Category Archives: Study

Power and Tenderness: Robert Penn Warren on Democracy, Art, and the Integrity of the Self

Power and Tenderness“[Art] is the process by which, in imagining itself and the relation of individuals to one another and to it, a society comes to understand itself, and by understanding, discover its possibilities of growth.”

BY MARIA POPOVA

“The poets (by which I mean all artists),” James Baldwin wrote in his exquisite 1962 meditation on the artist’s role in society, “are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets.”
.
More than a decade later, the Pulitzer-winning poet, novelist, and literary critic Robert Penn Warren (April 24, 1905–September 15, 1989) enriched and affirmed this notion when he was selected to deliver the annual Jefferson Lecture, founded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as “the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.” Warren’s lecture was eventually adapted into the slim, potent 1975 book Democracy and Poetry (public library) — an insightful, ennobling, and increasingly timely perspective as we turn to poetry as protest and redemption.
.
Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Study

The Lyric LangPo Alarm: Rae Armantrout

by Daniel Evans PritchardThe Lyric LangPo AlarmRae Armantrout’s poetry is informed by two key sources: first, the radical poetics of 1960s San Francisco; second, the terse verse forms of William Carlos Williams, whose poetry she first encountered in her teens. These are the guiding wires of her poetry, leaving plenty of space for her to maneuver. Armantrout’s poems place public and private languages in contact, or conflict, to reveal secondary and hidden meanings, the infiltration of economic jargon into interior vocabularies, and the failure of language to fully encapsulate our inner states. Her poetry is duplicitous in the best sense of the word: intelligent in its ability to contain opposing forces.
.
Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Study

THE BELLE AND THE BARD

MAIA SILBER

THE BELLE AND THE BARDThe First Folio held court in Amherst, MA, late last spring, when purple graduation balloons hovered over the green hills of the college and minivans lined its streets. For the younger siblings, the town offered cotton candy and carnival games; for the parents, a visit from Shakespeare himself. The famous book was displayed in a gallery in the Mead Art Museum, splayed open on a pedestal in the center of the room. Visitors huddled around its pages, whispering their s’s asf’s.
.
Just down the road, travelers made pilgrimage to another literary landmark, the home of a poet whose works survived her death in hand-sewn packets, stored in a bedroom drawer. That day, the small town played host to two writers whose legacies loom larger than life: Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare, the Belle of Amherst and the Bard.
.
No writer could have predicted such future fame, but if we take his sonnets as his word, then Shakespeare expected at least a bit of it. “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,” he wrote. The reality merely surpassed his expectations; his rhyme, as recorded in the First Folio, has become a monument in more than metaphor. Dickinson, on the other hand, declared herself in poetry a “nobody,” and called fame “the one that does not stay.”
.
Yet fame did stay, for both writers. It stayed for the playwright who recorded so little of his life that he left centuries of readers searching for proof of his authorship—and even his existence—and for the poet whose stores of letters and manuscripts beguile some of us even more.

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Study

READING EMILY DICKINSON: Returning to the archives

BY STEPHEN AKEY

emily-dickinsonScholars have been laboring for more than a century to transform Emily Dickinson’s faint pencil jottings on envelopes, letters, and sewn sheets into accurate and readable editions of some or all of her 1,800 poems. Recently, there has been a counter movement to return Dickinson’s verse to something like the textual fluidity of its original state, which in practice is rather like returning nonspecialists to the state of dazed incomprehension experienced by the small circle of her earliest readers. The online Emily Dickinson Archive, which reproduces the manuscripts with all their wayward calligraphy and unresolved word choices, is a necessary and laudable enterprise, but the last thing it does is make her poetry more accessible. You thought it was hard reading Emily Dickinson before? It just got harder.
.
There are reasons to believe that the effort to present Dickinson’s poetry in its original handwritten intimacy is misguided, starting with the belief (mine, admittedly) that she would have loved to be published, notwithstanding her demurral to the writer and editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson that publication was as foreign to her thought “as Firmament to Fin.” Writers, generally speaking, are whores for publication, and when they don’t get published, or don’t get published in the form they’d like, they’ll tell anyone anything to salvage their pride. If Higginson had even half understood her, Dickinson might have had very different things to say about the “foreignness” of publication. When she complained to him about the appearance of “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” in the Springfield Republican (one of only ten poems to be published in her lifetime), her complaint wasn’t that the rectilinear impersonality of newsprint had violated the spirit of her poetry. Her complaint was that the editors had botched the punctuation. The poem was “robbed” of her, she told Higginson (meaning that she hadn’t authorized it), but what especially bothered her was that it was “defeated too of the third line by the punctuation” — a misplaced question mark, as it happens, which makes a hash of that and the following line. (The published version read: “You may have met him — did you not? / His notice instant is” instead of “You may have met him? Did you not / His notice instant is.”) In other words, she was complaining about bad editing, not the “foulness” (as she once called it) of publication.

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Study

The Messy Genius of W. H. Auden

A disheveled poet crafted verse of exquisite order
By Danny Heitman
Auden-4Thanks to the popular 1994 movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, thousands of people who had probably never read a word from poet W. H. Auden have been exposed to his work. In one scene, a character eulogizes his companion by reciting Auden’s “Funeral Blues” for the other mourners.
.
The poem is also known as “Stop all the clocks,” a reference to its rousing first stanza:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Each of the four stanzas reads like an eloquent study in grief, including the last four lines, which leave a lump in the throat:

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Auden’s poem resonates with readers because it addresses a basic emotional predicament—that after someone dies, the world keeps spinning without them. It’s an alternately affirming and cruel reality, a puzzle that the poem’s narrator, like many who have lost a loved one, seems to feel is not quite right. If a precious life has ceased, the anguished voice at the heart of “Funeral Blues” argues, then everything else should end, too.

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Poem, Study

WHEN EVEN THE GREATEST OF WRITERS GRAPPLES WITH SELF-DOUBT

GABRIELLE BELLOT ON W.B. YEATS AND THE FINE LINE BETWEEN ARROGANCE AND HUMILITY

By Gabrielle Bellot

WHEN EVEN THE GREATEST OF WRITERS GRAPPLES WITH SELF-DOUBTMonths before his death in 1939, W. B. Yeats found himself at a crisis point. He was writing many poems; at the same time, he was afraid that he had become a kind of fraud, an impostor, lifelessly trotting out his old themes because he had nothing new to say. “I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,” he wrote in “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” the penultimate poem in his great 1939 collection, Last Poems. “What can I but enumerate old themes?” he mused. The title suggested that his inspiration had fled him, like the departure of a carnival’s acts; his circus animals, if he could find them at all, refused to perform anything satisfactory or fresh, and the circus itself had dimmed, like the eyes of someone who has forgotten how to dream.
.
Yeats had come to an impasse as a writer. In simpler terms, he was having writer’s block and doubting his abilities, though it was magnified by his being in his seventies and his awareness that his health was failing, that he, like those circus animals, did not have long left on the stage. In the famous, stark final stanza of the poem, he suggested that he needed to find that fey spark, that spool of dream, he once knew so well, even if it meant going back to the beginning—whatever and wherever that might be. “Now that my ladder’s gone,” he said, “I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”
.
Read the complete article
.
Listen to Dan Mulhall read “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Poem, Study

William Blake’s Most Beautiful Letter: A Searing Defense of the Imagination and the Creative Spirit

By Maria Popova
William_Blake“The genius,” Schopenhauer wrote in his timeless distinction between genius and talent, “lights on his age like a comet into the paths of the planets, to whose well-regulated and comprehensible arrangement its wholly eccentric course is foreign.” Unlike the person of talent, whose work simply exceeds in excellence the work of their contemporaries and is therefore easily appreciated by them, Schopenhauer argued that person of genius produces work which differs not in mere degree of excellence but in kind of vision. It is therefore often ridiculed or, worse yet, entirely ignored by the creator’s contemporaries, to be rediscovered and appreciated only by posterity.
.
Arguably no genius embodies this tragic tenet more perfectly than William Blake (November 28, 1757–August 12, 1827), who lived amid ridicule and died in relative obscurity, then went on to inspire generations of artists. He was a lifelong muse to Maurice Sendak and a kind of creative patron saint for Patti Smith. He produced stunning art for Milton’s Paradise Lost and labored over his drawings for Dante’sDivine Comedy until his dying day. Centuries later, his verses continue to quench an immutable existential thirst.
.
Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Study

The lust poets: John Betjeman, Lord Byron and more

The lust poetsTHE poet Kahlil Gibran once wrote that “the most highly sexed beings upon the planet are the creators – the poets, sculptors, painters, musicians – and so it has been from the beginning”.

By SIMON EDGE

That certainly seems to have been true of Sir John Betjeman, who said towards the end of his life that his one regret was “not enough sex” but who actually spent his later years conducting not one but two long-term extra-marital affairs.
.
The buck-toothed scourge of Slough – who was Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death at the age of 77 in 1984 – was a lifelong ladies’ man who was engaged three times before getting married. It was public knowledge even in his lifetime that he maintained a love triangle involving his wife Penelope and his mistress Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret.
.
But five years ago it emerged that Sir John had a second intimate relationship for two decades with an old friend called Margie Geddes, and this week a trove of 100 of his love letters to her was made public. “I long to be in your arms and comforted and able to talk to you for hours alone,” he wrote to her, while she wrote of him: “He was a highly sexed man, practically to his death.”

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Study

The Last Rock-Star Poet

Dylan Thomas embodied the essence of poetry—even if his poems themselves have not held up well.

JAMES PARKER

“Poetry is dead!” cried John Berryman, emerging in distraction from the Manhattan hospital room that Dylan Thomas had just exited by another, more conclusive route. Poetry had been unconscious for four days, as a result of alcohol and then morphine. It had finally succumbed while being washed by a nurse—babied into eternity under a woman’s hands, life’s last feebleness recalling its first.
.
Poetry is dead. Did Berryman, himself a poet, really say that? The record is unclear. It could be a legend. But he was certainly there, by the bedside at St. Vincent’s, on November 9, 1953; certainly overwrought; and if he did say it, his words—as Walford Davies points out in the new edition of his excellent study, Dylan Thomas—“were something more than melodrama.” Marshall McLuhan hadn’t yet given us the formula, but if Dylan Thomas was the medium, poetry was the message. Already a radio favorite in Britain, he blazed his reputation across 1950s America with a sequence of Led Zeppelin–esque reading tours, multicity road shows in which the dying throb of Romanticism met the incoming crackle of mass communication. This Welshman was electronically famous, and he constellated in his rumpled persona various blips and signals that all said poet.The bow-tied ham at the lectern, bass-baritoning away; the scapegrace of the after-party, peeing into potted plants; the inspired tavern regular, talker for hours, blood brother to the universe; the craftsman in his deep and scratching silence; the fire-tailed bard; the cometary Celt. All of it was Dylan, all of it was poetry, and when he died, it died with him. He was the last of the rock-star poets, because the minute the real rock stars showed up—amps buzzing, drugs twanging—the poets would be shuffled off into inconsequence.

Read the complete article

1 Comment

Filed under History, Study

The Wind’s Bride

R S Thomas

This wind had nowhere

to go until art taught it

woman was its direction,
.
giving it one to carry

in its arms, weightless

because she had taken
.
our breath away lining

its poor clothes with her

smile like a cloud full of sunlight.
.
The Wind's BrideFrom: R.S. THOMAS TOO BRAVE TO DREAM Encounters with Modern Arts Edited by Tony Brown & Jason Walford Davies.
.
When R.S. Thomas died in 2000, two seminal studies of modern art were found on his bookshelves – Herbert Read’s Art Now (1933/1948) and Surrealism (1936), edited by Read and containing essays by key figures in the Surrealist movement. Some three dozen previously unknown poems handwritten by Thomas were discovered between the pages of the two books, poems written in response to a selection of the many reproductions of modern art in the Read volumes, including works by Henry Moore, Edvard Munch, George Grosz, Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Graham Sutherland – many of whom were Thomas’s near contemporaries. These poems are published here for the first time – alongside the works of modern art that inspired them. Thomas’s readings of these often unsettling images demonstrate a willingness to confront, unencumbered by illusions, a world in which old certainties have been undermined. Personal identity has become a source of anguish, and relations between the sexes a source of disquiet and suspicion. Thomas’s vivid engagements with the works of art produce a series of dramatic encounters haunted by the recurring presence of conflict and by the struggle of the artist who, in a frequently menacing world, is ‘too brave to dream’. At times we are offered an unflinching vision of ‘a landscape God / looked at once and from which / later he withdrew his gaze’.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Poem, Study