Tag Archives: Poetry

Poetic Artifice: A Theory of 20th-Century Poetry by Veronica Forrest-Thomson

Poetic ArtificeThis classic study, reprinted after more than 30 years, prefers bad new things to good old ones

By David Wheatley

The death of Veronica Forrest-Thomson in 1975, aged just 27, is among the most galling and tragic losses to modern British poetry. Born in Malaya and raised in Glasgow, she published a first poetry collection at 20 and gravitated to Cambridge, where she was taught by JH Prynne. Heavily influenced by the close reading tradition of IA Richards and William Empson, her criticism also drew on French structuralist and poststructuralist theory, then much in the air.
Published posthumously in 1978 and now reprinted for the first time, her classic study Poetic Artifice marked a provocative intervention. There is a widespread and mistaken assumption, Forrest-Thomson argues, that poetry is important for what it tells us about the external world. Not so: poetry is important for its vindication of “all the rhythmic, phonetic, verbal and logical devices” that make it what it is, and the production of “alternative imaginary orders”. Anything else is flim-flam. It is not the job of poetry to deliver states of “inarticulate rapture”, but to be the articulation of that rapture.

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Lines To A Movement In Mozart’s E-Flat Symphony

Thomas Hardy

Lines To A Movement In Mozart's E-Flat SymphonyShow me again the time

When in the Junetide’s prime

We flew by meads and mountains northerly! –

Yea, to such freshness, fairness, fulness, fineness, freeness,

Love lures life on.
Show me again the day

When from the sandy bay

We looked together upon the pestered sea! –

Yea, to such surging, swaying, sighing, swelling, shrinking,

Love lures life on.
Show me again the hour

When by the pinnacled tower

We eyed each other and feared futurity! –

Yea, to such bodings, broodings, beatings, blanchings, blessings,

Love lures life on.
Show me again just this:

The moment of that kiss

Away from the prancing folk, by the strawberry-tree!

– Yea, to such rashness, ratheness, rareness, ripeness, richness,

Love lures life on.
Listen to Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K. 543

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Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet”

Introduction by Lloyd Schwartz

Elizabeth Bishop's SonnetElizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet” is often taken to be her last poem. It was published in The New Yorker on October 29, 1979, three weeks after she died. And it feels like a posthumous poem, with its images of release from illness, from emotional conflict, from being “a creature divided.” In fact Bishop had written it more than a year earlier, then with surprising speed finished another poem, “Pink Dog” — a bitterly ironic, grotesquely comic “samba” set in Rio at Carnival time, in which she advises a “poor bitch,” a hairless scavenger with scabies (her chilling mirror image, another creature out of place among the Cariocan revelers), to “Dress up! Dress up and dance at Carnival!” The New Yorker rushed this mardi-gras poem into the February 26 issue, while “Sonnet,” acquired months before, would have to wait another eight months to see the light of day.
Yet in some ways “Sonnet” really is the later poem. Bishop began drafting “Pink Dog” in Brazil as early as 1963, under the title “Goodbye to Rio” — one of the first signs that she had started to think about leaving Brazil, where after more than a decade the sweetest life she’d known was beginning to sour. “Sonnet” is the very last poem that she both started and also completed. It’s the closest thing we have to her final poetic testament.


Caught — the bubble

in the spirit level,

a creature divided;

and the compass needle

wobbling and wavering,


Freed — the broken

thermometer’s mercury

running away;

and the rainbow-bird

from the narrow bevel

of the empty mirror,

flying wherever

it feels like, gay!

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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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The Man-Moth


Man-Moth: Newspaper misprint for “mammoth.”

Here, above,

cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.

The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.

It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,

and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.

He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,

feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,

of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.

                    But when the Man-Moth

pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,

the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges

from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks

and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.

He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,

proving the sky quite useless for protection.

He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.

                    Up the façades,

his shadow dragging like a photographer’s cloth behind him

he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage

to push his small head through that round clean opening

and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.

(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)

But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although

he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.

                    Then he returns

to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,

he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains

fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.

The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way

and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,

without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.

He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.

                    Each night he must

be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.

Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie

his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,

for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,

runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease

he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep

his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.

                    If you catch him,

hold up a flashlight to his eye. It’s all dark pupil,

an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens

as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids

one tear, his only possession, like the bee’s sting, slips.

Slyly he palms it, and if you’re not paying attention

he’ll swallow it. However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,

cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

The Man MothElizabeth Bishop, “The Man-Moth” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979.

Read an interesting analysis of this poem: Man Moth Analysis

We’ll 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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Elizabeth Bishop, Fighting The New Yorker Over Extra Commas and Steaming Cowflops


Elizabeth Bishop, Fighting The New Yorker“What I think about The New Yorker,” the poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote in 1940 to her mentor, Marianne Moore, “can only be expressed like this: *!@!!!@!*!!”
Bishop was 29 at the time, not so long out of Vassar, and had just published her first poem in the magazine. Moore was nearly 60 and had just had a poem rejected by its editors. Bishop’s fit of typographical pique was her way of expressing sympathy.
Over the next four decades, until her death in 1979, Bishop would publish nearly all of her best poems — fastidious, plainspoken, uniquely potent — in The New Yorker. She helped define what a New Yorker poem, in the best sense of that phrase, was. She was their gold standard. In turn the magazine helped define her.
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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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As Bad as a Mile

Philip Larkin

As Bad as a MileWatching the shied core

Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,

Shows less and less of luck, and more and more
Of failure spreading back up the arm

Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,

The apple unbitten in the palm.

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A Possible Keats

Fleur Jaeggy
A Possible KeatsJohn Keats (1795-1821) was seven years old and in school at Enfield. He was seized by the spirit of the time, by a peculiar compulsion, an impetuous fury—before writing poetry. Any pretext seemed to him a good one for picking a fight with a friend, any pretext to fight.
Fighting was to John Keats like eating or drinking. He sought out aggressive boys, cruel boys, but their company, as he was already inclined to poetry, must have provided some comic and burlesque treats. For mere brutality—without humor, make-believe, or whimsy—didn’t interest him. Which might lead a person to extrapolate that boys aren’t truly brutal. Yes, they are, but they have rules and an aesthetic. Keats was a child of action. He’d punched a yard monitor more than twice his size, and he was considered a strong boy, lively and argumentative. When he was brawling, his friend Clarke reports, Keats resembled Edmund Kean at theatrical heights of exasperation. His friends predicted a brilliant future for him in the military. Yet when his temper defused, he’d grow extremely calm, and his sweetness shone—with the same intensity as his rage had. The scent of angels. His earliest brushes with melancholy were suddenly disrupted by outbursts of nervous laughter. Moods, vague and tentative, didn’t settle over him so much as hurry past like old breezes.
From These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Minna Zallman Proctor.

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My Message

Cecil Rajendra

My MessageAnd now you ask

What is my message

i say with Nabokov

i am a poet

not a postman

i have no message.

but i want the cadences

of my verse to crack

the carapace of indifference

prise open torpid eyelids

thick coated with silver.

i want syllables

that will dance, pirouette

in the fantasies of nymphets

i want vowels that float

into the dreams of old men.

i want my consonants

to project kaleidoscopic visions

on the screens of the blind

and on the eardrums of the deaf

i want pentameters that sing

like ten thousand mandolins.

i want such rhythms

as will shake pine

angsana, oak and meranti

out of their pacific

slumber, uproot them-

selves, hurdle over

buzz-saw and bull-dozer

and rush to crush

with long heavy toes

merchants of defoliants.

i want stanzas

that will put a sten-gun

in the paw of polar-bear and tiger

a harpoon under the fin

of every seal, whale and dolphin

arm them to stem

the massacre of their number.

i want every punctuation –

full-stop, comma and semi-colon

to turn into a grain of barley

millet, maize, wheat or rice

in the mouths of our hungry;

i want each and every metaphor

to metamorphose into a rooftop

over the heads of our homeless.

i want the assonances

of my songs to put smiles

on the faces of the sick

the destitute and the lonely

pump adrenalin into the veins

of every farmer and worker

the battle-scarred and the weary.

And yes, yes, i want my poems

to leap out from the page

rip off the covers of my books

and march forthrightly to

that sea of somnolent humanity

lay bare the verbs, vowels

syllables, consonants and say

“These are my sores, my wounds;

this is my distended belly;

here i went ragged and hungry;

in that place i bled, was tortured;

and on this electric cross i died.

Brothers, sisters, HERE I AM.”

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The Invisible Poems Hidden in One of the World’s Oldest Libraries

A new technique is revealing traces of lost languages that have been erased from ancient parchments.
The Invisible Poems HiddenFor centuries they have gathered dust on the shelves of a library marooned in a rocky patch of Egyptian desert, their secrets lost in time. But now a collection of enigmatic manuscripts, carefully stored behind the walls of a 1,500-year-old monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, are giving up their treasures.

The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. Among its thousands of ancient parchments are at least 160 palimpsests—manuscripts that bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing. These illegible marks are the only clues to words that were scraped away by the monastery’s monks between the 8th and 12th centuries to reuse the parchments. Some were written in long-lost languages that have almost entirely vanished from the historical record.
But now these erased passages are reemerging from the past. In an unlikely collaboration between an Orthodox wing of the Christian faith and cutting-edge science, a small group of international researchers are using specialized imaging techniques that photograph the parchments with different colors of light from multiple angles. This technology allows the researchers to read the original texts for the first time since they were wiped away, revealing lost ancient poems and early religious texts and doubling the known vocabulary of languages that have not been used for more than 1,000 years.
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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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