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Posts Tagged ‘poets’

Queen o’ the May

May 1, 2015 | by

Proteus_1887_The_Elfin_May-Pole_Float

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 »

Poetry Costumes

March 12, 2015 | by

stevie smith

Photo: Jorge Lewinski

In the 1960s, Stevie Smith had a resurgence in popularity. The counterculture had a penchant for taking up older eccentrics—Dr. Bronner, for instance—and when the youth came calling, Smith was ready. After years of relative obscurity, the poet could finally take her place in the limelight. And did she ever.

Smith is a poet worthy of consideration, as Diane Mehta makes clear in these pages. But I’m talking less now about her tricky work than her performance. As the Poetry Archive summarizes it: “In the 1960s Smith built a popular reputation as a performer of her own work, playing up her eccentricity and ceremonially half-singing some of her poems in a quavering voice. She also made a number of broadcasts and recordings, her skillful and extensive use of personae lending itself particularly well to reading aloud.” Wrote the Financial Times of a 1969 performance at Festival Hall: “The small faun-shifted figure who darted on to the platform to open the second half was Stevie Smith, and she is a star.” Performance poetry—led by the New York School and later taken up by writers like Michael Horovitz and Beckett—had become popular in the UK, and this was clearly Smith’s medium. Writes Laura Severin in her essay “Becoming and Unbecoming: Stevie Smith as Performer,” Read More »

Vegetable-snake Undersea Beings: A Belated Correction

January 20, 2015 | by

Ginsberg in May 1965. Photo: Engramma.it

When The Paris Review interviewed Allen Ginsberg for our Spring 1966 issue, he expressed a sense of conflict about hallucinogens. He treasured their effects on consciousness—“you get some states of consciousness that subjectively seem to be cosmic-ecstatic, or cosmic-demonic”—but his body was having trouble tolerating them. “I can’t stand them anymore,” he said, “because something happened to me with them … After about thirty times, thirty-five times, I began getting monster vibrations again. So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on again, if I feel more reassurance.”

Thomas Clark conducted that interview in June 1965; the issue was on newsstands the following spring. A year later, though, in June 1966, Ginsberg sent The Paris Review the following letter, which recently resurfaced in our archives: Read More »

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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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