An Ode to Ancient Poetry, Performance, and Peter Green

by Josh Beer

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Society for Classical Studies conference in Toronto, January 5-8. When sharing on social media, please be sure to use the hashtag #AIASCS!

In the following post, contributor Josh Beer, who taught Greek and Roman Studies at Carleton University for 45 years, pays homage to Peter Green and his translation of the Iliad while describing his own approach to lecturing as a form of theater and how ancient poetry was meant to be sung or recited aloud. When you’re finished reading, head to an earlier blog post, where our classics editor, Eric Schmidt, also explores the ways in which music and literature converge.

In the mid 1960s I was asked to teach a course on Classical Literary Genres to about 100 English Majors. Some textbooks were obvious choices – Lattimore’s Homer, Lattimore and Grene’s tragedies – others less so. The sexual revolution was penetrating the classroom. Former bowdlerized translations of authors like Aristophanes, Catullus and Juvenal were no longer acceptable.

Peter Green’s Juvenal (1967) appeared like a breath of fresh air. Readable, witty and explicit, it captured both the rhetoric and the humor of Juvenal’s original. The poet Martial addressed Juvenal as facundus, a word meaning ‘eloquent’. It is a term I would use of Peter Green himself. That he had won many glittering prizes among London’s literati after graduating from Cambridge was no surprise; his joy in the English language shines bright in all he writes.

Continue reading “An Ode to Ancient Poetry, Performance, and Peter Green”

Daniel Handler’s Salute to UC Press Poets

Every April, Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, reads only poetry in honor of National Poetry Month. This year, he gave a shoutout to two of our poets on both Twitter and in this great article on the Huffington Post. Handler is author of The Basic Eight and the A Series of Unfortunate Events books (also adapted to a 2004 film starring Jim Carrey, and soon to be adapted to a Netflix series).

Harryette Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002).
Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002).

Poet: Harryette Mullen
How they strike me: When someone holds your hand and looks you in the eye and won’t let go until you stop trembling.
Book I like of theirs: Sleeping With The Dictionary. No, wait: Urban Tumbleweed. OK, get them both.
Representative lines:
Beside the bed, a pad lies open to record the meandering of migratory words. In the rapid eye movement of the poet’s night vision, this dictum can be decoded, like the secret acrostic of a lover’s name.
Suggested beverage pairing: What’s in this tea? Has the sky been this color all this time?”



Mei-mei Berssenbrugge's I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems, 2006.
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems (2006).

Poet: Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
How they strike me: Like a conversation so terrific you stay up too late to finish it and the next day are cranky but it’s worth it.
Book I like of theirs: I Love Artists
Representative lines:
I seek a permanent home, but this structure has an appearance of indifferent compoundedness and isolation, heading toward hopelessness.
The boys pulls an animal on a leash.
Suggested beverage pairing: Wheatgrass juice, side of aquavit.”

Pegasus Award Recognizes Robert Duncan Books

Big congratulations are in order for Peter Quartermain and James Maynard, the respective editors of Robert Duncan: The Collected Later Poems and Plays and Robert Duncan: Collected Essays and Other Prose. The two books received the Poetry Foundation’s prestigious 2014 Pegasus Award for Criticism. The annual award honors the best book-length works of criticism, including biographies, essay collections and critical editions that consider the subject of poetry or poets.

In their announcement, the Poetry Foundation writes, “These two critical editions represent a major achievement in textual scholarship, bringing together Duncan’s authoritative texts and unpublished works. The result is an extraordinary look into the development and evolution of Duncan’s distinct and groundbreaking poetics.”

Another UC Press book, The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia, edited by Garrett Caples, Nancy Joyce Peters and Andrew Joron, received an honorable mention for the award.

Lamantia and Music

To conclude our celebration of National Poetry Month, we asked Andrew Joron, one of the co-editors of The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia, to reflect on Lamantia’s poetic development and the sources of his inspiration. 

By Andrew Joron

Philip Lamantia, whose Collected Poems was published by UC Press in 2013, was always attuned to the powers of music, not only in his own prosody and vocal delivery, but also in the culture at large—especially in the jazz milieu that he explored with Beat novelist Jack Kerouac in the fifties.

Born in San Francisco in 1927, Philip Lamantia was the most American visionary poet of the postwar generation. Inspired as a teenager by surrealist art and poetry, he traveled to New York during World War II to meet André Breton, the leader of the surrealist movement, who hailed Lamantia as “a voice that rises once in a hundred years.” At the end of the war, Lamantia returned to San Francisco and became a protégé of the anarchist poet Kenneth Rexroth, who turned the young poet toward naturalism. However, Lamantia never abandoned his mystical bent, which he furthered by exploring drug experiences and studying occult literature. In this period, Lamantia participated in the inception of the Beat movement after meeting Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in Rexroth’s circle. Ginsberg called Lamantia “an American original, soothsayer even as Poe, genius in the language of Whitman, native companion and teacher to myself.” Lamantia collaborated with Kerouac and jazz musicians in New York to stage the first jazz poetry event. Following an extended stay in Europe, Lamantia renewed his commitment to surrealism in the sixties, continuing to practice a unique, mystically-tinged version of surrealism for the rest of his life. He died in San Francisco in 2005.

Throughout the phases of Lamantia’s poetic development, sound and music always seemed to provide prime sources of inspiration. Indeed, the sonorous quality of Lamantia’s own voice has provoked much commentary, including Kerouac’s descriptions of it in The Dharma Bums as a “delicate Englishy voice that had me crying inside with laughter,” and in Desolation Angels as “an excellent and strange new form of English I’ve never heard anywhere.” Whether reading poems aloud or conversing, Lamantia always applied a bardic, highly oratorical inflection that set his voice apart from typical American speech patterns. Moreover, during the period of his association with Kerouac, Lamantia occasionally performed his poems with musical accompaniment. For example, the manuscript of Lamantia’s poem-cycle Tau is marked with simple and fragmentary musical notation by an unknown composer. Lamantia, together with Kerouac and the Beat poet Howard Hart, collaborated with composer and French horn player David Amram in New York in 1957 to stage what has been recognized as the first jazz-poetry reading. Around this time, Lamantia also formed a friendship with composer and novelist Paul Bowles, who opened Lamantia’s ears to world music. Lamantia would later meet with Bowles in Morroco and delve into performances of mystical Gnawa trance music. Later, Lamantia was equally attracted the Catholic mysticism of French avant-garde composer Olivier Messiaen. The poet continued to be engaged by mystical, marvelous, and subversive elements of music to the end of his life. Lamantia’s life-long musical receptivity is shown by his interest, when in his seventies, in the work of an early rap artist known as “the Intelligent Hoodlum.”

Now, nine years after Lamantia’s death, the jazz dimension of his poetry comes to the fore again in a project called “Blood of the Air” (after the title of one of Lamantia’s books) by the Sheldon Brown Ensemble at SF Jazz on June 15. Saxophone player and composer Sheldon Brown has created a series of compositions based on the pitch patterns of Lamantia’s voice as heard in archival recordings. Brown’s compositions thus represent not simply musical settings of poetic texts but a liberation and amplification of the music residing in the poet’s own living voice. This highly original approach to the intersection of poetry and jazz gives testimony to the undiminished power of Lamantia’s work as it inspires a new generation of musicians and readers.


Andrew Joron is an award-winning surrealist poet and translator.

Poets Gone Wild

In honor of National Poetry Month, please enjoy this archival footage of a young Michael McClure reading to lions at the San Francisco Zoo from his 1964 collection, Ghost Tantras. The clip is from a 1966 episode of Richard O. Moore’s television series, U.S.A. Poetry.

In this second clip from U.S.A. Poetry, McClure discusses his poetic process and experiences with peyote.


Remember − for the month of April, you can save 20% on McClure’s Of Indigo and Saffron and all other poetry titles from UC Press with discount code 14W9643!


Robert Duncan Biography Shortlisted for National Book Critics Circle Prize

Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from VenusWe’re thrilled to announce that Lisa Jarnot’s book Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus (August 2012) has been shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle prize.

This definitive biography gives a brilliant account of the life and art of Robert Duncan (1919–1988), one of America’s great postwar poets. Jarnot takes us from Duncan’s birth in Oakland, California, through his childhood in an eccentrically Theosophist household, to his life in San Francisco as an openly gay man who became an inspirational figure for the many poets and painters who gathered around him.

Winners will be announced in New York on February 28, following a reading by the NBCC finalists on February 27.

Another bit of exciting poetry news: renowned beat poet and Of Indigo and Saffron author Michael McClure’s poem “Mephisto 20” will run in this week’s New Yorker. Here on the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, Rebecca Foresman interviews McClure about the themes in the poem.

2012 National Poetry Month Round-up

This year, as in years past, UC Press is a proud sponsor of National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world. We thought this would be a good time to reflect a bit on a special Fall 2011 success, take a close look at our Spring 2012 titles, and finally give you a bit of a preview of what we have in store for you for Fall 2012.

Fall 2011
Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Selections surveys the life and work of the Scottish poet, who is best known for his extraordinary garden, Little Sparta, a unique “poem of place” in which poetry, sculpture, and horticulture intersect. This book directs sustained attention to Finlay the verbal artist, revealing the full breadth and richness of his poetics. It illuminates the evolution from his early years of composing plays, stories, and lyrical poems to his discovery of Concrete poetry and his emergence as a key figure in the international avant-garde of the 1960s.

The fine folks at Chicago Review in devoted much of their 56:4 issue to his work.


Spring 2012
In the Bee LatitudesAnnah Sobelman’s second book, traverses and choreographs the places of passion where visible and invisible touch. With extraordinary ability to imagine her way far into an experience, making new moves in the English language at each and every point, Sobelman enlists many voices, questions, and bodies (mostly in Taos and Florence) that press toward Emersonian nature. In vibrant, malleable, and layered syntax, these poems break conventions of lineation and punctuation, each utterance at the frontier of the articulate, yet necessarily pitched toward the insistently visceral.


The Banjo Clock — For Karen Garthe, poetry is a Molotov cocktail. A master of radical invention, Garthe combines brio of conception with linguistic virtuosity, bringing language to new life from the inside at breakneck speed. The Banjo Clock, her second collection, cultivates a luxuriant sensibility even as it interrupts poetic continuity with cuts, ironies, sharp wit, and wild recklessness. In poems that consider poetry itself, Garthe writes about preparing the medium, the ink, “the motion of new utility.” She then turns to America’s psychic maladies and the need to rehabilitate our democracy, now floundering in the glare of TV’s blue depressive light.


Gravesend, which takes its name from the English town at the mouth of the Thames, revisits the genre of the ghost story and, through fragmentation, juxtaposition, and allusion, powerfully summons the uncanny, the spectral presence. Cole Swensen delves into ancient fables, the Bible, medieval records, Victorian ghost stories, contemporary interviews, and more to explore the effects of the ghostly on our daily lives, at times returning to the notion of “gravesend,” implicitly asking if all ends in the grave or if death itself has an end. Swensen’s focus on language shapes these visitations—glimpses of the supernatural or intuitions of the afterlife in all its mystery—allowing readers to ponder such eternal questions further or simply to experience the frisson that accompanies the perception of a ghost or the reading of a poem.

Robert Duncan — This definitive biography gives a brilliant account of the life and art of Robert Duncan (1919–1988), one of America’s great postwar poets. Lisa Jarnot takes us from Duncan’s birth in Oakland, California, through his childhood in an eccentrically Theosophist household, to his life in San Francisco as an openly gay man who became an inspirational figure for the many poets and painters who gathered around him. Weaving together quotations from Duncan’s notebooks and interviews with those who knew him, Jarnot vividly describes his life on the West Coast and in New York City and his encounters with luminaries such as Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Paul Goodman, Michael McClure, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson.


Fall 2012
Robert Duncan: The Collected Early Poems and Plays — (October 2012) A landmark in the publication of twentieth-century American poetry, this first volume of the long-awaited collected poetry, non-critical prose, and plays of Robert Duncan gathers all of Duncan’s books and magazine publications up to and including Letters: Poems 1953–1956. Deftly edited, it thoroughly documents the first phase of Duncan’s distinguished life in writing, making it possible to trace the poet’s development as he approaches the brilliant work of his middle period.



Poems for the Millennium, Vol 4, The University of California Book of North African Literature — (November 2012) In this fourth volume of the landmark Poems for the Millennium series, Pierre Joris and Habib Tengour present a comprehensive anthology of the written and oral literatures of the Maghreb, the region of North Africa that spans the modern nation states of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania, and including a section on the influential Arabo-Berber and Jewish literary culture of Al-Andalus, which flourished in Spain between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. Beginning with the earliest pictograms and rock drawings and ending with the work of the current generation of post-independence and diasporic writers, this volume takes in a range of cultures and voices, including Berber, Phoenician, Jewish, Roman, Vandal, Arab, Ottoman, and French. Though concentrating on oral and written poetry and narratives, the book also draws on historical and geographical treatises, philosophical and esoteric traditions, song lyrics, and current prose experiments. These selections are arranged in five chronological “diwans” or chapters, which are interrupted by a series of “books” that supply extra detail, giving context or covering specific cultural areas in concentrated fashion. The selections are contextualized by a general introduction that situates the importance of this little-known culture area and individual commentaries for nearly each author.

Jeffrey Angles Wins 2011 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award

Forest of EyesJeffrey Angles has been chosen by the translator Charles Martin as the recipient of the 2011 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the The Academy of American Poets. Angles is being recognized for his translation of Tada Chimako’s Forest of Eyes. The Harold Morton Landon Translation Award is given to the best book of poetry translated from any language into English published in the previous year, and carries a prize of $1,000.

On selecting this volume for the award, Martin wrote:

“Jeffrey Angles’s skillful new translation, Forest of Eyes: Selected Poems of Tada Chimako, brings into English for the first time a generous selection from the work of this important twentieth-century Japanese poet. New readers of Tada will discover in her verse a poet both erudite and passionate, a master of traditional Japanese forms and, at the same time, a cosmopolitan modernist as taken by the construction of invisible cities as Calvino, and as drawn to the exploration of forking paths as Borges.”

Jeffrey Angles is an associate professor of Japanese and translation at Western Michigan University. He is the author of the monograph Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishonen Culture in Japanese Modernist Literature (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) about representations of same-sex love in early twentieth-century Japanese poetry and prose. Angles is also a prominent English translator of contemporary Japanese poetry. His translations include the books Soul Dance: Poems of Takako Arai (Mi’Te Press, 2009), Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Ito Hiromi (Action Books, 2009), Forest of Eyes: Selected Poems of Tada Chimako (University of California Press, 2010), and Intimate Worlds Enclosed by Takahashi Mutsuo (Kawamura Memorial Museum, 2010).

His translation projects have been awarded the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature (2009), the PEN Club of America Translation Grant (2008), and a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Grant (2008).

Tada Chimako was born in 1930 and spent most of her youth in Tokyo before moving to Kobe, a remote port town in Western Japan. During her lifetime, she gained prominence as a poet, scholar, and as a translator of French poetry. Tada is the author of over fifteen collections of poems, including Hanabi (Fireworks) and Yusei no hito: Tada Chimako kashu (Person of the Playful Star: Tanka of Tada Chimako). Tada’s work is widely considered an essential contribution to postwar Japanese poetry and also explores themes such as the psychology of women, cultural theory, European history, mythology, and classical literature. She taught French literature and religious studies at Eichi University in Japan up until two years before her death in 2003.

Charles Martin‘s latest book of poems is Signs & Wonders (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). His last book, Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems (Overlook, 2002), was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award of the Academy of American Poets. His verse translation of the Metamorphoses of Ovid received the Harold Morton Landon Award from the Academy of American Poets. He’s also the recipient of an Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The Harold Morton Landon Translation Award was established at the Academy of American Poets in 1976 and is given to an American for a published translation of poetry from any language into English. Previous winners include Robert Fagles, David Ferry, Robert Fitzgerald, David Hinton, Anslem Hollo, Edmund Keeley, Galway Kinnell, Rika Lesser, Charles Martin, W. S. Merwin, Stephen Mitchell, Susanna Nied, Robert Pinsky, Andrew Schelling, Charles Simic, Louis Simpson, W. D. Snodgrass, Edward Snow, and Rosmarie Waldrop. The award was established by Mrs. Harold Morton Landon in memory of her husband.

The Academy of American Poets is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1934 to foster appreciation for contemporary poetry and to support American poets at all stages of their careers. For over three generations, the Academy has connected millions of people to great poetry through programs such as National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world;, the most popular site about poetry on the web; American Poet, a biannual literary journal; and our annual series of poetry readings and special events. The Academy also awards prizes to accomplished poets at all stages of their careers—from hundreds of student prizes at colleges nationwide to the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement in the art of poetry. For more information, visit

Center for the Art of Translation Hosts Fanny Howe in San Francisco

A Wall of Two

On Tuesday, June 14, the Center for the Art of Translation will host leading American poet Fanny Howe at 111 Minna St. Gallery at 12:30 pm for the final Two Voices event of the season. She’ll discuss A Wall of Two:Poems of Resistance and Suffering from Kraków to Buchenwald and Beyond, which she translated and adapted from the Polish. A collection of verse written on worksheets stolen from the factories by two sisters in the Kraków ghetto, the book is both a powerful work of literature and a remarkable example of translation in action. Howe gives guests a chance to hear the amazing story behind this book and the choices involved in translating these singular poems.

Fanny Howe is commonly ranked among the leading innovative American writers of the postwar generation. A recipient of numerous awards, her poetry in particular is noted for its power and approach to social justice and contemporary issues. In 2009, she was awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Prize, a $100,000 annual prize that celebrates a living poet of exceptional lifetime achievement.

Howe has published over 20 books, including Gone: Poems (UC Press, 2003), The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life (UC Press, 2003), and Selected Poems (UC Press, 2000), which won the Gold Medal for Poetry from The Commonwealth Club of California and the 2001 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Selected Poems Gone Wedding Dress

Poems for the Apocalypse

Dark Archive2011 has been off to a rough start, to put it mildly. From the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear crisis, to violent revolutions in the Middle East, to deadly tornadoes and flooding in the American South, it’s enough to make one want to hide in a bunker for the rest of the year.

Now that we’re told the impending apocalypse arrives on Saturday, I can’t think of a better time to crack open Laura Mullen’s fourth poetry collection, Dark Archive. The purpose of a dark archive is to function as a repository for information that can be used as a failsafe during disaster recovery.

Mullen’s book is a sequence of beautifully interrelated poems that explores how to accurately represent the reality of change and loss. Poetic tropes are measured against natural phenomena as Mullen examines what “witness” might mean in the context of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and other social and personal failures.

Sam Tanenhaus’s recent New York Times essay, “The Poetry of Catastrophe,” provides a helpful framework for thinking about Mullen’s work. “One of the enduring paradoxes of great apocalyptic writing,” he says, “is that it consoles even as it alarms. … To name the catastrophic demon won’t slay it. But it can help chase our fears out of the shadows and into the sunlight.”

While you’re riding out the apocalypse in your bunker, make sure to bring your iPhone, so you can view a flow-movie of Srikanth Reddy‘s poem “Untitled [Is is]” using the Academy of American Poets’ Poem Flow app. Not sure what a flow-movie is? Take a look below.

For further bunker reading, see Garrett Caples’ engrossing essay, “Work, or The Man Who Shot Frank O’Hara,” on Richard O. Moore. Caples talks about Moore’s career in public broadcasting, and meditates on what it means to be a poet who works.

Moore’s recent poetry collection, Writing the Silences, will make an excellent companion while you wait for the skies to clear. Selected from seven full-length manuscripts written between 1946 and 2008, the poems reflect not only Moore’s place in literary history, but his commitment to freedom of form, his interest in language itself, and his dedication to issues of social justice and ecology.