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Poetry

Haiku for a drowned oBike

Tuesday, 5 December, 2017 0 Comments

The oBike company from Singapore is not feeling the spirit of Christmas in Europe this Advent. Is it playing fast and loose with users’ data? Some allege that it is. Is it creating an urban blight of cheap bicycles? The evidence is mounting. In some cities, citizens are taking matters into their own hands by damaging or discarding the bikes. The semi-submerged example in our photo was seen in Munich’s Olympiapark.

oBike rage rising
Olympian grave beckons
Splash! Stillness surrounds.

oBike

Note: The haiku follows a strict form: three lines, with a 5-7-5 syllable structure. That means the first line must have five syllables, the second line seven syllables and the last line must have five syllables. A haiku does not have to rhyme or follow a certain rhythm as long as it adheres to the 17-syllable count.


Rain on the road

Monday, 13 November, 2017 0 Comments

On this day in 1850, the British novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson was born. In his short life, he enriched the world with works such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and A Child’s Garden of Verses:

Rain

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

Brolly


Poem in October for Sarah

Sunday, 29 October, 2017 0 Comments

Poem in October by Dylan Thomas is dedicated to Sarah Fitzgerald, who has not yet reached her thirtieth year to heaven. “And I rose / In rainy autumn / And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.” Happy birthday, Sarah.

Poem in October

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water–
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
Summery
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

Dylan Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953)


Never closer the whole rest of our lives

Tuesday, 5 September, 2017 0 Comments

When poets remember their mothers, they portray the complexities of a relationship in which the mother is both intimately known and yet oddly mysterious. In Seamus Heaney’s sequence Clearances, written in memory of his mother, he includes a sonnet about the beautiful ordinary moments that happened while he and his mother peeled potatoes in the kitchen. The silences are broken by “pleasant splashes” of water as the potatoes drop into a bucket.

But the next sounds we hear are of sobbing and of murmured prayers: “some were responding and some crying”. As his mother dies, Heaney recalls the peeling of those potatoes “when all the others were away at Mass” and “our fluent dipping knives — Never closer the whole rest of our lives.” The beauty of that moment is heartbreaking.

In memoriam M.K.H., 1911 – 1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives —
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Picking the potatoes


The wolves among us and around us

Sunday, 3 September, 2017 0 Comments

Homo homini lupus est is a Latin proverb meaning “A man is a wolf to another man.” And this truth is a lesson that life teaches again and again. The proverb’s wisdom is incorporated in Wolves, one of Louis MacNeice’s best-known poems. He wrote it in 1934 and it’s often viewed as a meditation on that dark decade and an expectation of the horrors that were to come, but treating Wolves merely as a relic of those days doesn’t do it justice because the idea of wolves lurking on the edges of civilization goes far deeper than any specific historical period. “He’d remind you of a wolf,” my mother would say when viewing a particularly lupine individual prowling past her front window.

Louis MacNeice was a Northern Irish poet and a member of the lyrical generation of that included W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. Born in Belfast on 12 September 1907, he died in London on this day, 3 September, in 1963.

Wolves

I do not want to be reflective any more
Envying and despising unreflective things
Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting
And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
Flushed by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.

The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after that let the sea flow over us.

Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
Join hands and make believe that joined
Hands will keep away the wolves of water
Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
That no one hears them among the talk and laughter.

Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)

Wolf


Korea: Stony seaboard, far and foreign

Friday, 11 August, 2017 0 Comments

In his poem Ireland With Emily, John Betjeman wrote of:

Little fields with boulders dotted,
Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted,
Stone-walled cabins thatched with reeds,
Where a Stone Age people breeds
The last of Europe’s stone age race.

The same poem contains the couplet “Stony seaboard, far and foreign / Stony hills poured over space,” and those lines could be applied to Korea, North and South. One of the highlights of our trip to Jeju Island in the Korea Strait, which connects the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, was the time spent in the Stone Park and its museum devoted to “the history of stone culture.”

Jeju Stone Park

Jeju Stone Park


Philip Larkin at 95

Wednesday, 9 August, 2017 0 Comments

Today marks what would have been the 95th birthday of the English poet Philip Larkin. He rejected the romantic style of W.B. Yeats and Dylan Thomas and focused instead on intense personal emotion. “I have no enemies. But my friends don’t like me,” said Larkin. There is no sentimentality or self-pity in his work, which is why he continues to be so original, so refreshing, so great. Every word here is true.

Home Is So Sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

Mick Upton and Mick Meade


Rhymin’ and rappin’ with Big Ben Jonson

Sunday, 6 August, 2017 0 Comments

Ben Jonson The great English playwright, poet and actor, Ben Jonson, died on this day in 1637. He wrote what is considered his first important work, Every Man in His Humour, in 1598 and in a 1616 production one William Shakespeare appeared in a leading role. Shortly after the play opened, Jonson killed Gabriel Spencer in a duel and was tried for murder. He pleaded “benefit of clergy”, which meant he was allowed to face a more lenient court by proving he could read and write Latin. Jonson spent only a few weeks in prison, but shortly after his release he was again arrested for failing to pay an actor — not Shakespeare. Life was turbulent for Ben and all those who knew him.

Were he alive today, Big Ben would be a successful rapper, no doubt. He’d love the bling, the booze and the booty and his rhymes would be golden, and platinum. See, the rhymin’ came easy to Big Ben J, which is why he had mixed feelings ’bout it. Yo!

A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme

Rhyme, the rack of finest wits,
That expresseth but by fits
True conceit,
Spoiling senses of their treasure,
Cozening judgment with a measure,
But false weight;
Wresting words from their true calling,
Propping verse for fear of falling
To the ground;
Jointing syllabes, drowning letters,
Fast’ning vowels as with fetters
They were bound!
Soon as lazy thou wert known,
All good poetry hence was flown,
And art banish’d.
For a thousand years together
All Parnassus’ green did wither,
And wit vanish’d.
Pegasus did fly away,
At the wells no Muse did stay,
But bewail’d
So to see the fountain dry,
And Apollo’s music die,
All light failed!
Starveling rhymes did fill the stage;
Not a poet in an age
Worth crowning;
Not a work deserving bays,
Not a line deserving praise,
Pallas frowning;
Greek was free from rhyme’s infection,
Happy Greek by this protection
Was not spoiled.
Whilst the Latin, queen of tongues,
Is not yet free from rhyme’s wrongs,
But rests foiled.
Scarce the hill again doth flourish,
Scarce the world a wit doth nourish
To restore
Phoebus to his crown again,
And the Muses to their brain,
As before.
Vulgar languages that want
Words and sweetness, and be scant
Of true measure,
Tyrant rhyme hath so abused,
That they long since have refused
Other cæsure.
He that first invented thee,
May his joints tormented be,
Cramp’d forever.
Still may syllables jar with time,
Still may reason war with rhyme,
Resting never.
May his sense when it would meet
The cold tumour in his feet,
Grow unsounder;
And his title be long fool,
That in rearing such a school
Was the founder.

Ben Johnson (1572 – 1637)


The dailiness of life

Sunday, 23 July, 2017 0 Comments

“The motives of honesty, courage and inconsolable life of life are here submitted to the conditions of poetry and fulfilled in them.” So wrote Delmore Schwartz when reviewing a collection of verse by Randall Jarrell. In 1965, Jarrell walked onto US highway 15-501 near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and stood in front of an oncoming truck. He was 51.

Within living memory, buckets of well water were drawn daily for every aspect of domestic washing and cleansing. At the same time, well water from ancient, sacred places was used to ward off the illness and evil which threatened to disrupt what Randall Jarrell so beautifully expressed as “the dailiness of life.”

Well Water

What a girl called “the dailiness of life”
(Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
“Since you’re up…” Making you a means to
A means to a means to) is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.

Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)

Water


In the world of the cloud-capped peaks

Sunday, 9 July, 2017 0 Comments

The poet Yu Xuanji was not permitted to be a candidate for the all-important imperial service examinations in mid-ninth-century China, but she lived a full life outside the privileged world of the court bureaucrats, nevertheless. She became a concubine, lived a scandalously promiscuous short life and was executed for allegedly beating her maid to death. In the midst of all this, she wrote poetry that continues to enthral.

“In a gauze dress / I read among my disordered / Piles of books,” she says in Living in the Summer Mountains. And then there’s the famous On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations. The “Cloud-capped peaks” in the first line are, of course, those candidates who were successful in the civil-service exams.

On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations

Cloud-capped peaks fill the eyes
In the Spring sunshine.
Their names are written in beautiful characters
And posted in order of merit.
How I hate this silk dress
That conceals a poet.
I lift my head and read their names
In a powerless envy.

Yu Xuanji (844 – 868)

Wang Hui


America, America!

Tuesday, 4 July, 2017 0 Comments

“We’ve optimized the site for mobile devices to make all of our content readable on any screen size,” says the Poetry Foundation commenting on the two-year project that brings users “an engaging, immersive online reading experience while making the range of poems, biographies, podcasts, articles, and other content from our archive more discoverable.” And very handsome it all is, too.

Especially for today, there’s a section devoted to “July 4th Poems” and everyone from Whitman to Ginsberg to Angelou has their Independence Day say. Another indispensably American voice is that of Delmore Schwartz, who once said, “Time is the school in which we learn / Time is the fire in which we burn.” This poem is timeless.

America, America!

I am a poet of the Hudson River and the heights above it,
the lights, the stars, and the bridges
I am also by self-appointment the laureate of the Atlantic
— of the peoples’ hearts, crossing it
to new America.

I am burdened with the truck and chimera, hope,
acquired in the sweating sick-excited passage
in steerage, strange and estranged
Hence I must descry and describe the kingdom of emotion.

For I am a poet of the kindergarten (in the city)
and the cemetery (in the city)
And rapture and ragtime and also the secret city in the
heart and mind
This is the song of the natural city self in the 20th century.

It is true but only partly true that a city is a “tyranny of
numbers”
(This is the chant of the urban metropolitan and
metaphysical self
After the first two World Wars of the 20th century)

— This is the city self, looking from window to lighted
window
When the squares and checks of faintly yellow light
Shine at night, upon a huge dim board and slab-like tombs,
Hiding many lives. It is the city consciousness
Which sees and says: more: more and more: always more.

Delmore Schwartz (1913 – 1966)