Category Archives: News

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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Brendan Kennelly at 80: forever beginning, the balladeer of our age

The poet has extended the ballad to an epic scale by coupling it with the lyric, the sonnet, writes Gabriel Fitzmaurice..
Brendan Kennelly at 80Brendan Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, Co Kerry, on April 17th, 1936, the son of Tim Kennelly, publican and garage proprietor, and his wife Bridie Ahern, a nurse. Ballylongford is a small village like the other villages in the hinterland of Listowel in North Kerry.
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To understand Kennelly and his poetry, you have to come to terms with the traditional culture of the area which Kennelly has translated into poetry, both intimate and epic. It’s flat land touching the River Shannon and the Atlantic. For the most part pasture land, it was, in Kennelly’s youth, mainly a farming community. The farmers, small farmers mostly, were generally not well off. But they loved to sing. At night they’d go to the local pub on bicycles or on foot (this was before the general availability of the car), drink “small ones” (whiskies) and pints of Guinness, and swap stories, news, songs and “recitations”.
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Memory, in particular the poet’s memory, gathers these moments together. Kennelly’s was, and remains, a public house – Brendan heard these songs, stories and recitations regularly in the pub – not just imported songs (from the gramophone and radio – there was as yet no television) but local ballads too.

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ROBERT FROST: DARKNESS OR LIGHT?

By Joshua Rothman

Robert Frost

Robert Frost

Fifty years ago today [January 29, 2013], the poet Robert Lee Frost died, at the age of eighty-eight. Though Frost is thought of as a contemplative New England poet, he was born in San Francisco, and named for the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. As Raymond Holden explained in his 1931 New Yorker Profile of Frost, Frost’s father, William, was “an ardent Democrat and States’ Rights man.” Father Frost had tried to enlist in the Civil War on the Southern side, but was rejected because he was too young. “By the time Robert was born,” Holden writes, “the elder Frost was booming around San Francisco in a top hat, whooping up everything that was Democratic and belittling everything that wasn’t.” The young Robert Lee Frost grew up in politics; William Frost wrote for the San Francisco Bulletin, where a political enemy once took a shot at him through the window. “Around election time, the boy’s father used to dress him up in fancy costume and make him ride on floats in political parades or pound along in some torchlight procession getting sparks in his hair. Once when Father Frost was running for the office of something like tax-collector, Robert tagged around after him into all the saloons, helping to tack up election placards.”
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Read the complete article
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An early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing the poetry of Robert Frost on May 25. Please bring your own choice of a poem by Frost, and if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. Please see the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.

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On the Fifth Day

Jane Hirshfield

Jane_HirshfieldThat common ground between poetry and science is what poet Jane Hirshfield sows with splendor in her poem “On the Fifth Day,” written for the 2017 March for Science in Washington, D.C., protesting the anti-fact, anti-truth, anti-science political climate of the current American administration.
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On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
were silenced,
and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking,
of rivers, of boulders and air.

In gravity, earless and tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,
of silence.

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The Bard in Flight

by Billy Collins

The Bard in FlightIt occurred to me

on a flight from London to Barcelona

that Shakespeare could have written

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

with more authority had he occupied

the window seat next to me

instead of this businessman from Frankfurt.

As an English major,

I would know how to break the ice,

and once we had a few drinks

and were sharing my ear buds,

he might become so preoccupied

with “Miles Davis at the Blackhawk”

at 36,000 feet over one realm or another

that he wouldn’t want to say or write another word.

I’d let him play with my wristwatch,

the one with the tartan band,

and try to explain the existence of Gertrude Stein,

but he would mostly stare out the oval window

while admiring the pile of ice cubes in his glass.

And he could not hide his fascination

with the announcements from the flight deck

and the ministrations of the bowing attendants—

a sad reminder of how I have gotten used to

the once unimaginable experience

of bulleting through the sky in a silvery rush.

Which is not to say I am

completely insensible to the song

of the turbines as we begin our descent

and the thrill of bouncing

around high above some blessed plot,

while the crockery shifts in the galley,

the passengers grip their armrests,

and the Bard reaches for my hand

as we roar with vibrating wings

through a bank of towering clouds.

From the The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins
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A reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own selection of this genre for 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 posted to-date.

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Guilielmus Rex

By Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Guilielmus RexThe folk who lived in Shakespeare’s day
And saw that gentle figure pass
By London Bridge, his frequent way–
They little knew what man he was.
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The pointed beard, the courteous mien,
The equal port to high and low,
All this they saw or might have seen–
But not the light behind the brow!
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The doublet’s modest gray or brown,
The slender sword-hilt’s plain device,
What sign had these for prince or clown?
Few turned, or none, to scan him twice.
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Yet ‘t was the King of England’s kings!
The rest with all their pomps and trains
Are mouldered, half-remembered things–
‘T is he alone that lives and reigns!
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An early reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own choice of this genre for 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 posted to-date.

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DEDICATION

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

DEDICATIONFrom The age of Shakespeare To The Memory of Charles Lamb by Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 1837-1909
Published 1908

When stark oblivion from above their names

Whose glory shone round Shakespeare’s, bright as now,

One eye beheld their light shine full as fame’s,

One hand unveiled it: this did none but thou.

Love, stronger than forgetfulness and sleep,

Rose, and bade memory rise, and England hear:

And all the harvest left so long to reap

Shone ripe and rich in every sheaf and ear.
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A child it was who first by grace of thine

Communed with gods who share with thee their shrine:

Elder than thou wast ever now I am,

Now that I lay before thee in thanksgiving

Praise of dead men divine and everliving

Whose praise is thine as thine is theirs, Charles Lamb.
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An early reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own choice of this genre for 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 posted to-date.

 

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Caliban’s last sigh

Auden’s reworking of The Tempest is irritatingly didactic, but 60 years on, the imaginary worlds of The Sea and the Mirror are as solidly mysterious as ever, says Jeremy Noel Tod

Caliban's last sighThe Sea and the Mirror
by W. H. Auden, edited by Arthur Kirsch

Although it is now standard practice in academic publishing, it seems odd that “advance praise” blurb should have been provided for a reprint of a poem that first appeared in the 1940s. Odder still that the dust jacket should then quote, from Sylvia Plath’s Journals , a description not of the poem but the poet: “Auden…the naughty mischievous boy genius…gesticulating with a white new cigarette in his hands, holding matches, talking in a gravelly incisive tone about…art and life, the mirror and the sea. God, god, the stature of the man.”
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The publishers of this critical edition presumably sense that Auden’s stature is not what it was; Plath, though, should attract the attention of a large contemporary readership. It is also an expertly revealing sketch: Auden the compulsive lecturer; the chain-smoking, roving don.
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When Auden went off to America in 1939 his poetry, it is generally agreed, went off too. Philip Larkin’s diagnosis, in 1960, seems accurate: by emigrating, Auden lost “his key subject and emotion – Europe and the fear of war – and abandoned his audience together with their common dialect and concerns”. Instead, wrote Larkin disapprovingly, “he took a header into literature”.
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Read the complete review
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Read a commentary on The Sea and the Mirror
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An early reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own selection of this genre for discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.

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T. S. Eliot and Modern Sensibility

By Fatemeh Azizmohammdi, Department of English Literature, Arak Branch, Islamic Azad University, Arak, Iran
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TS_Eliot_and_Modern copyThe Four Quartets, as a spiritual autobiography like Wordsworth’s The Prelude, makes, in a sense, the completion of the chastening process, and shows and ‘apparent’ because ‘what might have been’ is admittedly ‘a perpetual possibility’ – though ‘only in a world of speculation’ – and, as such, and eternal allurement to the humankind who in any case, cannot bear too much reality’. At the end of his major work, the poet says, “All shall be well …… when …….. the fire and the rose are one”. In this desire for the fire becoming rose and vice versa, do we not see here the same adolescent boy wishing for ‘brighter, tropic flowers’? All shall be well when the white flowers and the tropic flowers are one. In my end is my beginning.
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Thus it is possible to view Eliot’s entire poetic output as one integrated whole shot through and through with the romantic discontent with the present and the desire for the unattainable. Further it is interesting to find that Eliot, like the Romantics displays to awareness of the need to change the idiom of poetry consonant with the changes in sensibility and our perception of reality. By now, it is critical common place to suggest that Modernism, like Romanticism, was an ‘experiment’ directed at effecting a radical reorientation in the poetic practice of the time. In Four Quartets, the ‘familiar compound ghost’ says.

         “…last year’s words belong to last year’s language

         And New Year’s words await another voice.” [7]
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Read the complete essay: T. S. Eliot and Modern Sensibility
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Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing more of  T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our March session. On March 23 we will focus on “The Dry Salvages” and “Little Gidding.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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The passions of Elizabeth Bishop

By Troy Jollimore

the-passions-of-elizabeth-bishop“I’m not interested in big-scale work as such,” Elizabeth Bishop once told an interviewer. “Something needn’t be large to be good.”

True to this statement, Bishop spent her career producing finely designed, precisely executed poems, elegant and exquisite miniatures, few in number and subtle, albeit significant, in their impact. Her work brought acclaim and awards, and since her death in 1979, her reputation has continued to climb. But during her life, she often felt insecure about her career, and there is no denying that next to the flamboyant, larger-than-life personalities that tended to dominate American poetry in the second half of the 20th century, Elizabeth Bishop often struck one as — the characterization is practically mandatory when discussing this poet — a modest figure.
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At the head of this pack of outsize personalities was Robert Lowell, with whom Bishop had an intimate and complex relationship, a friendship that included romantic elements despite the fact that she preferred women. Compared with Lowell’s elite Boston Brahmin background, her origins and early life — a mostly unremarkable childhood spent largely in rural Nova Scotia, a landscape to which her imagination returned again and again — were indeed strikingly modest. As her inclination against “big-scale work” suggests, a certain sort of modesty was a central element of her attitude toward art. Her output, too, was modest; during her life she published only about a hundred poems.

Read the complete review
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A very early reminder that we’ll be discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28.

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