At my elbow on the table
it lies open as it has done
for a good part of these thirty
years ever since my father died
and it passed into my hands
this Webster’s New International
Dictionary of the English
Language of 1922
on India paper which I
was always forbidden to touch
for fear I would tear or somehow
damage its delicate pages
heavy in their binding
this color of wet sand
on which thin waves hover
when it was printed he was twenty-six
they had not been married four years
he was a country preacher
in a one-store town and I suppose
a man came to the door one day
peddling this new dictionary
on fine paper like the Bible
at an unrepeatable price
and it seemed it would represent
a distinction just to own it
confirming something about him
that he could not even name
now its cover is worn as though
it had been carried on journeys
across the mountains and deserts
of the earth but it has been here
beside me the whole time
what has frayed it like that
loosening it gnawing at it
all through these years
I know I must have used it
much more than he did but always
with care and indeed affection
turning the pages patiently
in search of meanings.
Bill Ellis and Graeme Hughes will read and discuss selections from W. S. Merwin‘s book, The Shadow of Sirius in our January 26 session.
Please note some minor changes in the schedule for 2017.
Should you choose to do so, you can now read the Roundhouse Poetry Circle blog in any one of 100 different languages through the Google Translate widget. Scroll to the bottom of the widget column on the right-hand side of the home page and select your preferred language, from Irish to Persian.
Filed under News, Poem, Reminder
Shakespeare, Donne and Jonson are all represented in this punchy and sinuous anthology, chosen by Stoner author John Williams
The American author and academic John Williams wrote three acclaimed novels (he let his first be quietly forgotten): one set in the wild west (Butcher’s Crossing), one on the campus of a Midwestern university (Stoner, recently republished to great acclaim) and one (Augustus) about the life of the Roman emperor. That’s a wide spread, as far as subject matter goes; the fact that he also published this selection of English Renaissance poetry further demonstrates his capacity for making different eras vivid to us.
This anthology first came out in 1963, and, as Robert Pinsky says in his introduction, it soon becomes clear that it is a writer’s book, as opposed to an academic’s. The subtitle may be somewhat dry – A Collection of Shorter Poems from Skelton to Jonson – though the poems themselves are anything but. This is a labour of love, not an exercise in scholarship and canon-building.
You can see what attracted Williams to this era, as the one thing his novels have in common is a concern for the proper use of good, plain language. English poetry in the 16th and early 17th centuries was at the top of its game. The big names – Shakespeare, Donne, Jonson, all represented here – did not pop up in isolation. Poetry was in the air: everyone with any claim to gentility wrote it, and you couldn’t call yourself well rounded or gentlemanly if you couldn’t knock off an extempore verse (this was almost exclusively a male pursuit).
Filed under Reviews, Study