Category Archives: anthology

Review: “Modern Verse in English, 1900-1950”

Modern Verse in English

I’m reading ‘Modern Verse in English, 1900-1950‘, ed. David Cecil and Allen Tate, published in 1958. It provides a good look at a large number of poets from that time period–some have lasted, some haven’t. It is an extensive and useful volume, but it raises some concerns:

1. Lord David Cecil‘s introduction (to the English poems) includes “though during the twenties there was a fashion for free and rhymeless verse, it has passed. Most young poets today write in strictly regular forms.” This was published in 1958, remember. Not really prescient, unfortunately, so you question his insight. He regrets omitting “the work of writers who have made their reputation since 1950, for example, Miss Audrey Beecham, Mr. Philip Larkin and Mr. Thom Gunn.” Well, two out of three’s not bad.

2. The ‘1900-1950′ seems a bit misleading, given that the poets include Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins who both died in the 1880s. True, Hopkins’ poetry wasn’t published until the 1930s–but would we consider an unknown Shakespeare poem 21st century if it was only discovered and published today? And as for Dickinson, three Series of her poems were published in the 1890s.

3. Although a couple of poets born in Ireland and South Africa, and Kipling, are included, the volume contains nothing by Canadians (Bliss Carman, Robert Service and F.R. Scott would fit the time line), Australians, West Indians, etc; and nothing by any people of colour such as Langston Hughes or Gwendolyn Brooks (one of my absolute favourites). Any of these would be far more worthy of inclusion than, for example, Donald Davidson whose chief merit for the editor of the American poems, Allen Tate, must have been their shared support for racial segregation. The volume would be better titled ‘Modern White English and American Verse, from Emily Dickinson to Richard Wilbur‘. Still not perfectly accurate, but so it goes.

It is a useful book. But it is less complete than its title suggests, and it is tainted.

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 7, ‘Murder ! – poems of killings past and present’

07 Murder!

Potcake Chapbook 7: ‘Murder!’

Murder needs no formality of gats,
violin cases or fedora hats
or any other long-outdated memes.
Murder is merely social discord that’s
taken to interpersonal extremes.

Murder. Here we present victims ranging from the unidentifiably unknown to the rich and powerful, and from the time of the Emperor Constantine to the present day. It appears to be something with which we humans are permanently infected. 

The poems–all formal, of course!–are as usual in a variety of forms. This chapbook contains sonnets, a double dactyl, quatrains, rubaiyat, parody and nonce forms. They were authored by Potcake newcomers A.M. Juster, Marilyn L. Taylor, LindaAnn LoSchiavo and Frank Hubeny, and old-timers Chris O’Carroll, Marcus Bales, Vera Ignatowitsch, Noam D. Plum, Michael R. Burch and myself. And powerfully illustrated, as always, by Alban Low.

For the price of a fancy greeting card you can, through the wonders of PayPal, get this 16-page chapbook online for £2.60 + £1.20 P&P to a UK or European address, or £2.60 + £2.20 P&P to a Worldwide address.

Or you might prefer to browse themes and poets here, and photos and bios here, and choose between poems on travel, or love affairs, or the working life… or relatives, or modern life, or poems to amuse and amaze. Life, after all, is more than just Murder!

Review: “The Chatto Book of Modern Poetry, 1915-1955”

Chatto Modern Poetry

1915 to 1955 provides quite a range of poetry! From Hardy, Housman, Kipling, Yeats, through two world wars, to Dylan Thomas and twenty poets younger than him. Editors C. Day Lewis and John Lehmann confined themselves to (loosely defined) British poets, and to those aged at least 30 by their final selection. Among the 260 poems are many standards–Hardy’s ‘Afterwards’, Yeats’ ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, Eliot’s ‘East Coker’, Auden’s ‘Lay Your Sleeping Head’, Dylan Thomas’ ‘Fern Hill’–but the real joy is in discovering good work by less well known poets. I give a few excerpts as examples: pastoral, autobiographical, of mortality, a war poem, wistfulness:

Andrew Young, ‘Wiltshire Downs’

The cuckoo’s double note
Loosened like bubbles from a drowning throat
Floats through the air
In mockery of pipit, land and stare.

And one tree-crowned long barrow
Stretched like a sow that has brought forth her farrow
Hides a king’s bones
Lying like broken sticks among the stones.

Laurie Lee, ‘First Love’

Then it was she put up her hair,
inscribed her eyes with a look of grief,
while her limbs grew as curious as coral branches,
her breast full of secrets.

But the boy, confused in his day’s desire,
was searching for herons, his fingers bathed
in the green of walnuts, or watching at night
the Great Bear spin from the maypole star.

Alun Lewis, ‘Water Music’

Cold is the lake water
And dark as history.
Hurry not and fear not
This oldest mystery.

This strange voice singing,
This slow deep drag of the lake,
The yearning, yearning, this ending
Of the heart and its ache.

Keith Douglas, ‘How to Kill’

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the waves of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

Sidney Keyes, ‘The Gardener’

Do you resemble the silent pale-eyed angels
That follow children? Is your face a flower?
The lovers and the beggars leave the park–
And still you will not come. The gates are closing.
O it is terrible to dream of angels.

As a collection the poetry is overwhelmingly formal, rural and male. It is titled ‘The Chatto Book of Modern Poetry’, but it predates the formless chaos of what we now call “modern poetry”, the unstructured confessional outpourings of the past half century. The anthology isn’t perfect, but very rewarding for lovers of traditional poetry. (Not hard to find. Used hardcovers are available from $0.99 on Amazon.)

Poem: “Hurricane Irma”

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma forecast

With islands as appetisers before the main course
Irma prepares to swallow Florida whole
With a sword-swallower’s brash control,
The fellatrix without remorse.

The circular saw of Irma prepares to slice the length of Florida…
But trim the east coast? Trim the west? Or just go forth
And cut a clean line up the center, south to north,
Right through the Magic Kingdom like some sarcastic orator?

And here comes Hurricane Jose,
Pursuing Irma like a barracuda,
A dog lifting a leg on poor Barbuda
To piss where the bigger dog pissed yesterday.

Meanwhile off Africa there forms a new farrago
As God prepares another bowling ball along the hurricane alley…
Can He slide one between Cuba and the Bahamas with this sally
And curve it in to take out Mar a Lago?

With the new hurricane season just kicking off, it seems like a good time to reflect on the hopes and fears we live with all the time: the fears of things going really wrong, the hopes that they will mostly go wrong for the people we dislike. Humans, what can I say…

This poem was first published in The Hypertexts, the massive anthology of poetry–predominantly contemporary, English-language and formal–assembled by Michael R. Burch. It’s an honour to have my own page in the company of some 300 contemporary poets from Wallace Stevens to A.E. Stallings… and others from Lorca to Blake and right back to Sappho.

“Hurricane Irma” happens to meet the preferences of The Hypertexts in several ways: casually formal, flippant about religion, and with a loathing for Donald Trump. A perfect storm, as it were, for inclusion in the anthology.

 

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Michael R. Burch, “Poetry”

Michael Burch

Michael R. Burch

Michael R. Burch’s chosen poem Poetry, and the story behind his choice, and are so interwoven that his entire essay Making of a Poet is reproduced here with the poem at the very end:

While I don’t consider “Poetry” to be my best poem—I wrote the first version in my teens—it’s a poem that holds special meaning for me. I call it my ars poetica. Here’s how it came about …

When I was eleven years old, my father, a staff sergeant in the US Air Force, was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. We were forced to live off-base for two years, in a tiny German village where there were no other American children to play with, and no English radio or TV stations. To avoid complete boredom, I began going to the base library, checking out eight books at a time (the limit), reading them in a few days, then continually repeating the process. I quickly exhausted the library’s children’s fare and began devouring its adult novels along with a plethora of books about history, science and nature.

In the fifth grade, I tested at the reading level of a college sophomore and was put in a reading group of one. I was an incredibly fast reader: I flew through books like crazy. I was reading Austen, Dickens, Hardy, et al, while my classmates were reading whatever one normally reads in grade school. My grades shot through the roof and from that day forward I was always the top scholar in my age group, wherever I went.

But being bright and ultra-self-educated does not invariably lead to happiness. I was tall, scrawny, introverted and socially awkward. I had trouble making friends. I began to dabble in poetry around age thirteen, but then we finally were granted base housing and for two years I was able to focus on things like marbles, quarters, comic books, baseball, basketball and football. And, from an incomprehensible distance, girls.

When I was fifteen my father retired from the Air Force and we moved back to his hometown of Nashville. While my parents were looking for a house, we lived with my grandfather and his third wife. They didn’t have air-conditioning and didn’t seem to believe in hot food—even the peas and beans were served cold!—so I was sweaty, hungry, lonely, friendless and miserable. It was at this point that I began to write poetry seriously. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because my options were so limited and the world seemed so impossibly grim and unfair.

Writing poetry helped me cope with my loneliness and depression. I had feelings of deep alienation and inadequacy, but suddenly I had found something I could do better than anyone around me. (Perhaps because no one else was doing it at all?)

However, I was a perfectionist and poetry can be very tough on perfectionists. I remember becoming incredibly frustrated and angry with myself. Why wasn’t I writing poetry like Shelley and Keats at age fifteen? I destroyed all my poems in a fit of pique. Fortunately, I was able to reproduce most of the better poems from memory, but two in particular were lost forever and still haunt me.

In the tenth grade, at age sixteen, I had a major breakthrough. My English teacher gave us a poetry assignment. We were instructed to create a poetry booklet with five chapters of our choosing. I still have my booklet, a treasured memento, banged out on a Corona typewriter with cursive script, which gave it a sort of elegance, a cachet. My chosen chapters were: Rock Songs, English Poems, Animal Poems, Biblical Poems, and ta-da, My Poems! Audaciously, alongside the poems of Shakespeare, Burns and Tennyson, I would self-publish my fledgling work! My teacher wrote “This poem is beautiful” beside one my earliest compositions, “Playmates.” Her comment was like rocket fuel to my stellar aspirations. Surely I was next Keats, the next Shelley! Surely immediate and incontrovertible success was now fait accompli, guaranteed!

Of course I had no idea what I was getting into. How many fifteen-year-old poets can compete with the immortal bards? I was in for some very tough sledding because I had good taste in poetry and could tell the difference between merely adequate verse and the real thing. I continued to find poetry vexing. Why the hell wouldn’t it cooperate and anoint me its next Shakespeare, pronto?

Then I had another breakthrough. I remember it vividly. I working at a McDonald’s at age seventeen, salting away money for college because my parents had informed me they didn’t have enough money to pay my tuition. Fortunately, I was able to earn a full academic scholarship, but I still needed to make money for clothes, dating (hah!), etc. I was sitting in the McDonald’s break room when I wrote a poem, “Reckoning” (later re-titled “Observance”), that sorta made me catch my breath. Did I really write that? For the first time, I felt like a “real poet.”

Observance

Here the hills are old, and rolling
casually in their old age;
on the horizon youthful mountains
bathe themselves in windblown fountains . . .

By dying leaves and falling raindrops,
I have traced time’s starts and stops,
and I have known the years to pass
almost unnoticed, whispering through treetops . . .

For here the valleys fill with sunlight
to the brim, then empty again,
and it seems that only I notice
how the years flood out, and in . . .

Another poem, “Infinity,” written around age eighteen, again made me feel like a real poet.

Infinity

Have you tasted the bitterness of tears of despair?
Have you watched the sun sink through such pale, balmless air
that your soul sought its shell like a crab on a beach,
then scuttled inside to be safe, out of reach?

Might I lift you tonight from earth’s wreckage and damage
on these waves gently rising to pay the moon homage?
Or better, perhaps, let me say that I, too,
have dreamed of infinity . . . windswept and blue.

Now, two “real poems” in two years may not seem like a big deal to non-poets. But they were very big deals to me. I would go off to college feeling that I was, really, a real poet, with two real poems under my belt. I felt like someone, at last. I had, at least, potential.

But I was in for another rude shock. Being a good reader of poetry—good enough to know when my own poems were falling far short of the mark—I was absolutely floored when I learned that imposters were controlling Poetry’s fate! These imposters were claiming that meter and rhyme were passé, that honest human sentiment was something to be ridiculed and dismissed, that poetry should be nothing more than concrete imagery, etc.

At first I was devastated, but then I quickly became enraged. I knew the difference between good poetry and bad. I could feel it in my flesh, in my bones. Who were these imposters to say that bad poetry was good, and good was bad? How dare they? I was incensed! I loved Poetry. I saw her as my savior because she had rescued me from depression and feelings of inadequacy. So I made a poetic pledge to save my Savior from the imposters:

Poetry

Poetry, I found you where at last they chained and bound you;
with devices all around you to torture and confound you,
I found you—shivering, bare.

They had shorn your raven hair and taken both your eyes
which, once cerulean as Gogh’s skies, had leapt with dawn to wild surmise
of what was waiting there.

Your back was bent with untold care; there savage brands had left cruel scars
as though the wounds of countless wars; your bones were broken with the force
with which they’d lashed your flesh so fair.

You once were loveliest of all. So many nights you held in thrall
a scrawny lad who heard your call from where dawn’s milling showers fall—
pale meteors through sapphire air.

I learned the eagerness of youth to temper for a lover’s touch;
I felt you, tremulant, reprove each time I fumbled over-much.
Your merest word became my prayer.

You took me gently by the hand and led my steps from boy to man;
now I look back, remember when—you shone, and cannot understand
why here, tonight, you bear their brand.

I will take and cradle you in my arms, remindful of the gentle charms
you showed me once, of yore;
and I will lead you from your cell tonight—back into that incandescent light
which flows out of the core of a sun whose robes you wore.
And I will wash your feet with tears for all those blissful years . . .
my love, whom I adore.

Originally published by The Lyric

Michael R. Burch has been published more than 3,500 times, including in the Potcake Chapbook Families and Other Fiascoes. His poems have been translated into eleven languages and set to music by three composers. He also edits TheHyperTexts–a massive and always-growing anthology of poetry past and present. Whether you want John Donne, or Pablo Neruda, or Ronald Reagan, or poems of the Palestinian resistance, or any of the best current poets, this is a good place to start.
http://www.thehypertexts.com/Michael_R_Burch_Poet_Poetry_Picture_Bio.html

Review: “The Funny Side – 101 Humorous Poems” ed. Wendy Cope

Funny Side

Wendy Cope dislikes the term “light verse” because she feels it implies the included poetry can never be serious. Presumably she doesn’t take the matter lightly, given that she is considered (or dismissed as) a brilliant (but) light verse poet, with works such as Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis to her credit. Flippant is fine with her, but that shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of “humorous” poems. Her choices for this anthology range from the frivolous to the suicidal; light or dark in subject, they are all amusing in their expression.

The poems are strung together in unobtrusive clumps of themes. The anthology kicks off with Richard Armour’s Money:

That money talks
I won’t deny.
I heard it once,
It said goodbye.

followed by Hilaire Belloc’s Fatigue:

I’m tired of Love: I’m still more tired of Rhyme.
But Money gives me pleasure all the time.

And so you leap in – you’ve just read the first two pages of the book. But in case you think that all the pieces are going to be so short, the next is the anonymous Strike among the Poets:

In his chamber, weak and dying,
While the Norman baron lay,
Loud, without, his men were crying
‘Shorter hours and better pay.’

and so on for seven stanzas of young Lochinvar and the boy on the burning deck and other worthies all demanding shorter hours and better pay.

Segue to the next poem, Harry Graham’s two full pages of Poetical Economy:, this being an example:

When I’ve a syllable de trop,
I cut it off without apol.:
This verbal sacrifice, I know,
May irritate the schol.;
But all must praise my dev’lish cunn.
Who realize that Time is Mon.

Most of the poems will be known to aficionados of, yes, light verse – the older pieces by Thomas Hood and Lewis Carroll and so on are relatively well known. But I found several delightful surprises: the excerpts from D. J. Enright’s Paradise Illustrated: A Sequence:

‘Why didn’t we think of clothes before?’
Asked Adam,
Removing Eve’s.

‘Why did we ever think of clothes?’
Asked Eve,
Laundering Adam’s.

Kit Wright’s (lengthy) The Orbison Consolations:

Only the lonely
Know the way you feel tonight?
Surely the poorly
Have some insight?
Oddly, the godly
Also might,
And slowly the lowly
Will learn to read you right.

And then there’s Edwin Morgan’s The Mummy, on the arrival of Ramses II at Orly airport in 1976… but that one’s too complicated for this post. You’ll have to find it yourself.

It seems that Faber put out other books in this series in the late 1990s: By Heart – 101 Poems to Remember, edited by Ted Hughes, and Sounds Good – 101 Poems to be Heard, edited by Christopher Reid. I need to get them as well.

Updated: Formal Launch: Potcake Chapbook 5 – “Strip Down”

05 Strip Down

“Strip down” the cashier ordered…

Potcake Chapbook 5, “Strip Down – poems of modern life” is now up and out, the post office is delivering the first copies in some countries, and others like myself will have to wait a couple of months before the post office gets its act together. So it goes.

With a mixture of lighthearted and flippant poems and others that are more meditative and bittersweet, all illustrated by the amazing Alban Low, “Strip Down” follows the formula of the earlier chapbooks. Returning Potcake Poets are Brian Allgar, Marcus Bales, Susan De Sola, Robin Helweg-Larsen, Vera Ignatowitsch, George Simmers, A.E. Stallings, Tom Vaughan and Gail White; newcomers to the series are Antonia Clark, David Galef, Claudia Gary, Paula Mahon and D.A. Prince.

Why does the potcake on the back cover wear a bow tie? Because he, like the poems, is in favour of the formal.

Why does the man on the front cover wear neither a bow tie nor anything else? Well, you’ll just have to read Marcus Bales’ little gem inside.

Poetry Resource: “Shot Glass Journal”, Poem: “In the Metal Box”

You sit in the humming metal box
And the unlikely landscape rolls
Beneath you in its crumpled seas and rocks
Seen from some miles above on long papyrus scrolls.

This little poem was recently published in Shot Glass Journal, whose motto is “… brevity is the soul of wit …” Accepting only short verse (although “16 lines or less” seems overly generous for “short”) in either free or form, it is remarkable for an American institution in reserving half its space for non-US poets. In the current issue, the left-hand column of 21 US poets is balanced by the right-hand column of 21 poets from Australia, the Bahamas, Canada, India, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey and the UK. This in itself adds richness and interest to the journal, all the more tasty and accessible in a short-form environment.

Normally edited by Mary-Jane Grandinetti, the current issue (#29) is guest-edited by poet R.G. Rader, the poet and playwright who founded Muse-Pie Press. Muse-Pie Press publishes Shot Glass Journal, as well as two other idiosyncratic magazines, Bent Ear Review of spoken poetry (audio or video submissions only, naturally) and the fib review of Fibonacci poetry. All are open to both formal and free verse.

Technically, this might or might not be a “throwaway poem”. That’s how I would describe it, meaning just a casual thought in verse; but on the other hand some people use the term to mean hand-written thoughts (usually not well-formed) on scraps of paper left behind on public transit or in the park. This one has a bit of form: rhyme, meter, and the last two lines lengthening in imitation of the endlessness of air travel and of the landscape that is being flown over.

 

Formal Launch: Potcake Chapbook 4 – Families and Other Fiascoes

The fourth Potcake Chapbook is now launched into the wide world, with its contributors coming from England, Wales, Greece, the Netherlands, Canada, and coast to coast in the US.

04 Families and Other FiascoesPoets new to this series are, in order of appearance, Maryann Corbett, Vera Ignatowitsch, Kathryn Jacobs, Anthony Lombardy, Susan de Sola, Jane Blanchard and Michael R. Burch.  A glance at their profiles in Sampson Low’s Potcake Poets page will show you they include editors at Able Muse, Better Than Starbucks, The Hypertexts and The Road Not Taken, as well as various prizewinners.

Returning contributors are A.E. Stallings, Ed Conti, Tom Vaughan, Ann Drysdale, Gail White and Chris O’Carroll, who of course can boast their own editing and prizewinning. And returning as well is the artwork of Alban Low.

It’s hard to do justice to families in a mere chapbook. Not only are there dozens of possible family relationships (and the number is actively increasing thanks to both social changes and biotech developments), but each of those relationships can close or distant, sweet or bitter, simple or complex, present or merely remembered. It requires science fiction to describe an individual entirely without a family.

This chapbook touches on a great deal, but by no means all, of what “family” means. Send a copy to someone who appreciates the bittersweetness that accompanies family love, up and down the generations.

Poetry Resources: “Best Remembered Poems”

578776Perfectly competent, and with interesting trivia and useful background notes by Martin Gardner, this selection of “Best Remembered Poems” is pedestrian almost by definition: these are the ones that are best remembered by Americans, so there will be very little that is new and exciting–and honestly, a lot of the poems best remembered from high school English lessons on the 19th and early 20th century… are downright boring.

But if you’re looking for a book that contains most poems that most non-poets vaguely remember… that contains both ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘Casey at the Bat’… then this is the one for you!