Monday, January 29, 2018

Poster poems / Nursery rhymes

Poster poems: nursery rhymes

The rhythms and imagery of childhood verses have inspired poets from Robert Louis Stevenson to Elizabeth Bishop. Now it’s your turn

Billy Mills
Friday 1 april 2016

For most of us, our first exposure to the joys of verse was when we listened to parents or teachers reciting nursery rhymes and learned to repeat them ourselves. The pleasure in rhyme, rhythm, image and repetition that kids derive from these poems is sometimes lost as we grow older, but for most of us it never fully goes away; it morphs into a delight in song, or indeed poetry.

Given the hold they can have over our imaginations, it’s hardly surprising many poets have drawn on nursery rhymes as a source of inspiration. Sometimes this results in a poem that is closely based on a particular rhyme, in other instances it can be more to do with a general tone.
One of the most popular examples of the latter is Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, in which a poem such as The Swing sounds like a nursery rhyme, but not any specific one. Of course, Stevenson was writing for children, unlike Lorine Niedecker, whose first book, New Goose, was a reworking of the Mother Goose rhymes for Depression- and second world war-era America. In poems such as Remember My Little Granite Pail?, Niedecker used the nursery mode to reflect on the importance, the centrality, of the everyday world of small things.

Many of the most popular nursery rhymes have dark undertones: echoes of war, death, fire and famine abound. Written at around the same time that Niedecker was working on her New Goose poems, Julian Bell’s Nonsense sits in this tradition, recasting Sing a Song of Sixpence as a complaint against financial inequity and aerial warfare. TS Eliot’s use of London Bridge is Falling Down at the end of The Waste Land is, if anything, even darker, especially when you remember that, earlier in the poem, the bridge was the site of Eliot’s vision of a Dantesque vestibule of hell.
In her poem Solomon Grundy, Alice Oswald takes the opposite tack, converting the fatal weekend of the original into a transformative, magical coming-of-age, in which the eponymous Solomon blooms, and is transformed into something very like a butterfly or a poet. In November, Late in the Day, John M Ridland takes the basic situation of Hey Diddle Diddle and also transforms it, but this time into a less overtly magical, domestic milieu. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with a piping hot cup of tea on a cold winter’s night.

Lewis Carroll frequently rewrote well-known rhymes, and one of his most intriguing reworkings is Twinkle, twinkle little bat . The pleasure to be had from reading this poem comes from two sources: first there is the mad logic of fitting something as deeply un-twinkly as a bat into the original, and second, the suspicion that Carroll had the Dormouse interject when it did because he couldn’t come up with any more rhymes to fit.
I’d like to finish this quick look at nursery-rhyme inspired poems with two of the very best. Elizabeth Bishop’s Visits to St Elizabeths uses the iterative structure of The House that Jack Built to record a series of visits to Ezra Pound in the hospital where he was incarcerated, having been found psychologically unfit to stand trial on charges of treason. Bishop uses the structure to build a rich picture of a complex situation through apparently simple means, and the poem is among her finest.
James Joyce’s The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly, taken from Finnegans Wake, is an entirely different beast. Starting with the familiar story of Humpty Dumpty, Joyce weaves elements of Irish history and politics with the Wake’s dream logic to create a ballad that can be sung, but perhaps not fully understood, much like most nursery rhymes.
So this month’s challenge is to write a poem inspired by or based on a favourite childhood rhyme. Perhaps your sense of these poems is of innocent sweetness, or maybe you prefer to focus on the darker underbelly. One way or the other, why not share your rhymes here with the rest of us?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Nicanor Parra / Warnings

by Nicanor Parra

In case of fire
Do not use elevators
Use stairways
unless otherwise instructed

No smoking
No littering
No shitting
No radio playing
unless otherwise instructed
Please Flush Toilet
After Each Use
Except When Train
Is Standing At Station
Be thoughtful
Of The Next Passenger
Onward Christian Soldiers
Workers of the World unite
We have nothing to loose [sic]
but our life Glory to the Father
& to the Son & to the Holy Ghost
unless otherwise instructed
By the way
We also hold these truths to be
self evident
That all man [sic] are created
That they have been endowed
by their creator
With certain inalienable rights
That among these are: Life
Liberty & the pursuit of happiness
& last but not least
that 2 + 2 makes 4
unless otherwise instructed 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pablo Neruda / Ode to the Sea

Shadows on the Sea
by Claude Monet
Ode to the Sea
By Pablo Neruda
Translated by Linh Dinh

Here on the island
the sea
and so much sea
it says yes, then no,
then no, no, no,
then yes, in blue,
in foam, with gallops,
it says no, again no.
It cannot stay still,
my name is sea, it repeats
while slamming against rocks
but unable to convince rocks,
with seven green tongues
of seven green dogs,
of seven green tigers,
of seven green seas,
it smothers rocks, kisses rocks,
drenches rocks
and slamming its chest,
repeats its name.
O sea, you declare yourself,
O comrade ocean,
don’t waste time and water,
don’t beat yourself up,
help us,
we are lowly
men of the shore,
we’re cold and hungry
and you’re the enemy,
don’t slam so hard,
don’t scream like that,
open your green trunk
and give all of us
on our hands
your silver gifts:
fish every day.

Here in each house,
we all crave it
whether it’s of silver,
crystal or moonlight,
spawn for the poor
kitchens on earth.
Don’t hoard it,
you miser,
coldly rushing like
wet lightning
beneath your waves.
Come, now,
open yourself
and leave it
near our hands,
help us, ocean,
deep green father,
end one day
our earthly poverty.
Let us
harvest your lives’
endless plantation,
your wheat and eggs,
your oxes, your metals,
the wet splendor
and submerged fruits.

Father sea, we know already
what you are called, all
the seagulls circulate
your name on the beaches:
now, behave yourself,
don’t shake you mane,
don’t threaten anyone,
don’t smash against the sky
your beautiful teeth,
ignore for a moment
your glorious history,
give to every man,
to every
woman and to every child,
a fish large or small
every day.
Go out to every street
in the world
and distribute fish
and then
so all the working poor
could hear you,
so they could say,
sticking their heads
into the mine:
“Here comes the old man sea
to distribute fish.”
And they’ll go back down
into the darkness,
smiling, and on the streets
and in the forests,
men and the earth
will smile
an oceanic smile.
if you don’t want it,
if you don’t care for it,
then wait,
wait for us,
we must worry, first
we must try to solve
and straighten out
human affairs,
the biggest problems first,
then all the others,
and then
we’ll enter you,
we’ll chop the waves
with a knife made of fire,
on an electric horse
leaping over foam,
we’ll sink
until we touch the bottom
of your guts,
an atomic thread
will guard your shank,
we’ll plant
in your deep garden
of cement and steel,
we’ll tie
your hands and feet,
on your skin man will walk,
yanking in bunches,
building armatures,
mounting and taming you
to dominate your spirit.
All this will occur
when us men
have straighten out
our problem,
the big,
the big problem.
We’ll slowly
solve everything:
we’ll force you, sea,
we’ll force you, earth
perform miracles,
because in our very selves,
in the struggle,
is fish, is bread,
is the miracle.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Food in books / The crab, avocado and mayonnaise in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

 ‘I’m biting the bullet and buying some crabmeat’ ... The summery salad from The Bell Jar, ready to be eaten. Photograph: Kate Young

Food in books: the crab, avocado and mayonnaise in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar

There’s more to Sylvia Plath’s classic novel than grey despair. Kate Young summons up a slice of summer from The Bell Jar – minus the food poisoning

By Kate Young for The Little Library Café, part of the Guardian Books Network

Kate Young
Thu 9 Jun 2016 17.00 BST

Arrayed on the Ladies’ Day banquet table were yellow-green avocado pear halves stuffed with crabmeat and mayonnaise, and platters of rare roast beef and cold chicken, and every so often a cut-glass bowl heaped with black caviar. I hadn’t had time to eat any breakfast at the hotel cafeteria that morning, except for a cup of overstewed coffee so bitter it made my nose curl, and I was starving.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

I spent last weekend on the coast in Kent with my sister. I haven’t been to England’s east coast before, apart from what I once glimpsed from an overnight bus on a trip to Paris. I am only now aware of quite how much of an oversight this has been. This weekend, we took our time exploring woodlands, cliffs, beaches and winding country roads. We stayed in a B&B, stretching breakfasts out until they could be more accurately defined as lunch, taking long baths every evening and reading books – on recommendations after my recipe a fortnight ago I had more Barbara Pym to occupy my time.
On Saturday evening, we found ourselves in Whitstable, hovering outside Wheeler’s Oyster Bar. They’re undergoing renovations at the moment, and have only four bar stools propped up at the fish counter. They’re booked out weeks in advance. But somehow, Luce and I managed to talk our way into a pair of seats. I dashed across the road to get a bottle of fizz, and we ate our way through oysters, John Dory ceviche with apple and crab, tuna carpaccio and soft shell crab in tempura. It was bliss.
It was also the first time I’ve eaten crab since last year, when I made this dish from The Bell Jar. After visiting Billingsgate Market last June, and taking two live brown crabs home with me for less than £5, I vowed never to buy picked crabmeat again. The thing is though; going to Billingsgate is an event. It involves getting up before 4am on a Saturday. And now that I’m in South London, it’s even more of a faff on public transport. The reason you pay more at a fishmonger is because they’re doing the “getting up early and travelling on a night bus at dawn” bit for you. So I’m biting the bullet and buying some crabmeat, so I can make this very summery salad again.
A couple of tips:
If you’re buying a live crab, I found these instructions helpful.
And, to avoid the food poisoning that this dish causes in The Bell Jar, do keep your crabmeat in the fridge, rather than under powerful lights.

‘To avoid the food poisoning that this dish causes in The Bell Jar, do keep your crabmeat in the fridge.’ You have been warned. Photograph: Kate Young

Crab, avocado and mayonnaise: the recipe

Serves 2 as a generous starter

1 large brown crab (about 1.5kg) or 200g white crab meat
1 spring onion
About 15 parsley leaves
About 20 fronds of dill
1tbsp plain yoghurt
Sprinkle of sea salt
Grinding of black pepper
Squeeze of lemon

1 egg yolk
1tsp lemon juice
1/2tsp hot English mustard
125ml olive oil


Collection of tools for taking apart a crab – including a hammer and a skewer 
Mixing bowl

Knife and chopping board

‘Going to Billingsgate [fish market] is an event. It involves getting up before 4am on a Saturday.’ Photograph: Kate Young

1 Place your crab upside down on the table in front of you. To get at the white meat, twist the legs and claws off the body. Work with them one by one. Crack their shells with the hammer, and pull the meat out, then set it aside. The claws have a significant amount of meat in them, so make sure you crack each part, and use a skewer to get into the crevices.
2 You don’t need the brown meat for this recipe but, to access it, keep the crab facing belly-up. Place your thumbs under the base of the centre piece of the shell and push up. The body will come out. Discard the white gills and scoop out the brown meat. Set aside for use in another recipe.
3 To make the mayonnaise, whisk the egg yolk until thick and creamy. Whisk in the lemon juice and mustard, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Very slowly add the oil to the yolk, whisking continuously. Keep your eye on the oil, rather than the mayonnaise, and don’t let it pour out too quickly. You just want a couple of drops every few seconds. Once the mayonnaise has started to thicken, you can pour a little faster. Continue whisking until you have used most of the oil and the mayonnaise is very thick.
4 Finely chop the spring onion, parsley and dill. Combine the crabmeat, two tablespoons of the mayonnaise and the yoghurt, herbs and spring onion in a bowl. Taste for seasoning.

‘Arrayed on the Ladies’ Day banquet table were yellow-green avocado pear halves stuffed with crabmeat and mayonnaise, and platters of rare roast beef and cold chicken, and every so often a cut-glass bowl heaped with black caviar’ ... Sylvia Plath’s words. Photograph: Kate Young
5 Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone and peel off the skin. Take a small slice off the base of the avocado, so it will sit on the serving plate with a bit of stability. Spoon a generous amount of the crab mixture into the hole left by the shell. Squeeze some lemon over the top and serve. With a martini, of course.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Non Blondes / What's Up

Non Blondes 

What's Up

Twenty-five years and my life is still Trying to get up that great big hill of hope For a destination I realized quickly when I knew I should That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man For whatever that means And so I cry sometimes When I'm lying in bed just to get it all out What's in my head And I, I am feeling a little peculiar And so I wake in the morning And I step outside And I take a deep breath and I get real high And I scream from the top of my lungs What's going on? And I say, hey yeah yeah, hey yeah yeah I said hey, what's going on? And I say, hey yeah yeah, hey yeah yeah I said hey, what's going on? Oh, oh oh Oh, oh oh And I try, oh my god do I try I try all the time, in this institution And I pray, oh my god do I pray I pray…

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sylvia Plath / The Bell Jar / Review

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - review

‘234 pages of pure brilliance’

orking in New York one summer, Esther Greenwood is a young, intelligent women on the edge of greatness. Though the ambition she once had to achieve her dreams (the ones which won her the awards, the prizes, the grades) have faded into a distant memory and she’s barely drifting along.

With the pressure of marriage and the passé New York night life, what will become of Esther Greenwood?
The classic, semi-autobiographical (though, the more you learn about the novel and author, the more autobiographical it seems to become) novel by Sylvia Plath is 234 pages of pure brilliance. It gives us a meaningful insight into the thoughts of Plath and the complete isolation one can feel when in a city (though there are so many people, as they all seem to pass the person by completely). The book also shows an interesting, sadly relatable, idea of ambition; how the character started from nothing, had to work her whole life up until getting a scholarship to a college and finds herself in New York and then completely loses all of her drive, ambition and passion. She can’t write or properly read any more (things she once loved) and this is fed by how easy everything is for her; her grades meet all the requirements but don’t fill the emptiness that resonates within her.
The novel also takes on the role of women in society (the expectations of them, ideas of what society tells us women should prioritise, such as marriage and children - all things the Esther seems to come to resent as the novel continues), along with a young woman’s exploration of her sexuality. Materialism is also a subject Plath addresses (the people around her, the gifts she receives) through the interesting idea of how the character Esther was so easily able to give it all up: the clothes, the lifestyle, and the money.
The Bell Jar is not just a classic piece of fiction (though so out of the box for its time), but also a novel that will continue to resonate with people throughout time as it talks of problems and classic faults with human nature that will always persist. I give it 4.5 out of 5 for being able to so clearly represent not only women in society but the truth of mental illness.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The 100 best novels / No 85 / The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)

The 100 best novels: No 85 – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)

Sylvia Plath’s painfully graphic roman à clef, in which a woman struggles with her identity in the face of social pressure, is a key text of Anglo-American feminism

Robert McCrum
Monday 4 May 2015 05.45 BST

Sylvia Plath’s only novel was originally published in January 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, and became tangled up almost immediately in the drama of her suicide, to the book’s detriment among the critics. However, republished under Plath’s own name in 1966, it became a modern classic.
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” After this brittle, dangerous introduction to the summer of 1953, we meet Esther Greenwood who is, she tells us, “supposed to be having the time of my life”. It’s a theme that, 40 years on, would become commercialised, even satirised, in Sex and the City.
But, in the age of Mad Men, Esther/Sylvia is far too driven, damaged and/or neurotic, and with too much emotional baggage, to have a ball in Manhattan. The story of her life and times, however, is told with blistering honesty, and a vivid attention to detail. It’s a raw, unsettling book with flashes of brilliance, a roman à clef that’s also a long, tormented footnote to Plath’s tormented poetry.
Plath herself had won an internship at Mademoiselle in New York City in 1953, and her painfully autobiographical novel draws heavily on her experience. The reader discovers, in flashbacks, why Esther cannot give herself wholeheartedly to her new life in the city. With hindsight, it’s easy to pick up the smell of death from Esther’s account. Hardly a page goes by without a reference to a dead baby, a cadaver, or her late father (“dead since I was nine”). The other man in her life, Yale boyfriend Buddy Willard, troubles her spirit in other ways, too.
Plath’s essential theme, a staccato drumbeat, is Esther’s obsession with the opposite sex. At first, released from her mother’s repressive scrutiny, she decides to lose her virginity (a “millstone around my neck”) to Constantin, a UN Russian translator, but he’s too sensible to fall for her. Then, having failed on another date, in which she is labelled a “slut”, she hurls her clothes off her hotel roof, and returns home for a suicidal summer, a worsening depression which she compares to suffocating under a “bell jar”. Esther’s predicament, more generally, is how to develop a mature identity, as a woman, and to be true to that self rather than conform to societal norms. It’s this quest that makes The Bell Jar a founding text of Anglo-American feminism.
Eventually, as Esther spirals lower, with successive suicide attempts, she is given shock treatment (ECT), echoing the Rosenbergs’ fate, in horrifying scenes, graphically described. Finally, another doctor gives her the longed-for diaphragm. “The next step,” says Esther, “was to find the proper sort of man.” Irwin, the maths professor, of course, turns out to be just the opposite, and the consequences of their intercourse dominate the final pages of the book until beautiful and well-adjusted Dr Nolan begins to steer Esther back to sanity, and a return to college.

A note on the text

In her journal for December 1958, Plath lists what she calls Main Questions, including: “What to do with hate for mother? Why don’t I write a novel?” After this latter question, she later added, in her own handwriting: “I have! August 22, 1961: THE BELL JAR.” Elsewhere, Ted Hughes has also confirmed that Plath began to write her only novel in 1961, completing it after the couple’s separation in 1962. In other words, The Bell Jar was written fast and urgently.
Plath told her mother that “What I’ve done is to throw together events from my own life, fictionalising to add colour – it’s a potboiler really, but I think it will show how isolated a person feels when he is suffering a breakdown… I’ve tried to picture my world and the people in it as seen through the distorting lens of a bell jar.”
She also described the book as “an autobiographical apprentice work which I had to write in order to free myself from the past”. At first, it was composed as part of the Eugene F Saxton Fellowship, a programme affiliated with the New York publisher Harper & Row whose immediate response to the manuscript was one of disappointment, after which Plath was free to offer it to publishers in London.
William Heinemann published The Bell Jar in London on 14 January 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, a strategy inspired by her desire to spare the feelings of both her mother and a number of real-life characters in the novel, notably Buddy Willard (Dick Norton). Plath killed herself in her London flat, 23 Fitzroy Road, near Primrose Hill, less than a month later, on 11 February 1963.

Three more from Sylvia Plath

The Colossus (1960); Ariel (1965); Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (1977).
The Bell Jar is published by Faber in hardback (£12.99) and paperback (£7.99).

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Kirsten Dunst to direct The Bell Jar starring Dakota Fanning

Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst to direct The Bell Jar starring Dakota Fanning

The Melancholia actor is to make her directorial debut with a version of Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel

Kirsten Dunst is to make her debut as a director with an adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
Dakota Fanning has been announced in the lead role of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who takes an internship at a magazine in New York before suffering a breakdown and returning home to Boston.

Written just before Plath’s suicide aged 30, and first published under a pen name a month after her death, the book is often assumed to be semi-autographical.

Dakota Fanning
It was first adapted for the big screen in 1979, starring Marilyn Hassett. In 2003, Gwyneth Paltrow played Plath in a biopic which covered the writing of The Bell Jar.

Dunst has co-written the film with Nellie Kim, while Fanning is a co-producer; shooting is scheduled to begin in early 2017.
Dunst has previously directed two short films, Welcome, which premiered at Sundance, and Bastard, which screened at Tribeca and Cannes. Most recently seen in Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special, she is not expected to act in The Bell Jar.