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Posts Tagged ‘poems’

The Sound of a Voice That Is Still

May 7, 2015 | by

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“Listening to the Master’s Voice,” from Black and White, 1891.

In April 1889, only a few months before he died, Robert Browning became the first major literary figure to commit his voice to wax. At a dinner party held by the artist Rudolf Lehmann, Browning stood before the Edison Talking Machine—then new and exceedingly novel—and recited his poem “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.” The problem: he couldn’t remember his lines.

“I forget it—er,” Browning stammers only three lines in. Then, after another false start: “I—I am most terribly sorry that I can’t remember my own verses.” (Imagine if, today, poets were expected to have all their own poems memorized.) “But one thing that I will remember all my life is the astonishing sensation produced upon me by your wonderful invention.” Read More »

The Luminous Poem

May 6, 2015 | by

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Airan Kang, Pining for Mother by Shin Saimdang, 2014, LEDs, custom electronics, and resin, dimensions variable.

It would be an understatement to say that Airan Kang is fixated on the book as a form—the South Korean artist’s exhibitions have bibliophilic titles, almost to a one: there’s “The Only Book,” for instance, plus “Hello Gutenberg,” “Light Reading,” “The Bookshelf Enlightened,” and “Luminous Words.” Her latest, “The Luminous Poem,” which opens tomorrow at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, continues a career-long project that “opens up the idea of the book from a concrete, self-contained object into a virtual space for the imagination,” as the gallery puts it. You’d be forgiven for finding that high-flown—but even if Kang’s installments don’t explode your whole approach to the written word, you can still count on them to rewire some synapses. The enigmatic title piece projects Romantic poems across an enormous mirrored book that the viewer can walk through; the effect is like a planetarium for words, with serifed stars. Her shelves of books, meanwhile, their spines and covers etched in retina-scarring neon, conjure both your neighborhood bookshop and a Jetsons-era take on space-age amenities. It’s as if some time-traveler whispered the words electronic book into the ear of Hanna-Barbera cartoonist circa 1963—Kang’s works are proof of concept.

“The Luminous Poem” is up through June 13. Read More »

Queen o’ the May

May 1, 2015 | by

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The Elfin May-Pole, a Mardi Gras float design for Krewe of Proteus, New Orleans, 1887.

The other day, I received the sweetest note from an old neighbor of my family’s commenting on the beauty of spring in the town where I grew up. She recalled something I’d done many years ago: “The first year I lived here, you walked up and down the street, perhaps alone, perhaps with a friend, on May 1, to celebrate May Day. Perhaps you left a little bunch of flowers by my door?”

Perhaps I did. In any case, I’m going to guess that I was alone. I can’t imagine anyone joining me in this practice. I’d like to say it was rooted in some precocious notion of workers’ solidarity, but in fact my touchstone was more Kate Greenaway than International Socialism. (Especially given the maypole and hurdy-gurdy I requested for my eighth birthday.) Read More »

On the Ship

April 29, 2015 | by

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C. P. Cavafy.

“On the Ship,” a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy from our Spring 2005 issue. Cavafy was born on April 29, 1863; he died on his seventieth birthday.

It certainly resembles him, this small
pencil likeness of him.

Quickly done, on the deck of the ship;
an enchanting afternoon.
The Ionian Sea all around us.

It resembles him. Still, I remember him as handsomer.
To the point of sickness—he was that sensitive,
and it illumined his expression.
Handsomer, he appears to me,
now that my soul recalls him, out of Time.

Out of Time. All these things, they’re very old—
The sleuth, and the ship, and the afternoon

Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn.

Clarence in the Seafood Palace

April 22, 2015 | by

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Anonymous, Still Life with Lobster, ca. 1890.

A poem by Elizabeth Handel from our Fall 1976 issue. Handel went on to become a doctor; Google suggests that the composer Thomas Janson adapted this poem for choral performance sometime in the eighties, but no recordings have turned up.

Clarence was not known for speech or grace;
His looks were those of ordinary men;
In Roman times he might have washed the grapes for others’ orgies,
For his were lowly tasks of preparation
Behind the diamond window of a swinging door.
Clarence was a chosen person that they got somewhere
To be lower than a cook, but higher than a dishboy.
He placed lobster claws, two by two,
Beside their preboiled fuselages, busted up for fancy salads,
Antennae waving carefree from the luncheon platter;
So he could count, make no mistake.
The hostess banned him from the dining room
(He had no “class”) but she couldn’t stop his fingerprints,
Which entered by the hundreds on the backs of shellfish—
And this is what he loved: to watch his works in grand procession,
Held high above all men on sacred trays.

Write Tight

April 21, 2015 | by

What is poetry? Etymology provides more questions than answers.

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Contest of the Poets, a float design by Jennie Wilde for the 1910 “Comus” Mardi Gras

T. S. Eliot, who once famously called National Poetry Month the cruelest, was also one of many to point out the hopeless semantic tangles that ensue because “poetry” has two opposites. Poetry can be the lined stuff, often with rhymes, as opposed to sentences and paragraphs; poetry can also be the good stuff, as opposed to the plodding or simply informational. But if good prose can be poetic, a novel can be “pure poetry,” and poems can be prosaic, then it’s not clear what anyone is talking about, really. Or rather, it’s clear except to theorists trying to come up with definitions. Poetry is what’s thrilling, while a poem is that poor thing with eleven readers, eight of them members of the poet’s extended family.

Etymology doesn’t help—it only highlights that the apples and oranges here are how the thing is made and how it moves. Poetry is from the Greek poiein, “to make”: a poem is something made, or in English we would more naturally say crafted. Yet everyone agrees good prose is well crafted, too. Prose means, literally, “straightforward,” from the Latin prosa, proversus, “turned to face forward” (whereas verse is all wound up, twisty and snaky, “turned” in every direction except, apparently, forward). Yet we all know that poems can be clear and direct, too, especially when they’re songs. Read More »