Monthly Archives: October 2015

Happy Birthday, John Keats

John_Keats-smallEnglish Romantic poet John Keats was born on October 31, 1795, in London. The oldest of four children, he lost both his parents at a young age. His father, a livery-stable keeper, died when Keats was eight; his mother died of tuberculosis six years later. After his mother’s death, Keats’s maternal grandmother appointed two London merchants, Richard Abbey and John Rowland Sandell, as guardians. Abbey, a prosperous tea broker, assumed the bulk of this responsibility, while Sandell played only a minor role. When Keats was fifteen, Abbey withdrew him from the Clarke School, Enfield, to apprentice with an apothecary-surgeon and study medicine in a London hospital. In 1816 Keats became a licensed apothecary, but he never practiced his profession, deciding instead to write poetry.

Read: The Art of “Negative Capability”: Keats on Embracing Uncertainty and Celebrating the Mysterious.


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The Poetics of Gender Resistance

By Zara Raab

gender_violenceThe passion for setting people right is in itself an afflictive disease.
Distaste which takes no credit to itself is best.

These concluding lines from Marianne Moore’s “Snakes, Mongooses, Snake-Charmers, and the Life” are good advice from one of our best high modern poets. But it is advice that’s hard to follow in cases of bodily or emotional harm when the need to speak out can be compelling, and must be honored. It can be especially hard when encountering an A to Z of heart-rending gender violence—as in the new anthology Women Write Resistanceof child abuse, false imprisonment, incest, jealousy, murder, oppression, rape. Throughout this book, women speak to women, in sympathy and in exasperation to themselves and each other. I like the way Rebecca Foust sustains a family quarrel in her poem “Backwoods”:

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Oscar Wilde: elusive ego, extraordinary wit and enduring genius

Oscar_WildeRichard Ellmann on Oscar Wilde: “He belongs more to our world than to Victoria’s. Now beyond the reach of scandal, his best writings validated by time, he comes before us still, a towering figure, laughing and weeping, with parables and paradoxes, so generous, so amusing, so right.” Photograph: Napoleon Sarony/Getty Images

Eileen Battersby pays tribute to one of the world’s greatest writers on the 161st anniversary of his birth, assessing his literary legacy and his remarkable life

“ …over our heads will float the Blue Bird singing of beautiful and impossible things, of things that are lovely and that never happened, of things that are not and that should be.” From The Decay of Lying (1889)

On this day, October 16, in 1854 was born one of the world’s most magical and compelling literary writers, an artist of extraordinary wit and learning, whose genius would be countered by his humanity and reckless quest for love and perfection. Oscar Wilde paid a heavy price for his romantic urges and belief in beauty. A wry fatalism certainly stalked him throughout his short life which ended in a hotel room in Paris in 1900, as did an eloquent defiance which he simply could not help. The epigrams flowed. Yet his rich and diverse legacy is as full of sorrow as it is of humour, insight and observation. It is as difficult to move through a day without hearing at least some reference to Wilde – be it a quote from his work or a paraphrase – as it is of Shakespeare or Yeats. Wilde endures as do the respective works of an Elizabethan dramatist and an Irish poet born less than 11 years after Wilde. This trio infiltrate our consciousness; their words shape our responses.

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By Ansel Elkins

Last-Penther-Frank_StanfordBooks discussed in this essay:

What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford, edited by Michael Wiegers. Copper Canyon Press, 2015. 764 pages.

Hidden Water: From the Frank Stanford Archives, edited by Michael Wiegeres and Chet Weise. Third Man Books, 2015. 200 pages.

“Don’t go down the rabbit hole,” my husband tells me, but it’s too late. It is 3A.M. and I am still at my desk, the lamp burning hot on my notebook. I have spent the past fourteen hours scouring this book for hidden meanings, and it’s leading me deeper and deeper into a strange world of psychedelic vision: I can dream watching the shooting stars in a black dog’s eye / I can dream a piano of bourbon / I can dream on Beale / I can dream even though I am asleep in a star drift. This is what obsession looks like: I am Dante following my Virgil, but if I journey too far into this underworld I fear I may not return. Yet this foreboding, mysterious landscape is familiar to me, so the allure is difficult to resist. “Just fifteen more minutes and I’ll come to bed,” I tell him, although I know this is a lie.

When I was twenty-three, I had a heady love affair with this beautiful Byronic poet from Mississippi, Frank Stanford. No matter that he was already dead—had been dead for years before I was born—or that he’d shot himself while his wife and his lover were in the house with him. I was poor and idealistic and living in Arkansas, the same state where he worked and died, when I found my way to his poems. When I first opened Stanford’s slim book of posthumously published selected work, The Light the Dead See, every word rang true and glowed like burning coal. I was enraptured by his recklessness, his rebelliousness, his loneliness; I drank up his language like whiskey and was pulled into his dangerous, nocturnal world full of energy and eroticism and death.

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Stoicism and the Romantics

Many-coloured-glassLife, like a dome of many-coloured glass,

Stains the white radiance of Eternity

From “Adonais” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

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‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers

by Emily Dickinson

Hope_feathers‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

An early reminder that we will feature Emily Dickinson in our November 26 meeting. Please post your choice of Dickinson poem(s) to be read and discussed on the CONTACT US page, or email me directly. Meanwhile, here are three links to some background information on this fascinating poet:

  1. Her Own Society: A new reading of Emily Dickinson
  2. Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor: Domesticity and Dickinson’s dark side
  3. Emily Dickinson 101: Demystifying one of our greatest poets

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by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

Cat-and-the-moonThe cat went here and there

And the moon spun round like a top,

And the nearest kin of the moon,

The creeping cat, looked up.

Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,

For, wander and wail as he would,

The pure cold light in the sky

Troubled his animal blood.

Minnaloushe runs in the grass

Lifting his delicate feet.

Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?

When two close kindred meet,

What better than call a dance?

Maybe the moon may learn,

Tired of that courtly fashion,

A new dance turn.

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass

From moonlit place to place,

The sacred moon overhead

Has taken a new phase.

Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils

Will pass from change to change,

And that from round to crescent,

From crescent to round they range?

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass

Alone, important and wise,

And lifts to the changing moon

His changing eyes.

Final reminder that we will be reading and discussing the poetry of W. B. Yeats this Thursday, October 22. Please see the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of the poems to be reviewed.

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Diet Verse: John Ashbery’s Planisphere

By Daniel E. Pritchard

PlanisphereReadings” of John Ashbery’s poetry have been a contentious point in critical and scholarly circles for more than half a century. It is commonly held by acolytes and detractors alike that there are only misreadings of his work, to the great delight of Harold Bloom. Stephen Burt recently wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, “When you interpret Ashbery at all, you risk having sceptics tell you that you made it all up: that the poems demonstrate ingenuity not from the poet but from his interpreters, who find music in static, meaning in randomness, synthetic silk in a succession of sow’s ears . . . No one can prove that Ashbery’s poems mean anything.” This is as good a maxim as any.

John Ashbery uses language in ways that have been emphatically described as being like music, more about evocation in the reader than symbolic or essayistic communication through the text. Thus, a coherent reading per se is nearly impossible; only impressions and techniques can be described. The techniques of Planisphere (Ecco, 2009), Ashbery’s latest collection, consist mainly of collage and pastiche, as well as a shifting, unstable sense of interiority that has marked his work from the very beginning.

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Betjeman: a “whim of iron”

by Brooke Allen

John_BetjemanOn “Betjeman’s place in the canon.”

The obsession of academic critics with differentiating “major” writers from “minor” ones, and summarily dismissing the latter, serves the interest of no one but their fellow-academics and actively harms not only those authors they deem minor, but also that large majority of the public who reads novels and poems purely for pleasure, with no scholarly or careerist motives. Within the academy, “major,” at least since the heyday of Eliot and Pound, has tended to mean “difficult”—possibly because difficulty supposes a need for expert interpretation and therefore justifies the existence of professional explicators. Kipling and Trollope, for example, so popular during the Victorian era as to have become an integral part of England’s cultural fabric, are not only ignored in modern universities but actively denigrated.

This has also been true of postwar England’s bestselling poet, John Betjeman (1906–1984). The euphony of his words, the immediacy of his images, his mastery of traditional meter and rhyme schemes, in short the pure accessibility of his work has guaranteed its exclusion from “serious” studies of twentieth-century poetry. He simply did not fit into the modernist tradition, and his hugely successful career as a television personality and expert on the sort of architecture that had hitherto been considered pure kitsch did not raise his stock in academic circles. The 1993 edition of The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, for instance, made no mention of Betjeman in all of its 1,383 pages. Neither did the 626 pages of A Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature (2001).

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Note to Roundhouse Poetry Circle members: Should we consider John Betjeman as a poet to be read and discussed in 2016?

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In Praise of Great Irish Women Writers


Sara Baume: “I didn’t study Peig in school; I was not scarred by its misery at a tender age, which surely puts me in a more objective position than most to argue that Sayers’ account of life on the Great Blasket Island remains relevant and significant.” Photograph: Department of Irish Folklore, UCD

In praise of Dorothy Molloy, by Michael Foley

Celebrating Irish Women Writers: ‘her poetry is not only compelling in itself but for its vision of a female Ireland struggling out of traditional confinements and desperate to be free but angry, conflicted and haunted’

In praise of Augusta Gregory, by Patrick Lonergan

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘Gregory has long been recognised as a great Irish person – but it’s time for her to be recognised as a great Irish writer too’

In praise of Lady Gregory, by Colm Tóibín

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘Her translations of Irish poems and songs have a tender simplicity and immediacy’

In praise of Peig Sayers, by Sara Baume

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘Elegant prose it isn’t, but there are few authors with a more authentically Irish voice. Peig Sayers spoke for generations of poor, uneducated Irish women who never had the opportunity to speak for themselves’

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