Monthly Archives: January 2014

Change of Schedule

A conflict of commitments has forced the postponement of the presentation on Thomas Hardy on February 27 until May 22. Resolving the problem, Graeme Hughes has kindly offered to move up his introduction to the undeservedly neglected poetry of William Stafford to February. The Schedule Page has been changed accordingly and a reminder of Graeme’s presentation will be posted again closer to the event.
Meanwhile, some prefatory notes from Graeme:
I enjoy and highly regard William Stafford’s poetry and these notes will refer to 14 of them (he composed 22,000 and published about 3,000). But let me first give you some background information, garnered from the following sources.
Read Graeme’s complete introduction: The Deceptively Ordinary Poetry of William Stafford.

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The sound of sense: Clive James on Robert Frost

James_FrostThere is an old view of Robert Frost as a talented simpleton—but his letters reveal the deep intelligence behind his poetry

While its subject was still alive, the first two volumes of Lawrance Thompson’s relentlessly hostile biography of Robert Frost had already come out, creating a lasting image of the simple poet as a manipulator without conscience. Journalists of all altitudes loved that image because it made for easy copy: cracker-motto bard envied real poets, etc. After Frost died, a third volume of the biography finished the job. On the basis of the complete trilogy of dud scholarship, published between 1966 and 1977, the opinion formed that the gap between Frost’s achievement and his real life was too glaring to be tolerated. Helen Vendler, justifiably regarded in the US as a guru in matters of poetry, pronounced Frost to be a monster of egotism.

When I last heard of her, Helen Vendler was proclaiming the virtues of John Ashbery’s circular poem, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which has been published in limited edition circular book. While she deals with the vital critical question of whether the reader should turn the book around, or take a turn around the book, we can assume that if there is any further correcting to be done to Frost’s reputation as a monstrous egotist, it probably won’t be done by Helen Vendler. Too good a critic to be completely deaf to Frost’s poetic quality, she published, in 2012, an essay that praised his lyricism, but the essay did not do much to make up for her 1996 Paris Review interview in which she lavishly name-checked dozens of her touchstone American poets while mentioning Frost exactly once, and only in passing.

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Extracting the Woodchuck

FrostRobert Frost’s “doubleness,” revealed in his letters—and poems.

It’s not often that a poet is famous enough to become the target of character assassination 50 years after his death. But in November 2013, a half-century after Robert Frost died, Harper’s Magazine published a withering attack on his legend, in the form of a short story by Joyce Carol Oates. The story, “Lovely, Dark, Deep”—its title drawn ironically from one of Frost’s most famous poems, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”—describes the attempt of a young woman, Evangeline Fife, to interview the aging Frost in 1951. But the Frost on display here is so odious that the interview soon turns into a confrontation, then an inquisition. After commenting nastily on the poet’s physical appearance—”his torso sagged against his shirt like a great udder”—Oates gives us a Frost who makes lecherous comments, and lies about his past, and trashes other poets, and fails as a father and husband, and displays an overall arrogance and meanness that make him entirely loathsome. The story ends with Frost collapsed on the ground, almost murdered by his interviewer’s contempt.

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Lord Byron’s Epic Poem “Don Juan,” Annotated by Isaac Asimov and Illustrated by Milton Glaser

Don_JuanThree of history’s greatest geniuses converge around some of the finest satire ever written.

Despite having fathered Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, Lord Byron (January 22, 1788–April 19, 1824) is best remembered for his poetry, countless collections of which have been published in the centuries since he put ink to paper. But arguably the best such volume is a rare vintage gem published by Doubleday — which also commissioned Salvador Dalí’s illustrations for the essays of Montaigne and Edward Gorey’s paperback covers for literary classics — in 1972. The lavish thousand-page tome Asimov’s Annotated Don Juan (public library) presents Byron’s Don Juan — one of the great epic poems in the English language, launching an audacious and timeless attack on greed, complacency, and hypocrisy — with annotations by beloved writer Isaac Asimov, a man of strong opinions and a large heart, and breathlessly gorgeous pen-and-ink illustrations by none other than Milton Glaser, creator of the iconic I♥NY logo and celebrated as the greatest graphic designer of our time.

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We ought to take this man now

 

Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes

Charles Monteith, then commissioning editor at Faber & Faber, sent the following note to fellow editor and poet T. S. Eliot in 1957 along with a copy of Ted Hughes‘ first collection of poetry: The Hawk in the Rain. He also suggested maybe sending Hughes a letter of encouragement. Eliot’s response can be seen written in pencil. He went on to sign Ted Hughes to Faber & Faber and Hughes went on to become a world-renowned poet and author of children’s fiction. From 1984, up until his death in 1998, he also became British Poet Laureate.

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The sinister and sublime, in transcendent watercolors

William Blake's Divine Comedy

It is not uncommon for great artists to bring literary classics to pictorial life, from Picasso’s 1934 drawings for a naughty ancient Greek comedy to Matisse’s 1935 etchings for Ulysses to Salvador Dalí’s prolific illustrations for Don Quixote in 1946, the essays of Montaigne in 1947, Alice in Wonderland in 1969, and Romeo & Juliet in 1975. But among the greatest such cross-pollinations of art and literature come from legendary poet and painter William Blake (1757–1827), celebrated as one of the greatest creative geniuses in history and an inspiration to generations of artists, as well as a lifelong muse to Maurice Sendak.

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The Commercial use of Poetry

AppleView the commercial

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.
To quote from Whitman,
“O me, O life of the questions of these recurring.
Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer: that you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
What will your verse be?

Apple’s new poetry commercial (and Levi’s older one) use Walt Whitman to get under our skin. “Whitman would love that,” claims Karen Karbiener, professor and Whitman scholar at New York University. How do we feel about the commercial use of poetry?

Download the podcast discussion from “Poetry Off the Shelf.”

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Notable Oak Bay home on the move

Oak_BayAbundant thanks to Susan and Josie for their fascinating presentation on P.K. Page yesterday. The great Canadian poet has several new fans.

Thanks also to Tony Whitney for this link – a very suitable addendum – from the Victoria News:

Today (April 29), P.K. Page’s Oak Bay home will be uprooted, placed on a barge and shipped down the Georgia Strait to Chemainus, its new home.

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Final reminder about our celebration of the life and poetry of P.K. Page this coming Thursday, January 23

 

P.K. Page

P.K. Page

Final reminder about our celebration of the life and poetry of P.K. Page this coming Thursday, January 23. Details on the SCHEDULE page.

And remember that we’re meeting five minutes later at 12:50pm, but with the privilege of keeping the room until 4:00pm.

See everyone there!

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The Letter That Changed the Course of Modern Fiction

Pound-JoyceA hundred years ago, Ezra Pound wrote a letter to the struggling and largely unpublished James Joyce offering to help him—and set in motion a literary revolution.

Can a single piece of unsolicited mail change the course of literature? In my opinion, only one letter justifies such a bold claim—a query sent a hundred years ago this month, on December 15, 1913, when Ezra Pound, searching for new talent, reached out to a struggling Irish author living in Trieste.

James Joyce, thirty years old, had faced rejection after rejection during the previous decade. He had completed his collection of short stories, Dubliners, eight years before Pound contacted him—but Joyce still hadn’t found a publisher willing to issue the book. Every time he came close to seeing this work in print, new objections and obstacles arose, and even Joyce’s offer to make changes and censor controversial passages failed to remove the roadblocks.

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