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Posts Tagged ‘T. S. Eliot’

Eliot’s Darker Side, and Other News

February 10, 2014 | by

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Eliot in 1934, photographed by Lady Ottoline Morrell.

  • “Everyone wants to be clever—it’s hard to give up that side and go blindly for stupidity. But even more frightening was the fact that it was so easy … I guess I have a talent for humiliation.” An interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard.
  • On the shortlist for Britain’s new Folio Prize, open to all English-language writers: Rachel Kushner, Anne Carson, Sergio de la Pava, George Saunders, and more.
  • Since T. S. Eliot has been lionized as Britain’s favorite poet, let’s all take a step back and remember: he was one of the most “daemonic poets who ever lived.”
  • “O where are they now, your harridan nuns / who thumped on young heads with a metal thimble / and punished with rulers your upturned palms”: RIP Pulitzer-winning poet Maxine Kumin, who died last week, at eighty-eight.

 

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W. H. Auden at the 92nd Street Y

January 22, 2014 | by

W. H. Auden at the Poetry Center, 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr-Dorynek, courtesy of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center

W. H. Auden at the Poetry Center, 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr-Dorynek, courtesy of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center

75 at 75,” a special project from the 92nd Street Y in celebration of the Unterberg Poetry Center’s seventy-fifth anniversary, invites contemporary authors to listen to a recording from the Poetry Center’s archive and write a personal response. Here, Cynthia Ozick reflects on W. H. Auden, whose readings she remembers attending as a Poetry Center subscriber in the fifties.

There must be sorrow if there can be love. —From “Canzone”

Ah, the fabled sixties and seventies! Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs! The glorious advent of Howling! Of Getting Stoned! The proliferation of Ginsbergian Exclamation Points! To secure the status of their literary subversion, these revolutionary decades were obliged, like the cadres of every insurrection, to denigrate and despise, and sometimes to blow up, their immediate predecessor, the fifties—the middling middle, the very navel, of the twentieth century. The fifties, after all, were the Eisenhower years, stiff and small like Mamie’s bangs (and just as dated), dully mediocre, constrained, consumerist, car-finned, conformist, forgettable, and stale as modernism itself. Randall Jarrell, one of its leading poets and critics, named this midcentury epoch “The Age of Criticism”—and what, however he intended it, could suggest prosiness more? And what is prosiness if not the negation of the lively, the living, the lasting, the daring, the true and the new? The reality was sublimely opposite. It was, in fact, the Age of Poetry, a pinnacle and an exaltation; there has not been another since. Its poets were more than luminaries—they were colossi, their very names were talismans, and they rose before us under a halo of brilliant lights like figures in a shrine. It was a kind of shrine: the grand oaken hall, the distant stage and its hallowed lectern, the enchanted voices with their variegated intonations, the rapt listeners scarcely breathing, the storied walls themselves in trance—this was the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in the heart of the twentieth century. Read More »

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T. S. Eliot’s “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

December 18, 2013 | by

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In 1927, Richard de la Mare had an idea for some Christmas cards. Because he was a production director at London’s Faber & Gwyer, his cards were festive poetry pamphlets that could be sent to clients and sold to customers for one shilling a piece. Because two years earlier Geoffrey Faber had lured a banker from Lloyd’s Bank to work as an editor at his publishing house, Faber & Gwyer had T. S. Eliot to contribute to the series.

Named for Shakespeare’s sprite, the Ariel poems each addressed the Christmas holiday or a seasonal theme. G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, and W. B. Yeats all contributed. The Ariel series followed a strict formula: identical cardboard bindings; title, illustrator, author, and occasionally an illustration on the cover; and two interior sheets folded to make four pages. The first page repeated the title information; the following three featured the poem and an original illustration.

T. S. Eliot wrote six poems for the series: “The Journey of the Magi” (1927), “A Song for Simeon” (1928), “Animula” (1929), “Marina” (1930), “Triumphal March” (1931), and, later when the series was revived, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” (1954). Only thirty-four lines long, that final poem is like a whisper in the whirlwind of dramatic plays and long poems that characterize most of Eliot’s later work. “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” came decades after “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917) and The Waste Land (1922), years after Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) and The Four Quartets (1943).

I think of Eliot’s Christmas trees every year around this time: when firs, pines, and spruces appear in living rooms, storefronts, and town squares around the country. Eliot wrote the poem when he was sixty-six years old. His voice is wizened, yet wistful as he reaches through all the years of his life to recover “the spirit of wonder” from his earliest Christmases. Though formal and serious, the poem seems almost saccharine when compared to his earlier work. It will surprise many that the poet of fragments and ruins eventually turned his attention to the pretty packages and bright lights of Christmas. Read More »

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Let the Memory Live Again, and Other News

November 21, 2013 | by

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  • The NBAs (you know, the book ones) have come and gone for another year. And the winners are
  • Meanwhile, E. L. Doctorow, who was awarded the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contributors to American Letters, called the Internet “ubiquitous and loomingly present in everything we do.”
  • Peter Rabbit, Jay Gatsby, and eleven other characters you wish would snap out of it.
  • Following the 2012 death of T. S. Eliot’s widow, Eliot’s estate is going on the block. (At the end of the day, it seems nothing is as valuable as Cats!)
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    Alice Munro, Laureate, and Other News

    October 10, 2013 | by

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  • Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The citation called the Canadian writer (the second Canadian laureate, if we count Saul Bellow) a “master of the contemporary short story.”
  • Ten things you need to know about Alice Munro. Need, people!
  • Here is a BBC Listener magazine crossword set in Greek, from 1936. The prize was the Collected Poems of T. S. Eliot. And no, no part of that would happen today.
  • Semi-related: American adults are bad readers.
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    Poetry Must Still Dance: An Interview with Ange Mlinko

    June 17, 2013 | by

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    The Spring issue of The Paris Review includes a long poem by Ange Mlinko, “Wingandecoia.” It took me a few rereads, but, after a bout of Google searching, I saw this poem trace its arc in several directions—those of time, of place, and of musical imagination. Along the way to understanding, Mlinko treats the reader to lines that feel both alive and spectral. Some are even like incantatory but welcome earworms.

    Mlinko has also published three books of poetry—Matinees, Starred Wire, and Shoulder Season. And this fall her next book, Marvelous Things Overheard, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Between books, she writes on language and the arts for The Nation. 

    Like the two poems you published in issue 199 of The Paris Review, “Wingandecoia” contains many unfamiliar words and names. How do you see these poems, and that idea, figuring into your forthcoming book, Marvelous Things Overheard?

    The book is partly an exploration of time. The sixth-century brigand poet, the Macedonian general, and the ineffectual managers of the lost colony at Roanoke are allowed a measure of strangeness through the language each poem invokes. It amounts to a kind of foreign language within our familiar one. I grew up listening to languages my immigrant parents didn’t want to teach me, so I get a regressive pleasure out of feeling my way through sounds to their possible meanings. Not “getting” a word, or a line, or a poem at first read was never an obstacle for me—in fact, it was a seduction.

    And then, obviously, these words are beautiful. Wingandecoia is a beautiful word. So is psittacines. So is pot pot chee. They suggest rhymes, anagrams, and puns. They make music, which I think is an indispensible pleasure. Read More »

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