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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Famous Poems as Limericks

Boing Boing, the self-styled “directory of wonderful things” posted a link yesterday to a collection of limericks based on famous poems. This kept us entertained for quite a while. Here’s my favourite:

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

There was an old father of Dylan
Who was seriously, mortally illin’
“I want,” Dylan said
“You to bitch till you’re dead.
“I’ll be cheesed if you kick it while chillin’.”

And here are two we prepared earlier:

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

There was an old man of the sea
Who stopped wedding guest number three
And told him a tale
Of a bird and no gale
That left the poor chap on his knees.

My Last Duchess

The ambassador said “Well, you know,
The Duke has put on quite a show,
But you look at her picture
And suddenly it hits yer:
She’s charming, but where did she go?”

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Issue 26 of The Reader magazine out now


Issue 26 highlights include:

• New poetry by Connie Bensley, Angela Leighton, Howard Wright, Mark Leech, Mike Hoy, Nicola Daly and Carrie Etter; plus the continuation of our innovative new poetry feature, ‘The Poet on his Work’ (or her Work) in which poets give us a rare glimpse of the complex skeins of thought and words underneath the neatly woven surface of a finished poem. Neil Curry writes on his poem ‘Among the Ruins’ and you can read his piece online now.

• Fiction by Roy Kesey

Michael Symmons Roberts, ‘An Accidental Career’, an insight into the life of a librettist.

• Adam Piette answers a reader’s question on a poem by George Herbert

• The conclusion of Phil Davis’s conversation with Jonathan Bate about Shakespeare at the RSC

• A short interview with Edward Hardwicke who played Dr Watson opposite Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes in the outstanding Granada TV adaptation of the Conan Doyle books.

• Readers Connect looks at Shirley , one of Charlotte Brontë’s lesser-known novels

• Plus recommendations of Peter Taylor, Susanna Clarke, Antony and Cleopatra and Raymond Chandler and all our usual features.

To subscribe or order your copy today, click here

First Annual Troubadour Poetry Prize

Angela Macmillan has drawn my attention to the first annual Troubadour Poetry Prize, judged by Helen Dunmore and David Constantine.

1st prize £1000, 2nd £500, 3rd £250 plus 20 commendations @ £20 each, plus a coffee-house poetry reading for all prizewinning and commended poets with Helen Dunmore and David Constantine on 3 December 2007. The deadline for submissions in English only is 30 September 2007 and they can be submitted by old-fashioned post or by email. For more information, competition rules and full submission instructions contact CoffPoetry[AT]aol.com (replace [AT] with @) or Troubadour Poetry Prize, Coffee-House Poetry, PO Box 16210, LONDON, W4 1ZP.

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The Poetry of Les Murray

Les Murray, sometimes of this parish, features in this week’s New Yorker in a review article by Dan Chiasson. Chiasson picks up on Murray’s rage, which he thinks is the key to the poet’s work and is “what makes him so exasperating to read one minute and thrilling the next.” I get the feeling that Chiasson doesn’t quite know what to do with Murray, or where to put him. Murray’s range and “bluntness” can certainly be offputting. As Chiasson says “You need to be a little bit of a lunatic to bear the specific, outsized grudges Murray has borne through his sixties …”; he thinks Murray is “a cartoon hick in an overplayed idiom.” But there is admiration too, especially for the “new Murray” Chiasson detects in more recent poems:

… like all mature poets, Murray knows and represents his own imaginative limitations, his best poems show empathy lagging a little behind the imagination. The thrill of reading Murray is seeing how the heart that feels will catch up with the eye that sees.

Here’s the link to the article.

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