Monday, August 26, 2019

The Waste Land, a complete reading.

www.liamguilar.com/the-poetry-voice/2019/8/27/tseliots-the-waste-land

I recorded a complete reading of the poem for 'The Poetry Voice Podcast'.  For me an opportunity to enjoy the poem without thinking about it as something that has to be analysed or understood, which affirmed not only how good it is, but how entertaining it is as well.
He was good was Mr. Eliot.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

How to write a poem

The Irish Poet Austin Clarke:

Robert Frost had been given an honorary degree in Dublin, and after the conferring was introduced to Clarke.

'As we sat together on a comfortable sofa in Newman House, he asked me what kind of verse I wrote. Having been rarely asked such a question I was confused, and then suddenly, thinking of the 'strong man' whom I had often seen on his 'pitch' near St Martin's in the Fields, replied: 'I load myself with chains and try to get out of them'. 'Good Lord!" exclaimed the wise octogenarian poet, 'You can't have many readers'.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Presentment of Englishry



Print extracts and sound files of me reading some of the shorter pieces are now available at  http://www.liamguilar.com/a-presentment-of-englishry

The Legendary History, which these poems are based on, is one answer to the question: What does it mean to be British, or English. And the Medieval response was not as simplistic as some of the more recent political attempts to answer that question. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Gerald of Wales, Three stories from the Journey through Wales.

On this week's The Poetry Voice Podcast my version of three stories from Gerald of Wales' 'The Journey through Wales' one of the most readable of 12th century texts.

You can hear them read here:

http://www.liamguilar.com/the-poetry-voice/2019/7/17/gerald-of-wales-three-stories-from-the-journey-through-wales

The first one is a brutal mini tragedy, it starts like this....

He stepped out into unobstructed wind,
shut and barred the door, half-dragged, 
half-carried the defeated child towards 
the parapet. His fumbling hand felt stone

felt for the edge and end of stone, found space.
Footsteps on the stair, pounding at the door.
A small crowd in the courtyard, pointing 
to a blind man and a child on the castle’s 

highest tower. The castellan was pleading: 
‘Give me back my son!’ and demanding 
to know how the prisoner had escaped.
Blinded and castrated, for a reason

no one could remember, he’d been there so long
he’d been allowed to grope his way around. 
No one thought he could be dangerous.
‘Give me back my son, my only son, my heir,

and I will set you free.’ ‘Castrate yourself,’ 
the blind man raged. ‘Castrate yourself or 
I will toss your son, your only son, onto the stones below.’
The gathered people saw the blade descend and groaned.

‘You’ve done it?’ called the man. ‘I have.’
‘Where does it hurt?’ ‘In my groin, ‘You lied.’ 
The blind man moved the child closer 
to the edge. ‘Wait,’ screamed the lord, ‘this time.’

.....it doesn't end well....


http://www.liamguilar.com/the-poetry-voice/2019/7/17/gerald-of-wales-three-stories-from-the-journey-through-wales

The poems were first published in The High Window. They are now available in A Presentment of Englishry (Shearsman 2019) available from online book sellers and direct from www. liamguilar. com





Monday, July 1, 2019

The Poetry Voice Podcast is fifty!

Despite Illness, howling dogs, screeching parrots, unwanted door knockers, the Australian Tradesman's strange habit of trying to listen to his portable radio while operating power tools and wearing the compulsory ear protection, not to mention hail storms, gale force winds and other natural disasters....The Podcast has made it to fifty episodes.
You can subscribe on iTunes. Just search for The Poetry Voice in their podcasts, or you can hear it at liamguilar.com 

You can also request poems.

So to celebrate being fifty,  this week's episodes will be ...different. Here's the first.

http://www.liamguilar.com/the-poetry-voice/2019/7/1/liam-guilars-lute-recitals


So far there's poetry from Old and Middle English, poems in translation from Poland to Palestine, well known poems, poems that should be well known, pieces so small I had to do more than one to make the podcast and some long pieces. Most enjoyable to read? 'The Rime of The Ancient Mariner' and David Jones's 'The Hunt'. Surprises? How awful some poems sounded. (They never made it to the podcast) and on a positive note how Bunting's 'Villion' and Pound's Canto ll swing.

A full list of the fifty episodes listed by Poet.


Anon (15th Century ) ‘I sing of a maiden’
Anon Old English, From The Battle of Maldon.
Anon. ‘Dom Niperi Septoe’ or ‘The Dairy Maid’.
Anon. From Old English ‘The Dream of the Rood’
Atwood Margaret ‘Marrying the Hangman’
Balmer  Jo ‘The Librarians’ power’
Boland Evan ‘Quarantine’
Bunting Basil ‘Villon’
Byron  ‘To Thomas Moore’
Campbell Joseph ‘Two Poems’
Carroll, Lewis  ‘Jabberwocky’
Carson Ciaran ‘Five sonnets from The Twelfth of Never’
Cavafy C.P ‘Ithaka’
Coleridge, Samuel, 'The Rime of the ancient Mariner' 
Daniel Sam to ‘To Delia’. The first sonnet.
Darwish Mahmoud ‘Lesson From the Karma Sutra’
Dawe Bruce  ‘And a good Friday was had by all’
Eliot T.S. ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’
Feaver Vicki   ‘Judith’
Guilar Liam 'Lute Recitals'.
Guilar Liam ‘Laȝamon Remembers ireland’
Guilar Liam ‘Presentment of Englishry’
Heaney Seamus ‘The Given Note’.
Herbert Zbigniew ‘The Envoy of Mr. Cogito’
Hewitt John ‘An Irishman in Coventry’
Hope A.D. ‘The End of a journey’
Jones David ’ ‘The Hunt’
Kavanagh Patrick ‘Kerr’s Ass’
Kipling Rudyard  ‘Danny Deever’
Kipling Rudyard ‘A Three part song’
Kipling Rudyard ‘In the Neolithic age’
Laȝamon ‘The prologue to Laȝamon’s Brut’. 
Laȝamon’s ‘Brut’, The conception of King Arthur.
Longley Michael ‘Laertes’
Macniece Louis ‘Cradle song for Eleanor’
Mahon Derek  ‘Everything is going to be allright’.
Meehan Paula 'My Father perceived as a vision of Saint Francis'
Mew, Charlotte  ‘The Farmer’s bride’
Milne A.A ‘Disobedience’
Pound Ezra ‘Canto 11’
Rossetti Christina  'A chily night'
S.Vincent Millay Edna, 'Bluebeard'
Saunders Lesley ‘Ephemera’
Saunders Lesley ‘Praise song for a pair of earings’.
Service Robert ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’
Shelley Percy 'Ozymandias'
Sidney, Sir Philip Sonnet 1 from ‘Aristophil and Stella’
Tennyson Alfred  ‘Ulysses’
Thomas Dylan ‘Lament’
Thomas Edward ‘The Gallows’


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Casket by Andy Brown

Casket by Andy Brown. Shearsman Chapbooks, 2019. (31 pages)

I like this short collection very much.

The Casket in question is the The Frank’s Casket, a ‘whalebone’ box dating from the eighth century, covered with Runic inscriptions and almost cluttered with intricately carved and often enigmatic scenes.

For readers interested in Old English Poetry, the Casket is accidentally iconic. The cover of the Penguin Classics edition of Michael Alexander’s ‘The Earliest English poems’ (1966), which contained those ground breaking translations of Old English,  was a slightly blurred image from one of its panels. It is a pleasure to see the thing in the British Museum. And astonishing to see how small it is.
Brown’s chapbook consists of five poems, or five short sequences, one for each of the side panels, one for the lid. It’s very good.  I like the way it ghosts Old English.

Each poem begins with the relevant runic inscription and takes off from there. A note from the author explains the runic alphabet. Each rune has an equivalent letter and what Brown calls a ‘pictorial’ value… the word for Fish in runic script also contains the values for ‘wealth’ ‘ice’ ‘sun’ and ‘torch’’.  ‘To write the following poems I determined the sequence of images yielded by each runic word, and then used these images or variants of them, to write the poems’ (p.5).

As a concept, it’s interesting, but it puts conceptual intelligence into the architecture of the poems, where I think it should be. Whether or not you can map the runes directly onto the poems, and how much latitude Brown allowed himself in that ‘variants of them’, would require far more time than I’m willing to dedicate to the effort of finding out. Unlike so much 'conceptualised poetry', the poems in this collection stand as poems.

The collection is thematically linked by the last line ‘…this shared and ever constant now’. The chapbook presents ‘the place where I live’ (coyly unspecified in a book about place)  as a palimpsest: modern golfers play where Britons and Saxons fought. On the water, New Foundland cod boats set sail and pass Danish raiders and ‘Dunkirkers’ coming home, while Flemish privateers have landed to burn the town.  Glimpses of history mingle with scenes from the present, graffiti’d bridges and frozen allotments, trail bikers and fishermen.

The poetry itself is skilfully written. The first sequence, ‘Whalebone’ picks up the echo of Old English alliterative verse. The Anglo-Saxon line with its triple crash and bang doesn’t sound good if sustained in modern English, so Brown’s handling of it here is skilful, evocative of Old English, giving the poem an onward movement but without sounding heavy handed:

This unforgiving trade, when the ice
Of February frets the core and fingers
And the sun’s declining disk smoulders
Barely bright enough to light the creek. 

The nod towards Old English is also beautifully done towards the end of the fifth section. One poem, beginning ‘I sing’ blurs the distinction between the Casket, its maker and the poet, since all three are ‘singing’:  the lines evoke the epigrammatic mood of Old English. 
This leads to that most Old English of poems, ‘the thing speaking’….(’prosopopoeia’ is not a word I get to type very often.)

Snatched from the creature’s warmth
And brought into the sun
I’ve made this voyage to artful box 

This sounds like the beginning of one of the Exeter book riddles. But ‘For month’s I knew the workman’s hands’ leads into the bone’s description of how it became a casket and we’ve moved from riddle to something more affecting. My candidate for ‘the best piece in the book’.
The last fourteen lines in the chapbook seem to offer some kind of conclusion, but I think they are perhaps the least convincing piece/s of the collection. The tendency of OE to epigrammatic, generalising is captured in

We have the measure of our lives all wrong
it’s not this time of flesh and blood alone,
but the slow millennia of dissolution,
when skin and bone return to whence they came

But the sudden shift from the previously specific ‘I’ to the vague ‘we’ and the equally generalised statement which slides off the fact the Casket has, after at least a thousand years, most definitely not returned to whence it came, might be the only flaw in the collection.. 

My only reservation may be irrelevant and whether you see it as criticism or observation depends on what you want from the poems you read.

As a reader of poems, and buyer of poetry, there are thousands of books to choose from. But increasingly I feel it doesn’t really matter. There are varying degrees of technical competence but at the end of some collections I wonder if life would have been any worse for not reading them. 

The problem facing writers and readers of contemporary poetry is that lurking, ‘Nice.. but so what? ‘

Bunting wrote ‘Then is now’ and produced Briggflatts . Eliot spun whorls with time past and time present being simultaneously present in time future. David Jones started with the idea of a past permanently present in the language and built In Parenthesis and The Anathemata. The idea of ‘a shared and ever constant now’ has been the starting point of some major poetic writing.

If you read Casket, you’ll never look at the Frank’s casket the same way again. Which is a good thing, though looking at the Frank’s Casket is not something most of get the chance to do very often.

If you live in Britain and don’t realise you are living in a place with a deep and varied history, some of it still visible around you, the collection might wake you up to that fact.

But if the last fourteen lines offer a conclusion, they are perhaps the least convincing piece/s of the collection. For all the verbal skill, there’s a step not taken, and ‘so what?’ is doing a passable impersonation of Grendel, lurking on the edges of the reading. Whether you let him or not depends on you. If you let him in, the effect is disastrous.

I don’t know if this is an observation or a criticism.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

C.S.Lewis on Obscurity in Poetry

Reading David Jones, the complicated question of obscurity: what it is, how you deal with it, what effect it has on reading and value, is never far away.

Here’s C.S.Lewis, discussing the Arthurian poetry of Charles Williams and teasing out different categories of ‘obscurity’.  He describes four types, admitting that the boundaries between them can be blurred.  Endearingly, he wrote: ‘the extreme indulgence towards obscurity which characterizes the taste of modern readers is not very likely to last’. He was writing in 1948. 

1)    Obscurity may come from slovenliness of syntax. Poets, as well as prose writers, may construct sentences which are difficult to construe. Lewis calls this kind of Obscurity a vice. His example from Williams is ‘‘‘who fly the porphyry stair’ is intended to mean ‘who fly up the porphyry stair’. But by the nature of the English language it cannot do so. This is a bad fault.’
2)    Obscurity may be deliberate. No poetry worth the name can be perfectly translated into prose. But the poet may choose to write poetry which makes not perfect translation but any translation impossible. This is legitimate. 
3)    Privatism. This occurs when the reader, however sensitive and generally cultivated he or she may be, could not possibly understand the poem unless the poet chose to tell something more than he has done in the poem. Lewis’ example is that he has been told he is wasting his time trying to puzzle out lines in a poem because the explanation lay not in the poem but in events which had occurred in his informant’s house. ‘In so far as the poem was addressed to a circle of friends such privatism is a not a literary fault at all; in so far as the poem was exposed without warning for sale in the shops it seems to me to be simply a way of ‘obtaining money under false pretences’. He goes on to state that ‘if I do not desire a law against this form of cheating, that is only because such a law would be too difficult either to frame or administer. The thing involves such a blend of dishonesty, puerility, and discourtesy, such a denial of ‘co-inherence’ such a reckless undermining of the very conditions in which literature can flourish, that no punishment such criticism can inflict would be sufficiently severe.’ 
4)    Unshared background. Lewis’ uses the Waste Land as his example. If you have never read Dante or Shakespeare certain things in that poem will be obscure to you. ‘But then, frankly, we ought to have read Dante or Shakespeare, or at least the poet has the right to address only those who have’.  Williams assumes you know the Bible, Malory and Wordsworth pretty well, and have at least some knowledge of Milton, Dante, Gibbon, the Mabinogion and church history. Lewis sees this as legitimate. But when Williams assumes that you know ‘Heraclitus as quoted by W.B Yeats’ or Eliot assumes you know ‘From Ritual to Romance’ the difficulties are becoming less obviously legitimate. However, as he points out, the things referred to are accessible. You could read RtoR. This is not the same as selling a poem which only works for those who know ‘the colour of your nurse’s hair, the jokes of your preparatory school, or the favourite sayings of your aunt.’ ‘Yet is it obvious that there will come a point at which you use in your poetry scraps of your own reading so intrinsically unimportant and so very unlikely to be shared by the best readers [if any] that you have become guilty of privatism’.

The point where 3 becomes 4 is obviously harder to define than problems of syntax. But I wonder. How many readers do you need to share your background before you're free of the charge of  'privatism'? And i wonder how many poets, with established reputations, have been guilty of privatism, and got away with it because no one was willing to admit they couldn't understand the poems but were too intimidated by reputation to admit their own educated incomprehension? 




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