The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 11, 2013

Hell and havoc: Christian Wiman on writing poetry


Poet Christian Wiman, author of Every Riven Thing, took part in a Q. & A. with The New York Times this week that touched on faith, health and his "slim and simmering book” book, My Bright Abyss. We loved his answer on the difference between writing poetry and prose:

Writing poetry is a much more powerful and destabilizing experience for me than is writing prose. The former plays hell and havoc with my life and mind. The latter is an exercise in sanity. That said, there are certainly areas of experience to which prose gives me access that poetry does not. I can plan on what I’m going to write about in prose. Poems aren’t real poems unless they shatter — there’s that word again! — all of your intentions.

You can read the rest of the conversation here.

April 04, 2013

Rowan Ricardo Phillips: Poet in New York is a "prime example of what a book of poems should strive to be"


Phillips, Rowan Ricardo (c) Sue Kwon
Rowan Ricardo Phillips (c) Sue Kwon

During Federico García Lorca's brief—but unmistakably prolific—residency in New York City, he wrote Poet in New York, one of his most important and beloved books of verse. To celebrate National Poetry Month and the reissue of a newly revised edition of Poet in New York, we asked a handful of city-dwelling poets to share their early encounters with García Lorca.

First up is Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who debuted his own poignant vision of New York City in The Ground:

Poet in New York is the great book of location—in the physical, psychic and ethical sense—of 20th-century poetry. Consider it in an American context and you find it wrestles with geography in ways that Ideas of Order does not; and that its ideas of order and elegance are all but shattered by blunt experience in a manner that Geography III is not. Scathing in its search for something sincere, its vision of Harlem knows no leverage; neither does its sense of sex. You read this great book wishing Lorca had stayed in New York for longer than the nine months that he stayed; that he knew English better than he did; you learn to yearn for the impossible. But you know as well that something vital in Poet of New York would then have been lost: something of its incurably psalmodic confusions and intensely surreal epiphanies.

When I first moved to Barcelona it was with Poet in New York under my arm. The temperament of the book is the temperament I'd always dreamed of transfusing into the body of my own books of poetry: the act of wading, foreign, through the increasingly familiar until both foreign and familiar sound like inadequate signs of life. Poet in New York has always been for me, a poet of New York, a prime example of what a book of poems should strive to be: wild in its discipline and contradictory in its consistency. I may have ended up writing poetry had I not known of Poet in New York, but I definitely would never have become a poet without it.

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April 01, 2013

Happy Poetry Month! We'll be tweeting bite-sized bits of Federico García Lorca's poetry every day in April to celebrate the reissue of Poet in New York.

Find us @fsgbooks and use #LorcaNYC to join in!

November 29, 2012

New York Event with Louise Glück, December 14th

Join us for a poetry event!

A Tribute to Louise Glück

December 14, 2012, 7:00 PM
Theresa Lang Center, The New School, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY


Free and open to the public (limited seating)

In celebration of former Academy of American Poets Chancellor Louise Glück’s Poems 1962-2012, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Ecco Press this November, poets Frank Bidart, Dana Levin, Robert Pinsky, Peter Streckfus, and Ellen Bryant Voigt join Glück on stage to read selections of her work.

Sponsored by Academy of American Poets, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Ecco Press, and The New School Creative Writing Program

See you there!

April 25, 2012

trains, rhythm, and poetry

Isherwood and AudenI read poetry on the L train most mornings. It’s easier on my shoulder than carrying around a novel, and when you think about it, it's really the most appropriate thing to do. Crammed uncomfortably close or not, simply being on trains produces what Hungarian-French theorists Abraham and Torok call a “rhythmizing consciousness”: 

In the compartment of a train, distractedly contemplating the receding landscape, I feel myself surrounded by a whole world of presences: my fellow passengers, the windowpane, the rumbling of the wheels, the continually changing panorama. But for a little while now I have been nodding my head and tapping my foot, my whole body animated by movements and tensions. What has happened? A radical change of attitude must have taken place within me. A moment ago, too, I was perceiving the monotonous sound of the wheels, and my body was receiving the same periodic jolts; but in the interval between the sounds, I was taken hold of by a tension, an expectation, which the next shock would either fulfill or disappoint. And so the jolts, which were merely endured before, are now expected; my whole body prepares to receive them. (Rhythms: On the Work, Translation, and Psychoanalysis, p. 70)

The passenger stops noticing the rhythm of the train and only becomes aware of it when the train’s jolts either fulfill or disappoint an unconscious expectation. What a useful description of the experience of reading poetry.  


The train tracks’ clackety-clack in Auden’s "Night Mail" comes to mind ("Fact: Rap was made by English white railroad documentary narrators over 70 years ago," says a commenter).

There's also this delightful excerpt from Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories, posted recently on the NYRB blog. And since there's always room for a poem by Kenneth Koch, how about "One Train May Hide Another".

April 24, 2012

Reminder: Larkin event tonight (and two poems for those who can't make it)

Everyone here at FSG is pretty jazzed up about the incredible Philip Larkin tribute planned for tonight to celebrate the publication of his collected poems.

Readings will be given by Billy Collins, J.D. McClatchy, Zadie Smith, Andrew Sullivan and our very own Jonathan Galassi, among others. The Queens College jazz band will be performing some of Larkin's favorite jazz by Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Sidney Bechet, and Duke Ellington live.

Best of all? Admission is free.

April 24 / 7:00 p.m. / The Great Hall at Cooper Union 7 E. 7th St., at Third Ave., New York, N.Y. / 212-353-4100 /


For those who can't make the event, feel free to get your Larkin fix from David Orr, over at NPR Books. He wrote up a lovely piece entitled "Grief in Greenness" last week, featuring the two spring-themed poems from Larkin below.


On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
In the deep bare garden,
Its fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon —
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling,
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.


"The Trees"

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

April 23, 2012

Philip Larkin Event Tomorrow

The Poetry Society of America presents: A Tribute to Philip Larkin on the occasion of the publication of The Complete Poems, edited by Archie Burnett and published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Complete Poems, Larkin jacket

with special guests:

Meena Alexander, Martin Amis, Billy Collins, Deborah Garrison, Adam Gopnik, Eamon Grennan, Saskia Hamilton, Mary Karr, Nick Laird, Katha Pollitt, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Vijay Seshadri, Paul Simon, Zadie Smith, and Andrew Sullivan

and live musical performances of some of Larkin's favorite jazz songs by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Sidney Bechet.

Tuesday, April 24th, 7 p.m.

The Great Hall at Cooper Union

7 East 7th Street, New York City

Admission is free.

April 20, 2012

"variations on a theme by william carlos williams"

"There may be a perfectly serious poem, a good poem . . . and some other person writes a parody of it and one line of the parody may have more truth than the whole original poem, or at least be freer to reach the intoxicating heights that sometimes seem where truth is from."—Kenneth Koch










I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

—Kenneth Koch

April 19, 2012

FSG & Mad Men

On the most recent episode of Mad Men, Ken Cosgrove sits down to lunch with an editor from FSG (yes, we blushed). Cosgrove calls the publishing house “Farrar, Straus,” though by 1967 it had been “Farrar, Straus and Giroux” for nearly two years. But hey, old names die hard—our receptionist still answers the phone with “Farrar, Straus.”

So, what was FSG publishing in the late 1960s? I dug up an old catalogue to find out.


Apparently, the late Sixties at FSG were all about Lowell, Berryman, Sontag, and Wolfe. The trends were New Journalism and New Criticism: 1966 brought the debut book of essays from the “brilliant young social critic…Tom Wolfe," Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, Lowell’s Near the Ocean, and A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot.

Some of the highlights from 1967 include Berryman’s sonnets, Neruda’s The Heights of Machu Picchu, a collection of essays about Randall Jarrell (who had died two years earlier), and a centennial edition of The Golden Key with illustrations by Maurice Sendak and an afterword by W.H. Auden (pictured below).

Also, more New Criticism (Six Metaphysical Poets: A Reader’s Guide) and an adaption of Prometheus Bound by Lowell. In the introduction to the translation, Lowell's conservatism and the war really come through: “Half my lines are not in the original. But nothing is modernized," he writes. "There are no tanks or cigarette lighters. No contemporary statesman is parodied. Yet I think my own concerns and worries and those of the times seep in.”

Photo (2)

By 1968, many of these writers were at the height of their careers: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet were all in the catalogue, though Berryman's long poem appears to have been published only reluctantly...and only in paperback.

Read more about the writerly Ken Cosgrove

April 17, 2012

And the Pulitzer Prize goes to...


Yesterday was a very good day for Brooklyn-based poet Tracy K. Smith. It was her birthday and, around 3pm, she got the news her third collection of poetry, "Life on Mars," won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

The prize committee lauded "Life on Mars," calling the volume "a collection of bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain." Congrats to Tracy and our friends at Graywolf Press!

You can watch Smith, an assistant professor of creative writing at Princeton University, read from her collections online, thanks to PBS's Newshour.