Monthly Archives: August 2015

RIP Charles Tomlinson

cHARLES_TomlinsonCharles Tomlinson (1927-2015), one of the most consistently readable and insightful poets of our time,  died last week at the age of eighty-eight.

Editorial Reviews for Charles Tomlinson:

His poems are among the best in the English language this century. (Hugh Kenner)

Tomlinson’s perfected style has been little imitated, but I predict it will come to be seen as one of the major achievements of late twentieth-century English verse. (Times Literary Supplement)

Tomlinson’s poetry gives a refreshing rustle or seething to the words which bespeak the entrance of a new life. (William Carlos Williams)

A patient looker at landscape. (Willard Spiegelman)

A master of the craft, his poems have the finality of form which you find only among the first-rate. (Donald Hall)

He is fascinated―with his eyes open: a lucid fascination―at the universal busyness, the continuous generation and degeneration of things. (Octavio Paz)

Tomlinson, 76, is a painter as well as a poet, and his artist’s eye serves him well in his poetry…. This book in fact records a well-planned poetic itinerary. (Frank Wilson Philadelphia Inquirer)

Reading Charles Tomlinson makes one acutely aware that there’s a whole world outside―and inside too―just waiting to be noticed, and that the more we notice, the more we are enriched. (Chicago Tribune)

A standout. (New York Sun)

Mr. Tomlinson is an eloquent poet of place…whose work combines visual exactitude with an uncommon gracefulness of expression. (The Economist)

A Rose for Janet
by Charles Tomlinson

I know
this rose is only
an ink-and-paper rose
but see how it grows and goes
on growing
beneath your eyes:
a rose in flower
has had (almost) its vegetable hour
whilst my
rose of spaces and typography
can reappear at will
(you will)
whenever you repeat
this ceremony of the eye
from the beginning
and thus
learn how.


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William Stafford reads his poem “Peace Walk”

Download the podcast:

Walking and Writing for Peace A conflicted poem about a war protest.


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by Dana Gioia

The_Dark_HorseEnchanter la vulgaire réalité

Guillaume Apollinaire

From the 20th anniversary issue of The Dark Horse, Summer 2015

There is such an enormous amount of poetry criticism and poetic theory published at present that it seems impossible that any significant topic is neglected. Yet there are inevitably blind spots. As scholars and critics pursue the themes and theories of the moment, other subjects remain overlooked. Some topics have been neglected so long that they now seem not merely unfashionable but quaint, eccentric, even disreputable. This essay explores one of those disreputable subjects, one that I’m quaint enough to consider important, perhaps essential, to the art of poetry. It is a topic so remote from contemporary literary studies that there is no respectable critical term for it. Lacking a more stylish appellation, I’ll borrow an antiquarian term, enchantment. That very word should cause responsible readers to cringe. What comes next? A damsel with a dulcimer? The horns of Elfland faintly blowing?

There often seems something crude or naive about essentialist views of poetry. Anyone with an advanced degree in literary studies knows there is no professional future in trying to connect the art of poetry with its putative human purposes. There are too few hard facts and too many value judgments involved to make this a safe area of academic inquiry. That is probably why the poet-critics who have made the most persuasive claims on the primal aspects of verse have mostly been outsiders, such as Ezra Pound, Robert Graves, Edwin Muir, Kathleen Raine, William Everson, Robert Bly, Les Murray, Wendell Berry, and—to name one non-poet—Camille Paglia. To put it mildly, these poets have not written in the language of academic discourse. They relied mostly on experiential argument, mythic allusion, historical analogy, and personal narrative, often peppered with amateur anthropology or psychology. At their worst moments, as in Graves’s The White Goddess or Bly’s Iron John, they have claimed visionary authority. Private inspiration may be the stuff of poetry, but it is toxic to criticism. Nonetheless there is something interesting going on in the speculative work of these outsiders besides prophetic delusion or bard-envy. They share a conviction that poetry—both its creation and reception—has great human importance that needs to be not merely understood but periodically renewed as a spiritual capacity. They also view poetry as a foundational element of education. Often reckless by scholarly standards, their criticism attempts to open new conversations rather than annotate and negotiate old ones. A little recklessness goes a long way, but sometimes literary culture needs to go a long way, too.

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Book review: ‘Notes on the Death of Culture’ by Mario Vargas Llosa

Notes-on-the-death-of-cultureWe may not be living in the worst of times, although a case might very well be made for it, but anyone with a thought in their head would be entitled to say that we’re living in the stupidest. Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, certainly believes we are. In this series of coruscating and passionate essays on the state of culture he argues that we have, en masse, capitulated to idiocy. And it is leading us to melancholy and despair.

This is a book of mourning. What Vargas Llosa writes is a lament for how things used to be and how they are now in all aspects of life from the political to the spiritual. Like TS Eliot in his essayNotes Towards the Definition of Culture, written in 1948, he takes the concept of culture in the general sense as a shared sensibility, a way of life.

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By R. S. Thomas

SisyphusAnd Prytherch – was he a real man,

Rolling his pain day after day

Up life’s hill? Was he a survival

Of a lost past, wearing the times’

Shabbier cast-off, refusing to change

His lean horse for the quick tractor?

Or was a wish to have him so

Responsible for his frayed shape?

Could I have said he was the scholar

Of the fields’ pages he turned more slowly

Season by season, or nature’s fool,

Born to blur with his moist eye

The clear passages of a book

You came to finger with deft touch?

In this poignant sonnet, Thomas analogizes Prytherch to Sisyphus, from the Greek “Myth of Sisyphus.” (Click the link for details).

Remember to submit your own choice of R. S. Thomas’s poem(s) for discussion in what will be a riveting session on September 24. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for submissions to-date.

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Whitman’s spell

by Thomas M. Disch

Worshipping_WaltA review of Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples by Michael Robertson

The best biographies of Whitman reveal what one expects, the self-appointed Bard living in a bubble of self-proclaimed glory. That Whitman is best encountered in his own poems. If he had had any secrets a biographer would like to ferret out, he did such a good tidying up that even a century later the interesting questions about his life are still unanswered. Was he gay, in the sense we use that word today? We can’t say. How much of his grandiosity was an act, and intended to be understood as such? That’s to say, was he a charlatan? He was too canny to be nailed down there either. Sometimes he seems a Holy Fool after the fashion of Parsifal or Prince Mishkin, but he was also a shewd and resourceful self-promoter, who, when Emerson sent him a letter that praised his poems in the highest terms (it concludes, “I greet you at the beginning of a great career”), immediately brought out a new edition of Leaves of Grass quoting the whole letter on the cover. Critics cried foul, for such self-promotion was not gentlemanly, but Whitman’s career caught fire directly, as it might not otherwise have done. Thereafter, though he often had to scrounge for a living, writing newspaper filler for peanuts, he was adored by those who read his poetry, in which he was free to expand on his abiding and favorite theme, namely himself. Cocooned in his career, his life was not that interesting. But the lives of those for whom Whitman became a mission and a faith have the fascination of stories heard for the first time. All the jokes are fresh and the endings full of surprises, both happy and plangent.

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Happy Birthday, Robert Herrick

Robert_HerrickBorn on August 24, 1591, Robert Herrick was the seventh child and fourth son born to a London goldsmith, Nicholas, and his wife, Julian Stone Herrick. When Herrick was fourteen months old, his father died. At age 16, Herrick began a ten-year apprenticeship with his uncle. The apprenticeship ended after only six years, and Herrick, at age twenty-two, matriculated at Saint John’s College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1617.

Over the next decade, Herrick became a disciple of Ben Jonson, about whom he wrote five poems. In 1623 Herrick took holy orders, and six years later, he became vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire. His post carried a term for a total of thirty-one years, but during the Great Rebellion in 1647, he was removed from his position because of his Royalist sympathies. Following the restoration of Charles II, Herrick was reinstated at Dean Prior where he resided from 1662 until his death in October 1674. He never married, and many of the women mentioned in his poems are thought to have been fictional.

To The Virgins, Make Much Of Time by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may:
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles to-day,
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best, which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times, still succeed the former.

– Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.


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The Road Not Taken: The Poem Everyone Loves and Everyone Gets Wrong

Two_roadsThis month marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost’s iconic poem “The Road Not Taken.” Read David Orr’s essay, published exclusively on, about the poem that Orr argues is both central to American culture and, more often than not, misunderstood by its readers.

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R.S. Thomas on September 24

Thomas_RSA very early reminder that we’ll all be airing our new-found enthusiasm for the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas on September 24, ably led by Susan Koppersmith. Please remember to post your selection of Thomas poem(s) on the “Leave a comment” link, the “CONTACT US” page, or by emailing me directly. Anne Fletcher is first out the gate (see the SCHEDULE PAGE).

Selections of Thomas’s poems may be found at:–Thomas and

It will be a super session.

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Time to Register for the Fall 2015 Sessions

Poetry lovers, it’s time to register for our fall 2015 sessions (September 24, October 22 and November 26). Registration is free, of course. You may register in person (e.g. before or immediately after our meeting on September 24), via telephone (604-713-1800) or online at:
When you click on the above link, you will see this page:
RegistrationClick on the “Add to Cart” button (I repeat – registration is free) and follow the prompts.
Thanks for your prompt attention to this.
See you all on September 24.
Enjoy the rest of the summer and please read some poems about rain.
The Voice Of The Rain
by Walt Whitman

And who art thou? said I to the soft-falling shower,
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated:
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,
Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely form’d, altogether changed, and
yet the same,
I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own origin,
and make pure and beautify it;
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering,
Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns.)

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