Art critic Carl Little’s essay in The Maine Art Journal’s Spring 2023 issue situates the poetry of Julien Vocance precisely where it belongs: beside the poetry of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and the novels of Erich Maria Remarque, and Dalton Trumbo. https://maineartsjournal.com/carl-little-the-lies-and-truths-of-war-some-reflections/
Saturday, April 29 Poetry Readings at the Newburyport Public Library
9:00 AM. Breakfast with the Poets—Powow River Poets Read New Work
Join us for coffee and pastries— and some strong poetry to get you up and going. These locally based, nationally recognized poets will refresh your palate. Al Basile, Daniel Brown, Rhina Espaillat, Paulette Demers Turco, and Barbara Lydecker Crane will read from books they’ve published since last year’s festival. Owen Grey will moderate.
10:30 AM. Out of this World—A Reading from Outer Space: 100 Poems
Throughout human history, poetry has provided stories about what people observe in the sky. Stars, planets, comets, the moon, and space travel are used as metaphors for our feelings of love, loneliness, adventurousness, and awe. Editor Midge Goldberg and contributors Liz Ahl, Robert Crawford, Michael Ferber, Deborah Warren, and Anton Yakovlev will read from the anthology Outer Space: 100 Poems, recently published by Cambridge University Press, which includes poets, astronomers, and scientists from the 12th century BCE to today, from all around the world. Midge Goldberg will moderate.
11:30 AM. The Poetry of Mary Buchinger and Alfred Nicol
The theme of loss and the heartbreak of it, whether sudden or slow, unites recent poetry by Mary Buchinger and Alfred Nicol. In One Hundred Visions of War, Nicol, whose own poems are known for their sonorous power, has now translated the piercing WW I poems of Julien Vocance from the French into a moving series of haiku. In Virology and the forthcoming Navigating the Reach, Buchinger’s reveries on landscape and human loss move us with their supple beauty. For these poets, the encounter of keenly observing self and world yields visions sensitively drawn and superbly crafted.
1:30 PM. The Poetry of Wendy Drexler and Andrew Hudgins
Knowing the “mess we’ve made of us. . . the mass and rush of us,” and in keen sympathy with the creaturely world, whether herring, bluebird, or screech owl, Wendy Drexler finds in the “mirrored labyrinth” of memory a profound reclamation, as experience refracts memory and memory resonates in experience. The richly entertaining characters of Andrew Hudgins’s monumental body of work derive from his singular childhood in the South. Hypnotic and musical, his poems pivot on moments of unexpected humor, capturing both woe and wonder. For both poets, time shifts the meaning of our remembrance.
2:30 PM. The Poetry of Matthew Buckley Smith and Alan Shapiro
Matthew Buckley Smith imbues his poems with the same subtle wit, knowing heart, and genial, meditative tone he sometimes deploys on his podcast Sleerickets, lending these poems of young romance, written in faultless meter and rhyme, a wry and ruminative tone. In addition to his fine poems, the Festival must also thank Matthew for bringing the poet Alan Shapiro to us this year, with his new book Proceed to Checkout, which follows on many much lauded collections. Shapiro’s poems sparkle “with formal precision and imaginative openness, social conscience and psychological savvy.”
3:30 PM. The Poetry of Aaron Poochigian and Amit Majmudar
In the dazzling American Divine, the celebrated classicist Aaron Poochigian happens on the divine everywhere—in a passing mongrel bitch, a roadside totem, the traffic lights lavishing Christmas glory— while with flair, he notes the pretensions to the divine in himself and in certain peculiarly American sects. Add in oxycontin, and ecstasy can cross from pretension to madness, as Amit Majmudar, a diagnostic nuclear radiologist, as well as a colossus on the literary scene, shows in What He Did in Solitary. Majmudar explores the cultural nightmares that make solitary confinement a fact of our lives, while celebrating with delightful potency the perpetual becoming of the world.
Leslie Monsour. Rhina Espaillat: A Critical Introduction. Story Line Press (2013)
Reviewed by Alfred Nicol
Often, when Rhina Espaillat is invited to read her poetry, the person who introduces her begins by saying, “This poet needs no introduction.” Yet Leslie Monsour’s Rhina Espaillat: A Critical Introduction has much to offer the lucky reader who has just discovered Espaillat’s work as well as those of us who think we know her well. The first of the book’s five sections is an elegant meditation on her poetic achievement, pairing her “deep regard for craft” with her insistence that poetry must remain accessible, must communicate with the reader: “I’m after the meaningful ordinary… that everyone else can understand and that can serve as a bridge between my life and everyone else’s.”
Here and in the succinct biography which follows, Monsour’s intelligent, witty prose seemingly follows the play of thought, inviting the reader along on a leisurely stroll while calling attention to the high points of Espaillat’s poetic achievement and the major events of her life as she goes, as though happening upon these things by accident. We get all the pleasure of a tour without the aggravation of an itinerary. It is only after the fact that we notice how the arc of the narrative ends with Espaillat’s triumphant return to be be honored in the country from which her parents were exiled.
The felicities of Monsour’s style are no less evident in the book’s third section, which includes close readings of several poems that hint at the riches to found in her work as a whole. She cleverly displays a bit of that abundance by inserting a partial list of the urban and suburban animals Espaillat has written about: “Among Espaillat’s menagerie we meet a startled, ill-fated cockroach; an escaped terrarium crab; a rat nesting in an automobile engine; a bored zoo seal; a marauding woodchuck; and a camera-shy raccoon, keenly observed with the humane, philosophical involvement Burns gave his mouse…” A consideration of Espaillat’s frequently anthologized poem “Bilingual/Bilingüe” leads to an appreciation of her work in translation, and to this remarkable insight: “Espaillat’s naturally inclusive impulse to link diversities allows her to translate poetry with a facility she stores somewhere deeper and richer than intellect.”
Part IV of Monsour’s Introduction is a wide-ranging interview, in which Monsour’s astute questioning gives her subject an opportunity to expand on the themes discussed in these essays; that is to say, Rhina is invited to introduce herself. Monsour somehow prevails upon her to read a poem published in the November 1947 issue of Ladies Home Journal, which Espaillat dismisses as a “sappy love poem” written at a time when she “didn’t know which end of a guy was up.”
And in the last section of the book, Espaillat speaks without interlocutor. We are presented with Espaillat’s poem, “Impasse: Glose.” Monsour’s graceful decision to step back and give her book’s subject the last word is of a piece with everything else she’s done so admirably in this book. Rhina Espaillat: A Critical Introduction is essential reading for anyone who loves poetry.
Here is a video of The Diminished Prophets performing a new melopoeia, titled “The Gallery.” Recorded in October 2023 at BevCam in Beverly, MA, it features the poems of Rhina P. Espaillat, Alfred Nicol and others read to the accompaniment of John Tavano on guitar and Roger Kimball on bass and cello.
My conversation with Gayle Heney about translating Julien Vocance’s One Hundred Visions of War, written in the trenches of France in 1916, was recorded at the HC Media Studio in Haverhill on January 23, 2023.
Gayle has been producing her award-winning program Write Now for over ten years. Previous guests include Andre Dubus, Rhina P. Espaillat, Paul Harding, and Meg Kearney.
Reading by Local Poet Alfred Nicol
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22 6:30—7:30 PM G.A.R. Memorial Library, 490 Main Street, West Newbury, MA, 01985
In honor of the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, local poet, Alfred Nicol will read from his most recent publication, One Hundred Visions of War, a translation of Cent Visions de Guerre by Julien Vocance. These poems, written in 1916 in the trenches of WWI, are among the first haiku written in the west.
Dana Gioia, who served as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts for six years, writes in his preface to the book, “One Hundred Visions of War is a major poetic testament of the Great War. Few works of such audacious originality are so accessible and emotionally engaging. More than a century after its publication, Vocance’s sequence has lost neither its shock value nor its strange tenderness. Alfred Nicol… has restored a lost masterpiece to English-language memory.”
Alfred Nicol’s poems have appeared in Poetry, the New England Review, Dark Horse, Commonweal, The Formalist, The Hopkins Review, Best American Poetry 2018, and many other literary journals and anthologies. Nicol lives in West Newbury, Massachusetts, with his wife, Gina DiGiovanni.
Registration is required for this event. To register, please scroll down the library’s event page here.
My conversation with Gayle Heney about translating Julien Vocance’s One Hundred Visions of War, written in the trenches of France in 1916, will air for the month of February in Haverhill, MA on Comcast channel 22 on Tuesdays @ 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. and Wed. @ 3:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
The program will air in 5 additional markets beginning the week of Feb. 6 – March 11, 2023. They are:
North Andover, MA: Mondays @ 5 pm; Tuesdays @ 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Fridays @ 11 a.m. and Sat. @ 8 p.m. on Comcast channel 22 and Verizon channel 24
Methuen, MA: Tuesdays @ 8:30 p.m. and Wed. @ 9:30 a.m. on Comcast channel 22 and Verizon channel 33
Andover, MA: Mondays @ 8 pm and Tuesdays @ 7 a.m. and Thursdays @ 12 noon on Comcast channel 8 and Verizon channel 47
Lawrence, MA: Wed. @ 7 p.m.; Thurs. @ 11a.m. and 8 p.m. and Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on Verizon channel 40 and Comcast channel 99
Boxford Cable Access TV: (Boxford, MA) Comcast channel 8 and Verizon channel 45. This station changes its programming weekly, so viewers should check out its link for exact dates/times.
Gayle has been producing Write Now for over ten years. Previous guests include Andre Dubus, Rhina P. Espaillat, Paul Harding, and Meg Kearney.
I always introduce Marissa Grunes as the daughter of my first poet friend at college. I like that connection, but it has become irrelevant with regard to her work. She’s become a go-to writer for me. Anything she writes, whether it pertains to literature or science, demands to be read. Here is her most recent publication. There’s not a word of alarmist rhetoric in it, but it sure does send out an alarm.
Working closely with Hungarian musician and composer Peter Pejtsik, I wrote an English version of Béla Bangha’s lyrics for the hymn “Győzelemről énekeljen,” which served as the anthem for the 52nd Eucharistic Congress of the Catholic Church, held in Budapest Sept. 5 to Sept 12, 2021. Recently, I found this Youtube video of the anthem performed by a full choir, with Pejtsik conducting.