Robert Frost on May 25th

Robert Frost on May 25thA final reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing the poetry of Robert Frost this coming Thursday, May 25th. Among the poems to be discussed will be “The Road Not Taken.” Please see two previous postings about this poem: The Road Not Taken: The Poem Everyone Loves and Everyone Gets Wrong and The Road Not Taken: A Misunderstood Chestnut. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the complete list of featured poems.

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The Art of Disappearing

by Naomi Shihab Nye

The Art of DisappearingWhen they say Don’t I know you?
say no.
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.
If they say We should get together
say why?
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

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Robert Lowell at 100: why his poetry has never been more relevant

Lowell’s confessional work of the 1960s marked a sea change in American letters – then he fell out of favour. But on the eve of his centenary, his work offers an urgent political message in a time of Trump

Robert_Lowell‘I was born under the shadow of the Dome of the Boston State House,” wrote the poet Robert Lowell, “and under Pisces, the Fish, on the first of March, 1917.” With his aristocratic background – all the inherited furniture and ancestral portraits surrounding him as a child, as he recalled in the memoir 91 Revere Street – perhaps it’s no surprise, reading Lowell 100 years after his birth, that he was often preoccupied with the passing of time. “Thirty-one / Nothing done,” he writes in 1948. A decade later: “These are the tranquilized Fifties, / and I am forty.” In the elegiac Grandparents, he stands over his late grandfather’s billiards table and contemplates his own “life-lease”.
Lowell is best known for his fourth collection, Life Studies (1959). He abandoned the tight metrical forms of his earlier work for free verse, helping him articulate his experiences and the turbulence of postwar America. Radiant and unsettling, Lowell examines his parents’ unhappy marriage, his responses to their deaths and his bouts of manic depression, in a pioneering style of confessional writing (“the C-word,” as Michael Hofmann put it). His psychological insights are as sharp as the “locked razor” of Waking in the Blue; in the magnificent Skunk Hour, his clarity pierces the night: “My mind’s not right.”
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A Miracle For Breakfast

A sestina by Elizabeth Bishop

A Miracle for BreakfastAt six o’clock we were waiting for coffee,

waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb

that was going to be served from a certain balcony

–like kings of old, or like a miracle.

It was still dark. One foot of the sun

steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.

The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.

It was so cold we hoped that the coffee

would be very hot, seeing that the sun

was not going to warm us; and that the crumb

would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle.

At seven a man stepped out on the balcony.

He stood for a minute alone on the balcony

looking over our heads toward the river.

A servant handed him the makings of a miracle,

consisting of one lone cup of coffee

and one roll, which he proceeded to crumb,

his head, so to speak, in the clouds–along with the sun.

Was the man crazy? What under the sun

was he trying to do, up there on his balcony!

Each man received one rather hard crumb,

which some flicked scornfully into the river,

and, in a cup, one drop of the coffee.

Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle.

I can tell what I saw next; it was not a miracle.

A beautiful villa stood in the sun

and from its doors came the smell of hot coffee.

In front, a baroque white plaster balcony

added by birds, who nest along the river,

–I saw it with one eye close to the crumb–

and galleries and marble chambers. My crumb

my mansion, made for me by a miracle,

through ages, by insects, birds, and the river

working the stone. Every day, in the sun,

at breakfast time I sit on my balcony

with my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee.

We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee.

A window across the river caught the sun

as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.
An early reminder that we’ll be discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. Read also: The passions of Elizabeth Bishop


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Call of the corncrake

by Siobhán Campbell

Call of the corncrakeThere is a tip of forever

in the wait for the cut

when you fly low on rufous wings

and call out your court.

Crane-necked, we hear you

rattle through grass

hoping to mate before meadows

are sheared.

A line that might stop.

No crex comes back

before the machine

grinds in the gap.

What sight is right?

We hope to spy

while you scour the meadow,

high beak, high eye.


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by Adrienne Leavy

CATWALKS THROUGH THE MIDDLE REALMS OF HEAVENA Thickness of Particulars: The Poetry of Anthony Hecht
By Jonathan F. S. Post

Jonathan Post’s A Thickness of Particulars is the first book-length study of Anthony Hecht, one of the major American poets of the second half of the twentieth century. A Distinguished Professor of English at UCLA and the editor of Hecht’s Selected Letters (John Hopkins University Press, 2013), Post has lectured extensively on the poet at Yale and UCLA. The depth of his scholarship on Hecht is evident throughout this monograph, which emphasizes the “habitually dialectical quality of Hecht’s thinking,” his passion for poetic form, and his ability to write in complicated rhyming schemes without sacrificing an easy conversational tone.
Alternating between close readings of the poems, wherein Hecht’s work is placed in conversation with poetic giants W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, and Elizabeth Bishop, and the poet’s private correspondence, Post provides a biographical context for understanding the complexity of Hecht’s impressive corpus. As the author points out, however, this is not biography per se, but rather a general introduction to Hecht’s poetry. In nine chapters arranged chronologically, Post’s narrative ranges from discussions of well-known individual poems to collections of early and late efforts, with additional chapters focusing on thematic angles such as the influence of Shakespeare and the poet’s ekphrastic verse.
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Ordinary Rain. Every Leaf is Wet

by Jane Hirschfield

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Brendan Kennelly at 80: forever beginning, the balladeer of our age

The poet has extended the ballad to an epic scale by coupling it with the lyric, the sonnet, writes Gabriel Fitzmaurice..
Brendan Kennelly at 80Brendan Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, Co Kerry, on April 17th, 1936, the son of Tim Kennelly, publican and garage proprietor, and his wife Bridie Ahern, a nurse. Ballylongford is a small village like the other villages in the hinterland of Listowel in North Kerry.
To understand Kennelly and his poetry, you have to come to terms with the traditional culture of the area which Kennelly has translated into poetry, both intimate and epic. It’s flat land touching the River Shannon and the Atlantic. For the most part pasture land, it was, in Kennelly’s youth, mainly a farming community. The farmers, small farmers mostly, were generally not well off. But they loved to sing. At night they’d go to the local pub on bicycles or on foot (this was before the general availability of the car), drink “small ones” (whiskies) and pints of Guinness, and swap stories, news, songs and “recitations”.
Memory, in particular the poet’s memory, gathers these moments together. Kennelly’s was, and remains, a public house – Brendan heard these songs, stories and recitations regularly in the pub – not just imported songs (from the gramophone and radio – there was as yet no television) but local ballads too.

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No Swan So Fine

By Marianne Moore

No Swan So Fine“No water so still as the
dead fountains of Versailles.” No swan,
with swart blind look askance
and gondoliering legs, so fine
as the chintz china one with fawn-
brown eyes and toothed gold
collar on to show whose bird it was.
Lodged in the Louis Fifteenth
candelabrum-tree of cockscomb-
tinted buttons, dahlias,
sea-urchins, and everlastings,
it perches on the branching foam
of polished sculptured
flowers–at ease and tall. The king is dead.

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Rime without reason


Rime without reasonMalcolm Guite has made an intriguing literary discovery, one that has eluded critics for over 200 years: the inspiration for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epoch-defining poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. But this is no ordinary scholarly find. To be accepted, Guite’s revelation requires a particular frame of mind, or what the Romantic poet himself called a “willing suspension of disbelief”.
Guite contends that the true source for the Mariner’s arduous odyssey – from degradation to redemption after committing the cosmic crime of killing the albatross that had guided his imperilled ship through the Antarctic mist and ice – was, in fact, the physical, spiritual and psychological torments that Coleridge himself would suffer in the years and decades after he wrote the poem when he was just twenty-five years old. It is Guite’s belief, not that the poet lived his poem after composing it between the autumn of 1797 and spring of 1798; rather, that Coleridge’s work is based on mysterious foreknowledge of his future self. Line by line, symbol by symbol, Guite painstakingly traces the ghostly congruities between the Mariner’s ordeals and its author’s own subsequent travails.

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Listen to Ian McKellen read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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