Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Computer is Unable

R. S. Thomas

The Computer is UnableThe computer is unable

to find God: no code

number, no address.

Technology stalls

without the material

we provide it. There must be

some other way. ‘Try

looking,’ says the eye,

‘Try listening’ the ear

answers. I stare into distance:

nothing but the gantries

where art is crucified in

the cause of new art.

I have heard amid uproar

in London the black redstart

singing among the ruins;

so I strain now amid

the times’ hubbub for fear

the still, small voice should

escape me. ‘Is he dumb?’

Wrong language. ‘Am I

impatient?’ I resort once

again to the word processor.

But where a poem in his honour

should emerge, all in bud

like a birch tree, there is only

the machine’s repetitions,

parallel tramlines of prose

never to come together in praise.

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The Old Stoic

by Emily Brontë

The Old StoicRiches I hold in light esteem,
   And Love I laugh to scorn;
And lust of fame was but a dream,
   That vanished with the morn:
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And if I pray, the only prayer
   That moves my lips for me
Is, “Leave the heart that now I bear,
   And give me liberty!”
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Yes, as my swift days near their goal:
   ‘Tis all that I implore;
In life and death a chainless soul,
   With courage to endure.

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Cramming for Success

James Wood

Cramming for SuccessThomas Hardy: Half A Londoner by Mark Ford Harvard, 305 pp, £20.00, October 2016, ISBN 978 0 674 73789 1

Human character, we know, changed on or about December 1910, but it had already changed on or about December 1863, when Baudelaire published his essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’. In the course of writing about the journalist-illustrator Constantin Guys, Baudelaire leaves the salon and goes out into the street, away from art criticism to urban digression. He mentions Poe’s story, ‘The Man of the Crowd’, whose narrator, recovering from a recent illness, sits in a London café and watches the human traffic through the window. Artists are like convalescents, Baudelaire adds: nervously alert, grateful for the slightest detail, omnivorously curious. And the convalescent is like the child, who sees everything as if for the first time, drunk on novelty. Inspiration, Baudelaire continues, ‘has some connection with congestion’. Guys is such an eternal child, and the urban crowd is his domain: ‘he watches the flow of life move by, majestic and dazzling … He gazes at the landscape of the great city, landscapes of stone.’ From this, comes a further generalisation: ‘Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable.’
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I was often put in mind of ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ while reading Mark Ford’s study of Thomas Hardy. Ford doesn’t mention it (though he does refer to Baudelaire’s flaneurial poems), perhaps because that manifesto is too obvious, or too obviously theoretical: he prefers to build his case patiently, historically, in solid empirical sediments, beginning and ending with biography, a form often maligned or ignored in academic criticism. But Ford realigns our sense of Hardy, moving him from Wessex fields to London streets, and offering a transformed writer: less the time-torn pastoral tragedian than a painter of modern life.

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Read also: Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner by Mark Ford review – how the capital shaped Hardy’s Wessex
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Listen to Mark Ford discuss Thomas Hardy’s sense of being torn between two worlds

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Via Crucis

R. S. Thomas

Via CrucisIt is a perpetual

coming-to from the dream’s

anaesthetic to be brought

face to face with reality’s

mural, where through gaps

in the traffic we perceive

nature mustering its forces

for a last stand. This

is time’s Appian way,

where the skulls of its victims

are ablaze still: a syphilitic

Schubert, a deranged

Van Gogh; Bruno, and Pascal

crackling at the mind’s

stake, and high above

all on mankind’s tree

the would-be redeemer shrivelling

under his radioactive halo.
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Listen to Via Crucis by Franz Liszt (1879)
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Piano version played by Reinbert de Leeuw

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Today’s Birthday: Amy Clampitt

Amy_ClampittAmy Clampitt was born on June 15, 1920, and brought up in New Providence, Iowa. She wrote poetry in high school, but then ceased and focused her energies on writing fiction instead. She graduated from Grinnell College, and from that time on lived mainly in New York City. To support herself, she worked as a secretary at the Oxford University Press, a reference librarian at the Audubon Society, and a freelance editor. Not until the mid-1960s, when she was in her forties, did she return to writing poetry. Her first poem was published by The New Yorker in 1978. In 1983, at the age of sixty-three, she published her first full-length collection, The Kingfisher (Alfred A. Knopf).
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THE WATERFALL
By Amy Clampitt

Orb-weaver shivering

among the filaments: how many

fibers generated from within

transect the air?

How many hirsute, sightless

gropings anchor

these redwood trees, suffuse

the flowery traceries

of the oxalis? The veining

in this hand, these

eyeballs, the circuitous

and scintillating

leap within the brain—

the synapse,

the waterfall, the black-

thread mane of fern

beside it—all, all

suspend, here:

everywhere, existences

hang by a hair
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Read “The Hickory Grove” by Amy Clampitt

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Alice Oswald takes $65,000 Griffin prize with ‘breathtaking’ poetry

Falling Awake, already a much acclaimed collection, was cheered by 1,000-strong crowd at readings connected with the Canadian award

Falling-AwakeAlice Oswald has won one of the world’s richest poetry prizes with her latest collection, Falling Awake.
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This dreamlike vision of the West Country carried off the 2017 International Griffin poetry prize, worth C$65,000 (£37,725). The same sum was also presented to the Vancouver poet Jordan Abel, who took home the Canadian prize with his long poem about cultural appropriation and racism, Injun.
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Oswald said she was delighted to be part of the “atmosphere of real warmth and carnival” surrounding the award from the Griffin trust, whose work in schools she “deeply admired”.
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“I’ve spent the last week exploring Canada and being looked after by its people and amazed by its forests – the international aspect of this prize is what matters to me,” she said. “Most of my favourite poets (both dead and alive) have never won prizes. However, in the spirit of carnival, it’s important for all people to wear a crown and ride on a float for a day – as long as they don’t turn up for work in it.”
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Prize judge George Szirtes said that after reading through 617 submissions it was “not too hard a choice” to select Oswald’s collection.
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“The Flowers”

by Stéphane Mallarmé  (translated by Henry Weinfield)

The Flowers by Stéphane Mallarmé“From golden showers of the ancient skies,

On the first day, and the eternal snow of stars,

You once unfastened giant calyxes

For the young earth still innocent of scars:

Young gladioli with the necks of swans,

Laurels divine, of exiled souls the dream,

Vermilion as the modesty of dawns

Trod by the footsteps of the seraphim;

The hyacinth, the myrtle gleaming bright,

And, like the flesh of woman, the cruel rose,

Hérodiade blooming in the garden light,

She that from wild and radiant blood arose!

And made the sobbing whiteness of the lily

That skims a sea of sighs, and as it wends

Through the blue incense of horizons, palely

Toward the weeping moon in dreams ascends!

Hosanna on the lute and in the censers,

Lady, and of our purgatorial groves!

Through heavenly evenings let the echoes answer,

Sparkling haloes, glances of rapturous love!

Mother, who in your strong and righteous bosom,

Formed calyxes balancing the future flask,

Capacious flowers with the deadly balsam

For the weary poet withering on the husk.”

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EMPSON IN THE EAST

by David Bentley Hart

The Face of the Buddha, by William Empson, edited by Rupert ArrowsmithEMPSON IN THE EASTWilliam Empson (1906–1984) was not, as he is frequently said to have been, an “important critic,” but only because there is no such thing. By the same token, neither was he a unicorn, a square circle, or a decent impulse in the heart of Donald Trump. What he was, however, was a thinker with an incisively original mind and a fine, lucid, and always lively prose style, and the exquisitely inconclusive analysis of great works of literature, at which he so excelled, provided him with endless occasions for displaying both. He was also a talented mathematician and a remarkable poet, though he largely abandoned mathematics after his undergraduate studies at Cambridge and stopped writing much poetry in his mid-thirties. He probably possessed most of the natural intellectual gifts of a good philosopher, if little of the temperament. His first and still most influential book, for instance, Seven Types of Ambiguity—which he wrote when he was twenty-one and published when he was twenty-four—exhibits a subtler and more penetrating understanding of language and its limits than does, say, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, published eight years before. (Not to worry: Over the next several decades, Wittgenstein would grope his way toward a level of sophistication comparable to Empson’s.)
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By all rights, the publication of Seven Types should have secured Empson’s future. It nearly did, in fact. While still in manuscript, it was enough to confirm the brilliance he had exhibited as a student and to win him a fellow’s perch at his college, Magdalene, from which he could have looked forward to decades of long strolls along the Backs, long afternoons in the Pepys Library, long conversations in the upper combination room. . . . But all of it was, in fact, cut very short when a college porter discovered a package of condoms in his rooms. Today that would merely earn him plaudits for social conscientiousness, but Cambridge in 1929 was a very different world; the porter dutifully reported the abomination and Empson was expelled from his college and the university, his name literally expunged from its records. Any real employment, apart from some freelance cultural journalism, became all at once impossible for him in England.

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While Hearing the Archduke Trio

Robert Lowell

While Hearing the Archduke TrioNone march in the Archduke’s War, or worse lost cause.

Without promise of plunder, murder, gallantry.

Marriage is less remunerative than war –

Two waspheads lying on one pillowship,

Drowning, one toe just skating the sheet for bedrock.

The bright moonlight mackerels heaven in my garden,

Fair flesh of the turtle given shape by shell,

Eve shining like an illuminated rib,

Forsaking this garden for another bondage.

I so pray this pretty sky to stay:

My high blood, fireclouds, the first dew,

Elms black on the moon, our birdhouse on a pipe….

Was the Archduke, the music-patron, childless? Beethoven

Married the single muse, her ear of flint.
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Listen to Rubinstein, Heifetz, Feuermann play Beethoven’s Piano Trio No 7 “Archduke.”

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David Jones – the 20th century’s great neglected genius

A.N. Wilson

Thomas Dilworth’s biography, a lifetime’s work, finally does justice to this deeply spiritual, original artist and poet

David Jones – the 20th century_s great neglected geniusWhen Stravinsky visited David Jones in his cold Harrow bedsit, he came away saying, ‘I have been in the presence of a holy man.’ Other admirers included T.S. Eliot (his publisher) and the Queen Mother (who wrote asking if she could buy some of his work). Harold Bloom, Kenneth Clark and W.H. Auden were all not merely admirers, but passionate in their admiration. Auden thought Jones’s long Eucharistic poem ‘The Anathemata’ the ‘finest long poem written in English this century’.
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Yet Jones remained completely his own man, belonging to no ‘set’. He had very little money and has never, as far as one can tell, been part of the Eng. lit. mainstream. While ‘first world war poets’ on the BBC still seem to be Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke, Jones’s In Parenthesis — the greatest war poem in the English language — remains a cult book read by the few.

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