Saturday, May 17, 2014

April was National Poetry Month

Since last month’s severe weather spoiled our poetry fun, we’re phoning it in!   …or rather, emailing it in.  April’s Genre Reading Group (GRG) meeting to discuss books related to National Poetry Month was canceled but the members were still eager to share what they’d read so they emailed it to me.  Ah, technology!  I remember life before email and Google, but I don’t know what I did there.

One GRG’er shared a poem her father would occasionally recite:

“The boy stood on the burning deck/ Eating peanuts by the peck;/ His father called, he would not go/ Because he loved those peanuts so.”

In her investigation of the poem, she discovered it is a parody of a poem called “Casabianca” (1826) by Felicia Dorothea Hemans.  “Casabianca” was based on The Battle of the Nile which took place on July 28, 1798.  The poem was popular in schools up through the 50’s and the parody quoted above is only one of many that were made.  She found it in Oh, How Silly edited by William Cole.

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) was an American poet.  He taught at the University of Washington near the end of his teaching career and the college named a hall after him.  The GRG member attended classes there and also remembers seeing a film of him reading his own work.  He did both serious and light poems, including this one titled “The Donkey.” 

“I had a donkey, that was all right,/ But he always wanted to fly my kite;/ Every time I let him, the string would bust./ Your donkey is better behaved, I trust.”

She also read a few from famed children’s author (and Homewood, AL resident!) Charles Ghigna.  He has published A LOT of fun books, including Good Cats, Bad Cats and Good Dogs and also used to publish “Snickers,” clever, limerick-like 4-line poems, in different newspapers and magazines.

She also perused The Kingfisher Book of Family Poems selected by Belinda Hollyer, Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees: School Poems edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, and American’s Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology edited by Robert Pinsky.

Our next GRG’er started off in Egypt’s Middle Kingdom with The Shipwrecked Sailor: An Egyptian Tale with Hieroglyphs retold and illustrated by Tamara Bower.
This story is approximately from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (20th-19th Century B.C.E. - As old or older than the Epic of Gilgamesh.) It is based on a papyrus scroll of hieroglyphs and tells the story of a voyage near the Red Sea. A shipwrecked sailor that was part of the voyage meets a serpent on the Island of Soul and becomes good friends with this serpent. As soon as the sailor is rescued the serpent tells the sailor to remember him in his memory as the island will no longer be there. The sailor returns home with riches from the Island of Soul and gains favor with the Pharaoh at that time.

“Why Viking Lander, Why The Planet Mars” - (Excerpts)
[Why Mars? - Line 1
Why Go to find the place?
The human race gives answer, finds a pause,
And, no, not just Because It's There,] - Line 4

[Why Mars? Why Viking Lander on its way? - Line 43
To landfill Time, give man Forever's Day...
Unlock doors of light-year grave
Fling wide the portal;] - Line 46

“The Young Galileo Speaks” (Excerpts)

[O Child, they said, avert your eyes. -Line 1
Avert my eyes? I Said, what, from wild skies] - Line 2

[Why, God minds me to be so. He put the bright sparks in - Line 14
my blood
Which spirit, lighten, flare and frighten me to love.] - Line 16

[What this boys knows and will forever know; - Line 23
The universe is Thronged with fire and light,] - Line 24

Marshall Davis Jones : "Touchscreen" (Please use a touchscreen device to watch for a more
visceral experience.)


Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets translated and annotated by Willis Barnstone
The complete extant poems and fragments of Sappho and a generous selection from other Greek lyric poets of antiquity.  
Various Selections of Sappho's poems ranging from her husband, daughter, family, students, and especially her rivals which she dedicates a lot of poems to. 

Excerpts include:

Don't stir up the small
heaps of beach jetsam.

From all the offspring
of the earth and heaven
love is the most precious.

I have lost, and you, Andromeda,
have made an excellent exchange.

When dead you will lie forever forgotten,
for you have no claim to the Pierian roses.
Dim here, you will move more dimly in Hell,
flitting among the undistinguished dead.

Towering over all lands
is the singer of Lesbos.

It would be wrong for us. It is not right
for mourning to enter a home of poetry.

Our next GRG’er started off with 2001-2003 U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins and his collection, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems.
The GRG member says, “perhaps the most accessible book of contemporary poetry I’ve read.”  Collins has often been compared to Robert Frost.  He worked with the Library of Congress to establish a poem-a-day reading program for American high schools called Poetry 180.  In addition to multiple print volumes, there is a DVD featuring interviews with and readings by Collins as well as a sound recording of a live performance with an introduction by his friend, Bill Murray.  His most recent published volume is Aimless Love which also has a sound recording by Collins.

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
“This is a delightful novel about an imagined love affair between poet Robert Lowell and Southern novelist Flannery O'Connor.  I was disappointed briefly to discover there was no more than a kernel of such romance in the actual published correspondence between the two, but I did enjoy reading samples from the Pulitzer Prize winning collection of O'Connor's letters, The Habit of Being.”

Another GRG’er read T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, upon which the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats was later based.
(Google Books) T.S. Eliot pays tribute to "Mr. Mistoffelees, " "The Run Tum Tugger, " "Macavity: The Mystery Cat, " and a variety of other cats in this engaging collection of humorous poems. Originally composed to amuse Mr. Eliot's intimate friends, to whom they were sent anonymously, these verses have proven irresistible to cat lovers, lovers of nonsense, and admirers of T.S. Eliot throughout the English-speaking world.

I myself fell in love with hearing the authors of poems read their own work in Poetry Speaks, Expanded: Hear Poets from Tennyson to Plath Read Their Own Work edited by Elise Paschen & Rebekah Presson Mosby and narrated by Charles Osgood.  
They are not joking around.  One of the very first pieces you get to hear is of Alfred, Lord Tennyson reading “Charge of the Light Brigade,” from a late 1800’s wax phonograph cylinder recording, only a few short years after Edison invented that technology.  It’s hard to understand him but you can read along in the book.  I cannot even begin to tell you the insights to be gleaned from listening.  I did not think Langston Hughes would sound like that.  Who knew Dorothy Parker had such vicious little poems running around in her head?  Gwendoline Brooks had rhythm. It was easy to hear that Sylvia Plath was troubled. Robert Frost was quite the showman.  So many authors, so much insight to be gained from listening to them read the poems as they no doubt heard them IN THEIR OWN HEADS.  I remember taking a poetry analysis class in undergrad and writing paper after analytic paper and can only wish in retrospect that I had dug up a recording of the author reading.  I don’t know if it would have changed my analysis, but I can’t help but think so.  This book, lengthy though it may be, is SO worth your time!

Ekphrastia Gone Wild: Poems Inspired by Art edited by Rick Lupert
( Ekphrastia Gone Wild is an anthology of ekphrastic poetry – poetry inspired by other works of art (including painting, film, literature, photography and more) including work by Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska along with a roster of 87 poets from all over the world including Suzanne Lummis, Laurel Ann Bogen, Jerry Quickly, Brendan Constantine, Gerald Locklin, Robert Wynne and many more, edited by Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert.

May is Jewish American Heritage Month so that is the topic around which our discussion will range on Tuesday, May 27th at 6:30pm.  I'll hope to see you there!


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