QUOTES AND REVIEWS
This page contains quotes and reviews of books that have appealed to members, and which they would like to share with all.
But the greatest thing of all by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; and it is also the sign of original genius, since a good metaphor implies the intuitive perception of similarity in dissimilars.
'Poetry's a mere drug, Sir.'
'We hate poetry that has a palpable design on us - and if we do not agree, seems to put a hand in its breeches pocket.'
'God guard me from those thoughts men think In the mind alone; He that sings a lasting song Thinks in a marrow bone.'
' The Poet should seize the Particular; and he should if there be anything in it, thus represent the Universal.'
' . . the true poets must be truthful.'
'Unless the soul goes out to meet what we see, we do not see it; nothing do we see, not a beetle, not a blade of grass.'
' . . a good poet's made as well as born.'
'Birds fly through us: the tree I look at is growing in me.'
' . . there is a dark Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles Discordant elements, makes them cling together In one society.'
'Poets write, not to tell others, but to discover and understand for themselves.'
'Every poet has his own net, and his own draught of fishes.'
Gerard Manly Hopkins
'Read it with the ears, as it was meant to be read, and then my verse is all right.'
'To see a world in a grain of sand, And heaven in a wild-flower; To hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour.'
'All high poetry is infinite; it is as the first acorn, which contained all oaks potentially.'
'He capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth, he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May.'
Life admits not of delays; when pleasure can be had, it is fit to catch it. Every hour takes away part of the things that please us, and perhaps part of our disposition to be pleased.
From the Wakefield Cycle, Herod speaking
'Fie, knaves! Fie,dottypolls, with your books: Go cast them in the brooks! My wit away raves!’
This book by Merryn Williams has just been published by the Shoestring Press.
Merryn, later chairman of Toddington Poetry Society, chose for the membership evening she led years ago the theme "Real People". Significant. The present collection includes in the section entitled 'Roots' her re-working of the histories of actual ancestors of the Hemp (her husband's) family; and moreover, as you read further you will recognize the real nature of the characters she summons to her poems. As a poet Merryn knows precisely what she is doing, chooses exactly the right registers for what she has to say, shows a command of cadence and a mastery of structure. The title poem, "The First Wife's Tale", is featured below and you can see the skill with which she handles the complexities of the Villanelle and uses the repetitions of the form to great effect without losing narrative flow.
"The First Wife's Tale" I am wiped out. They do not speak my name. She has it now - children, goods, the lot. No contest. I am dead and have no claim. . She walks in - the surroundings are the same - pours tea, snaps roses' heads. And I shall not. I am wiped out and they don't speak my name. Routines go on - she drives my children home from school and tucks the baby in his cot. I won't protest. I'm dead and have no claim. She entertains his friends - the ones who came before my time - smiles, savours all she's got. I am wiped out. They do not speak my name. You hear faint whispers, hints she has no shame, but it no longer matters who did what, considering I am dead and have no claim. The man we loved gets very little blame; she did, but now she's here, and I am not. I am wiped out and they don't speak my name, seeing that I am dead., and have no claim.
. In this collection Merryn, to quote Eliot "is much possessed by death". so the first section of this collection is called "The Bereavement Files" from which I choose to quote the wonderfully moving poem
"The Trappings and the Suits of Woe": Wearing black now means nothing. The Victorians did it for every fourth cousin. But I think this sable suit appears - just one more outfit. (My mouth is sandpaper. My eyes are ink). They've no idea. If I could bring you back I'd walk round all my life in swathes of black.
The second section entitled "Celebrity Desert Island" is a remarkable group of eight poems reflecting well-known characters. Each poem makes a powerful statement, notably,for me, "She" - a lady "malevolent, spitting poison . . . All stopped talking. We were petrified". Ensures you guess who as you read the poem. Then read "Found Poem" (from a headline in the Sun) which features a monologue in which you will recognize a certain stylistic syntax. 'He' is talking to his "kids" warning them of his likely unpopularity and ends with this shocking conviction of his personal rightness:
I hope that's quite clear. So, hey, let's go Let's start a war.
Examples of Merryn's range of imagination and power appear throughout, not least in the terrifying poem "Evil Eye" where the writer is physically destroyed by malevolence. Further evidence is shown in the magnificent translations, at the end, of poems by Miguel Henandez. Makes one think back to her translation of Lorca.
However, as well as power, there is also in some poems a controlled literary elegance as in "Deep Water" where the resurrection of the Bluebird from Coniston Water and the thoughts of drowned women similarly resurrected finishes the poem as follows:
Skiddaw, Scafell, the Old Man calmly circle the waters, colours of the trees and sky spread wide; the stone you drop disturbs the surface and sinks; I think it's no bad place to lie.
The above is a mere sketch of the contents of this collection which offer a stimulating and always challenging read.
For many years, my poetry bible has been The Norton Anthology, and although this large volume contains an excellent cross-section from the history of English verse, it cannot alone provide an adequate picture of any particular author, era or style. Consequently, one needs a constant supply of compensatory anthologies to fill the gaps and complete, at least, some of the broader canvas; particularly in the area of modern verse. With this uppermost in my mind, I recently bought a copy of “Being Alive”, which is primarily a collection of modern poets and contemporary verse that the compiler considers relevant to present day life.
“Being Alive”, edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe, retails at £10.95 and is extremely good value for money, if for nothing more than the sheer quantity of work between its covers. The whole essence of the book, as the title suggests, is about existing in modern times and during the course of the introduction Astley uses the word “live” and its derivatives on no less than forty-two occasions, which shows a clever, if hardly subliminal method of conditioning the reader before a meaningful page is turned.
“Being Alive” is a follow up to “Staying Alive”, which many of us already own, and like its predecessor, this more recent edition offers readers a wide variety of poetry concerning the complexities and simplicities of living in the modern world. Neil Astley’s principal aim is to make “the skin bristle” with excitement, for as he says, he wants to give readers as many “hair-raising, head lifting poems as possible.” He also points out that he has excluded, “modern poems that don’t engage….because they are too clever for their own good, or too simplistic in their sentiments.” This audacious editorial stance indicates that Astley, like so many compilers of anthologies both past and present, is consciously acting as a censor of contemporary verse and an arbiter of public taste. Whether his views on modern prosodic culture are correct, or relevant, only time and the cash tills will tell, but I for one enjoyed his book.
The principal attribute of Astley’s compilation, or perhaps more accurately I should say, the feature that had an immediate impact upon me, was the way he had so cleverly integrated the poems of a particular genre into each of the ten sections of his book. The five hundred pages are divided into ten thematic areas dealing with topics such as, “The World”, “Taste and See”, “Love Life”, and to me, the enticing subject of the “Mad World”. Each section could virtually be read as an individual book in its own right. If, for example, I was looking for reflections upon human nature, I could turn to the passage on “Men and Women” and be stunned by the sheer effrontery of Anne Rouse, amused by the simplicity of Liz Lochhead and stirred by the clicking rhythm of Duncan Forbes. And yet, in spite of all the differences in voice, style, tone and message I would still be reading about the human condition regarding personal relationships, the inner thoughts of both men and women and those crazy notions that even the most balanced people in life seem to harbour in private.
It is not easy to assess such a large volume of work, because it contains material from a wide social spectrum and diverse linguistic abilities. The syntax, diction, voice and audience vary from leaf to leaf and sometimes even on the same page. Similarly one finds a huge range of stylistic and mechanical techniques utilised by the poets, all of whom are sheltering under the same literary umbrella. From a personal point of view this book was an object lesson in how effectively some writers use devices like pararhyme, figurative language, prosodic formulae, enjambment etc.; whilst some poets simply seem to captivate the reader through the sheer aural power of sibilance, assonance and the apposite word.
Naturally it is not everyone’s cup of tea to analyse poetry too deeply. Constant dissection can expose the bare bones of methodology and the sinews of language only to miss out on the invisible soul that brings the body to life. In this anthology there are so many examples of powerful emotion and provocative insight for the reader to enjoy, that my experience of “Being Alive” would suggest that only the narrowest of minds would not be satisfied with Neil Astley’s collection.
A final point to make about “Being Alive” is that it is an anthology of a far different construction to one from, say, twenty or thirty years ago. It seems to me that there are three main reasons for this. The first of these being that, even though English culture is dominant throughout this book, half of the 479 poems were written by foreign authors. Among Astley's apparent favourites are: Dunmore (England), Olds (USA), Amichi (Israel), Cavafy (Egypt), Gilbert (USA) and Kenelly (Ireland). The book also contains about thirty translations and some of these were so effective that I thought they could hardly have been bettered even in their own native tongue.
The second reason for the modern nature of this anthology is that Astley introduces a drastic and welcome change to the historical tradition of poetry, based on the misconception that women do not write it as well as men. In this book about 44% of the contributors are female. It may not be quite an equal balance of the sexes, but at least it is a marked improvement on many of the publications in the past.
The final reason that seems to characterise “Being Alive” as a modern, or even a post-modern anthology, is one of style. Astley, who has hinted elsewhere of his mild disaffection for some of the traditional practices involving rhyming poetry, has consequently, included very little work based on conventional rhyming structures which Hughes once described as, “the boring dum dee dum of Victorian verse.” As a result there are few formal structures, like ballads, rondeaus and sonnets, although to his credit, Astley has included a few.
Another aspect of the modernist style incorporated in “Being Alive” is that the diction and tone simply tend to be more up-to-date, more honest, more down-to-earth than those found in the anthologies of old. Although it is quite a witty and whimsical publication, there tends to be more cynicism than really humorous pieces. In the A to Z of writers, for example, there is no place for people like Ayres or Zephaniah just to mention a couple of extremely gifted poets. But nowadays it appears that if poetry is funny, or popular, or even worse, both popular and funny at the same time, it rarely finds a place in an anthology of this timbre. In modern poetry, writers call a spade a spade, sarcasm abounds in broken relationships, knives are sharpened and heads will roll, sexual innuendo no longer needs the innuendo and even the spade’s become a bloody shovel. But for all that I thoroughly enjoyed “Being Alive” and would recommend that you buy, borrow, beg or steal it; but not from me.