Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

April 18, 2007

Nikki Giovanni’s “We Are Virginia Tech”

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Click on Nikki Giovanni‘s picture to be taken to the CNN article from which you can watch and listen as she stirs the crowd with her poem “We Are Virginia Tech.”

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by Nikki Giovanni

We Are Virginia Tech

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devestated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think we are and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.

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January 14, 2007

Sir Francis Bacon on Poetry

 
 

 
 
Sir Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban, (1561-1626), is known both as the father of inductive reasoning through his Baconian method of scientific observation, and for introducing the essay to the English language. Below are snippets from his essays, through which he gives us his thoughts on poetry.
 
 

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from Of Truth
 
 
One of the fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum daemonum, because it fireth the imagination; and yet, it is but with the shadow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in, and settleth in it, that doth the hurt; such as we spake of before.
 
 

. . . .

 
 
The poet, that beautified the sect, that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet excellently well: It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.
 
 

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from Of Unity: in Religion
 
 
The quarrels, and divisions about religion, were evils unknown to the heathen. The reason was, because the religion of the heathen, consisted rather in rites and ceremonies, than in any constant belief. For you may imagine, what kind of faith theirs was, when the chief doctors, and fathers of their church, were the poets.
 
 

. . . .

 
 

 
 
Lucretius the poet, when he beheld the act of Agamemnon, that could endure the sacrificing of his own daughter, exclaimed: Tantum Religio potuit suadere malorum.

What would he have said, if he had known of the massacre in France, or the powder treason of England? He would have been seven times more Epicure, and atheist, than he was. For as the temporal sword is to be drawn with great circumspection in cases of religion; so it is a thing monstrous to put it into the hands of the common people.
 
 

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from Of Adversity
 
 
It is yet a higher speech of his, than the other (much too high for a heathen), It is true greatness, to have in one the frailty of a man, and the security of a God. Vere magnum habere fragilitatem hominis, securitatem Dei. This would have done better in poesy, where transcendences are more allowed. And the poets indeed have been busy with it; for it is in effect the thing, which figured in that strange fiction of the ancient poets, which seemeth not to be without mystery; nay, and to have some approach to the state of a Christian; that Hercules, when he went to unbind Prometheus (by whom human nature is represented), sailed the length of the great ocean, in an earthen pot or pitcher; lively describing Christian resolution, that saileth in the frail bark of the flesh, through the waves of the world.
 
 

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from Of Envy
 
 

 
 
They that desire to excel in too many matters, out of levity and vain glory, are ever envious. For they cannot want work; it being impossible, but many, in some one of those things, should surpass them. Which was the character of Adrian the Emperor; that mortally envied poets, and painters, and artificers, in works wherein he had a vein to excel.
 
 

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from Of Love
 
 
By how much the more, men ought to beware of this passion, which loseth not only other things, but itself! As for the other losses, the poet’s relation doth well figure them: that he that preferred Helena, quitted the gifts of Juno and Pallas. For whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection, quitteth both riches and wisdom.
 
 

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from Of Riches
 
 

 
 
The poets feign, that when Plutus (which is Riches) is sent from Jupiter, he limps and goes slowly; but when he is sent from Pluto, he runs, and is swift of foot. Meaning that riches gotten by good means, and just labor, pace slowly; but when they come by the death of others (as by the course of inheritance, testaments, and the like), they come tumbling upon a man.
 
 

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from Of Fortune
 
 
Certainly there be, whose fortunes are like Homer’s verses, that have a slide and easiness more than the verses of other poets; as Plutarch saith of Timoleon’s fortune, in respect of that of Agesilaus or Epaminondas. And that this should be, no doubt it is much, in a man’s self.
 
 

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from Of Building
 
 
Houses are built to live in, and not to look on; therefore let use be preferred before uniformity, except where both may be had. Leave the goodly fabrics of houses, for beauty only, to the enchanted palaces of the poets; who build them with small cost.
 
 

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from Of Studies
 
 
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores. Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises.
 
 

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from Of Fame
 
 
The poets make Fame a monster. They describe her in part finely and elegantly, and in part gravely and sententiously. They say, look how many feathers she hath, so many eyes she hath underneath; so many tongues; so many voices; she pricks up so many ears.
 
 
This is a flourish. There follow excellent parables; as that, she gathereth strength in going; that she goeth upon the ground, and yet hideth her head in the clouds; that in the daytime she sitteth in a watch tower, and flieth most by night; that she mingleth things done, with things not done; and that she is a terror to great cities. But that which passeth all the rest is: They do recount that the Earth, mother of the giants that made war against Jupiter, and were by him destroyed, thereupon in an anger brought forth Fame. For certain it is, that rebels, figured by the giants, and seditious fames and libels, are but brothers and sisters, masculine and feminine. But now, if a man can tame this monster, and bring her to feed at the hand, and govern her, and with her fly other ravening fowl and kill them, it is somewhat worth. But we are infected with the style of the poets.
 
 

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October 16, 2006

The Gifts of Donald Hall: "Retriever"

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by Donald Hall
   

Retriever
   

            Two days after Jane died
            I walked with our dog Gus
            on New Canada Road
            under birchy green
            April shadows, talking
            urgently, trying
            to make him understand.
            A quick mink scooted past
            into fern, and Gus
            disappeared in pursuit.
            The damp air grew chill
            as I whistled and called
            until twilight. I thought
            he tried to follow her
            into the dark. After an hour
            I gave up and walked home
            to find him on the porch,
            alert, pleased to see me,
            curious over my absence.
            But Gus hadn’t found her
            deep in the woods; he hadn’t
            brought her back
            as a branch in his teeth.
   

   

   

   

His poem brought to you through the poet laureate’s gracious consent

   

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Donald Hall, our United States Poet Laureate, read from his book White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 for an hour this afternoon at the First Congregational Church in Pelham New Hampshire. He sat at a table as he does now, and read his poems of love, death, New Hampshire, and more, without great animation in body language, but with his kind and aging New England voice. The focus in listening, then, goes onto his words, being sure to make them out, but also on his intonations.

Eric Clapton noted that when Aretha Franklin sings, never is a note simply sung and held for its time. The soul of her singing comes through in how she bends and gives character and feeling to each note, such import to each. In this sense too, Donald Hall is a soul poet. Never is a stressed syllable simply read as a stressed syllable. Each is spoken to hold the accentuated note and meaning out into the room as a gift to the listener, presented with such suspense imparting the emotion and character of his words in their contexts.

With the first poems Hall read, the chant of the song within the poem could be heard, the soul of each stressed syllable revealing the meter of his freest verse poems. It was during these first minutes that he read the poem “White Apple” which contains the line, “white apples and the taste of stone”, the title of his latest book. That line came to him years after he first had the dream of the poem, and brought the poem together and to completion. In this and other senses, he is also a mystic poet, and thus the chant of his song-poems. But then, shouldn’t a poet who writes at once in a word about love, death, and his home, be naturally rooted in the mystic?

For the next minutes, it was as if he warmed to the occasion, and he read poems to make the audience laugh and feel at home with him. His delivery became more animated in his facial expression and tone of voice. The chant receded to the yarn of conversation, and yet the soul still alive within each stressed syllable. It was during this time, that he read his poem “Mount Kearsage” that begins:

            Great blue mountain! Ghost.
            I look at you
            from the front porch of the farmhouse
            where I watched you all summer
            as a boy.

and the poem “Great Day on the Cows’ House” with the first-stanza lines

            Now she stretches her wrinkly neck, her turnip eye
            rolls in her skull, she sucks up breath,
            and stretching her long mouth mid-chew she expels:

            mm-mmm-mmmmm-mmmmmmmm-ugghwanchhh.

Mid-poem there he interjected that friends tell him that last line is his best line of poetry.

The soulful singing of his poetry, the down home mysticism, the friendship with the audience well-established, all came to bear as he directed his audience’s hearts to his Jane Kenyon poems, of which “Retriever” above is one. The moments were naturally riveting, a great time in literature. Donald Hall’s Jane poems are as important to the poetry canon as Chopin’s Nocturnes are to piano music. There is a wholesome life, yet very mortal captivation to them.

After the reading, came the questions from the audience, and in response to one, he mentioned Thomas Hardy. In Claire Tomalin’s biography of Hardy, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, to be published by Viking on October 19, she writes of his wife Emma dying:

She did not complain or ask for the doctor to be sent for, but she did ask Dolly to fetch her husband. Dolly ran down to the master in his study, where he was making an early start on his day’s work. He told her to straighten her collar–she wore a blue dress with a white collar when she was working–then he climbed the narrow stairs to his wife’s room and went up to the bed. He spoke her name: “Em, Em–don’t you know me?” But she was already unconscious, and within minutes she had stopped breathing. Emma Hardy was dead.

This is the moment when Thomas Hardy became a great poet.

And then:

Filled with sorrow and remorse for their estrangement, he had her body brought down and placed in the coffin at the foot of his bed, where it remained for three days and nights until the funeral. The gesture would have been remarkable in a lover who could not bear to be parted from the body of his mistress, but for an elderly husband who had for years been on bad terms with his wife it seems almost monstrously unconventional, until you realise that he was thinking of his situation quite differently. He had become a lover in mourning.

The parallel between Hall and Hardy is unmistakable in the great poetry that followed their wives’ deaths. Furthermore, Hall noted that he was born following the winds the same year Hardy died in January (and here I note almost nine months later on September 20, 1928). Indeed, he looked to Hardy’s Emma poems in writing his own Jane poems.

The differences are striking, however. Whereas Thomas Hardy was estranged from Emma Hardy while in the same house, Donald Hall was in a loving and close relationship with Jane Kenyon. Jane had great love poetry written about her by a soulful poet, who loved her as she lived, and gave tribute to this love after her death.

Hall’s and Kenyon’s separation was in that their offices were as far apart as they could physically be in that same house: poetic solitude, distance for the sake of the creativity they had in their separate rooms–a creativity they could then share when not writing. Hall noted that where there were two in solitude, now there is one, and that being one in solitude is the worse. He spends his days writing letters, trying to write poetry, and taking walks and naps from time to time.

   

   


   

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Donald Hall: Deciding to become a poet

(Duration 5:03)

   

Using your RealPlayer, here is Donald Hall at the 2005 National Book Festival:

Donald Hall: Book Fest 05 Web Cast

(Duration 36:35)

   

Also at The Library of Congress site, is an excellent webography of Hall, with links to readings and interviews:

Donald Hall: Online Resources

   

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Click on the picture of the book, to see a list of Donald Hall’s works at the Houghtin Mifflin Books site:


   

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The history of one’s poetry is the history of gifts.

–Donald Hall, October 15, 2006

   

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September 14, 2006

Jack Kerouac, the 20th Century’s Greatest Poet: One Hour of Video

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The original Bud Bloom post contained video that is now unavailable online. Here, we begin instead with the video “Lowell Blues”, a film by Henry Ferrini. Here is a quote from the Ferrini Productions site: “Lowell Blues is a 30 minute Film Poem fusing language, music and image to explore Jack Kerouac’s childhood holyland–Lowell Massachusetts. The film is excerpted from Kerouac’s novel, Dr. Sax that is set in his hometown.”

 

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Here is the 1959 film “Pull My Daisy”, with Gregory Corso & Alan Ginsberg, and produced by Robert Frank & Alfred Leslie. This was included in the original post.
 

 

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And here in three parts, replacing his reading with Steve Allen, is Jack Kerouac reading from “On the Road”:

 

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jack-kerouac-typing.jpg

 

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