Monthly Archives: March 2014

Vendler’s Yeats

The critic is the only artist who depends entirely upon another art form, which means that part of his job is to determine the nature of that relationship. Should he be an advocate? A policeman? A curator? A hanging judge? A mostly loyal but occasionally snippy personal assistant? The decision is an unconscious one, perhaps, but once it’s made, the critic’s writing will be colored by his chosen role in the same way that our voices carry the accents of our birthplaces.

Yeats_VendlerHelen Vendler is one of the most powerful poetry critics of our time, and her relationship with her art is as simple as it is peculiar: she’s a steward. If contemporary poetry were a great manor house, Vendler would be its long-serving and unshakable manager, monitoring the stable hands, restocking the wine cellar, preventing the chambermaids from swiping the jewelry and, above all, keeping immaculate the high chambers to which the lords and ladies retire at nightfall. It’s an unusual position — unlike Vendler, most poetry critics are poets themselves — and it comes with its own curious set of virtues and vices. On one hand, Vendler is an astonishingly thorough and patient reader whose devotion has influenced the way we read Herbert, Shakespeare, Stevens and many others. On the other hand, her work occasionally demonstrates the flaws that come from feeling that one is obligated to ensure the Right Poets are read the Right Way.

Read the complete review

Note that your blogger has just finished this book and, although as the reviewer writes, much of it is as “dry as chalk dust,” it’s still a remarkable work of scholarship and of interest to all Yeats’ aficionados.

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Someone Else by Adam Phillips from The London Review of Books

  • The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures on Poetry by Paul Muldoon Faber, 406 pp, £25.00, October 2006, ISBN 0 571 22740 6
  • Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon Faber, 107 pp, £14.99, October 2006, ISBN 0 571 23234 5
Paul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon excluded himself from Contemporary Irish Poetry, his 1986 Faber anthology, but he included a poem by Seamus Heaney that was dedicated to him. We don’t of course know why the poem was dedicated to him, or indeed whether it is in any sense about him. It is a suggestive poem about what the living can get from the dead:

For Paul Muldoon

It had been badly shot.
While he was plucking it
he found, he says, the voice box –

like a flute stop
in the broken windpipe –

and blew upon it
his own small widgeon cries.

Muldoon has said often enough in interviews that he likes ‘ventriloquising’ in his poetry, likes being able to do himself in different voices; but I take this poem to be, among other things, a warning and a question to Muldoon from the poet who was once his teacher, and about whom, at least on paper, Muldoon has the most genial and admiring of mixed feelings.

Download the full article (PDF): Someone_Else

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Poems Seeking Readers

Caroline Knox
Wave Books, $20 (cloth)

Susan Wheeler
University of Iowa Press, $18 (paper)

Something is astir when very different new works by mature writers reveal such similar attitudes toward their traditions and trade. Call that something an impulse toward thrift—saving or fixing, salvaging or reassembling, conducting from unlikely parts something that is whole.

Caroline Knox and Susan Wheeler can imagine that any passing idiom or aesthetic ideal might, some day, be put to good poetic use. They therefore eschew iconoclasm—the paradox-of-creation ideal according to which something, or someone, must be destroyed for new art to be made. This approach may disappoint those seeking forward-looking poetry amidst ashes, written by poets so justifiably outraged by the disasters of our here and now—political, environmental, economic—that they can conceive of a more perfect poetry future only by way of a pyrrhic march through its past. We doubtless need such revolutionary measures if poets are to speak to generations who must survive the blighted world we are leaving them. But Wheeler and Knox speak now, and they are not revolutionary. Instead, they are radically inclusionary, conserving our idioms and conducting ensembles of diverse aesthetic ideals. Their new books, Knox’s Flemish and Wheeler’s Meme, enlarge the scope of contemporary poetry without dumbing it down.

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Presence, Poetry and the Collaborative Right Hemisphere

Let the mind be, along with countless other things, a landing strip for sacred visitations.’ — James Merrill, A Different Person: A Memoir.

Persinger’s Presence

God Helmet

God Helmet

Neuropsychologist Michael Persinger has recently become a media curiosity using a wired helmet or ‘Octopus’ headband to induce a God experience’ electromagnetically. While the results have been mixed, depending on the beliefs, mental practices and temporal lobe lability of the subjects tested, an earlier, less popularized study (Persinger and Makarec, 1992) showed an interesting correlation between intense verbal meaningfulness and a sense of presence, often conveying a ‘message’ of cosmic significance.

Download the complete article: Presence Poetry

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Macbeth in 2014


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March 18, 2014 · 6:49 pm

World Poetry Day

World_Poetry_DayMARCH 21 is World Poetry Day.

Beginning with a UNESCO proclamation in 1999, March 21 has been designated as a day for cultural organizations, schools, libraries, and publishers worldwide to celebrate the art of poetry. The day is meant to “support poetry, return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, promote teaching poetry, and restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts.”

As Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova has said, “Poetry is one of the purest expressions of linguistic freedom. It is a component of the identity of peoples and it embodies the creative energy of culture, for it can be continuously renewed.”

We also invite you to keep the celebration going, by joining us in celebrating National Poetry Month every April. Download a free copy of this year’s official poster.

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Guardian Books podcast: Irish writers for St. Patrick’s Day

St_Patricks_DayDraw up a chair and celebrate St Patrick’s Day with readings from W.B. Yeats, Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey and Liam O’Flaherty

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Where Shall I Begin?

GreenbaumInspiration and instruction in poetry’s first lines.

by Jessica Greenbaum

Shit are we lost?” begins Debora Lidov’s poem “The Drama of the Gifted Hansel,” which appeared in the Threepenny Review in 2002. I found it again, years after remembering the first line as simply the forehead-slapping “Shit.” And though the wonderful poem enticingly continues—“Should I tell her we’re lost? / If we had some pot . . .”—it is the very first moment of the poem, wired directly into the sparking realization that bread crumbs tank as trail markers, which remained more than a decade as a directive. If the phrase “Once upon a time” marks the front door on which the reader politely knocks, “Shit are we lost?” boosts her through a loft window from which she sees the burning rooms.

Read the complete essay

Download and listen to the discussion between Curtis Fox and Jessica Greenbaum: How Should I Begin? Looking at memorable first lines of poems

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Anything Can Happen

Seamus_Heaney-2Anything Can Happen

  by Seamus Heaney
Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses

Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth
And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven’s weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.
Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.

Another reminder about our special treat on March 27 when Rosaleen and Rosalind will lead us in a celebration of the life and poetry of the much-loved, great Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, Seamus Heaney, who passed away in August, 2013. We will be honoured with the guest presence of Timothy Brownlow, a retired professor of English Literature, who met Heaney, and will share his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, this outstanding poet. Tim has taught English and Irish Literature for over four decades; in his retirement he continues his writing career as poet and essayist; his favourite poets are Yeats and Heaney.

Go to the Schedule Page for a list of Heaney poems (with links to texts) to be read and discussed.

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Who is Ozymandias? And Other Puzzles in Poetry by John Fuller – review

OzymandiasFuller’s solutions to poetry’s puzzles may be infuriatingly complex, but they do tell us about the way in which poets work

This is, in some ways, an extremely infuriating book, one rather removed from the populist promises of the title (compare the oeuvre of the author’s near-contemporary John Sutherland, at least four of whose books, to my recollection, use the word “puzzle” or “puzzles” in their subtitles). You may, for instance, have been haunted, as you were meant to be, by Wallace Stevens’s line: “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.” The back cover blurb strongly implies that within this book you will find the emperor’s identity revealed.

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