chicken-and-egg quality, and the particular way that Goetz's poems stretch a line from past experience to present consciousness is very much part of their force: "the reluctance to participate / in the shared experience of different views / where the self is forgotten, where words / are mere convoys in getting somewhere / but no." (from "4")

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On Chapbooks: Aaron Kunin's "Cold Genius"

Here's a confession: the first time I read Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets, I just thought the guy was lazy, reusing all the good lines to get more book out of the book. It reminded me of what someone said about pantoums, twice the poem at half the price. Forgive me, I was young!

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On Complexity: C. D. Wright

You asked, and i am writing you with chronic tardiness and informality, in far short of a thousand words, what do i make of complexity, and i submit the more our lives are governed by the great mixmaster of egoistic, material and technostructural forces the more distorted the whole business of living and creating has become for me to be undone by a work of art nowadays i seek a transient clearing in which i am compelled to rely on next to no references;

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On Beauty: Reginald Shepherd

"I don't trust beauty anymore," I once wrote, "when will I stop believing it?" And elsewhere, "because beauty (fixed, triumphant) isn't my friend, is it?" That is part of the truth. The other part of the truth is that without a notion of beauty, an embodiment of the possible beyond the abjections of the mundane, I would not have become a poet, would not, perhaps, have left behind the housing projects and tenements of the Bronx in which I grew up.

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On Beauty: Fanny Howe

—There is a poem by Rae Armantrout that is called "Overhearing" and the first part of it goes:

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On Beauty: Charles Altieri

In the current condition of the academy, "beauty" appears to have attained the currency that "power" possessed in the 1980s. Indeed, the very appeal that "beauty" now has may be directly related to the cache that "power" had then. Since political and sociological approaches to the arts seem to have outlasted their welcome, it has become important to develop alternatives more closely attuned to what artists and writers think they are doing in their work, as well as to what audiences have traditionally expected from such work.

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On Beauty: Carl Phillips

Beauty—at least when it is referred to by that name—suffers the same treatment by too many contemporary poets (and students of poetry) as does authority in poetry. That is, it gets dismissed as naïve, or irrelevant, or somehow on the wrong side of the field on whose other side we are all assumed to have happily set up camp together. But to hold that assumption is to exercise the very sort of authority that the mysterious "they" hold suspect. It also suggests that beauty is monolithic, one-dimensional, and finally inorganic—hence, without the capacity for evolution, without susceptibility to time.

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On Beauty: Terese Svoboda

Every society brings forth its beauties for the Met of Time, bearing its aesthetic revolutions, its 7th chords, its tyranny of abstractions (I know something you don't know) with a modicum of cacophony, considering. Then collectors with their own collections and publishers with bottom-lines open their goods for the next generation to peer into, with their own agendas. Qua beauty, like ducks we are, shot or sitting. Like the secret ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, beauty's a great asset to art.

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On Collaboration: C. D. Wright

Originally published in Crossroads, Spring 2001, C. D. Wright introduces her collaborative project with the photographer Deborah Luster. The article includes a section of the poem "One Big Self" and a generous selection of Luster's photographs of Louisiana Prisoners.

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On Politics: Karen Volkman

Osip Mandelstam disliked paraphrase. How ironic, then, that he has become an emblem: the iconic poet of integrity and privacy destroyed by a totalitarian system. This is true, and terrible, but it is a paraphrase, guilty of all the impoverishing reduction Mandelstam so adamantly opposed. Written in 1933, four years before the poet's imprisonment and death, his "Conversation About Dante" is a fascinating document of this resistance. Discussing a work renowned for its monumental architecture and affirmation of hierarchy, Mandelstam instead celebrates in Dante the disruption and deformation of structure. His medium: conversation and its mutable motion.

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On Politics: Allen Grossman

The completion of the action of this poem is an oath upon the sword, the warrant of intention (I WILL NOT CEASE) to continue—not the possession already of anything, certainly not of a truth. The oath commits the singers of this song not to cease from building. That's MENTAL FIGHT against what resists significant human making. That's thought-fighting which KEEPS the body and its world. BUILDS. Poems are not such making, but show what such making is like.

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On Complexity: Henri Cole

Complexity is not smoke. It is a forest. In a forest I feel self-forgetful. I feel mortal with an animal body. I feel embraced by uncertainty, I feel the seepage and pain of human things—marriage, loss, childhood, fathers, mothers, loneliness—buried there. In smoke I feel oppressed. I feel my mouth against a wall of vapor that is dense, oblique and unbreathable.

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On Complexity: Susan Mitchell

The poets that interest me most, that excite me to return to them again and again, all share a single characteristic: they are remarkably attentive. They see, hear, smell, taste and feel more of the world than other poets, and they contrive to pack that moreness into their poems. Like the narrator of Beckett's Ill Seen, Ill Said, they could all say, "Moment by glutton moment. Sky earth the whole kit and boodle. Not another crumb of carrion left." As a result, their poems attend to more of the world, including disorder as well as order, contradiction as well as congruence, insanity as well as sanity, the hidden as well as the inaccessible. The attentive poem is Marianne Moore's "magic mousetrap closing on all points of the compass." Such a poem is necessarily going to be complex.

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On Complexity: Bob Perelman

Since this is to be brief, I'm tempted to use complexity as shorthand for quality. In quite a few ways, it would be true enough: endless examples spring to mind of poems I know and always like reading. And with new poems, it's often complexity that catches my serious reading eye. But "complexity," in that kind of shorthand, also feels precisely wrong: it's the sign of a thousand other commodities. For instance, the food section of a recent New York Times featured a large spread on high-class hot chocolate: only certain (quite expensive) brands of chocolate imparted the necessary complexity.

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On Complexity: Marge Piercy

Since for me poems are primarily artifacts created out of sounds and silences, I respect the ability to make the surface of a poem appear simple and clear. The hardest poems to write are those that look as if they had written themselves, effortlessly, like water gliding into a basin—poems that appear transparent.

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On Complexity: David Rivard

A day begins, more or less, with your five year old daughter telling you, "I scratched my momma's bed like a mole." It ends, more or less, with you stepping into your Mazda on a night of sub-freezing temperatures and noticing the smell of your freshly shined boots—the tannic sweetness of that dye-tinted alcohol and petroleum distillate waxing the very air of the car. In between are many moments likewise, each with its characteristic mood or flavor. Every one moving through you on its way, changing you.

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On Form: Susan Wheeler

The List


1. Saying a particular poem is "formless" is as nuts as saying it isn't "political": form and politics obtain as soon as there are words. IMHO

2. Using a highly patterned form can up the tension level even if the poem isn't sagging.

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On Form: Rachel Wetzsteon

I would like to tell you about a lovely stanza form I've long been an ardent fan of: it was conjured up in a simpler time by Classical Sappho.

This stanza, as you can see, is composed of four lines. The first three lines, 11 syllables long, are called hendecasyllabics; the last line, only five syllables, has a name that seems designed to make up for its diminutive status: the adonic. In addition to its strict syllable count, the stanza also has a very particular meter: in the first three lines, two trochees, followed by a dactyl, followed by two more trochees; in the last, one dactyl and one trochee.

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On Form: Greg Williamson

Here in the small hours of the twentieth century, one can read by halogen light a hundred years of bickering about free verse and form, the open and closed, the raw and the cooked, the naked and the clothed (What would Saran-Wrap be?). This binary nomenclature is pretty unwieldy, and the categories often collapse. Dr. Williams? Free verse, although he claimed there was no such thing. Dr. Donne? Formal, but someone Ben Jonson said "deserved hanging for not keeping accent." "Prufrock"? Free verse, but rhyming in uneven metrical lines. "Dover Beach"? Formal, but rhyming in uneven metrical lines. Shakespeare? Depends who's talking.

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On Form: Kevin Young

I have long been interested in poems that may be called "successful failures"—those overreaching, underplanned, ill-conceived messy delights that do not enact a perfect marbleized form (nor wish to) but nevertheless delight with their sense of surprise, of sound—their personality. They are poems you'll sit and listen to awhile, their stories too wild to ignore; or maybe you'll dial them up: long poems are nothing if not loyal.

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