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Posts Tagged ‘poetry

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”*…

On its publication in 1922, T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” was not so well received: “so much waste paper,” opined The Guardian. But of course since then it has ascended into the canon. Four writers and scholars– Beci Carver, Jahan Ramazani, Robert Crawford, and David Barnes— explain why now “the poem is such a key landmark that all modern poets know it, whether they swerve around it, crash into it, or attempt to assimilate it.”

Though I do understand why people often see—and hear—“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as inventing modern poetry in English, I think The Waste Land does so more comprehensively. It’s as if this poem can give anything—a cry, a list of place-names, a snatch of conversation, a Sanskrit word, a nursery rhyme, an echo—an almost infinite and carrying resonance that brings with it unforgettable intensity. Ezra Pound who, prior to editing The Waste Land,  had just been editing an English translation of an avant-garde collage-style French poem by Jean Cocteau, helped give the poem its intensity; but the words were Eliot’s.

… Pound’s editing was highly ethical in that he did not add or substitute words of his own; he just honed what Eliot had written. Eliot had learned from Pound’s bricolage style, but where Pound went on to go on and on and on, Eliot (with Pound’s editorial help) learned as a young poet just when to stop. That’s a great gift. So the poem exemplifies at once the way in which poetry can incorporate all kinds of diverse materials; yet it also constitutes a supreme example of poetic intensity. It’s quite a combination—and one from which innumerable poets (from Auden to Xu Zhimo and from MacDiarmid to Okigbo and beyond) have learned…

Robert Crawford

The appreciation in full at “The Most Important Poem of the 20th Century: On T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ at 100,” in @lithub.

* T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

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As we muse on modernism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” premiered on CBS. The special, based on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip and produced/animated by Bill Melendez, pre-empted My Three Sons and tied Bonanza as the top-rated program of the week. It has aired every year since, on network television until 2020, when Apple TV won the exclusive rights to the show.

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“Your memory and your senses will be nourishment for your creativity”*…

Handel and Beethoven

On which senses do great creators rely? Randall Collins investigates…

Beethoven started going deaf in his late 20s.  Already famous by age 25 for his piano sonatas, at 31 he was traumatized by losing his hearing. But he kept on composing: the Moonlight Sonata during the onset of deafness; the dramatic Waldstein Sonata at 32; piano sonatas kept on coming until he was 50. In his deaf period came the revolutionary sounds of his 3rd through 8th symphonies, piano and violin concertos (age 32-40). After 44 he became less productive, with intermittent flashes (Missa Solemnis, Diabelli variations, 9th symphony) composed at 47-53, dying at 56. His last string quartets were composed entirely in his head, left unperformed in his lifetime.

Handel went blind in one eye at age 66; laboriously finished the oratorio he was working on; went completely blind at 68. He never produced another significant work. But he kept on playing organ concertos, “performing from memory, or extemporizing while the players waited for their cue” almost to the day he died, aged 74. 

Johann Sebastian Bach fell ill in his 64th year; next year his vision was nearly gone; he died at 65 “after two unsuccessful operations for a cataract.”  At 62 he was still producing great works; at 64 he finished assembling the pieces of his B Minor Mass (recycling his older works being his modus operandi). At death he left unfinished his monument of musical puzzles, The Art of the Fugue, on which he had been working since 55.

Can we conclude, it is more important for a composer to see than hear?…

And given examples like Milton, that it’s more critical to poets and writers to hear than see? More at “Deaf or Blind: Beethoven, Handel,” from @sociologicaleye.

* Arthur Rimbaud

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As we contemplate creativity, we might recall that it was on this date in 2013 that Google– Google Search, YouTube, Google Mail, and Google Drive, et al.– went down for about 5 minutes. During that brief window, internet traffic around the world dropped by 40 percent.

“A picture is a poem without words”*…

Truth, trend.

A collection of pithy illustrations…

Generalist, specialist.
Numbers obscure nuance.

Many more artistic aphorisms at Visualize Value.

* Horace

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As we picture it, we might send aesthetic birthday greetings to Rene Ricard; he was born on this date in 1946. A painter, poet, actor, and art critic, he was a seminal figure in the New York art scene of later 20th century. After dropping out of school in Boston, he moved to New York City, where he became a protégé of Andy Warhol (and appeared in the Warhol films Kitchen, Chelsea Girls, and The Andy Warhol Story). He was a founder of Theater of the Ridiculous (with John Vaccaro and Charles Ludlam). He was a regularly-published poet. And from the early 90s, he was a widely-exhibited artist. But he was perhaps ultimately most influential in his art criticism (and his contributions to gallery and exhibition catalogues)– especially a series of essays he wrote for Artforum magazine in which (among other impacts) he launched the career of painter Julian Schnabel and helped bring Jean-Michel Basquiat to fame. Andy Warhol called Ricard “the George Sanders of the Lower East Side, the Rex Reed of the art world.”

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“I shall have more to say when I am dead”*…

Brian Brodeur reassesses an unjustly-forgotten modernist…

On December 22, 2019, the sesquicentennial of a writer Donald Justice referred to as “the first modern American poet” passed without a whimper. Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935) would’ve found this critical neglect fitting; obscurity was one of his perennial subjects. Though he won three Pulitzers and was a favorite poet of Theodore Roosevelt, Robinson, whose own mother waited seven months to name him, was attracted to characters few people acknowledged, cared about, or understood.

Before Robinson, very little lived experience had crept into the lines of late Victorian American poetry, which included the likes of rightly forgotten Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) and Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937): parlor versifiers Whitman famously dismissed as “tea-pot poets.” Rather than saturating his work with overblown symbols, hackneyed aphorisms, and hollow moralism, Robinson relied on the more sophisticated techniques of understatement, irony, and sparse detail. He also confronted such 19th-century taboos as alcoholism, homelessness, and assisted suicide.

So why has Robinson’s Collected Poems remained out of print since the 1970s? Like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), another virtual nonperson for most 21st-century readers, Robinson is often overlooked as being insufficiently modern, unfashionably didactic, and even culturally problematic. Though this latter description might be justly applied to Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha (1855), which perpetuates stereotypes of Native American life, none of these epithets accurately describes Robinson.

Understanding this collective lapse in critical judgment begins by acknowledging that Robinson continues to challenge dominant literary conventions. To begin with, his poems almost always tell a story, almost exclusively in meter and nearly always in rhyme; he also valued clarity of style and rationality of thought over the experimental fragmentation of many high modernists, and, unlike the Confessional poets who came later, hardly ever wrote about himself explicitly. Another reason for his neglect involves a commonly held misconception about literary history. Though Robinson was born nearly 20 years before Ezra Pound (1885), many consider him a peer of the much younger modernists who are often lumped together with him in anthologies of modern American poetry. Robinson broke new ground in his best books, which were published between 1897 and 1925, but his poems can sound antique when compared to The Waste Land (1922) and The Pisan Cantos (1948).

Yet it serves to remember that art has no present without its past. Acknowledging practices of earlier periods gives poets the knowledgeable freedom to experiment in their own time. Robinson’s best work offers contemporary practitioners options, ways of writing largely ignored by 21st-century American poets…

An appreciation: “‘The Flicker, Not the Flame’: E. A. Robinson’s Narrative Compression,” from @bbrodeurpoet in @LAReviewofBooks.

* Edwin Arlington Robinson

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As we give credit where credit is due, we might spare a thought for Maya Angelou; she died on this date in 2014. A poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, she published several books of poetry, seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows through a career that spanned over 50 years.

Her autobiographical work drew on her experiences as a fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, Porgy and Bess cast member, Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinator, and correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She went on to work as an actress, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. Then, in 1982, she was named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton (making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961).

Angelou was nominated for the Pulitzer and the Tony, won three Grammys, and was awarded over 50 honorary degrees. She won the Spingarn Medal in 1994, the National Medal of Arts in 2000, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. And in 2022 she became the first Black woman to be depicted on a U.S. quarter.

Angelou at the Clinton inauguration [source]

“Those distinct substances, which concretes generally either afford, or are made up of, may, without very much inconvenience, be called the elements or principles of them”*…

An interactive encomium to the elements…

A review of the Periodic Table composed of 119 science haiku, one for each element, plus a closing haiku for element 119 (not yet synthesized). The haiku encompass astronomy, biology, chemistry, history, physics, and a bit of whimsical flair…

Elemental haiku,” by Mary Soon Lee (@MarySoonLee) in @ScienceMagazine from @aaas.

Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist

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As we celebrate chemical compliments, we might send illustratively-arranged birthday greetings to Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois; he was born on this date in 1820. A geologist and mineralogist, he was the first to arrange the chemical elements in order of atomic weights (in 1862). But De Chancourtois only published his paper, not his graph with the novel arrangement; and because it was a geology paper, it was largely ignored by chemists. It was Dmitri Mendeleev’s table, published in 1869, that became the standard– and the model for the periodic table that we know today.

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