Monthly Archives: August 2020

Eliot, Woolf and Vivien

T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and the unfortunate Vivienne Eliot

“T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf were almost exact contemporaries, readers and critics of each others’ work, and friends for over twenty years. Their writings, though, are rarely paired.” So says the Amazon entry on Modernism, Memory, and Desire by Gabrielle Mcintire, which “proposes that some striking correspondences exist in Eliot and Woolf’s poetic, fictional, critical, and autobiographical texts, particularly in their recurring turn to the language of desire, sensuality, and the body to render memory’s processes.”

An article in the New Yorker from some years ago paints a different picture of Eliot: “he held all the English writers in contempt. It was a cool and disinterested contempt; it came from arrogance, not from pettiness or insecurity, and he gave just enough of a hint of it to make people nervous. The only contemporary writers he considered his peers were Pound and Lewis (though he knew their limitations extremely well). The only one he looked up to was Joyce.”

Virginia Woolf is only mentioned later in passing in the article, with a quote from her diary wishing “poor dear Tom had more spunk in him, less need to let drop by drop of his agonized perplexities fall ever so finely through pure cambric. One waits; one sympathizes, but it is dreary work.”

As for Eliot’s first wife, Vivienne, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary: “Oh – Vivienne! Was there ever such a torture since life began! – to bear her on one’s shoulders, biting, wriggling, raving, scratching, unwholesome, powdered, insane, yet sane to the point of insanity, reading his letters, thrusting herself on us, coming in wavering trembling … This bag of ferrets is what Tom [Eliot] wears round his neck.”

Tim Miller, who blogs interesting excerpts of whatever he is reading, has more from Virginia Woolf’s diary: you can read it via First Person: Virginia Woolf Meets T. S. Eliot

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Maryann Corbett, “Dutch Elm”

Maryann Corbett

That trees would die
yearly, we knew. The columns of the nave
of Summit Avenue, the architrave
of openwork where canopies unfold,
green or briefly gold,
the arched, leaf-dripping limbs
backlit with sky—

in every year, some go.
Some ends arrive with force: the papers warn
with pictures, after every storm,
of fallen branches, hollow at the heart,
or great trunks snapped apart,
battering cars and houses with the blows.
(We knew, but now we know.)

Some ends are quiet: the red
stripes appearing, like a garotting wound,
on trunks where the inspectors found
beetles in bark, bare limbs lurking in shade.
The tree crew and the chainsaw blade
will come—we know now—soon—
The stripe says, This is dead.

They make short work of things
with sweat and cherry pickers, saws and zeal
rope and rappelling acrobatic skill
and limb-shredding machines.
Only the stump remains
and is soon sawdust: nothing left to chance
but next year’s fairy rings.

No help for it, then.
This cut to sky, this coring of the heart.
These trees too far apart.
This just delivered balled-and-burlapped stick,
its trunk two inches thick,
decades from beauty. What we always knew:
We start again.

Maryann Corbett writes: “All day today I’ve been hearing, and sometimes watching, the process of the removal of my neighbor’s enormous elm, which peeled apart suddenly in a recent storm, exposing a hollow core. I was reminded that I’ve seen this process so many times in my city that it prompted a poem over a decade ago, and it’s a poem I’m happy to remember. It first appeared in The Lyric and is included in my second book, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter.”

Maryann Corbett earned a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and expected to be teaching Beowulf and Chaucer and the history of the English language. Instead, she spent almost thirty-five years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes of the Minnesota Legislature, helping attorneys to write in plain English and coordinating the creating of finding aids for the law. She returned to writing poetry after thirty years away from the craft in 2005 and is now the author of two chapbooks, five full-length collections already published, and a forthcoming book. Her fifth book, In Code, contains the poems about her years with the Revisor’s Office. Her work has won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, has appeared in many journals on both sides of the Atlantic, and is included in anthologies like Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters and The Best American Poetry 2018.

Her web page: maryanncorbett.com

Poem: “Time”

Time takes the young child by the hand
and leads it through a golden land
so timeless it will never note
Time’s other hand is at its throat.

This little poem was just published in Snakeskin, in one of its richest issues ever. I’m glad to have been included, along with several others–Claudia Gary, Tom Vaughan, George Simmers, Marcus Bales–of the formalist poets who appear in the Potcake Chapbooks. And a shout-out to Nikolai Usack, who made me clear up clumsy pronouns in the original draft.

August 3: Annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day

Wallace_Stevens,_1948

Wallac Stevens

“Engaged at the office all day on a sonnet – Surreptitiously.” This charming journal entry by Wallace Stevens for August 3, 1906, triggered a fine sonnet by Frank Osen some years ago:

Cover Memo

To Distribution:
Stevens was aware
That many poets must go leopard-like
Among the striped, yet not be spotted there.
This isn’t easy, when desire may strike
At work, although it called in sick last night,
And, stricken, one must chase in search of tea
Or oils or oranges, to some distant height—
Or only to the nearest OED.
Yet, when protective coloration’s risked,
A job transcends that mental game preserve
Where fauna don’t go frolic, but get frisked.
For all who bear an office to observe,
We ought to mark each August third this way:
As Annual Surreptitious Sonnet Day.

This in turn caused a rueful villanelle by Marcus Bales:

August Third

On August Third I have to write a sonnet
As Wallace Stevens did in Nineteen Six —
And here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it.

And ever since Frank Osen got right on it
By writing his he’s put us in a fix:
On August Third I have to write a sonnet.

I hope you’ll Vladimir-and-Estragon it,
While I arrange my sonnet’s final mix
Cause here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it.

It may be that allusion’s over-drawn – it
May not be your cliques that I transfix
When August Third I have to write a sonnet.

I haven’t got a shocking denouement – it
Isn’t how a villanelle does tricks,
And here I’ve got a villanelle, doggone it,

So as you don your writing hat, or bonnet,
Don’t mix your forms as I did, dicks and chicks —
Cause here I’ve got a villanelle. Doggone it,
On August Third I have to write a sonnet.

Well! What will today bring, I wonder?

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Mindy Watson, “The Seraph and the Six of Swords”

Mindy Watson

My seraph, enter. Here’s the deck you bade
Me fly beyond the Gates to fetch. We’ll kneel
Beneath this verdant tree’s unstinting shade,
Unearthing all your heart desires. Let’s deal.

I’ve drawn your future card. Does this reveal
Some truth to you: this Six of Swords I’ve played
That paints a boatman on a blade-pierced keel?
My seraph, enter. Here’s the deck you bade

Me burnish to a shine. You’ve always stayed
Our cosmic course, but now you wish to steal
Away by sea upon this ship you’ve made
Me fly beyond the Gates to fetch? We’ll kneel

Beseechingly before His judgment’s steel
For this infraction. Think before you trade
Celestial wings for shawl. Return to heel
Beneath this verdant tree’s unstinting shade.

What’s that? This passenger, the mortal maid
Our card depicts, denotes your soul’s ideal?
And tedium’s degraded our crusade,
Unearthing all your heart desires? Let’s deal

Then with the Throne when need decrees. Conceal
Your downcast head; pin back your wings arrayed
In fear. I’ll steer this vessel’s rigid wheel
And whisper, when we reach the port portrayed,
“My seraph, enter.”

Mindy Watson writes: “The Seraph and the Six of Swords” originally appeared as a February 2018 Star*Line Editor’s Choice poem. This rondeau redoublé—which at face-value chronicles one disaffected and divination-inclined angel convincing another (via a contraband tarot card deck) to thwart angelkind’s “cosmic course” and set sail for unknown shores—began unassumingly enough in 2017, with one Dark Tranquility song phrase—”Enter, suicidal angels”—that I couldn’t scrub from my subconscious. Because, at the time, I was also some three weeks away from starting what I (correctly) suspected would be an operationally thrilling, yet all-consuming new job, this poem served not only as a mentally grounding reiteration of my sincerest loves—mythology, individualism, rejection of unsubstantiated strictures—but also a vehicle by which my then two warring selves—the timid self clinging to comfortable complacency versus the brave self hellbent upon exploration despite the costs—could enact a healthy, internal dialogue. While the poem obviously features a “winner” of sorts, I intentionally framed the poem’s overall trajectory and final concluding stanza to favor, instead of the rebellious self’s unliteral triumph, a perspective blending by which—as the titular Six of Swords tarot card depicts—two entities/selves willingly embark upon a forward-looking journey where, while one serves as instigator/primary traveler and one serves as grounding facilitator—both ultimately undertake the voyage. While I rather compulsively followed “Seraph and the Six of Swords” with two rondeau redoublé sequels (respectively titled “The Fallen Angel’s Ace of Wands” and “The Guardian at the Gated Tower,” which appear in Star*Line’s Spring and Summer 2018 issues) that extend the featured angels’ saga, this original remains my favorite. And while a seemingly mundane job shift originally inspired “Seraph,” I can’t help but re-visit it mid-2020, as we stand stricken by a global pandemic’s impacts, upon the precipice of another pivotal U.S. presidential election decision. For better or worse, the journey continues, spurred forward—I hope—by our “better angels.”

Bio:
Mindy Watson is a formal verse poet and federal writer who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from the Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has appeared in venues including Eastern Structures, the Poetry Porch, the Quarterday Review, Snakeskin, Star*Line, and Think Journal. She’s recently also appeared in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets: Form in Formless Times chapbook series and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s 2019 Dwarf Stars Anthology. You may read her work at: https://mindywatson.wixsite.com/poetryprosesite.