Monthly Archives: November 2015

Charles Tomlinson, poet – obituary

cHARLES_TomlinsonPoet, translator and scholar whose Englishness was enriched by international perspectives Charles Tomlinson, who has died aged 88, was a poet, graphic artist, university professor and translator, who made a substantial contribution to English poetry.

Tomlinson was not a Movement poet, not part of Ian Hamilton’s Review, not a “confessional” poet and not in any way a rebellious declamatory poet – his poem “Against Extremity”, for example, is a trenchant defence of the middle ground. The fact that he was not part of any identifiable school meant that he defied easy categorisation.

Tomlinson’s early collections included The Necklace (1955) and Seeing is Believing (1958). The American critic Calvin Bedient described his arrival into the world of post-war poetry: “Into an area crowded with hedonists, mystics, rapturous aesthetes, [he] comes equipped with a chaste eye and a mind intent upon exactitude.”

Tomlinson, despite his interests in American poetry (in particular Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams), was a very English poet who took a philosophical interest in landscape, buildings and topography, describing his writing as having “roots in Wordsworth and Ruskin”.

Read the complete review

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by Lorna Crozier
Lacking the violin’s higher reasoning,
its closeness to the mind, the cello
without touching, knows the lower body
best, the shame and glory of the belly,
the bowels, the inner thighs,
the sweat and stain of things, holy and otherwise,
—this, the cello’s music, the dark vibratos,
the pitch and muscle of their sounds.

rostropovich Listen to Mstislav Rostropovich play Bach’s Cello Suite No 2 in D minor

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Happy Birthday, William Blake, November 28, 1757

William_Blake(From William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757, to James, a hosier, and Catherine Blake. Two of his six siblings died in infancy. From early childhood, Blake spoke of having visions—at four he saw God “put his head to the window”; around age nine, while walking through the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels. Although his parents tried to discourage him from “lying,” they did observe that he was different from his peers and did not force him to attend conventional school. He learned to read and write at home. At age ten, Blake expressed a wish to become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake began writing poetry. When he turned fourteen, he apprenticed with an engraver because art school proved too costly. One of Blake’s assignments as apprentice was to sketch the tombs at Westminster Abbey, exposing him to a variety of Gothic styles from which he would draw inspiration throughout his career. After his seven-year term ended, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy.

Blake’s description of a holographic universe, 200 years before we knew about holograms (from
Auguries of Innocence):

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour”

Read The Greatness of William Blake by Richard Holmes

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November Surf

by Robinson Jeffers

November_SurfSome lucky day each November great waves awake
and are drawn
Like smoking mountains bright from the west
And come and cover the cliff with white violent cleanness:
then suddenly
The old granite forgets half a year’s filth:
The orange-peel, egg-shells, papers, pieces of clothing,
the clots
Of dung in corners of the rock, and used
Sheaths that make light love safe in the evenings: all
the droppings of the summer
Idlers washed off in a winter ecstasy:
I think this cumbered continent envies its cliff then….
But all seasons
The earth, in her childlike prophetic sleep,
Keeps dreaming of the bath of a storm that prepares up
the long coast
Of the future to scour more than her sea-lines:
The cities gone down, the people fewer and the hawks
more numerous,
The rivers mouth to source pure; when the two-footed
Mammal, being someways one of the nobler animals, regains
The dignity of room, the value of rareness.

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A final reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing the poetry of Emily Dickinson this Thursday, November 26

emily-dickinsonPlease check the SCHEDULE PAGE for a selection of Dickinson’s poems to be featured.

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by Robinson Jeffers

vultureI had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit
narrowing, I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-feathers
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, ‘My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.’ But how beautiful he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes–
What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment; what a life after death.

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Listen to Carolyn Forché and Robin Robertson read from their work from The Poetry Center Online (92Y)

Forche-and-RobertsonBorn in Detroit, Michigan in 1950, poet, teacher and activist Carolyn Forché has witnessed, thought about, and put into poetry some of the most devastating events of twentieth-century world history. According to Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Book Review, Forché’s ability to wed the “political” with the “personal” places her in the company of such poets as Pablo Neruda, Philip Levine, and Denise Levertov. (Source:

Robin Robertson (b. 1955) is a poet of austere and meticulous diction, tempered by a sensuous music. He was born in Scone, Perthshire, and brought up on the north-east coast of Scotland but has spent much of his professional life in London where he is currently Poetry Editor at Jonathan Cape. Robertson came late to publishing in terms of his own work, his debut collection A Painted Field appearing in 1997. However, the assuredness of his poetry made an immediate impression, winning the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize, the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. His two subsequent books have also attracted acclaim, culminating in his most recent, Swithering, winning the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection. In 2004 he received the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. (Source: The Poetry Archive).

Listen to Carolyn Forché and Robin Robertson read from their work from The Poetry Center Online (92Y)

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To A Terrorist

by Stephen Dunn

For the historical ache, the ache passed down
which finds its circumstance and becomes
the present ache, I offer this poem

without hope, knowing there’s nothing,
not even revenge, which alleviates
a life like yours. I offer it as one

might offer his father’s ashes
to the wind, a gesture
when there’s nothing else to do.

Still, I must say to you:
I hate your good reasons.
I hate the hatefulness that makes you fall

in love with death, your own included.
Perhaps you’re hating me now,
I who own my own house

and live in a country so muscular,
so smug, it thinks its terror is meant
only to mean well, and to protect.

Christ turned his singular cheek,
one man’s holiness another’s absurdity.
Like you, the rest of us obey the sting,

the surge. I’m just speaking out loud
to cancel my silence. Consider it an old impulse,
doomed to become mere words.

the first poet probably spoke to thunder
and, for a while, believed
thunder had an ear and a choice.


Stephen_DunnThe good poem illuminates its subject so that we can see it as the poet wished, and in ways he could not have anticipated. It follows that such illumination is twofold: the light of the mind, which the poet employs like a miner’s lamp, and the other light which emanates from the words on the page in conjunction with themselves, a radiance the poet caused but never can fully control.”

From Stephen Dunn’s “The Good and Not So Good” in WALKING LIGHT.

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by Amy Lowell

Hoar-frostIn the cloud-grey mornings
I heard the herons flying;
And when I came into my garden,
My silken outer-garment
Trailed over withered leaves.
A dried leaf crumbles at a touch,
But I have seen many Autumns
With herons blowing like smoke
Across the sky.

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Happy Birthday, Margaret Atwood


Margaret Atwood

Born on November 18, 1939. and regarded as one of Canada’s finest living writers, Margaret Atwood is a poet, novelist, story writer, essayist, and environmental activist. Her books have received critical acclaim in the United States, Europe, and her native Canada, and she has received numerous literary awards, including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Governor General’s Award, twice. Atwood’s critical popularity is matched by her popularity with readers; her books are regularly bestsellers.

The Moment
Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

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