Tag Archives: poetry

Out with the Old and In with the New

Unless I suddenly discover a previously unknown reserve of ambition and energy this is going to be my last post of 2017. I may squeeze another one in, but I probably won’t as I intend to make soup and sandwiches in a few minutes and spend the rest of the evening  making a serious dent in the Christmas food mountain.

As usual, I bought too much, because you don’t want to run out of food when you have guests over.

I also bought too much beer. I’m not going to be depleting the beer stocks as I’m not much of a drinker these days. I bought a selection pack of Adnams beer to test over the holiday but only tested three of them.

I can report that they tasted like beer, with a distinct beery aftertaste. The Lighthouse and Easy Up were easy to drink, as I like IPA-style beers. The Ghost Ship was a trifle heavier and sent me to sleep.

As reviews go, it’s going to win no prizes. You need vocabulary like citrus, hoppy and fruitcake aroma if you’re a beer reviewer and, quite honestly, I couldn’t say fruitcake aroma with a straight face.

In future I’m going to work to my strengths and stick to book reviews. Or I could build up my knowledge and vocabulary and train to be a chocolate reviewer too, but I fear it’s an unattainable dream. Losing weight is a priority, beer and chocolate are not.

However, on to my latest hobby horse. I nearly wrote a post entitled “Knee-deep in Bovine Excrement” after reading about a new career I’d never heard of before.

I’ve previously written about professional cuddling. I’m not going to knock it, if you can make $60 an hour cuddling someone, and can find people who will pay it, then good luck to you. I can see how it could help people, and can’t do much harm (unlike drugs) but is it really a career?

Now I’ve found and even more insubstantial “career”. It’s very tempting to study for it, but, as with beer reviewing I might find it a bit hard to keep a straight face. Check out the International Federation of Biblio-Poetry Therapy for details of what I consider a flimsy career.

Again, it may we do good, and it can’t do much harm. Compared to the cuddling there’s also less room for awkward misunderstanding. However, if you want to know more about becoming qualified you will have to pay $20 for the information pack. Not only that but if you want to convince one of the mentors you are serious about it you have to take a creative writing course. That will cost you around £400. It’s a good course – you can tell that because one of the course directors is a mentor for the International Federation of Biblio-Poetry Therapy. Er… hang on a minute…

Let’s just say that I wish I’d known about this twenty years ago.

According to one internet entry (which may or may not be true) you can charge $160 for prescribing a therapeutic reading list.

Sorry, have to go now, can’t type more as tears of laughter are obstructing my view of the keyboard…

Happy New Year to you all, see you next year.

More About Words

I’ve been looking at the list of words that should be banned from poems, as mentioned in a previous post. They have been nagging at me since I looked at the list in preparing the post. I’m now worried that I’m unacceptable as a writer because I’m using unacceptable words.

To get things straight, I’m going to carry on using the word “rectal” no matter what. The amount of times I’ve been in hospital recently I want to be very clear when discussing thermometers as the consequences of a mix up could disturb my dreams for a very long time.

The same goes for the following list, though for different reasons. Ammonite, blob, candyfloss, daffodil, destiny, fester, frond, golden, gossamer, heartbreak, Jesus, mango, milt, poised, prayer, shimmer, shriek, snot, soul, sunset, tesserae and ziggurat.

They are mostly unexceptional words and if you are writing about fossils, flowers or fish breeding you are probably going to struggle to do without them. We went to Cirencester once, where they have a great display of Roman mosaics. It would be tough to visit without being armed with the word tesserae. Same would apply if I ever visited a museum of Assyrian temples. There are just some words you can’t do without.

I daren’t use the word shards, because it’s been universally decried over the years, and anyway, if I need to discuss broken pots with an archaeologist I’m sure that potsherds, as they used to be called in my youth, will suffice.

I can’t say the same for some of the other words. Some are just dreadful words – loo and humdinger – and have no part in my vocabulary. When the world is so full of words for toilet (yes, I know it’s non-U) why bother to use one so loaded with class connotations? We have bog, jakes, ajax, thunderbox, water-closet, house of ease, WC, to name a few of te politer ones. (No thesaurus was used in the listing of loo substitutes, I just have a very unsophisticated vocabulary). As for humdinger, I really don’t have a use for it. If something is splendid I shall say so. I don’t need humdinger and I certainly don’t need awesome. Awesome isn’t actually on the list – but unless something inspires awe it’s not necessary. That, of course, is just mt biased opinion.

You then move on to archaic. over-used and complicated words – epiphany, harbinger, hark, lambent, myriad and sapient. I have used several of them in prose, but they are a bit overdone in poetry. However, if I ever need to write a poem about a hard of hearing, knowledgeable forerunner who gets licked by a lot, and I mean a lot, of intellectuals and experiences a life-changing moment, I may have to use them.

That leaves palimpsest, plethora and snedder.

I like palimpsest, though I have never used it. I don’t tend to write about re-used parchment. I have used plethora recently. As for snedder, there’s a limited number of times you can use it. Seamus Heaney, as far as I know, only used it once. That’s probably once more than most of us will use it. Unless you write poems about turnips.

 

 

 

 

A Day for Clerihews

The Clerihew, according to Wikipedia, is a four line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, with a rhyme scheme of aabb. The lines are irregular, though the first line should feature the name of the person who is the subject of the poem.  Bentley believed that the name should be at the end of the line as part of the challenge lay in finding a rhyme for awkward names. It can be whimsical, absurd and inaccurate.

In other words, they aren’t very demanding in terms of technique and historical research.

Here are three that I’ve written as part of a series about British Prime Ministers. Don’t rely on them if you are revising for an exam on the subject. I’ve covered PMs in other posts, but as there have been around 57 of them I still have a way to go.

I will try a few more over Christmas as I will have (a) time and (b) an unpleasantly crotchety attitude, which are both useful for political subjects.

 

 

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford,

was known to be fond of his orchard.

He was in power for 20 years.

And he raised gin tax, causing many tears.

 

Augustus Henry FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton

never wore a kaftan.

As a Chathamite Whig

he was a bit of a prig.

 

 

PM Stanley Baldwin

had a disagreement with the King.

A man of stately carriage,

he opposed King Edward’s marriage.

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Now All Roads Lead to France

Now All Roads Lead to France – Matthew Hollis

Paperback: 432 pages

Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (5 Jan. 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 057124599

ISBN-13: 978-0571245994

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:

Roads – Edward Thomas

 

It’s a book about the final years of Edward Thomas, covering the rise of Georgian Poetry, modernism, war poetry, Dymock and Robert Frost.

It also covers the question of his punctuation. I don’t know about you but in some of Thomas’s verse, like the quote at the top of the page, the punctuation seems at variance with the natural rhythymn of speech. This is intentional, though my personal feeling is that it doesn’t improve the piece.

The “Georgian” refers to George V and was meant to show the modernity of the new poetry as it emerged from the time of Victoria. It may have done at the time, but it always makes me think of George III. The fact that the modernists took over after the war also tends to make the Georgians look old-fashioned, despite their intentions.

You’ll need to read the book to get the full details – Matthew Hollis is much better at explaining than I am.

To summarise, as the war came, Thomas was a well-known (and over-worked) literary critic and a difficult husband. He moved to Dymock to be amongst the poets who had congregated there and under the influence of Frost (who had come to England to advance his poetry career) started writing poetry. After much soul-searching, he joined the army, bacame an instructor and, instead of staying in the UK instructing, applied for a commision and went to France . I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say it didn’t end well.

Hollis covers a lot of ground in this book, and does so in depth. Despite this it’s almost always interesting and moves along at a decent pace.

The exception to this is several of the passages dealing with the theory of poetry. However, they aren’t long and don’t hold things up too much. That’s what happens when you have a book about poets written by a poet – the style is good, the information is well handled and you get all the passion you could ask for. But you do get a bit too much discussion of poetry.

It’s an excellent book, with an interesting in-depth view of Thomas’s poetry career and family life set within the literary life of the UK in the lead up to the Great War.  You can read it as history or biography or literary criticism.

If you get a chance do read it. I mean, how often do you hear me being this enthusiastic about a book?

Of course, if you aren’t interested in the Great War or poetry, it might not be the book for you.

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Photo of books – it fills a space. 

 

What is this life…

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

“Leisure” – W H Davies

I have, as I have said recently, been seeing more butterflies in the garden this year. It’s not due to good weather or better plants, just that I’m finding more time to stand and look at our garden. For the last couple of years I’ve hardly seen it.

I was reading a copy of Garden News from last month as I waited for Julia to leave work this afternoon. The head gardener from Helmsley Walled Gardens makes a good point towards the back of the magazine – make time to sit in your garden, consider improvements and enjoy it. She also suggests not over-gardening, but letting nature do the work for you. That’s my kind of gardening. I like her approach.

There’s a useful bumblebee ID chart on the garden website, though it’s slightly confusing that a buff-tailed bumblebee  has a white tail, as does the white-tailed bumblebee, and the garden bumblebee and heath bumblebee.

I have to ask about the wisdom of calling something white-tailed when it’s a common featureI also feel slightly cheated that the early bumblebee has a red tail, an ID feature it shares with the red-tailed bumblebee.

Anyway, enough of that, I’m going to sit and stare, at ebay, as W H Davies, may have said if he had lived longer.

Though I’ve just noticed Cockneys vs Zombies is on. It’s not the finest work Richard Briers and Honor Blackman ever did, but it’s not a bad film, and it’s streets ahead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. If only Jane Austen knew, she’d be emerging from her grave…

 

 

Book Review – Some Desperate Glory

Some Desperate Glory

Max Egremont

Picador (2015)

Paperback 335 pp  £9.99

ISBN-10: 0374280320

ISBN-13: 9780374280321

This book is trying to do too much at once. It’s a history of the Great War, a book of biographies, a poetry book and, cynically, a book to take advantage of the centenary.

As eagle-eyed readers will have deduced from the £1 sticker in the picture, booksellers obviously found it difficult to shift.

My first observation, before even opening it, is simply that I can’t think why any writer would re-use such a well known title. I know it’s a good quote, but when I hear it I always think of Edwin Campion Vaughan’s memoirs. It’s confusing, to say the least.

It was heavy going to start, though it did get easier towards the end, and proved to be worth the effort. Trying to fit history, biography and poetry into a flowing narrative is tough, and it isn’t helped when you have to fit the origins of the war in too. It flows better towards the end: by then the history is simpler and many of the poets are dead  or recovering from wounds.

There are eleven of them in the beginning – in the army, joining the army or thinking about joining the army. By the Armistice there are five left. It’s a tragedy, but it does help the flow of the book.

Finally, why just eleven poets? The eleven selected subjects are all listed on the War Poet Memorial in Westminster Abbey. What’s wrong with the other five? No Aldington, no Binyon, no Gibson, no Jones and no Read.

Then of course, there is the question of the war poets who weren’t amongst the 16 on the memorial. I won’t try to address the question, as it would double the length of the review and the internet is already bulging with material of dubious worth.

Anyway, to cut to the chase. I enjoyed it in the end, though I did struggle at first. It felt like I was being lectured at times, and the way the narrative was interwoven made it difficult to get into a reading rhythm. It was worth reading for the information and context, but wasn’t really a pleasurable read.

I’m currently halfway through reading And All Roads Lead to France. It concentrates on Thomas and poetry preceding the war, so it isn’t a direct replacement for Egremont’s book. But it is a pleasure to read, and proves that it is possible to cover a broad area and still keep it readable.

I’d recommend Some Desperate Glory as an overview of some of the poetry of the Great War with the proviso that it is limited in scope and you will have to work at it.

 

 

Learning Welsh

I’ve recently been toying with a vague idea of learning Welsh. To put this into perspective, it’s one of a long line of vague ideas to do things which I have had over the years. Do not be surprised to learn, in ten years time, that I still have the same vague idea.

Actually, after reading my list of medical adventures, you may be surprised to see that I am thinking that far into the future. I don’t blame you for that, as I did nearly write “five” and “next year” before deciding to use the power of positive thinking.

After reading a couple of translations of the Hedd Wynn poem I became interested in knowing which translation was more true to the original. There are two here and another one here. At that point I used Google, which produced a version that fitted in with the translations. As time has gone by I’ve started thinking I really out to do better than Google. There are internet language courses, so my only excuse is indolence.

I’ve made a start with some road signs.

 

I’m clearly going to have to expand my vocabulary if I’m going to make any inroads into translating poetry.

Apart from sloth my only other problem is that Welsh is the most foreign language I’ve ever seen written in the Roman alphabet. It’s even more foreign than languages written in the Greek or Cyrillic alphabets.

In fact, the more I read about Welsh, its dialects and its counting system, the more I feel that it may be beyond me.