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Poetry now

By Camille Dungy

I’ve been posting quite a bit about the exciting work produced by some of our finest emerging poets, and I’ve also written about poems that are sonically engaging. So it may come as no surprise that I am pleased to announce that From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great arrived in my mailbox (and bookstore) this week.

“There is currently an explosion of poetry that I am delighted by…91 poets in this new anthology alone,” claims Gerald Stern in his forward. “What seems to distinguish them… is their commitment to the aural… They desire to be understood; they desire to be read aloud…” Drawn from the From the Fishouse online poetry archive, the nearly 150 poems collected in the book  showcase a number of previously disparate poetic approaches and, doing so, reinvigorate American poetry by giving us new ways to listen.  In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I have an investment in this collection.  For the past two years I have worked with co-editors Matthew O’Donnell and Jeffrey Thomson compiling some of the most vibrant new voices in American poetry.  But, though the three of us were involved in the editing process, the credit for the high quality work we collected goes to the poets and their poems, and that’s what I want to talk about here.

The anthology includes a variety of talented new-generation poets including Kazim Ali, Lucy Anderton, Curtis Bauer, Sherwin Bitsui, Paula Bohince, Oliver de la Paz, Matthew Dickman, Kevin A. González, Rigoberto González, Matthea Harvey, Major Jackson, James Hoch, Ilya Kaminsky, Dana Levin, Sarah Lindsay, Sebastian Matthews, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ravi Shankar, Laura-Gray Street, Gabriel Welsch, and Eliot Khalil Wilson.  Poems that draw on old stories  like “Letter to Cain” and “Alexander Leaves Babylon” share the cover with poems like “Cousin Drowses on the Flight to Kuwait” and “Understanding Al Green” that focus on about highly contemporary situations. “Cleopatra’s Bra” runs up against “Why the Marriage Failed,” “Oakland Work Crew” against “Selling Out.”  Received forms like the abecedary “Alphabet for Tamar” are presented in company with newly-invented forms like the one we find in “gigan: v.”  Some poems, like “Late Twentieth Century in the Form of Litany” and “Battle Rhyme for the Rhetorical Disenfranchisers”  are idiomatic of our generation’s place in linguistic, cultural, and poetic history, while others like “Prayer for My People” and “The State of Virginia After Southampton: 1831” are aware of the sounds and stories coming from worlds far beyond our physical and temporal doorsteps.

Some of these poets, by the way, reside now in countries as far flung as Syria, Spain, and France, and some have immediate roots in countries like Ghana, the Philippines, the former Soviet Union, Korea, Puerto Rico, India, and many more countries besides.  So it’s fair to say that this anthology reflects the perspective of an outwardly-looking global age.  This translates into far-ranging poems like the percussive, symphonic “gamelan,” which incorporates a number of languages, “Servitude,” set in Hunan, 1938, and “Quisiera Declarar,” written, the poet claims in one of the book’s Q & A sidebars, under the influence of a Californian late-night Mariachi radio station.

The poets collected in From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great revel in words, their texture and their grain; they luxuriate in the resonance of the well-turned phrase. They savor rhythm and rhyme, the pulse of the poem as it works. They write for the pleasures of the ear as much as for the pleasures of the mind or heart. I am delighted that, in addition to the work available on the Fishouse website, there is also a print version of the collection available for those of us who prefer to hold in their hand that old-school technology, the book.

Comments (4)

  • On April 29, 2009 at 1:51 am michael wrote:

    I think I’ll pick that one up.

  • On April 29, 2009 at 12:53 pm Albertine wrote:

    So excited for this book.

  • On April 30, 2009 at 9:31 pm Evie wrote:

    Can a contributor voice excitement without sound like a self-promoter?? I got my copy and it’s a beauty of a book — I do think it will well serve one of its intended purposes: to be a great resource from which to teach poetry to writers and lit students as well. Kudos, Camille, Matt, and Jeffrey!

  • On April 30, 2009 at 9:32 pm Evie wrote:

    Argh… That would be “sounding” — not the verb to mess up, when speaking about a poetry book with a subtitle like this one has! : )


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 by Camille Dungy.