e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Burn for Spring

smoke rising to the clouds

Above the burning
hills: false clouds of smoke. The land
made ready for growth.

 

 

A recent prompt from Carpe Diem is a rare kigo, ‘burning the hills’.

On the surface this doesn’t seem very kigoish, but in Japan farmers burn the old grass off the hillsides in preparation for planting – thus it is a kigo of Spring.

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Garden thoughts of Alexander Pope

A garden Pope would have likedAt school I was made to read The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, but since then have read none of his poetry and have barely remembered his existence.

Recently, however, I stumbled on an article on Pope the gardener in the blog Eighteenth Century Media. Apparently Pope was famous, not only as a poet, but also as a gardener, and friends and fans frequently asked his advice on major and minor aspects of gardening. He may have designed gardens; he certainly had things to say about them.

He favoured the classical style (modern in his day) in which there was a balance between nature and artifice, display and restraint, variety and simplicity. This balance was not just aesthetically pleasing but morally as well. Restraint and ‘consulting the genius of the place’ showed good taste and self control.

Among his writings are a number of Epistles written in verse. One of these, The Epistle to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, although about the use and abuse of riches, also contains a lot of advice on gardening. As a detailed  how-to of horticulture it might not be very useful but it’s aesthetics might be useful for any kind of design.

Oft have you hinted to your brother peer
A certain truth, which many buy too dear:
Something there is, more needful than expense,
And something previous even to taste – ’tis sense:

For those of us who don’t have a fortune to spend on our gardens, it’s comforting to think that all we need is sense, which is free.

Departure

Today Chèvrefeuille has given the topic of departure as a prompt for haiku. For examples he’s roamed to haiku and to the Persian poetry of Rumi.

Departure is a huge topic – every time we go to work or shopping or wherever, we depart from where we are. Sometimes we depart further afield on holiday, to visit or to escape. We may be tourists or refugees; we have departed willingly or fearfully. Some kind of departure is inevitable.

Blackbird on roof

 

Everything departs: spring or rainy season, animals or plants, days of celebration or grief.

Since haiku are usually about nature I have chosen to look at departures in the natural world.

Each season to its
own time. Each bird to its own
song. Then both have flown.

Another piece of my ignorance discovered

By chance I stumbled on a Wikipedia article about Allah Jang Palsoe, an Indonesian stage play, dating from 1919, by Kwee Tek Hoay. The title translates as False God and is about two brothers who discover that money does not bring happiness.

Despite the fact that the original idea came from a short story by E. Phillips Oppenheim, a westerner, it is a truly Indonesian work and is still sometimes performed.

Reading the article I realised I know practically nothing about Indonesian theatre, or other literature. I have heard of the puppet theatre and have even seen extracts on TV, but that’s the extent of my knowledge. I strongly suspect that Indonesians know much more about our theatre than we do about theirs: they may even read Shakespeare in school.

My ignorance probably extends to numerous theatrical traditions, and it seems such a pity to miss so much. Another topic to add to my ‘to be googled’ list.

Memories of Summer

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A coneflower displayed
its green and brown. Serenity
in a summer garden.

Shrines to imagine

Chevrefeuille’s blog, Carpe Diem, has a fascinating article on the Ise Shrine, one of the most important sites for the Shinto religion.

The haiku challenge is to write about it, but I’ve never seen any Shinto shrine, so my poem is more about a shrine of the mind.

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A soft breeze whispers
in the eaves of the temple;
frost on the roof melts.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo from Photopin.

Found poem – Party On

Pleasure pavilion

My motto is

Keep calm and party on

so, when I found in The Art of the Chinese Gardens (published by China Travel & Tourism) a lot of place names associated with inviting guests, drinking wine and generally being sociable, I knew I must make a poem out of them.

The result is below. It may actually be more a semi-found poem as the short connecting lines are my invention.

Party On

Once, in the
Twilight of the Setting Sun
Near
The Sunlight Welcoming Pavilion
In our
Garden of Harmonious Delight,
Guests arrived,

Through
The Gate for Inviting the Moon,
Into
The Pavilion for Bestowing Wine –
Pearl of Shichahai.

They chattered in
The Pavilion for Enjoying the Scenery
Danced in
The Hall of Cheerful Melodies:
Our
Places of Mutual Affinity.

Later we left
The Moon Inviting Terrace
For
The Tower of Clear Voice
In
The Musical Gully.

Today
The Solitary Hill
And
Snow on the Broken Bridge.

The original of the  picture is in the Walters Art Museum. The picture is creative commons from Flickr.

‘Cold Comfort Farm’ by Stella Gibbons – very inventive

92780I’ve just finished reading Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and I’m wondering how I didn’t read it before. No one told me it had beautifully written descriptions (and I’m not a lover of description usually). Nor had I known that it’s full of lovely neologisms and dialect; who could resist cowdling a mommet or inhaling the perfume of the sukebind. You could even teazle a scranlet, though it might be uncomfortable.

The book, written in the 1930s, is a satire on the rural misery novels popular at the time. But like any good satire it stands on its own and doesn’t require familiarity with the likes of Mary Webb.

The heroine, Flora, orphaned at twenty and with very little money, accepts an invitation to live with her relatives at Cold Comfort Farm. She arrives to find the farm in chaos and its numerous inhabitants filled with angst, misery, regret and a good many other horrible emotions. Instead of joining the doom, gloom and victimhood, Flora sets to work to overturn the current malaise and sort out her relatives lives.

One of the things I particularly liked about this book is that it’s a tale of success. Through hard work and cunning Flora succeeds in setting up her various aunts, uncles and cousins with the kinds of life they really want. She then falls into the arms of a handsome, rich man – but don’t expect traditional romance, this is satire.

The book was filmed in the 1990s and one day I hope to see this version.

Cover art from Goodreads.

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 International 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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