Monthly Archives: June 2014

Philip Larkin’s almost perfect poem

Aubade_Larkins_graveIf I had to name one poem, written in England in my lifetime, of unquestionable greatness, it would be Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”.

It was published in the Times Literary Supplement on December 23, 1977. Thereafter, although he wrote some – a very few – haunting short poems – we all remember the poignant one about the hedgehog caught in the mower – silence descended. He died in 1985, aged 63.

“Aubade” is a song of dawn. Larkin’s poem is about waking at 4am and staring around his bedroom, and seeing “what’s really always there:/ Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,/ Making all thought impossible but how/ And where and when I shall myself die.”

On one level it is an intensely individual poem, written by a selfish alcoholic bachelor (“I work all day and get half drunk at night” – hence the early waking). But on another level, this poem is universal.

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See also related article: Human Chain by Seamus Heaney – review.


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Today in Poetry History: Globe Theatre Burns to the Ground (June 29, 1613)

GlobeThe first Globe Theatre was an Elizabethan theatre where several of Shakespeare’s plays were originally staged. It was built around 1599 in London using timber from an earlier theater and was jointly owned by members of the theatrical company to which Shakespeare belonged. The Globe burned down in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII. It was rebuilt in 1614, but Puritans closed it and all other theaters in 1642, and it was demolished soon after. A modern reconstruction of the Globe, named “Shakespeare’s Globe”, opened in 1997 approximately 750 feet (230 m) from the site of the original theatre.

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Self Invention in Exile: Lucille Clifton’s defiance by distillation

Lucille_CliftonLucille Clifton

Download the podcast: Lucille Clifton’s defiance by distillation

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A Blessing

BlessingThanks to everyone who contributed to a wonderful session on ekphrasis on Thursday, June 26th. On July 24, we will be celebrating poems about animals, and again we will employ the sure-fire format of everyone bringing their own choice to read and discuss. Please post your selection in the “Leave a comment” box below, or on the CONTACT US page.

Below is a personal favourite of mine:

A Blessing

By James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,

Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.

And the eyes of those two Indian ponies

Darken with kindness.

They have come gladly out of the willows

To welcome my friend and me.

We step over the barbed wire into the pasture

Where they have been grazing all day, alone.

They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness   

That we have come.

They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.

There is no loneliness like theirs.   

At home once more,

They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.   

I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,

For she has walked over to me   

And nuzzled my left hand.   

She is black and white,

Her mane falls wild on her forehead,

And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear

That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.

Suddenly I realize

That if I stepped out of my body I would break

Into blossom.

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A final reminder that this coming Thursday, June 26th, we will again be reading and discussing ekphrastic poetry

Ozymandias-2Here are the poems to be covered:

  1. Geoff Mynett: Homer‘s “Shield-of-Achilles” from The Iliad, focusing on lines 558-571. Click here to download these lines as a Word file: The Shield of Achilles

  2. Bruce Burnett: Philip Larkin‘s “An Arundel Tomb.” (Images) and/or “Les_Coquelicots” by Timothy Brownlow (Painting by Claude Monet).

  3. Anne Fletcher: ‘“Adam And Eve” By Lucas Cranach The Elder, 1526′ by Linda Pastan.

  4. Nora Grove: Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo

  5. Rosaleen Cowan: “The Family Photograph” by Vona Groarke

  6. Graeme Hughes: Lapis Lazuli by W.B. Yeats

  7. Rosalind Russell (Roz): Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

A terrific line-up of outstanding poems and great art. Hope to see everyone there!

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‘A Painter and His Poets’: ‘The Art of George Schneeman’

George_SchneemanPoggio di Poderino,” from 2003, by George Schneeman.
Credit Estate of George Schneeman, Poets House.

Poets House, 10 River Terrace, at Murray Street, Battery Park City, Lower Manhattan. Through Sept. 20.

Artists’ artists make up a highly select category. Poets’ artists occupy an even narrower niche, and George Schneeman (1934-2009) filled it completely. Born in Minnesota, Schneeman was himself a poet before he turned to art. He began painting seriously in the late 1950s while stationed in the Army in Italy. And although he returned to Italy often, he spent most of his life in the East Village, where his closest friends, constant collaborators and frequent sitters were poets of the post-Frank O’Hara New York School.

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TS Eliot’s widow’s art collection sells for more than £7m

Valerie_EliotValerie Eliot’s collection was auctioned at her request to continue her charity’s work encouraging young poets.

A museum-worthy collection of British art amassed by the widow of TS Eliot has sold for more than £7m at auction, more than £2m above the pre-sale estimate.

The top sale at the auction of Valerie Eliot’s collection at Christie’s King Street branch in London, which totalled £7,094,950, was a pencil and water colour sketch of Helmingham Dell in Suffolk by John Constable, which went for £662,500, almost double its estimated value.

The Nobel prize-winning poet’s widow funded her art and antiques collection with the royalties from Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s highly successful musical Cats, based on her husband’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

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What Is Literature?

canonIn defense of the canon

By Arthur Krystal

There’s a new definition of literature in town. It has been slouching toward us for some time now but may have arrived officially in 2009, with the publication of Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors’s A New Literary History of America. Alongside essays on Twain, Fitzgerald, Frost, and Henry James, there are pieces about Jackson Pollock, Chuck Berry, the telephone, the Winchester rifle, and Linda Lovelace. Apparently, “literary means not only what is written but what is voiced, what is expressed, what is invented, in whatever form” — in which case maps, sermons, comic strips, cartoons, speeches, photographs, movies, war memorials, and music all huddle beneath the literary umbrella. Books continue to matter, of course, but not in the way that earlier generations took for granted. In 2004, “the most influential cultural figure now alive,” according to Newsweek, wasn’t a novelist or historian; it was Bob Dylan. Not incidentally, the index to A New Literary History contains more references to Dylan than to Stephen Crane and Hart Crane combined. Dylan may have described himself as “a song-and-dance man,” but Marcus and Sollors and such critics as Christopher Ricks beg to differ. Dylan, they contend, is one of the greatest poets this nation has ever produced (in point of fact, he has been nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature every year since 1996).

The idea that literature contains multitudes is not new. For the greater part of its history, lit(t)eratura referred to any writing formed with letters. Up until the eighteenth century, the only true makers of creative work were poets, and what they aspired to was not literature but poesy. A piece of writing was “literary” only if enough learned readers spoke well of it; but as Thomas Rymer observed in 1674, “till of late years England was as free from Criticks, as it is from Wolves.”

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After Lermontov: A Bicentenary Celebration

LermontovAfter Lermontov: A Bicentenary Celebration

[Mikhail Lermontov is] a poet of immense lyric intensity.” —Joseph Brodsky, winner, 1987 Nobel Prize for Literature

Mikhail Lermontov (1814 – 41) is best known in the West today as the author of the novel A Hero of Our Time. But at the time of his death, aged only 26, he was widely regarded as Russia’s greatest living poet. He achieved almost instant fame in 1837 with ‘On the Death of a Poet’, his tribute to Pushkin – whose death in a duel foreshadowed Lermontov’s own. Over the course of the next four years he went on to write many short poems, both lyric and satirical, and two long verse narratives. He was particularly known for his depictions of the Caucasus, where he was exiled for a time, taking part in battles such as the one described in his poem ‘Valerik’. Lermontov traced his ancestry to Scotland, and this book offers a Scottish perspective on the Russian poet. Most of the translators are Scottish or have Scottish connections, and some of the poems are translated into Scots. As Peter France writes in his introduction, this bicentennial volume aims to bring Lermontov’s poems to a new readership by enabling them to ‘live again’ in English and in Scots.

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Poems for Summer

Poetry-on-the-beachGet ready for summer with this roundup of poems for the coming season.

Vacation by Rita Dove

In Summer” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Let Birds by Linda Gregg 

Summer Nights and Days by Rachel Hadas

Summer Holiday by Robinson Jeffers 

The White Room by Charles Simic

Summer Night, Riverside by Sara Teasdale 

Miracles by Walt Whitman

June Light by Richard Wilbur 

Summer Song by William Carlos Williams

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