[T.S. Eliot] both recognised and skewered in Four Quartets the routines of "eminent men of letters" who became "chairmen of many committees". As a banker, then as a publisher, he worked at jobs where committees were de rigueur and he accomplished his work with aplomb. Yet part of him always sought an escape hatch, a way to elude his official self. His nephew Graham Bruce Fletcher remembers Uncle Tom taking him as a boy to a London joke shop in the 1960s. They bought stink bombs and let them off at the entrance of the Bedford Hotel, not far from Eliot's workplace in Bloomsbury's Russell Square. With a fit of giggles, Eliot put on a marked turn of speed as, Macavity-like, he and his nephew sped from the scene of the crime, Eliot twirling his walking stick "in the manner of Charlie Chaplin".—TS Eliot: the poet who conquered the world, 50 years on by Robert Crawford, poet and biographer of Eliot. You can listen to a lecture by him entitled T. S. Eliot's daughter on the poem Marina. You can hear it, and other poems, read in between classical music as part of an episode of Words and Music. And if you want to get to know the poet, the T. S. Eliot Society keeps tabs on what works are freely available online.
The great Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab died fifty years ago today, on December 24, 1964. [more inside]
The poetry and brief life of a Foxconn worker: Xu Lizhi (1990-2014) is an article about a 24-year old Chinese assembly line worker and poet who committed suicide last month. He worked for the electronics manufacturer which makes products for a range of companies, including Sony, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo. The post includes Chinese originals and English translations of Xu Lizhi's poems. His death and poetry have garnered much attention, such as these blogposts from The Wall Street Journal and The London Review of Books.
Russell Edson was a prose poet whose poetry had the "the sustained wackiness of old Warner Brothers cartoons." When he passed away this year Charles Simic wrote in appreciation of his work, as did J. Robert Lennon, whose article included two audio clips of Edson reading. In interviews, Edson spoke with the same mix of seriousness and humor as he did in his poetry. Here are two interviews, one with Peter Johnson [pdf] and another with Mark Tursi. But, of course, the important thing is his poetry, so here are a few examples: 1, 2, 3. And finally, here's a video of him reading (starts after the 9th minute). [Edson previously. I especially recommend reading the linked appreciation by Sarah Manguso.]
Mahmoud Darwish once wrote, of Gaza, “We are unfair to her when we search for her poems.” [more inside]
This Weekend, The New York Times went all in for poetry. In addition to six — count ‘em — articles about poetry in the Review, the Times also included an entire panel in its “Room for Debate” section in which the mostly white and mostly male panelists responded to the essentially rhetorical question “Does Poetry Matter?” with some version of the expected answer: yes. [more inside]
Tadeusz Różewicz (1921-2014) was a renowned Polish ‘poet, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, satirist and translator.’ Reckoned by Seamus Heaney as ‘one of the great European poets of the 20th century,’ he died in April at the age of 92: Guardian obituary; NYT obituary. [more inside]
In an essay reflecting on translation, Yoko Tawada reads the poems of Paul Celan as if he had written in Japanese. The essay's translator, Susan Bernofsky, offers context, and in an earlier piece, Rivka Galchen considers "Yoko Tawada's Magnificent Strangeness." More conventional introductions to Celan are available via the Poetry Foundation page on Celan, 14 poems from Breathturn, and a video of Celan reading "Allerseelen" (English sub.; alt. trans.). Tawada's own poetry includes "The Flight of the Moon" (video in Japanese). [more inside]
Trans women writers Jeanne Thornton, Imogen Binnie, Red Durkin and Casey Plett read from their recent works for Talks at Google. [more inside]
The Emily Dickinson Archive is a collection of high resolution digital images of Emily Dickinson's handwritten manuscripts. Here are, for instance, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, Tell the Truth but Tell It Slant, I Dwell in Possibility, They Shut Me Up in Prose and I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died. The whole collection is fully searchable and the images include the text of the poems as they were written down by Dickinson. The archive is a project of Harvard's Houghton Library but many other institutions provided manuscripts. Perhaps the best place to start is to simply browse the poems by title.
Joyce Carol Oates's new story about an imagined interview with Robert Frost has been called outrageous, even an attack on the poet. [note: story link opens a print dialog]
Poetry International Rotterdam has contemporary poetry in English translation from all over the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, including countries as different as Argentina, China, Finland, Iran and Romania, in languages as unrelated as French, Malayalam and Zulu, as well as many poems originally in the English language. The poets range in age and stature from those barely over thirty to Nobel prize winners. There are also videos and audio recordings of poets reading, as well as articles about poetry.
House of Leaves of Grass: Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves (previously) remixed with Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass into a 100-trillion-stanza poem. Artist's statement. Instructions for reading.
A wonderful, generous and free selection of authors, collections and books online at Lit2Go for awake times or drowsy ones. The Count of Monte Cristo from the Adventure collection | or perhaps a Just So Story from the Fantasy collection | Beowolf from the Here Be Dragons! collection | Aladdin from Andrew Lang's Fairy Books of Many Colors or The Heart of Happy Hollow from the African American collection. Also practical for children. Previously. [more inside]
"During his days as Harvard’s influential president, Dr. Charles W. Eliot made a frequent assertion: If you were to spend just 15 minutes a day reading the right books, a quantity that could fit on a five-foot shelf, you could give yourself a proper liberal education. Publisher P. F. Collier and Son loved the idea and asked Eliot to compile and edit the right collection of works. The result: a 51-volume series of classic works from world literature published in 1909 called Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf, which would later be called The Harvard Classics." (Via) [more inside]
For this year's National Poetry Month, the Poetry Foundation has set up a SoundCloud group called "Record-a-Poem." They're inviting people to record themselves reading their favorite poems. (via) [more inside]
STREET OF THE IRON PO(E)T, A Paris Diary by Henri Cole: "Today I visited the cenotaph to Baudelaire..." Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
T.S. Eliot’s cultural clusterfuck and middle finger to the stripped-down simplicity of the Imagists. Let the folks over at rapgenius breakdown The Waste Land for you. [via]
Famous writer Anne Carson on ice bats: "I made up ice bats, there is no such thing." (SLNYT) [more inside]
Today, VIDA (Women in Literary Arts) published their annual VIDA count, breaking down the treatment of women in literature in 2012 and the past three years of trends.
Pablo Neruda (bio, pics, recordings) was a Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner. His work comprises 48 books* (excluding posthumous publications), the most famous of which remain Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (scribd, alt) (Spanish, alt) and Canto General (Spanish). Documentary. [more inside]
Only two works of Nonnus of Panopolis (fl. AD 400), arguably the last great poet of the Homeric tradition, survive complete. The first is his Dionysiaca, ostensibly an account of the adventures of Dionysus but embracing everything that touches chaos and fire and sound, "the longest surviving poem from classical antiquity and one of the most entertaining, outrageous and vivid epics ever conceived west of the Ganges." The second is the Metabole kata Ioannou [PDF]. It's a paraphrase of the Gospel of John into the idiom of Homer.
In 1731, a fire broke out in Ashburnham House, where the greatest collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, the Cottonian Library, was then being stored. Frantically, the trustees raced into the burning library and hurled priceless and unique manuscripts out the windows in order to save them. One of these was the sole manuscript of Beowulf. Today, bearing the charred edges of its brush with extinction, it's been digitized by the British Library, along with a group of other treasures including Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex Arundel and the Harley Golden Gospels.
"From symbols and notions to literary and religious allusions, this chart contains [W.H.] Auden's view of the world (and of worlds beyond), at least as he envisioned it in the 1940s." [more inside]
Jacket2 has digitzed all 10 editions of Roof magazine, an important publication in the development of language poetry. Featured poets include (pulled from a quick glance): Robert Duncan, Michael McClure, John Ashbery, Michael Castro, Robert Creeley, Alan Ginsberg, Diane Wakoski, Peter Inman, Octavio Paz.
The poet Jayne Cortez passed away this past December 28th in New York City (New York Times obituary). She started publishing her poems in the late 1960s and in the 70s began performing her poetry backed by music, first in collaboration with bassist Richard Davis, and then backed by her own band The Firespitters. Some of their tracks have found their way to YouTube: I See Chano Pozo, If the Drum Is a Woman, There It Is, Maintain Control & Economic Love Song I, Everybody Wants to Be Somebody, Takin' the Blues Back Home, Talk to Me (for Don Cherry), I've Been Searching, You Can Be and Endangered Species List Blues. Just two years ago she performed solo with her son by Ornette Coleman, drummer Denardo Coleman: Find Your Own Voice, I'm Gonna Shake and She Got He Got. In 1997 she was featured on University of California television network in the series Artists on the Cutting Edge where she read poems and discussed her work. Finally, here's a brief clip from the 1982 documentary Poetry in Motion, where she was interviewed.
"and even when there's nowhere left, no refuge for their pain, they turn to the illusion of travelling" - Kajal Ahmad, translated by Mimi Khalvati
The Poetry Translation Centre pairs living poets from Asia, Africa and Latin America with English-language translators and then puts the resulting translations online. You can browse the poetry by country, language, translator or poet. Besides the hundreds of individual poems, all presented in the original and both literal and poetic translations, many have been recorded in dual readings by translator and poet, and put online as videos or mp3s (look for the microphone or camera icon). There are also podcasts to download, articles to read, and chapbooks to purchase. It is absurd to single out a few poems as favorites, but nonetheless, here are a few that struck me hard, Birds by Kajal Ahmad, translated by Mimi Khalvati, Cataclysm and Songs by Conceição Lima, translated in a workshop, and Survivors by Choe Young-mi, translated by Kyoo Lee and Sarah Maguire (who is the founder and director of the Poetry Translation Centre). If these poems do not hit you, no need to worry as there are literally hundreds more to read. [via The Guardian]
Perched high up above the Thames in downtown London every month this past year a different writer has spent four days living in a replica of the Roi des Belges, the boat Marlow travels up the Congo in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. Each author would write a short text during their stay "which explores London, rivers, the work of Joseph Conrad, or even all three." They would be visited on the last day by a journalist from The Guardian who recorded them reading their essay, poem or short story. Among the poets, historians and novelists were Adonis, Jeanette Winterson, Teju Cole, Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie. These recordings, each prefaced by a short interview, are all available on the Guardian website, to stream or download. Below the cut there is a link to each recording, with a short description. [more inside]
With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else. December 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of Invisible Cities -- the sublime metaphysical travelogue by author-journalist Italo Calvino. In a series of pensive dialogues with jaded emperor Kublai Khan, the explorer Marco Polo describes a meandering litany of visionary and impossible places, dozens of surreal, fantastical cities, each poetically reifying ideas vital to language, philosophy, and the human spirit. This gracefully written love letter to urban life has inspired countless tributes, but it's just the most accessible of Calvino's fascinating literary catalogue. Look inside for a closer look at his most remarkable works, links to English translations of his magical prose, and collections of artistic interpretations from around the web -- including this treasure trove of essays, excerpts, articles, and recommended reading. [more inside]
"I watched the entire street turn hot and black with smoke and then, after a few minutes, stared up at the hole in the roof and saw thousands of small gray ashes—pieces of paper, books, newspapers—floating down from the sky."
Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is a project initiated by San Francisco bookseller and poet Beau Beausoleil that began as a response to the 2007 bombing [previously on MeFi] of the Baghdad bookselling center Al-Mutanabbi Street. After the attack the authorities made an effort to revive the area but recently the government has begun to make life difficult for the booksellers and intends to turn the street into an animal market. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project consists of book art created by 260 artists and authors from all over the world, but also includes essays, exhibitions and readings, some of which have been put online as videos. You can see a lot of artists' books online at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and the Centre for Fine Print Research (1, 2, 3). The history of the project was told in a recent essay in World Literature Today by Persis M. Karim.
TransLAtions! Get your free lit-e-rary transLAtions here! Ya want Ovid? Ya got Ovid! Ya got all your classic French poets, your Germans, your Italians, your Russians! Ya got a verse rendering of Zorilla's Don Juan Tenorio with parallel Spanish text! Ya got a rare translation of Vazha-Pshavela's Georgian epic Host and Guest! Everything downloadable in every major format! All edited by A.S. Kline!
During the reign of Constantine the Great, the Roman senator and poet Publilius Optatianus Porphyrius was sent into exile for crimes unknown. He succeeded in regaining favor and his good name by composing a series of poems in praise of the emperor which looked like nothing else. His poetry was an evolution of the Greek tradition of pattern poetry, but he took it a much more complex level, as Arrigo Lora Totino explains. In an illustrated article, John Stephan Edwards goes through the poetry of Porphyrius, showing the evolution of his craft.
Poetry Reincarnations. "I hope you may enjoy these glimpses at some of the long-gone poets and literary figures, etc., in the form of scratchy old movies, as if they had been filmed by candle light."
The only authenticated photgraph of Emily Dickinson is of a 16 year old girl. Amherst College now believes that a privately owned daguerrotype shows the poet as a 28 year old woman - about the time she wrote the "Master" letters.
Akhmatova's work ranges from short lyric poems to intricately structured cycles, such as Requiem (1935–40), her tragic masterpiece about the Stalinist terror. Her style, characterised by its economy and emotional restraint, was strikingly original and distinctive to her contemporaries. The strong and clear leading female voice struck a new chord in Russian poetry. Her writing can be said to fall into two periods – the early work (1912–25) and her later work (from around 1936 until her death), divided by a decade of reduced literary output. Her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities and she is notable for choosing not to emigrate, and remaining in Russia, acting as witness to the atrocities around her. [more inside]
Curious about poetry, but don't know where or how to begin? We've reprinted the first chapter from the book "How to Read a Poem" by Edward Hirsch. Its 16 sections provide strategies for reading poems, and each section has plenty of links to examples of poems in our archive to illustrate the points.
Acclaimed New Zealand children's and young adult's book author Margaret Mahy died in Christchurch yesterday aged 76. [more inside]
Old Book Illustrations are vintage pictures that were originally wood engravings or woodcuts, etchings or metal engravings. Old Book Art is pictures, drawings, maps and other images from antiquarian, public-domain books and other old documents. [more inside]
“Aaliyah would have been on Twitter. It is fucked up that she is dead.” Poet and Twitter entity Patricia Lockwood talks with HTMLGIANT about Twitter, literature, twitterature, comedy, poetry, sexting, Aaliyah and Olive Garden. Lockwood suggests that there may be something substantial and heretofore unexamined rumbling in the bowels of certain Twitter communities and people (such as @graeyalien and MeFi's own @gregerskine.)
"these little songs, and many like them, were made for the comfort of my friends, in their sorrow, doubt and suffering"
An internet search, even in these days of abundant information, yields only that the pamphlets can be found in various library collections, and that they continued to be produced into the '70s. And that Edmund Wilson once sent one, "Mr. P. Squiggle's Reward," to Nabokov, calling it "one of the oddest of many odd things that are sent me by unknown people." He also got the title wrong, dubbing it "Mr. P. Squiggle's Revenge," which is probably significant. But that’s it: nothing about Volk or McCalib.Epitomes was a series of pamphlets published by Elwin Volk and Dennis McCalib. Few traces of Volk's life are to be found, but he seems to have been a lawyer, and wrote at least a couple of pamphlets about law, which he self-published in Pasadena. McCalib is equally elusive. A man by that name contributed to an issue of One: The Homosexual Viewpoint in 1964. A Dennis McCalib also used the pseudonym Lord Fuzzy. The aforementioned "Mr. P. Squiggle's Reward" got a curt, two half-sentence dismissal in Poetry Magazine, otherwise these pamphlets seem not to have troubled the literary world. Someone donated their manuscripts to UCLA where they rest undigitized in fourteen boxes. But Library of Congress has scanned a total of twenty-six pages in high resolution.
Néo Fénéon: "Three thousand seven hundred dollars richer after stealing from the job, Marvin Williams, 25, of Brooklyn, went to urinate in a playground." - Items from the NYPD blotter remixed daily in the style of Félix Fénéon. (previously)
How well do you really know old Arty? It all began with the Welsh: The The Annales Cabriae (inside) and parts of the Welsh oral tradition (later collected into the Mabinogion) give a very different picture of the popular King Arthur than contemporary readers are familiar with: no Lancelot, three or four different Guens, no love triangles or Holy Grails. A look at the vast scope of the Arthurian legend. [more inside]
Reading Blaise Cendrars is like stepping into another universe. His fiction is unlike anything else I've ever read. His poetry influenced the mighty Guillaume Apollinaire and helped shape the face of modernism. But it is his mockery of biographical detail and the very notion of literature that fascinates me the most. If, like me, you're not a fan of autobiography, then Blaise Cendrars is the memoirist for you.
Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer has been awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. His poetry has been translated into more than five dozen languages and is the living poet who has been translated most into English. He received the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2007, and the award page is a pretty extensive source of information. Below the cut I'll include a few of his poems that I've found online, but the best place to start is the poetry section of his website, where you'll also find an interview, video, audio and a list of English translations. Tom Slegh wrote an appreciation of Tranströmer and Mary Karr and Christopher Robinson discuss him briefly on Poetry Fix, and read two of his poems. [more inside]
"The prominent literary critic Marjorie Perloff has recently begun using the term 'unoriginal genius' to describe this tendency emerging in literature. Her idea is that, because of changes brought on by technology and the Internet, our notion of the genius—a romantic, isolated figure—is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one's mastery of information and its dissemination. Perloff has coined another term, 'moving information,' to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved by that process. She posits that today's writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine." --Kenneth Goldsmith on why "genius" is an archaic concept, and how literature in English has fallen half-a-century behind advances in visual arts and music