Wednesday 21 February 2007

Auden would have been 100 years old today

Stop all the clocks. Today is W.H. Auden's 100th birthday. It is being celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic, as both the United Kingdom and the United States like to claim him as one of their own, which in many ways is true. Tributes abound. The Guardian reports on taxi cab drivers reciting the poet's work. The New York Sun has a wonderful homage written by Adam Kirsch. The website of the W.H. Auden Society, horribly designed as it is, has a great wealth of information on Auden's life and works, including a round up of centenary celebrations happening throughout the year in Britain. Alas, it's not all candy and wine. British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion despairs that York, Auden's home city, has fallen short of giving their favourite son a proper celebration. But wherever you are, you can celebrate this special day by curling up with a volume of Auden's poems and remembering why so many readers continue to love his work. Don't have a book? There are plenty of his poems to be found on the internet. For a start, why not visit the Academy of American Poets; their page for Auden contains some wonderful poems and even some recordings of Auden reading aloud. His voice, speaking to us from beyond the grave as digitized bits in cyberspace, is as charming and gregarious as ever.

Wednesday 14 February 2007

Rodney Jones wins $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Award

Rodney Jones, whose poems I recommend highly, has won this year's Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his most recent book Salvation Blues: One Hundred Poems, 1985 -- 2005. The prize gives $100,000 (US) annually to a poet "...who is past the very beginning but has not yet reached the acknowledged pinnacle of his or her career."

The Southern (Illinois) reports:
Jones said when he first heard he had won the Tufts award, one of the first things he uttered was an expletive.

"I was astonished when they told me about it," he said. "There are so many people who write well. I don't mean I'm better than them; I'm saying I'm lucky."

Jones has been writing poetry since he was 19, when he was a student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

"A poet had moved in next door to me, and I wrote down some things just to see what he thought of them. Of course, he thought they were terrible," Jones said.

Jones' career would prove to the contrary. He earned a master of fine arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and joined the SIUC faculty in 1985. Since then, Jones has won several awards including the Harper Lee Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Academy of American Poets Lavan Younger Poets Award. He also has been a Pulitzer finalist. (more here.)
This is great news. I've been reading Rodney Jones' poetry for years, and I think he's a marvellous poet. Click here for an audio link to Jones reading two poems for the NEA's Poetry Out Loud program.

This award, which has been around since 1993, has a great track record as far as I'm concerned. Last year's winner was another favourite of mine, Lucia Perillo, for her wonderful book Luck is Luck. Past winners also include terrific poets like Henri Cole, Carl Phillips, B.H. Fairchild, and Susan Mitchell.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

What's the Poetry Foundation doing with all that money?

After Ruth Lilly (pictured) gave over a hundred million dollars to the Chicago-based journal Poetry in 2002, the little magazine had to scramble in order to build itself into the kind of organization that could use that kind of money. One of their first moves was to restructure themselves into The Poetry Foundation, a charitable group with the aim of promoting poetry to the general public. They hired John Barr, a gifted businessman, questionable poet, and Flintstonian blowhard, to be their president. But what exactly have they been doing for the past five years? The New Yorker sent Dana Goodyear to find out.

“Money doesn’t solve problems, it rearranges problems, and a lot of money creates a kaleidoscope of possibilities,” J. D. McClatchy, a poet and the editor of The Yale Review, said. “The aura of mediocrity has settled like a fog over the business of the foundation. The new awards, for example. It’s not the winners who trouble me, it’s the categories. Children’s poetry? Funny poetry? If those are a way for the foundation to carve a niche for itself, it’s a shallow one and too low down on the wall. It signals a lack of ambition and seriousness that may ultimately be fatal. Ironically, they risk marginalizing themselves by appealing to people who think of the ‘Prairie Home Companion’ as high art. It’s the culture of sidebars, poems suitable for the fronts of tote bags. The foundation seems to want to promote poetry, the way you’d promote cereal or a sitcom.”

On the one hand, I love it that there's an organization out there dedicated to promoting poetry and with the resources to do it. And I have to confess that I often buy, read, and enjoy their magazine. But still, this article makes me wonder, are they making the right decisions? A "funny poem" contest hardly seems an appropriate legacy for the magazine that helped create the landscape of modern English-language poetry.

Monday 5 February 2007

Poetry, Death and Atheism

Australian writer Emily Maguire has written a wonderful piece on the necessity of poetry for the atheist, especially when it comes to dealing with death. Here's a sample:

"After one has abandoned a belief in God," Wallace Stevens said, "poetry is that essence which takes its place as life's redemption." This makes sense to me: poetry often has a murkiness that allows it to deal with subjects themselves shrouded in haze. And what subject is murkier than death, about which medical science can tell us everything and nothing all at once? We know exactly what happens to a body after death; we know nothing about what happens to the consciousness it used to house.

Paradoxically, poetry is valuable in dealing with grief and despair because of its knife-edge precision. It can cut through the meaningless murmuring and timid equivocation that so often accompanies writing about death.

You can read the rest at
The Age.

(Thanks to JimC of Melbourne for alerting me to this article.)

Photos from Annex Books' last day

Photo: Annex Books proprietor Janet Inksetter with poetry superstar Stuart Ross.

Poet Dani Couture dropped by Annex Books on its last day as an open store. She took a few pictures, which she has posted on The Northern Poetry Review. It's a terrific site, and it's worth having a look, and not just for the picture of me typing.