Category Archives: Study

Rilke on Writing and What It Takes to Be an Artist

“Go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create.”

BY MARIA POPOVA

Rilke on Writing and What It Takes to Be an ArtistEven more complex and nuanced than the question of how to be a good writer, which has elicited answers from some of humanity’s most beloved authors, is the question of why be a writer at all — why, that is, do great writers write?
.
Among the most memorable and invigorating answers are those sprung forth by W.H. Auden, Jennifer Egan, Pablo Neruda, Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Italo Calvino, and William Faulkner. But the finest, richest, truest answer of all comes from Rainer Maria Rilke(December 4, 1875–December 29, 1926) in Letters to a Young Poet (public library) — those invaluable packets of wisdom on writing and life, which Rilke bequeathed to a 19-year-old cadet and budding poet named Franz Xaver Kappus.
.
Read the complete article
.
A reminder that we will be reading and discussing Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Duino Elegies on November 22. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for more information.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Reminder, Study

How Shakespeare’s ‘blood cult’ became Ted Hughes’s fatal obsession

He believed he’d found the secret key to unlock all of Shakespeare’s work. Twenty years after Hughes’s death, this is the story of the lifelong fixation he feared would destroy him

How Shakespeare's 'blood cult_ became Ted Hughes_s fatal obsessionTed Hughes, who quarried much of his life and work from myth and folklore, was hyperconscious of literary tradition. In a 1995 interview with the Paris Review, he identified his “sacred canon” as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, Hopkins, Eliot and Yeats. This sombre obeisance to his lyric forebears is dignified and appropriate, but slightly misleading. Hughes had grown up with Yeats and Eliot, and was often linked with Wordsworth, but there was one writer with whom he was particularly obsessed: Shakespeare. Indeed, in the year that he died he confessed to a friend that he believed this lifelong fixation to have been fatal.
.
Hughes, in his 20s, never ceased reading and rereading the playwright’s work. The spell it cast over him goes back to his Cambridge days, and predates his meeting Sylvia Plath. In February 1952, he described his undergraduate routine to his sister Olwyn: “I get up at 6, and read a Shakespeare play before 9 … That early bout puts me ahead all day.” Five years later, he confided to a friend that he was “reading all Shakespeare in what I consider the order of their being written.”

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews, Study

Five Poems by Adrienne Rich

Adrienne_Rich-6Adrienne Rich, a major figure in the recent history of American poetry and a frequent contributor to The Nation, died on March 27 [2012]. In addition to the twenty-two poems she contributed over fifty years, she also wrote essays and reviewed for the magazine; a remark in her review of John Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs could serve as self-analysis: “One is conscious, as in few other poets, of a steely thread of strength running through the dislocation and the ruin.”
.
She also spoke up as a reader: in a 1993 letter to the editor, she urged the magazine to refuse “to drift toward the so-called center, a nerveless, benumbed position produced by the very financial and political interests that need to be called to account.” In the first of ten reviews the magazine ran of her work, Cheryl Walker identified the best qualities of her work, and their likely source:

This poetry is deadly serious, but it is not, like so much of women’s poetry in the past, death-enamored. For it is the poet’s appetite, her undeniable life force, which sustains these operations.

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Study

Joan Murray’s Enduring Poetry of the Senses

She died at twenty-four, but the thrills of her insights have sparked a new generation of readers.

By Dan Chiasson

Joan Murray_s Enduring PoetryMurray, sick for much of her life, relished the tactile glory of the natural world.

The poems of Joan Murray, who died in 1942, at the age of twenty-four, have been lost and recovered many times over. First, Murray’s manuscript was pried, from her mother, by W. H. Auden, who wanted to publish it as his inaugural pick as judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, in 1947. The resulting book, “Poems,” received a few respectful notices but was soon forgotten. In 2003, John Ashbery, a cheerful prospector in overlooked minor poetries, published a short appreciation of Murray, “one of the poets of the forties whom I most enjoy,” whose “abrupt transitions and changes of scene” bring readers to “the brink of a momentous discovery.” The poems were discoveries in and of themselves. In 2006, the poet and editor Shanna Compton uploaded a PDF of “Poems” to her Website, where it became a much-plundered treasure. Murray now had an “underground reputation,” in Compton’s judgment: more than sixty years after her death, she was a contemporary poet.
.
Read the complete article
.
Read also: Minor Notes: On the rediscovery of Joan Murray and The Epic, Neglected Vision of Joan Murray.
___________________________________
.
Here We Stand before the Temporal World
By Joan Murray
.

Here we stand before the temporal world,

And whether we care to cast our minds

Or shiver from our words all that refutes

The clarity of thought…

Whether we wish to deflect the rudiments of source

Bare bastard brats in summing up the whole…

These things I do not know.
.

Words have been to me like steps

Revolving and revolving in one cell.

Perhaps others have felt the limits of the pendulum,

Looking to the vast confines of night,

And conscious only of the narrow head,

The brief skull imminent of life,

Gray granules that, like Time, run through the hours.
.

Caesar walked quietly in his garden.

Two scribes walked gravely by his side.

The smooth pink marble of the fluted column passed

Reminded him of warm wine from the grapes,

The glitter of a spear dropped carelessly,

And caught by a hand quicker than he could see

Its slanting fall,

Reminded him of shallow eyes that glinted

As he passed between two worlds, their own and his.

His thoughts tended toward irrelevance,

But his words cut out the veriest patterns

Of an eastern drive toward the steeples of far Babylon.
.

From Poems, 1947, chosen by W. H. Auden.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Poem, Study

Notes toward an introduction

by William Logan

Notes toward an introductionOn poetic criticism.

One knows ahead of time how the machine will grind.

—Robert Lowell, on interpretation

Fashions in criticism rise like hemlines and fall like stocks, but the burden of criticism remains. The biographical interpretations a century ago, psychological readings a generation back, poststructuralist readings of the day before yesterday—all had their day. Many of the claustrophobia-inducing methods of the moment will soon be old hat, perhaps to be replaced by methods even worse. There’s no Whig history of criticism, at least to the cynic, only small successes in a landscape strewn with pitfalls and bear traps.
.
The critic’s job of work is to drag poems back to the world in which they were made, to restore the lost background of their creation, while knowing that history has sometimes been used to bully poems and their authors. Wordsworth had a child out of wedlock. Coleridge was an opium addict. Ben Jonson killed a man in a duel. Shakespeare may have been in favor of enclosure (or maybe not—the evidence is ambiguous). You don’t have to scratch the great modernists very deeply to find something unhappy in their makeup, whether anti-Semitism or the casual racist slurs of which all were guilty. We cannot blame the past for being the past, for having attitudes that strike us as unfortunate or even horrifying. None has much influence on the poetry—it has effect only when critics decide that all authors should be taken to the pillory, if not the gallows.

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Study

How Doctors Use Poetry

A Harvard medical student describes how he is learning to both treat and heal.

BY DANNY W. LINGGONEGORO

How Poetry HelpsOne part of the Hippocratic Oath, the vow taken by physicians, requires us to “remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”  When I, along with my medical school class, recited that oath at my white coat ceremony a year ago, I admit that I was more focused on the biomedical aspects than the “art.” I bought into the mechanism of insulin lowering blood sugar. I bought into the concept of diabetes-induced kidney damage. I bought into the idea of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in patients with diabetes. But art’s—poetry’s—role in the modern practice of medicine?
.
I’ve changed my mind. Physicians are beginning to understand that the role of language and human expression in medicine extends beyond that horizon of uncertainty where doctor and patient must speak to each other about a course of treatment. The restricted language of blood oxygen levels, drug protocols, and surgical interventions may conspire against understanding between doctor and patient—and against healing. As doctors learn to communicate beyond these restrictions, they are reaching for new tools—like poetry.
.
Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Study

Fernando Pessoa’s Disappearing Act

The mysterious masterpiece of Portugal’s great modernist.

By Adam Kirsch

The Book of DisquietIf ever there was a writer in flight from his name, it was Fernando Pessoa. Pessoa is the Portuguese word for “person,” and there is nothing he less wanted to be. Again and again, in both poetry and prose, Pessoa denied that he existed as any kind of distinctive individual. “I’m beginning to know myself. I don’t exist,” he writes in one poem. “I’m the gap between what I’d like to be and what others have made of me. . . . That’s me. Period.”

In his magnum opus, “The Book of Disquiet”—a collage of aphorisms and reflections couched in the form of a fictional diary, which he worked on for years but never finished, much less published—Pessoa returns to the same theme: “Through these deliberately unconnected impressions I am the indifferent narrator of my autobiography without events, of my history without a life. These are my Confessions and if I say nothing in them it’s because I have nothing to say.”

Read the complete article
.
We will read and discuss the poetry of Fernando Pessoa on October 25th. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for more information.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reminder, Study

On Not Being Silent

Answering the call of Audre Lorde

Jamie Wagman

On Not Being SilentI left my journalism career shortly before I found the writer Audre Lorde. I no longer wanted to sit in the back of the room and report what the county commissioner said. I wanted to critique the culture I had only been watching, and in Lorde’s more profound words, I sought to transform silences into bridges. She wrote, “The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”I instantly recognized her as my teacher—in feminism and self-care, of the practice of doing social justice work, and of teaching me when to listen and when to speak out.
.
We readers honored her this last November, during the week of the 25th anniversary of her death [1992]. So many who write and speak about Lorde today comment that they felt that she spoke to them personally when they were first reading her work. She called readers to action:

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I  am myself, a Black woman warrior poet doing my work, come to ask you, are you doing yours?

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Study

MAYBE POETS ARE, IN FACT, ALIENS

ON CRAIG RAINE AND THE MARTIAN SCHOOL OF POETRY

By Thomas C. Foster

MAYBE POETS ARE, IN FACT, ALIENSMartians? Really? Yes, really. Once upon a time, you see, there was a poem called “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home” (1979) by Craig Raine. The poem takes an old philosophical notion—describe X from the point of view of a visitor from Mars with no knowledge of the goings-on of earth—and breathes new life into it. Such an idea lay behind a good deal of popular as well as philosophical culture. The screwball comedies of the 1930s often relied upon the main character not understanding how, say, life in high society worked, a trope that found its final resting place in television’s The Beverly Hillbillies. The Clampetts may not have been from Mars, but in Beverly Hills, the Appalachian backwoods were a suitable substitute. Even earlier in the decade of Raine’s poem, Robin Williams mined the earthbound-spaceman trope for comic gold in Mork & Mindy. Raine’s gamble wasn’t that his concept was too far beyond readers but that it might seem less than exotic. Or compelling. In any case, no worries. The key to his success lies in the crispness of his Martian’s observations, and in the odd mix of worldliness and naiveté, as in the opening lines:

.
Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings

and some are treasured for their markings—

they cause the eyes to melt

or the body to shriek without pain
.

I have never seen one fly, but

sometimes they perch on the hand.
.

There’s a bit of trickery here at the beginning: How does the spaceman not know the word “book” yet know Caxton, the man who brought the printing press to England? It is more than many of my students knew, so discovering that the wings were pages and the mystery items books frequently came as a complete surprise. Later, the Martian can say that “Rain is when the earth is television,” yet he doesn’t understand the telephone, a “haunted apparatus” that people talk back to sleep when it cries and yet sometimes awaken “by tickling with a finger.” Sketchy knowledge is sometimes a wonderful thing. Nor does he understand the purpose of a bathroom, which he believes is a place of punishment, given the noises people make there, noting that “everyone’s pain has a different smell,” perhaps the most thought-provoking description of defecation ever written.

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Study

How Poets Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Academy

By Evan Kindley

How Poets Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the AcademyIt was, at one time, a striking fact that many of the most prominent and respected poets of the early 20th century were also prolific literary and cultural critics. A century later, the idea of the poet as critic seems relatively mundane. Indeed, a critic is one of the things we tend to expect any serious professional poet to be. Poets write closely argued essays for little magazines like Boston Review, n+1, and Guernica and book reviews for major media outlets like The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. Poets teach courses in critical theory to graduate students and publish abstract philosophical statements of poetics alongside their new creative work. Poets organize conferences whose participants and audiences are other poets. And poets are, increasingly, not just the foremost experts on poetry in our culture but the only experts.
.
This state of affairs can be fairly described as one of modernism’s legacies. To be sure, the combination of poetic and critical-prose writing into a single vocation is by no means a modernist invention — there is a long and august tradition of poets who also wrote criticism, including John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Matthew Arnold. But the durable association between poet-critics and modernism persists because modernist poet-critics did play a distinctive part in literary history, one that still affects us today.

Read the complete article

Leave a comment

Filed under Study