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Posts Tagged ‘William Blake’

A World Beyond the Glass: An Interview with Mary Szybist

April 8, 2014 | by

Image: Meilani Kirkwood, courtesy of Graywolf Press

Photo: Meilani Kirkwood, courtesy of Graywolf Press

Mary Szybist may not have been the best-known writer on the poetry shortlist for the 2013 National Book Award, but her book Incarnadine was ambitious and thoughtful enough to overcome this. Her second collection, after Granted (2003), Incarnadine comprises poems focused on the Annunciation. Szybist, who was raised Catholic, uses this intimate moment as an opportunity to explore the relationships between poetry and prayer and to explicate an encounter between the human and “the other”—something outside of human experience, be it nature or, in this case, God.

The National Book Award judges called Incarnadine “a religious book for nonbelievers.” It opens with an epigraph from Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, which sums up Szybist’s approach to the project: “The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation.” Receiving the award, she said, “There’s plenty that poetry cannot do, but the miracle, of course, is how much it can do, how much it does do.” I spoke with Szybist recently about religion, poetry, prayer, and the meaning of her name.

Incarnadine deals with the Annunciation—the visitation of Mary by the angel Gabriel, who tells her that she will have God’s son—and the implications and meaning of such an event. It’s an encounter between the human and something beyond human understanding. Your book is an attempt to describe the indescribable through poetry—which is something that prayer can do, also.

Prayer is one way to do this—and yes, I have thought about the connections between poetry and prayer for a long time, and sometimes I am even tempted to believe that they are similar engagements. When I was young, I reached a point where I found myself unable to pray. I was devastated by it. I missed being able to say words in my head that I believed could be heard by a being, a consciousness outside me. That is when I turned to poetry.

I have always been attracted to apostrophe, perhaps because of its resemblance to prayer. A voice reaches out to something beyond itself that cannot answer it. I find that moving in part because it enacts what is true of all address and communication on some level—it cannot fully be heard, understood, or answered. Still, some kinds of articulations can get us closer to such connections—connections between very different consciousnesses—and I think the linguistic ranges in poetry can enable that. Read More »

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Live Like William Blake, and Other News

July 16, 2013 | by

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  • The picturesque West Sussex cottage where William Blake lived, sometimes nude, from 1800–1803 (the period during which he wrote “Jerusalem”) is on the market for £650,000. The agent says, “The original part of the cottage has been altered little in its essential features. The rooms in which William Blake lived retain enormous character and the dining room was at this time the site of his printing press.”
  • Reading (along with writing and doing puzzles) improves cognitive function in old age, a study shows.
  • In which writers such as Emma Straub and Matthew Specktor discourse on their favorite literary streets.
  • Google’s Kafka doodle was not remotely Kafkaesque, Twitter feels.
  • July 17, obviously, is Take Your Poet to Work Day. Herewith, handy cutouts of several bards. Blake not included (but that’s probably a good thing).
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    Fake Blake, Back Covers, and Other News

    June 24, 2013 | by

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  • So what’s with all the women’s backs on book covers?
  • “Could I have chosen my own genius and condition, I would have made myself a great poet,” said John Quincy Adams. Judge for yourself.
  • A school librarian has discovered that a poem called “Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room”—attributed to Blake and included on many a school reading list—was in fact written in the United States in the 1980s.
  • Following some extremely (and legally) questionable advice on “getting awesome with women,” Kickstarter has banned all seduction guides. 
  • This week’s Bookriot Sunday Diversion—guessing a book title based on its Library of Congress catalog subjects—is, in our humble opinion, nearly impossible.
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    Let the Memory Live Again

    April 9, 2013 | by

    Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 11.43.37 AMI remember in sixth grade a substitute teacher asked the class if we knew any poems by heart. Did I! I favored the assembled company with a little Wordsworth, some Blake, and, because I was cool like that, a soupçon of Ogden Nash. Needless to say, everyone was really impressed, and I was incredibly popular for the rest of the school year. My penchant for oversize flannel jumpers only helped!

    As usual, I was ahead of my time: Penguin Classics has released an amazing app called Poems by Heart, a memorization game that helps users learn poetry. For me the virtues of rote learning were their own reward. But for those who require slightly more incentive, the app provides a scoring program, a recording mechanism, and original art. Flannel jumper optional.

     

     

     

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    Spring Poems

    February 24, 2012 | by

    Spring is upon us! Or almost. What poems will get my mind off wintertime?

    More than the other seasons, spring is a state of mind. As you know, it can strike in the dead of winter or go AWOL all April and May. It is the season of initiation, of mysteries, when the evening lengthens and spreads out before us and we are filled with irrational hope. Or not, and we feel its absence: spring is no longer for us. “I am a man of fortune greeting heirs; / For it has come that thus I greet the spring.” We all know about April being the cruelest month; Rodgers and Hart put it more succinctly: “Spring is here, / I hear.”

    We all have our favorite greatest hits (you can’t call a spring poem a chestnut): Deirdre likes William Carlos Williams’s “Spring and All,” e.e. cummings’s poem beginning “in / Just spring,” and Emily Dickinson’s “A Light exists in Spring.” Sadie loves Elizabeth Bishop’s “In Early Spring” and the Dickinson poem that starts “A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King” (though she admits it gets “a little odd” as it goes along). Stephen plumps for “Fern Hill,” on the sensible grounds that it concerns “the spring of life.”

    The poem that occurs to me is “Les Chercheuses de Poux,” by Arthur Rimbaud. Here it is in Wyatt Mason’s translation, which magically preserves some of the strangeness and sensuality of the original:

    Lice Hunters

    When the child's forehead full of red torments
    Begs the white swarm of vague dreams
    To take him, two charming sisters loom
    Above his bed, with fragile fingers and silver nails.

    They sit him before a window opened wide
    Where a jumble of flowers bathes in blue air,
    And then, bewitching and terrible, the delicate fingers
    Walk through his heavy, dew-matted hair.

    He listens to the song of their uneasy breath,
    Long earthy blossoms of rose-rich honey
    Interrupted now and then by a salivary sucking,
    Tongues licking lips, hungry for a kiss.

    He hears their black lids bat beneath
    The scented silence, their gentle pulsing fingers
    Kill little lice beneath royal nails crackling
    Sounds resounding through his gray stupor.

    But the wine of Sloth is rising in him,
    A harmonica's sigh that sets you reeling;
    Beneath the slowness of their caresses, the child
    Feels an urge to cry, welling and dying, endlessly.

    We also polled a few friends from outside the office: the aforementioned Wyatt Mason; Molly Murray, who is lecturing on Shakespeare at Columbia; Jeff Dolven, who happens to be doing the very same thing at Princeton (and has two poems in our last issue); and Kira von Eichel, whose child was falsely accused this week of having lice—and who recruited her mother, Linden von Eichel, in the cause.

    Wyatt chose a poem by Frederick Seidel, from issue 194. He writes: “I hope you won’t argue that it isn’t a spring poem. Spring is coupling, so a spring poem must be in couplets. Spring is song, so a spring poem must rhyme. Spring is light, so a spring poem is lit from within. Spring is nice weather, so ‘Nice Weather’ is spring. And don't tell me I’m being tautological. I don’t know what that means.” Read More »

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    Staff Picks: ‘DOC,’ ‘Luminous Airplanes’

    September 23, 2011 | by

    H. L. “Doc” Humes in Greenwich Village, ca. 1961. Photo: Courtesy of the Humes family.

    A gregarious talker, novelist, activist, hippie, druggie, filmmaker, and original hipster, Harold L. “Doc” Humes was the kind of man who inspired followings. (Even Wikipedia can’t help but gush, describing him as “a contemporary Don Quixote.”) He was also, of course, a founding editor of The Paris Review. His daughter’s documentary about his rollicking life, DOC, is screening at the Anthology Film Archives on October 1st and 2nd. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

    Paul LaFarge’s strange, experimental, oddly moving Luminous Airplanes is worth reading for its own considerable merits. But for the full, interactive experience, you have to immerse yourself in the Web site, too. And that’s all I’ll say. —Sadie Stein

    I have been rereading John Cheever’s stories and am happy and surprised to discover they are all fairy tales—not just the openly magical ones like “The Swimmer” or the European stories, with their nobles and castles, but even a country-club story like “Just Tell Me Who It Was,” in which a jealous husband goes looking for a tell-tale golden slipper. How had I never noticed this before? —Lorin Stein

    I recently found a copy of the Huntington Library’s facsimile edition of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, issued together with extended commentary. I’m a sucker for facsimile editions, and this a gorgeous, visionary book—Blake’s diaphanous, pliant figures; wilting, overgrown plant life; organic page designs; and stained coloration. Every Blake fan should have this in his or her library. —Nicole Rudick

    Rob Delaney writes in Vice this week about why we need to save St. Mark’s Books. —Natalie Jacoby

    Woody Allen would be baffled. But who doesn’t like a tribute to Manhattan? In any case, it got me to rewatch the opening sequence—and I defy any New Yorker not to get goosebumps when the fireworks go off over the river. (Philadelphians, even!) —S. S.

    And while we’re talking Woody Allen? This is when Twitter justifies its existence. —S. S.

    Riot Grrrl revival! —N.R.

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