Poetry

John Keats, Fanny Brawne, and “Bright Star”

September 25, 2009
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John Keats, Fanny Brawne, and “Bright Star”

Bright Star, the new film written and directed by Jane Campion, opened in the Chicago area yesterday. Bright Star weaves a story of the romantic love and poetic longing of John Keats and Fanny Brawne during the last three years of Keats’ too-short life. Campion’s script was, according to today’s review in the Chicago Tribune, “inspired by the exceptional Andrew Motion biography Keats,” which we published in paperback in 1999. Motion’s biography is an interesting choice for a filmmaker. Andrew Motion is a poet above all; he served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009. He has numerous books of poetry to his credit, as well as criticism and several other biographies. Keats is a poet’s biography of a poet; it is steeped in the words of the poet, shaped primarily by Keats’ letters and punctuated by Keats’ poems. It is as textual as you can get. Keats has come down to us, Motion writes, as a poets’ poet: the champion of truth and beauty, a sensualist, the archetype of the Romantic poet, who poured out words in a frenetic rush, writing all the poems we know him for in the space of a month or . . .

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Review: Mann, Breakfast with Thom Gunn

September 23, 2009
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Review: Mann, Breakfast with Thom Gunn

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Mathematics + Poetry + J. M. Coetzee

August 18, 2009
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Mathematics + Poetry + J. M. Coetzee

We’re used to seeing, usually in the New York Review of Books, J. M. Coetzee’s frequent book reviews. And we have first-hand experience (pdf) of what a great job the Notices of the American Mathematical Society does with its book reviews section. Still, it was a surprise to learn from the complete review that these two reliable patterns of the book reviewing world had combined in such an unexpected way. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising at all, because the book Coetzee reviews in the new issue of Notices (pdf) is all about a similar sort of well suited yet not wholly expected pair. About Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics, Coetzee opines that “there are a priori grounds for thinking of poetry and mathematics together, as two rarefied forms of symbolic activity based on the power of the human mind to detect hidden analogies. In other words, an anthology like Strange Attractors, which brings together a hundred and fifty poems with some degree of mathematical content, makes more a priori sense than, say, a collection of famous speeches with some mathematical content.” Well worth reading for reasons beyond its novelty, the review (along with the small matter . . .

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Press Release: Weiner, At the Barriers

July 14, 2009
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Press Release: Weiner, At the Barriers

Maverick gay icon of poetry Thom Gunn (1929—2004) and his body of work have long dared the British and American poetry establishments to either claim or disavow him. To critics in the UK and United States alike, Gunn demonstrated that formal poetry could successfully include new speech rhythms and open forms. Along the way, Gunn’s verse captured the social upheavals of the 1960s, the existential possibilities of the late twentieth century, and the tumult of post-Stonewall gay culture. The first book-length collection of essays on this major poet, At the Barriers surveys Gunn’s career from his youth in 1930s Britain to his final years in California, bringing together some of the most important poet-critics from both sides of the Atlantic to assess his oeuvre. This landmark volume traces how Gunn, in both his life and his writings, pushed at boundaries of different kinds, be they geographic, sexual, or poetic—and how his influence has only grown since his death. Read the press release. . . .

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Peg Boyers reads “The Fate of Pleasure”

June 25, 2009
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Peg Boyers reads “The Fate of Pleasure”

Just a quick post to point you towards Slate magazines’ weekly poem, which is currently featuring Peg Boyers, author of Hard Bread and more recently Honey with Tobacco, reading her poem “The Fate of Pleasure.” Each week Slate‘s poetry editor Robert Pinsky chooses a poem to be featured on their site and added to the audio archive at Slate‘s Poetry Podcast. So in the spirit of full disclosure it should also be mentioned that Pinsky has recently released a new book with the Press as well: Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town. Though not a poetry book Thousands of Broadways does offer up some of the fascinating literary insights of its author as he examines the history and character of America’s small towns, including reflections on his own time growing up in one. Find out more about Pinsky’s new book and Boyer’s poetry on the press’s website. . . .

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Press Release: Mann, Breakfast with Thom Gunn

April 1, 2009
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Press Release: Mann, Breakfast with Thom Gunn

Randall Mann’s Breakfast with Thom Gunn is a work both direct and unsettling. Haunted by the afterlife of Thom Gunn (1929-2004), one of the most beloved gay literary icons of the twentieth century, the poems are moored in Florida and California, but the backdrop is “pitiless,” the trees “thin and bloodless,” the words “like the icy water” of the San Francisco Bay. Mann, fiercely intelligent, open yet elusive, draws on the “graceful erosion” of both landscape and the body, on the beauty that lies in unbeauty. With audacity, anxiety, and unbridled desire, this gifted lyric poet grapples with dilemmas of the gay self embroiled in—and aroused by—a glittering, unforgiving subculture. Breakfast with Thom Gunn is at once formal and free, forging a sublime integrity in the fire of wit, intensity, and betrayal. Read the press release. . . .

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Press Release: Campion, The Lions

March 31, 2009
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Press Release: Campion, The Lions

In his second collection of poems, Peter Campion writes about the struggle of making a life in America, about the urge “to carve a space” for love and family from out of the vast sweep of modern life. Coursing between the political and personal with astonishing ease, Campion writes at one moment of his disturbing connection to the public political structure, symbolized by Robert McNamara, then in the next, of a haunting reverie beneath a magnolia tree, representing his impulse to escape the culture altogether. He moves through various forms just as effortlessly, as confident in rhymed quatrains as in slender, tensed free verse. In The Lions, Campion achieves a fusion of narrative structure and lyric intensity that proves him to be one of the very best poets of his generation. Read the press release. . . .

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Press Release: Polito, Hollywood & God

March 31, 2009
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Press Release: Polito, Hollywood & God

Hollywood & God is a virtuosic performance, filled with crossings back and forth from cinematic chiaroscuro to a kind of unsettling desperation and disturbing—even lurid—hallucination. From the Baltimore Catechism to the great noir films of the last century, from Cotton Mather and a nineteenth-century minstrel boy to B-movie actress Barbara Payton, a female Elvis impersonator, and even Paris Hilton, Polito tracks the stars, rituals, snares, hijinks, and mysteries at the crossroads of American spiritual and media life across a diversity of styles, tones, and eras. Mixing lyric and essay, collage and narrative, memoir and invention, Hollywood & God is an audacious book, as contemporary as it is historical, as sly and witty as it is devastatingly serious. Read the press release. . . .

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Through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise—and now cyberspace

January 9, 2009
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Through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise—and now cyberspace

With Danteworlds: A Reader’s Guide to the Inferno, Guy P. Raffa decoded Dante’s epic poem for a new generation of readers. And with the forthcoming The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader’s Guide to the Divine Comedy Raffa has expanded his project to encompass the entire text, through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise—and into cyberspace. As the New Yorker‘s Vicky Raab notes in a recent article, Raffa’s online version of Danteworlds offers “an integrated multimedia journey” through Dante’s Divine Comedy, perfectly marrying medium with message to launch the reader “right into the allegorical action, heightening rather than dulling appreciation and comprehension.” Raab continues: Canto by canto, as Virgil and then Beatrice lead the benighted Dante through “circles of Hell, terraces of Purgatory, spheres of Paradise,” so the clear-eyed Guy P. Raffa, a classics professor at the University of Texas at Austin who conceived and developed the site, leads students in Dante’s steps, urging them to click on regions within each realm. I go straight to Circle Nine, of course, the lowest depths of the Inferno, peopled by the grisliest creatures: the giants Nimrod, Ephialtes, and Antaeus, the cannibalistic Ugolino, who eats the back of Ruggiero’s head, “so that one head to the other . . .

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Fulke the Obscure

December 10, 2008
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Fulke the Obscure

In early December, the Village Voice asked a panel of literary heavyweights (Ethan Hawke notwithstanding) to opine on their favorite obscure book. Robert Pinsky’s selection was a book called Caelica from “the greatest poet unknown to many readers,” Fulke Greville. In addition to being, as Pinsky notes, “an upper-class Englishman with a funny name,” (or, in your correspondent’s humble opinion, a moniker ripe for filching by a newly-formed indie rock band) Greville (1554–1628) was an important member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Although his poems, long out of print, are today less well known than those of Sidney, Spenser, or Shakespeare, Greville left an indelible mark on the world of Renaissance poetry, both in his love poems, which ably work within the English Petrarchan tradition, and in his religious meditations, which, along with the work of Donne and Herbert, stand as a highpoint of early Protestant poetics. Pinsky, who, in addition to his many and varied achievements, including a stint as United States poet laureate and a cameo on The Simpsons, is a University of Chicago Press author (his Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town will be published this Spring), will undoubtedly be . . .

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