Posts Tagged ‘poetry’
December 3, 2013 | by Anna Della Subin
Like his friend, fellow Scorpio, and confidant Albert Camus, Albert Cossery would also have celebrated his one hundredth birthday last month. The patron saint of indolence—who wrote only when he had nothing better to do—died in 2008. But one can imagine that Cossery, had he made it to his centenary, would have been exactly like Cossery at any age. The elegant Egyptian novelist, impeccably dressed, forever held fast to his routine. For nearly sixty years, until his death, he lived in an austere room in the Hotel La Louisiane in St. Germain des Prés. Each day he slept late, venturing out only in the afternoons, to bask in the sun and watch the girls of the Luxembourg Gardens, or to have a plate of lentils and fizzy water at the Café de Flore and linger for hours, doing nothing. Even when, toward the end of his life, he was hospitalized for an operation, Cossery—still wearing the ward’s pajamas—escaped the hospital for the café, pushed in a wheelchair by a beautiful blonde.
“Here comes Tutanhkamun,” the waiters whispered behind his back. Just so, Cossery’s writings, forever returning to the same scenes and casts—of mendicants and saltimbanques, failed revolutionaries and hashish-addled philosophers—preserved a certain consistency over the decades. The young Albert, who attended French schools as a child in Cairo, began his first novel at age ten. At seventeen, he published a book of poems, titled Les Morsures, “The Teeth Marks” or “Bites.” By all accounts the book has been lost, and Cossery himself up until his death coyly refused to aid any devoted readers in search of a copy. Yet three poems were preserved in the monumental anthology Poètes en Egypte, edited in Cairo in 1955 by Jean Moscatelli. The anthology, which brought together over fifty-five Franco-Egyptian writers, captured the collective achievements of a literary community in the twilight of its end. It included Cossery’s friends Georges Henein and Edmond Jabès, as well as Joyce Mansour and Horus Schenouda—all of whom were soon to leave, or had already left, for exile in Paris in the wake of Nasser’s coup. Read More »
November 29, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
While most of us know Black Friday as the nightmarish commerce-fest following Thanksgiving—a term coined in Philadelphia in 1961—in fact the nom de guerre dates back to the nineteenth century. In 1869, robber-barons Jay Gould and James Fisk attempted to corner the gold market, resulting in financial crisis and scandal.
E. C. Stedman, a poet and broker (!), wrote the following:
One Hundred and Sixty! Can’t be true!
What will the bears-at-forty do?
How will the merchants pay their dues?
How will the country stand the news?
What’ll the banks—but listen! hold!
In screwing up the price of gold
To that dangerous, last, particular peg,
They had killed their Goose with the Golden Egg!
I spent too many minutes trying to transform this into a piece of doggerel that incorporated door-buster sales, accidental deaths, Best Buy vigils, and rampant modern consumerism, but it was a losing battle. Some things are beyond parody. Not to mention, poetry.
One more note on Stedman, via Wikipedia: “In 1879, he proposed a rigid airship inspired by the anatomy of a fish, with a framework of steel, brass, or copper tubing and a tractor propeller mounted on the craft's bow, later changed to an engine with two propellers suspended beneath the framework. The airship never was built, but its design foreshadowed that of the dirigibles of the early decades of the twentieth century.”
November 27, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
We love the Poetry Foundation’s Record-a-Poem project, in which users are encouraged to read aloud their favorite verses using SoundCloud. Now, in conjunction with its upcoming performance of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, BAM is partnering with the program, collecting recorded interpretations of a segment of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem; they will ultimately edit and compile the audio into a crowd-sourced animated video featuring as many voices as possible. The deadline is December 1, so take a few moments out of your holiday weekend to be part of something cool! Find the excerpt below, and see full details here.
From Part II of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue, and white.
And some in dreams assured were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.
And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was wither’d at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
Read the whole poem here.
November 21, 2013 | by Stephanie LaCava
I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Drip and thicken, tears
I am writing this while pregnant with my first son, just as Sylvia Plath was when she wrote “Nick and the Candlestick” in 1962.
I wanted him: he was no surprise or trouble at all; he was passion and biology. But I am not happy. No one in smiley U.S.A. is supposed to say this at the news of a baby. An expectant mother is supposed to be ecstatic, full of promise and life. It is true, I marvel; the last thing I ever expected to be good at was creating a small person, that my body could nourish him both inside itself and within the world. He’s evidence that something inside me might work, even if other, less visible things do not.
Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean
Before him, I would read Plath quotes from one of those ubiquitous Twitter feeds, feel recognition—and feel like a cliché. I do genuinely love her work, but it’s so expected, so reductive—even if, with him, it feels newly vital for me. We all know the narrative: marry a handsome, destructive man, go from one to two, three then four, and then kill yourself at thirty. Like so many girl-readers, I worshipped her and selfishly romanticized the tragedy. As a young woman, Plath sought the whirl and illusion of enchanted, swift New York, painfully unprepared for adulthood, and like so many others, I recognized all those standard youthful Manhattan dreams, darker when you feel everything twenty-fold, when you’re unsure of having any talent or worth, paralyzed by sensitivity, maybe a little weak, easy to dismantle. A cliché, yes, but the mythology, and the work, remain captivating and solid. As a writer and a reader and a human being with dark tendencies, I have great empathy for everything Plath. There is a reason she has endured. We may all fail miserably at love, family, and living, but we can try to be brave, especially in our work. As Plath says of her own womb, my stomach was always crawling with white newts and calcification, a gut that betrayed me, even when I tried to convince it of happy otherwise. Read More »
November 19, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
“There’s no method. There’s no formula. If you really proceed a sentence at a time, if you pay attention to the sentence you just wrote and look to it for the clue for what to do to the next sentence, you can inch your way along to what may be a story. This wouldn’t have occurred to me starting out, for example, when I thought you wrote one sentence, then just looked out to the world trying to snag the next one. That’s not how it works. You look back at what you gave yourself to work with. Sharon Olds said something beautiful about sometimes thinking of her poems as instructions for how to put the world back together if it were destroyed.” —Amy Hempel, the Art of Fiction No. 176
November 11, 2013 | by Glyn Maxwell
In honor of Veterans Day, we are re-running this favorite post.
In the last century, a few years of sodden slaughter in France and Flanders turned British poetry from Keatsian lyricism to raw, aghast reportage. Isaac Rosenberg’s poems, for instance, moved from prewar patriotic exultation—“Flash, mailed seraphim, / Your burning spears”—to, three years later, this numb, bone-dry mutter from the trenches: “Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew / Your cosmopolitan sympathies.”
In Ivor Gurney’s “To His Love” you see the thing happening not in mid-career but in mid-poem—between lines, in a line break, specifically the last one. It’s the most astonishing line break I’ve ever encountered. It’s the sound of a culture’s poetic history cracking in half.
“To His Love” begins as an almost doggedly traditional elegy, with the Byronic echo of “We’ll walk no more on Cotswold.” It meanders through rivers, beasts, flowers, and the old tropes—nobility, “pride,” “memoried.” We are lulled into thinking that the urgency of “Cover him, cover him soon!” arises from intense soldierly love, rather than the desperate need to hide a shredded corpse, that “red, wet / Thing.” The euphemistic Latinate décor is stripped away; the haplessly tall T does it’s pitiful duty by the form, like a Tommy too shell-shocked to hide, a standing target.
The fragile Gurney was gassed and traumatized by the war, and he lived out his days in asylums. Read More »