Life lately – a couple of secondhand book finds for myself and some gifts for others. I really love the old Fabers – such great cover design. Can’t wait to get stuck in to the poetry collections with some freshly baked Anzac biscuits this weekend!
At the tender age of 12, Denise Levertov sent some poems to T.S. Eliot, who replied encouragingly, so the account goes. I have such admiration for the pluckiness of this small child, who later became an incredible poet. I’m sure you can still see that spirit, humour and strength in this poetry reading of ‘For those whom the Gods love less’ (what an amazing title, yes?).
I adore Levertov’s early collections Here and Now, Overland to the Islands and O Taste and See, which really celebrate the influence of the Black Mountain poets, William Carlos Williams and a very Thoreau transcendentalism.
For more Tuesday Poems to read this week, head on over to the Tuesday Poem hub to check out Eileen Moeller’s choice of Wang Ping’s sonnet crown and all of the other poems listed along the sidebar. Happy reading!
“I want to get away somewhere and re-read Proust,”
said an editor of Fortune to a man on Time.
But the fire roared and died, the phoenix quacked like a goose,
And all roads to the country fray like shawls
Outside the dusk of suburbs. Pacing the halls
Where mile-high windows frame a dream with witnesses,
You taste, fantast and epicure, the names of towns along the
Black roadsters throbbing on the highways blue with rain
Toward one lamp, burning on those sentences.
“I want to get away somewhere and re-read Proust,”
said an editor of Newsweek to a man on Look.
Dachaus with telephones, Siberias with bonuses.
- One reads, as winter settles on the town.
The evening paper, in an Irving Place cafe.
This week’s Tuesday Poem – ‘Problems of a journalist’ – is from Nebraskan poet, Weldon Kees. Weldon Kees’ poetry encompasses the American mid-century urban malaise, expressed in paintings like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and John Updike’s Rabbit series. He has a fantastic cycle with a protagonist called ‘Robinson’, which, whenever I re-read it, reminds me a lot of Updike’s Rabbit. But I decided to post ‘Problems of a journalist’ this week, as I am always hypnotised when reading this poem by the burning searching, this persistent throbbing hope of ‘getting away somewhere’, which he so delicately repeats in this poem. It inevitably reminds me of his disappearance in 1955. If you don’t know what happened to this poet, check out this excellent article and bio in The New York Times ‘The Disappearing Poet’.
Do also pop on over to the Tuesday Poem hub this week for some more fabulous poetry. I am also extremely delighted that Michelle has posted one of my poems – ‘The Biographer’s Body’ – on her blog this week. It’s a bit elusive and Keesian, too. Do check it out!
I have a fascination with bookplates or ex libris. I love finding old bookplates in second-hand books that are curled and crinkled, with a firmly printed name on the plate. I particularly admire naturalist modernist bookplate designs.
I regularly create my own bookplates, so I thought I’d draw, create and share one once a month to celebrate the form. For this 12-month series, I have decided to follow the seasons as inspiration for the illustration. March’s illustration is Pineapple Weed, which is prolific at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Pineapple weed originally escaped from Kew Gardens in the 19th century and took over the backyard. It’s a rather feathery plant and when crushed between fingers, smells like a cross between pineapple and chamomile. Just lovely.
Please do head down to the bottom of the page, click on the link, print out the bookplate and use it in an empty book!
To download an A4 pdf of this bookplate, click here.
The creation of the ‘ex libris’ font is courtesy of the talented Guy, always ready to help with another of my bookish ideas.
The Southbank Centre is currently running ‘The Rest is Noise’ festival, holding talks, performances, lectures and interviews over the course of each weekend. At the beginning of February, I bought tickets to attend the weekend titled ‘The Rise of Nationalism’, primarily to attend the ‘Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf – writing, music and modernity’ discussion.
This discussion was chaired by the esteemed Dr Delia da Sousa Correa, co-director of the Open University’s ‘Literature and Music’ research group, who was in conversation with authors Kirsty Gunn and Gabriel Josipovici. The talk was split into two parts. First, the authors each spoke of their own engagement with music and how this continues to inform their writing, both in terms of content and, more interestingly (at least for myself), form and process. This provided a natural segue into discussing the influences of Mansfield and Woolf’s approaches to music, as regards their own successes in forging a ‘narrative that is much more akin to music’, as Kirsty Gunn so eloquently put it. It was fascinating hearing the two conversations, with Gabriel bringing what seemed to me to be a very European-focused musical heritage and set of influences, given his Russo-Italian, Romano-Levantine background, while Kirsty clearly drew heavily on her New Zealand heritage and pervading Scottish influence, relating stories of her father’s pipe playing while she was growing up.
As chair, Delia opened the discussion and pinned down some key elements that particularly struck a chord with me (given my continued interest in ellipsis, absence and presence in conversation). She discussed the (now) iconic modernist stream of consciousness style that mimics an internal rhythm, rather than narrative linearity, highlighting the juxtaposition between writers’ eternal quests for rhythm (particularly in relation to modernism), yet the avoidance and imprecision of a definition for this term (see John Middleton Murry’s extremely loose and all-encompassing definition for the little mag, Rhythm), particularly for Mansfield and Woolf. She also reminded the audience of modernism’s ‘project’ of creating the lyric novel, which is still very much a project that is alive today, as evidenced by Gabriel and Kirsty.
Kirsty divulged her process approach to narrative, where she begins each book with a preoccupation with a single formative sound, the rest carefully peeled back like an onion. Over the course of the narrative, as anyone who has read The Big Music can attest to, she returns, again and again, to the infinity of the moment, that single note or sound. Music, for her, seemed to be a metaphor and a way or process with which to ‘make’ stories that ‘release the narrative from the temporal moment-to-moment’ progression of a linear storyline arc. In relation to The Big Music, she discussed the cyclic, infinite, almost mobius-like form that the narrative weaves through, almost seamlessly. What struck me deeply about Kirsty’s meditation on her working process was that the gaps, the pauses, the absences were just as integral as the moments of speech, the presence, the filled work – I guess what I mean to say is that there seemed to be equal interplay between notes, sound and silence, absence and presence that were at play, responsible for creating this ‘other kind of prose’.
Reading from Virginia Woolf’s ‘On not knowing Greek’, Gabriel identified both this essay and, significantly, Jacob’s Room as key texts for this interplay between words and music, sound and silence. Both texts are about not knowing, about unsung lives; the anti-novel or anti-biography Jacob’s Room stresses, in direct contradiction to Forster’s impassioned call to ‘only connect’, that in the post-war London environment, there was, in fact, the singular call to ‘only disconnect’. As Gabriel insightfully expressed, for Woolf in constructing Jacob’s Room, she saw no individual meaning, but rather a greater, larger place in the universal rhythm of the cosmos. The singular, individual call for Jacob throughout the first scene remains unanswered.
I came away from this talk enthused about, as Delia stressed, the intersection between fiction and music, which acted – and still does act – to make reading more participative, more collaborative. And yet, for both Mansfield and Woolf, released from the horrors of war (World War I, at least), from the old ways of constructing prose, everything could be significant – single, moving notes in a performance – or equally, they could mean nothing – we could be washed away by the whole, the larger music.
This Tuesday, I am delighted to have the opportunity to share a jewel of a poem from my fellow Tuesday Poet, Michelle Elvy. She is such an enthusiastic, talented and community-minded member of the TP collective, that I feel very honoured to be able to host a poem of hers on my blog. I first read her poem ‘Watermelon’ last year in Blackmail Press issue 33. There is such a spell-binding evocative sense of childhood nostalgia and whimsy to ‘Watermelon’ – with the endless who-could-look-the-longest games and furtive scoping out of the town ‘crazy’ with wild ‘orange’ hair and wandering eye. I particularly relished the final stanza with the still life of cut triangles of red glinting watermelon and sticky dripping juice. There is that complete wonder that comes with discovering an adult who doesn’t care whether you make a mess, but who focuses on the moment – the indulgent act of slurping watermelon – and Michelle has perfectly captured this sense of awe in the old ‘crazy’, who utters ‘not a word spoken’.
Old ornery, we call her,
wild orange hair and wandering eye
Lives in the old wood shack, we guess
she must’ve been there
We play who could look the longest
coming home from school
most days I wind up flinching
and Warren wins
But today I fall on the pavement
scrape my knee,
Hurry! Get home! Hurry!
salty tears, muddy hands, scared skinny me
hobbling past her shack
But wait! She’s waving now,
evil eye glowing, frank and knowing
Boy, where you going with that knee?
I want to hide as she beckons me inside
feel fear growing but her eye don’t move
Mothball house, bandaged knee and
not a word spoken. She cuts watermelon
into small triangles and does not scold me
when the juice drips past my elbows, down, down,
pooling on her polished wooden table,
Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor in Northland, New Zealand, living afloat on the sailboat that brought her there some years ago. Her poetry and prose can be found in print and online in various journals, including Poets & Artists, Room, Metazen, BluePrint Review, Words with JAM and Blackmail Press. She is editor of Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five Notebook and has recently judged two fiction competitions, one in NZ and one in Britain. She is presently finishing a collection of flash fiction stories as she readies her boat for distant shores later this year. More at Glow Worm – Michelle’s excellent writing blog.
Do take some time to pop over to the Tuesday Poem blog and check out what my fellow Tuesday Poets are posting, poetry-wise. There is an eclectic range, which is sure to have a poem or two to tempt everyone!
I have spent the past weekend savoring the delights of ‘The Rest is Noise’ festival here in London at the Royal Festival Hall. So I have indulged in an exorbitant amount of discussions, lectures, documentaries and sound bites centred around modernism and 20th century music. It was such a delight on a cold, grey UK weekend to travel in to the centre and be a part of something so vibrant. As a nod to all these thoughts swimming around in my mind at the moment, Carl Sandburg’s ‘Jan Kubelik’ seemed very apt for this week’s Tuesday Poem. Aside from the obvious homage to the Czech violinist and composer, I am absolutely in love with the simplicity of form of this poem and the mirrored use of the brackets. (Also, speaking of the intersection and influence of one art form on another, take a gander at the stunning photograph of Sandburg and Monroe below). Enjoy this week’s poetry!
Your bow swept over a string, and a long low note quivered to the air.
(A mother of Bohemia sobs over a new child perfect learning to suck milk.)
Your bow ran fast over all the high strings fluttering and wild.
(All the girls in Bohemia are laughing on a Sunday afternoon in the hills with their lovers.)
Do take the time to head on over to the Tuesday Poem hub where Orchid has posted a stunning poem from Joan Fleming, along with photographs of the Dead Sea, and also sample some of the other poems along the sidebar – there are some beauties this week!