July 04, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Nature —– June/July 2011.

Writing about web page http://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork

Poetry is often thought to have a special relationship with nature, from the British Romantics to Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers. Nature poetry is now sometimes frowned upon as being too sentimental or idealist, imagining utopias that cannot exist in a modern, urban world. Poetry, however, might be a very useful tool for understanding the human relationship with nature, especially when pollution is rife and industry threatens to destroy America’s beautiful natural spaces for the sake of profit.

In his study, The Song of the Earth, the critic Jonathan Bate draws on the ideas of the philosopher Martin Heidegger to put forward the idea of “poetic dwelling”. Though writing is an act of human production, far away from the natural world, Bate notes that poetry emphasizes the imagination rather than possession, something that is particularly important with regards to nature. This poetic attitude can be seen in the poems of Robert Frost, such as `The Need of Being Versed in Country Things,’ which describes a tumbledown house where birds fly in through the broken windows. Frost notices that in this scene of human wreckage, life carries on: `the lilac renewed its leaf’. Human beings do not dominate the landscape and finally nature reclaims the human dwelling. Frost concludes that for the birds, `there was really nothing sad’.

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(This is a column for the NVWN Newsletter: https://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork).


June 18, 2011

More Poetry Set to Music: Harper's version of Angelou's 'Still I Rise'.

I discovered this on the Live From Mars album this morning. Ben Harper merges a beautiful song about Martin Luther King with Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’: http://youtu.be/Yi4SHLrmiqI


June 11, 2011

Karen LaMonte's Recining Dress Impression with Drapery (2009)

Writing about web page http://www.karenlamonte.com/

Taken at the Renwick, Smithsonian, Washington DC, 2010.


Viewing this work is a remarkable experience. Your first impression is of looking at a solid mass, but when you catch it at particular angles, the body-shaped hollow pops out at you. It really makes you gasp. There’s an incredible presence for something that is not there, a woman who is conspicuously absent. Karen's work draws attention to clothing as a cultural construct--an identifier that relays who you are and your place in the world. The history of the dress is fundamentally tied to what it means to be a woman. Yet Karen has stated that the subject of her work isn't so much feminism, but femininity. (Quoted from... http://www.karenlamonte.com/media/Eye%20Level_%20In%20Conversation%20with%20Karen%20Lamonte_Jan%202010.pdf)


June 09, 2011

'Memory' – a poem by Frida Kahlo.


Frida Kaho

MEMORY

I had swayed. Nothing else. But suddenly I knew

In the depth of my silence

He was following me. Like my shadow, blameless and light

In the night, a song sobbed…

The Indians lengthened, winding, through the alleys of the town.

A harp and a jacaranda were the music, and the smiling dark-skinned girls

Were the happiness

In the background, behind the “Zócalo,” the river shined

and darkened, like

the moments of my life.

He followed me.

I ended up crying, isolated in the porch of the parish church,

protected by my bolita shawl, drenched with my tears.

----

Reproduced in The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas, ed. and trans. Martha Zamora, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, p. 9. 


June 06, 2011

Robert Frost and the Environment: A Short Bibliography

Writing about web page http://enviroencyclopedia.blogspot.com/

Robert Frost and the Environment: Bibliography

I recently wrote up an entry for a new Encyclopedia on the subject of the environment in American literature. The entry was on Robert Frost, and I paste a fuller bibliography here. In the process of writing, I was very much struck by the complexity of Frost's poems, beyond his more well-known poems like 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening'. 

Robert Frost


Faggen, Robert (2001) Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin, Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press.

---(ed.) (2001) The Cambridge Companion to Robert Frost, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---(2008) The Cambridge Introduction to Robert Frost, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Frost, Robert (1964) Complete Poems, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilso.

---(1966) Interviews with Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Lathem, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson.

---(2006) The Notebooks of Robert Frost, ed. Robert Faggen, Boston MA: Harvard University Press.

---(2007) The Collected Prose of Robert Frost. Ed. Mark Richardson. Cambridge: Beknap Press/Harvard University Pres.

Kearns, Katherine (1994) Robert Frost and a poetics of appetite, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000.

Spencer, Matthew (2003) Elected Friends: Robert Frost and Edward Thomas to one another, New York: Handsel Books/Other Press.

Timmerman, John H. (2002) Robert Frost and the Ethics of Ambiguity, Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.

Tuten, Nancy Lewis and John Zubizarreta (2001) The Robert Frost Encyclopedia, Westport CT: Greenwood Publishing. 


June 01, 2011

Being an Immigrant During World War Two

Wars are not only fought along battlelines, but also at home. And while cultural and political tensions are played out on the field of war, they also show themselves in the towns and cities that soldiers are fighting to protect.

One sad story of the home front was told to me by my Welsh grandmother, Norma Roach. it told the tale a family of Italian immigrants, who during World War Two, lived in Maesteg, a small coal town in South Wales. Italians from the Apennine Mountains migrated to the UK during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and many of them settled in Wales. The Welsh Valley people became used to Italian cafés and ice-cream parlours.

One such Italian family was the Bellis, who set up an Italian café in Maesteg, the town where my Welsh family lived for hundreds of years. They were well liked in town, but during World War Two, a policy of internment was brought in for immigrants from Italy, Germany and other enemy countries. After Mussolini declared war in 1940, the British government saw Italian immigrants as enemy aiens and potential spies. To control this unknown quantity, the government decided to send these immigrants to Canada where they could do less harm.

This meant, however, breaking up families. The older Bellis who were Italian citizens were rounded up and put on a boat to Canada – the SS Arandora Star, while members of the Belli family who were born in Wales had to stay behind.

The ironic thing was that the Bellis journeying to Canada on the Arandora Star never completed their journey. It was sunk in the Atlantic by a German submarine. There were over 1200 German and Italian internees on board, and over 800 people died including the Bellis.


Leadership Underground: My Grandfather's Story

Writing about web page http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story

[This entry originally appeared on Red Room: http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story]

When I think about leadership, I will always remember family stories told to me about my Welsh grandfather. Graham Roach was a miner who worked his way up to be the pit’s safety officer, a job which often involved dealing with painful and disfiguring injuries. People are often aware of mining disasters, but often, they are not so conscious of the accidents that happen regularly, every week even. How, for example, my grandfather watched a slice of stone fall down and cut off the four fingers of a man who had been resting his hand on the seam. The stories of these eponymous accidents and how my grandfather dealt with them, were passed along the family grapevine. My grandfather told my uncle who in turn told my mother who in turn told me.

One famous story tells how my grandfather himself was injured. The night was when a conveyor belt snapped and wrapped itself round the leg of my grandfather and another man.

The first man was screaming: ‘For the love of God, get it off me, boys.’

My grandfather, never one to waste words, simply said: ‘Me too, boys.’

He was always a man of few words, and the story made us all laugh, even though it meant hours of agony for my grandfather. The first man was weeping and wailing and calling out for a doctor. My grandfather simply repeated: ‘Me too.’

On another shift, my grandfather was underground when the mine flooded. Down one tunnel, some of the machinery had been swallowed up by the water. At the end of the tunnel was a long black pool. Taking off his boots, my grandfather readied himself. Now he dived into the water-filled shaft meeting the water’s cold slap. He dived down feeling his way along the side of the shaft in the dark. His hand blundered on something metallic and sharp. He came up with the drill and worked all night in his wet clothes.

It doesn’t surprise me that during World War Two, my grandfather had one of the most dangerous jobs in the airforce as a rear gunner. In the airforce and in his job at the mine, he always seemed to be the one to take on the difficult task, the thing that no one else wanted to do. He is altogether the kind of leader that I admire. Not a showy or conspicuous man, but nevertheless a man who knows how to act in a crisis. A man who doesn’t make a fuss when something goes wrong, but simply waits in silence for help to come. A man who does unpleasant tasks, not relishing them, but knowing that they have to be done and that he must lead by example.

My grandfather: Graham Roach

Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Music —– May/June 2011.

Writing about web page http://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork

At a recent event at Penn State, poet Robin Becker opened her reading by noting that poetry had its origins in song, and she quoted the Pennsylvania poet J.D. McClatchy who says: “All arts want to have their birth in music”. Poetry and song do seem to overlap in significant ways. Some poets like the Surrealist Peter Blegvad set their words to music. Musicians also make songs of poems, as in Joni Mitchell’s rendering of W.B. Yeats’ `The Second Coming…

...John Cale’s version of Dylan Thomas’s `Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night…

...or Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take this Waltz’ based on Lorca’s
poem `Little Viennese Waltz’...

Some songwriters, too, have the lyrics of a poet. Many cite Bob Dylan as a prime example, or his forebear, Woody Guthrie, who wrote poetic narratives on the lives of the poor. This particularly American tradition is carried on today by artists like Gillian Welch, who write the stories of the outcast, poor and bereft. Written about the tragedy of American sharecroppers in the 1930s, Welch’s `Annabelle’ recalls Walker Evan’s eponymous photographs of Depression-era poverty. Songs like this also recall the origins of poetry, as an essentially sung form and a means to convey oral histories.


April 28, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: War Poetry —– April/May 2011.

Last year, I joined the Nittany Valley Writer’s Network in Pennsylvania, and I have been trying to convince some of the other members of the wondrous nature of poetry. Consequently, they’ve asked me to write a column in the newsletter on “Why Poetry Matters”, the title taken from Jay Parini’s excellent book Why Poetry Matters.

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War is all over the news at the moment. The Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East has seen millions of people rise up to demand a new democracy. The news coverage is insufficient to convey their sacrifice. Poetry, however, might fill this gap, because it offers language free from political jingoism.

There have been many solider poets, from the English World War One poets like Wilfred Owen, to the modern day Brian Turner who served in the US army in Iraq. Most recently, however, I discovered Elyse Fenton’s Clamor, which won the $50,000 Dylan Thomas Prize.

Fenton is married to a trauma specialist in the US Army, and_Clamor_ is based on experiences of waiting for him to return from Iraq. The opening poem, ‘Gratitude’, finds the wife listening to her husband describe the grotesque scenes witnessed by her husband. When the body of a burned soldier is delivered ‘beyond recognition’, her husband must be ‘the one to sink the rubber catheter tube’. The distance is frustrating; over the phone, the wife hears ‘rotors / scalping the tarmac-grey sky’. The conversation and the story end, but the question is how long can anyone, let alone her husband, survive? How long before he comes home? The final image might indicate relief or foreboding.


[…] That moment just before we think the end will never come and then
the moment when it does.

April 02, 2011

Dylan Thomas Tour

Writing about web page http://www.newyorkfuntours.com/dylan-thomas.html

New York, Greenwich Village

I have been meaning to write up something about this for ages, but I have been completely snowed under with work recently. New York fun tours have set up a Dylan Thomas tour of Greenwich Village in New York: http://www.newyorkfuntours.com/dylan-thomas.html and, a good few months ago, I was invited with a group of Welsh artists and actors to go on the inaugural tour led by the writer Ianto Jones. The script for the tour has been written by the poet Peter Thabit Jones and Dylan Thomas’s daughter Aeronwy Thomas.

New York, Dylan Thomas Tour, Ianto Jones

The tour took us around many of Dylan Thomas’s old haunts. It began at the church where hundreds attended Thomas’s funeral – St. Luke’s in the Field – and it visited the sites of speakeasies which he frequented, and the Cherry Lane Theatre set up by Edna St. Vincent Millay, where Thomas gave one of his most successful American readings. We were able to have a look inside the beautiful Washington Square Hotel, where Thomas used stay during his tours of NYC, and we also went to visit Patchin Place where E.E. Cummings, poet and friend of Thomas, used to live. It was also where Djuna Barnes used to live, and Ianto Jones pointed out her house. Finally, we saw the hospital where Thomas was treated – St Vincent’s – and the eponymous White Horse Tavern which was one of his favourites.

New York, Greenwich Village, Cherry Lane Theatre

Overall, it was a really entertaining tour, and it gave a powerful sense of what Greenwich Village must have been like in the fifties. The facts about Thomas and the readings from his letters and writing were illuminating, but the tour also gave a more general history about the stories behind Greenwich Village, such as Thomas’s namesake Bob Dylan.

New York, Dylan Thomas Tour

The people on the inaugural tour were an interesting lot. There was the winner of this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize, Elyse Fenton, whose poetry collection_Clamor_ discusses war from the point of view of a soldier’s wife waiting at home. It’s a great collection, and later Elyse gave a short reading of some very moving and powerful poems. There was also the cast and crew of the Welsh film Third Star, set in Pembrokeshire, including the writer Vaughan Sivell. There were a number of other Welsh actors too including Hywel John and Emer Kenny, as well as Welsh radio and drama producers, the British consulate and his wife, and many others.

New York, Greenwich Village, EE Cummings
E.E. Cummings’ house
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New York, Greenwich Village, Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes’ house


...

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