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Posts Tagged ‘T. S. Eliot’

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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    Eliot’s Pen, Fabio’s Mane, and Other News

    March 18, 2013 | by

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    • With Charles Dickens’s quill a bit the worse for wear, the Royal Society of Literature begins signing its roll book with T. S. Eliot’s fountain pen. James Wood inaugurates. 
    • In the New York Post, poet Bob Holman shares a guide to his poetic New York, which includes the White Horse Tavern, the Hare Krishna tree, and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
    • Will independent bookstores fill the gaps left by Borders? In Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, at least, this might be happening! 
    • Speaking of: Did you catch this list of über-indie bookstores in private homes
    • Happy birthday, Fabio: here are his best book covers

     

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    House of Poesy: At the Grolier Poetry Book Shop

    February 26, 2013 | by

    2344815284_eef84104c5The Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is both a misnomer and an anomaly. It has long dedicated itself to the task of promoting the reading and writing of poetry and has, for eighty-five years, served as a niche for poets the world over. While its reputation has bloomed over the years, thanks largely to word-of-mouth praise, it has never fared well financially, partly due to competition from larger stores and the Internet, partly because poetry has never been popular with the masses, and partly because its founder seems to have done everything in his power to ensure that his store not be turned into a business.

    Located on Plympton Street in Harvard Square, the Grolier occupies just 404 square feet of space and is dwarfed by the neighboring Harvard Book Store. A white square sign with meticulous black lettering juts out near the top of the store entrance. The font size decreases from top to bottom, much like on an eye exam chart, and one can just make out, at the very top, a finely done illustration of three cats (or is it the same cat?) dozing, grooming, and turning their backs on the viewer.

    Upon ascending a small flight of steps, one is greeted by the sight of an abundance of colorful spines—approximately fifteen thousand—neatly arranged against nearly every flat surface of the shop. These volumes are neatly balkanized into several categories, including anthologies, used, African-American, early English, Irish, Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Indian, Latin, classical Greek, Japanese, Korean, East European, Spanish, and Catalan.

    Above the towering shelves are approximately seventy black and white photos (many courtesy of the photographer Elsa Dorfman) of poets and other members of the literati for whom the Grolier has served as a meeting place for well over half a century. Among the Grolier’s most illustrious visitors, most of whom are smiling or gazing sagely and serenely ahead in the photos, are T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, e. e. cummings, Marianne Moore, James Tate, Donald Hall, and Helen Vendler.

    Off to one side at the front of the store sits a lean shelf of chapbooks and a donation jar; a small note says that the chapbooks have been generously donated by the author and that monetary contributions to the shop would be greatly appreciated. Directly across this bookcase is the cash register, propped up on a desk and flanked by sundry items, including bookmarks, promotional literature, pamphlets, business cards, and commemorative pens. On the wall right adjacent to the register hangs a certificate from Boston Magazine honoring the Grolier as the best poetry store of 1994. Read More »

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