mature themes

Cover of Mature Themes by Andrew Durbin (Nightboat Books, 2014) featuring image of Alex Da Corte (with Sean FitzGerald), “Body Without Organs,” 2013.

Last September, to a standing room-only crowd in the auditorium of The New Museum, Andrew Durbin launched Mature Themes, his latest collection of essayistic poems. Then, a few weeks later in the basement of groovy Tribeca non-profit gallery Artists Space, Cecilia Corrigan fêted her prize-winning collection Titanic with a series of performances by artists Macy Rodman and Juiceboxxx. It was also the year Claudia Rankine’s Citizen came out. A National Book Award finalist, it responded to the physical and psychological acts of racism currently pounding in our collective consciousness. The book was not just prescient, but overdue, considering the cultural acceleration of feminism and the politics of representation.

But things didn’t stop there. This past January, Rob Lowe went on Conan and read James Franco poems to a national television audience. And Lena Dunham has recently taken to Instagramming favorite collections of poetry (including Mira Gonzalez’s small press success i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together), many of which she acquired while touring the United States in support of her own memoir. She even had poet Jenny Zhang join her on the bill when she made her tour stop in Iowa City.

Could it be true? Dare we even say it? Is poetry back as a relevant cultural genre?

Some would say the Internet has shifted our collective attention spans, predisposing us to enjoy, once again, the density and brevity of verse. Indeed, Steve Roggenbuck has been posting motivational poems on YouTube for years, and his high click-counts don’t lie — nor does his inclusion in this year’s New Museum Triennial. Last year he took part in an exhibition called “’89plus / Poetry will be made by all!” in Zurich, Switzerland. Co-curated by Simon Castets of New York’s Swiss Institute and Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator at London’s Serpentine Gallery, the event highlighted another emerging trend: Gallery curators working with and supporting poets. Of Andrew Durbin’s work, Obrist said in the Los Angeles Times, “It’s quite addictive. And it’s just as addictive to listen to. It’s like he takes us on a trip, through high and low, through the experimental. He’s current, but he’s very aware of history.”

Like those wines that taste great when bottled but go dead for several years and then magically revive, poetry is something we didn’t need for a while, but do now. Look at this poem called “Reading is Fundamental” by Harry Burke, another Obrist favorite:

Roses are read

I’m like, Fuck roses

roses not like you

Roses are dead.

Love is like, that’s what I said.

I’m like, loll biitch fucku

Love’s like, why

And I’m like„, theres clouds

in the sky.

Then love is like: Hi. Bye.

i’m like lol ok goodbye

Or check out the online literary journal Shabby Dollhouse, which just released a tremendous issue featuring over 40 self-identifying women poets. Ana Carrete, a poet from Mexico currently living in Austin, is a standout. Her poems are incisive and funny, pleasurable because they don’t try too hard to be as good as they are:

“dealing with feelings”

you know that meme

and then sunglasses fall from

the sky

and land on a face well

sunglasses never fall from the


and land on my face

so i can’t

deal with it

Maybe our problems need old genres to think them through; maybe the zeitgeist inclines us toward verse more than it has in many years. Or maybe we have been so inclined always — it’s simply our social feeds and second screens that have brought poets and us together again.

Let Dennis Hopper Read You Some Rainer Maria Rilke

In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke says, “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” And in the posthumously published book of letters, the Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist gives us a wealth of insight into his personal view on love, art, and the world before him.

Written in response to a young man who could not decide whether to become a poet or a military officer, Rilke’s letters have served as a source of creative inspiration and fuel for artists around the world for years—one of them being the man of many fantastic talents, Dennis Hopper. Wildly notorious for his dangerous antics and erratic behavior, Hopper was also unfathomably talented and brilliant—not only as an actor but as an artist in the purest sense. In Rilke, Hopper found “a credo of creativity…After reading Rilke it became clear to me that I had no choice in the matter. I had to create.” And in this short film—directed by Hermann Waske—we see Hopper recite the first letter in Rilke’s book. Open Culture notes that:

Hopper is reading from the 1934 translation by M.D. Herter Norton. There are a few minor slips, in which Hopper deviates slightly from the text. Most seriously, he inverts the meaning of a passage near the end by adding (at the 7:23 mark) the word “not” to Rilke’s phrase, “Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist.” That passage, one of the most memorable in the book, reads:
A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. In this nature of its origin lies the judgement of it: there is no other. Therefore, my dear sir, I know no other advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.

So check out the video for yourself below, and also take a look at Hopper reading some Kipling on The Johnny Cash Show.

Rainer Maria Rilke – Letters To A Young Poet… by poetictouch

Famous Men Reading Famous Poetry

As the day presses on and your mind becomes hazy with the chaos of the week, it’s imperative that you take a moment to breathe. And to while you’re doing so, why not grab a cup of tea and recline while listening to the soothing sound of some fantasically talented men reciting a bit of your favorite poetry? From Benedict Cumberbatch to Tom Waits, enjoy the words of Keats, Bukowski, Pinter, and many more.

Benedict Cumberbatch reciting “Ode to a Nightingale”

Colin Firth reading from Harold Pinter’s Poems to A

Jeremy Irons reciting William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”

Dennis Hopper reading Rudyard Kipling’s “If”


Tom Waits reciting Charles Bukowski’s “The Lauging Heart”


Tom Hiddelston reciting W.H. Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening”


Alan Rickman reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130

Bill Murray reading Wallace Stevens

Christopher Walken reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

Ben Whishaw reciting John Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”

Bono reciting Charles Bukowski’s “Roll the Dice”

A Warrior Is Gone: Remembering Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney, who passed away at the age of 74 on August 30, was hailed as the best Irish poet since William Butler Yeats. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995, the committee noted his "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

At his funeral today in his native County Derry, which drew some 1,000 mourners—including Irish president Michael D. Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Bono and the other members of U2, actor Stephen Rea and fellow Irish poets Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon—the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, said that "greatness and graciousness belonged together in him."

"Seamus has been with me on every journey I have taken, and there have been many times when a retreat into his words has kept me afloat," wrote Bono in a piece published yesterday for The Guardian. "Most of our life in this kind of work is very concrete, full of facts, but we all have to seek redress from time to time in poetry. Seamus was where I went for that. He was the quietest storm that ever blew into town. As an activist, From the Republic of Conscience has been like a bible for me, something I return to and have returned to for as long as I can remember. Some of those phrases are like tattoos for me, worn very close to the heart."

In 2009, Irish composer Rachel Holstead wrote about "The Given Note," one of Heaney’s most famous poems, saying that the fiddler of the poem was a metaphor for Heaney himself, "for his seeing and hearing of the beauties, ordinary and extraordinary mysteries of the world." (Read the poem—which was read aloud at his funeral by his friend, the publisher Peter Fallon—and Holstead’s introduction to it here.)

Amidst all the reverential recollection of the universally beloved poet, it’s easy to forget why poetry still matters, especially in a world that in many ways seems to be spinning out of control. But it’s precisely when times seem bleak that poetry serves not only as a salve, but a salvation.

In the brief interview below, Heaney explains that while a poem "isn’t for the moment utilitarian," it is a "snapshot of consciousness," recognizing the importance of poetry as a unifying voice to both the black movement of the United States and the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s.

Indeed, poets throughout history have been able to communicate across and through social barriers, particularly at times of struggle. At the funeral, Monsignor Brendan Devlin referred to Heaney’s remarkable ability to "speak to the King of Sweden or an Oxford don or a South Derry neighbour in the directness of a common and shared humanity."

Seamus Heaney, one of the most important poets of the 20th century, will be greatly missed. But those who mourn his death would do well to simply relish in the glory of the work he created while he was alive. As Heaney penned in his celebrated 2001 new verse translation of the Old English heroic epic poem Beowulf:

"It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark."

image: Antonio Olmos

Pablo Neruda’s Poem ‘The Me Bird’ Illustrated As Animated Short

How truly beautiful: animators have illustrated the Pablo Neruda poem The Me Bird in this short film, combing graphics and ballet.

Brazilian firm 18bis created the short work, which combined the animation of stenciling and a ballerina dancing on a green screen to depict this poem:

The Me Bird

I am the Pablo Bird,

bird of a single feather,

a flier in the clear shadow and obscure clarity,

my wings are unseen,

my ears resound

when I walk among the trees

or beneath the tombstones

like an unlucky umbrella

or a naked sword,

stretched like a bow

or round like a grape,

I fly on and on not knowing,

wounded in the dark night,

who is waiting for me,

who does not want my song,

who desires my death,

who will not know I’m arriving

and will not come to subdue me,

to bleed me, to twist me,

or to kiss my clothes,

torn by the shrieking wind. 

That’s why I come and go,

fly and don’t fly but sing:

I am the furious bird

of the calm storm.  

The finished work is quite lovely and so is the "making of" film, which follows:

Email me at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Florida’s Biggest Problem Is That It Doesn’t Have A Poet Laureate, Suggests Humorous Fellow

Florida, the sinkhole-thriving wasteland which has spawned its very own Twitter handle "Florida Man" could really just use a state poet laureate, a painfully earnest op-ed columnist has suggested.

David Axelrod — no, not that David Alexrod, this David Axelrod — penned a piece in the Daytona Beach News-Journal about a bill working its way through the Florida state legislature to appoint a statewide poet laureate in April, National Poetry Month, to begin a four-year term on June 1, 2013. Poet Laureate is an unpaid position which is fully funded by private donors. 

And then he gets funny:

"[A]s one who served as a county poet laureate (Suffolk, Long Island, New York, 2007-2009), I was a bit stunned that people actually would oppose such a post. Poetry and the arts have been my faithful companions throughout my life. I had forgotten that some people might say they were opposed to having a poet laureate. … I’ve heard folks ask, "Why would we spend any time passing laws to promote poetry? We need more jobs!" (Or, more cops; or more scientists; or pick a "more" you think we need.)"


Really, my good sir? You’re a bit stunned that Florida might be opposed to the arts? The state the brought us gator-wrestling and sinkholes and  Police Women Of Broward County and that terrible couple in The Queen Of Versailles? Really?!

Shockingly (to me, at least), Florida did have a poet laureate once. For 32 years! His name was Ed Skelllings and passed away last year. 

Good luck with this endeavor, David Alexrod. If only  "Florida Man High On Cocaine, Synthetic Drugs And Four Loko" and "Florida Man Who Assaulted Teen Relative With Taco Bell Burrito" were just exposed to the works of Sharon Olds and Maya Angelou … 

Email me at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

James Franco Is a Poet Now, Wrote Something About Obama

I don’t dislike James Franco, but I also don’t particularly like him. Basically, I think he needs to cool it, generally, on everything he is doing. Slow down, you’re moving too fast, James Franco. I can’t keep up. I get the dude’s a renaissance man or whatever, but if there were ever a woeful lack of poets out there, I probably wouldn’t turn to the guy who was in Pineapple Express. Alas, Franco is celebrating Innauguration Day with a very long poem about President Obama, Asheville, North Carolina, and casual mentions of celebrities like Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and Claire Danes.

It seems like Franco gave an exclusive to Yahoo News, the go-to site for poetry on the internet, and, well, just listen / read for yourself. 

Obama in Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina, is the birthplace of Thomas

Wolfe and the sometime residence of F. Scott Fitzgerald

When he visited Zelda at her institution;

He stayed at the Grove Park Inn, a grand stone edifice.

On the phone once, Cormac McCarthy lamented

The two added wings and the spa, and marveled

At the original structure, They pulled the stones
From the mountains and brought them down on mules.

Soon after his fortieth birthday, Fitzgerald attempted suicide

Here, but couldn’t shoot his own head, drunk, I guess.

Later, after he was actually dead, from alcohol,

Zelda perished in a fire at her institution, one of nine.


Asheville is the place where the Black Mountain College once stood
And helped birth Rauschenberg, Twombly and Johns,
Cage and Cunningham; now I think it’s a Young Men’s Christian Association.
On the wall of the Grove Park, they have pictures of the famous guests;

I’m not up there, but Obama is. I was asked to write something
For the inauguration of his second term, but what could I write?
I was in Asheville, studying writing, but not the political sort;
I write confessions and characters, and that sort of thing.

I wrote my friend Frank about what I could do, but he was unresponsive.
I went to class and then the little burrito place where they know me,
And finally at night I got Frank’s email on my phone and pulled over
On the side of Warren Wilson Road, past the school barn with the WWC —

That I couldn’t see in the dark — right before the school entrance;
A little spot where there’s a path that leads to a lake called Snake Lake.
First I called my class at UCLA, and told them to watch Apocalypse Now,
And that it used Heart of Darkness as a model, and that we’d watch

Eleanor Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness, the making-of, the following week.
Then I read Frank’s note. He said he was sleeping twenty hours a day,
With no symptoms except that he desired sleep
And just a little more sleep. He’s in his seventies.

Then he said that my poem was a difficult task.
How to write about a man written about endlessly;
A man whom everyone has some sort of experience of;
How to write so that it’s not just for the converted.


I met Obama once, in D.C., the Correspondents’ Dinner.
I was the guest of Vanity Fair, guided through D.C. by the wife
Of Christopher Hitchens, when he was alive. We went to Hitch’s place,
He had books from floor to ceiling, and said he had read

To Borges, when he was blind, Old Icelandic Eddas—
Then we waited in a private room with the likes of Tom Cruise,
And Katie Holmes, and Claire Danes. When Obama entered
The crowd converged. Finally, I got to shake his hand,

He knew me from Spider-Man. I asked him for advice,
I was scheduled to give the commencement speech at UCLA
And there were some undergraduate knockers against me;
He had been denied the usual honorary degree by Arizona State

Because he hadn’t accomplished enough, so I wondered
How he dealt with detractors. He smiled his smile and said,
“Humor.” Well he’s damn right, and I wonder how much
That stand-up comedian is laughing in the face

Of this big country. Because he is one man and we are many,
And a great servant of the people—he’s a president, not a king—
And doesn’t need to face what King Charles once faced.
(Frank suggested I examine Marvell’s semi-inauguration poem for Cromwell:)

That thence the Royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn:
     While round the armèd bands
     Did clap their bloody hands.

That most famous stanza, and then:

But bow’d his comely head
Down, as upon a bed.

And he was beheaded, good-bye Charles.


If I were to act in the film about Obama,
All I would need to get down, aside from the outer stuff—
And I know that’s important—is his essential kindness,
I’d let the writer put in all the political crap,

And the specific things that he was up against,
All that stuff on CNN and the Huffington Post,
And I’d say the lines that were written, just like Obama
Reads his lines, but what would really put the role over

Would be the goodness at its core.
That’s what will be remembered.
Yes, his race, no one will forget. But the soul too.
I’d win the Academy Award if I just captured that.

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter

IT’S HUMP DAY: This Week’s Sexiest Events

It’s Wednesday and you know what that means: we get our hump on. This weekly column is devoted to finding the hottest events across NYC that’ll arouse and titillate even the most jaded New Yorker. Partake in these shows and soirees – from Naked Girls Reading to the shocking "F*ck Art" exhibit – and make the rest of your nights this week very sexy.

See hot naked girls tell stories about circus tricks:
The hit, nude literary event Naked Girls Reading begins its 2013 season tonight with its most eccentric event yet: “Naked Girls Reading Joins The Circus.” At Under St. Marks in the East Village, the naked girls troupe will read tales about their days at the carnival, on the tightrope, and the sideshow, while you attempt to get a gander at the chest behind their books. Whoops! Extra-special guests include Miss Coney Island 2010 GiGi La Femme, and international cirque and burlesque star The Lady Josephine. Wednesday, Jan. 16th. 9pm. All the details here.

Listen to writers’ most sensual and seductive work:
Open mic hits Le Poisson Rouge Friday night when 20 authors, poets, and spoken-word artists bravely take to the mic and share their most erotic sexual fantasies in a monthly night known as “Titillating Tongues – NYC Erotica in Poetry & Prose.” The host – fiery redheaded poet Aimee Herman – has been known to surprise audiences, most notably with a male stripper simulating masturbation onstage. And wahoo, while that doesn’t sound like poetry to me, for some, it’s just perfect.7pm. $10. Friday, Jan. 18th.  All the details here.

See shocking, sexual NYC street art at “F*ck Art” exhibit:
In NYC, there’s little separation between nightclub and lounge, hipster and homeless. And at the Museum of Sex, 20 select street artists showcase art that pushes the boundary between sexuality and our public space in an exhibit called “F*ck Art.” This exhibit gets shocking, asking all those big questions about human cultural identity and sexuality etc., so it’s not for the timid or the meek. But then again, if you’re considering walking into the Museum of Sex at all, you’re none of those things. Bravo. 10am. Runs every day until March 1st. All the details here.

Eat the sexiest Chinese food you’ll ever have:
When nightlife crew EMM Group opens anything new, the spot becomes a huge, sexy hit – and so begins the trajectory of their latest opening:  LES Chinese restaurant The General. I know, Chinese food and sexy? But with its plank-wood ceiling, retro red chairs, and gilded Asian wallpaper, EMM Group makes The General swank – and your new date spot. Open now. 199 Bowery. All inside-info here.

Follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

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Shakespearean Sonnets: Download Them On Thy iPad

Thou art a reader of the Shakespearan sonnet? Thy luck is good! Faber released an app called The Sonnets of William Shakespeare last week for the iPad.  

The $13.99 app features 154 poems with annotations, as well performances of some sonnets by actors such as Dr. Who‘s David Tennant, Sex & The City‘s Kim Catrall and comedian Stephen Fry. (A DVD of just the performances is also for sale on TheSonnets.tv.) Additionally, the app offers interviews with Shakespearean scholars about the works.

But the coolest feature might be the ability to Share-a-Sonnet via Facebook, Twitter or email. Courtship just got that much easier, boys and girls.