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Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Extract from The Art of Poetry, vol. 2 on Carol Ann Duffy's  The Map Woman


Through describing the unnamed ‘map-woman’s’ tattoos, Duffy is able to outline small town life, as filtered through the perspective of an adolescent. This is familiar, market town, parochial England, with its church, market and coffee house, its local dignitaries and park benches. And it’s a small town from the past; instead of a multiplex there’s a ‘Picture House’ showing films from the 1960s and it has trains still powered by ‘belching steam’. This is the parochial world the map-woman knows so well that it’s become part of her, written on her skin. The word indelible springs to mind, with its double meaning of something we cannot forget and of making marks with a pen that cannot be erased. The tattoo of her home of her town is like a fingerprint, an indelible, unmistakable, traceable key to her identity.

 


In an out-of-the-way, unremarkable, conventional place like this we can feel that real life, glamour and excitement must happen elsewhere - surely to goodness, it must. We may feel this especially acutely when we’re adolescents. Details in the poem express a yearning to get away from the suffocating ordinariness of small town life. In the coffee house ‘you’ would ‘find yourself’:

 


...waiting for time to start, your thin face/ trapped in the window’s bottle-thick glass like a fly

 


In the station even the trains are ‘pining’ to escape to a life in the big cities, their names listed like a litany: ‘Glasgow, London, Liverpool’. The castle on the hill is like a ‘stale cake’; the air in the cinema is ‘musty’; the bandstand is ‘empty’; even the motorway ‘groaned’. The sense that the place exerts an oppressive, possibly damaging influence on the woman is also conveyed by the fact that ‘the prison and hospital’ are described as being ‘stamped’ on her back and the via the implication that she tries to get it out of and off her skin, to erase its influence: ‘She sponged, soaped, scrubbed’.

 

January 23, 2016 at 4:53 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Poetry-Forwards-Decade-anthology/dp/0993077870/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453729697&sr=1-1&keywords=neil+bowen

January 25, 2016 at 8:51 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Seashore
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Posts: 2

I find The Fox in the National Museum of Wales quite puzzling. There are images of history/time/change and art but I can't make a coherent reading and I can't find anything helpful online. What do you think the fox represents?

January 27, 2016 at 4:49 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Seashore at January 27, 2016 at 4:49 AM

I find The Fox in the National Museum of Wales quite puzzling. There are images of history/time/change and art but I can't make a coherent reading and I can't find anything helpful online. What do you think the fox represents?

Our critique of this poem will appear in Volume 3 of The Art of Poetry, which we hope will be published sometime in March. It's not a poem I've looked at in great detail, so far, and I quite understand your puzzlement. 

Though you could look up 'fox' in a book on symbolism in English poetry, I doubt it would help much. For me it recalls Ted Hughes' use of the fox as a totem animal. In Hughes's work the fox symbolises poetry itself. This is not to say, necessarily, that it has the same significance for Minhinnick...My advice would be to work out what you can determine about the fox, such as it being something alien to the history museum, then research Mihinnick. (I found that a little reseach on the poet did help my understanding of this poem). By which time, hopefully, we'll also have written something more detailed about it. 

Good luck!

January 27, 2016 at 8:01 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Currently going outrageously cheaply at: 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Art-Poetry-Forwards-anthology/dp/0993077870/ref=aag_m_pw_dp?ie=UTF8&m=AM8HWG5JVWH5J

January 29, 2016 at 10:53 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Lovely to have our first reviews posted on Amazon and for both of them to be 5*.


5.0 out of 5 starsAmazing guide, nothing on the internet for this set ...

Amazing guide, nothing on the internet for this set of poems as my daughter told me! It will be ideal for her revision. She can't wait for vol 3.


5.0 out of 5 starsInteresting and accessible for a poetry novice such as myself ...

Interesting and accessible for a poetry novice such as myself. It will also be an invaluable revision resource for my son later this year.



February 5, 2016 at 8:43 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Tinact
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Posts: 1

Seashore at December 16, 2015 at 3:36 AM

A Minor Role

I would be interested to hear how other people have interpreted A Minor Role. The Edexcel commentary  mentions "the narrator’s reluctance to acknowledge her illness" and seems to assume that she is ill. To me (and several colleagues with whom I've discussed this) it reads as though the narrator is the partner of someone who's ill. Obviously we can see these as alternative interpretations but the former doesn't actually seem to make sense to me. "Contrive meals for a hunger striker" and "I am here to make you believe in life" suggest the latter very strongly to me, as does the title. What do other people think?

We had this very discussion in my English class and came to the same conclusion, focusing on the same quotes as you.

February 7, 2016 at 1:59 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Is Ciaran O'Driscoll's Please Hold anything more than a light comic poem about a piece of modern cultural absurdity? In the poem O'Driscoll's narrator is driven slowly to distraction by an experience familiar to anyone who has had a 'conversation' with an automated answer service. Initially reacting with sarcasm to the answering service's insincere and rather bizarre reactions, such as saying 'wonderful' in response to being given the narrator's phone number, the poem's narrator becomes so frustrated that he finds himself screaming 'Agent!' down the phone. When this only leads him to being put on hold, listeninng to tinny music, he is incensed and driven to linguistic, if not actual, violence.


Anyone who has waited, drumming their fingers while their computer finds an internet connection, or their phone a signal or while the film they are watching stops and buffers, for ages, will know the extraordinarily disproportionate anger these interactions can arouse in even the most mild mannered of us. And this disproportion is where the comedy lies. A great example is the scene in Fawlty Towers in which Basil takes out his manic frustrations on his unreliable car:


 https/www.youtube.com/watch?v=78b67l_yxUc


So the poem's funny, but through comedy is O'Driscoll making some serious points? If so, what are they?


February 10, 2016 at 8:42 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

In true tragicomic fashion this helpful post by the poet himself, Ciaran O'Driscoll was mistakenly posted twice and then mistakenly deleted. (Grumbles to himself about the way technology conspires against proper communication...) Anyhow, I've re-posted them below:


There's certainly some mileage in the idea of disproportion and Fawlty flogging the car with a branch. For a very different view, see the piece on 'Please Hold' on the blogspot 'Bourne Readers'. A lot of my stuff tends to be tragic-comical.

February 17, 2016 at 10:38 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Out of the Bag comes from Seamus Heaney’s elegiac 2001 collection Electric Light. Described on its dust jacket as a book about ‘origins...the places where things start from, the ground of understanding’, Electric Light presents Heaney’s wide-ranging travels over the maps of his memory. Places such as his family home in Ireland, ancient Greece and the violent fenland world of Beowulf, which Heaney had recently translated, are peopled with literary tutelary spirits, such as Virgil and Dante, as well as memories of recently deceased fellow writers, such as Ted Hughes and Joseph Brodsky.


In The Loose Box from this collection Heaney quotes an earlier Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh - a major influence on him - on the importance of place and of the effect of writing about it:


‘the main thing is/ an inner restitution, a purchse come by/ by pacing it in words that you feel/ you’ve found your feet in what ‘surefooted’ means/ and in the ground of your understanding’


In another poem, Perch, Heaney writes about how the fish within a river is ‘on hold/ in the everything flows and steady go of the world’. Like other poems in Electric Light, Out of the Bag, is characterised by tensions between fluidity and solidity, fragmentation and interconnection, holding on and letting go. In this poem Heaney seeks to hold on and hold together disparate pieces of the past, not least in order to make sense of the present.

February 17, 2016 at 10:48 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Neil Bowen at February 10, 2016 at 8:42 AM

Is Ciaran O'Driscoll's Please Hold anything more than a light comic poem about a piece of modern cultural absurdity? In the poem O'Driscoll's narrator is driven slowly to distraction by an experience familiar to anyone who has had a 'conversation' with an automated answer service. Initially reacting with sarcasm to the answering service's insincere and rather bizarre reactions, such as saying 'wonderful' in response to being given the narrator's phone number, the poem's narrator becomes so frustrated that he finds himself screaming 'Agent!' down the phone. When this only leads him to being put on hold, listeninng to tinny music, he is incensed and driven to linguistic, if not actual, violence.


Anyone who has waited, drumming their fingers while their computer finds an internet connection, or their phone a signal or while the film they are watching stops and buffers, for ages, will know the extraordinarily disproportionate anger these interactions can arouse in even the most mild mannered of us. And this disproportion is where the comedy lies. A great example is the scene in Fawlty Towers in which Basil takes out his manic frustrations on his unreliable car:


 https/www.youtube.com/watch?v=78b67l_yxUc


So the poem's funny, but through comedy is O'Driscoll making some serious points? If so, what are they?


Though the poem is undoubtedly comic and the situation the narrator finds himself is presented as being absurd, it has serious points too. Real human communication is here being replaced by automated systems, supposedly in the name of efficiency. But, as anyone who has ever had the misfortune of spending time locked into one of these sort of circular interactions with an automated answering machine will know to their cost, often the time-devouring and temper testing experience is anything but efficient.


Moreover there is a loss of proper human interaction. Though it might mimic some of the features of human conversation, such as turn taking, question and answer, this is an entirely fake 'conversation', not a real one. Despite all the options on offer, the interaction also fails its most basic purpose; to address the narrator’s actual ‘needs’. Furthermore some cultural commentators, such as the radical economist Charles Eisenstein, argue that the sort of corporate lying inherent in this wearingly familiar aspect of modern life is actually damaging and dangerous. Over time the ubiquity of the use of untruths, such as the fake friendliness of ‘your call is important to us’ degrades the quality of our communication and erodes our ability to distinguish truth from lies, making us all more vulnerable to manipulation.

February 22, 2016 at 5:17 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Our book's still availabe for under £5 including p & p from: 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/0993077870/ref=tmm_other_meta_binding_new_olp_sr?ie=UTF8&condition=new&qid=1456847595&sr=1-1

The 2nd book is now in production...:)

March 1, 2016 at 10:55 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Neil Bowen at December 6, 2015 at 3:37 PM

So, let's begin with Patience Agbabi's disturbing poem 'Eat Me'. 


In terms of form, Agbabi's poem is a dramatic monologue written in the voice of an obese woman kept in some sort of captivity by a perverse male lover. According to The Oxford Companion of English Literature a dramatic monologue is a poem 'delivered as though by a single imagined person, frequently but not always to an imagined auditor: the speaker is not to be identified with the poet, but is dramatised, usually ironically, through his or her own words'. The Companion goes on to note that the Victorian poet Robert Browning was especially adept at this form (Browning's My Last Duchess - which will feature in a forthcoming The Art of Poetry book - is one of his finest dramatic monologues). The key ideas here are that we have a character speaking, not the poet, and that irony is a key device in dramatic monologues. In particular, there is usually an ironic gap between what the central character says about themselves and what the writer implies. We'll keep this idea in mind when we explore character in more detail.


Stil thinking in terms of classification, how else might we classify it? Well, thematically it's a sort of love poem, albeit a perverse one, and it also has a strong narrative element. It reminds me a little of a parable or a moral fable. Like the story of King Midas, it warns of the dangers of greed and there's something of Ovid's story of Erysichthon who desecrates a sacred grove and is cursed by the Goddess Ceres to suffer such insatiable hunger that he ends up eating himself! Agbabi's use of religious language of 'forbidden fruit', her monstrous characters and the commeuppance of the greedy man suggests to me that she wanted a sort of mythic dimension to her modern fable.


How does the protagonist present herself?

  • 'When I hit thirty' suggests her age, especially in conjunction with the reference to 'cake'. However we soon realise that this refers to her morbid obesity. That rather indirect way of telling us her weight might imply some embarrassment or shame at her condition
  • She's submissive to the man, at least at first: she 'did/ what' she 'was told' even when it brings her no pleasure; parading herself, she seems to do the man's bidding 
  • She's treated as an object and a possession, an assembly of parts - 'belly', 'chins' & 'hips
  • A series of metaphors dehumanise her and express her identity in terms of what she provides for the male character: 'I was his Jacuzzi'; 'forbidden fruit'' 'breadfruit'; 'a beached whale on a king-size bed'; 'a tidal wave of flesh'; 'his desert island'. These images suggest she provides him with pleasure, comfort, sex and refuge
  • Metaphorical references to her physical size give way to more direct rhetorical language, such as the repetition of 'too fat to...' The tone is difficult to determine here. Is the woman ashamed of her condition? The voice sounds neutral, merely cataloguing events, emotionally detached from her own experience, perhaps even numb. Certainly though the narration is retrospective, there is a noticeable absence of reflective commentary expressing her thoughts or feelings.
  • The power dynamic shifts between the characters: 'I allowed him to stroke' implies she has some control. And this raises a troubling aspect of the characterisation of the woman; her apparent compliance in her own abuse. In the next line, for instance, the man says 'Open wide' and he pours 'olive oil down' her 'throat'. The woman is either unable or unwilling to resist. Earlier she had said her 'only pleasure' was the 'rush of fast food' the man feeds her. The monstrous descriptions of her body also come from her own mouth. 
  • The understated, matter of fact tone of the horrific last line: 'There was nothing else left eat' to so casually explain resorting to cannibalising his dead body confirms a sense of growing unease with the narrator as the poem progresses.

 

This last point takes us back to irony in dramatic monologues. Clearly there is an ironic gap here between what the character is saying and what the writer wants the reader to understand by it. She has in fact been turned into a monster by her abuser, but the question remains to what extent did she have some responisiblity for the situation. The poem poses, but does not answer this question.


Why is the poem written in rhymes three line stanzas, technically called 'tercets'? The form reminds me a little of Dante's use of terza rima in The Divine Comedy adn these gluttonous, dysfunctional characters could, perhaps, be found in a modern version of Dante's outer circles of hell. Agbabi's tercet's don't feature the chain rhyme characteristic of terza rima and the rhyme pattern, like the metre, has a roughness & looseness about it. Partly the use of half-rhymes rather than full rhymes help generate a believable speaking voice - Browning masterfully uses full rhymes in My Last Duchess, but obscures them with caesuras, enjambment and other devices - but the sounds that don't quite fit together might also suggest the tension in the relationship. The three line structure might also remind us that there are three characters in the poem, the unnamed woman and man and behind them the poet. 



One of my students commented on how neat and elegant these slim tercet stanzas are. Most of them are self-contained, ending with full stops. There's a stark contrast then between the ever-expanding transgressive female character and the form she's captured in.

March 6, 2016 at 12:03 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

The following is an extract from vol. 3 of The Art of Poetry on the second half of the poems from the Forward Poems of the Decade anthology. The poem in question here, is Andrew Motion's From the Journal of a Disappointed Man.


This is a poem about being suspended, about being stuck in an uncertain, inbetween, or liminal, state. Take the title. This informs us that the text is an extract taken from a longer piece of non-fiction. That seems straightforward enough. However a ‘journal’ usually comprises factual reportage written in prose, but, this text is a poem. Moreover, it’s a stand-alone poem; check Motion’s oeuvre and you’ll discover that there is no extended ‘journal’ from which this piece has been extracted. The journal of the title is, in fact, a fiction. Such tricksy unreliability should put us on guard as readers – from the outset we cannot necessarily trust what we are being told in this poem, however transparent the language might appear.


Uncertainty about the nature of the text raises questions too about its narrator: If we cannot rely even on the title how can we trust the testimony that follows? Is the titular character Motion himself, or a fictional alter ego? Many questions are raised in this poem, but answers withheld. Hence the reader, like the wooden pile being lifted and the narrator himself, is left up in the air.


The poem’s ‘action’ confirms the theme of suspension and stasis: Though much thought and rumination goes on in the poem - about how to move the pile into the right place in the pier - it acutally remains in the same place as it started in the opening lines. The ‘action’ of the poem is in fact ‘inaction’.

March 7, 2016 at 4:40 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

A literary academic, influential poetry editor, ex poet laureate and biographer of Philip Larkin, Andrew Motion is strongly associated with The Movement and its mainstream aesthetics. From the Journal of a Disappointed Man has a number of characteristics that connect the poem with The Movement style:

 

  • There's the neat, conventional arrangement of stanzas into regular quatrains 
  • the use of ordinary, pared down 'real' language to describe a real experience 
  • the characteristic poet in the role of wry ironic observer of modern life.

 

Motion has, however, updated the aesthetic by being more self-conscious about the act of narrating: he's created a character of the 'disappointed man' who is like a version of a Movement poet at a remove from the poet himself. In terms of the other poems in the Forward anthology, stylistically there's common ground with Barber's Material and Dunmore's To my Nine-Year Old Self. The liminal, inbetweeness links the poem to Copus's An Easy Passage while the self-conscious observation is reminiscent of Boyle's A Leisure Centre is also a Temple of Learning.

 

 

March 9, 2016 at 8:55 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

Ian Duhig in conversation with Julia Copus about The Lammas Hireling:

https://www.rlf.org.uk/showcase/wa_episode58/

March 11, 2016 at 8:48 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Neil Bowen at February 22, 2016 at 5:17 PM

Neil Bowen at February 10, 2016 at 8:42 AM

Is Ciaran O'Driscoll's Please Hold anything more than a light comic poem about a piece of modern cultural absurdity? In the poem O'Driscoll's narrator is driven slowly to distraction by an experience familiar to anyone who has had a 'conversation' with an automated answer service. Initially reacting with sarcasm to the answering service's insincere and rather bizarre reactions, such as saying 'wonderful' in response to being given the narrator's phone number, the poem's narrator becomes so frustrated that he finds himself screaming 'Agent!' down the phone. When this only leads him to being put on hold, listeninng to tinny music, he is incensed and driven to linguistic, if not actual, violence.


Anyone who has waited, drumming their fingers while their computer finds an internet connection, or their phone a signal or while the film they are watching stops and buffers, for ages, will know the extraordinarily disproportionate anger these interactions can arouse in even the most mild mannered of us. And this disproportion is where the comedy lies. A great example is the scene in Fawlty Towers in which Basil takes out his manic frustrations on his unreliable car:


 https/www.youtube.com/watch?v=78b67l_yxUc


So the poem's funny, but through comedy is O'Driscoll making some serious points? If so, what are they?


Though the poem is undoutably comic and the situation the narrator finds himself is presented as being absurd, it has serious points too. Real human communication is here being replaced by automated systems, supposedly in the name of efficiency. But, as anyone who has ever had the misfortune of spending time locked into one of these sort of circular interactions with an automated answering machine will know to their cost, often the time-devouring and temper testing experience is anything but efficient.


Moreover there is a loss of proper human interaction. Though it might mimic some of the features of human conversation, such as turn taking, question and answer, this is an entirely fake 'conversation', not a real one. Despite all the options on offer, the interaction also fails its most basic purpose; to address the narrator’s actual ‘needs’. Furthermore some cultural commentators, such as the radical economist Charles Eisenstein, argue that the sort of corporate lying inherent in this wearingly familiar aspect of modern life is actually damaging and dangerous. Over time the ubiquity of the use of untruths, such as the fake friendliness of ‘your call is important to us’ degrades the quality of our communication and erodes our ability to distinguish truth from lies, making us all more vulnerable to manipulation.

In response to your appeal for more material on Poems of the Decade's prescribed texts, can I point out that I have added material regarding my poem Please Hold to my web page A Level English Literature on my website www.ciaranodriscoll.com  This added material was in response to questions from two students, and I've posted my responses in more general anonymous form on my website. The questions were (1) a more general one about how I came to write Please Hold, and (2) a question as to whether 'the punctuation and form of the poem has any significance to the tone and theme'. I hope this added material may be helpful.

March 11, 2016 at 9:48 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Doctor Dankstus
Member
Posts: 1

Neil Bowen at January 25, 2016 at 8:51 AM

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Poetry-Forwards-Decade-anthology/dp/0993077870/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453729697&sr=1-1&keywords=neil+bowen

Personally, I've interpreted the fox as a metaphor for humanity advancing through the passages of time. Each exhibit that the fox "swept" through represents the human race entering and leaving different stages of civilisation. The fox takes us from the old "Shan and the Yung" dynasties, running with his "eye in the Renaissance", before we follow the fox and "[leave] the Industrial Revolution behind". When the fox runs through the natural exhibits, I also noticed a sense of scale that represented how small the human race is when the history of Earth is taken into account. Out titular fox is sweeping the "age of atoms", increasingly reaching bigger events as he moves through the "Ordovician era" and meets the "Cubists". This is really powerful in suggesting that the fox is symbolic of civilization appearing to be massive, but only representing a minuscule blip in geological history.

I hope this was helpful for you!     \( ^-^)/


March 17, 2016 at 3:36 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

Neil Bowen at February 17, 2016 at 10:48 AM

Out of the Bag comes from Seamus Heaney’s elegiac 2001 collection Electric Light. Described on its dust jacket as a book about ‘origins...the places where things start from, the ground of understanding’, Electric Light presents Heaney’s wide-ranging travels over the maps of his memory. Places such as his family home in Ireland, ancient Greece and the violent fenland world of Beowulf, which Heaney had recently translated, are peopled with literary tutelary spirits, such as Virgil and Dante, as well as memories of recently deceased fellow writers, such as Ted Hughes and Joseph Brodsky.


In The Loose Box from this collection Heaney quotes an earlier Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh - a major influence on him - on the importance of place and of the effect of writing about it:


‘the main thing is/ an inner restitution, a purchse come by/ by pacing it in words that you feel/ you’ve found your feet in what ‘surefooted’ means/ and in the ground of your understanding’


In another poem, Perch, Heaney writes about how the fish within a river is ‘on hold/ in the everything flows and steady go of the world’. Like other poems in Electric Light, Out of the Bag, is characterised by tensions between fluidity and solidity, fragmentation and interconnection, holding on and letting go. In this poem Heaney seeks to hold on and hold together disparate pieces of the past, not least in order to make sense of the present.

At first part two seems entirely unrelated. Like a massive cross-cut in a film, the scene jumps across space and time, from Heaney’s childhood home in Ireland and his wide-eyed, boyish perspective, to the theatre at Epidaraus in Greece many years later. Linguistically the poem now shifts dramatically too, into the learned discourse of a literary academic. This academic discourse is signalled from the outset by the switch into Latin, by the references to influential intellectuals (who the reader is assumed to know), by the reference to Ancient Greek, Asclepius, and the school teacherly explanatory parenthetical note: ‘(called asclepions)’.


Google Peter Levi and you’ll discover he was an Oxford professor of poetry. Graves refers to the influencial poet and expert on Greek myths, Robert Graves, and Asclepius was an ancient Greek god of medicine. Asclepius’s daughter, Hygia, was a goddess of health. Clearly we have moved from the home to the academy. The nature of the discussion of how a theatre is like a hospital, art like medicine and theatre like religious ritual is also more self-consciously evelated, philosophical and reflective. The repetition of the word ‘doctor’ in ‘doctus’ links parts one and two cohesively and we come to understand that both sections are concerned with the creation of life. The birth of a human child in part one is replaced by the birth of creative art.


The process of creation here is made more explicit: ritual ⇒ altered state of consciousness (here sleep) ⇒ epiphany or revelation ⇒ meeting the god (moment of creation)


Seamus Heaney rarely used ellipsis in his poetry, so the fact that he employs this device twice in the same poem is significant. The meeting with ‘the god...’ is followed by another memory, this time only a brief snatch of being part of a procession and it is unclear if this memory is the result of the meeting of not. Memory gives way to memory in quickening succession as narrative is enfolded within narrative. The cohesive link is the change of consciousness signalled by ‘nearly fainted’. The poem becomes disorientating, giddily close to fragmenting, almost incoherent: it is not clear, for example, where Heaney is when he bends to pull some grass. And within this memory is folded another altered state of consciousness in the form of a hallucination that loops us back to Doctor Kerlin and Heaney’s childhood.

March 29, 2016 at 5:07 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

On her blindness


1

When is chopped up prose just chopped up prose and when can it be seen to clamber to the airy heights of poetry? It’s a tough call for sure and novelist Adam Thorpe sails close to the wind with this free verse poem that seems to rather arbitrarily cut 17 sentences into 22 couplets and one poetically lonely line. Additionally, it also seems more like a mini-prose narrative with its collection of anecdotal observations and corresponding personal contemplations. Can clever lineation alone lift carefully arranged prose into poetry? I’m doubtful. There must be an intensity of expression, a boldness of imaginative description and a deep core of emotional profundity that rescues poetry from being merely prosaic.


Luckily, Thorpe explores loss at the uncomfortably close distance of ‘a fortnight back’. Above all else it is the lack of emotional distance from the traumatic event the poem narrates that transforms his prose into poetry. Deeply personal, and consequently deeply universal, the loss of a parent awaits us all. Like the majority of such losses, the loss here is not a serene death due to natural circumstances during sleep, but a long drawn out process of deterioration, defiance and dependence.


Comprising 22 regular couplets, superficially the poem seems composed, neat and orderly. Beneath this outer composure, however, is a striking internal disorder. The regular holding outer pattern of the couplet is, in fact, under considerable internal stress. Unmetred, the form is like cut-up prose, especially in the proliferation of enjambement that characterises almost every couplet and the inevitably high number of caesuras that such enjambmenet creates. A combination of fast pace and stuttering pauses adds to an impression of underlying emotional turmoil. Notice how the poignancy of the ending is amplified by the loss of a poetic line in what should be the concluding couplet, a loss that mirrors the actual loss of Thorpe’s mother.


2

The blind leading the not-blind

On Her Blindness through its title reaches backwards through time to John Milton’s When I Consider How My Light Is Spent (On His Blindness) a poem that voices the helplessness of the blind from the perspective of the blind. Crucially, Thorpe changes this perspective to those who watch the blind from the outside, who spectate on their helplessness. In an odd way this intensifies the feelings of helplessness that drive the poem. It is the contrast between the ‘inadequate [...] locked-in son’ and the woman who somehow ‘kept her dignity’ that is so striking.

March 31, 2016 at 12:08 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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