e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

On re-reading ‘The Rattle Bag’

7fb35406cc300cf593138475541434f414f4141For my late night reading lately I’ve been re-reading The Rattle Bag, a poetry anthology edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. Apparently the original intention was a collection aimed at the young or new poetry reader, but it doesn’t shirk serious subjects like death, love or loneliness. I love it and, to judge by the reviews around the web, so do many other not-so-young people.

Here is a collection of poems to which the term ‘quirky’ seriously applies, though there are plenty of ‘normal’ poems for readers who like their quirky in moderate doses.

On a more serious level the book goes to the edge of what poetry is, both in subject and form: midnight mice, no punctuation and horses eating violins crowd together with the more traditional.

One of the innovations is to arrange the poems alphabetically by title. This means that the usual pattern of date or subject is broken up. Sylvia Plath is on the same page as Shakespeare, while a pet cat precedes a pilgrim.

I’ve had this book for some years (it was published in 2005) and have read most of the poems already, some several times. However, this time I’ve had a serious look at the glossary at the back.

Many of the entries are dialect or archaic terms I already knew, and some I don’t really want to know: should I care that a danegun is an “old firearm, fairly primitive”?

But there are plenty of new-to-me words to enjoy. I’ve seen many solons (gannets) in my time, but have never met a goney (albatross). As I write the gullies (seagulls) are squawking outside. I didn’t know a rack was a cloud in the upper air and I wonder if, like other clouds, it can be scrowed (streaked).

Apsley Cherry-Garrard and the world’s worst journey

I wish I was in Buxton to hear this talk. Thank you James Burt for reminding me that the ‘official’ history isn’t all there is.

Buxton Festival

The Odditorium: the tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) includes some amazing characters. Some you’ll have heard of, some you probably won’t. All of them have changed the world, although in some cases the wider world hasn’t noticed yet. They include Joshua Norton, first Emperor of America, and Reginald Bray, who carried out strange experiments with the Royal Mail. I was delighted to be asked to write about Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who is by far my favourite explorer. 

When I was at school, we were often told stories about adventurers and explorers as something to aspire to. Captain Robert Falcon Scott was held up as a great example, bravely sacrificing himself in an attempt to reach the South Pole. As Sara Wheeler once described Antarctica, our southernmost continent often seems to be “a testing-ground for men with frozen beards to see how dead…

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Tanka for a foggy autumn

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Carpe Diem has started a series of posts on tanka techniques. Even for non-writers, it’s worth reading the post to enhance understanding and appreciation.

The first technique is to add mystery and depth. Autumn is a good time for mystery I think; not only do we have Hallowe’en and the supernatural, but we are in a sort of between-ness – assessing summer just gone and looking forward to/dreading winter to come.

But autumn is a time of its own, as the old Japanese writers knew so well and wrote about so movingly, as in this tanka written by Toshiyuri and quoted on Carpe Diem:

Cries of quail
from the shore of Mano cove
winds blow
waves of plume grass
ripple in autumn dusk.

My response is:

A dense, white fog fills
the garden; among yellowed
grasses no blade stirs.
A crow, hidden in whiteness,
croaks three times, then falls silent.

 

 

Picture from Photo Pin.

The words of Gerard Manley Hopkins and others

Cover artRecently I did a post on the words listed in Landmarks By Robert MacFarlane.

In the glossaries are several words attributed to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Words like endragoned for a raging sea, or bright-borough for an area of sky thickly strewn with stars. I never knew we needed a word for ‘thickly strewn with stars’, but looking at it I can see it could be useful and poetic.

I had not realised that Hopkins went in for neologisms in a big way, but I’m not very familiar with his poetry. So I decided to read up on it and found several interesting websites: Crossref-it.info and The Wonderful World of English among them.

Science fiction should be a good hunting ground for novelty in all forms including words, and academia positively blizzards invented/imagined/redefined terminology.

I’ve known people who really hate invented words, but IMHO without all these authors developing new words, our language would be poor indeed.

One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun tr.Jung Yewon

Korean literature is new to me. I’ve just bought this book and look forward to reading it. I don’t generally go for romance, but this sounds intriguing.

My thanks to the author of blog Word by Word for drawing my attention to it.

Word by Word

oe-hundred-shadowsEthereal, dream-like, accepting of their fate. South Korean working class literature.

Two young people work in an electronics market and slowly develop a friendship.

We meet Eungyo as she is following her shadow, causing her to become separated from the group she is with. Mujae follows her and stops her. Shadows rise and seem to lure one to follow it, something that others try to prevent, for it feels death-like.

Although it is never explained the constant mention of human shadows and their various behaviours provoke the reader’s imagination to ascribe meaning. Ill health and approaching death cause it to rise, and perhaps thoughts, reaching the limit of what one is able to endure. One shouldn’t follow it.

Their bond is formed as the environment within which they work is threatened with demolition. There is a subtle interdependency between the market traders, repairing and selling electronics, so when people who…

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Bird words

51umy7zgnll-_sx328_bo1204203200_I’ve just bought a lovely little book: A Conspiracy of Ravens compiled by Samuel Fanous.

It’s a list of collective nouns for birds. Apparently, creating these words was a pastime of hunters in times past. Now, thankfully, they are the province of word-hunters looking for novel ways of describing the world.

I’ve known a gaggle of geese and a murmuration of starlings since childhood, but most of the collectives in this book are new to me: a fling of dunlins; a pitch of orioles; a raft of auks! I wish I could think of a literary use for them.

Some of the names are so fitting. How about a paddling of ducks or an ostentation of peacocks? And some, like a bellowing of bullfinches, make me laugh.

With an interesting forward by Bill Oddie and woodcut illustrations by Thomas Bewick, this book is a real gem.

The Poetry Periscope

The periscope

If you’re in Birmingham or Durham over the next couple of months, you should look out for this strange beast.

It’s a sound installation called Poetry Periscope and it’s on a UK tour. It started it’s journey in April as part of the European Literature Festival, and it’s still going – unwearied and cheery in its yellowness.

It plays 30 poems from 30 European cultures. Each is played in its own language and in English translation. To stand in a shopping mall or railway station and listen to all that may be a bit much, but perhaps the commute to work or shopping trip can be enhanced by a couple of the recordings.

In addition to the Festival, a number of organisations are involved with the project including European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC), The Poetry Society and Pianos on the Street.

Travels of the imagination

1743363664.01.ZTZZZZZZBrowsing around the web I discovered a site called TripFiction, dedicated to reviewing books about places. The suggestion is that, if you have a trip planned, it’s a good idea to read stories set in that place before or during (or after for that matter) your visit.

I agree that this is a great and unstressful way of learning things about a place that you won’t learn from a guidebook. You’ll also learn about the author’s view of that place – does it matter if this colours your response when you actually arrive and see the real McCoy?

Guidebooks have their own appeal – they usually have the most enticing photographs. Only in children’s stories, like the Mr Chicken books, will you find pictures of your destination. I often browse the travel section in bookshops or libraries, just to imagine the journeys that I’ll quite likely never make – and in some cases wouldn’t want to.

Reading the reviews on TripFiction reminded me of another travel related site, Poetry Atlas which claims

everywhere on earth has a poem written about it

and gives numerous examples – some places, particularly the great cities, have huge numbers of poems about them.

 

Carpe Diem and Pedro Calderon de la Barca

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Carpe Diem has several haiku challenges going at present. I like the one (number 1033) using a prompt by the Spanish poet Pedro Calderon de la Barca.

This is the prompt:

These flowers, which were splendid and sprightly, waking in the dawn of the morning, in the evening will be a pitiful frivolity, sleeping in the cold night’s arms.

There are several ideas here around day/night, the fleeting nature of flowers, the effect of time on perception of splendour/frivolity/pitifulness, whether flowers sleep or wake, and I’m sure there are others I haven’t noticed.

I decided to put the sleep first and look forward to the wakening:

As night falls, so do
the petals of the daylily.
In the summer moonlight,
buds of tomorrow’s lilies
prepare to open at dawn.

The poetry of pink

Rose

I took this photo while on holiday some weeks ago. I noticed the flower among others not only because it’s a beautiful rose, but because it is so pink – ultimately pink. I thought the tiny beetle was sort of cute, too.

Having made a contact with pinkness I looked around to see if anyone has celebrated it in poetry. Sure enough there are a good many poems on the subject.

Poem Hunter has a list. The one that most suited this post is:

This Peach is Pink with Such a Pink by Norman Rowland Gale
This peach is pink with such a pink
As suits the peach divinely;
The cunning colour rarely spread
Fades to the yellow finely;
But where to spy the truest pink
Is in my Love’s soft cheek, I think.

The second verse is about white, so I leave that out.

Then there’s Emily Victoria’s blog called Poetry in Pink, but her poems aren’t actually about pinkness.

Color by Christina Rossetti starts with pink, but then goes on to other colours.

Color
What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain’s brink.

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