Monthly Archives: May 2015

An Early Reminder that we’ll be discussing Polish poetry on June 25, focusing on Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska

WislawaPlease visit the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of submitted poems to-date. Meanwhile, an hors d’oeuvre: Amanda Palmer Reads Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska’s Glorious Poem “Possibilities”

It is said – here, now – that one of the great markers of spiritual kinship is a love for the same poetry. For if two souls are equally moved by the same pulsating constellation of metaphor and meaning, they are not only bound by a common language and a shared sensibility but also exist in the same dimension of truth and possibility. Poetry, after all, is the ultimate meeting place.

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A final reminder that we will be discussing A.E. Housman on Thursday, May 28

HousmanPlease see the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of featured poems. Don your thinking caps and bring some ideas and suggestions for our October and November meetings.

Our talking about poetry is a part of, an extension of, our experience of it, and as a good deal of thinking has gone to the making of poetry, so a good deal may well go into the study of it.”

Visit A.E. HOUSMAN’S SHROPSHIRE to read about locations mentioned in A Shropshire Lad.

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One of humanity’s greatest poets and custodians of dignity explores the relationship between art, power, and truth

Arts-of-the-possibleThe poet is Adrienne Rich and the exploration a remarkable 1997 lecture that became the title piece in Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations — the same anthology that gave us the spectacular letter with which Rich became the only person to decline the National Medal of Arts in one of creative culture’s most courageous acts of political dissent.

Rich begins by considering the perilous interplay of the market and the mind in capitalist culture:

We have become a pyramidic society of the omnivorously acquisitive few, an insecure, dwindling middle class, and a multiplying number of ill-served, throwaway citizens and workers [resulting in] a kind of public breakdown, with symptoms along a spectrum from acute self-involvement to extreme anxiety to individual and group violence.”

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Whitsun Weekend 2015: Time to revisit the The Whitsun Weddings

By Philip Larkin

Whitsun_WeddingsThat Whitsun, I was late getting away:

Not till about

One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday

Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,

All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense

Of being in a hurry gone. We ran

Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street

Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence

The river’s level drifting breadth began,

Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

Listen to Philip Larkin read the complete poem.

Read also: Ian McMillan revisits the train journey at the heart of Philip Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings

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Young Eliot: From St Louis to the Waste Land by Robert Crawford – review

Young_EliotA strait-laced upbringing and a disastrous marriage taught the young T. S. Eliot to camouflage his emotions.

When T.S. Eliot died, 50 years ago last month [February, 2015], the New York Times called him that “quiet, gray figure who gave new meaning to English-language poetry”. This June marks the centenary of the publication of “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”, which, along with a few other early works including “Gerontion”, “Portrait of a Lady” and “Sweeney Among the Nightingales”, helped Eliot crack open modern poetry. Between 1915 and 1920, while rationing out a handful of radically innovative poems, Eliot published heaps of magisterially conservative literary criticism. Even before The Waste Land, he was famous enough to be parodied by Louis Untermeyer, who imagined “Einstein Among the Coffee Cups” in high Prufrockian style: “The night contracts. A warp in space / Has rumors of Correggio.” In late 1922 Eliot released The Waste Land into a world that seemed to be waiting, if not ready, for it. Joyce had published Ulysses that February; a few months later, Proust was finally translated into English, “so that even the French might read him”, quipped one American critic. “Modernism,” complained another, “they say, is in the air. So is the flu.”The Waste Land was heralded even before its publication as the poem that would epitomise this literary movement, the artistic source from which modernism could endlessly renew itself. Robert Crawford’s new biography, Young Eliot, takes its subject only as far as this momentous publication, ending with some sketchy gestures toward its initial reception.

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David Ferry’s Beautiful Thefts

by Dan Chiasson

David_FerryPoetry is innately related to theft. The lyre was invented, the Greeks tell us, by Hermes, who then gave the instrument to Apollo as compensation for stealing cattle. One reason people’s aversion to poetry sometimes passes over into strong annoyance, or even resentment, is that poems steal our very language out from under us and return it malformed, misshapen, hardly recognizable. Poetry carries us to odd places, almost like the prank, allegedly popular a few years ago, in which somebody steals your garden gnome and sends you postcards of it from points spanning the globe—the Blarney Stone, the Pont-Neuf.

David Ferry, who, at the age of eighty-eight, has just won the National Book Award for poetry, is a special kind of thief. He carries us to places we can’t possibly visit, from the Mesopotamia of Gilgamesh to Horace and Virgil’s Rome. No American poet has translated better the greatest classical authors; Ferry’s translations of Horace are among the predominant texts in contemporary American poetry, teaching American poets (I’m one of them) the Horatian tones—the modesty, civility, and gossip; the swift, fly-by urbanity—that went missing from much of the best American poetry of the seventies and eighties. How strange to have the American vernacular put back in our mouths by this roundabout method. I can remember reading these lines of Horace—of Ferry’s Horace—with amazement at their simple, unprepossessing ecstasy:

Because the muses favor me and love me,
As far as I’m concerned let the wild winds carry
All sadness and trepidation far away
. (Odes, I.26)

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by Paula Meehan

The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop each
like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter’s ended.

mysteries-of-the-homeSeed’ is © Paula Meehan, all rights reserved.

Seed’ is taken from Mysteries of the Home by Paula Meehan, which was re-issued in February 2013 by Dedalus Press. Dedalus release notes for Mysteries of the Home are added here. Mysteries Of The Home was first published in 1996 by Bloodaxe Books.

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Equipment for Living: Poetry’s complex consolations


equipment-for-livingA new thing appears,” Annie Dillard writes, “as if we needed a new thing.” What are we doing with all these films and songs and novels and poems and pictures? Why keep making them? Don’t we have enough, or too much?

I find I can’t get away from my early reading of Harold Bloom, who proposes that we ask of a text: “what is it good for, what can I do with it, what can it do for me, what can I make it mean?” Things that answer these questions — things that are good for something, that we can do something with, that we can make do things for us, that we can make mean something — we call equipment.

Hammers, for instance, are good for lots of things — building birdhouses, bludgeoning ideological opponents, breaking down and 
becoming present-at-hand. But a hammer is obviously designed in such a way that certain purposes (driving nails) are more plausible than others. For Kenneth Burke, poetry is designed for living:

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The Highest of Highbrows: F. R. Leavis and the life of literature

Leavis“I can be pretty handy in a roughhouse.” So said F. R. Leavis, all five-foot-six, 125 pounds of him, when offering to support some of his arty students at Downing College, Cambridge, whose protest meeting during the Suez Crisis of 1956 was threatened by members of the Boat Club. We may have trouble imagining this bantam don putting any oarsman against the wall, but in a literary critical fight there was, at mid-century, no one better.

Leavis (1895-1978) taught at Downing from the early 1930s until 1962; he wrote brilliant books like Revaluation (of poets, 1947) and The Great Tradition (of novelists, 1948), and, most important, he edited Scrutiny (1932-53), the indispensable quarterly of those decades. By 1964, though, David Holbrook, a left-oriented Leavisite, wondered if the campaign wasn’t over: “When I see old Leavis walking along Trumpington Street with a glazed look of denying the rest of the world on his face, then I recognize the dangers.”

The dangers, that is, of disdaining the rest of the world’s pop culture, which that year saw hits like Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady in movies and John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Saul Bellow’s Herzog in fiction. The bag was mixed enough to invite some respectful attention. Still, the aim of criticism—what T. S. Eliot had called “the common pursuit of true judgment”—hadn’t changed. For a loyal Leavisite such as Holbrook, life was too short for “ ‘pop’-chasing.”

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Poet Laureate Charles Wright on writing and reading poems

Charles_WrightDownload the podcast: A Code with No Message’ Poet Laureate Charles Wright on writing and reading poems.

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