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Katy Evans-Bush
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The old church in Heptonstall, Yorkshire Rather than leave on such a public footing, I see I'm still live - so I'll consider the day a bit before signing off. I've always felt October 31st to be a highly charged day, not like other days - even nowadays: there is a feeling of things being afoot. In the UK this year this is even the day the clocks have gone back: suddenly the trees are seriously yellow, and more bald than yesterday; the light has flattened out overnight to something hard-edged and intent on - well, on what? The ground, maybe. Or something not quite visible. Tomorrow is All Saints' Day, when the dead - our dead - roam the earth. So somehow this point is a pivot, on which the year seems to turn. We're dead opposite Easter, with its cheery daffodils and new hats. In Mexico they'll be celebrating the Day of the Dead; and then we all start getting ready for Christmas and the other festivals of light. For now, though, we're in the thick of it, the thickened atmosphere that goes with the annual thinning of the membrane. It's a day for poetry: verbal gateway to the other side of consciousness. In his famously contentious "Dark Arts" lecture a few years ago, Don Paterson wrote of poetry as incantatory, invocatory, magical, even dangerousl: "poetry, from the earliest so deeply connected to the world and our own survival in it, was quickly invested with magical properties, and soon took the form of the spell, the riddle, the curse, the blessing, the prayer." Real arcana is interesting only in prospect. These formulae must be very dull, if we are to do our job of alienating the amateur. Arcana are things as small, specific, useful and horrible as the Horseman's Word. Actually the horseman's word - which gives the apprentice ploughman power over horses and women when it's whispered in their ears - is also the secret formula for all poems. It was unwisely published in F. Marian MacNeill's The Silver Bough, so now it's in the public domain you might as well know it. In Scots it's twa-in-yin; two in one. The object of a poem is to place a new unity in the language... John Keats was born on this day. A Halloween baby, a born poet, and very much a mystical poet. I linked yesterday to his poem - one of his last, written on his deathbed in Rome for Fanny Brawne (unless I'm mistakenly remembering some other story) - This Living Hand. It never fails to send chills down my spine - it invokes his hand, his living self. But another poem of his that arrives, I think, at the misty, half-unconscious dwelling-place evoked - or invoked - by Don's lecture is this one: Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, So haggard and so... Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Poetry International 2010: Imagining Peace ALAS! No picture of Waterloo Bridge with which to round off this week. But take it from me: earth has not anything to show more fair, not even Westminster Bridge. I can see the London Eye, distantly and when the trees have no leaves, from my kitchen window - and everyone agrees that that is a valuable perk of my flat. In the end, my friend and I were whisked up to the green room to mingle with the poets and drink free literary wine, and when the Southbank Centre finally kicked us all out we had barely time to run for the bus. Wonderful, though. I love listening to people read poetry in languages I don't understand. You almost get to understand a language in a different way that way, through sound and rhythm alone. (And rest assured that translations in english were projected onto a big screen behind the readers!) Arabic, of which we heard a lot tonight, is really, really beautiful. There's a particular elongated dying fall of a vowel that is incredibly musical and expressive. Nouri al-Jarrah - a practitioner of this vowel - began the evening with a poem called Letter From Odysseus (pronouned Odysséus, as if in French), which describes the homecomings the king doesn't have, among suitors, and ends: I am Odysséus, Dead in a ship. Alas: that's all I had time to copy down. Fady Joudah, a doctor and Palestinian-American winner of the Yale Young Poets series, read in English and was subsequently more anecdotal than the others in his introductions. The Lebanese poet Hyam Yared (her first name is pronounced Heeam) read really beautifully in French, a single long poem situating history in the narrative of male and female bodies. There was no book of her work available: if there had been one in French I'd have bought it and quoted it here. As it was, I was too busy listening to copy lines down... The Cambridge (& fellow Salt Publishing) poet Richard Berengarten was the sole Jewish voice of the evening, which - without wishing to sound partisan - seems a little bit strange, in a festival called "Imagining Peace." In his poem called Nada: Hope or Nothing, he ends with words for hope in many languages, and inserted the Arabic and Hebrew words for the benefit of tonight's performance. (Berengarten also has a small pamphlet, or chapbook, of short poems all about hands.) His reading opened with the poem The Blue Butterfly (out of his eponymous book), which is satisfyingly built on a rhetorical trope. I'm going to assume I've got his and Salt's permission to quote it here in full (necessary, because otherwise you don't get to the end of the trope) (and I have the book, so it's an unfair advantage, which I admit): On my Jew's hand, born out of ghettos and shtetls, raised from unmarked graves of my obliterated people in Germany, Latvia, lithuania, Poland, Russia, on my hand mothered... Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Old Street, October 2010 Just on my way to the Southbank Centre to the second night of this year's Poetry International Festival there. A lovely, sunny autumn day in London when I mostly slept, and have not been out at all yet. When I come back I'll try and post up a picture from Waterloo Bridge, if I can get a decent one. In the meantime, here's a rainy picture from a few weeks ago, and - as an antidote to Wordsworth - some William Dunbar: LONDON thou art of townes A per se. Soveraign of cities, seemliest in sight, Of high renoun, riches and royaltie; Of lordis, barons, and many a goodly knyght; Of most delectable lusty ladies bright; Of famous prelatis, in habitis clericall; Of merchauntis full of substaunce and of myght: London, thou art the flour of Cities all. Gladdith anon, thou lusty Troynovaunt, Citie that some tyme cleped was New Troy; In all the erth, imperiall as thou stant, Pryncesse of townes, of pleasure and of joy, A richer restith under no Christen roy; For manly power, with craftis naturall, Fourmeth none fairer sith the flode of Noy: London, thou art the flour of Cities all. Most myghty carbuncle of vertue and valour; Strong Troy in vigour and in strenuytie; Of royall cities rose and geraflour; Empress of townes, exalt in honour; In beawtie beryng the crone imperiall; Swete paradise precelling in pleasure; London, thou art the flour of Cities all... And here's one from this week: St James' Park, October 2010 Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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"A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine." I just got back in from an amazing thing. Through a fluke, I was lucky enough to get two very cheap last-minute tickets to see something I was actually fretting about missing (cheapest seatc £25, in the normal run of things). It was this: Michael Gambon in his limited run of Samuel Beckett's wonderful short play Krapp's Last Tape , transferred from the Gate in Dublin to the plushly intimate Duchess Theatre just off the Strand in London. I've been thinking a lot about Beckett for the past year or two. I was dying to write it all up into some huge dazzling article, collected all the materials, and never wrote it. How very Beckettian of me. But now this. There was the publication (by CUP) of Beckett's Letters, 1929-1940 - a doorstop of a book, the first of four volumes, printed on heavy, shiny, old-fashioned paper and the detailed, daily, minutely animated opposite of what we might expect of the man whose art became so spare, so pared down, so "devoured by huge black pauses” – which Beckett wrote in 1936-7 of the "sound surface" of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. (Quoted from Gabriel Josipovici in the TLS). There was last year's special Beckett issue of Fulcrum magazine - another doorstop of a thing, produced annually by Katia Kapovich and Philiip Nikolaev - in which Nikolaev makes an impassioned case for Beckett as a major twentieth century poet: "To discover Beckett's true lyric worth, we must begin to read the poems with new eyes," he writes. Hardly anything but the stirring of an indifference - the concluding yawn of poststructuralism. What does it matter who is speaking? Beckett asks his question de profundis, but Foucault answers it ex cathedra, as if it were a question of "theory." He writes: Consider his pennywhistlings (mirlitonnades), late brief poems that are so spare, so extremely minimalist, so bare of ostentation that they themselves appear at first blush to invite the notion of their own slightness. It has been too easy to overlook the fact that these miniature gems are like nothing else in our poetic tradition. They are uniquely, self-effacingly Beckettian, his refined "lessness" in action. There was the Faber reissue of Beckett's works, in shiny new editions with new introductions and exciting new typographical covers (in beautifully readable print - some of us mind about this!). I was reading Worstward Ho last summer, the work the famous quote comes from: "Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." It has stayed with me since: so interior that it just goes straight in and lodges. The words too whosesoever. What room for worse! How almost true they sometimes ring! How wanting in inanity! Say the night is young and take heart. Or better worse say still a watch of night alas to come. A rest of last watch to come. And take heart. There was that massive revival of Waiting for Godot, with... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Many apologies; I feel like the guest who comes to dinner and then falls asleep in the chair! Someone commented the other day on my posting a post that positioned poetry firmly in the quotidian world. And alas, that is all too firmly where it is. It's fighting for attention at the moment like the smallest jackal at the dried-up old watering hole, and there have been some other consuming matters at hand even aside from work. My day job is all but overwhelming, it's so busy, and last night I taught a class on anapests (left work late; bus stop out of service; walked miles in the rain, got caught on some kind of crazy roundabout at the end of Westminster Bridge where you can't cross the road, and then had to trudge to Waterloo to get some cash, and got a cab; left my scarf in the cab, but the cabbie fortunately brought it inside to me). The anapests were great: we had Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash, part of Swimburne's Dolores, The Streets of Laredo, and (of course), as a finale, Byron's wonderful Destruction of Sennacherib: The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold, and the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea where the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee. Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green, That host with their banners at sunset were seen: Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, That host on the morrow lay withered and strown... The class loved Dolores. Here's the beginning: Cold eyelids that hide like a jewel Hard eyes that grow soft for an hour; The heavy white limbs, and the cruel Red mouth like a venomous flower; When these are gone by with their glories, What shall rest of thee then, what remain, O mystic and sombre Dolores, Our Lady of Pain? Seven sorrows the priests give their Virgin; But thy sins, which are seventy times seven, Seven ages would fail thee to purge in, And then they would haunt thee in heaven: Fierce midnights and famishing morrows, And the loves that complete and control All the joys of the flesh, all the sorrows That wear out the soul. O garment not golden but gilded, O garden where all men may dwell, O tower not of ivory, but builded By hands that reach heaven from hell; O mystical rose of the mire, O house not of gold but of gain, O house of unquenchable fire, Our Lady of Pain! (There is more. Much more.) They even gave themselves a homework assignment based on Dolores! (It's great, isn't it: organic homework.) I was talking about how Swinburne achieved the amazingly decadent, enervated mood of this piece (aside from being decadent and enervated, of course; but that's for another day), and I said how different his poem would have been if he'd written "O mystical rose of the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 27, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Yesterday I asked what the shock of this week's spending review would have on UK poetry. Well - I asked something like that. It was a cri de coeur, probably informed by the fact that I have somehow become so over-committed with various work projects that I have given up even trying to write poetry. Having asked that, I then spent much of the day (probably the last sunny weekend day we'll have all year, and certainly the last one before the clocks go back) reading, and prepping a workshop on anapaests. (You want anapaests?! I got anapaests. I know from an anaepest now, I can tell you.) And then went down to the shop. But luckily not everyone is in my current situation. And the British temperament, thought abroad to be fuelled by the stiffness of its upper lip, is in fact driven by something far more eternal. Something that in fact strenthens the upper lip; something that has driven the whole history of England's literature and art; something that enables history, in fact, to be allowed to take place at all. It is, in this culture that goes back over a thousand years (and is thus in some ways as intimate as a family, with shared references and no-go areas), the perennially self-generating force of satire. So my heart leaped when I discovered today that my question is beginning to be answered. From a doughty corner of Britain - the corner occupied by the Scottish poet WN Herbert - comes the best thing of all: a parody of Lewis Carroll. In anapaests. The Osborne and the Cameron disturbed the oysters’ sleep: by saving sandgrains from the strand they made the oysters weep. ‘Should seven widows give their mites to us for seven years, do you think, dear Ozzie, that our debts would somehow all be cleared?’ ‘—Call the knackers,’ he replied, ‘And let them axe all facts!’ The Osborne popped his bully cork and struck the wasteful sun - the oysters barked, so in the dark he ate them one by one. ‘Should seven virgins save their oil to balm our troubled brains, do you feel, dear Clammy, we’d have power for buses and for trains?’ ‘—Control the yackers,’ he opined, ‘who knows, once hacks relax!’ The Cameron buttered buttered bread, cut slices from the moon, and, as the oysters whined, each oik met with his silver spoon. ...and there's more - much more... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Photograph by David Secombe, via Esoteric London Hello, Best American Poetry World! I guest-blogged here a couple of years ago and am delighted to be asked back. Last time I spent my week developing a little theme about a particular strain of "formalist" (though we don't really call it that here) poetry in England that emanates, if you trace it back, from the old vaudeville-style (for want of a better comparison) music hall tradition. That was fun, and included some YouTube work, and amusing photos. This time I was thinking about micro-reviews of some UK poets, and I still plan to do that; but I see that Todd Swift has pipped me to the post with an excellently comprehensive roundup of some current poets over here. So I'm going to go straight in on an up note, spreading cheer around me like a veritable Jonny Appleseed. The big news in the UK right now is a cataclysmic government spending review, announced last Wednesday, which stripmines the UK's public purse of over 20% - the biggest cuts since 1918. That's the umbrella figure; the details are just too horrifying to go into, whether or not you agree that radical action was necessary to deal with the (banker-induced) deficit. Even PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the gigantic corporate consultancy firm, predicts a possible million jobs lost. (And England is smaller than New England.) So it's very scary, and that's before you talk about the services that will be cut. But I'm not here to talk politics. What I want to do - or have to do, really - is to ruminate on how, in a daily, practical way, poetry (and one's almost mystical belief in its power) will coalesce in this brave new world. I ran into a friend in Whole Foods yesterday (I know: the neighbourhood grew pretensions around us, and it was raining and I couldn't face the trek up to Morrisons), and she made me laugh. She said: "It's - it's like a dystopia!" Funny thing when that's funny: I was so happy she said it! I mean, it would be one thing if even the tubes wereworking properly. In my part of London there have been many days recently when an hour and a half to get to work seems almost reasonable. Last week there was a power cut on the soi-disant Jubilee Line, and 4,000 people were stuck in the tunnel for nearly three hours. Pitch black. People were fainting, panicking, falling ill. 2,000 of them made it out by walking along the (non-electrified, thanks to the power cut) rails. When they finally staggered out into the ticket hall, they found staff on hand to remind them to touch their travel cards to the machine to pay for their journeys! So how does our little flower, poetry, manage in a dystopia? I mean, it managed in the old Soviet bloc, even while its practitioners were being shipped to the mines. It manages in certain parts of the world today where people... Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2010 at The Best American Poetry