Monthly Archives: August 2017

“Neither religion or science explains the world,” said Yeats. “The occult does explain it.”

Neither religion or scienceUnfortunately, one “can’t unriddle the universe at tea,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary in 1934 after a chat with William Butler Yeats, who had come to her both with a mysticism-inflected interpretation of The Waves and extraordinary visions of “the Occult.”
“Neither religion or science explains the world,” Yeats had informed her, as she recorded. “The occult does explain it.” Woolf, who enjoyed nuance, might have partially agreed with Yeats’s assessment that neither religion nor science had plumbed every fathom of the universe, but the Bloomsbury author unquestionably leant more to science. Not only did she often sprinkle wry bits of venomous invective for anything she deemed superstition through her private and public writings, but she also held a deep interest in advances in physics and astronomy, most notably Albert Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity of 1905 and 1915 respectively, which essentially posited that events in time are not the same everywhere for everyone, but, rather, depend on an observer’s distance and speed. (A clock moving at light speed, for instance, would appear to tick more slowly than a clock moving at less than light speed.) This counter-intuitive notion revolutionized Woolf’s world after the astronomer Arthur Eddington observationally proved relativity in 1919, a feat that both helped overturn scientific orthodoxy and captured the general public’s interest.

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A New Religion

Lorna Crozier

(after Philip Larkin’s “Water”)

A New ReligionA New Religion-text.
We’ll reading reading and discussing the poetry of Lorna Crozier and Jan Zwicky early in 2018.

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Poetic Artifice: A Theory of 20th-Century Poetry by Veronica Forrest-Thomson

Poetic ArtificeThis classic study, reprinted after more than 30 years, prefers bad new things to good old ones

By David Wheatley

The death of Veronica Forrest-Thomson in 1975, aged just 27, is among the most galling and tragic losses to modern British poetry. Born in Malaya and raised in Glasgow, she published a first poetry collection at 20 and gravitated to Cambridge, where she was taught by JH Prynne. Heavily influenced by the close reading tradition of IA Richards and William Empson, her criticism also drew on French structuralist and poststructuralist theory, then much in the air.
Published posthumously in 1978 and now reprinted for the first time, her classic study Poetic Artifice marked a provocative intervention. There is a widespread and mistaken assumption, Forrest-Thomson argues, that poetry is important for what it tells us about the external world. Not so: poetry is important for its vindication of “all the rhythmic, phonetic, verbal and logical devices” that make it what it is, and the production of “alternative imaginary orders”. Anything else is flim-flam. It is not the job of poetry to deliver states of “inarticulate rapture”, but to be the articulation of that rapture.

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Lines To A Movement In Mozart’s E-Flat Symphony

Thomas Hardy

Lines To A Movement In Mozart's E-Flat SymphonyShow me again the time

When in the Junetide’s prime

We flew by meads and mountains northerly! –

Yea, to such freshness, fairness, fulness, fineness, freeness,

Love lures life on.
Show me again the day

When from the sandy bay

We looked together upon the pestered sea! –

Yea, to such surging, swaying, sighing, swelling, shrinking,

Love lures life on.
Show me again the hour

When by the pinnacled tower

We eyed each other and feared futurity! –

Yea, to such bodings, broodings, beatings, blanchings, blessings,

Love lures life on.
Show me again just this:

The moment of that kiss

Away from the prancing folk, by the strawberry-tree!

– Yea, to such rashness, ratheness, rareness, ripeness, richness,

Love lures life on.
Listen to Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K. 543

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Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet”

Introduction by Lloyd Schwartz

Elizabeth Bishop's SonnetElizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet” is often taken to be her last poem. It was published in The New Yorker on October 29, 1979, three weeks after she died. And it feels like a posthumous poem, with its images of release from illness, from emotional conflict, from being “a creature divided.” In fact Bishop had written it more than a year earlier, then with surprising speed finished another poem, “Pink Dog” — a bitterly ironic, grotesquely comic “samba” set in Rio at Carnival time, in which she advises a “poor bitch,” a hairless scavenger with scabies (her chilling mirror image, another creature out of place among the Cariocan revelers), to “Dress up! Dress up and dance at Carnival!” The New Yorker rushed this mardi-gras poem into the February 26 issue, while “Sonnet,” acquired months before, would have to wait another eight months to see the light of day.
Yet in some ways “Sonnet” really is the later poem. Bishop began drafting “Pink Dog” in Brazil as early as 1963, under the title “Goodbye to Rio” — one of the first signs that she had started to think about leaving Brazil, where after more than a decade the sweetest life she’d known was beginning to sour. “Sonnet” is the very last poem that she both started and also completed. It’s the closest thing we have to her final poetic testament.


Caught — the bubble

in the spirit level,

a creature divided;

and the compass needle

wobbling and wavering,


Freed — the broken

thermometer’s mercury

running away;

and the rainbow-bird

from the narrow bevel

of the empty mirror,

flying wherever

it feels like, gay!

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We will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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The Man-Moth


Man-Moth: Newspaper misprint for “mammoth.”

Here, above,

cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.

The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.

It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,

and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.

He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,

feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,

of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.

                    But when the Man-Moth

pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,

the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges

from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks

and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.

He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,

proving the sky quite useless for protection.

He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.

                    Up the façades,

his shadow dragging like a photographer’s cloth behind him

he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage

to push his small head through that round clean opening

and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.

(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)

But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although

he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.

                    Then he returns

to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,

he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains

fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.

The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way

and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,

without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.

He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.

                    Each night he must

be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.

Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie

his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,

for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,

runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease

he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep

his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.

                    If you catch him,

hold up a flashlight to his eye. It’s all dark pupil,

an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens

as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids

one tear, his only possession, like the bee’s sting, slips.

Slyly he palms it, and if you’re not paying attention

he’ll swallow it. However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,

cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

The Man MothElizabeth Bishop, “The Man-Moth” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979.

Read an interesting analysis of this poem: Man Moth Analysis

We’ll be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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The Glove Compartment

By Douglas Dunn

Douglas DunnAfter her stroke, hers was the first to go.
It sat for two years in their garage, though,
All through the months of her recovery,
Though that was far from full.  Vocabulary
Re-emerged, but slowly.  So he retired
A few years earlier than anticipated.
He couldn’t leave it all to the nurse he’d hired;
She said he shouldn’t, but that’s what he did.
‘Please, sell my car.  I’ll never drive again.’
It seemed as final as a sung Amen.
He knew it must happen, but didn’t know when.
When he opened her glove compartment
He found small change, lip salve, tissues, receipts
From shops and filling stations, peppermint,
An ice-scraper, lipstick, and boiled sweets,
Two tickets for a play at Dundee Rep
(Unused), all sorts of trivial stuff.
He shoved them in bag.  Sat back and wept.
There’s love in the world. But never enough.

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Elizabeth Bishop, Fighting The New Yorker Over Extra Commas and Steaming Cowflops


Elizabeth Bishop, Fighting The New Yorker“What I think about The New Yorker,” the poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote in 1940 to her mentor, Marianne Moore, “can only be expressed like this: *!@!!!@!*!!”
Bishop was 29 at the time, not so long out of Vassar, and had just published her first poem in the magazine. Moore was nearly 60 and had just had a poem rejected by its editors. Bishop’s fit of typographical pique was her way of expressing sympathy.
Over the next four decades, until her death in 1979, Bishop would publish nearly all of her best poems — fastidious, plainspoken, uniquely potent — in The New Yorker. She helped define what a New Yorker poem, in the best sense of that phrase, was. She was their gold standard. In turn the magazine helped define her.
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We will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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As Bad as a Mile

Philip Larkin

As Bad as a MileWatching the shied core

Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,

Shows less and less of luck, and more and more
Of failure spreading back up the arm

Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,

The apple unbitten in the palm.

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A Possible Keats

Fleur Jaeggy
A Possible KeatsJohn Keats (1795-1821) was seven years old and in school at Enfield. He was seized by the spirit of the time, by a peculiar compulsion, an impetuous fury—before writing poetry. Any pretext seemed to him a good one for picking a fight with a friend, any pretext to fight.
Fighting was to John Keats like eating or drinking. He sought out aggressive boys, cruel boys, but their company, as he was already inclined to poetry, must have provided some comic and burlesque treats. For mere brutality—without humor, make-believe, or whimsy—didn’t interest him. Which might lead a person to extrapolate that boys aren’t truly brutal. Yes, they are, but they have rules and an aesthetic. Keats was a child of action. He’d punched a yard monitor more than twice his size, and he was considered a strong boy, lively and argumentative. When he was brawling, his friend Clarke reports, Keats resembled Edmund Kean at theatrical heights of exasperation. His friends predicted a brilliant future for him in the military. Yet when his temper defused, he’d grow extremely calm, and his sweetness shone—with the same intensity as his rage had. The scent of angels. His earliest brushes with melancholy were suddenly disrupted by outbursts of nervous laughter. Moods, vague and tentative, didn’t settle over him so much as hurry past like old breezes.
From These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Minna Zallman Proctor.

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