Monthly Archives: May 2016

Less Is Moore

Observations is one of the great verbal works of art of the 20th century, in part because of Marianne Moore’s infectious devotion to everything small.

By James Longenbach

ObservationsOn February 29, 1988, John Ashbery gave a poetry reading at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. The room was packed. Coincidentally, the Folger had mounted “Marianne Moore: Vision Into Verse,” an exhibition including an array of clippings and photographs that Moore includes in her poems—most prominently in “An Octopus,” the longest poem in her 1924 volume Observations. Speaking from the podium, Ashbery called “An Octopus” the most important poem of the 20th century; and while the remark provoked a few titters, he was reiterating a conviction that was neither novel nor idiosyncratic. “Despite the obvious grandeur of her chief competitors,” he’d written two decades earlier, in a 1967 review of Moore’s Complete Poems, “I am tempted simply to call her our greatest modern poet.”

By “chief competitors,” Ashbery meant the usual suspects—Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams—all of whom maintain a permanent claim on our attentions; with the notion that Moore belongs among this company, no 21st-century reader could plausibly disagree. Not only the freewheeling Ashbery but also the fastidious Richard Wilbur reveres her poems, and depending on how one approaches them, the poems themselves seem both freewheeling and fastidious. “She gives us,” said Ashbery, “the feeling that life is softly exploding around us, within easy reach.”

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The Interrogation

by R.S. Thomas

The_InterrogationBut the financiers will ask
In that day: IS it not better
To leave broken bank balances
Behind than broken heads?

And Christ recognizing the
New warriors will feel breaching
His healed side their terrible
Pencil and the haemorrhage of its figures.

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Hopkins International Literary Festival Friday July 22 – Thursday 28th 2016


Newbridge College Kildare Ireland

Celebrating Gerard Manley Hopkins and his his interests: Poetry, Painting, Music, The Arts, Philosophy, Conservation and his mentor John Henry Newman

Click here for the full program

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[The Guardian’s] Poem of the week: The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins

by Carol Rumens

The_WindhoverThis time, Hopkins’s astonishing control of his wildly experimental form is as awe-inspiring as its subject matter

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote “The Windhover” in May, 1877. He had been a student at St Bueno’s Theological College for three years, and this was a productive period: the year of “God’s Grandeur”, “Spring” and “The Starlight Night”, among others. “The Windhover” is the most startlingly experimental of this gorgeous tranche of sonnets. Hopkins seems at ease, fully in control of the energies of his sprung rhythm and effortlessly folding the extra-metrical feet he called outrides (see line two, for example) into the conventional sonnet form. He recognised his own achievement, and, sending a revised copy to his friend Robert Bridges, declared that this was the best poem he’d ever written.

Much discussed and interpreted, “The Windhover” plainly begins with, and takes its rhythmic expansiveness from, a vividly observed kestrel. That the bird is also a symbol of Christ, the poem’s dedicatee, is equally certain. Perhaps too, its ecstatic flight unconsciously represents for Hopkins his own creative energy. When he exclaims “How he rung upon the rein…” his image might extend to the restraints and liberations of composition. The phrase means to lead a horse in a circle on the end of a long rein held by its trainer, and it certainly makes a neat poetic metaphor.

What a marvellous sentence Hopkins sets soaring across the first seven lines of the octet: I particularly like those cliff-hanger adjectives summoned “in the riding/ Of the rolling level underneath him steady air”. The diction throughout is rich and strange: “wimpling” (rippling and pleating), “sillion” (a strip of land between two furrows), “the hurl”, “the achieve”. There are resonant ambiguities: “buckle” for example could be imperative or indicative, and it could mean any of three things: to prepare for action (an archaic meaning), to fasten together, or to bend, crumple and nearly break (“buckled like a bicycle wheel” as William Empson remarked when analysing the poem in Seven Types of Ambiguity).

Read the complete article and the poem.

An early reminder that we’ll be celebrating the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins on Thursday, June 23. Post your favourite Hopkins’ poem for reading and discussion on the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.

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On Translating Poetry

By Zbigniew Herbert

On Translating PoetryLike a clumsy bumblebee
he alights on a flower
bending the fragile stem
he elbows his way
through rows of petals
like the pages of a dictionary
he wants in
where the fragrance and the sweetness are
and though he has a cold
and can’t taste anything
he goes on trying
until he bumps his head
against the yellow pistel

and gets no further than that
it’s too hard
to push through the crown
into the root
so the bee takes off again
he emerges swaggering
loudly humming:
I was in there
and those
who don’t take his word for it
can take a look at his nose
yellow with pollen

From: Hermes, Dog and Star (1957)

A final reminder that we will be reading and discussing the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert this Thursday, May 26. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of the featured poems.

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Who was Wallace Stevens? A new biography looks at the man and his work

By Michael Dirda

Who-was-Wallace-StevensI suspect that most people who love Wallace Stevens’s poetry do so not because of the density of its philosophical and aesthetic thought, but simply for the humor and verbal music of his diction, for the haunting suggestiveness of his carefully cadenced lines. Some of Stevens’s titles are almost poems in themselves: “The Revolutionists Stop for Orangeade,” “Tea at the Palaz of Hoon,” “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour.”

There are, moreover, scores of glorious lines and phrases, many quite simple: “It was evening all afternoon.” “Pitiless verse? A few words tuned/ And tuned and tuned and tuned.” “The greatest poverty is not to live/ In a physical world.” Best of all may be his easy Erik Satie-like melodiousness — “Complacencies of the peignoir, and late/ Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair”— and his jazzy diction: “One’s grand flights, one’s Sunday baths,/ One’s footings at the weddings of the soul/ Occur as they occur.”

Despite its subtitle, Paul Mariani’s “The Whole Harmonium” isn’t just “The Life of Wallace Stevens.” At least half the text is taken up with detailed analyses of dozens of poems, including all the anthology standards: “The Snow Man,” “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” “Sunday Morning,” “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” “The Idea of Order at Key West,” “To an Old Philosopher in Rome.”

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Double View of the Adirondacks as Reflected Over Lake Champlain from Waterfront Park

By Major Jackson

AdirondacksThe mountains are at their theater again,
each ridge practicing an oration of scale and crest,
and the sails, performing glides across the lake, complain
for being out-shadowed despite their gracious
bows. Thirteen years in this state, what hasn’t occurred?
A cyclone in my spirit led to divorce, four books
gave darkness an echo of control, my slurred
hand finding steadiness by the prop of a page,
and God, my children whom I scarred! Pray they forgive.
My crimes felt mountainous, yet perspective
came with distance, and like those peaks, once keening
beneath biting ice, then felt resurrection in a vestige
of water, unfrozen, cascading and adding to the lake’s
depth, such have I come to gauge my own screaming.
The masts tip so far they appear to capsize, keeling
over where every father is a boat on water. The wakes
carry the memory of battles, and the Adirondacks
hold their measure. I am a tributary of something greater.

Listen to Major Jackson read this poem

About This Poem:

Fathering has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and yet, like many fathers I have led an imperfect life that preceded redemption and grace. This might prove, in the end, to be my greatest gift to my children.”
Major Jackson

Roll_DeepMajor Jackson is the author of Roll Deep (W. W. Norton, 2015). He teaches at the University of Vermont and lives in South Burlington, Vermont.

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I Look Out Over The Timeless Sea

by R. S. Thomas

I Look Out Over The Timeless SeaI look out over the timeless sea
over the head of one, calendar
to time’s passing, who is now open
at the last month, her hair wintry.

Am I catalyst of her mettle that,
at my approach, her grimace of pain
turns to a smile? What it is saying is:
“Over love’s depths only the surface is wrinkled.”

Listen to R. S. Thomas read this poem: I Look Out Over The Timeless Sea

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You Run, Darling: Mark Doty’s Deep Lane

By Eric Farwell

Mark_Doty_Deep_LandMark Doty is tenacious in his in his examination of life and endlessly fussy about his use of words. He makes sure to convey his meaning, whether in the criticism of personal attachment or the depiction of youthful sexual realization. In his poetry in particular, Doty dials those qualities up. These traits positioning him in the same camp as CK Williams, Stephen Dunn, and the tremendous Robert Hass—poets who labor just below the line of the metaphysical, grounding their examinations of the existential life in tactile detail and the natural world.

Even among this esteemed crew, Doty’s work is characterized by the creation of small inner worlds and the scrutiny of life with notes of resignation, all presented in a muted Brock-Broidian language that provides the mortar for fireworks in those more placid passages. Perhaps the most exceptional thing about Doty’s new collection, Deep Lane, however, is that the poems breathe, the ones more akin to country gardens than fenced-in yards. The poems in Deep Lane reach toward transcendence while remaining tethered, however delicately, to corporeal reality.

The collection’s title reoccurs throughout the collection, giving it a strange rhythm, serving to create a kaleidoscopic vision of what these small moments aspiring for the intangible might add up to. In the second poem titled “Deep Lane,” Doty’s dog pulls up one of four stakes marking a new grave site. Instead of replacing the marker, or scolding his pet, he watches it run wild through the graveyard, thinking to himself, “You run, darling, you tear up that hill.”

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The Still Point of the Turning World: T.S. Eliot Reads His Timeless Ode to the Nature of Time in a Rare Recording

By Maria Popova


Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

[Is] only the present comprehended?” Patti Smith asked in her marvelous meditation on time and transformation. Generations earlier, at the same moment in history when Virginia Woolf was busy contemplating the elasticity of time and Einstein and Gödel were redefining our understanding of itT.S. Eliot (September 26, 1888–January 4, 1965) — another supreme poet for the ages — penned what remains the most beautiful ode to the nature of time: Burnt Norton, the first of his epic Four Quartets, eventually included in his Collected Poems (public library).

In this rare archival recording, Eliot reads this timeless masterpiece, which contains one of the most exquisite phrases ever written in the English language: “the still point of the turning world.” Please enjoy: T. S. Eliot reads “Burnt Norton” (1935).


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