Friday, August 22, 2014

The Living Dead

 Honouring our poetic ancestors

Lean Out of the Window
by James Joyce (1882-1941)

Lean out of the window, 
I hear you singing 
A merry air. 

My book was closed, 
I read no more, 
Watching the fire dance 
On the floor. 

I have left my book, 
I have left my room, 
For I heard you singing 
Through the gloom. 

Singing and singing 
A merry air, 
Lean out of the window, 

Would you have expected this charming little ditty to have come from the pen of James Joyce, the writer of Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, etc.?

The great novelist was "considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century" (Wikipedia) for his stream-of-consciousness prose. His poetry, by contrast, was usually delicate and romantic. Sometimes the language seems ornate, and even a trifle antiquated to our present perception, given that the poems were published in the 20th Century.

It's mostly love poetry — very different from the straightforwardness and vigour of Burns's love poetry, which I shared with you last time. It can sound contrived. It can feel merely sentimental. Poetically, I think some of it is frankly awful! (Perhaps it's just me. I have never been able to get past the third page of his celebrated novel, Ulysses.) 

At the time it was written, his poetry was highly regarded by many, including poets of the calibre of Pound and Yeats. Even now the "awful" ones are few. There are more which I enjoy.

I like this one's sweetness and relative simplicity. It conveys much, not only by what is said but also by what is left unsaid. (Often, in poetry, less is more.) And, in this and others, he uses rhyme and repetition beautifully. Seemingly slight, this piece lifts my spirits and stays with me, the way some songs do.

His poems can be found at PoemHunter. Incidentally, I always switch off the new audio feature at the PoemHunter site. I hate the metallic, robotic diction, devoid of expression, in which everyone's poems there are read; though I expect it's a useful service for the visually impaired. You can hear a better reading of Joyce's poems here. (It's a disconcertingly busy page at first glance. Find and click on the audio at top right.)

You can also download free — or read online — this pdf of his poems.

Both Amazon and Amazon UK have pages and pages of his books.  He was also a playwright, a critic, and a prolific letter writer. His "dirty letters" to his wife Nora — the great, passionate love of his life — are famous for just that, the "dirtiness". Apparently, when they were to be separated for some time, they made a pact to write each other erotic letters. She is also said to be the inspiration for his character in Ulysses, Molly Bloom. A number of his poems were written to her, though perhaps not this one as she is always shown with dark hair. This photo is of James and Nora.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Poets United Midweek Motif: Social Good

“And just when you’d think [humans] were more malignant than ever Hell could be, they occasionally showed more grace than Heaven ever dreamed of.” 
― Terry Pratchett

“The truth isn't always beauty, but the hunger for it is.” 

According to Mahatma Gandhi, there are Seven Deadly Sins that could destroy society:
  • Politics without principle.
  • Wealth without work.
  • Commerce without morality.
  • Pleasure without conscience.
  • Education without character.
  • Science without humility.
  • Worship without sacrifice. 

Do you agree?

With the important ingredient, 
is each of these a social blessing?

Your Poetry Challenge:  
  • Let one of Gandhi's social evils inspire you to illustrate one of your own social goods.  
  • 160-word limit--the length of Whitman's poem about work below.

Poetic Inspiration:

I Hear America Singing

Walt Whitman1819 - 1892
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
     and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
     deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
     as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
     morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at
     work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
     fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

1.    Post your Social-Good poem on your site, and then link it here. Does it come under the 160-word limit? 
2.    If you use a picture include its link.  
3.    Share only original and new work written for this challenge. 
4.    Leave a comment here.
5.    Honor  us by visiting and commenting on others' poems.

(Next week's Midweek Motif will be An Evening Out.)

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Chat Between Two Poets-Annell Livingston

Today I have something really special for you, kids. Our friend Annell Livingston, of Some Things I Think About, recently lost her beloved son, Jim, to cancer. She has been writing a series of beautiful poems to and about him, making her journey along the shores of grief. Annell and I have been chatting by email through all of this, and it occurred to me this chat might be of broader interest, since none of us escape being touched by death and loss in our lives. Annell is willing to share the depth of her journey with us, which feels to me like the most sacred privilege. Do join us, in our reverent conversation about grief and loss, and what it is teaching us. Annell, in walking this difficult path, is exhibiting grace in action. She is showing us how. [Note: the beautiful art is Annell's.]