No 43 - March 2012
Martin Underwood’s Rear View #5
Martin Underwood continues his series ‘Rear View’ in which he reviews
poems of his choosing.
Madam would speak with me. So, now it comes:
The Deluge or else Fire! She’s well; she thanks
My husbandship. Our chain on silence clanks.
Time leers between, above his twiddling thumbs.
Am I quite well? Most excellent in health!
The journals, too, I diligently peruse.
Vesuvius is expected to give news:
Niagara is no noisier. By stealth
Our eyes dart scrutinising snakes. She’s glad
I’m happy, says her quivering under-lip.
“And are not you?” “How can I be?” “Take ship!
For happiness is somewhere to be had.”
“Nowhere for me!” His voice is barely heard.
I am not melted, and make no pretence.
With commonplace I freeze her, tongue and sense.
Niagara or Vesuvius is deferred.
As we are repeating our ‘Sonnet or Not’ challenge in 2012 I felt I should briefly look at a sonnet by way of encouragement to prospective entrants. I trawled through two anthologies and in the end chose the above because it seems to me to be out of the mainstream. Of course, the tradition of the sonnet sprang from love lyrics and in English the strong tradition is to praise/evoke/eulogise love of one sort or another (and its advantages). It seems to me that during the last century the form has expanded and varied away both from traditional subjects and approach and from strict form.
The above sonnet sticks to the theme of love - but it is seen from the ‘wrong’ end. The writer has, one infers, left his wife. We have a dialogue, again unusual in a sonnet, (except between the lover and his other self or the Muse). It is bitter, ironic and with psychological insight. The first word sets the tone, he refers to his wife as ‘Madame’. And wonders with exaggerated coldness whether she is going to burst into tears or fly into a rage. They circle round each other in formal courtesy (one infers they are at a society event). Time ‘leers’ and drags their chain. They eye each other worse than daggers. They weigh each other up, he notes with complete detachment (and satisfaction?) that she says she’s glad he’s happy - but her quivering under-lip belies it.
The whole episode is nicely sharp. There are really three voices: his, hers and his internal comment. The lines cut between the three. Although the rhyming is strict the run-ons and the conversational tone break any chance of monotonous rhythm. I like the image of Time leering at the scene – a fat banker sitting in the corner twiddling his thumbs - and the exaggeration of fire or tears in mention of Niagara or Vesuvius – and the last couplet which rounds it off and coolly dismisses her emotions.
This is from George Meredith’s Modern Love which I presume is a sonnet sequence, which, of course, is another tradition, but these usually chart the growth of love rather than the opposite, though I suppose Shakespeare wouldn’t agree. And finally, we would chuck this ‘sonnet’ out of our competition as Meredith has broken one rule too many. This is one couplet too far!
Two days after writing the above I read an article by Nick Cohen on the 'affaire Huhne'. In it he comments,"The quality of mercy" did not as Shakespeare had it, "droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven" in this instance. Or if it did, it missed his wife. The rage of Ms. Pryce was Vesuvian......
We hate poetry that has palpable designs on us.
New Birmingham Library
The Library of Birmingham is developing fast. Those who travel past regularly can see all the windows are in and a great deal of the filigree cladding is now also in place. (It seems only a few months since the sight was cleared and archaeologists were checking what lies beneath). What is not seen is the great deal of planning behind the scenes (particularly in the IT field) to ensure that the new services include the most advanced on offer. One can get a preview and an impression of what the interior will be like by going to www.youtube.com and accessing Library of Birmingham Flythrough Video – (you can choose the 2 or 6 minute version, which is interactive). While you are there you might like to look at Rewriting the Library and Rewriting the Library - Iain Macoll (!)
Unexpected stop for WB Yates
Travelling by train from Holyhead to London with W.B. Yeats, whose secretary he then was, Basil Bunting grew more and more fed up with Yeats’s Celtic hyperbole on the beauty of the Welsh countryside through which they were then passing. “Oh, if only I could just sit here and look quietly at the beauty of it, absorb it, stationary for five minutes, why, I’d pay £10!” declared Yeats. Without a word Bunting stood up and pulled the Communication Cord, bringing the train to a juddering halt. “There you are! You’ve got it for half price!” (In those days £5 was the fine for ‘improper use’ of the cord).
Poetry is not meant to be enjoyed. It’s meant to be e-val-u-airted.
F.R. Leavis [quoted by Paul Johnson]
The whole raison d’être of poetry is to break the rules.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The