The Public Purposes of Poetry with Joseph Bottum

The Public Purposes of Poetry with Joseph Bottum

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 136:00—7:00 PM
G.A.R. Memorial Library, 490 Main Street, West Newbury, MA, 01985

Poet, Joseph Bottum, will discuss the public purposes of poetry followed by a reading from his latest book, Spending the Winter.

Joseph Bottum is poetry editor of the New York Sun, director of the Classics Institute at Dakota State University, and author of three books of formal poetry: The Fall and Other Poems (2001), The Second Spring (2011), and Spending the Winter (2022). A native of South Dakota, he is also an author of children’s verse, sharing the 2019 Christopher Award for the year’s best children’s book, The World Is Awake.

The former literary editor of the Weekly Standard and editor of First Things, Bottum is the author of the South Dakota childhood memoir The Christmas Plains (2012), the sociological study An Anxious Age (2014), and the literary study The Decline of the Novel (2019). Over 1,000 of his essays and reviews have appeared in publications from the Atlantic to the Washington Post. He has been the #1 bestselling author on Amazon twice with his commissioned Kindle Singles. Holding a Ph.D. in medieval philosophy, Bottum has profiled and interviewed in the New York Times, Le Figaro (Paris), Il Foglio (Rome), and many other publications. He lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Leslie Monsour Introduces Rhina Espaillat

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.  

Reflecting on One Hundred Visions of War

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.

Click here to view.

Reading at G.A.R. Memorial Library, West Newbury, MA

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.

2022 Newburyport Literary Festival Poetry Events

Saturday, April 30 – Poetry Readings via Zoom

8:30–10:00 AM  Breakfast with the Poets. Yet another year without coffee! But we’ve got strong poetry to get you up and going.  Seven Powow River Poets, Midge Goldberg, Don Kimball, Jean Kreiling, Zara Raab, Andrew Szilvasy, Paulette Turco, and Deborah Warren, will read from books they’ve published since last year’s festival.  

10:15-11:15 The Poetry of Richard Wollman and Kirun Kapur. How much of the world is gathered in the work of these two poets from Amesbury, just across the river! In their cadences we hear echoes of the Psalms and the Ramayana. They bring us news from Steubenville, Basra, Surat; from Ashkelon and the defiled Jewish cemetery in Carpentras. But they also bring our attention to what’s happening in the sky above the Merrimac river and in the waiting room of the hospital, for theirs are intensely personal poems. Richard Wollman’s newly published work is a love poem which reads like a whispered prayer to “the twin gods of want and need.” Kirun Kapur’s new book makes expressive use of silence and dares to utter in compassion what emerges from silence, words left unsaid for generations.

11:30-12:30 The Poetry of Taylor Byas and Greg Williamson. Two bright stars in the firmament of formalist poetry, Greg Williamson and Taylor Byas extend tradition by inventing their own forms and by adapting inherited forms to meet new challenges. At a time when our understanding of reality has been radically transformed, Williamson brings the language of thermodynamics and quantum physics into the sonnet sequence. Byas uses the six recurring words of the sestina to send a message about the new reality of social media; she addresses the cyclical violence of racism in the repeated lines of the pantoum. If one can speak of the cutting edge of tradition, this is it. 

12:45-1:45 The Poetry of Caitlin Doyle and Jeffrey Harrison. The ancient connection between poetry and memory is everywhere apparent in the work of Caitlin Doyle and Jeffrey Harrison.  The first-generation Irish-American poet Doyle, who first encountered the sound of rhyme and cadenced language in anthologies found on her parents’ bookshelves, creates memorable lyric poems of her own. In long meditative lines of verse, Harrison recalls and relives the arc of his own journey through a life replete with love and loss. As Stanley Plumly notes, his “writing has that quality of being at one with the experience.”

2:00-3:00 The Poetry of Danielle Legros Georges & Geoffrey Brock. As Danielle Georges reaches back into “the waters of history” in Haiti and to the island’s French legacy, she finds a gorgeous, resilient voice that echoes Baudelaire, and operates by vivid juxtaposing of images.  She advises, “do not turn . . . //Against a neighbor. . . // Your human // Self, keep it alive. A type/ Of flame.”  If Georges’ influences are French, Goeffrey Brock’s are Italian, for it was through his translations that he acquired a formal aplomb. “Everything wants to dream itself into something. . .” writes Brock—and write he does with eloquence, whether it’s an ode to Ovid with stanzas in three meters and perfect rhyme, or variations on the theme of Orpheus, who knew “I couldn’t bring her back, / Because it wasn’t her / But grief that I love. . .”

3:15-4:15 The Poetry of Regie Gibson & Marilyn Hacker. These astute, urban poets eschew the garret; they’d rather work with other poets, dead (through translation) or alive, Marilyn Hacker most recently in a book-length renga, a collaboration with the French-Indian poet Karthika Naïr, and Regie Gibson in the classroom, hip-hopping with teenagers, “We gotta do a Mic Check, an Everything-all-right Check,” translating “The Cat from Strat” (Shakespeare) into 21st C. dialect and calling, like Hacker, for greater social responsibility: The one life I have, Hacker knows, “will be “same” unless I make it “other.” Being American isn’t always easy. “Once, it was lucky,” says Hacker, whose grandparents immigrated to the U.S. before the Holocaust, while Gibson calls on us to rewrite our dark “isms” with new ones—”the right to remain black and not shot-ism,” for example. 

The 80th Writers Conference at Ocean Park, Maine: August 12, 2021

I’m pleased to return to the beautiful coastal town of Ocean Park to teach a class titled “Forms of Repetition.” The so-called French Forms have been popular for centuries as intricate games with language that often use their sophisticated play to convey, with apparent lightness, some of the least “light” aspects of life. Some have been called obsessional forms, others perfect mechanisms for encapsulating memory, still others brave little dances in which the human spirit faces down the inevitable.

In this workshop, poets are invited to draw on something in their personal experience —whether pleasant or painful—that bears repeating, to see what can be made of it.

The conference takes place from August 9 to August 13, 2021. My one-day seminar will be held on August 12. Click here for more information.

The Powow River Poetry Anthology II

Fourteen years ago I edited, typeset and designed the first Powow River Anthology, released by Ocean Publishing with an introduction by X. J. Kennedy. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then! Paulette Turco, one of our newest members, took up the challenge of editing a second anthology, enlisting the aid of Rhina Espaillat, Jean Kreiling and myself, but shouldering the greater part of the workload herself. She and Alex Pepple of Able Muse Press teamed up to issue an exquisitely designed and edited showcase of the immense poetic talent that has been gathering once a month in the town of Newburyport to share poems and lively discussion of the art and craft of poetry.

Place your order here: https://preview.mailerlite.com/g6s8s8/1513520248504977672/m1e7/