by Jason Myers
I—and we at the Poetry Society of America—had the greatest respect and fondness for Mary Oliver, our 1970 Shelley Memorial Award winner, both for her poetry and her way of being in the world.
I—and we at the Poetry Society of America—had the greatest respect and fondness for Mary Oliver, our 1970 Shelley Memorial Award winner, both for her poetry and her way of being in the world.
James Laughlin's delightful poem "Those Sunglasses" about his good friend, Tennessee Williams, was almost completely lost to the world through my own over-organization. Having finally finished (with my co-editor Thomas Keith) The Luck of Friendship: The Letters of Tennessee Williams and James Laughlin (which my boss, James Laughlin had asked me to do almost twenty-five years ago, as part of a series of correspondence volumes with his most famous New Directions authors, published by W. W. Norton & Co.), I was tidying up my files and decided to go through the JL/TW-related material that I had brought home from New Directions as James Laughlin's literary co-executor when I retired in 2011.
The following essay is a slightly modified excerpt from The Collages of Helen Adam, recently published by Further Other Book Works / Cuneiform Press. The volume features forty stand-alone collages, the last state of the collage poem In Harpy Land, Adam's photos from the 1964 Buzz Gallery poet's show, as well as two occasional collage suites (for Robert Duncan and Bob Hershon). There are also essays on Adam and her work by James Maynard, Alison Fraser, Lew Ellingham, Bob Hershon, Samuel R. Delany, and Kristin Prevallet.
Earlier today I taught a class at CalArts about the great artist and writer David Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992. In Cynthia Carr's biography of David, she quotes a student at Illinois State University—located in "Normal," no less—who saw him talk there in 1990, right when David was becoming a poster child, or rather a whipping post, for the culture wars of the 90s. The student said, "After you hear a voice like that, it changes you." Indeed. After you hear certain voices, the direction of your life is changed, and there's no going back. That was what hearing the voice of Eileen Myles was like for me, in the year of Wojnarowicz's death, 1992
Born handsome, brilliant, and rich, all his life James Laughlin courted the art of self-effacement. But even as he practiced disappearance, a behind-the-scenes master rather than a public figure, he, more than any other person of the twentieth century, directed the course of American writing and crested the waves of American passions and preoccupations. His life is mirrored in his friendships and in the careers of the many writers he championed.
I want to think about Lorine Niedecker and her 1967 poem "Wintergreen Ridge" apropos the idea of the obstinacy of the particular.
First, though, I believe I need to say something about the question of the particular. Obviously the problem of the particular, and of language's tendency to universalize and lose the particular, is addressed throughout the history of philosophy
Trevor Winkfield is a painter, writer, and translator. Winkfield was born in Leeds, England, in 1944, and has lived in New York since 1969. He exhibits his paintings at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York. He is the editor and translator of Raymond Roussel's How I Wrote Certain of My Books and Other Writings (Exact Change, revised edition 2005) and has worked collaboratively on books with the poets John Ashbery, Kenward Elmslie, Barbara Guest, Harry Mathews, Ron Padgett, and John Yau, among others.
His art writings—including essays on John Graham, Jasper Johns, Gerald Murphy, Florine Stettheimer, and Vermeer—were recently published as Georges Braque and Others: The Selected Art Writings of Trevor Winkfield, 1990–2009 (The Song Cave, 2014).
Each edition of Richard Sieburth's astonishing translations of French and German literature has resituated and recreated the original work into a lasting book of English prose and verse—Friedrich Hölderlin's late Hymns and Fragments, Gérard de Nerval's Selected Writings and his novel The Salt Smugglers (a publication that even echoes the typographical layout of its original left-wing feuilleton newspaper publication), Nostradamus's Prophecies, the Délie of Maurice Scève, among many others. In the same spirit of reinvention, Sieburth's new edition of French Renaissance poet Louise Labé was just published by NYRB/Poets. Jeffrey Yang, who was the in-house editor for the book, as well as for Sieburth's edited volume of Ezra Pound's New Selected Poems and Translations, talks with the master translator about Louise Labé.
In 2013, the Poetry Society of America's national series, Yet Do I Marvel: Black Iconic Poets of the 20th Century, celebrated the work of a wide range of distinguished poets from James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sterling Brown, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes to Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, June Jordan, Etheridge Knight, and Audre Lorde. Our events took place across the country—in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D. C.—with the culminating celebration held in New York City at Cooper Union's Great Hall on November 7, 2013. On that evening Susan Wheeler read "Why Can't I Leave You" and I Have Got to Stop Loving You" by Ai.
In 2013, the Poetry Society of America's national series, Yet Do I Marvel: Black Iconic Poets of the 20th Century, celebrated the work of a wide range of distinguished poets from James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sterling Brown, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes to Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, June Jordan, Etheridge Knight, and Audre Lorde. Our events took place across the country—in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D. C.—with the culminating celebration held in New York City at Cooper Union's Great Hall on November 7, 2013. On that evening Nikky Finney read "For My People" by Margaret Walker.
The artist Jess (1923-2004), born Burgess Collins in Long Beach, California, abandoned his surname and his training as a scientist in 1949 and enrolled in the California School of Fine Arts. He met Robert Duncan in 1950 and began a relationship with the poet that lasted thirty-eight years until Duncan's death in 1988. Together, the two of them became key generators of the Bay Area art and poetry scenes of the 50's, 60s, and 70s.
Pierre Reverdy is among the greatest of modern French poets, and certainly among the most elusive. His work is at once impersonal and intimate, crystalline and opaque, simple to the point of austerity. The landscape of his poetry is both instantly recognizable and, devoid of local specificity, imbued with an otherworldly strangeness. He is "a secret poet for secret readers," as Octavio Paz once described him, insisting on the necessity of parsing the silence, the empty spaces between what seems visible in the lines of his poems. Each feels like a fragment of a universe, and yet whole.
When we were working on the just-published Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia (University of California, 2013), Andrew Joron and I visited Michael McClure to talk about their friendship at the turn of the '60s. And we were both forcibly struck by McClure's remark, apropos the readers at the famous Six Gallery reading in 1955, "We all looked to Philip," pointing out that, going into the event—aside from Kenneth Rexroth, the evening's emcee—Lamantia was by far the most famous and experienced poet, the only one with a book (Erotic Poems [Bern Porter, 1946]), not to mention extensive magazine and journal publication, from View in the early '40s to the New Directions annual in the early '50s.
Was there anyone more elegant than Peggy Penn? She had a deliciously monochromatic style of dressing, where each item of clothing would echo in texture and color the next item, a salmony silk with a cantaloup cashmere, and tiny orange sorbet-colored beads at her ears; or violet-gray wool slacks with a violet silk blouse and amethysts at her lobes.
The retrievals that Donald Allen made of Frank O'Hara's poems began in 1968 with his sorting through the manuscripts of poetry and prose in cartons and files that Kenneth Koch took away for safekeeping in two suitcases from Frank's loft at 791 Broadway the night in July, 1966, after Frank died––the nearly 700 items that first Kenneth and I and then Frank's sister Maureen and her husband at the time Walter Granville-Smith subsequently photocopied a few weeks later. Together with the versions already published in books, magazines and anthologies, these manuscripts formed the textual basis for what Donald Allen––Don, as I came to know him as a neighbor in Bolinas in the 1970s––would call, when it first appeared, in 1971, "the splendid palace known as The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara." A pared-down volume The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara, also edited by Don, came out in 1974, followed the next year by the book of uncollected prose, Standing Still and Walking in New York. It was in the latter book that Don first used the term "retrieved."
—an excerpt from the Introduction by Bill Berkson to Poems Retrieved, Frank O'Hara.
Of all poets associated with the symbolist movement, Stéphane Mallarmé is surely the most influential, most difficult, and most worth clinging to.
The poem called "Promenade sentimentale" is found in Paul Verlaine's first book, the Poèmes saturniens (1866), in a section called "Paysages tristes" ("Sad Landscapes"). It is a kind of show-piece of sonic effects, in a book full of virtuoso display, both intellectual and technical, on the part of its young author.
Poetry is the afterlife of poems. Trailing wisps of glory and mishap, squalor and proprioception, they evanesce into the next utterance and the next, into circumstances not only beyond their control but, happily, beyond their first imagination.
Ernst Meister had already begun writing poetry, prose, and dramatic works when, having just turned nineteen, he enrolled as a theology student at the University of Marburg in the winter semester of 1930. He soon traded his theological pursuits for philosophy, literature, and art history, attending lectures by Karl Löwith and Hans-Georg Gadamer, two of Martin Heidegger's former students, both of whom, along with their teacher, had a tremendous impact on Meister's work. Later he began working under Löwith on a dissertation on Nietzsche, a project he eventually abandoned because of Löwith's forced exile, though by that time he had already published his first collection of verse, Ausstellung (Exhibition), which appeared in 1932.
Poet, concert singer, actress, novelist, and translator, the late Norma Farber was the author of thirty-five books. Her poems appeared in countless periodicals including The New Yorker,The Nation, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. Now, nearly three decades after her death, comes her previously unpublished Year of Reversible Loss.
You will never get to the bottom of Fernando Pessoa. There are too many of him.
"After looking for him in the poems, we look for him in the prose," wrote the scholar and translator Edwin Honig. Yet we find him nowhere. This was, after all, a poet whose maxim was, "To pretend is to know oneself." Cyril Connolly noted that Pessoa "hived off separate personalities like swarms of bees." He pretended relentlessly, employing more than seventy personae in his self-searching circus. They were not so much disguises as extensions and iterations of himself. "How idyllic life would be," he once wrote, "if it were lived by another person."
We're happy to present an expanded version of a feature that originated in 1950 on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the PSA and was recently revived as a corner of our exhibit, "Portraits of Poets, 1910-2010 at the National Arts Club this past January and as a feature on our website. This expanded installment more accurately reflects the dynamism and diversity of the exhibit as a whole, and we hope you enjoy it.
As part of the Poetry Society of America's landmark exhibition Portraits of Poets 1910-2010, we curated a collection of photographs of poets in childhood to complement the more iconic images in the show.
As the poetry editor of the Ladies Home Journal from 1948-1962, Elizabeth McFarland, "published some 900 poems by authors like Maxine Kumin, Randal Jarrell, W. H. Auden, John Updike, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Marianne Moore" as an article in the New York Times noted in 2005.
Daniel Hoffman's essay, available as a pdf below, recounts this period in McFarland's life as both an editor and a poet herself. Hoffman's essay was originally published as the introduction to Over the Summer Water, a collection of poems by Farland, from which the two poems below are also from.
I knew of Thom Gunn almost as soon as I began writing poetry. His name was a presence, his cadences still more so. Somehow, in the muddle of disillusion and self-defense which was post-war British poetry, his wonderful first book took root. It was called Fighting Terms. It contained twenty or more poems, written in an odd, abrasive tone.
Thom Gunn was always polite, delighted at raucous jokes and banter, kept his silence at times but had a loud, boisterous laugh. He wore cowboy shirts, pointy boots, a big chain for his wallet, and a little earring. The shirts were always pressed. There was some massive tattoo on his forearm, you'd see a bit of it, and never more.
Though I'd long loved his poems, and I'd shaken his hand after one of his readings, I didn't actually meet and get to know Thom until 2000, when he spent two weeks in St. Louis as a visiting poet at Washington University.
The last time I talked to Thom, he said he hadn't written a poem in two years and added, with a small heave of his muscular chest, "I might be done writing." Had he made a coffin of couplets, elegy after elegy, shutting away the keepsakes of friends as they fell, tens by tens? He felt some defeat in form. And no doubt some defeat in his role as communal mourner. But who could keep pace with the endless toll? Not even the ever-waking Thom could manage.
Paul Muldoon was the director of Princeton's creative writing program when I was a student there. But being a fiction writer, and a Philosophy major, I didn't have cause to meet him until my senior year, when I needed to get the department to help cover some exorbitant Xeroxing costs incurred by my obnoxious novel.
One thing I discovered was that poetry is telling someone something they know and in doing so you also tell them something they don't know, often by using surprising realization. You might even tell someone something that they once knew but forgot and, doing that, you connect with the unconscious or what someone forgot that they forgot.
The last time I saw Ben Belitt, in the summer of 2001, he took me out onto his back porch overlooking Paran Creek and pointed to the flowers filling his trough planters. "Consider the life-force!" he said, triumphantly. I do.
Josephine Jacobsen's entrance into the world on August 19th, 1908, was premature and dramatic, greatly surprising her American parents who were vacationing in Canada and anticipating her arrival several months later. Weighing only two-and-a-half pounds, she was not expected to survive, but her formidable and devoted mother, Octavia Winder Boylan, was determined that she would.
Haroldo de Campos is a defining figure for the poetry of the Americas. His work is essential not just to an understanding of Brazilian poetry but also to the geography—conceptual, intellectual, cultural, and social—of postwar poetry in the world at large.
Published in the United States in Crossroads, Spring 2004, the poet Ruth Fainlight recounts her friendships with both Bowles and Plath.
I was just young enough, and just inattentively boringly stupid enough, that it took the appearance of underwear, or, as she put it at the time, panties, to wake me up at the poetry reading. C.D. Wright was reading from Just Whistle, and the revelation I had was sudden and fairly clichéd in its power.
My collection of books by Phil is a mess, everything beat up, waterstained, old and overread. I don't think I've abused anyone else's books so badly. I'm trying to find a quote I can never find (I've tried several times in the past few years), but it haunts me: something like "I realized that the realm of poetry was much older and bigger than I was and would go on without me."
I'm subject to an awful temptation here, and that is to lapse into some version of a shameless imitation of one of his own poems in introducing to you my hero, Kenneth Koch. How easy and disastrous it would be to begin Oh Thank You for giving me the chance of being Kenneth Koch's introducer! Or A serious moment for the novelist is when he is asked to draw aside the curtain for his favorite poet! Or At a reading, one writer may hide behind another—And yet I'm going to try to resist this temptation, this seduction, because I know where it leads, or at least I know where it led me once: when I was eighteen my adoration for Kenneth Koch led me to mistake myself for a poet.
Published in the United States in Crossroads, Fall 2002, Anne Atik, poet and friend of Beckett's, recalls his love of poetry.
The poet of my generation who meant most to me, in his person and in his art, was Theodore Roethke. Immediately after Frost and Eliot and Pound and Cummings and Hart Crane and Stevens and William Carlos Williams, it was difficult to be taken seriously as a new American poet; for the title to "the new poetry" was in the possession of a dynasty of extraordinary gifts and powers, not the least of which was a stubborn capacity for survival.
I've always believed there are certain pieces of writing which are magic doors in locked houses. Just as we think we'll never get entry, never be able to go in, this one door springs open at our slightest touch. And after that we can come and go as we please. Wordsworth's "To My Sister" is one of these and one of my favorite poems.
Originally published in Crossroads, Fall 2001, this feature includes three essays: David Trinidad's "Anne Sextion: An Actress in her Own Autobiographical Play," Lois Ames' "Anne Sexton Re-Collected," and Maggie Nelson's "A Note on Anne Sexton and Her Critical Legacy."
Originally published in Crossroads, Fall 2000, Felstiner's writes about the act of translation, and specifically translating Celan's poem "Lob der Ferne / Praise of Distance".
Originally published in Crossroads, Spring 2000, this features includes John Ashbery, Elaine Equi, Mark Doty, W. S. Merwin, Barbara Guest, and Thom Gunn discussing their favorite O'Hara poems, as well as articles by Brad Gooch on O'Hara's lasting appeal, and Michael Price on O'Hara's art reviews.
Hard to believe we met about fifty years ago in New York, when she and Mitch had first married and she had returned from Europe with him in the classic manner to start her own life over again. Certainly as a poet she had to. The distance between her first book, The Double Image, and the second, Here and Now, published by City Lights in its Pocket Poets series ten years later, is a veritable quantum leap.
Marianne Craig Moore, who died in 1972 at the age of eighty-five, was one of the major poets of the Modernist era, celebrated by her contemporaries as a supreme inventor and precisionist who could, indeed, meet her own high measure of poetry. She is a "literalist of the imagination" who can "present for inspection...imaginary gardens with real toads in them."
I am not sure that Don Justice would want much said about him. He was a fastidiously private person where it mattered, that is, in public. He did not like to call attention to himself, at least not overtly, and cultivated an amiable distance between himself and others, which, over time, would close and finally cease to exist. He was the "thin man" of his poem "The Thin Man."
The first time I encountered the poems of Edward Hirsch, I was lucky enough to have them read to me by the poet himself. It was August of 1999 and I was in Vermont, a fellow at Breadloaf, surrounded by writers, hundreds of them, it seemed. There were those who were just starting out, eager to learn; those like me, who had a single book to their names; and those, like Edward Hirsch, who were in my eyes the real writers, with many books and much experience behind them.
Well over a year crept by after Randall's death before I extricated that knot and saturated my mind with the origins of the war poems from Little Friend, Little Friend and Losses: "The Soldier Walks Under the Trees of the University," ''Mail Call," The Lines," "Second Air Force," "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," et al. Those seventy-some letters Mackie fortuitously preserved and considerately released were hand scripted, rarely dated, generating many fraught queries from me, and radiating an off-putting editorial challenge.