Category Archives: News
I don’t recall how I stumbled across the Scottish American poet Alexander Wilson, but it certainly wasn’t in the course of academic literary studies, in which he is unknown. It may have been through my friendship with Philip Lamantia, who, in addition to being the preeminent US surrealist poet, was an enthusiastic birder, as his 1991 poem “Passionate Ornithology Is Another Kind of Yoga” attests. Wilson is still known as the “Father of American Ornithology.” His nine-volume American Ornithology: or, the Natural History of the Birds of the United States (1808–1814) is the foundational account of North American birds. As Edward H. Burtt Jr. and William E. Davis Jr. write in Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology (2013)—the only recent book on him—Wilson remains relevant to the field. In addition to his comprehensiveness and his early adoption of the Linnaean system of taxonomy, the poet “introduced a truly scientific approach to ornithology—dissection to explore dietary and morphological detail—and used behavioral, ecological, and quantitative observations.” Moreover, though John James Audubon and the National Audubon Society have long eclipsed Wilson in popular awareness, there remains a Wilson Ornithological Society, founded in 1888 and active on Twitter.
Auriol Bishop explores the role of poetry in times of turbulence and trouble
What is it about poetry when it feels as though the world is falling apart?
Pithy, expressive, capturing in a soundbite all you want to say and mean; and in far better words than you could have put it yourself – if you reach for your favourite collection of poems at moments of crisis, you can be sure you’re not alone. Social media is alive with poetry new and old, words of comfort and inspiration being shared between friends and strangers. There are numerous blogs, as well as articles in the mainstream press with poetry reading lists to bring you solace in these troubled times of ours.
And you’re in the company of many a world leader and public figure, too, of course: from Jeremy Corbyn declaiming Shelley to the cheering crowds at Glastonbury to President Putin’s public broadcast of the words of Andrey Dementyev for International Women’s Day, there’s a perennial appeal to the higher authority of a poet’s words that have already stood the test of time.
For his family, choosing 100 poems from a long career, was weighted with memories
Five years after the jolt of Seamus Heaney’s unexpected death we are back at a moment. Back with Heaney, whose poems resonate with the rhythm of the lives of those he touched – casual reader, familiar student, his close-knit family. The public, the private; at this moment, two interlinked events. Nobel laureate and beloved public figure; family man and generous friend. The archive of work he donated to the National Library of Ireland in 2011 is being spun into a significant exhibition. And his family – his wife, Marie, and three children, Mick, Chris and Catherine, long adults now – have chosen 100 poems from his life’s work for a collection. Because they have made the selection, the poems echo publicly and privately. This is a moment all right, after an interval, luxuriating in his words.
Mick Heaney, who is also this newspaper’s radio critic, talks about looking at his father’s poems again and making these choices now. “To the general reader, which would include me in poetry terms, 100 poems has you well covered. But also, in the process, a poem can spark different things, and you can be drawn in for different reasons.”
David Wheatley reflects on the lyricism of slurry
Returning to Scotland via Belfast shortly after the Brexit vote in 2016, I was amused to read a local news story about a malfunctioning slurry tanker in Crossgar, which resulted in random passers-by being sprayed with copious amounts of manure. Even at the time, this struck me as an over-obvious analogy for the resurgent English nationalism about to descend like a pall (of slurry) over Britain and Northern Ireland. Naturally then, when invited by Ágnes Lehóczky and JT Welsch to contribute to Wretched Strangers, an anthology of poetry written in the shadow of Brexit, it was the first thing I turned to, providing just the scabrous grotesquery I wanted.
The thought of political poetry riles and overexcites people in equal measures, particularly when Shelley’s famous line that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” puts in an appearance. We hate poetry with a palpable design on us, said Keats, yet politics often introduces a strange double standard here. When Larkin says “Life is first boredom, then fear”, we are aware that life can be many other things too, and make allowances for the line being spoken in character. But when Michael Hartnett says “The act of poetry is a rebel act”, readers will often, depending on their politics, mentally head off to the nearest barricade or place a disgusted call to (poetry) Crimestoppers. Why do we not extend the same courtesy to this line that we do to Larkin’s?
A bookstore in the village of Wigtown, Scotland, allows people to run the shop while renting an apartment upstairs. A book critic for The Times recently took his turn at the till.
WIGTOWN, Scotland — Isak Dinesen had a farm in Africa. Recently, if only for a day, I had a bookstore in Scotland.
It wasn’t easy to get to Wigtown, in the remote Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland, in time for my shift. Though the village is only a two-hour drive from Glasgow, a GPS sent me through 33 miles of the desolately beautiful Galloway Forest Park on a single-track road that rattled the nerves.
The nerve rattling was compounded because I was driving on the “wrong” side of the road and with a stick shift installed on my left rather than my right. This felt like trying to use a mortar and pestle with my good arm tied behind my back. While in oncoming traffic.
It is worth getting to Wigtown, population 1,000, however. It is lush and green and smells of the nearby sea. It is Scotland’s national book town, its Hay-on-Wye. With a dozen used bookstores tucked into its small downtown, it is a literary traveler’s Elysium.
On July 26 we will enjoy our customary summer free-for-all when we will all bring our current favourite poem(s) to read and discuss. Please post your choices ahead of time either via the CONTACT US page or by emailing them to me directly. This year the Roundhouse Poetry Circle blog will choose the two most viewed poems on the blog. To-date in 2018 (June 28), the most viewed poems on the blog have been #1 – by a wide margin – “The Banished Gods” by Derek Mahon (2,256 views – mostly in the UK and Switzerland) and #2 “Sleeping with Ghosts” by Stephen Dunn (viewed mostly in Asia and Islamic countries).
As the 2018 tournament kicks off, it’s worth revisiting the late Uruguayan writer’s classic book on a sport he approached as both a fan and a social critic.
The story goes that every four years, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano hung a sign on his door that said “Closed for Soccer,” and didn’t emerge for a month—a month he spent watching the World Cup in his favorite chair and writing about it. Galeano, often called the poet laureate of football, wrote Soccer in Sun and Shadow as both a fanboy and a social critic of the game. Published in 1995, the book raised the bar for literary writing about soccer; it is Galeano’s homage to the sport, replete with politics, pageantry, corruption, and catharsis.
By Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research and Analysis
In recent months, I’ve come across various news articles and at least one press release declaring that social media has contributed greatly to poetry’s readership. Some of these sources even attribute to the technology a bump in 2017 poetry book sales. While it remains unknown how much of that reading is directly due to these still-emerging platforms, we now can report with confidence: poetry reading in the United States has increased since five years previously.
Nearly 12 percent (11.7 percent) of adults read poetry in the last year, according to new data from the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). That’s 28 million adults. As a share of the total U.S. adult population, this poetry readership is the highest on record over a 15-year period of conducting the SPPA, a research partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau.
The 2017 poetry-reading rate is five percentage points up from the 2012 survey period (when the rate was 6.7 percent) and three points up from the 2008 survey period (when the rate was 8.3 percent). This boost puts the total rate on par with 2002 levels, with 12.1 percent of adults estimated to have read poetry that year.
Growth in poetry reading is seen across most demographic sub-groups (e.g., gender, age, race/ethnicity, and education level), but here are highlights: