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The Antioch Review - Winter 2009

  • Issue Number: Volume 67 Number 1
  • Published Date: Winter 2009
  • Publication Cycle: Quarterly

Poetry editor Judith Hall introduces the all poetry issue with a beautiful editorial: “Those not spent by life are privileged. A poet, reading in the evening, writing after dawn, enjoys such privileges.” A reader with this issue in her hands is privileged, too, I am happy to say.

All poetry doesn’t mean all poems. It means all about poetry, which includes more than a dozen brief contributions to “Prose on Poetry,” including brief essays by some impressive poetry personalities, such as Edward Hirsh and David Lehman; an interview with Mark Strand by Lenny Emmanuel; Jerome McGann’s “Play on Poetry”; an essay on German poetry by John Taylor; and reviews of poetry books. And, of course, poems. Work by a dozen and a half poets, many of whom are also represented in the “Prose on Poetry” section (Hirsch, Lehman, Myra Sklarew, Jeffrey Herrick, James Longenbach, David Caplan).

Sarah Arvio’s personal essay, “Salmat (2006),” is a fitting, if disconcerting, beginning: “Several months ago, I googled myself and found my poem, 'Flying,' reproduced in English on an Arabic website.” The essay’s conclusion, which reflects the ideas she grapples with, is as important a comment on poetry as any: “How will we restore peace to our lives if we don’t know what we’ve done to make enemies? All this requires freedom of thought.”

It’s a stroke of editorial genius, I think, that Arvio’s piece is followed by Longenbach’s essay, “An Examination of the Poet in a Time of War,” with its opening concern: “Who can have lived apart in happy oblivion at any moment in the last seventy years?” I wish there were space to quote here from every essay and every poem in the issue, to show the skill with which these works are linked and related. When Mark Strand tells Lenny Emmanuel “poetry might continue to have a life…as long as people continue behaving recognizably as people,” a quarter of the way through the issue, and sixty pages from Arvio’s essay, I am not merely impressed, I am moved practically to tears.

There is much to admire, even to love, in the poems, too. My favorites include Fady Joudah’s translation of a poem by Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, “Everything as it Was,” which also treats the subject of poetry: “That was in the summer of 1986 in Damascus, his mother was still alive / then and there was an opening somewhere in that poem, more like a hole / that followed him, he’d hear it stumble behind him wherever he went.”

John Taylor also contributes a fluid translation of an excerpt from Pierre-Albert Jourdan’s “Fragments,” a rich piece that alternates between single lines and prose-like paragraphs. “Believe in words as shoes and not as tacks,” Jourdan advises. Jeffrey Herrick’s “Only: A Story,” is a fascinating poetic exploration of the meaning of story, of the imaginative capacity of language, of the relationship of lies to fiction, and fiction to history.

In her clever essay, “Agnus Mopus, or Writing Out the Body of our Work,” Myra Sklarew may well sum up the privileged and problematic work of poets and poetry: “Out of the depths of my being, out of my garbled and conflicted place, my words…consisted of shining up a counter, emptying a wastebasket.” When you put down your mop, pick up this issue of The Antioch Review.

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Review Posted on April 17, 2009

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