Last Week in Poetry #4: 4/27-5/3/2009

Hello everyone, and welcome, once again, to Last Week in Poetry. I spent the weekend in Chicago – signing leases, watching improv, and eating a lot of oatmeal – so I missed a few posts. Never fear – I will make up for my delinquency with poetry news that will blow the minds of all comers, young and old. Before I begin, however, a special welcome to anyone who stumbled upon this blog via Gaper’s Block, a Chicago-oriented web publication and all-around terrific site.

And now – back to last week!

1 – Craig Versus the Volcano

Prize-winning poet and assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, Craig Arnold, disappeared last week while on a remote volcano in Japan. Japanese officials ended their search yesterday, just in time for Craig’s brother Chris to initiate his own investigation.

“It’s pretty scary, and I wish I could be there sooner,” Chris Arnold, 38, told “I’m just trying to stay focused, and my main goal is to get there faster and to get more boots on the ground.”

[Craig] Arnold’s footprints were found going up the path to the mouth of the inactive volcano, but there was no sign of his return. The island is remotely populated by only a few hundred residents and is densely wooded with deciduous trees and bamboo.

A current fellow with the U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Exchange, Craig Arnold has been described by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky as “one of the most gifted and accomplished poets of his generation.” Our thoughts are with him here at The Poetry Project.


Osaka, 2003

2 – Big Steps for British Poetry

What do William Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Carol Ann Duffy have in common? Up until last Friday, nothing but a love for verse and an allegiance to the Union Jack. That all changed when Queen Elizabeth II appointed Duffy Britain’s first ever female poet laureate.

Duffy, a decorated poet already, gave her final decision on whether to accept the 10-year post to her 13-year-old daughter, who was adamant that Duffy take it. “Yes, Mummy,” she said, “there’s never been a woman.” There’s also never been a lesbian poet laureate in the UK, either, but Duffy is downplaying that aspect of her life:

“I think we’ve all grown up a lot over the past 10 years.

“Sexuality is something that is celebrated now we have civil partnerships and it’s fantastic that I’m an openly gay writer, and anyone here or watching the interviews who feels shy or uncomfortable about their sexuality should celebrate and be confident and be happy.

“It’s a lovely, ordinary, normal thing.”

What isn’t ordinary about Duffy, besides her tremendous gift for verse, is her choice of Valentine’s Day gift: an onion.

(See also:A Laureate’s poems are all that matter”)


NYC, 2005

3 – The ABCs of Hip Hop

“Poetry with a beat,” Nikki Giovanni declares. “That’s hip hop in a flash.” Far be it from me to debate just what hip hop is and isn’t, but I wasn’t immediately sold on Giovanni’s latest offering, the for-kids Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat, at least not as a quintessential hip-hop-to-poetry missing link.

The collection is broad and well chosen, and counts among its “hip hop” artists A Tribe Called Quest, Common, and the immortal Tupac Shakur. Its “poetry” offerings come from poets such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and the eternally underrated Sterling Brown (seriously – check this guy out). The accompanying audio CD is an important addition, and I’m sure that this book may introduce poetry to many kids who would miss it otherwise. However, I’m reluctant to fully endorse any product that – despite the youth of its target audience – insists on reducing hip hop to such a simplistic definition.

All that said – it’s hard to fault Giovanni for anything after watching her sing Sugar Hill Gang, hambone Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” and discuss her new book:

Nikki Giovanni

4 – The Thinking Man’s Hoodlum

“My life is one foot in the coffin and the other on a banana peel,” said Joey Gallo, “but I don’t care.” Tom Folsom’s new book, The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld, details the Profaci-Gallo gang wars of the 1960s, paying careful attention to the “part thug, part beatnik” mob muscle, Joe Gallo.

Michael Hill, who reviewed the book for The Associated Press, describes Folsom’s writing as being “in a Beat-inspired rat-tat-tat prose that fits the material,” though at times the lingo is “laid on so thick that it sometimes gets confusing who we’re reading about.” I would expect nothing less from a mob book written in a Beat style.

5 – Arlington, Virginia: Represent!

Washington-Lee High School student William Farley won last week’s Poetry Out Loud competition, a national poetry recitation contest jointly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Delivered with the “resonance and charisma of a teenage Denzel Washington,” Farley’s selections included “The Flea” by John Donne and “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes. In addition to the $20,000 prize, Farley won the respect of his peers and a “tearful, leaping hug from his younger brother.” Congratulations, William!


3 Responses to “Last Week in Poetry #4: 4/27-5/3/2009”

  1. I would have loved to compete in something like Poetry Out Loud when I was that age!! Resonant, charismatic recitation is one of the few useful skills I actually have.

    • The only poetry competitions we had when I was in high school were the “Do Your Best to Feign Understanding of Shakespeare’s Sonnets” Showdown, the “Talk Like a Beatnik” Jam, and the “Win $50 By Using the Word ‘Reflections’ In a Poem” Contest and Bake Sale. Oh to be a teenager again…

  2. […] reported here last week, poet Craig Arnold went missing while on a remote volcano in Japan. News sources confirmed Friday […]

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