Posts Tagged ‘year of poetry’

Purgatory, Raúl Zurita, tr. Anna Deeny. (U California P) $19.95

One of three Zurita titles published in English translation in 2009, Purgatory is beautifully produced, well translated, and as lyrically chilling as when it was first written in the shadow of Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship of Chile. His collection is organically political, like Neruda’s most charged work (quoted in Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize speech, for example), and his experimentation with incorporated imagery is especially noteworthy. Both the introduction by C.D. Wright and the notes by translator Anna Deeny help contextualize the slender, complex text, the publication of which seems especially timely in contemporary English-language literature.

From Molossus endeavor Year of Poetry:


transcript, Heimrad Bäcker, tr. Patrick Greaney & Vincent King. (Dalkey Archive Press) $16.95

In transcript Bäcker collects and reorganizes quotations from Holocaust planners, perpetrators, and victims. An arresting collection of poetry in itself, it’s also a commentary on the translation or appropriation inherent to all poetry. The book’s genesis is also interesting: as a teenager Bäcker was himself active in the regional leadership of the Hitler Youth, joining the Nazi party at age 18; beginning in the late sixties coming to terms with his wartime activity began to consume his literary output. Not at all offered as an apology of forgetting, transcript is an acknowledgement of intense misdeed. Its medium allows it to stand as a most intimate memorial.

And again:



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I’ve now been reading a book of poetry a day for over 100 days, and an update on the project is long overdue. I’ve been more consistent than I expected, catching up quickly when I lag a day or two behind (like now). The 140-character review quickly led to my addition of its 140-character excerpt counterpart, in which I try to allow—as much as possible—the poets’ work to speak for itself. In practice, it’s nearly impossible to generate anything more meaningful than a back cover blurb. (Kwame Dawes suggested the experiment would be excellent training for a future career as book blurber.) 140 characters is just enough to comment on a book in most general sense or to comment on one more specific feature, seldom both. Likewise, it’s nearly impossible to include both the positive and negative aspects of a work.

What then, is the value of the Twitter review? It is, I suppose, the value of a single, hopefully singular observation about a book of poetry. The relationship between criticism and marketing is ever murkier as both move online, and the Twitter review can be viewed as a subversion of a social marketing application for the purpose of social criticism or as a corruption of more traditional criticism for the sake of marketing. More realistically I think it is probably something of both.

While I continue this project I hope to write more, citing specific examples from actual tweets to demonstrate the difficulty and nuance of the task. In the meantime, I’d like to introduce next week’s selection of books. During my processing I began to wonder what it would be like to review a book that I knew more intimately than one I had just read that day—as that is, especially for a poetry review, somewhat of an unusual time constraint. So rather than choose from the new collections I gratefully receive from their publishers, I decided to select a week’s worth of collections I know well. These have been selected arbitrarily, from a single shelf in my office, and don’t particularly represent my taste beyond the fact that I own and have read them at least once. Though most of these poets are American (most men, most white, as well), I suggest that the diversity of the greater list, available here, better reflects the international character of Molossus.

Here’s the list of old friends:

136. Time and Materials, Robert Hass. (Ecco, 2007) $22.95
137. Without, Donald Hall (Mariner Books, 1999) $13
138. On Purpose, Nick Laird (Faber & Faber, 2007) £9.99
139. What the Living Do, Marie Howe (W.W. Norton, 1999) $11
140. the book for my brother, Tomaž Šalamun (Harcourt, 2006) $16
141. Rose, Li-Young Lee (BOA Editions Ltd, 1986) $14.50
142. The Singing, C.K. Williams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) $20

Thanks for following Year of Poetry on Twitter and Molossus. I’ll continue to discuss the project here in the near future.


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I’m now twenty days into the Year of Poetry experiment. I’ve lagged behind a few days, owing to an out-of-state funeral, review deadlines for other magazines, and a few other projects, but I’ve always caught up within a few days. I’ve read some really good books; my favorites, so far: A Time in Xanadu, by Lars Gustafsson, The Scattered Papers of Penelope, by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, and Look There, by Agi Mishol. It’s also been nice reading the Poetry Translation Centre/Enitharmon chapbook boxset—I just wish the selections were longer.

Since its initial conception, the experiment has evolved. The first day I realized that 140 characters would not allow for any quotations, which I deem crucial to the quality review. I made the decision to quote 140 characters of verse immediately following their respective 140 character reviews, and I think that those short fragments have interacted interestingly. 

The most difficult thing about these reviews is the most obvious: their length. It is difficult in 140 characters to balance the good and bad qualities of any work—especially when that work is for the most part, thus far, good. My reviews sound a little too much like back-cover blurbs, despite my best efforts to achieve balance. Likewise, with the few books I haven’t liked, it’s difficult to do justice to their better qualities, something I think important. 

I’ve now announced by next nine titles, and I’m preparing to update the list again soon. Do feel free to comment here or on Twitter, to let me know what you think of the brief reviews, of how they could be improved, and if they’re at all useful.

Thanks for following the Year of Poetry!

David Shook, Editor

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Beginning 1 September I will read a book of poetry each day for a year, writing 140-character reviews on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/yearofpoetry and on Molossus. I hope to accomplish more than compile 365 pithy back cover blurbs, to truly experiment with the medium as an effective venue for contemporary book reviewing.

I remember once, during my early interest in poetry, explaining to my mother in a bookstore that collections of poetry shouldn’t be read through—that poems should be enjoyed by themselves and that collections, even by single authors, were basically anthologies of one hit wonders. By graduate school I was vehemently opposed to the one hit wonder made popular by the MFA—what Donald Hall calls the McPoem—and interested in interconnected sequences of lyrics and the framework that connected them. I read collections straight through, often in a single sitting, trying to understand how the poems worked together.

As an online broadside, our interest in electronic media is obvious. As a critic, I am especially interested in new networks of media exposure: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. With the recent upsurge in literary content on Twitter—ranging from Penguin Poetry news updates to the alleged musings Edgar Allen Poe—I wondered if poetry, a medium known for its succinctness, could be effectively reviewed in 140 characters. Rather than experimenting with an occasional Twitter review, I have decided to commit myself to developing an effective format for the medium, by reviewing a collection each day for a year. 

Please do follow me on Twitter. To read the book list, which will be periodically updated, click here


David Shook

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