Friday, December 30, 2016

Dorothy Parker / The Sea


by Dorothy Paker

Who lay against the sea, and fled,
Who lightly loved the wave,
Shall never know, when he is dead,
A cool and murmurous grave.

But in a shallow pit shall rest
For all eternity,
And bear the earth upon the breas
That once had worn the sea.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Kathleen Jamie / Moon

by Kathleen Jamie
Last night, when the moon
slipped into my attic-room
as an oblong of light,
I sensed she’d come to commiserate.
It was August. She travelled
with a small valise
of darkness, and the first few stars
returning to the northern sky,
and my room, it seemed,
had missed her. She pretended
an interest in the bookcase
while other objects
stirred, as in a rockpool,
with unexpected life:
strings of beads in their green bowl gleamed,
the paper-crowded desk;
the books, too, appeared inclined
to open and confess.
Being sure the moon
harboured some intention,
I waited; watched for an age
her cool glaze shift
first toward a flower sketch
pinned on the far wall
then glide to recline
along the pinewood floor
before I’d had enough. Moon,
I said, we’re both scarred now.
Are they quite beyond you,the simple words of love? Say them.You are not my mother;with my mother, I waited unto death.
 from The Overhaul  (Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2015)                                                                         
Jamie, KathleenKathleen Jamie’s The Overhaul, which won the Costa Prize for Poetry in 2012, has recently been published in the USA. These mid-life poems are deceptively simple, less ebullient than some of her earlier work – the feisty poems of The Queen of Sheba gave voice to a generation of Scottish women not prepared to be subdued; more conversational, full of questions. Thrifty with words when confronted by spendthrift nature, ‘Her poetry is to be admired as one might a winter garden for its outline, clarity and light’, wrote the Observer reviewer; ‘Reading the collection is, on one level, the equivalent of taking a Scottish walk, observing birds, deer, sheep and the sea.’
Jamie lives in Fife, and is Chair of the Creative Writing programme at the University of Stirling.Her fine essay collections, like her poetry, examine  with lyrical acuity the way humans dwell in, delight in and despoil the natural world. She is rarely as self-referential as in The Overhaul. The last lines of ‘Moon’ surprise us with their buried feeling brought to light, their deeply Presbyterian tone.

Robyn Marsack

Monday, December 19, 2016

Dorothy Parker / Indian Summer


by Dorothy Parker

In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do,
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Doroty Parker / Love Song

Love Song

Related Poem Content Details

My own dear love, he is strong and bold 
      And he cares not what comes after. 
His words ring sweet as a chime of gold, 
      And his eyes are lit with laughter. 
He is jubilant as a flag unfurled— 
      Oh, a girl, she’d not forget him. 
My own dear love, he is all my world,— 
      And I wish I’d never met him. 

My love, he’s mad, and my love, he’s fleet, 
      And a wild young wood-thing bore him! 
The ways are fair to his roaming feet, 
      And the skies are sunlit for him. 
As sharply sweet to my heart he seems 
      As the fragrance of acacia. 
My own dear love, he is all my dreams,— 
      And I wish he were in Asia. 

My love runs by like a day in June, 
      And he makes no friends of sorrows. 
He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon 
      In the pathway of the morrows. 
He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start, 
      Nor could storm or wind uproot him. 
My own dear love, he is all my heart,— 
      And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Reading Seamus Heaney

Reading Seamus Heaney

by Matthew Howard

The Irish writer and 1995 Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, who died on August 30 in Dublin, was for the last forty years both a contributor to The New York Review of Booksand one of its frequent subjects.
He first appeared in the Review in a 1973 article by Stephen Spender, who wrote on books of poetry by Heaney, Thom Gunn, W.S. Merwin, James Merrill, James Schuyler, Philip Levine, and Kenneth Koch. Of Heaney’s third collection, Wintering Out, Spender wrote:
It is difficult to know what to say about Seamus Heaney except that he is very good, very Irish, very honest. His poems are, I suppose, autobiographical and are direct reports on experience. Nothing, on the level of the experience, seems invented. At the same time, he is intoxicated with language, so that the event, almost cinematically described, is dense with the texture of the words.
Two years later, the Review published his poem “The Poet Crowned”:

I rode south through the petty kingdoms
(Belfast to Dublin on The Enterprise)

Resplendent in my emperor’s new bays.

Gods make their own importance! Metronomes
And metres, tattoos on the sacral drums
Of memory, etymologies
Superb as nations risen off their knees:
Our name is shouted and the influence comes.
While somewhere in the monotonous fields
The herdsman and his wife who kept the boy
Unawares through all his marvellous growing,
Bewildered now by this new name,
Think themselves forgotten and grow lonely
Heaney went on to publish many more poems, a review, and an introduction and excerpts from his acclaimed Beowulf translation in the Review. Fifteen of his books were reviewed in our pages, and we present several of the pieces below, in his memory.

Richard Murphy on North
SEPTEMBER 30, 1976
He was born on a farm in a townland called Mossbawn, near Lough Neagh between Belfast and Derry, thirty-seven years ago, the eldest of nine children in a Catholic family. After six years at St. Columb’s College, run by the Diocesan priests, in Londonderry, he studied English language and literature at Queen’s University in Belfast, where he began to write poetry under the spell of Gerard Manley Hopkins. His first volume, Death of a Naturalist, was published ten years ago in 1966. “Words as bearers of history and mystery began to invite me,” he has said about this period in his life. By birth and upbringing he belonged to the ancient world of the Irish countryside and traditional culture, with roots in a pre-Christian legendary past: but his education brought him into the modern world, where he discovered English poetry. The tension you can feel in Ireland between the two cultures, you also feel in his poetry.
Richard Ellmann on Station Island
MARCH 14, 1985
After the heavily accented melodies of Yeats, and that poet’s elegiac celebrations of imaginative glories, Seamus Heaney addresses his readers in a quite different key. He does not overwhelm his subjects; rather he allows them a certain freedom from him, and his sharp conjunctions with them leave their authority and his undiminished. There are none of Yeats’s Olympians about; the figures who appear in Heaney’s verse have quite human dimensions.
Helen Vendler on The Haw Lantern
APRIL 28, 1988
Heaney is a poet of abundance who is undergoing in middle age the experience of natural loss. As the earth loses for him the mass and gravity of familiar presences—parents and friends taken by death—desiccation and weightlessness threaten the former fullness of the sensual life.
James Fenton on The Spirit Level and The Redress of Poetry
JULY 11, 1996
The general praise that greeted his being awarded the Nobel Prize last year might tempt one to forget that this immensely popular poet has often had a bumpy ride, that he has not been short of critics, not least among his fellow poets.… Certainly in Heaney criticism there is a topos: Why does Heaney get all the attention, when poet X or Y is so much more this, so much more that? It seems Heaney was thought to have had a knack of soaking up all the available attention.
Fintan O’Toole on Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996
MARCH 4, 1999
That power to transform things as they are into things as they might be conceived is the poet’s true property. In a dark time, Heaney has held open a space for the imagination by showing that people are not necessarily prisoners of the physical reality that seems to doom them to conflict.
Anthony Hecht on Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971–2001
DECEMBER 5, 2002
In the course of time a number of young poets have asked me what I would recommend that they read—apart from poems themselves—to help them understand their craft—not in a handbook way, but as informal discourse. And I have proposed a number of texts that provoke long and lively thought, most often among them the letters of Keats. I get asked that question less frequently these days, but if a young writer were to come up with the same question I would now happily and gratefully add Finders Keepers.
John Banville on Human Chain
NOVEMBER 11, 2010
The mourning bell tolls throughout Human Chain, Seamus Heaney’s twelfth collection of poems, but the sound it makes is a sonorous call to life and continuity: “The dead here are borne/Towards the future.”

Friday, November 25, 2016

Seamus Heaney / The Ash Plant

Poem of the week

The Ash Plant by Seamus Heaney

Written in memory of his cattle-farming father, this tribute lends him a kind of mythical power as a guide to knowing both life and death

Carol Rumens
Monday 23 May 2016 11.54 BST

The Ash Plant
He’ll never rise again but he is ready.
Entered like a mirror by the morning,
He stares out the big window, wondering,
Not caring if the day is bright or cloudy.

An upstairs outlook on the whole country.
First milk-lorries, first smoke, cattle, trees
In damp opulence above damp hedges –
He has it to himself, he is like a sentry

Forgotten and unable to remember
The whys and wherefores of his lofty station,
Wakening relieved yet in position,
Disencumbered as a breaking comber.

As his head goes light with light, his wasting hand
Gropes desperately and finds the phantom limb
Of an ash plant in his grasp, which steadies him.
Now he has found his touch he can stand his ground

Or wield the stick like a silver bough and come
Walking again among us: the quoted judge.

I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!

God might have said the same, remembering Adam.

Seamus Heaney’s father, Patrick Heaney, represents a moral touchstone in the poet’s work. We meet him first in Digging (from Death of a Naturalist in 1966) as “his straining rump among the flower-beds / Bends low, comes up twenty years away…” This sets the tone of future recollection, a combination of gentle amusement and deep, even emulatory, respect. It continues even into the transcendent elegies and visionary speculations of his 1991 collection, Seeing Things.
Nonetheless, a new strand of filial feeling now complicates the weave: the father acquires more than one kind of mythic status as he moves through the collection, sometimes as a shade, sometimes as a bright soul: a mediator between earth and heaven, Christianity and classicism.
The collection begins with a poem called The Golden Bough, translating lines 98-148 of Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid. (Faber has since published the complete Book VI). Here, the Sibyl tells Aeneas, who wants to visit his father Anchises in Hades, that “To go down into earth’s hidden places,” the seeker must first find the sacred bough and pluck “this golden-fledged tree-branch out of its tree”. The branch will come away easily, provided Fate has given her consent.
The “golden bough” image is grafted on to the last stanza of The Ash Plant, and a reverse journey ensues. Now it’s the dead father who will “wield the stick like a silver bough” and so be able to move among the living. Traditionally, the ashplant, a stick with a natural “handle” provided by the angle of the sapling’s root, had a number of practical uses. For Patrick Heaney, cattle dealer and small farmer, it would have served to help him control his livestock. The poem seems to suggest the same ashplant also made a handy walking stick for Patrick in later life.
Heaney was writing in 1986, two years after his father’s death, and four years after his mother’s. Later in the collection, in the first poem of the Lightenings section of the four-part sequence, Squarings, he imagines “a shivering beggar” trying to shelter in a ruined, roofless house. This is the condition of the adult child who, parentless, has nothing to stand between himself and cold infinity. The Ash Plant might be an accommodation with that existential loneliness. It recounts a process different from the retrievals of memory, although memory is certainly part of it. A mystical act of imagination heightens the remembering and so forms a new present. The poet is now “Seeing Things” that are not past but a continuation of existence on a different plane.
Five solid quatrains, the wonderfully effortless ABBA half-rhyme, a firm pentameter beat, and the emphasised cadence of numerous feminine line-endings: these building blocks have and contain the density of the real world, but they signify more. The father in the poem is waking up after his death, “Entered like a mirror by the morning.” He is uncertain, a new shade, unmoored from life but not far beyond it, like a sentry “unable to remember / The whys and wherefores of his lofty station” (as a sentry’s ghost might be perplexed in a Northern Ireland of future ceasefire). Then “his wasting hand” finds “the phantom limb” of the ashplant and “… he has found his touch and can stand his ground”. It’s a lovely image that suggests a frail old man in his later years taking up his stick and, in that moment, finding his balance and becoming sure on his feet, as if recovering a younger body. The shade is transfigured, and, light-filled, he gains full authority. And once again the son gently smiles at the father and teases him as “the quoted judge” for his dry comment, “I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!”
The comment may have originally signalled the father’s dismissal of the ash-cutting skills of a fellow dealer: it could also have been an old man’s criticism of the medically prescribed walking-stick. A bold shift of context raises the stakes. “God might have said the same, remembering Adam.” The poet not only gives the father further status as moral arbiter: he presents an idea of resurrection and judgment that might or might not guarantee redemption of the soul.

In the Crossings section of Squarings, Patrick will more firmly acquire an identity as guiding and guardian spirit. “‘Look for a man with an ashplant on the boat,’ / My father told his sister, setting out / For London, and stay near him all night // And you’ll be safe’.” In these poems written in memoriam, Heaney conjures human decency at its fullest weight and pitch, and invokes a continuous present where “dealing men with sticks” become mysterious mentors. Patrick might be seen as a kind of Virgil to his son’s Dante, but an important difference is that this man isn’t a poet. Heaney once told an interviewer that his father “regarded speech as a kind of affectation”. His duties in life were not to language but to the things of the earth – bricks and mortar, tools, horses, hedges, cattle. And the poet, although at a remove, has always known these same things, and known he won’t fail as an artist if he remains faithful to his respect for them. Because of its title, Seeing Things is sometimes considered dualistic, polarised between real and delusory acts of seeing. But in postulating a world other than the one immediately sensed, the poet is not doing anything essentially different from the reconstruction of the past in those hidden images we call memories. The sightings poetry unveils are not necessarily obedient to simplistic battle lines of fact versus fantasy, ashplants versus golden boughs.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Leonard Cohen / Beneath My Hands

Beneath My Hands 
by Leonard Cohen

Beneath my hands
your small breasts
are the upturned bellies
of breathing fallen sparrows.

Wherever you move
I hear the sounds of closing wings
of falling wings.

I am speechless
because you have fallen beside me
because your eyelashes
are the spines of tiny fragile animals.

I dread the time
when your mouth
begins to call me hunter.

When you call me close
to tell me
your body is not beautiful
I want to summon
the eyes and hidden mouths
of stone and light and water
to testify against you.

I want them
to surrender before you
the trembling rhyme of your face
from their deep caskets.

When you call me close
to tell me
your body is not beautiful
I want my body and my hands
to be pools
for your looking and laughing.

Leonard Cohen / The Reason I Write
Leonard Cohen / Thousands
Leonard Cohen / Beneath My Hands

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Umberto Saba / Ulysses

by Umberto Saba
Translated by Geoffrey Brock

Once in my younger days I sailed the length
of the Dalmation coast. Islets of rock
lilied the surface of the water, perches
for the occasional bird intent on food.
The rocks were slick and algae-draped and bright
as emeralds in the sun, but when high tide
or night concealed them, any sail with wind
would veer toward deeper water to avert
their treachery. And now I am the king
of no man’s land. The harbor-lights are lit
for others; I again turn to the sea,
still driven by an unextinguished spirit,
by this excruciating love for life.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Joseph Brodsky / I'am happy with my life


"I’m happy with my life"
Joseph Brodsky
Joseph Brodsky 1
Skinheads, Nazis and prejudices. Anti-Semitism is the child of Fear. 
Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) does not give way to pessimism: the past is a spent force, history does not repeat itself.
December 1st, 1992. The 1987 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, one of the greatest living poets, author of A Stop in the Desert and Roman Elegies, has just arrived in Rome. I meet the Jewish Russian writer in the bar of his hotel. He  drinks tea and smokes, chewing on the filter of his Kent cigarette. I ask him:
Joseph, how do you see the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe?
This is what happens when society feels less politically and economically secure. In Germany it coincided with the period following the Weimar Republic. And Russia has never been secure economically. Anti-Semitism is a phenomenon.