Monthly Archives: February 2016

Walt Whitman on Donald Trump, How Literature Bolsters Democracy, and Why a Robust Society Is a Feminist Society

BY MARIA POPOVA

Whitman

Walt Whitman

In 1855, Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) made his debut as a poet and self-published Leaves of Grass. Amid the disheartening initial reception of pervasive indifference pierced by a few shrieks of criticism, the young poet received an extraordinary letter of praise and encouragement from his idol —Ralph Waldo Emerson, the era’s most powerful literary tastemaker. This gesture of tremendous generosity was a creative life-straw for the dispirited artist, who soon became one of the nation’s most celebrated writers and went on to be remembered as America’s greatest poet.

In the late 1860, working as a federal clerk and approaching his fiftieth birthday, Whitman grew increasingly concerned that America’s then-young democracy had grown in danger of belying the existential essentials of the human spirit. He voiced his preoccupations in a masterful and lengthy essay titled Democratic Vistas, later included in the indispensable Library of America volume Walt Whitman: Poetry and Prose (free ebook | public library).

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MINOR SCHEDULE CHANGE

Schedule_changePlease see the SCHEDULE PAGE for details.

Also, an early reminder that on March 31, we will focus on “Journey Poems” (one or two to be submitted by everyone).
(Please note that in March we will be meeting on the fifth Thursday of the month, instead of the usual fourth Thursday. This is because of room availability at the Roundhouse Community Centre).

For the next two months, because of heavy time commitments, and a consequent inability to spend much time on the blog, I ask everyone’s indulgence and suggest you bring to the sessions printed copies of the poems to be discussed instead of posting them on the blog. The blog will be maintained, but with reduced content and frequency. In May, I’ll be back in the saddle with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

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Telescope

by Louise Glück

telescope_GluckThere is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you’ve been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.

You’ve stopped being here in the world.
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.

You’re not a creature in body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Then you’re in the world again.
At night, on the cold hill,
taking the telescope apart.

You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.

You see again how far away
every thing is from every other thing.

James Longenbach in his remarkable book, The Virtues of Poetry, offers the following insightful comment about this poem:

Here, the astronomer’s instrument becomes the means through which we feel wonder – not while we’re looking through the telescope but in the moment after we move our eye from its lens. Then the feeling passes, and only at this moment, at the beginning of the poem’s seventh sentence, does Glück tell us where we are: on a cold hill, taking the telescope apart. The poem’s most basic narrative information is delayed so that we might feel its mere recital as revelation. For the poem’s mission is not to assert the incomprehensible distance of the stars, but to make us feel the incomprehensible distance between ourselves and what appears most near to us. In the scrupulous vocabulary of the poem itself, we are not wrong to feel wonder at the “image” of the night sky, but we are wrong to think of our “relation” to the stars as being more inexplicable than our relation to any other thing, no matter how close, no matter how familiar.”

Also, a final reminder that Louise Glück will be the topic for our next session on Thursday, February 25. Please see the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of Glück’s poems to be discussed.

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The Wind, One Brilliant Day

by Antonio Machado

The Wind, One Brilliant DayThe wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

‘In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.’

‘I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.’

‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’

the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’

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Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules of Writing

BY MARIA POPOVA

Atwood

Margaret Atwood

Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.”

In the winter of 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing originally published in The New York Times nearly a decade earlier, The Guardian asked some of today’s most celebrated authors to each produce a list of personal writing commandments. After 10 from Zadie Smith and 8 from Neil Gaiman, here comes Margaret Atwood with her denary decree:

Read: Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules of Writing

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Groping

by R.S. Thomas

GropingMoving away is only to the boundaries
of the self. Better to stay here,
I said, leaving the horizons
clear. The best journey to make
is inward. It is the interior
that calls. Eliot heard it.
Wordsworth turned from the great hills
of the north to the precipice
of his own mind, and let himself
down for the poetry stranded
on the bare ledges.
For some
it is all darkness; for me, too,
it is dark. But there are hands
there I can take, voices to hear
solider than the echoes
without. And sometimes a strange light
shines, purer than the moon,
casting no shadow, that is
the halo upon the bones
of the pioneers who died for truth.

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Thomas Hardy: Behind the Mask [Explaining the Poems]

by Andrew Norman

Moments of Vision

HardyMoments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses was published by Macmillan in November 1917. Of this collection, “Logs on the Hearth” and “In the Garden” were poems written by Hardy in memory of his sister Mary. In other poems, such as “Joys of Memory” and “To My Father’s Violin,” he looks back nostalgically at the past, which to him always seems preferable to the present. Similarly, in “Great Things,” where Hardy admits to a love for ‘sweet cider,’ ‘the dance,’ and ‘love’ itself, he uses the past tense, as he ends with the words “Will always have been great things.”

The theme of Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses, said Hardy, was to ‘mortify the human sense of self-importance by showing or suggesting, that human beings are of no matter or appreciable value in this nonchalant universe.’ This, as will be seen, was only part of the story, for there are many poems in the collection which relate, inevitably and vicariously, as always, to Emma Gifford [Hardy’s first wife]. Had she been alive, she would undoubtedly have been just as offended by them as she had been with Jude the Obscure.

In 1920 publisher Vere H. Collins, during a series of discussions with Hardy at Max Gate, questioned the latter about one of his Moments of Vision poems, namely “The Interloper,” which he could not make sense of. It reads as follows:

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Chartres

by Archibald MacLeish

ChartresI do not wonder, stones,
You have withstood so long
The strong wind and the snows.

Were you not built to bear
The winter and the wind
That blows on the hill here?

But you have borne so long
Our eyes, our mortal eyes,
And are not worn—

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The Saddest Poem Ever Written

By NICK RIPATRAZONE

Saddest_poemSpring and Fall,” written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in September, 1880, and collected in his Poems and Prose, is the saddest poem ever written. I have been moved by other poems, including “Rock Me Mercy” by Yusef Komunyakaa, “Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children” by John Updike, and “Aubade Ending with the Death of a Mosquito” by Tarfia Faizullah. There are countless more poems, published and unpublished, seen and unseen, that could scar my heart. Yet in 15 lines and 94 words, Hopkins builds a melancholic, elegiac sentiment that still affects me now, hundreds of reads later.

The poem is invoked to a “young child,” Margaret, who is the silent recipient of the adult narrator’s lament. Hopkins composed the poem while serving as a parish priest in Lydiate, England, and occasionally celebrated Mass at Rose Hill, a private home. He was not a successful preacher, and, devoid of a “working strength,” soon left pastoral work. He taught intermediate Latin and Greek for three years, and then became Chair of Classics at University College, Dublin. He found little joy in any of these professional endeavors, and died of typhoid fever on June 8, 1889. His poems were not published until 1918, by his friend, British poet laureate Robert Bridges.

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Petition

by R.S. Thomas

Petition

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