Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ezra Pound and the Lost Generation

So what are we to make of Ezra Pound today? He's a modernist who is rooted firmly in the past. He's of the lost generation, and his reputation is seemingly lost forever.

His tight and unadorned language helped shape the work of the likes of TS Eliot, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost, but ultimately their stars shone brighter than his.

It seems Pound was even more lost than the other members of the Lost Generation who he influenced. The American living in Britain turned away from capitalism in disgust at the loss of life in the First World War only to embrace another killing machine, that of fascism and the anti semitism that swept Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. He remains a controversial figure today.

Still there's something simple and cleansing about this poem. It captures the mood of spring and April, a month Eliot was to describe as the cruelist month.

A Virginal by Ezra Pound

No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately.
I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness,
For my surrounding air hath a new lightness;
Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly
And left me cloaked as with a gauze of aether;
As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness.
Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.
No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour,
Soft as spring wind that's come from birchen bowers.
Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches,
As winter's wound with her sleight hand she staunches,
Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour:
As white their bark, so white this lady's hours.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Verse of the Day - Amy Lowell

Sea Shell by Amy Lowell

Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
Sing me a song, O Please!
A song of ships, and sailor men,
And parrots, and tropical trees,
Of islands lost in the Spanish Main
Which no man ever may find again,
Of fishes and corals under the waves,
And seahorses stabled in great green caves.
Sea Shell, Sea Shell,
Sing of the things you know so well.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seamus Heaney wins Irish Times award

The award of the Irish Times' Poetry Now prize to Seamus Heaney led me to catch up some of the work of one of the few great poets who are still living.

I was familiar with Two Lorries, a pastoral tale that becomes embroiled in the tragedy of Northern Ireland. But I hadn't read much else of Heaney's work.

Blackberry-Picking, for instance, reminds me of those half remembered childhood days when we would be dragged into the Gloucestershire countryside, plastic bucket in hand, to grapple with unyielding briars.

There was something rewarding about toiling for a couple of hours on those autumn evenings, as twlight settled on the soft contours of the Gloucestershire hills.

Of course there was always the competition, for me to pick more blackberries than my sister. There were those muddy, dizzy and uncertain moments when we would reach too far to get the biggest blackberry in the hedgerow, that was always too high and out of reach.

Which is probably true of life. We'll only achieve the succulent rewards if we reach for the highest blackberry.

Then again it's hard sometimes to focus on reaching for the stars when it's a wet Sunday and there's rather a large cache of wine and beer that needs to be demolished down in the kitchen.

Blackberry-Picking by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Atlanta poet Theresa Davis wins Women of the World Poetry Slam

Atlanta poet, spoken word artist and educator Theresa Davis has won the Women of the World Poetry Slam held this month in Columbus, Ohio. beating off competition from 70 other women from around America to take the top spot. But her win almost didn’t happen, AtlantaIntown reported.

Apparently after making travel arrangements and weeks of rehearsal, Davis discovered that because of miscommunication, she had not been officially registered as a participant in the event.

The video features Davis in a live show with her rather unique take on the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fighting suicide with poetry in Alaska

Those dark winters in Alaska can get you down apparently.

Now teachers in the state have got together with healthcare providers to tackled suicide through poetry, prose and digital media, the Arctic Sounder reports.

One way the students have decided to share their message is with a media contest, open to students across Alaska through April 1.

The Alaska Association of Student Governments partnered with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which sponsored a media contest to prevent suicide — creative teens are invited to enter skits, songs, poems, digital stories and posters, among other things, to encourage others to mindfully make healthy choices.

Teams or individuals can enter to win $2,000 in prizes and cash, and winners will be announced at the AASG Spring Conference in Cordova, April 14-16.

A number of well know poets took their own lives. The most famous is probably Sylvia Plath, but there are others like Randall Jarrell whose gloomy poem 90 North is evocative of Alaskan climes, and beyond to the north pole itself.

90 North by Randall Jarrell

At home, in my flannel gown, like a bear to its floe,
I clambered to bed; up the globe's impossible sides
I sailed all night—till at last, with my black beard,
My furs and my dogs, I stood at the northern pole.

There in the childish night my companions lay frozen,
The stiff fur knocked at my starveling throat,
And I gave my great sigh: the flakes came huddling,
Were they really my end? In the darkness I turned to my rest.

—Here, the flag snaps in the glare and silence
Of the unbroken ice. I stand here,
The dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare
At the North Pole . . .
And now what? Why, go back.

Turn as I please, my step is to the south.
The world—my world spins on this final point
Of cold and wretchedness: all lines, all winds
End in this whirlpool I at last discover.

And it is meaningless. In the child's bed
After the night's voyage, in that warm world
Where people work and suffer for the end
That crowns the pain—in that Cloud-Cuckoo-Land

I reached my North and it had meaning.
Here at the actual pole of my existence,
Where all that I have done is meaningless,
Where I die or live by accident alone—

Where, living or dying, I am still alone;
Here where North, the night, the berg of death
Crowd me out of the ignorant darkness,
I see at last that all the knowledge

I wrung from the darkness—that the darkness flung me—
Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing,
The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Verse of the Day - Willliam Carlos Williams

At last. A poem I taught in my brief and unsuccessful career as an English teacher. Or at least a poem I tried to teach.

I tried to teach them imagery and all, but they weren't interested. They weren't interested in a load of old dead plants. Nobody even remarked on the fact the poem is inherently desolate in places and spring is a fragile creation. But it's there and it's about to uncoil like the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf.

Spring and All by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Maria Bethania wins Brazilian Poetry Lottery

Maybe I'm doing something wrong here and clearly I'm not as photogenic as Maria Bethania, but since when has a poetry blog made money.

Apparently Bethania, a popular singer/songwriter in Brazil, has just landed a R$1.3 million deal ($783,000)  to create an erudite blog dedicated to that fine, age-old art no one really reads except for college students: poetry.

The Cultural Ministry is funding the million Brazilian real endeavor, according to Folha de Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest daily.

In the immortal words of Charlie Sheen that's what I call "winning."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Verse of the Day - William Shakesapeare

Only by reading Rhyme and Reason can you go from Charlie Sheen to William Shakespeare in the space of two postings, from the ridiculous to the sublime.

But the presence of the white blossoms, in Virginia at least, is enough to break out the spring poems.

Sonnet 98 - William Shakespeare

From you have I been absent in the spring

When proud-pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Charlie Sheen reveals extremely hidden talent as a poet

“In the twisted times of a rotten game,

Where flood waters raised coffins from pain.
Where the worms of freedom have all gone insane,
I plucked them or sucked them from the heart of my brain.”

So begins the poem The Big White Phone from the man everybody seems to be talking about at the moment, the actor Charlie Sheen.

I can’t bring myself to print the rest.

Apparently Sheen wrote the poem years ago and it only sold six copies. He now hopes his poetry will be taken more seriously because his effort at poetry was written “before people realized how bitchin’ I am.”

Although Sheen’s wild antics may have shocked 21st century society in a way that Lord Byron’s shocked 19th Century England, the similarity ends there.

Sheen sure can’t write poetry like Byron. He should probably stick to taking whatever he’s taking.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Verse of the Day - Ted Hughes

The wind has been buffeting the house for much of the night, not relentlessly but intermittently. There's a coldness in corners and a listnessness. I don't want to sleep but I don't want to be awake. Out there somewhere, something is slipping away and I can't quite get a grasp on it on this dark and elusive night that's neither winter nor spring.

Finding a poem to do justice to the wind was no easy task. When all else fails you can rely on Ted Hughes.

Wind by Ted Hughes

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up -
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

Richard Wilbur turns 90

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Richard Wilbur turned 90 on Tuesday.

He didn't want a party, according Ilan Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring professor in Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College. But Wilbur's colleagues and friends wanted to pay tribute, he told the Republican of Amherst.

Wilbur is a former US poet laureate whose status has been compared to that of Elizabeth Bishop.

Boy at the Window by Richard Wilbur

Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.