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2008

By Travis Nichols

An eventful year of petty vandalism, monumental publication, and pardons seven hundred years in the making is finally coming to a close. And while there may be some big stories forthcoming in the next few weeks (congrats Elizabeth Alexander!), I’m using my authority as Harriet blogger to put the lid on this sucker here and now. So, in no particular order, here are ten noteworthy poetry news items from the past twelve months that wormed their way into the “larger” culture. There are undoubtedly omissions (sorry Jeff Foxworthy! No room for Dirt on My Shirt!), so please feel free to expand this into the Deluxe Commenters Edition after the jump.


• “Good Fences Make Good . . . PARTY AT FROST’S HOUSE WHOOOOO!!!!!!
A marauding band of youth revelers took over Robert Frost’s house in rural Vermont. They trashed the place in true New England fashion (beer pong!), but they were subsequently caught and sentenced to a poetry class taught by Jay Parini, so next time they trash a literary heritage site, they promise to play The Secret, a drinking game in which they dance around in a ring and suppose while doing shots of maple bourbon.
• Mary Oliver Sells Out
The reclusive 71-year old poet spent much of this year atop the bestseller list, in no small part because she generated quite a bit of buzz on a rare reading tour this spring. In Seattle, tickets to her Benaroya Halll reading sold out in record time, and went for upwards of $200 on Craigslist. In L.A. she drew 1,800 on the UCLA campus, another capacity crowd.
• Tampa Bay Ray preps for World Series with Creeley, Ashbery, Hejinian
Fernando Perez, a backup outfielder on the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays and Columbia grad, revealed his reading list to the St. Pete Times: “Actually, what helps me a great deal right now is poetry, like Robert Creeley and John Ashbery. ” Huzzah! While it’s not surprising for someone in the limelight to try his or her hand at writing poetry (hello Dan Quisenberry!), it’s a bit odd for an athlete to admit reading poetry (especially the good stuff). The Rays did lose, but poetry had nothing to do with that.
• Nuyorican Poets Café Turns Thirty-Five
The famed Lower East Side hangout and slam stomping grounds celebrated three and a half decades with a star-studded bash at Town Hall in May. Here’s a clip:

• Negritude Founder and Martinique Politician Aimé Césaire Dies
The 94-year old icon died in April after years of battling heart problems. French President Nicolas Sarkozy attended a state funeral held in Cesaire’s native Fort-de-France, calling the poet “a great man.”

• Andrew Motion to Step Down as UK Poet Laureate, Chaos Eminent
After ten years as the UK Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion will step down at the end of the year, a fact which has caused quite a bit of controversy across the pond. Not because Motion was universally loved as laureate, but because the post seems to get people’s knickers in a twist. (In U.S. laureate news, Kay Ryan succeeded Charles Simic as our official wordsmith).
• The New American Poetry Wins!
Nearly fifty years after Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry anthology showcased Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Jack Spicer, Barbara Guest, Helen Adam, and Gary Snyder (among others, of course), a series of monumental publications and awards rained down on them, making 2008 officially the Year NAP Broke. To wit:
Frank O’Hara emerges on AMC’s Mad Men and his sales go from something probably small to a lot more than that (O’Hara also gets a new Selected and a William Logan review).
The Library of America publishes the Collected John Ashbery, the first time a living poet has been honored with LOA publication.
Wesleyan publishes the Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer and the Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (at the same time, since the poetry buying public usually has $80 lying around, right? Right? Am I right?). Gary Snyder wins the Ruth Lilly Prize. And Helen Adam gets a Reader.
• Palestinian poet Mahmoud Dawrish Dies
The 67-year old poet and political activist died in Texas after complications from heart surgery. He was buried in a lavish ceremony in Ramallah while readers and fans around the world mourned his passing and celebrated his life.
• Dante Pardoned
After 700 years, the city of Florence officially lifted the death sentence that had been hanging over Dante Alighieri’s head since The Inferno. Unfortunately, the pardon came a bit late, since Dante has been dead for 687 years, but it did come just in time for the poet’s video game debut. Good on you Florence for not holding a grudge!
• President-Elect Obama Carries Poetry Book Around, Looks Pretentious
Barack Obama was spotted carrying a copy of The Collected Poems of Derek Walcott shortly after he was elected president of the United States. The Chicago pol clearly had never read Ron Padgett’s memoir Ted, in which the Padge says:
“In the early sixties Ted and I never went anywhere without a book in hand. We read on the subway, while waiting in a movie line, in coffee shops, everywhere, sometimes just a page or two. The only bad part was having to carry the book. Whenever we were going somewhere with an unsuspecting soul, we would ask, as we walked along, ‘Could you hold this for a moment?’ and then we would proceed to adjust our clothes or fish about in our pockets for something. Invariably the person would forget he was carrying our book, until we got to our destination.
At other times we’d just hand the book over, saying ‘Can you carry this? I don’t want to look pretentious.’”

Comments (5)

  • On December 18, 2008 at 2:53 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Possibly to add to this, there will be a full-page review of Forrest Gander’s poetic novel, As a Friend, in this Sunday’s NYTBR.
    Kent

  • On December 18, 2008 at 4:03 pm Lavinia Greenlaw wrote:

    Thank you for this, Travis.
    Yes, plenty of knickers twisted over the laureatudes, but mostly those worn by people more interested in having a flutter on the poetry horses or devising fantasy leagues than reading actual poems. (Do you have fantasy football leagues over there? This blog sometimes reminds me of one.)
    Meanwhile in other 2008 news from Blighty:
    A poem by Carol Ann Duffy was removed from the national exam syllabus because it was thought to encourage knife crime

  • On December 18, 2008 at 4:45 pm Lavinia Greenlaw wrote:

    My post didn’t quite make it. Continues:
    The father of eleven-year-old Rhys Jones, shot during a gang fight, said that what got him through was writing poetry.
    Gillian Clarke was appointed National Poet of Wales.
    Also in Wales, 250 Christian activists turned out to protest against a poetry reading at the national assembly.
    Poetry unites Bob Geldof and Margaret Thatcher.
    E.A. Markham ,born in Montserrat, lived in England, died.
    Sound poet Henri Chopin died at his home in England.
    The boy Milton turned 400.

  • On December 19, 2008 at 7:50 am Travis Nichols wrote:

    Thanks for the great additions, Lavinia. I did just really want to say knickers in a twist, so pardon the glibness.

  • On December 21, 2008 at 9:18 am Lavinia Greenlaw wrote:

    Not at all glib, knicker twisting is just the right level.
    Fine words butter no parsnips. (A seasonal variation for you)
    Your Ron Padgett story is great. Coetzee writes in Youth about carrying Rilke on the Tube in an attempt to pick up girls – a mistake because surely any girl that interested in Rilke wouldn’t be looking for Rilke, she’d want to be Rilke.


Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 by Travis Nichols.