Tag Archives: poetry

Talking Chaucer with Patience Agbabi and Mark Watson

iconiconLast night I went to an Oxford Literary Festival talk on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and why they still resonate with people which had the poet Patience Agbabi and the comedian Mark Watson as key speakers. Oh my gosh it was amazing, and having bored my boyfriend and friends sick telling them about it, I’ve decided to bore you too.

For me, the best bit, beyond a shadow of a doubt was Patience’s live performance of some of the poems from her new book, Telling Tales, a twenty-first century remix of Chaucer which represents the diversity and dynamism of modern Britain while remaining faithful to Chaucer’s work. Sceptical? So was I until I saw Patience perform, then I was enchanted and I have now bought the book and am watching all of the videos of her performances on YouTube. She originally wrote a modern version of The Wife of Bath’s Tale in her collection Transformatrix, before becoming poet laureate for Canterbury which required her to write poems which had a connection to the city of Canterbury. Check the collection out and I’m sure you’ll agree that the results are phenomenal. If you’d like to see what has turned me into such a raving fan girl, check out this performance from Telling Tales below- I spent most of the night wondering how Agbabi would have approached The Prioress Tale given the overt antisemitism of the Chaucer text and this video shows how brilliantly she’s done this:

Mark Watson read from a modern prose of translation of Chaucer, which inevitably lacked the colour of the original, especially when compared to Patience’s blistering rhymes. Nonetheless he was brilliantly witty all the while being charmingly self-deprecating, telling us before reading “If you  like, you can imagine I’m Chaucer, but this may take substantial effort…I’ve never read this aloud, because why would you? I didn’t write it. I wasn’t at any of the publishing events.”

It was a really lovely night, the only downside being that there was one of those in the crowd… if you know what I mean. One of those is one of the reasons I decided against doing my masters in Literature because one invariably shows up in every seminar and lecture. The ones who always make a point of asking a question which implies an argument with the speaker and is intended to show off which only makes the one of those look silly and irritates the rest of the audience. The most annoying thing about this one was that they actually swapped seats with their wife to get a better eye-line with which to snidely rebuke the panel for not being as clever as they clearly thought they were… tedious, tedious man!

I’m off to more talks tomorrow and on the weekend, very exciting 🙂

Secret Message Cupid’s Arrow

cupid arrow valentines card hidden messageThe problem with Valentine’s Day is Valentine’s Cards. You know what I mean. If you buy them they’re all, Dave’s turn to do the washing up, Sheila decided to wear fish nets or really bad pay per word verse. So the best option is to renounce love and sentiment forever, but failing that, you can make your own.

I came across these cute date night arrows at Sugar &Cloth and decided to develop the concept using paper straws to allow me to insert a hidden message.

valentines cupid arrowI cut a heart shape from some red card and scored with a peace sign shape from top to tip and across the widest part of the heart to allow me to create a 3D arrowhead shape when the hearts were stuck together either side of my paper straw using quick drying craft glue.

hidden message valentineWhile the arrowhead was drying, I wrote out my message on some brown paper with gold tones (this message is a poem by Pushkin… I’m not going to show you my real Valentine’s message!) and inserted it inside the main body of the straw.

secret valentine message

I then cut out a feather shape from cardboard and glued it to my straw, wrapping with a natural look twine to give it a realistic arrow look and sealing the message securely inside. I then decorated (yes, with the rhinestones… it’s an addiction, okay?) and voila, my original Valentine’s card was made.

Quote me on that… Sloeblack, Slow Black

Under Milk Wood

Created using photograph by José Encarnação under terms of Creative Commons license

I think that this opening to Under Milk Wood, written as a play for voices by my country man Dylan Thomas, is one of the finest pieces of description in the English language. I wish I’d had room to add the next section about “Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrogered sea.” but then I wouldn’t have been able to fit in my favourite wordplay”sloeblack, slow black” so I had to cut it.

Dylan Thomas was born today in 1914, and you have to admit, he wrote some incredibly beautiful literature in his short life.

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas

When I was small, reading A Visit from St Nicholas, more commonly known as, ‘Twas the night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore was a Christmas Eve Tradition. I don’t normally post the full text of a poem to my blog, but this was published in 1823 so the term of copyright has expired and I couldn’t resist. I hope this gets you into the Christmas spirit!

Many St Nicks!

Many St Nicks!

A Visit from St Nicholas/The Night Before Christmas

Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Fun facts about the poem

  • In the original poem, Donner and Blitzen are called Dunder and Blixem which apparently links back to the idea that Clement Clarke Moore was inspired to create his Santa Claus by a Dutchman he knew.
  • Only one original copy of the poem remains in private hands, and it sold for $280,000 back in 2006.
  • People often change “breast” to “crest” in the poem because they are embarrassed by the other kind of breasts or think it is dirty. Fools.
  • The poem has been widely parodied, my favourite is the one in the style of Ernest Hemingway

Amazing 80th Birthday Present

I recently went to my great-aunt’s 80th birthday party and was presented with these amazing little books.

My cousin had them made for her mother and father who write poems (though my great aunt calls them writings) as 80th birthday presents and they contain 80 poems/writings that they have each written. She had lots printed so they could send them to family and friends. Not only are the poems really impressive, but my great aunts poems contain a lot of family history and remembrances which was just lovely.

My cousin is known throughout my family (and the world!) for being incredibly kind and thoughtful, but I thought that this was just the most amazing present, not just to my Auntie and Uncle but to the family as well.

Sian, we salute you!

Rings- Official Poem for The Royal Wedding

I’m aware that I’m very slow off the mark here, but in case you haven’t read it, here’s a link to Rings the poem written by poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to commemorate the Royal Wedding.

There was a lot of controversy about whether she would or should agree to write a poem for the Royal Wedding, but I’ll leave that aside. It’s the poem that I’m interested in today.

I think it’s quite awkward and stilted, it doesn’t flow from the heart and lacks the punch of her other poetry. Actually I’m not feeling any of the list they have provided. What do you think of it all?

If anyone is selecting poems for a wedding, Rings is included in Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees though you might also want to look at some of her more sparky poems in Love Poems.

Day 16 – Favorite poem or collection of poetry

Near impossible to choose again, but my favourite collection of poetry is probably Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife. I like the slant she’s taken on traditionally male focused stories and imagined the stories of the women behind the men. Look out for Mrs Darwin, the shortest and quite probably the funniest.

My favourite poem in the collection is Anne Hathaway, which I taught my students at GCSE.What I especially like is that Duffy has taken the fact that Shakespeare left his second best bed to his wife, a statement which many historians have interpreted as meaning that Shakespeare didn’t love his wife, into a romantic gesture so that the bed becomes a symbol of their marriage and the passionate love affair which may have inspired his work.

I think that this is a collection of poems that even those who are quite wary of poetry can enjoy.

Poetry on the Texas DART

The world sprang

from ancient dreams

Time is alive

like an open sky

An extract from the Texas DART poetry in motion, a display of poems that can be read on the state’s light rail systems. I particularly enjoyed the lines above on my way to a TexMex place for dinner and a walk around the mall. An added advantage of these is that you can read the whole collection on their website. My favourite is the one above which I think just beautifully captures the idea of life as a journey with plenty of speed but no motion. You can read the full collection here, let me know which you prefer.

Tube-Time Poetry

When pupils used to ask me why people bother reading poetry, why they don’t just read prose, I always used to tell them about the way poetry was described to me when I was in school. That prose chooses the best words, but poetry sets down the best words in their best order.

Travelling back from work in London today (and still stinging, both literally and metaphorically) from the indignity of tripping and falling flat on my face in front of an exhibition hall full of people, I spotted a poem on the wall of the tube train carriage which I thought was the perfect example of this. It’s a translation of a poem by a medieval monk called Colmeille the Scribe and I think it’s translated in Seamus Heaney’s latest collection of poems The Human Chain.

Anyway, the lines that struck me were a description of his work, writing on the vellum manuscript:

My hand is cramped from pen work.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.

I thought that the “blue-dark beetle-sparkle of ink” was so evocative of when you’re writing, and the light just catches the wet ink making it gleam. I can almost see Colmeille writing in a drab monastic cell, but with the words on the page gleaming like jewels. Fanciful, perhaps, but it brightened my day.

thanks to Icelight (Flickr) for the photo

Desire Denied, Poems About Dissatisfaction

The guardian books section today had a subheading instructing us, “Steel yourself for romantic disappointment as the poet considers the literature of desire, from Marvell’s coy mistress to John Betjeman’s lovelorn subaltern.” In the article, poet John Stammers picks out his top ten love poems in which Desire is unsatisfied or denied. I was certainly disappointed, but not by thwarted desire, but the staid and predictable selection of poems, many of which had nothing to do with unsatisfied desire.

Why is it, of all the poems in the English language Sonnet 116 has to be stuck on every list of romantic poetry? It’s not even Shakespeare’s best. And perhaps I’m being slow here, but isn’t it about steadfast love and not desire unsatisfied or denied? Likewise Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song may reflect Betjeman’s feelings for the lovely Miss Hunter Dunn being unrequited in real life, but in the poem they sit in the car ‘til twenty to one and are engaged after… I wonder what went on in the car, between the lines. Nudge nudge, wink wink and all that. Not exactly unsatisfied or denied.

I agree that Donne’s The Flea deserves its place on the list; I would have put it at number one. Likewise, I love Wyatt’s Whoso List to Hunt though I suspect that has to do with the Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII love triangle that was going on, not just the poem itself. But To His Coy Mistress? This is why people say they hate poetry. The same boring tat trotted out again and again. It’s like people stop reading poems when they finish their school career or at the very latest their undergraduate degree and churn out the one cannon of poetry-that-was-considered-worthy-thirty-years-ago.

So for anyone who has made it through that rant and cares, here’s my alternative selection:

1. Correspondents- Carol Ann Duffy

A highly erotic description of a chaste and futile love affair between a married man and woman, who do not touch, but send letters and conceal their love for fear of shocking polite society.

2. Like The Touch of Rain/Go Now- Edward Thomas

The bliss of unsought love bleeds into the shock and pain of unexpected rejection.

3. Love Songs in Age- Philip Larkin

An elderly lady looks back at her collection of love songs, and realises with sadness that the idea that love will sustain and heal all has never been true, and will not be true.

4. For Desire- Kim Addonizo

What can I say? She wants to be desired. Definitely a poem about unsatisfied urges…

5. The Bath Tub- Ezra Pound

Have you ever anticipated something so much, that when it doesn’t live up to your expectations you feel the most disappointing anticlimax? Ezra Pound tells it like it is…

6. Porphyria’s Lover- Robert Browning

When obsessive love goes wrong. A cautionary tale ladies, about what happens when you toy with your lover but don’t give him the adoration he desires. That or a warning about what happens when you hook up with a psycho.

7. Libido- Rupert Brooke

Desire is portrayed as a pestilence and it’s fulfilment as death.

8. Nothing-James Fenton

“Nothing I give, Nothing I do or say,

Nothing I am will make you love me more.”

 

9. The Flea- John Donne

How can you not include this playful petition?

10. The Toilet- Hugo Williams

You meet an attractive stranger on the train, but what will happen when you decide to make your move?