Tuesday Miscellany

Leave it to Robert D. Kaplan to provide a most concise and perceptive analysis
of the antagonism between Pakistan and India in global terms. Bill Clinton read his books and articles during his presidency; Kaplan explained the frictions between globalization and local insurgencies would flare into larger hostilities. I would also recommend Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India (Doubleday, 2007). india.jpgLuce observes that in cities such as Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, there has been more conflict between the Shia and Sunni Muslim communities than between Hindus and Moslems. Luce was the South Asia bureau chief for the Financial Times. While charting the rise of India’s productivity, he notes that the country has resisted efforts by Wal-Mart to enter its retail market. “In spite of much breast-beating in the West, China is developing in the same sequence as most Western economies have done. China began with agricultural reform, moved to low-cost manufacturing, is now climbing up the value-added chain, and probably, at some stage in the next ten to twenty years, will break into internationally tradeable services on a larger scale. India is growing from the other end.” There are 470 million laborers in India's hinterlands, while its service sector accounts for more than half of its economy. Luce looks into the rise of the country’s lower castes. This is a rich book covering every aspect of Indian life and modern history.


bestnewpoets.jpgPoetry is a long apprenticeship – but the work of many young poets is now being collected into anthologies even before they have moved off campus. The Samovar Press of Charlottesville, Virginia has just published the fourth such collection of Best New Poets of 2008: 50 Poems from Emerging Writers. Poems were submitted by writers (for a small reading fee), and were nominated by directors of American creative writing programs and editors of magazines. A field of 2,500 poems was shaved to 126 finalists. Then Mark Strand picked the final fifty. Jeb Livingood, the series editor, says “the main goal of Best New Poets is to provide special encouragement and recognition to new poets.” “We belong to a subsidized bohemian class,” wrote William Matthews. The grappling for subsidies – who will or won’t win the first-book prizes and land the instructorships – is now the preoccupation of MFA candidates. Every press publishing poetry is like a box of Cracker Jacks: a prize in every package. The forty poets represented here are “new” because they haven’t publised a book yet, but given sufficient “special encouragement” they probably will. Some of the best poems, like Alexandra Teague’s “Adjectives of Order,” are fluent narratives, or poems that actually risk making a definite statement such as Tracey Knapp’s “Difficulties.” If either poet has written thirty or more additional poems as good as these, then let the prize-giving season commence. Best New Poets is distributed by the University of Virginia Press, paperback, $11.95.


Several emails arrived here asking about availability of Michael Heffernan’s The Odor of Sanctity, reviewed here on December 2. I suggest that you either go directly to the Salmon Poetry site and spring for the cost of shipping from Ireland, or wait for copies to become available on Amazon in January.


An update on Give + Take and the Concord Free Press. As you may recall
from my post
on this unique venture, the Press produced 1500 copies of Stona’s Fitch’s novel and gave them away -- with the proviso that the reader pass the book on to another person and make a donation to a charity of choice. givetake.jpgA message spread via Twitter resulted in 13,000 hits to the Concord Free Press website during a single 36-hout period, resulting in 3,000 requests for the book, no longer in stock. The Press has generated over $35,000 in donations already and the story was covered in the L.A. Times and Boston Globe book blogs among other places. My offer: Two copies of Give + Take have come into my possession. Send me an email with your mailing address and I’ll send a copy to you on me. Full disclosure: I just joined the board of Concord Free Press. They have a terrific t-shirt for sale, too, at the website, http://www.concordfreepress.com.


hebrew.jpgIn September SUNY Press published Poets on the Edge: An Anthology of Contemporary Hebrew Poetry, selected and translated by Tsipi Keller ($24.50, paperback). Some of the twenty-seven poets here will be familiar: Dan Pagis, Dahlia Ravikovitch, and of course, Yehuda Amichai, but most of them have never been published in America. Keller says that the tradition of Hebrew poetry is ancient because it takes root in the Bible – but that it is also very young because Hebrew as a language was nearly defunct until it was revived and updated as a state language of Israel, though even in the 1940s Hebrew had not been established as the spoken language of Israel. She writes, “At the beginning of the last century, Hebrew poets still referred to their language with messianic aspirations, as to a living dead, and they often depicted it as the mourning of the daughter of Zion, using language reminiscent of The Book of Lamentations.” Many poets arriving in Palestine before statehood were shocked by the encounter, and it showed in their verse. A poet like Amichai, projecting a large persona, bore the responsibility of the new nation – yet he managed to write lyrically, personally. The contemporary Israeli poet seems to express a “narrowed down” self “harmonized with the move toward a less grandiose and lofty poetic vernacular, and with the desire to feel less burdened by history and more at home in one’s habitat.” The desire grates against the hard facts. In America, poets vie for history-burdening rights and lose their feel for the archetype in the lived moment. In Israel, poets bristle at history and fill their poems with objects, as if possession of life (at last) were the objective.

POETRY / Yitzhak Laor (b. 1948)

The dead died in summer and the poem
was written in winter, and spring
and autumn have gone by more than once
but I write it again and again:
The dead died in summer
the poem written in winter.
I write poetry so as not
to crumble

And what do I do when I do not write
and how come I didn’t crumble?
Perhaps because poetry
is a sort of walking and stopping

(At times I wait for the bus at the bus stop
and if it doesn’t arrive, I’m filled
with apprehension and walk to the next stop
and again I wait, and again I walk,
stop, miss the bus, late, slow, and hurrying.)
I write because I’m crumbling

I’m a poet at points
where I don’t write and don’t walk
don’t even sit. Where in this vast
space is the point where I (think me,
Not crumbling, writing, a poet)