Tag Archives: Poetry

Today’s Birthday: Robert Bringhurst

Robert BringhurstRobert Bringhurst was born October 16, 1946, in the ghetto of South Central Los Angeles. He was the only child of a migratory family, raised in the mountain and desert country of Alberta, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and British Columbia. He spent ten years as an itinerant undergraduate, studying physics, architecture and linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, philosophy and oriental languages at the University of Utah, and comparative literature at Indiana University, which gave him a BA in 1973. He had published two books of poems before entering the writing program at the University of British Columbia, which awarded him an MFA in 1975.
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From 1977 to 1980 he taught writing and English literature at UBC, and for some years after that made his living as a typographer. He has also been poet-in-residence and writer-in-residence at several universities in North America and Europe.
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He has lived in Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, France, Peru, Panama and Japan, as well as the UK, the USA and Canada, and has published translations from Arabic, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, Navajo and Haida. Since 1985, his linguistic work has concentrated increasingly on Native American languages, especially those of the British Columbia coast.
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Bringhurst is first and foremost a poet, but he has published a substantial quantity of prose, invading the domains of art history, typography, linguistics, classical studies and literary criticism, without the least sign of respect for disciplinary boundaries. His book The Elements of Typographic Style (2nd ed., 1996) is now a standard text in its field. His Black Canoe (2nd ed., 1992) is one of the classics in the field of Native American art history, and The Raven Steals the Light, which he cowrote with Haida artist Bill Reid (reissued in 1996 with a new preface by Claude Lévi-Strauss) is among the most popular books in Canada in the field of Native Studies.

(Source: The Canadian Literature Archive)

See also: Selected Poems by Robert Bringhurst.
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On October 26th, 2017 from 5:00 PM  – 6:30 PM, at the Coach House, Green College, UBC, 6201 Cecil Green Park Road, Vancouver, Robert Bringhurst and his wife, Canadian poet Jan Zwicky, will present THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD: POETRY AND ECOLOGY.  See the EVENTS PAGE for details.

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The Wild Swans at Coole

W. B. Yeats

The Wild Swans at CooleThe trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

Upon the brimming water among the stones

Are nine-and-fifty swans.
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The nineteenth autumn has come upon me

Since I first made my count;

I saw, before I had well finished,

All suddenly mount

And scatter wheeling in great broken rings

Upon their clamorous wings.
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I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.
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Unwearied still, lover by lover,

They paddle in the cold

Companionable streams or climb the air;

Their hearts have not grown old;

Passion or conquest, wander where they will,

Attend upon them still.
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But now they drift on the still water,

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day

To find they have flown away?
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Listen to Cyril Cusack read “The Wild Swans at Coole” and other poems by W. B. Yeats

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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.”

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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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Remembering Betjeman

R. S. Thomas

Remembering BetjemanThe only greenness

from your city

window was that of the grass

in the cemetery

outside. The stones

bent over it like readers

in a baize library

out of the way

of the traffic. I caught

your gaze homing

there and changed the talk

from poetry to prose,

enquiring from the living

what only the dead

knew, who had all time

on their side.

                       Into that room,

now that you have left

it, the view enters

unchanged; the grass

is absorbing, the readers

have not looked up

from their breathless

pondering of the manuscript

of the deaf and dumb.

It is a slow view, but one

never to be overtaken

by the hurrying images

of that other window

your successor has turned to,

tipplers at an existence

that has everything

this one has not

except its repose.

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Joni Mitchell’s Openhearted Heroism

She made the best music of her generation by falling in love, over and over, while defending her sense of self.

By Dan Chiasson

Joni Mitchell_s Openhearted HeroismIn 1969, Cary Raditz, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, quit his job in advertising and headed to Europe to bum around with his girlfriend. They ended up in Matala, on the island of Crete, where they found a bunch of hippies living in a network of caves. Raditz soon decamped for Afghanistan in a VW bus; when he returned, his girlfriend had bailed, but there was word that a new girl was headed to Matala. Raditz didn’t know much about Joni Mitchell, but “there was buzz” among the hippies, and, soon enough, he found himself watching the sunset with one of the most extraordinary people alive. Raditz and Mitchell shared a cave for a couple of months, travelled around Greece together, and parted ways. That’s where you and I come in, because Mitchell wrote two songs, among her greatest works, about her “redneck on a Grecian isle”: “California” and “Carey.” I’ve been singing along to those songs, or trying to, since I was fifteen. I learned from them what you learn from all of Mitchell’s music, that love is a form of reciprocity, at times even a barter economy: “He gave me back my smile / but he kept my camera to sell.” Mitchell’s songs were the final, clinching trade.
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Joni Mitchell’s gift was so enormous that it remade the social space around her. As David Yaffe’s new biography, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell (Sarah Crichton Books), suggests, it is no small burden to possess something as valuable as Mitchell’s talent, and it meant that this girl from the Canadian prairie would be in the world, whether she liked it or not. All she needed was her lyrics, preternaturally analytic, wry, and shrewd; her chords, largely self-invented, a kind of calligraphy of the moods; and her voice, which modulates from patter to rue to rhapsody in a single phrase. In concert, she sometimes trained her attention on a single listener in the front row, casting the stranger as the vivid “you” of a song who in real life may have been Sam Shepard, James Taylor, or Leonard Cohen. The best pop music is often preening and shamanic. Mitchell’s is almost always about what two articulate adults mean, or once meant, to each other.

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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.

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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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Boundary Conditions: Adrienne Rich’s collected poems

By Dan Chiasson

Boundary Conditions“One rainy day in the spring of 1960, the San Francisco poet Robert Duncan arrived at my door,” Adrienne Rich wrote in her essay “A Communal Poetry.” Duncan was a daemonic bard with a Homeric attitude, who often wore a black cape and a broad-brimmed hat. Rich made him tea while trying to comfort her sick son, who moved between the high chair and her lap; Duncan, whom Rich cautiously admired, “began speaking almost as soon as he entered the house” and “never ceased.” Later, driving him to Boston in the rain, Rich realized that her car was on empty and pulled into a gas station. Throughout it all, Duncan, the oracle, was still talking about “poetry, the role of the poet, myth.” Apparently, Rich’s “role” was to make tea for him, and to keep things like sick children and empty gas tanks from interrupting the great man’s groove. Rich concluded, generously, that Duncan’s “deep attachment to a mythological Feminine” made it hard for him to manage “so unarchetypal a person as an actual struggling woman caring for a sick child.”
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Rich, who died in 2012, had these kinds of run-ins with literary men throughout her life. Her father was an eminent doctor and a professor at the Johns Hopkins medical school, who made her copy out verses from Blake and Keats from an early age, and graded the results; her mother, who had studied in Vienna to be a concert pianist and a composer, put aside her art to raise the family. Rich’s sense that she was the benefactor of her mother’s sacrifice and the object of her father’s fixations never left her. (Her mother died in 2000, at the age of a hundred and three.) Rich’s first book—“A Change of Life” (1951)—was published when she was just out of Radcliffe. It was chosen for the Yale Younger Poets prize by W. H. Auden, who contributed a slightly creepy foreword: the poems are, he said, “neatly and modestly dressed, speak quietly but do not mumble, respect their elders but are not cowed by them, and do not tell fibs.” Rich’s three children were born within a four-year span in the late fifties; in those days, she wrote, “women and poetry were being redomesticated.” Even Randall Jarrell, the best poetry critic of the era, proclaimed her work to be “sweet,” and wrote that Rich seemed “to us” to resemble “a princess in a fairy tale.” An unidentified poet friend, visiting her in the nineteen-eighties for the first time in years, expressed the abandonment felt by many male poets and critics, first-string bonhommes who had admired her early work and had counted on her to add some depth to the literary bench. “You disappeared!” her friend said. “You simply disappeared.” Women could also be unkind. Elizabeth Hardwick, a formidable feminist in a different key, declared, “I don’t know what happened. She got swept too far. She deliberately made herself ugly and wrote those extreme and ridiculous poems.”

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Aim

R. S. Thomas

AimI resent the question

yet murmur it to myself:

The magic, where has it gone?
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Is age good for nothing

but with its arthritic breath

to dry up the dew
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on the poem’s petals? Who

would have thought language

with nowhere to go could
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have become tired? Vocabulary

abhors a vacuum but why

from verbal ranks
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do I force the same adjectives

to volunteer? The muse laughs

at my medals, signalling the one
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over my shoulder, whose aim

is his youth, she has the whole

dictionary as ammunition.

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