Category Archives: News

TODAY: In 1818

1818Today in 1818, John Keats and Samuel Taylor Coleridge go for a walk on Hampstead Heath. In a letter to his brother George, Keats writes that they talked about “a thousand things… nightingales, poetry, poetical sensation, metaphysics.”

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HAPPY WORLD POETRY DAYIn 1999, UNESCO declared the 21st March as World Poetry Day to promote worldwide poetry, human creativity and linguistic diversity. The UK’s Poetry Book Society is proud to represent such a wide range of world class poets from across the globe through their PBS Selections, including US based poets Amish Trivedi, Kaveh Akbar, Ocean Vuong, Canadian Anne Michaels, Hong Kong-born Mary Jean Chan and Kit Fan, Trinidadian Vahni Capildeo and Puer­to Ri­can Loretta Collins Klobah, Welsh-Gujarati poet Tishani Doshi, Romanian Ana Blandiana, Albanian Luljeta Lleshanaku, Austrian Evelyn Schlag and Chinese exiled poet Yang Lian. Check out their World Poetry Day Blog for a whistle stop tour of world poetry, starting with My Voice: A Decade of Poems from the Poetry Translation Centre including 111 world poems in 23 languages from Arabic to Zapotec. Happy reading!

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Whole Earth Troubadour

Ange Mlinko

On the life and work of W.S. Merwin, who died on March 15, 2019, at the age of 91.

Whole Earth TroubadourThe Essential W.S. Merwin

edited by Michael Wiegers

Copper Canyon, 338 pp., $18.00 (paper)

Garden Time

by W.S. Merwin

Copper Canyon, 71 pp., $24.00

The Moon Before Morning

by W.S. Merwin

Copper Canyon, 121 pp., $17.00 (paper)

The farther the past retreats from Merwin, the more his love surges forth, even for his unhappy American childhood (“middle-class and in every sense provincial,” he once wrote). A late poem, titled “Antique Sound,” mingles nostalgia for turntables with an awareness that the miracle of recorded music is undermined by the errancy of materials, which no innovation can entirely forestall:

There was an age when you played records

with ordinary steel needles which grew blunt

and damaged the grooves or with more expensive

stylus tips said to be tungsten or diamond

which wore down the records and the music receded

But as in a fairy tale, the child Merwin and his friend “had it on persuasive authority/that the best thing was a dry thorn of the right kind,” which they scour a forest to find. The thorn is not only a subversion of technological innovation—this is a regression, of course—but it will necessarily encode the nonhuman music of the forest, which takes decades or centuries to mature:

an earthly choir of crickets blackbirds finches

crows jays the breathing of voles racoons

rabbits foxes the breeze in the thickets

the thornbushes humming a high polyphony

When the boys finally retrieve the magic object and listen “to Beethoven’s Rassoumoffsky/quartets echoed from the end of a thorn,” we find that in a very short space Merwin has harmonized the myths of the suffering composer, Christ (the god with the crown of thorns), Philomel (the nightingale who sang her best song with a thorn in her breast), and Orpheus (the poet whose lyre domesticated wild animals and made stones leap up in accompaniment). These ghosts from the history of the art don’t intrude, and you can ignore them, but you can’t ignore that thorn, that intractable thorn, touching down into the musical groove.
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Read also: Windows to the World: At WS Merwin’s Old French Farmhouse

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St. Patrick’s Day


No wise man ever wished to be younger.

                                                               — Swift


Down the long library each marble bust

shines unregarded through a shower of dust

where a grim ghost paces for exercise

in wet weather: nausea, gout, ‘some days

I hardly think it worth my time to rise’.

Not even the love of friends can quite appease

the vertigo, sore ears and inner voices;

deep-draughted rain clouds, a rock lost in space,

yahoos triumphant in the marketplace,

the isle is full of intolerable noises.


Go with the flow; no, going against the grain

he sits in his rocking chair with a migraine,

a light in the church all day till evensong,

the sort of day in which a man might hang.

No riding out to bubbling stream and weir,

to the moist meadow and white belvedere;

on tattling club and coffee house a pox,

a confederacy of dunces and mohocks —

scholars and saints be d-mn’d, slaves to a hard

reign and our own miniature self-regard.


We emerge from hibernation to ghetto-blasters

much better than our old Sony transistors,

consensual media, permanent celebration,

share options, electronic animation,

wave motion of site-specific daffodils,

closed-circuit video in the new hotels;

for Niamh and Oisín have come to earth once more

with blinding breastplate and tempestuous hair,

new festive orthodoxy and ironic icon,

their faces lit up like the Book of Kells.


Defrosting the goose-skin on Bridget’s daughters

spring sunlight sparkles among parking meters,

wizards on stilts, witches on circus bikes,

jokers and jugglers, twitching plastic snakes,

pop music of what happens, throbbing skies,

star wars, designer genes, sword sorceries.

We’ve no nostalgia for the patristic croziers,

fridges and tumble-dryers of former years,

rain-spattered cameras in O’Connell St.,

the sound mikes buffeted by wind and sleet —


but this is your birthday and I want to recall

a first-floor balcony under a shower of hail

where our own rowdy crowd stood to review

post-Christian gays cavorting up Fifth Avenue,

wise-cracking dialogue as quick and dry

as that in The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye;

for we too had our season in Tír na nÓg,

a Sacred Heart girl and a Protestant rogue,

chill sunshine warming us to the very bone,

our whole existence one erogenous zone.


I could resign these structures and devices,

these fancy flourishes and funny voices

to a post-literate, audio-visual realm

of uncial fluorescence, song and film,

as curious symptoms of a weird transition

before we opted to be slaves of fashion —

for now, whatever the ancestral dream,

we give ourselves to a vast corporate scheme

where our true wit is devalued once again,

our solitude known only to the rain.


The one reality is the perpetual flow,

chaos of complex systems. Each generation

does what it must; middle age and misanthropy,

like famine and religion, make poor copy,

and even the present vanishes like snow

off a rope, frost off a ditch, ice in the sun —

so back to the desktop and the drawing board,

prismatic natural light, slow-moving cloud,

the waves far-thundering in a life of their own,

a young woman hitching a lift on a country road.

Saint Patrick's Day-Mahon

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By Paige Ackerson-Kiely

Inside a cage the dog snarls

and snaps, even the air is torn.

Inside the house the man’s voice

is a bed turned over by cops.

They find nothing but their own anger,

some old tissues. They leave the place a mess.

You want to investigate silence.

It’s Tuesday, the sun is a newly

opened can of mandarin


though it’s never hunger that wakes you.

You step outside, listen for a daffodil

pulling on its yellow slicker,

but cannot hear a thing. After a while,

you learn to feel for the rain.
From Dolefully, A Rampart Stands by Paige Ackerson-Kiely, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Paige Ackerson-Kiely.

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Is the human brain hardwired to appreciate poetry?

by Frontiers

Is the human brain hardwired to appreciate poetryIn 1932 T.S. Eliot famously argued, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
In a recent article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Professor Guillaume Thierry and colleagues at Bangor University have demonstrated that we do indeed appear to have an unconscious appreciation of poetic construction.
“Poetry”, explains Professor Thierry “is a particular type of literary expression that conveys feelings, thoughts and ideas by accentuating metric constraints, rhyme and alliteration.”
However, can we appreciate the musical sound of poetry independent of its literary meaning?

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Today’s Special Poem: “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou

A Phenomenal WomanToday marks International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to the many incredible achievements of women and the ongoing work toward achieving gender equality. Today’s special poem by poet and activist, Maya Angelou, is a celebration of the power each and every woman has within herself.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips. 
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman.
That’s me.
I walk into a room 
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or 
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet. 
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman.
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They stay they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand 
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me in passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me. 

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By Emily Temple

THE 32 MOST ICONIC POEMS INToday is the anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost’s iconic poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” a fact that spurred the Literary Hub office into a long conversation about their favorite poems, the most iconic poems written in English, and which poems we should all have already read (or at least be reading next). Turns out, despite frequent (false) claims that poetry is dead and/or irrelevant and/or boring, there are plenty of poems that have sunk deep into our collective consciousness as cultural icons. (What makes a poem iconic? For our purposes here, it’s primarily a matter of cultural ubiquity, though unimpeachable excellence helps any case.) So for those of you who were not present for our epic office argument, I have listed some of them here.
NB that I limited myself to one poem per poet—which means that the impetus for this list actually gets bumped for the widely quoted (and misunderstood) “The Road Not Taken,” but so it goes. I also excluded book-length poems, because they’re really a different form. Finally, despite the headline, I’m sure there are many, many iconic poems out there that I’ve missed—so feel free to extend this list in the comments. But for now, happy reading (and re-reading):

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By Aaron Shulman

In the five years since the Republic’s founding, leftist administrations had carried out a series of ambitious reforms aimed at transforming and modernizing Spain: legislation to increase rights for women, new agrarian laws to reduce the suffering of the landless poor, changes in the educational system to free it from the dominance of the Catholic Church, and restructuring of the armed forces to decrease the influence of the military. Such attacks on the traditional structures of Spanish society earned the reformists, as well as the Republic itself, a committed bloc of enemies, from loyal monarchists to conservative Catholics, from wealthy landowners to the Spanish fascist party, the Falange. Now these groups united under Franco and other generals. They hoped to take back Spain and return it to its former imperial greatness, which in many cases meant eliminating perceived foes, such as Lorca.
Born in 1898 to a well-off family in a village near Granada, Lorca had grown up to be a gifted musician, pathbreaking poet, theater-filling dramatist, and unparalleled party guest. His personality was so contagious that when a young Salvador Dalí first met Lorca in college, the painter would literally run away from him to battle in private his jealousy of the Granadine’s charisma. By the time he was in his mid-thirties, Lorca was one of the most beloved Spanish-language writers alive. Alongside his literary peers, the Generation of ’27, he reinvigorated Spanish poetry, bringing artistic innovations from the rest of Europe into harmony with Spain’s folkloric traditions, especially that of his native Andalusia with its rich gypsy influences. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote of his friend Lorca: “I have never seen grace and genius, a winged heart and a crystalline waterfall, come together in anyone else as they did in him.” 
Behind that shimmering waterfall, however, Lorca inhabited a fragile, shadowy inner world. As a gay man in a steadfastly homophobic society, he was never able to express his true self in all its complexity, perhaps the worst fate imaginable for someone as torrentially expressive as Lorca. His pain fueled poems of melancholy longing and stage tragedies of disastrously failed love. Yet if the country that created Lorca failed to accept him during his life, this didn’t stop him from cherishing Spain all the way down to its darkest impulses.
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Excerpt from The Age of Disenchantments by Aaron Shulman. Copyright 2019 by Aaron Shulman.

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In Another Country

Stephen Dunn
In Another Country
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