Category Archives: Study

Woodstock

by Joni Mitchell

WoodstockI came upon a child of God

He was walking along the road

And I asked him where are you going

And this he told me

I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm

I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band

I’m going to camp out on the land

I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
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We are stardust

We are golden

And we’ve got to get ourselves

Back to the garden
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Then can I walk beside you

I have come here to lose the smog

And I feel to be a cog in something turning

Well maybe it is just the time of year

Or maybe it’s the time of man

I don’t know who I am

But you know life is for learning
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We are stardust

We are golden

And we’ve got to get ourselves

Back to the garden
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By the time we got to Woodstock

We were half a million strong

And everywhere there was song and celebration

And I dreamed I saw the bombers

Riding shotgun in the sky

And they were turning into butterflies

Above our nation
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We are stardust

Billion year old carbon

We are golden

Caught in the devil’s bargain

And we’ve got to get ourselves

back to the garden
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Listen to Joni Mitchell sing “Woodstock”
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Camille Paglia describes Joni Mitchell as “a major contemporary poet” and includes her poem “Woodstock” in her remarkable book Break, Blow, Burn, containing essays about what she regards as “forty three of the world’s best poems.”
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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 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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From Schubert to Sinatra: why the song cycle speaks to the heart

From Schubert to SinatraIt’s an everyday story of country folk. You’re walking beside a stream when you come across a water mill. It’s a family-run business and the miller’s daughter is a lovely girl. You fall in love with her, and perhaps she does with you. But a huntsman turns up, steals her heart and breaks yours. The End.
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With an update or two – the mill becomes an organic farm perhaps, the huntsman a gamekeeper – it could almost be an Archers plot, but in 1823 the Viennese composer Franz Schubert made it the subject of a set of 20 songs, Die Schöne Müllerin (The Lovely Miller-Girl). Schubert had found the poems the previous year, part of a newly published volume of poetry by his near-contemporary Wilhelm Müller, and he immediately started to compose settings for them; they were published in 1824. Three years later, Schubert wrote a second set of songs to Müller’s poetry, Winterreise (Winter Journey), and with these two works he launched a new genre, the song cycle.

Read the complete article>
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We will be reading and discussing “The Poetry in Popular Music” on October 26. Please bring your own favourite examples 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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Seditious verses of the royal Master of Music

One of Britain’s most influential composers and a favourite of the royal court, Sir Arnold Bax had another life as a would-be Irish nationalist poet, writes Petroc Trelawny

Seditious verses of the royal Master of MusicSir Arnold Bax wanted to die in Glencolumcille, Co Donegal. “I fancy that my last vision in this life will be the still brooding, dove-grey mystery of the Atlantic at twilight,” he said. He was seduced by the remote settlement, the savagery of the sea in winter, the rugged cliffs that stretch away from the houses, the live music he heard in Paddy John McNelis’s pub.
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Trad players were gathering outside another pub when I visited the Co Donegal village last month, recording a BBC radio documentary. Bax’s beloved beach was filled with sunburnt families, many of them day-trippers from Derry and Belfast whose journeys had been much simpler than his tortuous route via the Donegal Light Railway. The heat was breaking records, the sea absolutely flat, but it was not hard to imagine the potential fury of the waves, crashing hundreds of feet up the face of Glen Head. The natural beauty, and the sympathetic welcome Bax received from the villagers ensured that he returned year after year, later writing: “I came to know the people as I never knew any other community.”

Read the complete article
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Read “A Dublin Ballad: 1916” by Dermot O’Byrne

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Listen to “Tintagel”, by Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

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On Rabindranath Tagore, the actual first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature

By Angad Roy

TagoreA few months ago, my neighbour asked me, ‘Do you have beds in India?’ Last week, a white friend asked me, albeit jokingly and drunk, ‘Did you have some spicy curry for dinner before you came?’ Do these two examples, among many, reveal a symptomatic Western perception of India as defined by its extremities – poverty, spicy food, idolatry of cricket heroes? Is cultural India merely a frenzied collection of colours and Bollywood melodrama? Does there remain a colonial hangover demarcating India as an exotic populace of the enchanting and far-away East? Is this why in October 2016, a Bengali writer as significant to literature as Joyce, Eliot or Proust, was forgotten by the New York Times and the Guardian, when they described Bob Dylan as the ‘first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature’?
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Rabindranath Tagore is the anti-colonialist in question, reverently coined by his devotees and by my Bengali family as the ‘Bard of Bengal’. He was the first non-European to win the prize in 1913, for his collection of poems in Gitanjali and, as such, he possesses an elevated status in my country. Walking down the bustling streets of Kolkata, you hear his poetry blaring from major traffic intersections and pandals which dot the metro landscape during the festive season. You can see his face and words printed on posters behind street-hawkers selling fake Nike clothes and in most Bengali households, where his portrait sits alongside statues of Ganesha and Shiva in the omnipresent puja room.

Read the complete article
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Read “My song has put off her adornments” from Tagore’s Gitanjali: My song has put off her adornments
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We will be reading and discussing “The Poetry in Popular Music” on October 26. Please bring your own favourite examples 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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On love, loss, and reading Anne Carson at the center of the earth

On love, loss, and reading Anne CarsonI am molten matter returned from the core of earth to tell you interior things.

Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

By midnight, the air is swept through with sulfur. Athanasius Kircher, a 35-year-old Jesuit scholar, has chosen this hour because the lava will be easy to see, gleaming fissures marked in wide ribbons of liquid light. He’s chosen someone strong to hold the rope, a laborer that he describes later in his notebook as “an honest countryman, a true and skillful companion.” The two of them seem the only ones awake. Vesuvius sleeps, but restlessly; its snores send up gusts of smoke.
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At the crater, Kircher loops the rope around his chest and waist. The ropes creak as he is lowered down, and he hangs there, like a spider on a strand of web, turning slowly in the updrafts. He looks down, past his feet, into the source of the rumblings, writing later of this moment, “I thought I beheld the habitation of Hell.”

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Love Lies Sleeping

by Elizabeth Bishop

elizabeth_bishop-2Earliest morning, switching all the tracks

that cross the sky from cinder star to star,

coupling the ends of streets

to trains of light.
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now draw us into daylight in our beds;

and clear away what presses on the brain:

put out the neon shapes

that float and swell and glare
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down the gray avenue between the eyes

in pinks and yellows, letters and twitching signs.

Hang-over moons, wane, wane!

From the window I see
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an immense city, carefully revealed,

made delicate by over-workmanship,

detail upon detail,

cornice upon facade,
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reaching up so languidly up into

a weak white sky, it seems to waver there.

(Where it has slowly grown

in skies of water-glass
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from fused beads of iron and copper crystals,

the little chemical “garden” in a jar

trembles and stands again,

pale blue, blue-green, and brick.)
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The sparrows hurriedly begin their play.

Then, in the West, “Boom!” and a cloud of smoke.

“Boom!” and the exploding ball

of blossom blooms again.
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(And all the employees who work in a plants

where such a sound says “Danger,” or once said “Death,”

turn in their sleep and feel

the short hairs bristling
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on backs of necks.) The cloud of smoke moves off.

A shirt is taken of a threadlike clothes-line.

Along the street below

the water-wagon comes
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throwing its hissing, snowy fan across

peelings and newspapers. The water dries

light-dry, dark-wet, the pattern

of the cool watermelon.
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I hear the day-springs of the morning strike

from stony walls and halls and iron beds,

scattered or grouped cascades,

alarms for the expected:
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queer cupids of all persons getting up,

whose evening meal they will prepare all day,

you will dine well

on his heart, on his, and his,
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so send them about your business affectionately,

dragging in the streets their unique loves.

Scourge them with roses only,

be light as helium,
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for always to one, or several, morning comes

whose head has fallen over the edge of his bed,

whose face is turned

so that the image of
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the city grows down into his open eyes

inverted and distorted. No. I mean

distorted and revealed,

if he sees it at all.
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Similar to “The Man-Moth,” “Love Lies Sleeping” presents a surreal view of New York through the eyes of a speaker waking to a summer morning. The first eleven stanzas of the poem depict the city in great detail; underneath this observation of the material world, however, there also lies a spirituality or otherworldliness. Bishop wrote in her notebook: “But [the spiritual] proceeds from the material, the material eaten out with acid, pulled down from underneath, made to perform and always kept in order, in its place. Sometimes it cannot be made to indicate its spiritual goal clearly…but even then the spiritual must be felt”(quoted in Kalstone 15), and in this poem as well as “The Man-Moth,” we see another side of New York, at times beautiful, at times surreal, and at times terrifying. As the speaker emerges from sleep, she describes the New York night blending into day. Dreamlike trains in the night sky fade out along with the neon signs and the “hangover moons.” In the morning light, the speaker is intent on describing in detail the emerging city. The “immense city, carefully revealed” becomes personified as it seems to yawn and stretch itself toward the skies. The city becomes even more surreal as Bishop describes, in a parenthetical aside, the city wavering:
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Read the complete analysis: New York Poems: “Love Lies Sleeping”
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A final reminder that we will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems.
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Please note that for the September 28th session only, we will be meeting in the mezzanine meeting room.

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A tale of two poets, Thom Gunn and Elizabeth Bishop

A tale of two poets, Thom Gunn and Elizabeth BishopAfter a rocky first meeting, the two became friends. Colm Toíbín traces the similarities in their outlook and describes how, by virtue of their poems, they both moved from self-effacement into the light

In the month or so after Thom Gunn died in April 2004, I formed the habit at the end of the day’s work of taking down his Collected Poems and reading a poem. One night I noticed a small book beside the Collected Poems called Thom Gunn in Conversation with James Campbell. On page 19, I came on the following passage which made me sit up for a moment. When Campbell said: “Your new book, Boss Cupid, contains some new poems about your mother. Is this the first time you’ve written about her?” Gunn replied: “The second poem about my mother is called ‘The Gas Poker’. She killed herself, and my brother and I found the body, which was not her fault because she’d barred the doors, as you’ll see in the poem. Obviously this was quite a traumatic experience; it would be in anyone’s life. I wasn’t able to write about it till just a few years ago.”
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I looked at those words again: “Obviously this was quite a traumatic experience; it would be in anyone’s life.” And then I burrowed among some books and found a quote from a letter which the American poet, Elizabeth Bishop, wrote to Anne Stevenson in 1964: “Although I think I have a prize ‘unhappy childhood’, almost good enough for the text-books – please don’t think I dote on it.” In that letter, Bishop wrote about her mother’s mental illness which began after Bishop’s father’s early death. “One always thinks that things might be better now, she might have been cured, etc … Well – there we are. Times have changed.”
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“Well, there we are.” I put the words beside Gunn’s: “Obviously this was quite a traumatic experience.” And I began to think about the connections between these two poets.

Read the complete article
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A reminder that we will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems.
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Please note that for the September 28th session only, we will be meeting in the mezzanine meeting room.

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Celebration of the World: ‘Let Us Watch: Richard Wilbur’

By William H. Pritchard

Celebration of the WorldThe poet Richard Wilbur is ninety-six, old enough that his poet-contemporaries—Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, James Merrill, Anthony Hecht—have been gone for decades. Wilbur’s most recent and probably final book of poems, Anterooms, appeared in 2007,  an attractive completion to the Collected Poems published three years earlier. Altogether his career has yielded ten individual books of poems, five books of illustrated poems for children and adults, fifteen translations of classical French drama, and two collections of literary essays—an achievement to be wondered at. Now comes a biography by Robert Bagg and Mary Bagg, the former a poet and translator of distinction, the latter a freelance editor. Their book suits Wilbur’s kind of career: a “biographical study” in which chapters focusing on the life alternate with ones devoted to some of his best poems and translation. A critical intelligence has been applied both to the man and to the reason we are interested in the man.
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The early chapters take us through Wilbur’s boyhood in New Jersey, where he lived with his parents and brother on a sort of estate presided over by a patron of the arts who had befriended Wilbur’s father, a graphic artist celebrated in one of the son’s best early poems, “My Father Paints the Summer.” In secondary school and at Amherst College, the young Wilbur was an outspoken, even radical student journalist, opposing America’s entry into World War II. At Amherst he joined a fraternity, where he was later informed by one of the “brothers” that his selection had been made in the hope that the fraternity’s grade point average would benefit. Undoubtedly his most significant action at college was to fall in love with a girl from Smith, Charlotte Ward  (“Charlee”); they married after Wilbur’s graduation in 1942, just prior to his entering the Army to engage in the war he had opposed. Originally he joined the Signal Corps, but was expelled for “subversive” activities like subscribing to the Daily Worker and having a copy of Das Kapital in his footlocker. In a subsequent interview for an assignment as a cryptographer, the interviewing officer warned that “if we catch you overthrowing our government, out you go.”

Read the complete article
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Listen to Richard Wilbur read “Lilacs,” “Seed Leaves” (twice), “Praise in Summer,” “The Puritans,” “Museum Piece” and other poems.

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How poets write letters

NANCY CAMPBELL

How poets write lettersThe penny post, the telegram, email — all were predicted to be the death of letter writing. Elizabeth Bishop and Philip Larkin shared this anxiety, but their correspondence debunks it… more »
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We will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.
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Please note that for the September 28th session only, we will be meeting in the mezzanine meeting room.

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Elizabeth Bishop: Exchanging Hats – in pictures

Elizabeth Bishop Exchanging Hats – in picturesBest known as a poet, Elizabeth Bishop was also a prolific painter. As a new book of her art is published, curator William Benton introduces some of his favourites.

View a selection of Elizabeth Bishop’s art
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A reminder that we will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems.
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Please note that for the September 28th session only, we will be meeting in the mezzanine meeting room.

Leave a comment

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