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Literature Poetry Uncategorized

Mourning and the Movement

I have been perusing in a somewhat feckless manner an introductory chapter in Blake Morrison’s carefully written “The Movement” subtitled, English Poetry and Fiction of the 1950s. Here he mentions a poem about Plymouth by Philip Larkin which begins-

A box of teak, a box of sandalwood,

A brass-ringed spyglass in a case,

A coin, leaf thin with many polishings,

(Collected poems page 166)

This appears to be an early poem which concludes with a stanza that explains in which Larkin says of his intentions for his poetry……

Let my hands find such symbols, that can be

Unnoticed in the casual light of day,

Lying in wait for half a century

To split chance lives across, that had not dreamed

Such coasts had echoed, or such seabirds had screamed.

Now when today mourning takes place with great pomp and ceremony it is somewhat salutary to turn to Keith Douglas killed fighting in the Second World War, admired by Movement poets, and his splendid and sparse poem-

Simplify me when I’m Dead

Categories
Book Reviews Film Literature Uncategorized

Following Boris to Hollywood

I am not here following the caretaker Prime Minister who has resigned but not. He appears to live in some sort of borderland theatre which has become boring beyond belief; I am referring to Boris Drayluk’s collection of poems My Holywood published by Paul Dry Books. I have just finished Jonathan Coe’s Mr Wilder and Me and am currently reading Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist which seem to form a suitable background on which to project Drayluk’s moving collection.

His collection begins with a mixture of recollection and nostalgia-

This much is clear :the good old days have passed

Some giant fig trees, a few pygmy palms

deep broken shade on disenfranchised grass;

This magnificent collection by the Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books has many lovely poems. Dralyuk has a stirring feeling for the dilapidated landscape of Los Angeles and a wide understanding of the hinterland of European Culture. He is a skilled translator and his poems have a deep moving quality appropriately relieved by wit and humour. Here is one short example-

OLD FLAME

Above the tongue-tip is an air so blue

I can compare it only to how you

who once consumed me in a yellow heat,

now scarcely singe me when we meet.

Dralyuk writes of loss and passing time and of memory under the condition of exile. I particularly enjoyed Stravinsky at the Farmer’s Market; here are two stanzas.

Christopher Isherwood is a disciple, slipping

off to the Viertals on the weekends far from Swami,

swimming naked. In Brentwood, Schoenburg lobs grapefruits

and insults at Feuchtwanger’s wife.

Herr Doktor Faustus, exile is no bargin.

You move von heute auf morgen.

Stravinsky lunches at the Farmer’s Market.

The Firebird is plucked, Petrushka’s henpecked.

Here there are layers of sorrow portrayed in a dream-like landscape. Here is a photograph of the poet and a YouTube interview on this collection.

Categories
Book Reviews Literature Poetry

Some remarks on the Poetry of Alun Lewis

Postscript: For Gweno

If I should go away,
Beloved, do not say
‘He has forgotten me’.
For you abide,
A singing rib within my dreaming side;
You always stay.
And in the mad tormented valley
Where blood and hunger rally
And Death the wild beast is uncaught, untamed,
Our soul withstands the terror
And has its quiet honour
Among the glittering stars your voices named.

Alun Lewis is a poet whose writing is associated with the Second World War in which he died in Burma in 1944. It is then naturally a poetry of partings, separation and yet shows the tenderness which is expressed in the poem above. See also https://allpoetry.com/Alun-Lewis

However, it is the following lines which grasped my attention and which are shown here from a poem called Destruction:-

In this intriguing passage, the viaduct arches feels like an image, perhaps from a dream suggesting transportation, crossing a gulf as well as the industrial Welsh scenery which it also evokes. The polluted river contrasts remarkably with the dreaming girl. I discover that attar of roses, also called otto of rose, essence of rose, or rose oil, fragrant, colourless or pale-yellow liquid is an essential oil distilled from fresh petals. This is followed by a striking consideration of the fragility of the poet’s writing and how it can be affected by the sudden hostility of his own feelings- the destructive feelings which he acknowledges. This too is beautifully expressed in a line of tragic s sounds- “Like a schoolboy’s sling that slays a swallow.” A swallow that might be otherwise be free to rise to otherwise unreachable places. Lewis goes on to compare this to the devastation of war with words that must remind a contemporary reader of the current conflict in Ukraine-“the impersonal drone of death Trembles the throbbing night” so that possible connection is broken as the viaduct is destroyed.

This link for what is possibly Alun Lewis’s most famous poem is also worth exploring:-

https://shows.acast.com/the-daily-poem/episodes/alun-lewis-today-it-has-rained

Categories
Book Reviews Literature politics Psychoanalysis Uncategorized

Politics as Theatre; Then and Now

I have read for the second time now an article in the TLS by someone who goes by the name of Docx. This curious appellation reminds me somehow of XTrapnell, a strange character in Antony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time”. In this article, a book review, Docx pins down the theatrical absurdity of Johnson’s manipulation of Parliament and reiterates the latter’s motivation in his illegal prorogation of Parliament. He touches on the psychology of Boris, recently referred to as delusional by the Leader of the opposition and quotes D.W.Winnicott’s notion of the False Self to underline the splits in the man’s psyche. Johnson avoids guilt and the expectation is that paranoia features as his acting becomes increasingly absurd.

This acting resembles the theatre of the absurd which once was called Pataphysics. The loss of meaning which we see in the plays of Beckett and Ionesco is acted out on the floor of the House of Commons. The audience of Conservative MPs are complicit in the act and the opposition, though more in touch with compassion, find it difficult to bring the charade to a meaningful conclusion.

I have just finished reading the most remarkable life story of Richard Brinley Sheridan which is written by the outstanding Irish writer and political commentator, Fintan O’Toole. It is called A Traitor’s Kiss. There are many reasons for recommending this book so I shall confine myself to just three. Firstly, because it so closely illustrates this connection between politics and the theatre. Sheridan’s father, with whom he had a particularly interesting oedipal conflict, taught rhetoric so that Sheridan imbibed and used the power of heightened speech in his drama and in his political speeches. One only need consider the figure of Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals to grasp his power over language. Secondly, O’Toole’s explanation of the basic integrity of Sheridan’s love for Ireland, democracy and far sighted anti-imperialist radicalism is thoroughly illuminating with respect to Eighteenth Century political shenanigans. Thirdly, the biography is imbued with a real feeling for the duelling, the striving for status, the struggle against poverty, the wenching and resulting illegitimacies pursued in the chaotic Regency times. The reader comes away with some understanding of the complexities of both Whig factions and the decide lack of safety considerations within the candlelit Drury Lane theatre.

The article which underlined for me this connection between politics and the theatre was an edited version of a lecture given on behalf of the Voltaire Association in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on March 17th. It was given by the Harvard Professor, Robert Darnton and entitled Despotism Centre Stage- Theatricality and violence in Paris on the eve of revolution. It appeared in the March 25th, 2022 copy of the Literary Supplement and so very fascinating that I have read it several times to appreciate just how the masses in the streets of Paris, the Parlement and the Chatelet Court all became embroiled in a political carnival in which magistrates acted out their remonstrances (a forcefully reproachful protests) with speeches and gestures so that Paris itself became a free for all vaudeville. with the aristocracy and the monarchy as the players caught in a tragedy. Here is a small example of the scenes on the streets leading up to the Revolution:-

For anyone who wishes to hear the lecture itself:-

Watching this which mostly concerns events in 1788, I am reminded too of the dramatic events of the August Coup in 1991in the Soviet Union https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Soviet_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat_attempt

The drama acted out in those few days goes some way towards understanding the current conflict in the Ukraine; Putin’s response to Gorbachev’s reforms over 30 years ago.

Categories
Art and Photographic History Literature Poetry

Regarding “True Voice” for J.S. by Aviva Dautch

 

Friday afternoon in Streatham. Sunlight in

winter, a weight of snow above us

on the glass conservatory roof. We should

have been cooking but instead we tuned in

the new LG TV with its True Voice advanced technology.

The channel didn’t matter, what we cared about was clarity

and pitch, the digital dialling down

of background noise, homing in on the frequency

of the newsreader’s voice: far off famine

wars, a politician sacked, another

celebrity whose phone was hacked. We sat

in the sweet spot, the speakers concentrating

sound

 

I tend to collect books of poetry and poetry magazines and came across the above poem which I have not copied in full in the Poetry Review Volume 101:2 Summer 2011 This edition was subtitled The New Political Poetry and inside Dautch has written a letter to Emily Dickinson in which she writes about the Talmudic tradition in which contradictory truths are allowed to co-exist. and also about doubt in contradistinction, she says to a Western Tradition that emphasises single truths or epiphanies. This seems apparent too in the first section of the poem -or perhaps prose poem quoted above.

As is widely known Friday evenings in Jewish families constitute the advent of Shabbat and the poem has a certain cosiness, one might say Gemutlich quality about it. Yet also there exists a troubled contrast between the technical sound quality and the dreadful news on the radio which has been arbitrarily chosen. In the remainder of the poem, there is a concern shown about the intensity of the experience becoming overwhelming.

All that evening, as we transformed secular time into Shabbat, everything seemed heightened: the candles, bread, wine, vibrating; each molecule its own distinct, sacred, world.

There are several ways of looking at this feeling. Psychologically Melanie Klein might refer to feelings of envy overwhelming what on a deep level might represent the maternal perfect breast. This state also reminds me of certain lines from the beautiful hymn by W.Chalmers Smith (1824-1908) Immortal, Invisible, God only wise

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light.

Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;

All laud we would render:O help us to see

Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.

and in the next verse-

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

In light inaccesssible hid from our eyes

…..and in this poem, of course, our ears as well although the background sound of snow shuffling down the roof paradoxically helps the evening feel complete. Reading Col Toibin’s book Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know just yesterday on W.B.Yeat’s artist’s father and the concept of the gaze, I came across the former’s well known poem about the Second Coming-

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun…

In any event Aviva Dautch is worthy of future consideration and here is a discussion on displacement, migration and exile in which she takes part:-

Categories
Literature Poetry

Breakfrost by W.N.Herbert

Breakfrost

The frost is touching everything before the sun:

each blade has a pencil nudity that makes

the yolk-like orange seem already old,

each flatness reached, brick-like,

as though all cold was urban.

Sheep crunch its windscreen splinters,

horses’ heads are glued to it down the blue

flanks of shade. Each leaf is a sucrose flake.

Its intimacy is more exhausting than light.

Morning’s sepia, like medieval photographs,

has to fight its way through every scattered grain.

I had not heard of Herbert, born 1961 in Dundee until I recently came across this poem in Ruth Padel’s instructive collection; The Poem and the Journey -60 Poems for the Journey of Life. It appeals to me very much and I am asking myself just why.

These first eleven lines interweave the process of getting up for breakfast with the contrasts in the outside landscape. Being cold and having no clothes on and breakfast itself – perhaps “Frosties” (crunch sucrose flake) and perhaps a suggestion of tiredness or exhaustion. The gradual awakening takes place with engaging contrasts as Padel makes clear in her own interpretation. There is cold sharpness against and before the sunlight. There are contrasting colours orange-yellow with the blue flanks of the horses. An image which might suggest the paintings of Franz Marc.

Then there is the poet’s usage of engaging tropes like “cold was urban” and “sepia…medieval photographs”. These encourage the reader to use his imagination. It is interesting too that the latter photo image reinforces the element of time which is clearly passing along during the course of the poem.

More about W.N.Herbert can be read at https://poetryarchive.org/poet/W-N-Herbert/

and I recommend “Talking Water Blues which you will find on that page

Categories
Literature Poetry Psychoanalysis

“Autumn Journal” revisited this Spring

For here and now the new valkyries ride

The Spanish constellations

As over the Plaza Cataluña

Orion lolls on his side;

Droning over from Majorca

To maim or blind or kill

The bearers of the living will,

The stubborn heirs of freedom

Whose matter-of-fact faith and courage shame

Our niggling equivocations-

We who play for safety,

A safety only in name.

Whereas these people contain truth, whatever

Their nominal façade.

Listen: a whirr, a challenge, an aubade-

It is the cock crowing in Barcelona.

Sleep, my body, sleep, my ghost,

Sleep, my parents and grand-parents,

And all those I have loved most:

One man’s coffin is another’s cradle.

Sleep, my past and all my sins,

In distant snow or dried roses

Under the moon for night’s cocoon will open

When day begins.

These lines from MacNeice’s poem written in 1938 sadly seem apposite today. The lines refer to the bombing of Barcelona when fascists killed some 1300 people. They also refer to his response which is to seek solace in sleep. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Barcelona

For a fascinating discussion of MacNeice’s work take a listen to https://www.lrb.co.uk/podcasts-and-videos/podcasts/close-readings/on-louis-macneice

Now, of course the Spanish Civil War was a totally different situation from the current situation from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the melancholy tone of Autumn Journal resonates with my personal feelings about current events. Firstly, weapons have become vastly more destructive and in a few days the casualties and destruction have become enormous and sadly mch more about to be revealed. In both conflicts, ethnic and religous belief would appear to be active. Although mercenaries and International Brigades are involved the ideological factors such as a belief in Marxism are radically different in form.

The cock which crowed in respect to Barcelona is an Easter image relating to betrayal. Just as with Covid the current response by politicians to the current crisis is totally underwhelming and indicates too how domestic and isolationist narratives have obscured a wider view as to how to resolve or even contain this conflict.

So this melancholia pervades from 80 or more years ago-

Our niggling equivocations

We who play for safety,

A safety only in name

Categories
Book Reviews Literature Poetry Uncategorized

Apprehension over Odesa

Once again I have been reading Christopher Reid and again finding his poetry both lyrical and accessible. I recently found a poem in his collection, “For and After“(2003) which is intriguingly entitled Bermudapest and is dedicated to Clariisa Upchurch and her husband George Szirtes. It begins:-

A place I’ve never been, but which, at back of my mind’s eye, I know I’ve seen:

its stately apartment blocks beginning to melt in the mid-morning blaze, its beach cafés

loud with the laughter of chess-players and philosophers. And there’s the postcard view you’ll know it

Now although the title has an ambiguity about it perhaps suggesting an imaginary destination, I can only read a few lines and think upon the city of Odesa. A city about which I only know but a few matters but one whose cosmopolitan nature makes it onto my wish list for a visit. Having seen those famous steps in Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” in the early 70s started my interest. Re- kindled by a minitrek to Istanbul and Princes Island then I bought Neil Acherson’s Black Sea. Then again reading about the trade of the Euphrasi family in de Waal’s Hare with the Amber Eyes stimulated my interest further.

Reid’s lovely poem talks of a lively city with…..

loud with laughter

of chess players and philosophers.

And there’s a postcard view-

you’ll know it

However, the city which has grasped my imagination through reading this poem is awaiting the armed assault of the invader. The sandbags surround the elegant statues. The town where Pushkin was in exile which was always a cosmopolitan treasure awaits another barbarous incursion .A large portion of the dwellers have already left their homes fearing the sort of destruction meted out to Mariupol now some 13hours journey away to the East.

There is a certain irony in the last lines in which a guitar playing poet flavours his words with…

a nonchalant beat added

to old Gypsy sorrows.

A good place to meet,

I feel, and clink

a glass or two

of something sombre as ink,

with a paper parasol in it.

Lets get on a plane and go there.

Tomorrow’s?

Categories
Book Reviews Literature Poetry Uncategorized

Stephen Romer, the warmth of Spring and Lentern Thoughts

The lines above come from Stephen Romer’s title poem in his 2008 collection Yellow Studio. This poetry book (Oxford Poetry Series ISBN978 1 90303985 4)I purchased having read some of his critical writings in the TLS (or was it the LRB?) Getting to understand a new poet inevitably takes time and I find that I have reached the point where actually I want to reassess my favourites; Auden, MacNeice, Yeats and Mahon). However, my interest in French Poetry remains strong and Romer is perhaps the leading translator. Incidentally, Romer keeps reminding me of the corresponding poetry and translations from German by Michael Hofmann. Here is a clip finding Romer reading at Worcester College, Oxford in 2019 about the warmth of the South,the approach of Spring, Air BnB and other matters.

Perusing the collection my eye was caught by the poems about returning to Paris.:-

Returning here

under the cold blue

the rue des Saules

is absurdly tender

with its pink house

on the corner

and the château des Brouillards

with its ruined vineyard

and secret trees

still a world on its own

(For more information on the misty castle opposite Renoir’s house see

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_des_Brouillards )

Rue des Saules

Another section of Yellow Studio deals with the poets relaxation and remembering a friend/lover recently lost ;an elegy conceived in the garden and about the house. It is called Pottering About.

any sign of neglect or decay

weighs on my conscience

when you were always the one

somewhere at work among the birdsong

and the appleboughs, the place marked

by a stupendous oath

as the Allen Scythe choked

or where the odd chainsaw

was hurled into the undergrowth

and I dreaming on

among my books

in the yellow attic room.

Here is Stephen Romer in more sombre mood reading at Trinity College, Cambridge in 2018

Categories
Literature Poetry

Thoughts inspired by “From a Window” by Charlotte Mew

From a Window 

                  Up here, with June, the sycamore throws 

                      Across the window a whispering screen; 

        I shall miss the sycamore more, I suppose, 

Than anything else on this earth that is out in green. 

             But I mean to go through the door without fear, 

             Not caring much what happens here 

                           When I’m away:— 

How green the screen is across the panes 

              Or who goes laughing along the lanes 

        With my old lover all summer day. 
 

By Charlotte Mew 

The poem begins by locating the poet both in place and time; the high elevation suggests an oracular tone which pervades the poem. The poet is contemplating not just leaving the house or building but also the loss of life- that is to say death itself.

I seem to recall a final interview of the playwright Dennis Potter talking in a moving way about a tree in blossom and the poignant feelings this aroused in him. The poem evoked his memory.

In Mew’s poem however the tree appears as a green screen which might conceivably fill an entire window where foliage whispering might suggest some maternal comforting. Indeed it becomes a kind of screen memory, that is a distorted memory, generally of a visual rather than verbal nature, deriving from childhood. The term was coined by Sigmund Freud, .

Mew talks about not caring much about what happens when she is away. It seems that the word “much” suggests that actually, largely unconsciously, she actually really does care about what happens when she leaves. Indeed the real difficulty in leaving is about what is left behind and perhaps who is left behind doing exactly what. The separation involves a felt loss of control. Her previous lover is laughing along the lanes and perhaps there might be some faint suggestion of the poet feeling perhaps jeered at as well. There is a beautiful melancholy feel to the internal rhythms of the line “How green the screen is across the panes” and the now obvious pane/pain pairing.

This programme is moving about Charlotte Mew and worth a listen-