Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Author Denis Johnson Dies

Monday, May 29th, 2017

National Book Award-winning novelist and the author of Tree of Smoke and the short story collection Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson, has died. He was 67.

NPR called him “A protean stylist who made a career of defying readers’ expectations, he crafted fiction, poetry and reportage that was often as unsparing as it was unconventional.”

The NYT writes that Johnson wrote with “extraordinary savagery and precision. He used his startling gift for language to create word pictures as detailed and visionary, and as varied, as paintings by Edward Hopper and Hieronymus Bosch, capturing the lives of outsiders — the lost, the dispossessed, the damned — with empathy and unsparing candor.”

In his heartfelt and quote filled appreciation, David L. Ulin, the former book critic of the Los Angeles Times, says “Denis Johnson ought to have been exempt. To write as he did, in this crucible of a world, it ought to be worth more than to die on Wednesday at 67, or perhaps to die at all. Think of the transcendent power of his sentences, the ruthless honesty, the unexpected turns.”

The New Yorker says of Johnson “He was an uneven writer, but even his most forgettable work throbbed with his irreducibly American voice, idiomatically vivid, veering between hardboiled banter and hyperacute physical and emotional immediacy—the banter often darkly comic, the description darkly ecstatic, observation so keen and compressed and so idiosyncratic that in bursts of just a few short sentences it could achieve a visionary quality.”

The Washington Post and New York Magazine offer appreciations as well.

His newest book, a reissue of his first two poetry collections, The Man Among the Seals & Inner Weather (UP New England/Carnegie Mellon) will be published this September.


Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Rupi Kaur will publish a new book in October, reports USA Today. Publisher Andrews McMeel describes the as yet untitled book as “a collection of non-traditional and deeply personal poems and original illustrations, focusing on growth, love and healing, ancestry and honoring one’s roots, expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.”

Kaur self-published her debut collection, Milk and Honey (S&S Audio; OverDrive Sample), in 2014. It become a sensation and was picked up by Andrews McMeel in 2015.

It has been on the NYT Trade Fiction list for over a year, currently #3 (after three non-consecutive weeks at #1). It is a fixture among Amazon’s Top 100 (currently #8) and has been on USA Today’s list for 61 weeks, rising as high as #3. Every library we checked still has an active holds list.

On her website Kaur writes Milk and Honey is about “the experience of violence. abuse. love. loss. femininity … each chapter serves a different purpose. deals with a different pain. heals a different heartache.”

The Guardian ran a profile of the author in 2016. Below are videos of Kaur, in a TEDx talk and reading from her first book.

Poet Goes From Unemployed to Prize Winner Overnight

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

An unemployed Australian poet who lives in a camper just learned that she has won a Windham Campbell Prize. One of the world’s most lucrative literary prizes, it awards poet Ali Cobby Eckermann the equivalent of $165,000 (via NPR).

The news came out of the blue. Eckermann tells The Guardian Australia that “It’s going to change my life completely.”

Of Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha heritage, Eckermann suffered under Australia’s assimilation policies that created what is known as “the Stolen Generations.” She was forcibly taken from her mother when she was a just a baby, just as her own mother had been.

Eckermann says the money will provide stability for her family. “My son and my grandsons are moving back to South Australia in the next few months, and it will just allow us some stability to grow up together under the one roof … I haven’t really had that option before in my life. Just the thought of maybe being able to purchase a home or rent a home, and for us to be together and have that stability is something pretty new to me.”

Ruby MoonlightJust one of her books has been published in the US, the verse novel Ruby Moonlight, (Flood Editions, 2015, avail. to backorder). Her first book of poetry was Little Bit Long Time, published by Australian Poetry as part of their New Poets series in 2009. Other works include the collection Inside My Mother and her memoir Too Afraid to Cry.

In the constellation of literary prizes, the Windham Campbell operates far under the radar. Nominees do not know they are being considered, nominators and judges are kept confidential, and there is no publicly announced shortlist. Winners only know they were in the running once they win.

The award is administered by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and was founded by the author Donald Windham and honors his lifelong partner Sandy M. Campbell. It is designed to “to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns.”

The other winners this year are:

André Alexis (Canada/Trinidad and Tobago) for Fiction

Erna Brodber (Jamaica) for Fiction

Marina Carr (Ireland) for Drama

Ike Holter (US) for Drama

Carolyn Forché (US) for Poetry

Maya Jasanoff (US) for Nonfiction

Ashleigh Young (New Zealand) for Nonfiction

Remembering Maya Angelou

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Coming to theaters Oct. 14, is a documentary about Maya Angelou, titled And Still I Rise.

Deadline reports, “From her upbringing in the Depression-era South to her swinging soirees with Malcolm X in Ghana to her inaugural speech for President Bill Clinton, we are given special access to interviews with Dr. Angelou whose indelible charm and quick wit make it easy to love her.”

The trailer was released last week:

The Beyoncé Bounce

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

516P2SFbK-L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Beyoncé’s HBO special, which debuted on Saturday night, surprised fans, as the New York Times reports, with the announcement of a new album Lemonade.

The special is having an unexpected side-effect, sending a poetry book into the top 100 on Amazon’s sales rankings, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth by Warsan Shire (flipped eye, 2011;  978-1905233298).

Between songs, Beyoncé read selections from poems by the Somali-British writer and activist.

Shire was named first Young Poet Laureate of London in 2014 and was the subject of a New Yorker piece last year [may require subscription], saying her work,

“conjures up a new language for belonging and displacement … with fifty thousand Twitter followers and a similar number of Tumblr readers, [she] demonstrates the writing life of a young, prolific poet whose poetry or poem-like offhand thoughts will surface in one of your social media feeds and often be exactly what you needed to read, or what you didn’t know that you needed to read, at that moment.”

The New Yorker calls Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, “a spare collection of poems … outsize in its sensuality, wit, and grief.”

Few public libraries bought copies of the 38-page pamphlet-sized collection. Those that did are seeing circulation but light holds. The title is currently out of stock on Amazon but is listed on major wholesaler catalogs.

Below is a video of Shire reading one of the poems Beyoncé featured:

Novelist, Poet Jim Harrison Dies

Monday, March 28th, 2016

9781556594458_cb8a0 9780802124562_f1e0b

The New York Times is well know for their stirring obituaries, but the one for writer Jim Harrison, who died Saturday at 78, is one of their most moving.

Just last week, the NYT Book Review featured Harrison in one of their “By the Book” profiles and reviewed his most recent book, The Ancient Minstrel, (Grove Press, 2/6/16) saying, “No one writes more persuasively about the natural world, the ways of animals both wild and domestic, rural roughneck mores, hunting and fishing, food, drinking, the writing life and, of course, male lust: reflexive, resistless, defiantly unfashionable.”

In January, he published a book of poetry, Dead Man’s Float (Copper Canyon Press). One of the poems from that collection is now particularly poignant,

My work piles up,
I falter with disease.
Time rushes toward me —it has no brakes. Still,
the radishes are good this year.
Run them through butter,
add a little salt.

NYT BR Ends the Year Poetically

Monday, December 28th, 2015

The 12/27 NYT Sunday Book Review devotes its attention to “The Year in Poetry.” Discussing the issue on the weekly podcast, the editors note that this has been a year of controversy and scandal in poetry, as poets dealt with the issue of race, “badly, mostly,”(see Sonya Posmenther’s “Critics Take: A Language for Grieving“) as well as politics.

9781931082877Somewhat less controversially, a range of people, from John Green to John Waters response to the question “What is Your Favorite Poem?” Gillian Flynn selects Gwendolyn Brooks, musing that Brooks “nestled into my heart when I was about 12, and she’s never been replaced,” adding that her poem, “a song in the front yard” is her “heartbeat anthem… it hit me with so much impact as a quiet, shy, relentlessly pleasing junior-schooler who yearned to be so much more than that.”

Lena Dunham picks “Man and Wife,” by Robert Lowell, explaining that she relates “to the story of the wronged wife, the wounded daughter, the angry mistress. But Lowell captures what is painful and precious about long-term love, about learning to live with someone else even when you cannot mend them.”

9780871406798Ta-Nehisi Coates lists Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage,” saying “It is the poem I return to over and over — both for what it says about my country, and how it says it.”

Separately, online only, the NYT BR’s “On Poetry” columnist  David Orr selects the ten Best Poetry Books of 2015.

9781101875438_c0880Mary Jo Bang, Robin Coste Lewis, Ada Limón, and Lawrence Raab are likely the most familiar of his selections, with Limón also making the National Book Award’s poetry short list and Lewis winning that award for her collection Voyage of the Sable Venus (PRH/Knopf; OverDrive Sample).

We’ve added all ten selections to our downloadable spreadsheet:

Best Books, Poetry, V3

See all the downloadable spreadsheets, at the right, under “Best Books 2015.”

The Trump Bump

Friday, November 13th, 2015

9781555976903_b8120Donald Trump unwittingly sent a book of poetry rocketing up Amazon’s sales rankings.

Claudia Rankine’s award-winning poetry collection, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press; Tantor Audio; OverDrive Sample), soared to #21 (from #646) after footage went viral of twenty-three year-old Johari Osayi Idusuyi prominently reading a copy of Citizen in the background as Trump spoke at a campaign rally on  Monday.

The story is also showing up on news shows. Idusuyi told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that she had been to a Rankine reading recently and brought the book along to pass the time before the rally began. She decided to start reading rather than listening after Trump and his supporters expelled a protester, knocking off her Obama hat and flinging it into the crowd.

Trump supporters sitting near by tried to get Idusuyi to stop reading. She did not and, at the end of the rally, she held up the book as others held up Trump signs.

Citizen, which was a finalist for the National Book Award last year and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry in 2014, explores racism in the U.S. It is now higher on Amazon’s sales rankings than Trump’s campaign book Crippled America, currently at #99.

Poetry Reigns Over The December Indie Next List

Monday, November 9th, 2015

9780544555600_bf0b5The Selected Poems of Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) tops the December Indie Next list, the first time a book of poetry has led the list.

Hall, former US Poet Laureate, is one of the most beloved and respected poets writing today. This collection spans over seven decades of writing.

Katharine Nevins, of MainStreet BookEnds of Warner, Warner, NH says:

“This is a gift of honesty, intimacy, and the pure genius that is Donald Hall, as he hand-picks what he considers to be the best of his poetry from more than 70 years of published works. From this former U.S. Poet Laureate comes one essential volume of his works, where ‘Ox-Cart Man’ sits alongside ‘Kicking the Leaves’ and ‘Without.’ As he is no longer writing poetry, this ‘concise gathering of my life’s work’ is the perfect introduction to Hall’s literary contributions, as well as closure for his many ardent followers.”

December is traditionally a slow time for publishing as booksellers are up to their ears managing holiday sales. Perhaps as a consequence, just over half of the Indie Next December list features November titles including Umberto Eco’s Numero Zero, Mitch Albom’s The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, Carly Simon’s memoir Boys in the Trees, and Michael Cunningham and Yuko Shimizu’s A Wild Swan: And Other Tales.

9780143128250_9f966Others on the list pubbing in December are paperback originals, including A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton (Penguin; Blackstone Audio), also our most recent Penguin Debut Authors Pick.

Sandi Torkildson, of A Room of One’s Own bookstore in Madison, WI says:

“An intimate look at the devastating effect of the bombing of Nagasaki on one family, this is a story of love — parental and sexual, selfless and selfish, and, in the end, healing. Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her home in the U.S. to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, who supposedly perished along with her daughter during the bombing nearly 40 years earlier. The man carries a cache of letters that forces Ama to confront her past and the love affair that tore her apart from her daughter.”

There is not a LibraryReads list in December. Instead librarians will celebrate the full year of reading with a “Favorite of Favorites” list to be issued on Dec. 1.

Librarian picks published in December 2015 will appear together with the January 2016 picks on the January LibraryReads list.

The NBA Poetry Longlist

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015


The ten titles on the The National Book Awards longlist for poetry released today prove poetry is still being published by the Big Five publishers. Over half the titles are published by three of them, RH/Knopf (3 titles), Penguin (2) and Macmillan/FSG (1). W.W. Norton, a large independent publisher that is  bastion for poetry, published one of the nominees as did a university press and two independents.

The list includes two prior National Book Award winners, Marilyn Hacker and Terrance Hayes; previous National Book Award finalist Lawrence Raab; and two Cave Canem Fellows, Ross Gay and Robin Coste Lewis.

All but one of the titles were reviewed in the pre-pub journals with half the list receiving starred reviews.

The shortlist will be announced October 15. The winners will be announced on Nov. 18.

The 2015 National Book Award for Poetry Longlist

Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Pitt Poetry Series/University of Pittsburgh Press)

Reviewed by Booklist and Publishers Weekly, which said “these simple, joyful poems read like a litany of what’s good in the world.” The Rumpus featured Gay in one of its Late Nite Poetry Shows.

Amy Gerstler, Scattered at Sea (Penguin)

Reviewed by Library Journal and starred by Publishers Weekly. The Washington Post, picked the title as one of the “Best new poetry collections for July” saying it “throws convention and familiarity overboard and asks us to consider what remains. The work mixes salty humor, invigorating rhythms and sharp-edged wisdom.”

Marilyn Hacker, A Stranger’s Mirror: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2014 (W. W. Norton)

Reviewed by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and starred by Library Journal. Lambda Literary says the collection “demonstrates Hacker’s continued formal mastery; she effortlessly spins one sonnet into two, then three, then seven, leaving readers always breathless for more.”

Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn (Penguin)

Reviewed by Booklist, Library Journal, and starred by Publishers Weekly. NPR says Hayes is “A vital voice that explores race and art and the roving power of language … [his] fifth book is slippery with riddles … full of puns and fake outs, leads and dodges, all encased in muscular music.”

Jane Hirshfield, The Beauty (RH/Knopf)

The only book on the list to receive two starred reviews, from Booklist and Publishers Weekly (LJ also reviewed)., Hirshfield was interviewed in March on NPR. As an introduction they called her “one of our country’s most celebrated poets. She’s been a Guggenheim fellow [and] The Academy of American Poets bestowed her a fellowship for her “distinguished poetic achievement,” an honor shared with Robert Frost and Ezra Pound.”

Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus (RH/Knopf)

The trade reviews did not cover Lewis but that does not mean libraries do not know her. The Los Angeles Public Library featured her in a program with last year’s NBA poetry finalist Claudia Rankine, saying Lewis “lyrically catalogs representations of the black figure in the fine arts.”

Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions)

Starred by Library Journal and reviewed by Publishers Weekly, LJ says “Generous of heart, intricate and accessible, the poems in this book are wondrous and deeply moving.” The editors of the Tahoma Literary Journal agree, saying “Limón’s playful language is coupled with a tendency to flow, almost dreamily, into dark content—she moves seamlessly from spiders in the magnolia tree and zucchini in the kitchen to a woman floating dead in a water tank.”

Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine (RH/Knopf)

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly. An interview in storySouth opens with this description of Phillips writing: “You write in what one might call a plain style. Your language is straightforward, uncomplicated. Your tone is always level, even quiet. Your lines are taut, stanzas sparse. And your subject matter is realistic, accessible. Yet the accumulative effect of your poems is astonishing. Their art, it would seem, is concealed in plain view.”

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Heaven (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Booklist and Publishers Weekly reviewed Phillips with PW making his collection one of their “PW Picks: Books of the Week, June 15, 2015.”  It was also one of The Washington Post‘s picks of “Best new poetry collections for July” along with Scattered at Sea.

Lawrence Raab, Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts (Tupelo Press)

Booklist reviewed Rabb, calling his most recent volume “A wonderful, mature, sweeping collection.” His book What We Don’t Know About Each Other was also a finalist for the NBA in 1993.

Juan Felipe Herrera
First Latino U.S. Poet Laureate

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 12.00.33 PMJuan Felipe Herrera will become the nation’s next poet laureate this September. He is the first Latino poet to fill the post since it was created in 1937. Herrera was named California’s poet laureate in 2012 and served in that position through 2014.

As NPR reports, he is a child of California, hardly leaving the state in 66 years, “born to a family of migrant farm workers, he bounced from tent to trailer for much of his youth in Southern California, eventually going on to study at UCLA and Stanford. Years later, he stepped out of the state to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, before — you guessed it — returning home to California.”

The Poetry Foundation, which has a profile of Herrera as well as three sample poems, says that he has been influenced by Allen Ginsberg and that his “poetry brims with simultaneity and exuberance.” The New York Times says his poetry “fuses wide-ranging experimentalism with reflections on Mexican-American identity.” They offer two additional selections of poems.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 12.00.11 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-10 at 11.59.25 AMHerrera has written dozens of books including poetry, short stories, and works for children and young adults. His most recent book is Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona Press; 2013). He is perhaps best known for 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007 (City Lights; 2007) and Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press; 2008).

The following video Herrera reads from the latter at at the 2009 PEN Beyond Margins Celebration.

“A Serious Blow for
American Poetry”

Monday, February 16th, 2015

9780679765844Former Poet Laureate Philip Levine died at 87 on Saturday. In today’s NYT, critic Dwight Garner describes him as the author of “spare, ironic poems of the industrial heartland” and calls his loss, “a serious blow for American poetry.”

Levine won a Pulitzer Prize for his collection The Simple Truth (RH/Knopf, 1994) and two National Book Awards, for Ashes: Poems New & Old (Atheneum, 1979) and for What Work Is (RH/Knopf, 1991). His most recent collection was News of the World, (RH/Knopf, 2009).

The New Yorker, which published many of his poems, beginning in 1958, notes that Levine credits a high school teacher for opening his eyes to poetry,

When I was in the eleventh grade and the war was still going, a teacher read us some poems by Wilfred Owen. And after class, for some reason, she called me up to her desk and said, “Would you like to borrow this book?” How she knew that I was responding so powerfully to these poems, I’m not sure, but I was. She said, “Now, I want you to take it home, and read it with white gloves on.” In other words, don’t spill soup on it. It was probably the most significant poetic experience I had in my whole life, and I was only seventeen. Just to discover that there was a young man some years before whose feelings about war were so similar to my own, yet he had experienced it all, whereas I was only living in dread of having to go to war.


Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

9781594204302Featured on Fresh Air yesterday was Mark Harris on his new a book about filmmakers in WWII, Five Came Back: A Story Of Hollywood And The Second World War, (Penguin Press; Recorded Books).

The author describes the shift in relationships between the film business and the U.S. government, “Hollywood and the federal government held a mutual suspicion of each other. But after Pearl Harbor, the War Department asked Hollywood directors to make short documentaries that could be presented in theaters before the featured films … to show Americans what was at stake, give them a glimpse of what our soldiers were going through and stir up patriotic feelings.”
Book of Hours

Coming today on Fresh Air, Kevin Young shares poems from his new collection, Book of Hours, (Knopf) about the death of his father and the birth of his son.

Nancy Pearl Interviews Billy Collins

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Aimless LoveIn the latest in her series, Nancy Pearl interviews two-time U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. Because people often think of poetry as “the spinach of literature,” he created the Poetry 180 program, to encourage high school students to discover the pleasure in  poetry.

Collins’ latest collection, his first in twelve years, is Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, (Random House, 10/22/13). Collins reads the poems for the audio edition.

Mary Oliver Celebrates Her Muses

Monday, October 7th, 2013

9781594204784The NYT today calls Mary Oliver’s new book of poetry, coming out tomorrow, “a sweet golden retriever of a book that curls up with the reader.”

The 35 poems and one essay in Dog Songs (Penguin) are, of course, about the dogs that have been in her life.