Category Archives: North American Poets

2012 Top Books

In the relative cool of an Arabian winter, it’s easy to forget the terror of 50 degree afternoons when you need an oxygen bag and a strap-on fridge to walk five yards in the shade. Looking back over 2012 I’m happy to misremember sitting out in the garden with a dripping copy of Lars Gustafsson’s The Stillness of the World before Bach, desperately thumbing through the final poems before the book fell apart under the weight of my own sweat. There were books left out which opened in the heat like tubers; books dropped overboard from canoes which dried into salt-caked fossils. And yet, in this most forbidding and secretive of places, mercifully, thankfully the books came, and kept coming.

Nâzım Hikmet, Piraye’ye Mektuplar, YKY, 2012. This massive book of Hikmet’s prison letters to his wife Piraye ought to be among the foremost classics of modern Turkish literature. But you could just about say that for any of Hikmet’s books. First published by Adam Books in March 1998 and now reprinted as part of YKY’s Nâzım Hikmet series. This edition includes 581 letters over 772 pages. There could be no better use of a translator’s time than to bring this entire book over into English.

Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, trs. Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness, Penguin Books, 2012. I loved this book so much that I wrote about it for Conversation Quarterly. You can read what I had to say by clicking here.

John Freely, The Grand Turk, I.B.Taurus, 2012. Freely never disappoints and here, in his spirited biography of Sultan Mehmet II, the Conqueror, his command of narrative plays faithfully to the facts. Few Pop Historians can rival Freely when it comes to the Ottomans.

Bird CloudAnnie Proulx, Bird Cloud, Fourth Estate, 2012. In the summer of 2011, alone in a tent for two days and nights, I was pinned down to the side of a Swedish mountain north of Arjeplog by a magnificent storm, with little more than a bag of rice and a book of Tomas Tranströmer’s Collected Poems. I couldn’t bear to open the book and for the next five weeks in milder forests across northern Sweden the book remained closed. So when I carried Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud all the way up into those same storm prone hills this year (2012), trapped again by a storm too big for me to think through, I knew I wouldn’t read it. But then I did. And when the rice ran out I even thought I might eat it. But then I didn’t.

Martin Anderson, Snow: Selected Poems 1981-2011, Shearsman Books, 2012. Anderson’s poems are what inner space was made for. Astonishing. Far and away the best book of poems published in 2012.

Anyone who can count one or two hours in the company of a book each day, no matter where or how they live, can count themselves among the chosen.

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Find Myself Now: Remembering Samuel Menashe (1925—2011)

For most of his adult life the poet Samuel Menashe lived in a tiny New York apartment, perched on the top floor, accessible only by a narrow, spiraling flight of stairs. It seemed, in a way, the physical embodiment of his writing life. Even if you knew he was there, it took effort to reach him.

For almost five decades Menashe existed on the margins of American letters. His first book, The Many Named Beloved, was published a continent away in Britain in 1961, and despite a forward written by Kathleen Raine, he quickly disappeared for another decade. His second book, No Jerusalem But This (1971), was again published in Britain and promised to raise him from obscurity when it came to the attention of Donald Davie and Stephen Spender. Davie’s characteristically distilled perception of Menashe as a religious poet is one that has largely remained to this day. What he called Menashe’s “liturgical and devotional intent” was one “directed to releasing the worshipful potentialities of language.” Spender, on the other hand, saw him more narrowly as “a poet of entirely Jewish consciousness”. He wasn’t. Not nearly. Menashe’s poems were too open, too generous to be tied to one particular creed:

Apotheosis

Taut with longing
You must become
The god you sought—
The only one

The poems bow to no orthodoxy; Menashe’s tentative soundings were so unique, so individual, they could be viewed as neither tradition nor fashion, and Davie even hinted at this as a cause of his neglect.

Though isolated and largely ignored, Menashe showed remarkable resilience. His art became even more refined; change meant polish and perfection. It would take his inclusion in Penguin’s Modern Poets series in 1996 for us to recognize him as a poet of weight not bulk, capable of talking across continents and cultures.

In 2004, when Menash was almost 80, The Poetry Foundation bestowed on him the inaugural Neglected Masters Award. It may have been late in the day for Menashe, but in honoring him The Library of America (2005) made a large body of his poetry available, introducing his work to several generations of new readers. This was followed in Britain by his New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2009), issued together with Pamela Robertson-Pearce’s tender DVD film Life is Immense: Visiting Samuel Menashe.

It was typical of Samuel Menashe, that he should slip away, quietly in his sleep on the evening of August 22, 2011, at a time when he was becoming most visible. But we have his poems, as Stephen Spender wrote, “intense and clear as diamonds.” They were minute and his output restrained and measured. He was, in Derek Mahon’s phrase, a master of “compression and crystallization.” We could never mistake him for anyone else.

Now

There is never an end to loss, or hope
I give up the ghost for which I grope
Over and over again saying Amen
To all that does or does not happen—
The eternal event is now, not when

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Adrianne Marcus, poet & writer

Adrianne MarcusPoet and author Adrianne Marcus, a regular contributor to Near East Review and one of the poets I translated for my 2004 book Aradaki Ses, died early on September 9 after a long illness. Adrianne was 74. Born in Everett, Mass. on March 7, 1935, Adrianne grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and graduated from San Francisco State University with degrees in Creative Writing.

Adrianne worked for The San Francisco Chronicle for many years as a food columnist. She also wrote two works of non-fiction, The Chocolate Bible and The Photojournalist: Mark & Leibovitz.

As a poet, Adrianne published over 400 poems, in such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, Descant, Poetry Ireland, and The Nation. A poetry pamphlet, Magritte’s Stone, was published in Ireland in 2000. A memorial celebration of her life and work was held at Temple Rodef Sholom, 170 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael, CA 94901 at 11:00AM on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009.

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The Poetry of Deena Linett

Deena LinettAnyone unfamiliar with the poetry of Deena Linett might like to try these two new poems at la fovea. Deena Linett is one of the most compelling poets I’ve read in years. Her two collections are Rare Earths (2001) and Woman Crossing a Field (2006) both published in New York by BOA Editions. Her craft and concision draw us close to the source of poetry’s self-making and in these two fine poems we’re reminded how fragile that balance of sense and sound can be, and how necessary it is when the balance is right.

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