Poetry

Alice Oswald

Alice Oswald is my newest literary obsession. I stumbled upon this article a few months ago which intrigued me. So, I went out and bought her book Woods etc. and was not disappointed. Her verse skillfully drifts in and out of strict meter, but it is only in the echo of her words that you realize the movements’ absolute perfection. She is an extremely talented poet. She draws her inspiration from nature and antiquity the combination creates a unique and grounded style. She is a naturalist, a classicists, but not a romantic.

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Alice Oswald

I particularly love this picture of Oswald at her home with the books cascading down the steps. (She is a mother of three children). 

 

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Petunias

Purple petunias
With  deep purple stars
streaking out from the centers
cascaded from the planter.
I watered them before we left.

They were a gift from you
and I trimmed and deadheaded
and adjusted them so well,
To please you (and myself.)

On our return they were browned
and dried out.

But there was still some green
and I could not forget
or let go of its opulence
So I trimmed, deadheaded
and watered them again
Adjusting the stems.

They may never be the same
I know –
But they might recover and
give me second joy.

Ursula K. Le Guin on American Poetry

Full Interview found here.

Le Guin’s critique of American poetry has been popping up a lot lately. Is it really different else where?  Robert Frost didn’t gain much popularity until he was published in England.

SICHA: Poets are a special class. You’re like the wild ponies of the writing world.

LE GUIN: For one thing, the world of poetry that poets have to live in, of who reads them, is so small in the United States. It’s not true elsewhere. But here, it’s not a very big territory, and so they run around spraying the corners and defending their part of it. Poets get very territorial, and that’s too bad; that’s a waste of time.

Americans don’t read poetry, is that what it comes down to? And the people who do read poetry read a very select kind.

Comps

During comps our prof. picked a poem we were not familiar with for us to explicate. The name of the poet was not given. He wanted the poem to speak for itself. My poem was “Mint” I don’t remember what on earth I wrote.  I  was too preoccupied with worry  to write anything worthwhile. I do remember being distressed because I knew nothing of nettles and thought it an important detail. But I never forgot the poem which was probably the point.

“MINT”
It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we’d failed them by our disregard.

Anna Akhmatova: Half-Nun, Half- Harlot

Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet's, majestic profile. "...Not touched by single of all glorifications, ~   Forgetful of the sins’ existing host, ~   Bend o’er our sleepless bed-heads, with dark passion, ~   She murmurs verses, desperate and cursed." - excerpt from her poem, 'And the Last', 1963:

Anna Akhmataova was a Russian poetess who wrote many of her poems under the Soviet Regime. She  was a wife and mother although had many failed marriages (four in all I believe) and even more love affairs. She also, thought herself unfit for motherhood. Despite (or perhaps because of?) her failed marriages she captures the masculine and feminine natures rather well. She was well known for her poems but to make a living she relied on translating which she called an act of “eating one’s own brain.” She was described in a literary magazine once as “a frantic fine lady flitting between the boudoir and the chapel. . . half-nun, half- harlot.” and while this comment was meant to denounce her and her writings, I think it a fitting description of her poetry.

"...Your sorrow, unperceived by all the rest, / Immediately drew me close, / And you understood that yearning / Was poisoning and stifling me. ...":

Jane Keyon translated many of her poems some of which I share below:

1.

Evening hours at the desk.

And a page irreparably white.

The mimosa calls up the heat of Nice,

A large bird flies in a beam of moonlight.

 

And having braided my hair carefully for the night

as if tomorrow braids will be necessary,

I look out the window, no longer sad,-

at the sea, the sandy slopes.

 

What power a man has

who doesn’t ask for tenderness!

I cannot lift my tired eyes

when he speaks my name.

(1913)

(I especially like the lines “what power a man has/ who doesn’t ask for tenderness!”)

 

The Guest

Everything’s just as it was: fine hard snow

beats against the dining room windows,

and I myself have not changed:

even so, a man came to call.

 

I asked him: “What do you want?”

He said, “To be with you in hell.”

I laughed: “It seems you see

plenty of trouble ahead for us both.”

 

But lifting his dry hand

he lightly touched the flowers.

“Tell me how they kiss you,

tell me how you kiss.”

 

And his half-closed eyes

remained on my ring.

Not even the smallest muscle moved

in his serenely angry face.

 

Oh, I know it fills him with joy-

this hard and passionate certainty

that there is nothing he needs,

and nothing I can keep from him.

(1914)

(The last two lines! )

 

15.

I hear the always-sad voice of the oriole

and I salute the passing of delectable summer.

With the hissing of a snake the scythe cuts down

the stalks, one pressed hard against another.

 

And the hitched-up skirts of the slender reapers

fly in the wind like holiday flags. Now if only

we had the cheerful ring of harness bells,

a lingering glance through dusty eyelashes.

 

I don’t expect caresses or flattering love-talk,

I sense unavoidable darkness coming near,

but come and see the Paradise where together,

blissful and innocent, we once lived.

(1917)

 

(“With the hissing of a snake the scythe cuts down

the stalks, one pressed hard against another.” ah, perfection!)

 

17.

Wild honey has the scent of freedom,

dust- of a ray of sun,

a girl’s mouth – of a violet,

and gold- has no perfume.

 

Watery- the mignonette,

and like an apple – love,

but we have found out forever

that blood smells only of blood

 

(Of course, I love this one. I have a soft spot for honeybees.)

 

Richard Wilbur Upon Sylvia Plath

I could never really get into Sylvia Plath’s poetry. I know some of her poems are quite good, but I can’t sink my teeth into it because her work just isn’t grounded- it’s mad. I Enjoy some of her  poems on a basic level but I do not want to think of any of Plath’s poetry for too long, I may also go mad.

Her literary genius  is not the same as Austen’s or Dickinson’s or   Keyon’s. Although they may have suffered from mental illness, I know Keyon suffered from depression, their works did not depend  on it. Their writings were a result of strenuous application of  their talent. They immersed themselves in their craft. Plath however was caught up in her mind- not her craft.

Richard Wilbur expressed this problem rather well in a interview I found recently:

INTERVIEWER

In the context of this balance that you like to keep in your own work, in “Cottage Street, 1953,” you call Sylvia Plath’s poetry “unjust.” Are you referring to what you see as her poetry’s one-sidedness?

WILBUR

Its helpless one-sidedness. I tried to sprinkle a whole lot of words around there that would add up to a kind of just estimate of her. That, together with the picture I had given of her as a slumped, pale, drowning person. Let the record show that I said brilliant: “her brilliant negative. In poems free and helpless and unjust.” I suppose she was freed by the onset of her desperate condition of mind to be brilliant in the way the poems of Ariel are brilliant. At the same time, she was helpless because it required that condition of mind to bring on those poems. She was unjust because a sick and prejudiced perception of things is—well, that’s the limitation on the usefulness of her poetry to any reader, I think. It gives you some insights into a desperate condition of mind that is not absolutely foreign to the rest of us, but that goes farther towards morbidity than I’ve ever gone, thank God. At the same time there’s a lot she can’t tell you. She’s all wrapped up in herself and her feelings about her children, and herself as a writer, and her fantasies about her dead father, and her arbitrary connections between her dead father and her husband. I don’t suppose we need to know that her father was not a Nazi in order to read that poem [“Daddy”] rightly, or do we? In any case, she’s rather unjust to him. She’s certainly unjust to her mother.

INTERVIEWER

Diane Wakoski has said she thinks confessional poetry is misnamed—that Plath and Lowell and Sexton are not confessing anything, but are writing out of feelings, like pain, that most of us don’t find acceptable as material.

WILBUR

Well, I really think Sylvia Plath’s later poems, when unfortunately she was at her best, were crazy, and that, whatever virtues they have, they have that limitation. I don’t think Lowell’s best work is to be described in that way. I think whenever he’s been emotionally ill it hasn’t enabled him to write. He hasn’t written out of illness, but in spite of it. The same story with Roethke, and I’m sure the same with Anne Sexton, whom I didn’t know as well. As for pain, it’s acceptable and necessary material. One of the jobs of poetry is to make the unbearable bearable, not by falsehood but by clear, precise confrontation. Even the most cheerful poet has to cope with pain as part of the human lot; what he shouldn’t do is to complain, and dwell on his personal mischance.