Christina Rossetti's 'A Chilly Night'.

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

At some stage i will get round to reading her ‘Goblin Market’ which is a poem I admire very much. But it requires a day when no dogs bark, no one rings the door bell, the wind isn’t rattling the windows and the traffic is muted or slient. Until such a day, this strange piece.

It’s not in my copy of ‘Selected Poems’, but in a fascinating anthology called ‘Poets on Poets’ (1997) edited by Nick Rennison and Michael Schmidt and published by Carcanet.

Paula Meehan's 'My Father perceived as a vision of St. Francis'

Paula Meehan 1955-

I first heard Meehan’s voice when she was being interviewed on ABC Radio, back in the day when the ABC had its token one hour poetry program. She had the kind of voice I wanted to borrow and bring home. I would invite it to stay and ask it to read bulky instructional booklets for long lost appliances. I would be attentive to every syllable the voice uttered no matter what it was reading.

Some voices are like that.

I scrambled to find her poems. it’s a poetry of Dublin domestic, and that is more compliment than description. You can sometimes be forgiven for thinking all British and Irish poets were born wearing cloth caps, and grew up on farms speaking obscure but ancient dialects. While writing odes to vegetables, they can effortlessly help a cow calve, skin rabbits with their teeth, and name the fifty two different species of flowers growing on the family dung heap.

Meehan’s is an urban poetry of streets and small houses, gardens, markets, meetings. The view from the upstairs window to the fields beyond. Flecked through with humour and rage and non-sentimental compassion. I come from Coventry. It makes sense.

This poem is the first in the collection ‘Pillow Talk’, Gallery Press 1994

Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Ozymandias'

Percy B. Shelley. (1792-1822) A close tie with Wordsworth for my least favorite Romantic Poet. But this is one of the classic poems in English, and since it was requested by a friend, here it is.

A few posts back in the notes to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner I mentioned Richard Holmes’ superb biography of Coleridge. He also wrote a superb biography of Shelley. Didn’t make P.B.S sound like someone I’d like to meet, but it is an excellent biography.

And yes, if you wish to hear a poem read, send suggestions via the website and I’ll see what I can do.

Charlotte Mew's 'The Farmer's Bride'

This poem is taken from ‘Modern Women Poets’ edited by Deryn Rees-Jones (Bloodaxe 2005). It’s an excellent anthology, as is the companion volume of analysis, ‘Consorting with Angels’.

I know very little about Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) despite my attempts to learn more. But I admire this poem because it creates the Farmer’s Bride through the incomprehension of the farmer. A modern writer would probably be more stident, condemn the farmer as an animal, and bore the reader.

But Mew suggests his incomprehension is genuine. His feeling that something unnatural is happening is grounded in his version of what is natural which is reflected in the animals and changing seasons around him. The poem both accepts this and criticises it as limited.

The poem allows the reader to sympathise with both characters.

This makes it far more interesting, and thought provoking, than something which beats the reader with slogans.

Lesley Saunders' 'Ephemera'

This is the second reading from ‘Nominy Dominy’ Two rivers press, 2019.

I love this because it celebrates something I care about.

Whether you call it culture, or civilisation, it’s the result of a fragile paper trail, and it relies on the saints and scholars and scribes, and the anything but saintly students of the word, whether the word is Greek or Latin or Arabic, whether the religion is Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Bhuddist, whether sacred text or medical treatise, this thing called culture relies for its survival on the humans who often stuffed a book in their pocket or their bag before they ran, and on the men and women who spent lifetimes translating, copying, deciphering, who were curious and cared for something both precious and fragile in their own varied ways.

And despite the barbarians and their barbaric indifference, there have always been those who cared.

‘The infidel tribe of philologues’ doesn’t make the history books that often. But without them there are no books, and no history.

Saunders dedicated ‘Ephemera’ to Jo Balmer.

Byron's 'To Thomas Moore'

George Gordon, Lord Byron, mad bad and dangerous to know unless you were one of his small circle of friends, and Thomas Moore was one of them. Poems about friendships aren’t that common, and this is one of the better ones. It’s self-conscious, over-exaggerated, and humerous as though the genuine sentiment had to be protected by the bluster. That doesn’t make the sentiment any less genuine.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'

STC, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).

Hundreds of thousands have written and published poetry over the centuries, and very, very few of them wrote poems that are still worth reading. An even smaller number might be justifiably called ‘original’. STC was one of these, and he produced a body of work that is unlike anyone else’s. Before he wrecked his talent on an excess of Drugs and Wordsworth which both had a disasterous effect on his lack of self-confidence, he produced some of the outstanding poems in English.

It’s hard to believe now that Wordsworth was embarassed by The Rime and even tried to drop it from later editions of ‘Lyrical ballads’, claiming it had been ‘an injury to the volume’. But this was the man who dumped the first part of Christobel.

It’s even harder to believe the reaction to the poem amongst some of the critics: ‘A poem of little merit’ said one, another, Charles Burney, in the Monthly Review, wrote ‘..the strangest story of a cock and a bull that we ever saw on paper; yet, though it seems a rhapsody of unintelligble wildness and incoherrence, (of which we do not perceive the drift, unless the joke lies in depriving the wedding guest of his share of the feast) there are in it poetical touches of an exquisite kind’.

This is taken from Coleridge, sellected poems, Edited by Richard Holmes.

Anyone interested in Coleridge should read Holmes’ 2 volume biography, which is one of the great literary biographies.

Lesley Saunders' 'Praise Song for a Pair of Earrings'

This is taken from ‘Nominy-Dominy’ (Two Rivers Press-2018)

For once the blurb on the book is right: ‘Nominy-Dominy is a praise-song for the Greek and Latin literature Lesley Saunders grew up with as a schoolgirl’. It’s also well-written, enjoyable and thought provoking even for people like me with precious little Latin and absolutely no Greek.

In this poem, Anchises sleeps with the Goddess. According to the Matter of Britain, which I do know, their son will found Rome and his grandson, or great grandson, will found Britain.

I’ve written at length about this particular poem and you can read why I think it’s so good here: https://ladygodivaandme.blogspot.com/2018/05/leslie-saunders-praise-song-for-pair-of.html

Josephine Balmer's 'The Librarians' Power'.

This is taken from ‘Paths of Survival’ (2017). You can read what I’ve written about this excellent book by clicking here. Modern knowledge of the Classical past, of the ‘foundations of European civilisation’ owes so much to the Arab scholars who preserved, translated and transmitted the literature of Greece and Rome. WIthout the librarians, scribes, translators and patrons who move through Balmer’s book, there would be so much less. After the destruction of the National Library of Baghdad, some of those precious books looked like this:

Photo by Roger LeMoyne

Photo by Roger LeMoyne

 

Mahmoud Darwish's 'Lesson from the Kama Sutra'.

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was born in Galilee and spent his writing life as a ‘Palestinian poet’. Or perhaps ‘The Palestinian Poet’. Most of his life is so far beyond my experience, but his poetry is not.

This is taken from ‘Unfortunately, It Was Paradise’. Selected poems, translated and edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche. It’s a unique collection of poems.

Ciaran Carson, five sonnets from 'The Twelfth of Never'.

Ciaran Carson (Born 1948).

When I started doing this podcast, I knew there were some poets I had to read, and Carson was one of them. But what to read? And then how to read it. His characteristic long lined poems which mimic speaking voices are superb, but whenever I tried to read them I could hear myself drifting into a faked Belfast accent which made me sound exactly like someone trying to do a Belfast accent and failing.

So here are five of the 77 sonnets in the playful, lunatic, inventive 'Twelfth of Never'.

Tib’s Eve
Catmint Tea
The Horse’s Mouth
Fear
Envoy

Acutely sensitive listeners will realise these sonnets are written in Alexandrines, not Iambic pentameter.

Anon: 'Dom Niperi Septoe' or 'The Dairy Maid'.

I first heard Seamus Ennis tell this on the LP ‘Forty Years of Irish Piping’ where it serves as an elaborate introduction to ‘The Smoky House’ reel. It’s a strange story. It could be going anywhere, including towards something nasty, but when it gets to its extraordinary ending, it feels as though it could not have gone anywhere else.

It also dictates its own pronunciation which is also strange.

It’s printed in Ciaran Carson’s magnificent ‘Last Night’s Fun’, which is a book riding the same immaginative currents Ennis was sailing on. It is the only book I’ve ever read that captures what it’s like to play traditional music.

The printed version has a tail that reads:

Now, I knew that little girl years later
said Seamus Ennis,
and whenever we’d be playing music
we’d have to be careful
not to play ‘The Smoky House’.
Becuase if we did, she’d run a mile.
So we never played it,
after we found out that she was allergic
to this reel.
He took up a whistle and he played a reel he called ‘The Smoky House’ or ‘Whatever you Please’.

C.P. Cavafy's 'Ithaka'.

Ulysses again. But this time a celebration of the long and difficult journey, its pleasures and necessities. Without such a journey, Ithaka is just another rock. Without Ithaka, the journey is a random collection of terror and pleasure.

C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933) wrote in Greek and lived in Alexandria. He may well be one of the most interesting poets of the twentieth century. This poem is taken from C.P. Cavafy Collected poems (revised ed) translated by Keeley and Sherrard, edited by George Savidis. It’s a book full of unique magic.

Sam Daniel's from 'To Delia'. The first sonnet.

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619). The first sonnet in the sequence ‘To Delia’.

It’s been estimated that between 1530 and 1650 in Italy, France, Germany and Britain some 3,000 writers produced about 200,000 sonnets. Most of these are conventional and uninteresting. While ‘To Delia’ isn’t equal to the standard set by Sidney, most of the sonnets in it are well-written, intelligent but conventional Tudor Pine: the lover discovers there’s only so many ways in which he can bemoan his lover’s indifference and exhausts them and the reader’s patience.

But I think this first sonnet has one of the best opening images of any sonnet or poem: ‘Unto the boundless ocean of your beauty/runs this poor river…’

Margaret Atwood's 'Marrying the Hangman'.

This is based on a true story.

According to the note on the poetry website at : https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47789/marrying-the-hangman

Jean Cololère, a drummer in the colonial troops at Québec, was imprisoned for duelling in 1751. In the cell next to his was Françoise Laurent, who had been sentenced to hang for stealing. Except for letters of pardon, the only way at the time for someone under sentence of death to escape hanging was, for a man, to become a hangman, or, for a woman, to marry one. Françoise persuaded Cololère to apply for the vacant (and undesirable) post of executioner, and also to marry her.

—Condensed from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume III, 1741-1770

What I admire most about this piece is the way it makes its point by leaving it to the reader to work out what the point might be. In a perfectly pitched declarative language, Atwood tells a strange and unforgetable story, drawing the readers in, inviting them to imagine the situation. Then having suggested more is happening here beyond the biographical details, the story seems to shrug, put its hands in its pockets, and walks off, whistling, leaving the audience to unwrap the parcel. It’s an effect I like very much.

from the Old English 'The Dream of the Rood'.

Inanimate things speak in Old English poetry, often in ways that are ambigious and thought provoking.

in this case, the Cross manages to convey the painful ambiguity of its response. It wants to crush the enemies of Christ. it wants to bend and break. Instead it does its duty, stands fast and allows the eager hero to mount his gallows.

The poem begins with a speaker anouncing that he will tell us ‘The dream of dreams!’. He tells us how he dreamt about the Rood, the Cross on which Christ was crucified. He describes how the Cross appears, and his descripiton acts as a fame or at least an introduction before the Cross itself begins to speak. The passage I’m reading contains the last four lines of the intial dream description and then the opening portion of the Rood’s story of itself.

This is Michael Alexander’s translation from ‘The Earliest English Poems’ published by Penguin Classics, which has recently been reissued as ‘The First Poems in English’. You can hear the whole poem read in Old English by Micheal Drout at http://mdrout.webspace.wheatoncollege.edu/category/dream-of-the-rood/

P.S

The modern title is ambigious. The Poem is not the dream belonging to the Rood, it’s the dream about the Rood.

Bruce Dawe's 'And a Good Friday Was Had By All'

This is taken from Bruce Dawe’s ‘Sometimes Gladness’ a book I’d recommend to anyone.

When I first came to Australia, I knew nothing about a thing called ‘Australian Poetry’. But as an English teacher of English dropped into an Australian high school mid semester I discovered I was supposed to be teaching a unit on Australian Poetry. I raided the school’s stack of poetry books and took them home and read them with a desperation tinged with panic. This poem was the first one I found that I admired.

You could spend a lot of time turning this poem over to consider how you as reader are meant to react to the speaker. He is a soldier doing his job. On this particular Friday his job is to crucify people: ‘Nothing personal you understand….’. or what the title implies about all the people mentioned in the poem.