Monthly Archives: July 2014

Shakespeare’s scholar tramp

Shakespeare-scholar-trampIn a small series of sheds in Sussex an 19th-century joker and eccentric hoarded the evidence that reconciles Shakespeare the playwright with Shakespeare the man. Charles Nicholl uncovers a remarkable story.

Hollingbury Copse is a pleasant suburban cul-de-sac on the northern outskirts of Brighton, but nothing remains of the curious property that once stood here, and was the first to have this address. It was built amid dense woodland in the late 1870s by the celebrated Shakespearean scholar and collector James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps. The views across the downs and out over the Channel were splendid, but the house itself was not the commodious sort of residence one might envisage for this eminent if eccentric Victorian. It was not really a house at all, but a rambling spread of single-storey timber buildings, roofed with galvanised iron and connected by wooden corridors. An early visitor likened it to a squatters’ camp in South Africa, but with time it mellowed. An American journalist, Rose Ewell Reynolds, who saw it in 1887, thought it very “picturesque” – it was “simply a collection of bungalows bought ready-made in London, but grouped as they were they made a most comfortable home”. They had “criss-cross timbering on the outside”, which reminded her of the “quaint little houses” she had seen in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Happy Birthday Stanley Kunitz!

Stanley_KunitzStanley Kunitz was born on July 29, 1905, in Worcester, Massachusetts. His many honors include the Pulitzer Prize and serving as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Kunitz was a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and died at the age of 100 on May 14, 2006.

The Layers
Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

About This Poem

About “The Layers” Stanley Kunitz has said, “I wrote ‘The Layers’ in my late seventies to conclude a collection of sixty years of my poetry. Through the years I had endured the loss of several of my dearest friends, including Theodore Roethke, Mark Rothko, and—most recently—Robert Lowell. I felt I was near the end of a phase in my life and in my work. The poem began with two lines that came to me in a dream, spoken out of a dark cloud: ‘Live in the layers, / not on the litter.’”

Stanley_Kunitz-collected-poemsPoetry by Kunitz
The Collected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company, 2002)

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A Pertinent, if Prolix, Postscript to Poems about Animals


Pansies: Lawrence’s Search for the Animal Other in Humans

by Andrew Keese (Texas Tech University)

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New, expanded topic agenda now on the SCHEDULE PAGE

Our new and revised topic agenda, through to June, 2015, has been posted on the SCHEDULE PAGE. All comments, suggestions and/or objections welcome. Democracy is alive and well in the Roundhouse Poetry Circle.

Meanwhile, a very merry summer to all. The blog will be maintained throughout, with , I hope, content of interest. Please note below a chart showing how often and from where our blog is being viewed:

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Does Poetry Matter?

Thanks to all who participated in a fabulous session on “Poems about Animals” yesterday. The topic triggered some truly interesting, challenging discussions and gave us insights into some extraordinary poems. Thanks also to Susan Koppersmith for bringing the following newsworthy article from the New York Times to our attention.

David_BiespielDavid Biespiel’s most recent book of poems is “Charming Gardeners.” His anthology “Poems of the American South” is due out next month in the Everyman’s Library series.

I write this by campfire light in the back country of British Columbia, cut off from the digital world and miles from the nearest town.

Every society we’ve ever known has had poetry, and should the day come that poetry suddenly disappears in the morning, someone, somewhere, will reinvent it by evening.

Since ancient times, as long as we’ve had language, poetry has ritualized human life. It has dramatized and informed us with metaphors and figures of feeling and thought, mysteries and politics, birth and death, and all the occasions we experience between womb and tomb.

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A final reminder that this Thursday, July 24, we will be honouring poems about animals

PantherThe line-up is:
Susan Koppersmith: “The Thought Fox” by Ted Hughes
Bruce Burnett: “Hurt Hawks” by Robinson Jeffers and/or from
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (brief excerpt: From-Leaves-of-Grass)
Geoff Mynett: “Macavity: the Mystery Cat” by T.S. Eliot and/or Mad Dogs and Englishmen, by Noel Coward and/or “The Tyger” by William Blake
Graeme Hughes: ‘DOG’ by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and/or ‘A Horse Heaven’ by W.S. Merwin
Anne Fletcher: “Self Protection” by D.H. Lawrence

Nora Grove: The Panther” (subtitled: In Jardin des Plantes, Paris) by Rainer Maria Rilke

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The Princeton Dante Project

Princeton_DanteHere is one of the best poetry resources on the web: The Princeton Dante Project. Created by the Dante scholar Robert Hollander, it offers the complete works of Dante in Italian and English, audio of the entire Comedia read in Italian, and an extensive critical apparatus, including commentary dating back to Boccaccio. And it’s free!  DY

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Rochester: the debauched poet who mocked the king

RochesterThe Earl of Rochester was a libertine famous for his bawdy verses who bravely satirised Charles II’s court. Alexander Larman celebrates the life of a gloriously reckless poetic spirit.

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James_FrancoThanks to Roz Russell for making us aware of this interesting review from the New York Times Sunday Book Review: James Franco, Poet.

This is an excellent opportunity to launch an appeal for similar finds that may be of interest to the Roundhouse Poetry Circle members. Your blogger is unable to tuck his busy fingers into all poetic pies, and would therefore appreciate any lead(s) to interesting articles. Email me directly or via the CONTACT US page on the blog.

The following reviews also include a less than complimentary critique of the James Franco book:

Civil power

by William Logan

Reviews of Caribou , by Charles Wright; Directing Herbert White, by James Franco; The Road to Emmaus, by Spencer Reece; Roget’s Illusion, by Linda Bierds; and Broken Hierarchies: Poems, 1952–2012, by Geoffrey Hill, edited by Kenneth Haynes.

Charles Wright is an old, old hand now, still hammering out, as he has for decades, meditations on life, liberty, and the pursuit of angels. He doesn’t deal in country wisdom—only wisdom countrified, the way every suburb south of Canada and north of Mexico has a bar with a roaring trade in cowboy hats and cowboy boots. At worst, Wright’s poems offer wisdom shtick that at the upper end competes with W. S. Merwin’s free-floating ramblings and at the lower Mary Oliver’s doggy pastoral:

No darkness steps out of the woods, no angel appears.
I listen, no word, I look, no thing.
Eternity must be hiding back there, it’s done so before.

I can wait, or I can climb,
Like Orpheus, through the slick organs of my body.

Slick organs” is a wonderful touch that almost rescues the sentiment of the rest. Such musings never sound all that deep, and they’re never as deep as they sound—the tone is rarely raised or lowered, the lines droning on like an electric substation.

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What kind of God did Shakespeare believe in?

The playwright’s religion is as hard to pin down as the man himself, as this pithy, elegant and eminently sensible overview makes clear.

Shakespeares_GodShakespeare’s confessional allegiance has been investigated with ever increasing vigour in the past two decades. Not only has there been a turn to religion in literary studies but there are now sophisticated ways to explore and compare early modern texts that promise to tell us more about what people thought, believed and shared.

As David Kastan points out in his pithy, elegant and eminently sensible overview, the question of Shakespeare’s possible Catholicism was raised so frequently in the popular press that it managed to quieten speculation that the man from Stratford was really the earl of Oxford.

But no definite conclusion has been reached. When Shakespeare lamented the “bare ruined choirs” of the destroyed monasteries in sonnet 73 he was not necessarily signalling his opposition to Henry VIII’s brutal reforms or secretly recording his sympathy for the Catholic underground. Rather, he was expressing his dismay at the fracturing of late-medieval Christendom, a traumatic division that horrified Catholics and Protestants alike.

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