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Book Reviews Literature Poetry St Ives

Histories of War as seen by two indispensible Poets-Part Two

The St Ives September Festival had a range of controversial poets come to visit. I remember there being a huge stir when D.M.Thomas came to read and the proctor’s of moral rectitude in the unlikely form of delegates from the Town Council were said to have occupied the back row to ensure that an unseemly did not take place. Then Gavin Ewart arrived one evening to give a reading in the decorative surroundings of the Penwith Gallery. I am most vague as to when I heard him -around the mid eighties I think. I remember how he was said to have been influenced by Auden and spending a very entertaining evening listening to the poet reading in an amusing and cultured voice that sounded very English some edgy and clever poems. I have been reading Martial at the moment and I have an inkling that Ewart might well have been entranced by that Latin satirist.

Gavin Ewart : London Remembers, Aiming to capture all memorials in London

Consider the poem which is entitled “The Death of W.S.Gilbert at Harrow Weald” which may be found on the net. It tells of the demise of the famous lyricist of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas:-

Imagine that flat glassy lake in 1911,

a very Victorian part of the prosperous house,

(architect: Norman Shaw),

a beautiful hot summer’s day in 1911.

It proceeds to describe how two Victorian ladies in “decorous bathing garments” enter the lake where the younger gets into difficulties and Gilbert plunges to the rescue:-

He swims to her, shouts advice: ‘Put your hands on my shoulders!’

She feels him sink under her. He doesn’t come up.

She struggles to the bank, he is dead of heart failure.

and finishes with a typical Ewart touch in the next stanza with sweet advice to older men not to fool about with ladies –

But all the same it is good to die brave 

on a beautiful hot summer’s day in 1911.

Returning to the theme of my previous posting I think this a great poem-

This sanitisation of what war means and how it can falsely be portrayed parallels my previous posting of the poem by Tom Paulin.

 

 

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Classics Literature Poetry Uncategorized

Histories of War as seen by two indispensible Poets-Part One

Tony Harrison: The bard of Beeston | Prospect Magazine

 

Tony Harrison is a poet whom I feel I know rather well from his television appearances. He seemed to be on the box quite a lot around 2000 or so. By any criteria his is a radical poet from Leeds. In my imagination I see him as a radical voice from that period along with another favourite poet, Tom Paulin. Harrison is an engaged poet from Leeds and is probably best known for his long poem “V” which was published in 1985. He is an immensely clever poet immersed in his Northern background with which is radicalism is associated and his broad knowledge of the classics. He is a playwright, a film-maker and a translator. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Harrison

In the poem which I discovered recently he is addressing his view of history. How the past has been recorded is an issue that perhaps becomes more pressing as we age. There is much debate about statues currently, who we should remember and what is both consciously and unconsciously addressed. What should we pass on to future generations and how to counteract distressingly current propoganda. This poem comes from the new edition of Selected Poems by Tony Harrison published by Penguin – you can find it here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Harrison He is travelling with his children over moorland-

Past scenic laybys and stag warning signs

the British borderlands roll into view.

They read: Beware of Unexploded Mines

I tell my children that was World War II.

Those borderlands are becoming politically more controversial, there is a simple rhyme-scheme with those dangerous residues beneath the surface. The poem makes the link between khaki uniforms and cavalry twill. It brins to mind the smart casual wear demanded of upper ranks in their so called leisure time. The areas forbidden to play are those marked off by signs and fences which remind the reader of enclosures and the imperial system of trade providing employment in a regulated manner to mill workers. The latter similarly having their time divided by tolling bells.

Mill angelus, and church tower twice as high.

One foundry cast the work-and rest-day bells-

the same red cottons in the flags that fly

for ranges, revolutions, and rough swells.

The alliterative Rs remind us not only of the Union Jack but that to some it was considered the butcher’s apron. The rough swells is almost classical ( Homer’s wine-dark sea) and rowdy posh boys with the ambivalent firing ranges in the background.

 
Categories
Classics Literature Poetry Uncategorized

More Lowell and some recommended reading

Sailing Home from Rapallo
BY ROBERT LOWELL
[February 1954]

Your nurse could only speak Italian,
but after twenty minutes I could imagine your final week,
and tears ran down my cheeks….

When I embarked from Italy with my Mother’s body,
the whole shoreline of the Golfo di Genova
was breaking into fiery flower.
The crazy yellow and azure sea-sleds
blasting like jack-hammers across
the spumante-bubbling wake of our liner,
recalled the clashing colors of my Ford.
Mother traveled first-class in the hold;
her Risorgimento black and gold casket
was like Napoleon’s at the Invalides….

While the passengers were tanning
on the Mediterranean in deck-chairs,
our family cemetery in Dunbarton
lay under the White Mountains
in the sub-zero weather.
The graveyard’s soil was changing to stone—
so many of its deaths had been midwinter.
Dour and dark against the blinding snowdrifts,
its black brook and fir trunks were as smooth as masts.
A fence of iron spear-hafts
black-bordered its mostly Colonial grave-slates.
The only “unhistoric” soul to come here
was Father, now buried beneath his recent
unweathered pink-veined slice of marble.
Even the Latin of his Lowell motto:
Occasionem cognosce,

seemed too businesslike and pushing here,
where the burning cold illuminated
the hewn inscriptions of Mother’s relatives:
twenty or thirty Winslows and Starks.
Frost had given their names a diamond edge….

In the grandiloquent lettering on Mother’s coffin,
Lowell had been misspelled LOVEL.
The corpse
was wrapped like panettone in Italian tinfoil.

 

There is a truly fascinating analysis of this poem in one of my favourite books. That is to say -The Secret Life of Poems by Tom Paulin. This useful book gives an excellent insight into the way poetry works. That may sound a cliche but in Paulin’s review of this poem you can see just how the critic discovers the levels of meaning within the poem and finally expresses his open appreciation of it. There are a number of introductions to poetry that I have found helpful – Ruth Padel has done this for me in her two anthologies-

52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem: or How Reading Modern Poetry Can Change Your Life

and

The Poem and the Journey: 60 Poems for the Journey of Life

Poetry In The Library Michael Hofmann - Events - Shakespeare and ...

Michael Hofmann (photo) is yet another poet and critic as well as a brilliant translator. Yesterday I was reading his introduction to John Berryman’s Selected Poems which was also very clear and enlightening.