Monthly Archives: October 2017

Staggering Back Toward Life

Robinson Jeffers
Staggering Back Toward Life-textStagering Back toward life-pic
Excerpted from In This Wild Water: The Suppressed Poems of Robinson Jeffers by James Shebl:
In “Staggering Back Toward Life” Jeffers addresses what he takes to be the sickness of civilization and its bearing on the future. Jeffers speaks of the efforts and dreams of man that have brought the world through wars interspersed with nominal peace to a condition of “fever-crisis.” Thus he sees that the world is “one hospital.” He questions just how much of man’s effort and fantasy can be utilized in his attempt to build a future. He hopes “not much,” for the building blocks that man seeks to work with are “amazing lumber.” Those materials, taking origin from man’s present state of delirium, are hardly suitable for bringing him up “the steep gorges that thrid the cliffs of the future.” Jeffers’ panacea for the “pale convalescent” is a “new dark age, five hundred years of winter/and the tombs for dwellings.” But even after such a washing away of man’s disposition for war, the possibility for a viable future is remote. The poet speaks of this burden that man has assumed in foregoing “new science” as “amazing.” Because of his inhumanism, Jeffers is bewildered by man’s predicament; consequently, he hopes that the cause of the “fever-crisis” will not hold over and accompany man as he strives toward the future. Even with a “new dark age” Jeffers is skeptical that man will lose the “amazing lumber” to which he has grown accustomed.

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“repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise”: Poets Mourning Poets

By Casey N. Cep

repeat, repeat, repeat“I used to want to live / to avoid your elegy,” Robert Lowell confessed in “For John Berryman.”
The death of one poet is an extraordinary occasion for another poet. It is like the day a stonemason dies and another has to carve his headstone. Like a rough ashlar, the elegy sits waiting to be shaped into a memorial for the one who is gone. The death of a poet so great as Jack Gilbert last week pains, but also promises remembrances fitting the one who died.
Gilbert devoted most of his elegies to his wife, Michiko Nogami, but poets have forever elegized one another. We can trace the canon through the poems that poets have written to mourn their own: Henri Cole grieving Elizabeth Bishop; Bishop remembering Robert Lowell; Lowell lamenting the death of John Berryman; Berryman longing for Roethke, Jarrell, Hughes, Plath, Schwartz, and William Carlos Williams; W.H. Auden elegizing Yeats; Shelley bemoaning the loss of Keats; all the way back to Ovid mourning Orpheus.

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A Poem by T’ang Dynasty poet Wang Wei

A Poem by T_ang Dynasty poet Wang WeiIn my middle years I became fond of the Way

And made my home in the foothills of South Mountain.

When the spirit moves me I go off by myself

To see things that I alone must see.

I follow the stream to the source,

And sitting there, watch for the moment

When clouds rise up. Or I may meet a woodsman;

We talk and laugh and forget about going home.

(trans. Tenshin Reb Anderson)

Excerpted from NINE GATES: Entering the mind of Poetry, Essays by Jane Hirshfield.
A reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T’ang Dynasty poetry on November 23.

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October-NovemberHart Crane

With crimson feathers whips away the mists,—
Dives through the filter of trellises
And gilds the silver on the blotched arbor-seats.
Now gold and purple scintillate
On trees that seem dancing
In delirium;
Then the moon
In a mad orange flare
Floods the grape-hung night.
Please check the SCHEDULE PAGE for our revised
program for 2018. As always, this schedule remains
flexible, and may be modified according to consensus.

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The Afternoon of a Faun

The Afternoon of a Faunby Stephane Mallarme Translation from French by Roger Fry

These nymphs I would perpetuate.

So clear

Their light carnation, that it floats in the air

Heavy with tufted slumbers.

Was it a dream I loved?

My doubt, a heap of ancient night, is finishing

In many a subtle branch, which, left the true

Wood itself, proves, alas! that all alone I gave

Myself for triumph the ideal sin of roses.

Read the complete poem
Listen to Leonard Bernstein conduct Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
“Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun), is a symphonic poem for orchestra by Claude Debussy. It was first performed in Paris on December 22, 1894, conducted by Gustave Doret; the composition was inspired by the poem “L’après-midi d’un faune” by Stéphane Mallarmé, and later formed the basis for the ballet “Afternoon of a Faun”, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky.
A final reminder that on this Thursday, October 26th, we will be reading and discussing poetry that has inspired music (e.g. “The Lark Ascending” by George Meredith and “The Afternoon of a Faun” by Stephane Mallarme). We will also include poetry written by popular lyricists such as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Please bring your own favourite examples – whether on the original or expanded topic.

See the SCHEDULE PAGE for submissions to-date.

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Roundhouse Community CentrePrior to our meeting on Thursday, October 26th, please take a few minutes to peruse the tentative schedule for 2018 on the SCHEDULE PAGE and make notes for suggested changes, additions and deletions. We can then have a short discussion to finalize the program.
Please also take the time to register at the Roundhouse Community Centre (in person, by phone or online) for the October and November sessions. So far, only five of us have registered.

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Today’s Birthday: Robert Pinsky

Robert PinskyRobert Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940 in Long Branch, New Jersey. Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a meaningful and integral part of American life. “I think poetry is a vital part of our intelligence, our ability to learn, our ability to remember, the relationship between our bodies and minds,” he told the Christian Science Monitor. “Poetry’s highest purpose is to provide a unique sensation of coordination between the intelligence, emotions and the body. It’s one of the most fundamental pleasures a person can experience.” 
December Blues
by Robert Pinsky

At the bad time, nothing betrays outwardly the harsh findings,
The studies and hospital records. Carols play.
Sitting upright in the transit system, the widowlike women
Wait, hands folded in their laps, as monumental as bread.
In the shopping center lots, lights mounted on cold standards
Tower and stir, condensing the blue vapour
Of the stars; between the rows of cars people in coats walk
Bundling packages in their arms or holding the hands of children.
Across the highway, where a town thickens by the tracks
With stores open late and crèches in front of the churches,
Even in the bars a businesslike set of the face keeps off
The nostalgic pitfall of the carols, tugging. In bed,
How low and still the people lie, some awake, holding the carols
Consciously at bay. Oh Little Town, enveloped in unease. 


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Leonard Cohen’s last book, finished ‘days before his death’, due out next year

The Flame collects unpublished poetry, as well as notebook entries and song lyrics, and offers ‘an intimate look inside the life and mind of a singular artist’

Alison Flood

Leonard Cohen's last bookA book of Leonard Cohen’s final poems, completed in the months before his death and tackling “the flame and how our culture threatened its extinction”, according to his manager, will be published next year.
Describing the collection, The Flame, as “an enormously powerful final chapter in Cohen’s storied literary career”, publisher Canongate said that the Canadian singer-songwriter had chosen and ordered the poems in the months before his death in November 2016. The overwhelming majority of the book, which will be published next October, will be new material, it added.
Cohen, who died at the age of 82, originally focused his career on poetry, publishing the collections Let Us Compare Mythologies in 1956, The Spice-Box of Earth in 1961, and Flowers for Hitler in 1964. By the late 60s, he was concentrating more on music, releasing his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967.
Cohen’s manager and trustee of his estate Robert Kory said that pulling The Flame together had been a key ambition for the singer-songwriter at the end of his life. “During the final months of his life, Leonard had a singular focus – completing this book, taken largely from his unpublished poems and selections from his notebooks. The flame and how our culture threatened its extinction was a central concern,” said Kory.

Read the complete article
A selection of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics will be included in our reading and discussion of “The Poetry in Popular Music” on October 26. Please bring your own favourite examples of this, or on our expanded topic of poetry that has inspired music, or vice-versa, 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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When I was 15, I had a high school girlfriend who was a couple of years older than me—dog years in those days. She had a piano and a stereo in her room, and very tolerant parents. We were both music students at an arts high school in Dallas; she sang, I played piano. We had a ritual of lying on her bed together in pitch-darkness, taking in what we were hearing with everything we had—the Velvet Underground, Miles Davis. One day, she played me Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Years later Joni would tell me that when she made that album she was totally without defenses, as vulnerable as “a cellophane wrapper on a packet of cigarettes,” as she once put it. When one is 15, everything is new and raw. I was falling in love with a girl and falling in love with this music. Neither came to you. You had to come to them. I held on tight in those tender, cellophane years.
In time, I would learn that while Joni was famous for being tender in public she also had to be tough in private. By the time Blue was released in 1971, she had survived polio and a bad first marriage, and recently fended off a marriage proposal from Graham Nash, whom she had loved. I didn’t know about these things yet. But my need to know about this woman I heard on the record eventually brought me closer and closer.
Over the years, I would turn to Joni’s music, sometimes when I needed to hear her tell me, as she does in “Trouble Child,” that I really am inconsolably on my own: “So what are you going to do about it / You can’t live life and you can’t leave it.” Ouch. And yet, in that voice, in those chords, there was nevertheless an implicit promise that life would go on, and would be full of surprises. And in her music, as again and again she sought someone who could understand her, who could offer a counterbalance to her ramblings and yearnings, she would tell us not to listen for her but to listen for ourselves. She wanted us to have some sort of transference. It was not a delusion to listen for yourself. It was an injunction.
Joni Mitchell_s Openhearted HeroismExcerpted from David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter

Read the complete excerpt
David Yaffe was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1973. He is a professor of humanities at Syracuse University and a 2012 winner of the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. His writing has appeared in many publications, including The Nation, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, Slate, New York, The Village Voice, The Daily Beast, and Bookforum. He is the author of Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown and Fascinating Rhythm.
A selection of Joni Mitchell’s lyrics will be included in our study of “The Poetry in Popular Music” on October 26. Please bring your own favourite examples – whether on the original or expanded topic – and, preferably, 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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Expanded Topic for October 26th

Because we’ve had a very lean response to repeated requests for submissions for October 26th, we’ve decided to expand the topic to include poems that have inspired music, or vice-versa. Below is an example: “The Lark Ascending” by George Meredith, which encouraged Ralph Vaughan Williams to write a beautiful piece of music with the same name.
Graeme Hughes has selected this poem as his choice to read on October 26th.
Lark_Ascending“The Lark Ascending”
by George Meredith

He rises and begins to round,

He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,
Yet changingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,
Too often dry for this he brings,

Read the complete poem
Listen to “The Lark Ascending” by George Meredith read by Winston Tharp
Listen to Hilary Hahn perform “The Lark Ascending” by Ralph Vaughan Williams
On October 26th please bring your own favourite examples – whether on the original or expanded topic – and, preferably, 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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