All your essential poetry news from the month of October, painstakingly filtered through five layers of volcanic rock by yours truly.
There have been a couple of rather odd stories doing the rounds in the global media this month and I’ll start with them.
First we have the news that a version of ‘The Night Before Christmas‘ has been published in which the reference to Santa smoking a pipe has been removed. This minor event has attracted an extraordinary amount of attention.
Secondly, the media have been almost obsessive in their detailed coverage of Tom Hanks‘s performance of a ‘slam poem’ about the US show Full House. This has been mentioned absolutely everywhere and I’m sick to death of hearing about it.
But back to more important matters…
On 4 October the UK celebrated National Poetry Day. The theme this year was ‘stars’. The Telegraph marked the occasion with a lovely collection of the best poetry tweets. Meanwhile, Poetry Africa has been running in South Africa and other African countries between 15 and 20 October.
Natasha Trethewey, who became the US Poet Laureate in September, made an interesting speech on racial identity and how she first became interested in writing poetry. I’m feeling more and more that I’m missing out having never read her work.
The prestigious British Forward Prize for Poetry has been won by Jorie Graham. She is the first female US poet to have won the prize. You can read a good interview with Jorie Graham that she gave to Earthlines.
The news that J R R Tolkein‘s epic poem The Fall of Arthur is to be published next year has attracted a deal of attention. While this is bound to come out with a big fanfare given the ongoing movie adaptations of Tolkein’s novels, personally I wouldn’t get too excited as Tolkein’s poetic style is likely to be a little indigestible over a work of this length. However, if do you want to get a flavour of it, the Guardian ran an article that includes the first few lines of the 200-page poem.
There is a great little story in the Scottish press about a poem which Alex Salmond overheard in a pub and proceeded to quote in a SNP political speech. There is good news too for Cecil Day-Lewis, who is well overdue a resurgence in interest which will only be helped by the donation of his literary archive to Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.
Poetry Magazine, the journal which started in Chicago and is famous for championing the cause of female poets, celebrated its 100th anniversary. Meanwhile, the National Portrait Gallery in the US is holding an exhibition looking at the nation’s most famous poets of the twentieth century.
Extraordinarily, the German poet Günter Grass has yet again risked incurring Israeli wrath by writing a poem praising the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu who spent 18 years in an Israeli prison. Grass has already angered Israel once before this year when in April he wrote a poem claiming that the country’s policies were risking world peace.
Emily Dickinson‘s poetry has been set to song by the Israeli singer-songwriter Efrat Ben Zur in a fascinating project. Well worth a look. Elsewhere in the Middle East, however, the Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami continues to be held on spurious charges, attracting a lot of attention in regional media and with human rights groups.
Spare a thought for the Peruvian poet Antonio Cisneros, and the pro-democracy Vietnamese poet Nguyen Chi Thien, both of whom we bade goodbye to this month.
Last but not least, here is a quick round up of some newly published books that might be worth taking a look. Matthew Dickman‘s Mayakowsky’s Revolver sounds dark but important. James Lasdun makes a welcome return to poetry after ten years with Water Sessions. Sharon Olds‘s The Stag’s Leap seems to have attracted good reviews all round. The Reasoner by Jeffrey Wainwright sounds rather austere, while Out There by Jamie McKendrick sounds well, ‘out there.’ There has been an understandably mixed reaction to the publication of Poetry of the Taliban. Plainspoken Lucille Clifton‘s Collected Poems 1965-2010 are out, as are the Collected Poems of Vladimir Nabokov and the Collected Poems 1935-92 of F T Prince. Ted Hughes‘s brother Gerald has published a memoir, Ted and I.
And that, as they say, is that. More in a month’s time!