Category Archives: Video

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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Love Story That Was a Challenge to Tell: ‘Reaching for the Moon,’ a Film About Elizabeth Bishop

By LARRY ROHTER

A Poet_s Tempestuous Romance in BrazilIt’s not unusual, especially these days, for a film to have a lengthy gestation period. But “Reaching for the Moon,” a new drama about the tempestuous love affair between the American poet Elizabeth Bishop and the Brazilian landscape architect Carlota de Macedo Soares, has, by any standard, been an exceptionally long time in the making.
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Though the movie opened Friday [Nov. 8, 2013], its origins date to 1959, when the Brazilian film producer Lucy Barreto was invited to a luncheon at Samambaia, the mountain estate near Rio de Janeiro where Bishop and Macedo Soares lived. Prominent Brazilian poets and politicians were among the guests, and the house itself was decorated with paintings and sculpture by renowned artists, but it was the hostesses who left her with her most vivid memory.
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“What impressed me was the intimacy and complicity between the two of them,” Ms. Barreto recalled recently. “At times, one would be on one side of the room and the second on the other side, in different conversations. But one would look at the other with a half-smile, and you could see they were in constant communication. It was something very special, and I never forgot it.”

Read the complete review
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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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A Poet’s Tempestuous Romance in Brazil: ‘Reaching for the Moon,’about Elizabeth Bishop

By NICOLAS RAPOLD

A Poet_s Tempestuous Romance in BrazilInspired by the 1995 Brazilian best seller “Rare and Commonplace Flowers,” Bruno Barreto’s “Reaching for the Moon” likewise imagines Elizabeth Bishop’s extraordinary relationship with the Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. It’s an abridgment of a composite, which leads to the biographical equivalent of plot-point summary. But Mr. Barreto and his lead actresses do stage a battle of creative and romantic egos, as Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Lota (Glória Pires) push up against the bounds of what the heart can take.
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Bishop’s 1951 visit to Rio de Janeiro, which turned into a 15-year stay, readily blooms into melodrama. Bishop, a New England native, stays at Lota’s spectacular country estate and becomes part of Lota’s customarily outsize plans. Deeply attracted, Bishop enters into a volatile domestic arrangement with the safely ruling-class Lota and her long-suffering lover, the American exile Mary Morse (Tracy Middendorf). In Mr. Barreto’s vintage-dress paradise, which also celebrates an era of promise in Brazil’s history, Bishop writes, loves and sometimes drinks herself senseless.
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Read the complete review
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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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We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute

We don't read and write poetry because it's cuteWe don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

Tom Schulman – Dead Poet’s Society.

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Rowan Atkinson & Hugh Laurie – Shakespeare and Hamlet

Rowan Atkinson & Hugh Laurie - Shakespeare and HamletRowan Atkinson & Hugh Laurie – Shakespeare and Hamlet
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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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Monty Python – Hamlet

Monty Python does Hamlet
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Monty-Python-does-HamletA 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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Anne Sexton’s lost tapes

By Kelsey Osgood

Anne_SextonIn early March 1966, poet and public-television presidium Richard O. Moore traveled to the buttoned-up Boston suburb of Weston, Massachusetts, to interview the poet Anne Sexton at the home she shared with her husband, Kayo, and young daughters Linda and Joy. The interview was to be a cinéma vérité–type glimpse into the life of the increasingly famous poète maudite, who just a year later would be awarded the Pulitzer for her second collection, Live or Die. Sexton’s star had been on the rise since the 1960 publication of her first book, To Bedlam and Partway Back, which focused on her psychiatric hospitalization and subsequent return to a degree of normalcy (hence “partway”). Throughout the interview, later aired on San Francisco television station KQED, Sexton presents her home life to the viewer: she reads her work, comforts her daughter, cajoles her camera-shy husband to join her on film, and contemplates death. At one point, she puts on a Chopin record, Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 23. Sexton melts at the opening notes; her demeanor, hitherto coquettish, becomes euphoric. She closes her eyes, arches her neck, and bites her lip as if she’s seducing someone or being seduced. The camera travels down her long, pale arm, which swings just slightly to the beat.
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“I’ll tell you what poem I wrote to this,” she says to Moore, smirking. “‘Your Face on the Dog’s Neck.’ Makes no sense, does it? A love poem.” As the music crescendos, the frenetic camera homes in on Sexton’s eyes, which she closes as she exclaims, “Oh, it’s beautiful!” Her joy is overwhelming and carnal and more than a little disturbing. “It’s better than a poem!” she says. “Music beats us.”

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We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Anne Sexton on July 27.

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A meeting of minds

By Katie Mitchell

‘I should like to get something of this into verse,’ wrote TS Eliot about Beethoven. Katie Mitchell tells how she united the two artists’ work.
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ts-eliot-and-beethovenIn 1994, on a dusty bookshelf at a friend’s house, I stumbled across an old tape recording of Ted Hughes reading my favourite poem, TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. I was struck by the power of hearing the poem read aloud. When you read it to yourself silently, you can appreciate Eliot’s use of alliteration, or the way in which he cuts the cloth of his ideas in different metrical patterns – but the appreciation is cerebral. When you hear it spoken, the musical impact of the language, metres and rhymes crystallises the meaning and releases the emotion. The more I listened to Hughes’ recording, the more I became convinced that the poem was written to be read out loud, and that hearing it made the material more accessible.
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I began to wonder how you could make it into a live performance. With this in mind, I approached Stephen Dillane, one the few actors I knew who would not be daunted by the scale and potential loneliness of the undertaking. And so, three years ago, rehearsals began, fitted around our other work commitments.
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It was only by chance that we discovered – in Lyndall Gordon’s book on Eliot’s later career, Eliot’s New Life – that the poem was inspired by one of Beethoven’s late string quartets. Once the initial connection had been made between the two pieces, I started to research them both, with a view to working out how to put them together. The idea of an evening that somehow combined a reading of the poem with a performance of the string quartet was born.

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Listen to the Borodin Quartet play Beethoven’s string quartet, Opus 132 in A minor – the music that inspired T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.
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Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. On February 23 we will focus on “Burnt Norton” and “East Coker.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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Poetry and Exile: T. S. Eliot, ‘Four Quartets’

By Professor Belinda Jack
poetry-and-exileThese poems retain a stubborn opacity and no interpretation is ever wholly satisfactory. The difficulty of Eliot’s poetry is partly a function of the poems’ dense allusions to so much other poetry. But by exploring the idea of exile in relation to locality and the idea of space more abstractly, the shape of Four Quartets as descriptive of a spiritual journey comes into better focus. Autobiographically it is clear that Burnt Norton, the house and its extensive gardens, East Coker, and above all the religious community at Little Gidding, matter greatly to our understanding of both Eliot’s life and also his poetry. But the antithesis of place, that is the idea of exile from place, is equally important.

Read Professor Belinda Jack’s complete transcript and watch the video of her presentation.
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Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. On February 23 we will focus on “Burnt Norton” and “East Coker.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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On “Burnt Norton”

By Helen Gardner, Morris Weitz, F. O. Matthiessen, Hugh Kenner, Denis Donoghue, Donald J. Childs and A. David Moody.

on-burnt-nortonThe more familiar we become with Four Quartets, however, the more we realize that the analogy with music goes much deeper than a comparison of the sections with the movements of a quartet, or than an identification of the four elements as ‘thematic material’. One is constantly reminded of music by the treatment of images, which recur with constant modifications, from their context, or from their combination with other recurring images, as a phrase recurs with modifications in music. These recurring images, like the basic symbols, are common, obvious and familiar, when we first meet them. As they recur they alter, as a phrase does when we hear it on a different instrument, or in another key, or when it is blended and combined with another phrase, or in some way turned round, or inverted. A simple example is the phrase ‘a shaft of sunlight’ at the close of ‘Burnt Norton’. This image occurs in a rudimentary form in ‘The Hollow Men’, along with a moving tree and voices heard in the wind:
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There, the eyes are

Sunlight on a broken column

There, is a tree swinging

And voices are

In the wind’s singing

More distant and more solemn

Than a fading star.
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At the close of ‘Burnt Norton’ a ‘moment of happiness’, defined in ‘The Dry Salvages’ as a ‘sudden illumination’ is made concrete by the image of a shaft of sunlight which transfigures the world:
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Sudden in a shaft of sunlight

Even while the dust moves

There rises the hidden laughter

Of children in the foliage

Quick now, here, now, always —

Ridiculous the waste sad time

Stretching before and after.
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Read the complete article
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Anyone interested in Thomas Howard’s Dove Descending: A Journey Into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets may also enjoy viewing his enlightening lecture available on YouTube here: A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”
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Another early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for details.  Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

Leave a comment

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