Monthly Archives: January 2018
A lot of fans know Edgar Allan Poe earned just $9 for “The Raven,” now one of the most popular poems of all time, read out loud by schoolteachers the world over. What most people don’t know is that, for his entire oeuvre—all his fiction, poetry, criticism, lectures—Poe earned only about $6,200 in his lifetime, or approximately $191,087 adjusted for inflation.
Maybe $191,087 seems like a lot of money. And sure, as book advances go, that’d be a generous one, the kind that fellow writers would whisper about. But what if $191,087 was all you got for 20 years of work and the stuff you wrote happened to be among the most enduring literature ever produced by anyone anywhere?
In one sense, there could not be a more searing indictment of the supposed rewards of the writing life: how, whether we’re geniuses like Poe or not, we suffer and rewrite and yet never realize anything even kind of approaching a commensurate value.
In another sense, there’s hope for us all.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”
Read the complete poem
Craig Morgan Teicher
Galway Kinnell was often compared to his favorite poet, Walt Whitman, whose “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” Kinnell movingly read aloud every year on the far side of the Brooklyn Bridge at a benefit for the New York poetry library Poets House. Like Whitman, Kinnell — who died in 2014 having won the Pulitzer, the National Book Award and a MacArthur, among other honors for books published between the 1960 and 2006 — was a poet of capacious interest in the natural world, profound commitment to social justice, and deep sympathy for the people he saw.
He was a poet of his time, meaning both that he depicts the world, concerns and values of the last third of the 20th century, and that his poems are like those of many of his peers born at the end of the 1920s — A.R. Ammons, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin and Adrienne Rich — who broke free of the strict formalism of 1950s American poetry to create the more impressionistic, sometimes surreal, nature-focused poetry of the late 1960s and 1970s. For many, Kinnell’s poems are exactly what one thinks of when one thinks of contemporary poetry. All of his books are collected here, along with a handful of late poems. It is impossible to consider the landscape of the last 50 years of American poetry without Kinnell.
Kinnell was inarguably a great poet. Among the subjects he was best at were steadfastness in marriage and parenthood. In his famous poem “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” Kinnell’s young son Fergus wanders into his parents’ room when “we lie together, / after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodes, / familiar touch of the long-married.” Then Fergus “flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, / his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.” There is no ball and chain here, no ambitions crushed beneath the weight of child-rearing. Kinnell’s world is enlarged and infinitely specified by his love for his family.
A land that is lonelier than ruin
A sea that is stranger than death
Far fields that a rose never blew in,
Wan waste where the winds lack breath;
Waste endless and boundless and flowerless
But of marsh-blossoms fruitless as free
Where earth lies exhausted, as powerless
To strive with the sea.
Far flickers the flight of the swallows,
Far flutters the weft of the grass
Spun dense over desolate hollows
More pale than the clouds as they pass
Thick woven as the weft of a witch is
Round the heart of a thrall that hath sinned,
Whose youth and the wrecks of its riches
Are waifs on the wind.
The pastures are herdless and sheepless,
No pasture or shelter for herds :
The wind is relentless and sleepless,
And restless and songless the birds
Their cries from afar fall breathless,
Their wings are as lightnings that flee;
For the land has two lords that are deathless:
Death’s self, and the sea.
[“By the North Sea”] is an elaborate metaphor for the act of Apollonian creation and the dominance of art over all transiency. (Robert Peters from The Victorian Experience: The Poets).
Read the complete poem
On The Enduring Popularity Of A Bleak And Difficult Play
By Shannon Reed
Why do theaters keep presenting Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot? Somehow, this long, apparently dystopian play has become as perennial as The Music Man. Samuel French, Inc., which licenses it, reports that Godot will be professionally produced at least ten times around the world in the next three months, nearly 65 years after it first premiered. And the play’s cultural reach is even greater than these production numbers indicate. Already this year, Stephen Colbert appropriated it to skewer the health care debate, and Elon Musk named his nearly-impossible-to-build-but-finally-working tunnel driller after it. That’s the kind of longevity and cultural impact that most playwrights would kill for. So what’s Godot‘s secret?
The play is strong on its own merits, cultural zeitgeist aside. It manages to combine a specific tone and characters with an elusive setting and arc. From our position in the audience, we watch two men, Vladimir and Estragon, and listen to their dismal, circulatory debate about whether Godot will show up and what they should do if he doesn’t. While the men and their momentary visitors, Pozzo and Lucky, are distinct, nearly everything else is open for interpretation, from the set (post-Apocalyptic or wintertime?) to the costumes (former businessmen gone to ruin or vaudeville performers?) to Godot himself (God or . . . just some guy named Godot?).
By Jan Zwicky
We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Jan Zwicky and Lorna Crozier on February 22. Please bring your own favourites by these two BC poets for reading and discussion and, preferably, post them first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.
Note from Jan Zwicky: The italicized lines in this poem are translations of lines from Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98, on which Schumann based melodic material in the Fantasie. The original German texts are by Alois Jeitteles.
Listen to Vladimir Horowitz play Schumann Fantasie op. 17 in C major
by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
WHO dreamed that beauty passes like a dream?
For these red lips, with all their mournful pride,
Mournful that no new wonder may betide,
Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam,
And Usna’s children died.
We and the labouring world are passing by:
Amid men’s souls, that waver and give place
Like the pale waters in their wintry race,
Under the passing stars, foam of the sky,
Lives on this lonely face.
Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:
Before you were, or any hearts to beat,
Weary and kind one lingered by His seat;
He made the world to be a grassy road
Before her wandering feet.
A final reminder that we will celebrate the use of the rose as a poetic symbol or metaphor on January 25, 2018. Please bring your own illustration of this for reading and discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.
She Walks in Beauty
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!