Poetry

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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A Phoenix Poet goes to Paris

October 22, 2008
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A Phoenix Poet goes to Paris

Poet-critic Dan Chiasson, author of the verse collection The Afterlife of Objects and One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America, a book of criticism, will join the Paris Review as a poetry editor. Congratulations to Dan on his new post! Celebrate by reading a poem from The Afterlife of Objects. . . .

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Review: Atkinson, Mean

October 20, 2008
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Review: Atkinson, Mean

Los Angeles Times book review editor David L. Ulin has written an approving review of Colette Labouff Atkinson’s new book of poems, Mean, for last Sunday’s edition of the paper. Remarking on what Ulin calls the “exquisite tension” between intimacy and distance in Labouff’s work Ulin writes: 43 vignettes add up to an emotional autobiography. In the title piece, Atkinson describes her husband’s former wife, a stripper. “He traded her in for me,” she writes. “To people I don’t know, I say she was a dancer. I watch them, puzzled, wonder how anyone could not love a ballerina. And you have to question a guy like that: trading in a sweet stripper for me.” The irony is that we are people she doesn’t know, but this is part of the book’s exquisite tension. Again and again, Atkinson reveals intimacies in an offhand way. “Gain” describes her great-uncle, a columnist for the ILWU Warehouse News, who “etween the lines, be wise—organize—”composes a fairy tale about a pony made of gold. “For God’s Sake, Get Out” recalls “The Amityville Horror,” then morphs into a meditation on how houses can be haunted by disappointment and loss. Read the review on . . .

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Press Release: Atkinson, Mean

October 15, 2008
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Press Release: Atkinson, Mean

In the appropriately titled Mean, Colette LaBouff Atkinson’s speakers confront a series of cruel lovers, estranged ex-husbands and ex-ex-wives, neglectful parents, disrespectful children, menacing drunks, would-be rapists, well-meaning but ineffectual teachers, and that annoying kid in first grade who wouldn’t leave you alone. Managing to “say” what most of us would only think but never dare speak out loud, this stunning debut collection reveals that the horrors and cruelty we experience in everyday life can turn out to be very real indeed. But Atkinson does not merely rake her subjects across the coals: she deftly exposes, instead, how the world mirrors back to us our own meanness, lending it a truth and a history. In forty-three deadpan, often merciless prose poems that are masterpieces of the form, Mean lays bare the darkness within the narrator’s heart as well as in ours. Read the press release. . . .

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The liquidity crisis in poetry

October 2, 2008
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The liquidity crisis in poetry

Speaking last week at an event celebrating the anthology Best American Poetry 2008, UCP poet Charles Bernstein proclaimed his staunch support for a poetry bailout aimed at restoring readers’ confidence. “As you know,” Bernstein argued, “the glut of illiquid, insolvent, and troubled poems is clogging the literary arteries of the West. These debt-ridden poems threaten to infect other areas of the literary sector and ultimately to topple our culture industry.” Gawker was inspired by this impassioned address to ponder “whether this liquidity crunch has begotten too many issuances of new metaphors.” And we’ve got more where that came from: Bernstein’s polemic against National Poetry Month is just as inspiring. . . .

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John Dent-Young wins Premio Valle Inclán

October 1, 2008
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John Dent-Young wins Premio Valle Inclán

At a ceremony this Monday at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, John Dent-Young was awarded the Premio Valle Inclán by TLS editor Sir Peter Stothard for his recent English language translation of the works of Spanish poet Luis de Góngorra in Selected Poems of Luis de Góngora: A Bilingual Edition. In an article published yesterday acknowledging the award, the TLS‘s Adrian Tahourdin writes: Góngora (1561–1627) is “considered by many to be Spain’s greatest poet,” according to Dent-Young, whose aim in this volume was “to rescue Góngora from his role as textbook example of the Baroque and give him a human voice,” while suggesting that Velázquez’s severe portrait of the poet (reproduced here) belies his true nature: “That bridge of yours, Manzanares, it’s a laugh; / listen to what the people round here say: / it’s a bridge that ought to span a mighty sea, / and you’re not river enough to merit half” (from “The Bridge of Segovia”). Reviewing Dent-Young’s work in the TLS of October 19, 2007, Chris Andrews wrote, “Góngora’s verse affords a range of pleasures … but bringing those together requires patience, good will and philological help. John Dent-Young has provided the smoothest possible access to the poems.… . . .

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