All entries for August 2010

August 20, 2010

Edwin Morgan 1920–2010.

Writing about web page

I was just writing up a few notes on the influence of Edwin Morgan on the poet Jen Hadfield, when I heard that Morgan died this week . Ben Myers writes of Morgan on The Guardian webiste:

Edwin Morgan was a singular voice in a country with a literary tradition rich in singular voices. He managed to be both an outsider and an academically respected writer who rose to be one of the best of his time; a defender of the underdog and the individual who was nationally lauded when, in 2004, he was elected the first Scots Makar, the Scottish Parliament’s equivalent of Poet Laureate. It was a position that formally recognised Morgan as the national treasure many had already long since viewed him as.

In memory, I post a poem by Morgan that has been a huge influence on Hadfield.*

A View of Things

what I love about dormice is their size
what I hate about rain is its sneer
what I love about Bratach Gorm is its unflappability
what I hate about scent is its smell
what I love about newspapers is their etaoin shrdl
what I hate about philosophy is its pursed lip
what I love about Rory is his old grouse
what I hate about Pam is her pinkie
what I love about semi-precious stones is their preciousness
what I hate about diamonds is their mink
what I love about poetry is its ion engine
what I hate about hogs is their setae
what I love about love is its porridge spoon
what I hate about hate is its eyes
what I love about hate is its salts
what I hate about love is its dog
what I love about Hank is his string vest
what I hate about the twins is their three gloves
what I love about Mabel is her teeter
what I hate about gooseberries is their look, feel, smell and taste
what I love about the world is its shape
what I hate about a gun is its lock stock and barrel
what I love about bacon-and-eggs is its predictability
what I hate about derelict buildings is their reluctance to disintegrate
what I love about a cloud is its unpredictability
what I hate about you, chum, is your china
what I love about many waters is their inability to quench love

Edwin Morgan (1920-2010)
  • References to ‘A View of Things’ crop up in quite a few of Hadfield’s poems. In Amanacs, Hadfield’s ‘Staple Island Swing’ quotes Morgan’s poem in the epigraph (‘What I hate about love is its dog’) and ‘Love’s Dog’ in Nigh-No-Place is riffing on Morgan too:

What I hate about love is its me me me
What I love about love is its Eat-me/ Drink-me

Jen Hadfield and the Inspiration of Place.

This week I have been working away at writing up a profile of the writer Jen Hadfield for the American publisher Scribners and Sons. I always find it useful to immerse myself in other poets’ work and I usually find that, by the time I reach the surface again, I have learned a great deal. When I was writing my PhD thesis, I devoted myself to the poems of Gwyneth Lewis , Pascale Petit and Deryn Rees-Jones, and I still notice their influence on my writing.

With Hadfield though, I am learning new lessons, particularly in terms of writing about place. Many of Hadfield’s poems devote themselves entirely to reconstituting sense experiences in words. The reviewer Stephen Burt suggested that Hadfield’s aim is to produce sensibilia, sense experiences that are usually beyond the human mind. The detail of Hadfield’s poems is astounding and intimate. It presents us with familiar things in an unfamiliar manner. So a flinching hedgehog becomes a flinching kidney in a frying pan, an image that suggests too the vulnerability of animals in human worlds.

Hadfield lives on the Shetland Isles (specifically West Burra), and in interview, she has talked about how the isolation of the place is nourishing. She enjoys the loneliness, but also the dangers from wind and weather, which remind her of her own mortality every day. This experience of weather is quite unusual in Britain (though the snows last winter gave many people an insight into how Britain would cope with extreme weather: not very well!).

Extreme weather is an everyday feature of the USA. Driving across the States this summer, I encountered incredible heat in the desert; long, winding roads alongside sheer drops in the Rockies; and on the way home in the Mid-West a tornado. Living in Pennsylvania, the winter is intimidating too, the snow snapping power lines, blocking roads, drifting up to stop windows and doors. As Hadfield suggests, however, there is something awe-inspiring about seeing this weather at work: an experience is that both humbling and invigorating. This isn’t an especially new insight, but, having lived in the UK for most of my life, the capricious and indomitable weather in the US has come as a wonderful surprise.

August 11, 2010

The Roadtrip Back (CA to PA): Day 7: Horse–riding in Winter Park and the Rockies National Park

The need to be born again, a fierce need to reinvent the self, is what drew me to America. For me that is the promise of this country, a promise, crossed with blood. (Meena Alexander, Poetics of Dislocation, p. 134)

Winter Park, Colorado
Colorado, Winter Park

Grand Lake, Colorado
Colorado, Grand Lake
Rockies National Park
Colorado, Rockies National Park

Colorado, Rockies National Park
Colorado, Rockies National Park

Colorado, Rockies National Park

The Roadtrip Back (CA to PA): Day 6: The Colorado Rockies

Gunnison, Colorado: Cowmen Parade

Colorado, Gunnison
Colorado, Gunnison
Leadville, Colorado: Tabor Opera House
Coloardo, Leadville

The Roadtrip Back (CA to PA): Day 5: Mesa Verde National Park and the Million Dollar Highway

Mesa Verde National Park
Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park
Million Dollar Highway
Colorado, Rockies, the Million Dollar Highway

Colordo, Rockies

The Roadtrip Back (CA to PA): Day 4: Navajo National Monument and Monument Valley

Navajo National Monument
Arizona, Navajo National Monument

Arizona, Navajo National Monument
Monument Valley
Arizona, Monument Valley

Arizona, Monument Valley
Mexican Hat and The Twins

Arizona, The Twins

August 09, 2010

The Roadtrip Back (CA to PA): Day 3: Grand Canyon

Arizona, Grand Canyon
Arizona, Grand Canyon
Arizona, Grand Canyon
Arizona, Grand Canyon

The Roadtrip Back (CA to PA): Day 2: Into Arizona

Sunset Crater

Arizona, Sunset Crater

Flagstaff, Arizona

Arizona, Flagstaff

Arizona, Flagstaff

The Roadtrip Back (CA to PA): Day 1: Driving Through California

Passing through Los Angeles
California, Los Angeles

Silverwood Lake
California, Silverwood Lake

Route 66
California, Route 66

California, Route 66

August 06, 2010

Poetry Papers at the CWWN Conference

Writing about web page

A paper that I really enjoyed during the conference was by Jane Dowson , who was one of my external examiners for my PhD. We have many interests in common and I was pleased to see Dowson presenting on Kate Clanchy , Pascale Petit and Gwyneth Lewis . Dowson described these poets as inhabiting a New Confessionalism, which needs to be negotiated carefully. Dowson quoted Clare Pollard who suggested that ‘To revert to confessional mode now might be to reaffirm the cultural image of the “Mad Poetess”,’ and she commented on the hostile critical reception faced by Kate Clanchy on the publication of her collection about motherhood Newborn. Dowson condemns the dismissal of confessional poets and uses her ‘new critical grammar’ to discuss Pascale Petit and Gwyneth Lewis. This means:
• paying attention to ‘the unsayable via symbolism, typography, rhythm, self-reflexivity’;
• ‘building alliance with the reader as eavesdropper, confidant/e, listener-subject’;
• being aware of ‘the pleasure and healing of recognition, shared intimacy, community, imaginative expansion’;
• and paying particular attention to intertextuality.

One of my favourite panels from the conference was “Sexuality, Danger and Money in Three Women Poets”. I went along to this panel because it was on three poets that I do not know quite so well; I had never come across Arielle Greenberg or Katy Lederer but I had read a few books by Anne Carson (e.g. Decreation). Unfortunately, I had a farcical moment in this panel where all of my pens ran out of ink at once, so these notes are just from memory and are not quite as detailed as usual.

Darcy L. Brandel discussed Arielle Greeberg’s negotiations of language and violation. She focussed in particular of Greenberg’s interpretation of Marcel Duchamp’s art installation Étant donnés, which presents the viewer with a wooden door that has a peephole for each eye. Through the peepholes can be seen a naked mannequin and a lush landscape. Brandel discussed the ambiguity of this image: is the naked woman/mannequin powerful or powerless? Is she offering an invitation to the viewer or is she being violated? In her analysis of Greenburg’s poem ‘Given’, Brandel offered detailed analysis of the poet’s experimental use of language and outlined the poet’s condemnation of the artwork’s voyeurism: ‘in the afterlife—-is so accommodating a gift / of gaslight murdered by air’.

Next Paul Crossthwaite spoke about Katy Lederer’s collection The Heaven-sent Leaf, a collection of 45 almost-sonnets. Crossthwaite focussed on how Lederer brings together money and poetry comparing the two as systems with economies, values and currencies. Lederer worked as a “brainworker” at a hedge fund in midtown Manhattan, and the book was published at the beginning of the downturn in the world economy. Crossthwaite talked (among other things) about how bringing the language of finance into poetry lends it at times a prosiness that is in tension with the sprung and musical lines elsewhere in the poems.

The final paper was presented by Maya Linden on desire, danger and ambivalence in Anne Carson’s poetic form. Linden talked particularly about Carson’s collection Autobiography of Red and The Beauty of the Husband focussing on how Carson approaches femininity, masochism and self-destructiveness. Linden seemed to be suggesting that the ambivalence in Carson’s writing is a problem for more conventional feminisms and that there needs to be a more expansive kind of politics to understand Carson’s work.


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