Armistice Day: MCMXIV by Philip Larkin

Today, 11/11/11, at 11am, most of the world will pause for two minutes to remember the ceasefire on the Western Front in 1918. Last year, I featured what could be considered as one of the best-loved and most moving war … Continue reading

The Scottish Book Awards 2011: The Breakfast Room by Stewart Conn

Stewart Conn’s poetry collection, The Breakfast Room, has been shortlisted for the 2011 Scottish Book Awards (you can vote for it here!). The book is inspired by and titled after the Bonnard painting of the same name (which features on the book cover).

I thouroughly enjoyed The Breakfast Room, and visual inspiration really helps to create an atmosphere: it’s humorous, warm, moving, and above all, extremely clever. For a taste of the collection, who better to intorduce and read The Brekfast Room than Stewart Conn himself: Continue reading

Carole Ann Duffy & the royal wedding

I know, I know, I’m so off-trend with this post (the royal wedding? Pfft, so last season). But did you know that our very own Poet Laureate Carole Ann Duffy, who once claimed that “no self-respecting poet” should have to write verse about Prince Edward’s marriage, penned a poem for last months royal shindig! She must have a soft spot for Wills and Kate.

Obligatory photo…

It has been said that the poem was penned reluctantly, and in a way, it shows. The poem, Rings, isn’t exclusive to Wills and Kate; it could have been written for any old couple. The universality of it makes it accessable to everyone, which is exactly what Duffy would have been striving for, she never has been about grandeur. True to her style, it also has an air of equality about it: “for both to say:.

Have a read – love it or loathe it?

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The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

It’s been pretty snowy in Scotland for the past couple of days. Winter has officially arrived. The snow reminded me of what I regard as one of Wallace Steven’s best poems (if not, one of the best poems) The Snow Man.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

The Snow Man comprises one long sentence split into five stanzas. It presents an objective image of rugged nature (“crusted”, “shagged”, “rough”) from the perspective of the inanimate snowman who has “a mind of winter”. In the third stanza the perspective shifts to an emotional (as opposed to objective) response of a human being, who thinks.

The sensory descriptions of the “misery in the sound of the land” intimates a feeling of loneliness as the listener beholds a repetitive “nothing”. The poem is called The Snow Man, representing both a snowman and a snow man. It is a complex and obscure poem – but a bit of complexity and obscurity in a poem is always welcome as far as I’m concerned…

Some more pictures of snowy Scotland….

Would love to hear your own interpretation of The Snow Man, or your snow stories!


National Poetry Day 2010: Edwin Morgan and home

Today is the 17th National Poetry Day in the UK, and the theme for 2010 is ‘home’.

For some, home is a birth-place, a birth-right even, or a genealogical map. It might be conceptual or concrete. It might be an identity, realised. For me it is Glasgow.

Glasgow Clydeside by John Lindie

When I think of poetry that reflects ‘home’, I look to the late Edwin Morgan. His poetry is born out of this city. It reflects the city’s pride, its meanness, “a ragged diamond of shattered plate-glass”.

Of Glasgow, he once said:

I was born in Glasgow and have lived most of my life there, and whatever image the city has to the outside world, to me it underlies and pervades my feeling at a deep level of identification and sympathy

i. ( Glasgow Sonnets, 1972) by Edwin Morgan

A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.

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Last Letter by Ted Hughes: “Your wife is dead”

And I had started to write when the telephone
Jerked awake, in a jabbering alarm,
Remembering everything. It recovered in my hand.
Then a voice like a selected weapon
Or a measured injection,
Coolly delivered its four words
Deep into my ear: ‘Your wife is dead.

This previously unpublished poem on his wife, Sylvia Plath’s death, will be published for the first time in the New Statesman tomorrow. It was excluded from Birthday Letters, his final poetry collection before his death in 1999, but it is a poignant and fitting way to cap it off.

Of the poem, Poet Laureate Carole Anne Duffy told Channel 4 News:

It feels a bit like looking into the sun as it’s dying, it’s a poem of deep complicated feelings and in some ways it’s the heart of Birthday Letters. I think its absence from that original collection makes the collection more powerful. It stands, for me, as a poem on its own…

…It seems to me to be the darkest poem that he wrote about the death of Sylvia Plath. There is a kind of deafening agony, blinding agony to this new poem. It seems to touch a deeper, darker place than any poem he’s ever written.

A beautiful start to National Poetry Day 2010.

Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin

The Whitsun Weddings - Philip LarkinTalking in Bed is a universal poem that lives up to Larkin’s hope that “people in pubs” would talk about his poems. It is one of my favourite poems simply because of this.

I have come across certain readings of the poem that suggest there is a dark and unnerving meaning to this poem that involves policy and politics between America and Britain at the time of publication in the 1960’s. Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation, but I could not disagree more. In my opinion this is honest, simple poetry at it best.

 

Talking in bed ought to be easiest
Lying together there goes back so far
An emblem of two people being honest.

Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside the wind’s incomplete unrest
builds and disperses clouds about the sky.

And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind
Or not untrue and not unkind.

His poems are often pessimistic and gloomy – with recurring themes of death and doomed relationships. He is also often labeled a racist and a mysoginist. However, while melancholy permeates Talking in Bed, the poem is simultaneously powerful and beautiful.

The main issues dealt with are loneliness and relationships. These are issues that are personal to Larkin: despite having multiple long-term relationships throughout his life, he never married, and was often depicted as sexually unfulfilled and lonely.

Philip LarkinThe beauty of the poem lies in the vulnerability that it exposes. In the first stanza we are introduced to “an emblem” of two people lying together in bed with nothing seemingly to say to each other. This ’emblem’, it is suggested, is a part of our human nature – it “goes back so far”.

A tension is created in the second stanza with the “complete unrest” of the wind. The silence enforced here amplifies the anxiety that is created by the dispersal of the clouds, which in turn signifies the destructive and invisible force of the silence.

In the third stanza, isolation is added to the building tension in the shape of the “dark towns” that “heap up on the horizon”. Here, the insignificance of the couple is highlighted against the outside world. The dark towns appear infinite on the horizon, creating an image of worldly isolation.

Larkin’s inability to come to terms with his loneliness is exemplified here:

None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation.

Larkin is aware of his own insignificance in the world, but he cannot seem to find reason for it.

The “unique difference” is also key here: physically speaking the lovers could not be closer, but emotionally the distance between them is inconceivable. Simultaneously, a sense of safeness is conveyed in the couples seperateness from the outside world. Is it this sense of safety that keeps this couple together despite the emotional distance between them?

In the fourth and final stanza the couple have nothing to say, neither cruel nor kind. Is this the realisation that they don’t know each other as well as they thought, or does this poem depict the emptiness of promiscuity? Alternatively, does the poem illustrate the idea that you can never really know someone?

Either way, these themes are explored in true Larkin style – plain and simple.

And for me, a sweet aftertaste remains.

Share your experience of this poem below…