What Is It You Feel I Asked Kurt

Diane Seuss

What Is It You Feel I Asked KurtWhat is it you feel I asked Kurt when you listen to

Ravel’s String Quartet in F-major, his face was so lit up

and I wondered, “the music is unlike the world I live

or think in, it’s from somewhere else, unfamiliar and unknown,

not because it is relevant to the familiar and comfortable,

but because it brings me to that place that I didn’t/couldn’t

imagine existed. And sometimes that unfamiliar place is closer

to my world than I realize, and sometimes it’s endlessly distant,”

that’s what he wrote in an email when I asked him

to remind me what he’d said earlier, off the cuff, “I don’t

recall exactly what I said,” he began, a sentence written

in iambic pentameter, and then the rest, later he spoke of two

of his brothers who died as children, leukemia and fire,

his face, soft, I’m listening to Ravel now, its irrelevancy.
Listen to Ravel’s String Quartet in F-major played by the Alban Berg Quartet.

Maurice Ravel completed his String quartet in F major in early April 1903 at the age of 28. Dedicated to his friend and teacher Gabriel Fauré, the work was introduced in Paris by the Heymann Quartet on March 5, 1904. The quartet follows a strict four movement classical structure: Moderato très doux begins as a sonata form allegro, the following Assez vif-Très rythmé functions as the quartet’s scherzo, while Très lent acts as a contrasting foil. The last movement, Vif et agité, reintroduces themes from the earlier passages and ends with a striking finale.

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Elizabeth Bishop [unpublished]
Dated by Vassar “[1931–34]” (Vassar 64.3); published in
Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box. Due to the state of the manuscript, some words are barely legible (and are enclosed in slashes in the transcription). In line 4, Alice Quinn offers “curly”; in line 11, “you’re” has been read as “your”; no satisfactory interpretation of the word in line 13 has been found; in line 19, Quinn also offers “slick”; in line 20, Quinn offers “negotiate.”
We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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Bring Me the Sunflower

by Eugenio Montale (Translated from the Italian by George Kay)

Bring Me the SunflowerBring me the sunflower for me to transplant

to my own ground burnt by the spray of sea,

and show all day to the imaging blues

of sky that golden-faced anxiety.
Things hid in darkness lean towards the clear,

bodies consume themselves in a flowing

of shades; and they in varied music–showing

the chance of chances is to disappear.
So bring me the plant that takes you right

where the blond hazes shimmering rise

and life fumes to air as spirit does;

bring me the sunflower crazy with the light.

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By Benjamin Moser

ELIZABETH BISHOP_S MISUNDERSTOOD “BRAZIL”Half a century has passed since the Life World Library was launched, in 1961. Today, its volumes languish in Internet bookstores, begging for takers at less than a dollar. They are cheapened by their age, their association with the mass-market Time Life brand (“Mysteries of the Unknown,” “Home Repair and Improvement”) and its suburban, middle-brow readership, though that might be too strong a term: one wonders how many people actually read these picture books. But the Life World Library was once wildly popular, and not without ambition and quality, as the author of the volume on Brazil proves.
This was no less than Elizabeth Bishop, who, by the time she came to write it, had been living in Brazil for a decade. Her eccentric aristocratic spouse, Lota de Macedo Soares, gave her entrée to the highest political and artistic circles: in the twentieth century, no foreign visitor of similar rank was as well-placed, or stayed as long (fifteen years). Because Brazil was everywhere in her work, and because the Life World Library contains her longest statement on the subject, the book has been granted a degree of scholarly attention seldom lavished on its fellows.
Making it even more intriguing are the clouds of censorship that swirl above it. These are emphasized by Lloyd Schwartz, the editor of “Prose,” a collection of Bishop’s writing, which appeared last year. Bishop “famously disliked how the editors changed what she wrote,” Schwartz says. Moreover, her original final chapter was “completely different” from the published chapter, which “deals with what the United States and Brazil have in common, and in it she praises Brazil’s more effective way of dealing with issues of race.” Schwartz therefore chose to publish a version “taken mainly from her own typescript at Vassar.”
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We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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The Sandpiper

By Elizabeth Bishop

The_SandpiperThe roaring alongside he takes for granted,

and that every so often the world is bound to shake.

He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,

in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.
The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet

of interrupting water comes and goes

and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.

He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.
– Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them

where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains

rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,

he stares at the dragging grains.
The world is a mist. And then the world is

minute and vast and clear. The tide

is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.

His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,
looking for something, something, something.

Poor bird, he is obsessed!

The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray

mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.
Elizabeth Bishop’s Sandpiper is concerned with the particular. Through a controlled tightening of focus, like the turn of the lens on a telescope, Bishop draws our attention ever closer to the minutiae of existence, of which the bird is solely conscious: from the water glazing over its feet, to its toes, to the spaces between its toes, to the grains of sand, and finally to the very nature of each grain, their precise colours and the stones and minerals that constitute them.
But while it is concerned with the specific, the poem makes us very much aware of the larger stuff that is outside of this focus. The sea is referenced in a way that we, unlike the sandpiper, cannot completely ignore. Its roaring is the first thing that the poem announces, along with the fact that ‘every so often the world is bound to shake’. The roaring and the shaking are not trivial events. And it is not merely water, or even the sea, but that gigantic ocean the ‘Atlantic’ that drains between its toes.
By drawing attention to that which is ignored, the poet foregrounds the apparent oddity of a consciousness that can shut out something as vast and imposing as an ocean. It provides a kind of irony throughout the poem, that beside something all-encompassing one can focus on something so minute.
In 1976, three years before Elizabeth Bishop died, she wrote:

“All my life I have lived and behaved very much like that sandpiper – just running along the edges of different countries ‘looking for something’.  I have always felt I couldn’t possibly live very far inland, away from the ocean; and I have always lived near it, frequently in sight of it …. timorously pecking for subsistence along coastlines of the world.

A reminder that we’ll be discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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The Victor Dog

by James Merrill for Elizabeth Bishop

The Victor DogBix to Buxtehude to Boulez,
The little white dog on the Victor label
Listens long and hard as he is able.
It’s all in a day’s work, whatever plays.
From judgment, it would seem, he has refrained.
He even listens earnestly to Bloch,
Then builds a church upon our acid rock.
He’s man’s–no–he’s the Leiermann’s best friend,
Or would be if hearing and listening were the same.
Does he hear?I fancy he rather smells
Those lemon-gold arpeggios in Ravel’s
“Les jets d’eau du palais de ceux qui s’aiment.”
He ponders the Schumann Concerto’s tall willow hit
By lightning, and stays put.When he surmises
Through one of Bach’s eternal boxwood mazes
The oboe pungent as a bitch in heat,
Or when the calypso decants its raw bay rum
Or the moon in Wozzeck reddens ripe for murder,
He doesn’t sneeze or howl; just listens harder.
Adamant needles bear down on him from
Whirling of outer space, too black, too near–
But he was taught as a puppy not to flinch,
Much less to imitate his bête noire Blanche
Who barked, fat foolish creature, at King Lear.
Still others fought in the road’s filth over Jezebel,
Slavered on hearths of horned and pelted barons.
His forebears lacked, to say the least, forebearance.
Can nature change in him?Nothing’s impossible.
The last chord fades.The night is cold and fine.
His master’s voice rasps through the grooves’ bare groves.
Obediently, in silence like the grave’s
He sleeps there on the still-warm gramophone
Only to dream he is at the première of a Handel
Opera long thought lost–Il Cane Minore.
Its allegorical subject is his story!
A little dog revolving round a spindle
Gives rise to harmonies beyond belief,
A cast of stars . . . . Is there in Victor’s heart
No honey for the vanquished?Art is art.
The life it asks of us is a dog’s life.
We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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By Literary Hub

We’ll make do,

another day, shopping and such, bringing the meat home at night

all roseate and gleaming, ready for the frying pan.

our names will be read off a rollcall we won’t hear—

how could we? We’re not even born yet—the stars will perform their dance

privately, for us, and the pictures in the great black book

that opens at night will enchant us with their yellow harmonies.

We’ll manage to get back, someday, to the tie siding where the idea

of all this began, frustrated and a little hungry, but eager

to hear each others’ tales of what went on in the interim

of our long lives, what the tea leaves said

and whether it turned out that way. I’ll brush your bangs

a little, you’ll lean against my hip for comfort.

                       –John Ashbery, “The Underwriters,” Your Name Here (2000)

To celebrate the beloved American poet John Ashbery turning 90 today [July 28, 2017], we invited 90 of his dearest friends, collaborators, and admirers to pick a favorite line from his vast published corpus (the second volume of his Collected Poems, 1991-2000, will be published this October with Library of America) and write about it in 90 words or fewer. Ashbery’s poetic career now spans over six decades and includes more than 20 books of original poetry, the most recent being Commotion of the Birds (Ecco, 2016). His work has profoundly shaped, influenced, irritated, vexed, puzzled and/or pleased its world of readers ever since little JA began writing. His very first poem was penned in 1935, when he was eight years old: “The tall haystacks are great sugar mounds / These are the fairies’ camping grounds.”

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I Looked Up from My Writing


I Looked Up from My WritingI looked up from my writing,

  And gave a start to see,

As if rapt in my inditing,

  The moon’s full gaze on me.

Her meditative misty head

  Was spectral in its air,

And I involuntarily said,

  ‘What are you doing there?’

‘Oh, I’ve been scanning pond and hole

  And waterway hereabout

For the body of one with a sunken soul

  Who has put his life-light out.

‘Did you hear his frenzied tattle?

  It was sorrow for his son

Who is slain in brutish battle,

  Though he has injured none.

‘And now I am curious to look

  Into the blinkered mind

Of one who wants to write a book

  In a world of such a kind.’

Her temper overwrought me,

  And I edged to shun her view,

For I felt assured she thought me

  One who should drown him too.

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With a Perfect Contempt: On Editing Marianne Moore

Heather Cass White

With a Perfect ContemptIn trying to sum up the experience of having spent the last ten years editing the poetry of Marianne Moore, most recently in the New Collected Poems, I think of a recent classroom interaction I had. Toward the end of a course on twentieth-century poetry, one of my students, clearly at the end of her patience with me, demanded to know why I kept asking them, “But what is a poem?” It’s probably a measure of how deeply I feel that question that I hadn’t noticed I’d asked it even once before she pointed it out.
I do know why I am stuck on it, however. Editing Moore’s work will deprive anyone of their certainty about what a poem actually is. All poetry editing raises a fundamental issue: Is a poem a specific ordering of words on a page? And if so, which page? The one the poet originally wrote, whether by hand or type; or the one that was first published; or the one that was last published? If all of those arrangements of words are identical, one may duck the question, but they rarely are. Typesetters and proofreaders make mistakes, and they also make corrections which poets find agreeable. Poets change their minds. Conventions of spelling and punctuation vary from house to house, and change over time. There are competing theories about how to handle such issues, and consensus views to guide practitioners, but the questions must always be confronted.

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by Marsden Hartley

ConfidenceWE’LL have the sun now,’

the quaking sea gulls said

‘We’ve run the gamut of the thundering sea,

one by one one by one,

and though the wave is full of bread

a wing is often tendon-weary

of a thing so varied-vast;

we do our geodetic surveillance,

for herring are a shining thing,

a shape of sleek imagining,

a pretty circumstance.

The shiver of an ash leaf and of pine

makes other music for a day’s determining,

even sea gulls love the shape of roses

ere day closes.’

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