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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Clarence in the Seafood Palace

April 22, 2015 | by

Stillleben_mit_Hummer_c1890

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.

contestofthepoets

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 »

Architectural Blasphemy, and Other News

April 20, 2015 | by

Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino House, 1914.

  • Readings from Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, and Czesław Miłosz are among the new recordings released by the Library of Congress, which has finally digitized some seventy-five years of magnetic-tape reels.
  • Poetry is, to some extent, the art of “anti-aphorism,” “seemingly wise but ultimately ungraspable”: “I believe that to read poetry, one must have a mind of poetry. You must enter a state where you come to understand meaning-resistant arrangements of language as having their own kind of meaning. It’s quite similar to those Magic Eye posters from the nineties: If you haven’t figured out how to look at them, you can’t believe that anyone really sees the dolphin.”
  • In late eighteenth-century London, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies served as a kind of vade mecum for the seasoned brothel-goer, endeavoring to list “the most celebrated ladies now on the town.” It was so salacious that its creators eventually wound up in jail. A sample listing for one Mrs. Banner speaks of her “irresistible eye”; her “favourite spot below” apparently “calls for the Priapian weapon,” eager “to receive it in her sheath at its most powerful thrust up to the hilt.”
  • In the early twentieth century, Le Corbusier concocted Maison Dom-Ino, a blueprint for standardized housing with all the hallmarks of modernism: he envisioned a skeletal structure of concrete slabs. His idea was never realized, but decades later, Italian architects borrowed liberally from his designs, and now Maison Dom-Ino rip-offs freckle the countryside: “It’s a design innovation that’s been turned into something, especially in Italy, that is regarded as something completely the opposite. It’s a form of architectural blasphemy. It became synonymous with an eyesore, and a dilapidated landscape.”
  • On Frank Stanford’s new collected poems, What About This: “More than anything, like Basho, like Li Po, like Emily Dickinson and Yeats, Stanford was a poet of the moon. The moon cycles through nearly every of his poems. And it’s never the same moon sliver. The moon gravitates as a  ‘beautiful white spider,’ ‘a dead man floating down the river,’ ‘a woman in a red dress / standing on the beach.’ It’s ‘a plate with no supper,’ ‘a clock with twelve numbers,’ it’s ‘swollen up / like a mosquito’s belly’ … ”

Still Golden After All These Years

April 15, 2015 | by

wordsworth

A mask of Wordsworth made in 1815.

The most famous version of Wordworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” or “Daffodils”—that landmark of English Romanticism, a pedagogical perennial that’s inspired thousands of stock photos of daffodil fields—turns two hundred this year. Most of us remember it fondly; some do not. “I am sure it is a great poem,” one YouTube commenter wrote in response to a spoken rendition, “but every ten-year-old Indian is tortured and tormented by [it] … As a kid I remember I had to memorize pages dissecting this poem, but one question always remained—What the hell is a daffodil? No Indian kid ever laid eyes on that flower.”

The poem had its genesis in a walk Wordsworth took with his sister, Dorothy, on April 15, 1802, which she described in a journal entry with a moving lyricism that rivals her brother’s: Read More »

Etel Adnan’s Leporellos

April 14, 2015 | by

Etel Adnan, Inkpots, 2015, ink and watercolor on paper, 78 3/4". Click to enlarge.

We’ve featured Etel Adnan, who turned ninety this year, on the Daily before. A Lebanese American poet and artist, Adnan was born in Beirut; she lived in California for some fifty years before moving to Paris. She excels in many media—paintings, tapestries, novels, poems—but the most unique, I think, are her leporellos: accordion-folded booklets of the sort once sold in Victorian England as souvenirs, folding out to reveal panoramic illustrations. Adnan uses them to a variety of ends, often using them as vehicles for unpublished poems and fragments. Some of them are more than six and a half feet long when fully extended; on one of them, she wrote a series of poems in Arabic, a language in which she seldom composes.

These four will be on display at Galerie Lelong, along with some of her paintings and a tapestry, through May 8.

In 2012, she told Nana Asfour,

My writing and my paintings do not have a direct connection in my mind. But I am sure they influence each other in the measure that everything we do is linked to whatever we are, which includes whatever we have done or are doing. But in general, my writing is involved with history as it is made (but not only) and my painting is very much a reflection of my immense love for the world, the happiness to just be, for nature, and the forces that shape a landscape.

GL 9935 - Inkpots with Signs

Inkpots with Signs, 2015, ink and watercolor on paper, 7" x 4 3/4" x 3/4". Click to enlarge

GL 9860 - Pirkle Jones world, outside

Pirkle Jones world, outside, 2001, ink on book, 7" x 5". Click to enlarge

Point Reyes n°2 California, 1989, india ink on book pages, 6 3/8" x 3 3/4". Click to enlarge

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.

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“People and Rooms”: An Interview with Gail Godwin

April 10, 2015 | by

At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

This week we’re rolling out the four latest editions to the collection: Horton Foote, Gail Godwin, Reynolds Price, and Tony Kushner. All are Southerners, and as coincidence would have it, we’re just in time for the 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and the end of the Civil War, on April 9. Read More »