Larkin25

It’s twenty-five  years since the death of English poet Philip Larkin, and his city of Hull is putting on Larkin25, a celebration of his work. There’s street sculpture, theatre, readings and more. I didn’t realise that Larkin was particularly connected with any specific city; I just saw him as quintessentially English somehow, but all good writers come from somewhere. They are also trying to raise money for a statue to Larkin at the railway station from ‘The Whitsun Weddings’. I like that idea!

I hadn’t thought about Larkin for a while, but I was working with a student last year who was studying Larkin for Literature and we worked through some of those key poems together. They still hold their own, powerful for me in that twilight-y kind of sorrow and remembrance in the tone somehow.

The site says:

The aim is to mark this significant anniversary in a way that is worthy of both the poet and the city with which his creative and professional life is most associated.

Larkin25 takes place over 25 weeks,
from 12 June – 2 December 2010

A lively and diverse programme of exhibitions, events and projects inspired by Larkin’s life and work and his passionate love of poetry, music, photography and prose will engage residents and visitors alike in a range of arts activity and cultural events.

The quality of the commemorative events will be world class, worthy of a great, internationally renowned, poet and of his adopted city. Using Larkin’s artistic achievements as a catalyst, Larkin25 will present spectacular city centre celebrations, new work commissioned specifically for the festival, readings, lectures, and a high quality programme of performances and exhibitions.

Larkin25 presents a unique opportunity to take a first look at Larkin, or to take another look at the life and work of this brilliant and complex man. We invite the world to participate in, and enjoy, what promises to be a remarkable year of commemorative activities.

There’s an interesting long article on Larkin and the forthcoming book of letters in the Guardian here and the Guardian’s gathering of Larkin stuff here

Enzensberger and ‘The Titanic’

I read a nice article in the Guardian this week about Hans Magnus Enzensberger, a poet I’ve liked for along time. I’ve put his new collection on to my Amazon WISHLIST.

I was reminded of my favourite Enzensberger collection:  his long poem, The Sinking of the Titanic. Timely, given that the Titanic Exhibition is currently in Melbourne and it was Enzensberger’s poem that got me interested in that story.

Poem Flow

Two recent finds have added some new poems (and some old acquaintances) to my poetry reading lately.  Poem Flow is an Iphone application that delivers a poem a day in an interesting visual video form as well as in the traditional text format if you like.

The free version gives you 30 days of poems in including some well known old favourites from Robert Frost and William Wordsworth.  After the 30 days is up you can order more poems, another 100 or so for $1.19 or something like that, which led to my first encounter with ‘The Wooing Song’ by Giles Fletcher, a poem from the late sixteenth century that I’d never seen before, and liked a lot. It’s nice to have a new poem every day to look at, old favourites and new discoveries.

And, I also downloaded the Guardian iphone application and its very good book section, which includes a poem of the week. This week the poem of the week was an old favourite I hand’t looked at for ages: Gerald Manly Hopkins’ The Windhover.

It’s interesting to see technology connecting me with four hundred year old poems I’ve never read before, and old friends I’ve lost track of. Kind of like Facebook for poetry perhaps! Anyway, here’s the Hopkins poem, a poem that I’ve always thought of as one of the first ‘modern’ poems.

The Windhover
To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Gerald Manly Hopkins

Pike

Last night I was watching the final episode of Rivers (featuring Griff Rhys Jones) which I enjoyed a lot (naturally enough) and there was a section where he was fishing for pike, and caught one. I immediately thought of visiting Ireland a few years ago and swimming in a lake near the northern border which was notorious for pike. The second thing I thought about was one of my favourite poems, ‘Pike’ by Ted Hughes, which I hadn’t read for a long time. But have again now! Funny, how one things leads to another.

Pike

Pike, three inches long, perfect

Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold.

Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.

They dance on the surface among the flies.

Or move, stunned by their own grandeur,

Over a bed of emerald, silhouette

Of submarine delicacy and horror.

A hundred feet long in their world.

In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads-

Gloom of their stillness:

Logged on last year’s black leaves, watching upwards.

Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds

The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs

Not to be changed at this date:

A life subdued to its instrument;

The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.

Three we kept behind glass,

Jungled in weed: three inches, four,

And four and a half: red fry to them-

Suddenly there were two. Finally one

With a sag belly and the grin it was born with.

And indeed they spare nobody.

Two, six pounds each, over two feet long

High and dry and dead in the willow-herb-

One jammed past its gills down the other’s gullet:

The outside eye stared: as a vice locks-

The same iron in this eye

Though its film shrank in death.

A pond I fished, fifty yards across,

Whose lilies and muscular tench

Had outlasted every visible stone

Of the monastery that planted them-

Stilled legendary depth:

It was as deep as England. It held

Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old

That past nightfall I dared not cast

But silently cast and fished

With the hair frozen on my head

For what might move, for what eye might move.

The still splashes on the dark pond,

Owls hushing the floating woods

Frail on my ear against the dream

Darkness beneath night’s darkness had freed,

That rose slowly toward me, watching.

Ted Hughes


For the Union Dead

I achieved a long held ambition today; to stand in front of the memorial in Boston that Auden wrote about in one of my favourite poems, For the Union Dead. The memorial is along the Boston Common. I walked past it last night, but it was  too dark, so came back this morning. Here’s a photo, and the original poem.

P1100286 (Medium)

For the Union Dead
by Robert Lowell
“Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.”
The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now.  Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.
My hand draws back.  I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile.  One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized
fence on the Boston Common.  Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.
Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,
shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.
Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.
Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.
He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.
He is out of bounds now.  He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die–
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.
On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year–
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .
Shaw’s father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son’s body was thrown
and lost with his “niggers.”
The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling
over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”
that survived the blast.  Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.
Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessèd break.
The Aquarium is gone.  Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

For the Union Dead

by Robert Lowell

“Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.”

The old South Boston Aquarium stands

in a Sahara of snow now.  Its broken windows are boarded.

The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.

The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;

my hand tingled

to burst the bubbles

drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back.  I often sigh still

for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom

of the fish and reptile.  One morning last March,

I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common.  Behind their cage,

yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting

as they cropped up tons of mush and grass

to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic

sandpiles in the heart of Boston.

A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders

braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw

and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry

on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,

propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,

half the regiment was dead;

at the dedication,

William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone

in the city’s throat.

Its Colonel is as lean

as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,

a greyhound’s gentle tautness;

he seems to wince at pleasure,

and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now.  He rejoices in man’s lovely,

peculiar power to choose life and die–

when he leads his black soldiers to death,

he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,

the old white churches hold their air

of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags

quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier

grow slimmer and younger each year–

wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets

and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw’s father wanted no monument

except the ditch,

where his son’s body was thrown

and lost with his “niggers.”

The ditch is nearer.

There are no statues for the last war here;

on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph

shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”

that survived the blast.  Space is nearer.

When I crouch to my television set,

the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw

is riding on his bubble,

he waits

for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone.  Everywhere,

giant finned cars nose forward like fish;

a savage servility

slides by on grease.

P1100287 (Medium)

Sonnet from China

I read a blog posting today, or rather it was posted to me as it seems China is currently blocking some blogging sites, about a friend’s visit to Nanjing and the museum to the massacres there. Which made me think of one of my favourite Auden poems, a sonnet from China, and its haunting, hopeless last lines:

XII


Here war is harmless like a monument:
A telephone is talking to a man;
Flags on a map declare that troops were sent;
A boy brings milk in bowls. There is a plan

For living men in terror of their lives,
Who thirst at nine who were to thirst at noon,
Who can be lost and are, who miss their wives
And, unlike an idea, can die too soon.

Yet ideas can be true, although men die:
For we have seen a myriad faces
Ecstatic from one lie,

And maps can really point to places
Where life is evil now.
Nanking. Dachau.

W.H Auden