Monthly Archives: September 2017

On love, loss, and reading Anne Carson at the center of the earth

On love, loss, and reading Anne CarsonI am molten matter returned from the core of earth to tell you interior things.

Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

By midnight, the air is swept through with sulfur. Athanasius Kircher, a 35-year-old Jesuit scholar, has chosen this hour because the lava will be easy to see, gleaming fissures marked in wide ribbons of liquid light. He’s chosen someone strong to hold the rope, a laborer that he describes later in his notebook as “an honest countryman, a true and skillful companion.” The two of them seem the only ones awake. Vesuvius sleeps, but restlessly; its snores send up gusts of smoke.
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At the crater, Kircher loops the rope around his chest and waist. The ropes creak as he is lowered down, and he hangs there, like a spider on a strand of web, turning slowly in the updrafts. He looks down, past his feet, into the source of the rumblings, writing later of this moment, “I thought I beheld the habitation of Hell.”

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Postcards from God 1

Imtiaz Dharker

Postcards from GodYes, I do feel like a visitor,

a tourist in this world

that I once made.

I rarely talk,

except to ask the way,

distrusting my interpreters,

tired out by the babble

of what they do not say.

I walk around through battered streets,

distinctly lost,

looking for landmarks

from another, promised past.
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Here, in this strange place,

in a disjointed time,

I am nothing but a space

that sometimes has to fill.

Images invade me.

Picture postcards overlap my empty face

demanding to be stamped and sent.
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‘Dear . . . ’

Who am I speaking to?

I think I may have misplaced the address,

but still, I feel the need

to write to you;

not so much or your sake

as for mine,
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to raise these barricades

against my fear:

Postcards from god.

Proof that I was here.

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Chelsea Morning

by Joni Mitchell

Chelsea-MorningWoke up, it was a Chelsea morning

And the first thing that I heard

Was a song outside my window

And the traffic wrote the words

It came ringing up like Christmas bells

And rapping up like pipes and drums
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Oh, won’t you stay

We’ll put on the day

And we’ll wear it ’till the night comes
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Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning

And the first thing that I saw

Was the sun through yellow curtains

And a rainbow on the wall *

Blue, red, green and gold to welcome you

Crimson crystal beads to beckon
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Oh, won’t you stay

We’ll put on the day

There’s a sun show every second
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Now the curtain opens on a portrait of today

And the streets are paved with passersby

And pigeons fly

And papers lie

Waiting to blow away
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Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning

And the first thing that I knew

There was milk and toast and honey

And a bowl of oranges, too

And the sun poured in like butterscotch

And stuck to all my senses
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Oh, won’t you stay

We’ll put on the day

And we’ll talk in present tenses
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When the curtain closes

And the rainbow runs away

I will bring you incense

Owls by night

By candlelight

By jewel-light

If only you will stay

Pretty baby, won’t you

Wake up, it’s a Chelsea morning
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Listen to Joni Mitchell sing “Chelsea Morning.”
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“Chelsea Morning” is one of the popular song poems we will be reading and discussing on October 26. Please bring your own favourite examples and post them first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for submissions to-date.

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Love Lies Sleeping

by Elizabeth Bishop

elizabeth_bishop-2Earliest morning, switching all the tracks

that cross the sky from cinder star to star,

coupling the ends of streets

to trains of light.
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now draw us into daylight in our beds;

and clear away what presses on the brain:

put out the neon shapes

that float and swell and glare
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down the gray avenue between the eyes

in pinks and yellows, letters and twitching signs.

Hang-over moons, wane, wane!

From the window I see
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an immense city, carefully revealed,

made delicate by over-workmanship,

detail upon detail,

cornice upon facade,
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reaching up so languidly up into

a weak white sky, it seems to waver there.

(Where it has slowly grown

in skies of water-glass
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from fused beads of iron and copper crystals,

the little chemical “garden” in a jar

trembles and stands again,

pale blue, blue-green, and brick.)
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The sparrows hurriedly begin their play.

Then, in the West, “Boom!” and a cloud of smoke.

“Boom!” and the exploding ball

of blossom blooms again.
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(And all the employees who work in a plants

where such a sound says “Danger,” or once said “Death,”

turn in their sleep and feel

the short hairs bristling
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on backs of necks.) The cloud of smoke moves off.

A shirt is taken of a threadlike clothes-line.

Along the street below

the water-wagon comes
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throwing its hissing, snowy fan across

peelings and newspapers. The water dries

light-dry, dark-wet, the pattern

of the cool watermelon.
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I hear the day-springs of the morning strike

from stony walls and halls and iron beds,

scattered or grouped cascades,

alarms for the expected:
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queer cupids of all persons getting up,

whose evening meal they will prepare all day,

you will dine well

on his heart, on his, and his,
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so send them about your business affectionately,

dragging in the streets their unique loves.

Scourge them with roses only,

be light as helium,
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for always to one, or several, morning comes

whose head has fallen over the edge of his bed,

whose face is turned

so that the image of
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the city grows down into his open eyes

inverted and distorted. No. I mean

distorted and revealed,

if he sees it at all.
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Similar to “The Man-Moth,” “Love Lies Sleeping” presents a surreal view of New York through the eyes of a speaker waking to a summer morning. The first eleven stanzas of the poem depict the city in great detail; underneath this observation of the material world, however, there also lies a spirituality or otherworldliness. Bishop wrote in her notebook: “But [the spiritual] proceeds from the material, the material eaten out with acid, pulled down from underneath, made to perform and always kept in order, in its place. Sometimes it cannot be made to indicate its spiritual goal clearly…but even then the spiritual must be felt”(quoted in Kalstone 15), and in this poem as well as “The Man-Moth,” we see another side of New York, at times beautiful, at times surreal, and at times terrifying. As the speaker emerges from sleep, she describes the New York night blending into day. Dreamlike trains in the night sky fade out along with the neon signs and the “hangover moons.” In the morning light, the speaker is intent on describing in detail the emerging city. The “immense city, carefully revealed” becomes personified as it seems to yawn and stretch itself toward the skies. The city becomes even more surreal as Bishop describes, in a parenthetical aside, the city wavering:
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Read the complete analysis: New York Poems: “Love Lies Sleeping”
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A final reminder that we will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems.
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Please note that for the September 28th session only, we will be meeting in the mezzanine meeting room.

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Imtiaz Dharker reads “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

Imtiaz Dharker reads One Art by Elizabeth BishopListen to the beautiful voice of the Pakistan-born Scottish poet Imtiaz Dharker read Elizabeth Bishop, Louise MacNeice and Arun Kolatkar.
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For more information on Imtiaz Dharker, visit her website:

www.imtiazdharker.com.
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A reminder that we will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems.
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Please note that for the September 28th session only, we will be meeting in the mezzanine meeting room.

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Sonnet 73 (‘That time of year thou mayst in me behold’)

William Shakespeare

Sonnet 73That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou seest the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou seest the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire,

Consum’d by that which it was nourished by.

  This thou perceiv’st which makes thy love more strong,

  To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

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A tale of two poets, Thom Gunn and Elizabeth Bishop

A tale of two poets, Thom Gunn and Elizabeth BishopAfter a rocky first meeting, the two became friends. Colm Toíbín traces the similarities in their outlook and describes how, by virtue of their poems, they both moved from self-effacement into the light

In the month or so after Thom Gunn died in April 2004, I formed the habit at the end of the day’s work of taking down his Collected Poems and reading a poem. One night I noticed a small book beside the Collected Poems called Thom Gunn in Conversation with James Campbell. On page 19, I came on the following passage which made me sit up for a moment. When Campbell said: “Your new book, Boss Cupid, contains some new poems about your mother. Is this the first time you’ve written about her?” Gunn replied: “The second poem about my mother is called ‘The Gas Poker’. She killed herself, and my brother and I found the body, which was not her fault because she’d barred the doors, as you’ll see in the poem. Obviously this was quite a traumatic experience; it would be in anyone’s life. I wasn’t able to write about it till just a few years ago.”
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I looked at those words again: “Obviously this was quite a traumatic experience; it would be in anyone’s life.” And then I burrowed among some books and found a quote from a letter which the American poet, Elizabeth Bishop, wrote to Anne Stevenson in 1964: “Although I think I have a prize ‘unhappy childhood’, almost good enough for the text-books – please don’t think I dote on it.” In that letter, Bishop wrote about her mother’s mental illness which began after Bishop’s father’s early death. “One always thinks that things might be better now, she might have been cured, etc … Well – there we are. Times have changed.”
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“Well, there we are.” I put the words beside Gunn’s: “Obviously this was quite a traumatic experience.” And I began to think about the connections between these two poets.

Read the complete article
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A reminder that we will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems.
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Please note that for the September 28th session only, we will be meeting in the mezzanine meeting room.

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And now the leaves suddenly lose strength

Philip Larkin

And now the leaves suddenly lose strengthAnd now the leaves suddenly lose strength.

Decaying towers stand still, lurid, lanes-long,

And seen from landing windows, or the length

Of gardens, rubricate afternoons. New strong

Rain-bearing night-winds come: then

Leaves chase warm buses, speckle statued air,

Pile up in corners, fetch out vague broomed men

Through mists at morning.

                                  And no matter where goes down,

The sallow lapsing drift in fields

Or squares behind hoardings, all men hesitate

Separately, always, seeing another year gone –

Frockcoated gentleman, farmer at his gate,

Villein with mattock, soldiers on their shields,

All silent, watching the winter coming on.

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Celebration of the World: ‘Let Us Watch: Richard Wilbur’

By William H. Pritchard

Celebration of the WorldThe poet Richard Wilbur is ninety-six, old enough that his poet-contemporaries—Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, James Merrill, Anthony Hecht—have been gone for decades. Wilbur’s most recent and probably final book of poems, Anterooms, appeared in 2007,  an attractive completion to the Collected Poems published three years earlier. Altogether his career has yielded ten individual books of poems, five books of illustrated poems for children and adults, fifteen translations of classical French drama, and two collections of literary essays—an achievement to be wondered at. Now comes a biography by Robert Bagg and Mary Bagg, the former a poet and translator of distinction, the latter a freelance editor. Their book suits Wilbur’s kind of career: a “biographical study” in which chapters focusing on the life alternate with ones devoted to some of his best poems and translation. A critical intelligence has been applied both to the man and to the reason we are interested in the man.
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The early chapters take us through Wilbur’s boyhood in New Jersey, where he lived with his parents and brother on a sort of estate presided over by a patron of the arts who had befriended Wilbur’s father, a graphic artist celebrated in one of the son’s best early poems, “My Father Paints the Summer.” In secondary school and at Amherst College, the young Wilbur was an outspoken, even radical student journalist, opposing America’s entry into World War II. At Amherst he joined a fraternity, where he was later informed by one of the “brothers” that his selection had been made in the hope that the fraternity’s grade point average would benefit. Undoubtedly his most significant action at college was to fall in love with a girl from Smith, Charlotte Ward  (“Charlee”); they married after Wilbur’s graduation in 1942, just prior to his entering the Army to engage in the war he had opposed. Originally he joined the Signal Corps, but was expelled for “subversive” activities like subscribing to the Daily Worker and having a copy of Das Kapital in his footlocker. In a subsequent interview for an assignment as a cryptographer, the interviewing officer warned that “if we catch you overthrowing our government, out you go.”

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Listen to Richard Wilbur read “Lilacs,” “Seed Leaves” (twice), “Praise in Summer,” “The Puritans,” “Museum Piece” and other poems.

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How poets write letters

NANCY CAMPBELL

How poets write lettersThe penny post, the telegram, email — all were predicted to be the death of letter writing. Elizabeth Bishop and Philip Larkin shared this anxiety, but their correspondence debunks it… more »
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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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Please note that for the September 28th session only, we will be meeting in the mezzanine meeting room.

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