Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Monday, February 27, 2012
And so we find ourselves in February, at one time the last month of the Roman calendar and a time of ritual purification by washing. In Ireland, by way of contrast, it is officially the first month of spring, and the first day of the month was Imbolc, a Celtic fire festival. While the designation of early February as springtime often strikes us as lunacy, this mild year the first buds are appearing on the trees outside the window here already.
Spenser, in the prologue to his Shepheardes Calender poem for February, explicitly draws on the Roman tradition and the poem evokes the idea of the old age of the year to underpin its call for youths to respect their elders. The poem takes the form of a dialogue between the aged shepherd Thenot and Cuddie, a herdsman's boy. The youth is, at the beginning, contemptuous of the old, but the shepherd reminds him that distain for age is distain for God, the oldest being of all.
I wonder if Irish poet Thomas Kinsella had Spenser in mind when he wrote Mirror in February, a meditation on being: "Not young, and not renewable, but man." Writing in rural Ireland, Kinsella opens his poem with images that relate more to the springlike qualities of the month, a time of ploughing and sowing, but quickly moves through the notion of growth as "crumbling" to the image of his own changed face in the mirror. It's a powerful piece from a still under-rated master.
Margaret Atwood reminds us that there are other climates than the Mediterranean and temperate Irish ones, and her distinctly Canadian February is quite distinctly deepest winter. Having toyed with sinking into perpetual seasonal despair, the poem ends with a cry for the return of spring; even when it's 30 below, the will to live drives on.
Read the rest of Poster poems: February, more about and examples of February poems. Then try your hand at one of your own to post here or on The Guardian site.
And so we begin the second phase of our Poster Poems Calendar with a call for poems about February. The unseasonable cold snap that we in Ireland have escaped may leave you feeling old, or you may be sniffing the first traces of spring in the air. You might even want to document some specific February event that means something to you. Whatever your inspiration, please share your February poems here.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands,—
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands.
Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
Our own calm journey on for human sake.
- Jenny Kiss'd Me by Leigh Hunt
- Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, Scene II [The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne] by William Shakespeare
- A Crocodile by Thomas Lovell Beddoes
Friday, February 24, 2012
With a trip to Paris in the 20s the subject of Woody Allen's Oscar contender, we've been wondering which bookish era we'd most like to revisit
Amid all the noise for The Artist, which looks set to clean up at the Oscars as it did at the Baftas, we on the Guardian books desk are gunning for another cinematic nostalgia-fest harking back to the same period. In the running for Best Picture, but with the bookies only giving it a 100/1 chance of winning, Midnight in Paris has been hailed as a return to form for Woody Allen, and described as a "perfect soufflé" by the Observer film critic Philip French. It might not have a performing dog, but it does have Papa Hemingway in a vest roaring "who wants a fight?" Like The Artist it is a warning against the dangers of romanticising the past as a Golden Age, but in direct contrast, it is all about words – writing and reading and talking.
For those who haven't seen it yet (it's just out on DVD, so watch it this Oscar weekend), this deliciously Allenesque confection of time-travel fantasy and rom-com stars the winsome Owen Wilson as Gil (in the Allen alter-ego role), as a dissatisfied American screenwriter and novelist-manqué on holiday in Paris with his spoilt fiancée Inéz and her neo-con parents. Returning alone and tipsy to his hotel one evening, he is surprised (not quite as much as you'd expect – you need to go with this one) when an antique car rolls up and whisks him to a party where he bumps into his heroes Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald. At the stroke of midnight each night he is transported back to the bohemian Paris of the 1920s: in the course of which, he tries to dissuade poor Zelda Fitzgerald from suicide, has his manuscript critiqued by Gertrude Stein (a scarily convincing Kathy Bates – forget the Carla Bruni cameo) and falls for Picasso's latest squeeze Adriana (a mesmerising Marion Cotillard). (Past or present, our hero is not at a loss for gorgeous young women – this is an Allen film, after all). While Gil is understandably thrilled to find himself in the middle of this glittering salon, the lovely Adriana hankers for La Belle Epoque, and, before you can say "soufflé", they are in the Moulin Rouge with Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Gauguin, who in turn see the Renaissance as the true Golden Age. You get the point.
While our colleagues on the film desk were busy ranking Midnight in Paris in Allen's oeuvre, or, ahem, comparing it to that silent Swedish masterpiece by well-known director Victor Sjostrom, back on books it got us thinking about where and when we would most like to go – that old fantasy (in this case literary) dinner party game. Drinking and brawling in London taverns with Jonson and Marlowe? On the road with the Beats? Nineteenth-century Russia? Chilly. Tea in New York with Henry James and Edith Wharton (he used to try and fix her up with men he found attractive, apparently)? Coffee with Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins? Exhausting. Lunch at the Algonquin with Dorothy Parker and co? Scary. A mountain ramble with a couple of Romantic poets? Shooting the breeze with Beckett and Joyce? Down the pub with Larkin and Amis? I know I'm roving all over the place, but that's the idea.
Only the Bloomsbury set, perhaps, compares with the 1920s Parisian Lost Generation – but Michael Cunningham rather got there first with The Hours (also made into a film, of course) and it wasn't nearly as jolly. I'd love to pop in on Jane Austen, but her house in Chawton is not far from my mum's (the museum was a regular Sunday outing) and it seems a pity to go back in time and end up just down the road. It would be fun to spend a day in the airing cupboard with the Mitfords, but I'd never get the in-jokes or understand Boudledidge, their private language. Not to mention the dodgy politics. And I wouldn't mind being the one to settle those niggling Shakespeare authorship and biography questions once and for all. But who would ever believe you?
So, if an old-fashioned car, or horse and carriage, or rickety old cart, were to pull up near you at the witching hour – which writers would you be most excited to meet at the other end?
Monday, February 20, 2012
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Friday, February 17, 2012
Baraka at Malcolm X Festival, Oakland CA
A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and black people
call across or scream or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will
Our world is full of sound
Our world is more lovely than anyone's
tho we suffer, and kill each other
and sometimes fail to walk the air
We are beautiful people
with african imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with african eyes, and noses, and arms,
though we sprawl in grey chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.
We have been captured,
brothers. And we labor
to make our getaway, into
the ancient image, into a new
correspondence with ourselves
and our black family. We read magic
now we need the spells, to rise up
return, destroy, and create. What will be
the sacred words?
Monday, February 13, 2012
1. Silver answer
2. And breadth
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Phyllis Wheatley was America's first African-American poet. A bronze sculpture, by Meredith Bergmann, celebrating Ms. Wheatley is on the mall on Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Mass. Wheatley, a slave in colonial Boston, was our first published African-American poet. Her pose is derived from the only extant image of her. She represents youth and Imagination.
On Being Brought from Africa to America
'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negro's, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
I read this poem as supremely sarcastic in the poet's intent. "Twas mercy brought me from my "Pagan land..." Really? Mercy took her away from her "Pagan" land? And taught her "benighted soul?" Benighted by the white masters? The most heartbreaking lines are the last 3: "Their colour is a diabolic die."/Remember, Christians, Negro's, black as Cain,/May be refine'd, and join th' angelic train."
Friday, February 3, 2012
Later this month, PIW will be publishing new poems written by Joke van Leeuwen for the Dutch and Flanders Poetry Day celebrations on 26 January.
A UFO SIGHTING YESTERDAY AT THE EDGE OF TOWN ~ Maung Yu Py