Sean O’Brien Wins the Forward Poetry Prize

Sean O’Brien has become the first person to win the Forward Poetry Prize three times, picking up the £10,000 poobah for his collection The Drowned Book. Daljit Nagra won the £5,000 prize for best first collection while Alice Oswald took home £1,000 for best poem, the category won by Nagra in 2004.

We reported on the shortlist back in August.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Featured Poem: Hamatreya

So it’s my turn to recommend a poem and I choose ‘Hamatreya’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson is better known as a philosopher, perhaps the philosopher of American Transcendentalism. I like this poem because of the way it confronts the tension between humans and the environment and for its clear-eyed realism about our transient dreams:

Hamatreya

Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood.
Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
Saying, “‘Tis mine, my children’s and my name’s.
How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees!
How graceful climb those shadows on my hill!
I fancy these pure waters and the flags
Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize;
And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.’

Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.

They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain;
‘This suits me for a pasture; that’s my park;
We must have clay, lime, gravel, granite-ledge,
And misty lowland, where to go for peat.
The land is well,–lies fairly to the south.
‘Tis good, when you have crossed the sea and back,
To find the sitfast acres where you left them.’
Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth says:–

Earth-Song

‘Mine and yours;
Mine, not yours, Earth endures;
Stars abide–
Shine down in the old sea;
Old are the shores;
But where are old men?
I who have seen much,
Such have I never seen.

‘The lawyer’s deed
Ran sure,
In tail,
To them, and to their heirs
Who shall succeed,
Without fail,
Forevermore.

‘Here is the land,
Shaggy with wood,
With its old valley,
Mound and flood.
“But the heritors?–
Fled like the flood’s foam.
The lawyer, and the laws,
And the kingdom,
Clean swept herefrom.

‘They called me theirs,
Who so controlled me;
Yet every one
Wished to stay, and is gone,
How am I theirs,
If they cannot hold me,
But I hold them?’
When I heard the Earth-song,
I was no longer brave;
My avarice cooled
Like lust in the chill of the grave.

[1846]

Audio versions of this poem from Librivox:

64kbps mp3

128kbps mp3

ogg vorbis 

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: The Lake Isle of Innisfree

ReaderOnline contributor Siobhan Chapman has recently returned to teaching after a year’s sabbatical to write a book. Judging by her selection of W.B. Yeats’s ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ she is finding Liverpool’s city streets rather unforgiving. She says she chose this poem because, as well as being a powerful evocation of a particular place, it will resonate with anyone who has ever found themselves on ‘pavements gray’:

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

[1893]

Here are links to audio versions of this poem from Librivox:

64kbps mp3

128kbps mp3

ogg vorbis

Featured Poem: Ode To Autumn

Thursday October 4 is National Poetry Day here in the UK and to mark the occasion we are going to be posting some of our favourite poems each day in the coming week.

At the Sefton Festival of Literature last week Andrew Motion was asked by a member of the audience which poet, living or dead, he would most like to meet. He named, among others, John Keats and in conversation afterwards agreed that ‘Ode to Autumn’ would be his choice. This poem is one of those works of art without which it is inconceivable to be alive. Motion asked us to consider that in the morning of September 19, 1819, this poem did not exist. By the evening it did:

Ode To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

[1819]

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Paul Muldoon: New Yorker Poetry Editor

The New York Times reports that the New Yorker magazine has appointed Irish poet Paul Muldoon as its poetry editor. The New Yorker is an important magazine for poets, printing work by established and new writers and presenting it to an exacting and influential audience. Muldoon aims to be “absolutely open to the poem that one simply did not expect to have made its way into the world and somehow suddenly falls on one’s desk”. The selection procedure can not have been as easy as David Remnick makes it sound:

“It’s not just a matter of picking the best poet you can think of,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. “It’s also somebody who would know how to be in touch with an enormous range of poets, and that narrows it down a little bit more. And also somebody who’s not in Alaska.”

Mr. Remnick added that the selection of Mr. Muldoon, who had his first poem published when he was just 16, did not represent “some sort of radical aesthetic or theoretical shift.”

He added, “It’s not as if we went from a structuralist to a post-structuralist or a Beat to a conservative.”

Here’s the link to the New York Times article in full.

Cold Pastoral: The Security of Nouns

An item on the radio this morning was discussing the security situation in Iraq and describing the ferocity and ruthlessness of the security services as they struggle with insurgents, snipers, and roadside bombs. Nothing unusual there you might think. Except that there was an insight into the language used by security personnel which was revealing of how deep Iraq’s crisis has become and what it means for us in our comfortable lives. Apparently security personnel are allotted ‘nouns’ to defend, by which they mean ‘people, places, and things’, an elementary school definition from years ago. Of course linguists no longer limit their definition of ‘noun’ to these three items. Are the security services no longer defending ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’? What about ‘beauty’ or ‘truth’?

This seems a withdrawal of sorts and a sign of desperation. Or perhaps our appointed forces are simply not able to comprehend–through stupidity or lack of education or both–the complexities of what they are really protecting. Either way this is a frightening tell-tale. When you are reduced to defending people and property alone you have reached the back of the cave and there is no way out. Though he could not have anticipated the horrors of twenty-first century guerilla warfare, Keats knew a thing or two about how limited this world-view is and what its human consequences might be:

Ode On a Grecian Urn

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thou express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

1819

Posted by Chris Routledge

Language That Moves

Tyler Meier has posted an interesting piece on the Kenyon Review blog about figurative language and its role in making writing ‘move’ and especially the way it seems to have become more ‘extreme’ in the twenty-first century. Meier is responding to an essay by D.A. Powell on the same topic entitled ‘The Great Figure: On Figurative Language’. In his essay Powell argues that ‘If rhythm is the heart and breath of poetry, then surely figurative language is its beguiling and sexy skin and musculature.’ But times have changed. Simple similes, Meier says, are impossible these days:

Can you get away with a simple simile these days? I suppose the mitigating factors are too complex to get a straight answer, but suffice it to say (as Powell suggests) that unless irony is your goal, you are using something of a relic from the 20th century, and would do well to acknowledge that fact (and, one would suppose, the baggage and risks.)

The whole post is well worth reading. Here’s the link.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Forward Poetry Prize Nominee Eleanor Rees

Jane Davis writes to point out that Liverpool poet Eleanor Rees has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, for her new book Andraste’s Hair. The collection is published by Salt Publishing and you can find out more about it here.

Eleanor has also recently launched a collaborative piece with writer Rachel Rogers for Merseyside Dance Initative documenting the rehearsal process for The Migrant Body project, a collaboration of European dancers and experimental choreography. She is also working with artist Jyll Bradley on The Fragrant Project responding to the complex history of Liverpool Botanical Collection as part of the Liverpool Commissions for 2008. This is due to launch August 2007.

Eleanor’s website is here and she also has a myspace page which is here.

Here’s the complete 2007 shortlist:

Best collection prize (£10,000)

Domestic Violence by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)
Gift Songs by John Burnside (Jonathan Cape)
The Drowned Book by Sean O’Brien (Picador)
Birds with a Broken Wing by Adam Thorpe (Jonathan Cape)
The Harbour Beyond the Movie by Luke Kennard (Salt Publishing)
Beasts of Nalunga by Jack Mapanje (Bloodaxe)

Best first collection prize (£5,000)

Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dimitri Shostakovich by Joanna Boulter (Arc Publications)
Galatea by Melanie Challenger (Salt Publishing)
Look We Have Coming to Dover! by Daljit Nagra (Faber and Faber)
Andraste’s Hair by Eleanor Rees (Salt Publishing)

Best single poem prize (£1,000)

The Hut in Question by David Harsent (Poetry Review)
Thursday by Lorraine Mariner (The Rialto)
Dunt by Alice Oswald (Poetry London)
The Day I Knew I Wouldn’t Live Forever by Carole Satyamurti (The Interpreter’s House)
Goulash by Myra Schneider (The North)
The Birkdale Nightingale by Jean Sprackland (Poetry Review)

Posted by Chris Routledge

Winter Blues

Writer and editor Helen Tookey is already predicting the start of autumn and the approach of winter and to make matters worse she’s been reading Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet almost guaranteed to bring on an attack of the winter blues. Over on her blog she’s written a short appreciation of the poem ‘Spring and Fall’ that addresses his remarkable ability to ‘feel’ his mortality and accept it:

There must have been hundreds of poems prompted by the melancholy scent of autumn in the air (as it is at the minute, towards the end of August), but one of the best must be ‘Spring and Fall’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), subtitled ‘To a young child’:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, nor no mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

There are so many things so perfectly expressed here: what seems the simple sorrow of a child at the dying, falling leaves; the painful adult knowledge of the world’s ways, and of death, and the painful knowledge too that your child will come to know this in his or her turn; and the feeling that the child is actually suffering from a sadness she can’t yet understand or articulate; and the awful thought of the child’s own mortality as well as of your own.

Here’s the link to the whole post.

Charles Simic–US Poet Laureate

The Guardian reports that Charles Simic has been named poet laureate of the United States by the Library of Congress. Simic, who left Yugoslavia aged 16 in 1953, is also editor of the Paris Review, and a contributor to the New York Review of Books. From the article:

Simic’s appointment was announced by James H Billington, the librarian of Congress. Asked why Simic was chosen from the shortlist of 15 candidates, Billington replied that it was down to "the rather stunning and original quality of his poetry … His poems have a sequence that you encounter in dreams, and therefore they have a reality that does not correspond to the reality that we perceive with our eyes and ears. He’s very hard to describe, and that’s a great tribute to him."

Speaking by telephone from his home, Simic described himself as a "city poet", joking that he has "lived in cities all of my life, except for the last 35 years." He originally wanted to be a painter, he said, until "I realised that I had no talent."

Here’s the link to The Guardian and another to the New York Times.

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