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Posts Tagged ‘poets’

Poets on Photography

December 10, 2014 | by

The latest issue of Aperture magazine focuses on the relationship between literature and photography. The editors were kind enough to share the feature below, in which four poets discuss some of their favorite photographs. It appears in Aperture magazine #217, Winter 2014, “Lit,” as “Collectors: The Poets.”

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© Sergio Larrain/Magnum Photos

John Ashbery

Sergio Larrain, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Before the Deux Magots Café, 1959. 

I lived in Paris mostly from 1955 to 1965. This photograph, called Boulevard Saint-Germain, Before the Deux Magots Café, Paris 1959, is by Sergio Larrain. The Café Deux Magots was a favorite hangout of mine, at least when I was flush enough to afford it. I could conceivably have been there when the picture was taken. The photograph sums up beautifully the atmosphere of Paris on a rather chilly autumn afternoon, with well-dressed and well-behaved tourists sipping their café exprès and two fashionable cars, a sports car and a sedan. The three people chatting around the sports car are almost crystallizations of Parisians of that now distant era. The young man at far left, with his back to the camera, is an iconic silhouette of the time, with pleasantly rumpled clothes and both shoes planted firmly on the pavement. I keep this card tucked into a picture frame over my desk to remind me of the past in all its melancholy variety. Read More »

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Strange Sights Much Sought, Strange Things Much Bought

December 9, 2014 | by

December through the eyes of an Elizabethan poet.

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Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, ca. 1608.

It is now definitely December. Another November survived, and a grim November it was, too, the month Thoreau used to call November Eat-heart—days “as will almost oblige a man to eat his own heart,” in which “you must hold on to life by your teeth.” “You can hardly screw up your courage to take a walk … If you do feel any fire at this season out of doors, you may depend upon it, it is your own.” Even the life-affirming Nicholas Breton goes dark: “Now begins the Goshawk to weed the wood of the Pheasant, and the Mallard loves not to hear the bells of the Falcon. The winds now are cold, and the Air chill, and the poor die through want of Charity.”

Breton, ca. 1554–1626, was a prolific Elizabethan poet, friend to Edmund Spenser, with a penchant for powerfully balanced rhythms (“Sing a dirge on Spenser’s death, / Till your souls be out of breath”), but he’s justly forgotten today. Justly except for his fantastic Fantasticks: Serving for A Perpetuall Prognostication (1626). Along with lesser vignettes on the elements, seasons, hours, and major holidays, Fantasticks contains twelve little descriptions of the months that deserve to be immortal.

Starting in January, when “Time begins to turn the wheel of his Revolution,” Breton’s vivid natural and social descriptions march steadily through the year: “the Squirrel now surveyeth the Nut and the Maple, and the Hedgehog rolls up himself like a football”; in June, “the little Lads make Pipes of the straw, and they that cannot dance, will yet be hopping”; in September, “the winds begin to knock the Apples’ heads together on the trees, and the fallings are gathered to fill the Pies for the Household.” Each month ends with a kicker as balanced as a brace of oxen: May “is from the Heavens a Grace, & to the Earth a Gladness. Farewell.”

Here is December: Read More »

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The Poetaster

December 1, 2014 | by

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Kārlis Padegs, Red Laughter (detail), 1931.

In 1876, Julia A. Moore published The Sweet Singer of Michigan Salutes the Public, a best-selling series of poems to honor our nation’s centennial. Moore was an obituary poet: the elegy was her preferred mode. Local death notices and tales of wartime derring-do moved her to versify. She was especially fond of addressing poems to dead children.

Her work is, in a word, bad.

In fact, her collection sallied forth with such cloying sincerity—a note from the publisher claimed that any profits would be used “to complete the Washington monument”—that the satirists of the time decided to have a field day with it. Mark Twain parodied her in Huckleberry Finn; Bill Nye—the nineteenth-century humorist, not the contemporary scientist—said that hers was a poetic license that ought to have been revoked; the Hartford Times noted her collection’s “steady and unremitting demands on the lachrymal ducts”; and a critic in the Rochester Democrat wrote of her work, “Shakespeare, could he read it, would be glad that he was dead … If Julia A. Moore would kindly deign to shed some of her poetry on our humble grave, we should be but too glad to go out and shoot ourselves tomorrow.”

Best of all, maybe, was the review in the Worcester Daily Press: “[Moore] reaches for the sympathy of humanity as a Rhode Islander reaches for a quahaug, clutches the tendrils of the soul as a garden rake clutches a hop vine, and hauls the reader into a closer sympathy than that which exists between a man and his undershirt.”

And so Moore gathered renown, like William McGonagall, as a poetaster, i.e., an inferior poet. (The word has fallen into disuse lately, but maybe it can have a renaissance in 2015.) You may chide her critics for their ironic jeering—it took some time, apparently, for Moore to get the joke, and eventually she was cowed into silence. By 1878 she’d been mocked from coast to coast and lampooned at her own public appearances. “Literary is a work very difficult to do,” she said to those who teased her.

But before you cluck, have a look at Moore’s poetry, which may make you want to throw tomatoes at her.

Here’s the whole of “Grand Rapids Cricket Club”: Read More »

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Talking Tate: A Fake Oral History

November 19, 2014 | by

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Photo: Library of Congress

There’s no Writers at Work interview with Allen Tate—who was born today in 1899—but his name seems to pop up in nearly everyone else’s. By my count, he has cameos in nineteen of our interviews; he shuffles onstage to offer an apercu or to help someone or to drink or to be carried down a flight of stairs. And then he leaves.

Tate ran in many circles, in part because his teaching allowed him to move around so much. At one point or another he crossed paths with an astonishing number of his fellow writers: Robert Penn Warren and Robert Lowell, most prominently, but also Randall Jarrell, John Gould Fletcher, John Crowe Ransom, John Berryman, and Andrew Lytle. His walk-ons in The Paris Review interviews testify to his influence not just as a poet but as a friend. If you read these mentions of him in succession, as a kind of patchwork oral history, you get a strangely gratifying secondhand sense of the man, as if someone had painted his portrait based only on a description. Let’s give it a try— Read More »

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Brazen Towers

July 1, 2014 | by

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Francis Thompson at nineteen. Via Wikimedia Commons.

“The Summer looks out from her brazen tower,
Through the flashing bars of July.”
—Francis Thompson, “A Corymbus for Autumn”

By the time he died of tuberculosis in 1907, the forty-seven-year-old Francis Thompson had found respect and moderate success as a poet. A favorite of G. K. Chesterton, and later both J. R. R. Tolkien and Madeleine L’Engle, Thompson gave us the phrases “with all deliberate speed” and “love is a many-splendored thing,” which would become the title of a 1952 novel, a ludicrous film, a hit song, and, later, a soap opera. The latter is especially apt; Thompson had a dramatic and difficult life.

The son of a Lancashire physician, Thompson studied medicine himself, but in 1885 moved to London to try to make it as a writer. Instead, he developed a serious opium addiction and started sleeping rough on the streets of Charing Cross, occasionally selling matches and newspapers to make a little money. He would claim later that, on the brink of suicide, he was saved from ending it by a vision of the poet Thomas Chatterton. More materially, he was, he said, helped by an anonymous prostitute, who gave him money and lodging before conveniently disappearing, Thompson would say, because, in classic hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold fashion, he feared that associating with her would hurt his burgeoning career. (Needless to say, he would go on to write about her romantically in many poems.)

Here’s what we know for sure: after reading a manuscript Thompson had sent them, the editors Wilfrid and Alice Meynell took him in, ran his work, and would later help him publish a book. (It probably didn’t hurt that Thompson had been raised Anglo-Catholic; the Meynells were active in Oxford Movement circles.) The Meynells even paid for Thompson to do a stint in Our Lady of England Priory, a sort of Victorian rehab.

Of course, by then years of neglect and addiction had taken their toll. Thompson was never physically robust, and died after years of illness. In a final act he might have appreciated, his onetime home, which bore a Blue Plaque, came to an appropriately depressing end: in March of this year, an engineer accidentally hit the house with a cherry picker, and it proceeded to promptly collapse. (Watch the video here.)

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Outrageous Apples, and Other News

June 30, 2014 | by

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Infuriating, no? Paul Cézanne, The Kitchen Table (La table de cuisine), 1888–90.

  • The Irish poet and novelist Dermot Healy has died at sixty-six. “I think of him as someone who lived on the edge, in some way … He lived on the very edge of County Sligo, the edge of Ireland—the edge of Europe, you might say. In some ways he lived on the edge of the literary community, but in certain ways he was central to the community he shaped around himself, especially in the northwest of Ireland. And it was the rough edge of his work, which in some ways was so distinctive, which attracted his readers.”
  • And the poet Allen Grossman has died at eighty-two; “poetry is a principle of power invoked by all of us against our vanishing,” he once said.
  • In happier news, astronomers have discovered the biggest diamond in the universe: it “weighs approximately a million trillion trillion pounds … Nobody has actually seen this gigantic diamond, not even through a telescope … the star’s invisibility is a key part of the circumstantial case for its existence.”
  • Cézanne’s “paintings of apples confused critics and art enthusiasts alike. People were astonished that apples could look so ugly, and be so poorly painted. Some thought Cézanne’s still lifes were actually a joke, or an insult.”
  • On elevators (and the people in them): “You can only send yourself as a message successfully if you remain intact—that is, fully encrypted—during transmission. That’s what elevator protocol is for. Or so we might gather from the very large number of scenes set in lifts in movies from the 1930s onwards … Desire erupts, or violence, shattering the sociogram’s frigid array. Or the lift, stopped in its tracks, ceases to be a lift. It becomes something else altogether: a prison cell to squeeze your way out of, or (Bernard suggests) a confessional.”

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