Monthly Archives: December 2015

Resolution

by R. S. Thomas
ResolutionThe new year brings the old resolve

to be brave, to be patient,

to suffer the betrayal of birth

without flinching, without bitter

words. The way in was hard;

the way out could be made

easy, but one must not take

it; must await decay perhaps

of the mind, certainly of the mind’s

image of itself that it has

projected. The bone aches, the blood

limps like a cripple about the ruins

of one’s body. Yet what are these

but the infirmities that we share

with the creatures? It is the memories

that one has, the impenitent bungler

of love, refusing for too long

to say “yes” to that earlier gesture

of love that had brought one

forth; it is these, as they grow

clearer with the telescoping

of the years, that constitute

for the beholder the true human pain.

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Happy Birthday, Rudyard Kipling

KiplingJoseph Rudyard Kipling, born on December 30 1865, was a poet, English short-story writer, and novelist.

Read: Rudyard Kipling: the misfit poet

Read also: Iffy: Behind the mask of Rudyard Kipling’s confidence.

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Poets we lost in 2015

Williams-MacDonaldHere are the poets who passed in 2015. Listen to the podcast from the Poetry Foundation and hear two poems by C. K. Williams and Cynthia MacDonald: Poets we lost in 2015.

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From The Irish Times: Improve on Kevin McAleer’s WB Yeats meme: win two silk kimonos and gazelle*

LissadellKevin McAleer and Fintan O’Toole cast a cold eye on Lissadell and try to improve on WB’s original lines. Have a go yourself below and maybe win a prize #ImproveOnYeats

With Yeats2015 almost dead and gone, Kevin McAleer, stand-up comic, raconteur, gentleman farmer and part-time Yeats scholar, casts a cold eye on Lissadell and tries to improve on WB’s original lines from In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz. Care to have a go yourself in the Comments section? Two silk kimonos and a gazelle* for the best entry received by January 1st, to be chosen by Kevin and Fintan O’Toole, Literary Editor of The Irish Times. Fintan has had a go below too but is ineligible for the prize as a staff employee who already has more than enough kimonos and gazelles. #ImproveOnYeats.

Yeats’s original

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Kevin McAleer #1

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a cow.

Kevin McAleer #2

The light of evening, Lapland,
Great windows open to the north
Pole. Two guys in Santa gear, both
Fat, one a reindeer.

Kevin McAleer #3

The light of evening, Leinster House,
Great windows open to the west,
Two guys in silk ties, both
Pitful, one a mouse.

Kevin McAleer #4

The light of evening, Ballymun,
Great tower blocks open to the north,
Two guys in stolen cars, both
Beautiful, one a Mondeo.

Kevin McAleer #5

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Both beautiful, one double-glazed.

Fintan O’Toole #1

The light of evening on the law library
Great windows open to the south
Two SCs in pinstriped suits, both
Smug and rich, one very.

Fintan O’Toole #2

The light of evening on the A&E
Great spaces almost overrun
Two hundred patients on chairs, one
Lucky sod has got the trolley.

Fintan O’Toole #3

The light of evening on the bank
Great windows open to the west
Two bonus cheques, both
Generous, one left blank.

Fintan O’Toole #4

The light of evening on the county
Councillor. Hope you brought the dosh.
Two hands adorned with rings, both
Nakedly greedy, one the full monty.

* Update: We are fresh out of kimonos and gazelles. The winner will receive a selection of the finest books available to humanity instead. Add you entry to the comments section below and also email bookclub@irishtimes.com

Go to the Original Article in The Irish Times.

 

 

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Carol

by R. S. Thomas
scarecrow

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How Poetry Survives

by CHARLES BERNSTEIN

Speed-of-DarknessIn our period, they say there is free speech.
They say there is no penalty for poets,
There is no penalty for writing poems.
They say this.     This is the penalty.

Muriel Rukeyser, “In Our Time,” The Speed of Darkness

Imagine that all the nationally circulated magazines and all the trade presses and all the university presses in the United States stopped publishing or reviewing poetry. New poetry in the United States would hardly feel the blow. But not because contemporary poetry is marginal to the culture. Quite the contrary, it is these publishing institutions that have made themselves marginal to our cultural life in poetry. As it is, the poetry publishing and reviewing practices of these major media institutions do a disservice to new poetry by their sins of commission as much as omission—that is, pretending to cover what they actually cover up; as if you could bury poetry alive.

In consistently acknowledging only the blandest of contemporary verse practices, these institutions provide the perfect alibi for their evasion of poetry. If what is published and reviewed by these institutions is the best that poetry has to offer, then, indeed, there would be little reason to attend to poetry, except for those looking for a last remnant of a genteel society verse, where, for example, Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, can swoon over watered-down Dante on her way to late-night suppers with wealthy lovers of the idea of verse, as she recently gushed in an article in the Book Review. “For some” (“We lucky few” is the last sentences of the article) “there was to be a post-poetry spread laid on by Edwin Cohen (a businessman and patron of literature) back at his apartment at the Dakota, a Danteesque menu announced in advance: roast suckling pig stuffed with fruit, nuts, and cheese; Tuscan salami; prosciotto and polenta, white beans with fennel.”

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The Star-splitter

BY ROBERT FROST

telescope“You know Orion always comes up sideways.

Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,

And rising on his hands, he looks in on me

Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something

I should have done by daylight, and indeed,

After the ground is frozen, I should have done

Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful

Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney

To make fun of my way of doing things,

Or else fun of Orion’s having caught me.

Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights

These forces are obliged to pay respect to?”

So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk

Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming,

Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming,

He burned his house down for the fire insurance

And spent the proceeds on a telescope

To satisfy a lifelong curiosity

About our place among the infinities.

“What do you want with one of those blame things?”

I asked him well beforehand. “Don’t you get one!”

“Don’t call it blamed; there isn’t anything

More blameless in the sense of being less

A weapon in our human fight,” he said.

“I’ll have one if I sell my farm to buy it.”

There where he moved the rocks to plow the ground

And plowed between the rocks he couldn’t move,

Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend years

Trying to sell his farm and then not selling,

He burned his house down for the fire insurance

And bought the telescope with what it came to.

He had been heard to say by several:

“The best thing that we’re put here for’s to see;

The strongest thing that’s given us to see with’s

A telescope. Someone in every town

Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one.

In Littleton it may as well be me.”

After such loose talk it was no surprise

When he did what he did and burned his house down.

Mean laughter went about the town that day

To let him know we weren’t the least imposed on,

And he could wait—we’d see to him tomorrow.

But the first thing next morning we reflected

If one by one we counted people out

For the least sin, it wouldn’t take us long

To get so we had no one left to live with.

For to be social is to be forgiving.

Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us,

We don’t cut off from coming to church suppers,

But what we miss we go to him and ask for.

He promptly gives it back, that is if still

Uneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of.

It wouldn’t do to be too hard on Brad

About his telescope. Beyond the age

Of being given one for Christmas gift,

He had to take the best way he knew how

To find himself in one. Well, all we said was

He took a strange thing to be roguish over.

Some sympathy was wasted on the house,

A good old-timer dating back along;

But a house isn’t sentient; the house

Didn’t feel anything. And if it did,

Why not regard it as a sacrifice,

And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire,

Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction?

Out of a house and so out of a farm

At one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turn

To earn a living on the Concord railroad,

As under-ticket-agent at a station

Where his job, when he wasn’t selling tickets,

Was setting out up track and down, not plants

As on a farm, but planets, evening stars

That varied in their hue from red to green.

He got a good glass for six hundred dollars.

His new job gave him leisure for stargazing.

Often he bid me come and have a look

Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside,

At a star quaking in the other end.

I recollect a night of broken clouds

And underfoot snow melted down to ice,

And melting further in the wind to mud.

Bradford and I had out the telescope.

We spread our two legs as it spread its three,

Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it,

And standing at our leisure till the day broke,

Said some of the best things we ever said.

That telescope was christened the Star-Splitter,

Because it didn’t do a thing but split

A star in two or three the way you split

A globule of quicksilver in your hand

With one stroke of your finger in the middle.

It’s a star-splitter if there ever was one,

And ought to do some good if splitting stars

‘Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood.

We’ve looked and looked, but after all where are we?

Do we know any better where we are,

And how it stands between the night tonight

And a man with a smoky lantern chimney?

How different from the way it ever stood?


Read
Sherman J. Clark’s enlightening essay on the poem:
“Near the beginning of the poem, Bradford McLaughlin gives up worrying about earthly things—represented by his farmhouse—which were bringing him little joy. Instead, he makes a dramatic, indeed stoic, turn away from such matters—reframing his concern about the seeming-foolishness of his own conduct as “curiosity / About our place among the infinities.

He burned his house down for the fire insurance
And spent the proceeds on a telescope
To satisfy a life-long curiosity
About our place among the infinities.’


Nor does he satisfy his curiosity alone. Near the end of the poem, the narrator joins him.

I recollect a night of broken clouds
And underfoot snow melted down to ice,
And melting further in the wind to mud.
Bradford and I had out the telescope.
We spread our two legs as it spread its three,
Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it,
And standing at our leisure till the day broke,
Said some of the best things we ever said.’

In this vision, stoic apatheia is not itself the goal, or even a first step, but rather a consequence. A lack of concern for inherently-indifferent things comes as result of having something better on our minds. Stoic thought is in this sense what Socrates called for in the Republic—a turning of the soul, not a turning off. It is less renouncement than refocus, and thus leads not to apathy but engagement. It turns our attention to something which, if to it we can attune our minds, will not only reveal the meaningless things of the world to be beneath the concern of a human being, but can also reveal in their stead a meaningful and truly human joy.”

Read the complete essay: “How now, Horatio?” The Stoic Joy of Physics and Friendship. Sherman J. Clark is a Professor of Law at The University of Michigan Law School

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Four poems about sport

SportsPoems by Brendan Kennelly, Conor O’Callaghan, David Park and Rita Ann Higgins, taken from Everything to Play For: 99 Poems about Sport

George Best
By David Park

Once I tried to pin him to the page

Tackle him with the heaviness of words

But with a sudden drop of one shoulder

And a slight shimmy of hips he was gone,

Leaving me stumbling off balance,

The page a withering wake of empty space,

His heels disappearing into the distance

Like some skipping dance of trickster light.

from Everything to Play For: 99 Poems about Sport (Poetry Ireland 2015).

Read the other three poems

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Undersung | R. F. Langley: Between Two Worlds — Julie Larios

RF_LangleyBy the end of my time spent with Langley’s work that afternoon in the library, I was smitten. Here was a poet whose poems combined so many of the qualities I search for: precise attention to details of the physical world, control of rhythm, love of language, large-heartedness, confidant risk-taking, and an ability to balance ideas with images and sounds. Contemplative, yes, but not confessional. Both serious and seriously playful. Neither undemanding nor obtuse. Big plus: a modern, original, identifiable voice.” —Julie Larios

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E. E. Cummings’s Christmas Card

Cummings_Xmas

In this card, from the archives of the Academy of American Poets, E. E. Cummings sends a Christmas greeting like no other, with his own poem and illustration. Cummings was known for his Christmas salutations, as he would send short messages and drawings. In December 1946, he sent a Christmas card to Ezra Pound with a drawing of his house on Patchin Place and the greeting “Merry Christmas And Happy New Year.” In December 1949, his drawing of choice was of a charging elephant holding a staff with a banner that read “Merry Christmas.”

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