PERIPETEIA


                                                        A site for students studying English at 'A' Level/University. Discussion Forums and unique 
                                                  Online Seminars to build confidence, creativity, and individual analytical style.

Forums

Post Reply
Forum Home > Poetry > Poems of the Decade

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

Doctor Dankstus at March 17, 2016 at 3:36 PM

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!     \( ^-^)/


Thank you good Doctor for your interesting and helpful interpretation. And for being brave enough to share these with other members.


Foxes appear frequently in literary texts, cartoons and children's books. The ancient Greeks equated foxiness with cunning; the playwright Aristophanes, for instance, refers to foxiness several times in Lysistrata. More modern day examples include Mr Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox and, in poetry, Ted Hughes' famous The Thought Fox (well worth reading as a co-text for Minhinnick's poem). Indeed the fox was a totemic animal for Hughes, closely associated with inspiration, imagination and the writing of poetry). In summary, Minhinnick would be well aware that his central symbol comes trailing a long line of literary antecedents and associations. 


Minhinnick's fox is a mercurial guide to the National Museum of Wales. He (and it is a 'he') plots a rather indiosyncratic route, he doesn't linger either over any of the exhibits and he's hard to keep up with. One moment he's in Photography a second later & he appears in the 'Folk Studies Department'. It seems he can even be in two places at the same time: 'his 'eye' is in the renaissance at the same time that his brush is 'in the Baroque'. So he's an elusive, quicksilver, perhaps even magical creature. No ordinary fox performing his 'legerdemain', dressed in his 'suit of iron fillings' who's invisible to all but the poem's speaker, this fox whose dangerous, energising presence brings inaminate 'porcelain atoms shivering' to life. As well as jumping space, he's also a time travelling fox. 


Whether the fox symbolises the advance of humanity or not we'll just have to wait and see. Our critical essay on the poem is still being formulated. The truth will soon be revealed and the mysterious fox unmasked! Perhaps.






  

April 1, 2016 at 6:46 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Johanna
Moderator
Posts: 26

An extract from my offering on Ford's Giuseppe for the forthcoming The Art of Poetry, vol.3 on Forward Poems of the Decade:


How can we interpret the imagery in this poem?


Anyone who has read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernières, 1994) might well recognise the imagery of the Mediterranean setting of WWII – ‘where the bourgainvillea grows so well’, by ‘the dry and dusty ground’. The lushness of nature springs from the sterility of war and death. There are some important images that arise in the poem that form an overall conceit (an extended metaphor that is used throughout a poem), in this case, the theme of being silenced by violence during wartime.


The first is the the allusion to the Holocaust, which runs throughout. This is expressed through references to human experimentation:

• ‘when they took a ripe golden roe / from her side, the doctor said / this was proof she was just a fish’
• the taking of wedding rings from the corpses of Jews – ‘someone tried to take her wedding ring’
• and the rationale that those who were ‘simple’ (or what Himmler called ‘undesirable’ deserved to be removed from society, ‘butchered on the dry and dusty ground’.


This leads onto another important theme, which is that of violence towards women. A feminist reading of the text would underline the narrative, as shown here, of the treatment of women as an oppressed group. The mermaid is made unfamiliar, a figure that is made monstrous by her lack of words- monstrous in a different way, of course, to her captors. Through making her a fantastical creature, Ford asks us to find the familiar in the strange and otherworldly. In particular, the mermaid’s horrific death is a compact analogy of the kind of sexual violence and torture used against women in times of war, which functions as an enforced imprinting of one party’s, or tribe’s, ethnicity, onto the women of the other side. This means, through forced reproduction, that one race gains prevalence and biological power over another; exactly the goal of the Holocaust in seeking to imprint a ‘right’ ethnicity and to destroy those whom they saw as ‘sub-human’. Have a look at the poem again and see who you think are the more powerful people here. Is it the humans, or the mermaid?


This is another way in which the overarching theme of silence is achieved, which again would sit with a feminist criticism of the text. The mermaid, just as sub-human as other socially oppressed groups, can only make noises within the parameters of what is already stereotypically ‘female’. Hence she ‘screams like a woman in terrible fear’. Her way of expressing herself is reduced to visceral and hysterical sounds, the repeated brash vowel sounds of ‘e’ and ‘I’- ‘she’, ‘fish’, ‘fish’, ‘screamed’, ‘terrible’ and ‘fear’- supporting this. The middle ground, or ‘liminality’, between being fish and human is an analogy for women in general, who historically have been seen as defined in relation to to their bodies (the word ‘hysteria’ comes from the Latin hystera for ‘womb’ and more grounded in ‘animal’ instincts than men. Though she is called a ‘mermaid’ and has ‘golden roe’ taken from her side, the weight of details imply the victim was a woman:


• ‘She was so simple’
• ‘One of her hands’
• ‘Her throat was cut’
• ‘She screamed’
• ‘Wedding ring’


The mermaid is literally ‘butchered’, ‘cooked and fed to the troops’ who have been ‘starved’. Her offspring are removed in the strange fashion of a caesarean section, the ‘ripe golden roe’ coming from her side just as the blood comes from the side of Christ, or Eve from the side of Adam. However, the image here is not redemptive or generative; it ends in death and sterility. Ford uses the many different treatments of the woman’s body to explore the different ways in which we can be physically silenced. 

--

Johanna Harrison

April 2, 2016 at 6:04 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Mikey Meally
Member
Posts: 6

An extract from my analysis of George Szirtes' Song from our forthcoming The Art of Poetry, vol.3 on Forward Poems of the Decade:


George Szirtes takes an unusually scientific approach to the art of protest in his poem Song.  It encompasses, unsurprisingly, the conecpts of both sound as well as balanced systems of weights (which also connects nicely to the law of the lever).

.

The science of sound and the sound of science

In fact, if thought about it in the scientific light introduced earlier, noise, or sound, can only be transmitted from particle to particle; there must be both a transmitter and a receiver. Such a bipartite relationship is idealized in the poem. It is not enough for an individual to ‘buzz’; said ‘buzz, must be validated by another. This is as true for the microscopic life, individual to individual, as it is for the macroscopic, individual to culture, or even culture to culture. If the ‘buzz’ leads to the ‘does’ then the message is clear – be brave and be the one who initiates change. You never know who will be the ‘one pale feather’ who tips ‘the balance’ of things, but it might as well be you.


 

However, Szirtes’ use of science is not just restricted to the metaphor of sound transfer. The poem contains other scientific metaphors, which reinforce the predominant sound comparison. The law of the lever features prominently. Not only are the key terms of ‘levers’, ‘fulcrums’ and ‘weights’ mentioned specifically but they are repeated for effect. The notable internal rhyme of ‘fate’ and ‘weight’ signals the importance of this metaphor in the battle for individual and cultural validation. Szirtes uses weights to signify cultural power and puns comically, if darkly, on this in his phrase ‘heavy fate’. The danger of being ‘crushed’ is directly proportional to the cultural power of the stakeholder. While a balancing of loads, ‘levers and fulcrums’ is characteristic of inanimate structures, in matters of human forces such idealism appears naive at best, foolish at worst. It surely is no coincidence that Szirtes describes the tipping of the ‘balance on a sinking ship’ where balance is a non-entity in a catastrophic loss. Quite at odds with scientific views of a world in balanced harmony, a world of actions and equal but opposite reactions, the poem presents a world characterised by inequality – an inequality that must be consistently attacked so as to achieve equality. Of course, one man’s equality is another man’s inequality; it is not scientifically objective but very much a subjective concept. Balance at best is strictly temporary according to Szirtes.


 

According to Science, energy may neither be created nor destroyed; it can only be altered. In the poem Szirtes uses this principle to assert that social energies have the potential to be redistributed rather than created/destroyed. The law of the lever is crucial in the poem’s science-inflected world as ‘the object however great […] / may be made to move.’ The alliteration of the m’s here makes this a memorable moment in the poem [pardon my own unintentional m-fuelled alliteration]. The image of ‘one pale feather’ being the thing that tips ‘the balance’ proposes that it only take a single individual to initiate social upheaval and rebalancing. The metaphor of the ‘sinking ship’ also illustrates that one society must be destroyed to create another, hopefully improves, one. In this way, this image of the feather subtly transmits a call to arms but one that is distinctly coloured. The feather is ‘pale’, which may connote fear and anxiety but also given the prominence of white power in the world also connotes that change occurs when it comes from within, rather than without, the oppressing majority.


 

This feeling of a unique moment of change is further reinforced by the beautiful weight-related simile at the end of the penultimate stanza. Here ‘the heart like a weight begins to lift,’ which sees a lifting off not only of oppression but also of the emotional devastation that accompanies such oppression. To equate the ‘weight’ with the ‘heart’ imaginatively describes the processes at the heart of such social change. For cultural acceptance to occur the both the oppressed and oppressor much be humanized; they must be recognized as having ‘a heart’ and a shared humanity promoted in cultural discourse, as opposed to dehumanizing difference.

 

April 4, 2016 at 6:33 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Mikey Meally
Member
Posts: 6

An extract from my analysis of Alan Jenkins' Effects from our forthcoming The Art of Poetry, vol.3 on Forward Poems of the Decade.This section discusses briefly Jenkins' memorable use of poetic form in his poem.


The Echoes of Memory

Jenkins’ poem uses form to reinforce the reality of memorialising the dead. There is no place here for stately, elegiac formal patterns that bring the consolation of predictable consistency. Instead, his form espouses a regular unpredictability. While the 50 lines are written invariably in an iambic metre, this shifts from tetrameter to hexameter. The most striking formal aspect is the complex, sinuous rhyme scheme Jenkins employs. It is hard to describe completely, but the poem can be broken down into three long sections where some sort of rhyme scheme is discernible and a short final section where mono-rhyme is used conspicuously.

 

The rhyme scheme in these longer sections is curiously unpredictable. It is simultaneously tight and loose: Just when the ear is starting to accommodate itself to a definite pattern the poem shifts suddenly into new sounds before lurching back to previous ones. For example take the first 9 lines. The end rhymes are: SCARRED – WAIT – RAW – PLATE – KNEW – STEW – ATE – RINGS, which gives a rhyme scheme of ABCABDDBE. There are outbursts of cross rhyme i.e. SWORE – BAND – WORE – HAND – MORE. Again, the ear expect a word that rhymes with ‘hand’ and ‘band’ but gets ‘sleeve’ instead. Additionally, Jenkins uses half-rhymes like SCARRED and ABROAD and IF and WIFE to further emphasis a woozy soundscape that seems to drift in and out of sonic focus. All in all, it gives the poem an echoing sonic unpredictability that seems to mimic the senile memory or maybe just the uncertainty of memory itself. Like a sonic déjà vu, the sound patterns feel familiar but different. Yet there are sudden bursts of clarity.

 

The use of sporadic mono-rhyming couplets and finally a triplet allow brief respites of certainty from the shifting sonic uncertainty that characterises the poem as a whole. In this way they mimic the memories stimulated by ‘the little bag of effects’ and by all objects with sentimental value. They also mimic the sudden moments of clarity experienced by the senile. Such instances are important as they can be seen to condense down the entire poem to its basic elements: KNEW and STEW; GONE and ON; SAT and AT; SCOTCH and TOUCH; SLEEVE and LEAVE; SHE, SEE and ME. Perhaps, fittingly, the most certainty comes at the end of the poem, where the aforementioned cross-rhyming sequence segues into a mono-rhyming couplet and triplet. Jenkins’ end rhymes here suggest that the only certainty we have is death and loss.

 

April 6, 2016 at 6:03 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

In Genetics, Morrissey uses very straightforward diction yet still manages to make language elusive, hard to pin down in terms of meanings. The double use of ‘them’ in the second line, for instance, implies that there is no difference between her hands and her parents, they are both simply ‘them’. And the overt sentiment of the poem is that her parents can be reunited in her hands. This semantic slipperiness, like the half-rhyme, conveys a counter current or undercurrent in the poem that suggests reconciliation may not be so easy, or perhaps signals the poet’s awareness that the reconciliation she achieves is not completely convincing.


It’s worth noting too how Morrissey flexes the villanelle form a little. With only two rhyme sounds to play with, rhymes can rather stick out awkwardly from a villanelle, making the language sound unnatural, clunky and too contrived. In an unsubtly written villanelle we will hit and notice the rhymes too much. Morrissey uses enjambment to bed down and tuck in her rhymes, so that the sentence runs over the end of the line and into the next one. In fact the first enjambment runs stanza four into stanza five. Half-rhymes also help to dampen down the sonic echoing in the poem. The trick is to bend the form so that, despite its rigidity, it can carry the cadences of a spoken voice. Morrissey pulls off this trick with great technical aplomb.


Why did the poet choose the form of the villanelle to tackle this subject? The form of a villanelle is like a formal dance - lines are rotated, separate and then join back up again. Lines one and three for instance start close, circle each other and finish even closer together as the poem’s last two lines. Hence the form embodies the idea of separating and coming back together again; separation and connection between the narrator’s parents and between them and her. Perhaps there’s even some analogy between the poem’s shape and the twists of a genetic code. The narrator is also stuck in the desire to reconcile her parents, a repeating emotional pattern; a need she cannot escape or move beyond. At least not until the final stanza where there’s a major shift in the poem.

April 11, 2016 at 6:23 AM Flag Quote & Reply

whoops
Member
Posts: 7

Neil Bowen at December 7, 2015 at 11:52 AM

The shortest poem in the anthology is not on the Edexcel set list. But it makes for a good lesson starter activity on the significance of titles. 


The poem is by academic & poet David Herd and is two lines long:


Worked in the morning.

Watched TV.


What can we say about such a short, seemingly inconsequential poem? How could it possibly have been selected as one of the best Forward Poems of the Decade? Is this another case of the sort of craziness that gives modern art a bad name? Is it some sort of game about how we construct a poem by reading it as such?


Clearly the poem is composed of very ordinary, everyday language and outlines a very ordinary, seemingly insignificant experience. Probably most of us do this or something like it each day and few of us would think of writing a poem about something so mundane. And if we did, we'd probably try to jazz it up a bit. There are none of the usual poetic techniques, such as imagery or sonic effects. Both of the two sentences are incomplete fragments, denuded of a subject, which we take to be 'I'. This helps create the impression of someone speaking, perhaps. They are blunt, truncated and seemingly plain statements of fact - technically both sentences are declaratives.


Each of the two lines ends with an emphatic full stop so that the two experiences of work and leisure seem disconnected. Maybe there's the suggestion that only these two things mattered for some reason. Why, for instance, aren't there further lines, such as 'drank some tea', 'drove home', 'cooked the dinner'? Something about watching the TV at this point must have been very important. 


After spending as long as you or your class can stomach on analysing these 6 words, the next task is to suggest possible titles. Here are a few my cynical yr. 11 class suggested: Life, School, What I learnt today, The shortest poem with the longest possible title we could think of. 


 

Another poem with an evocative title is Simon Armitage's Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass. I'm not going to analyse this poem in detail, for now, for reasons that will become apparent early next year, he writes, hoping to sound a little bit mysterious. So here, for the time being, are jsut a few, introductory thoughts about the title:

 

Perhaps you’ve whiled away some time when waiting for a bus or somesuch by playing imaginary match-ups. Which would win in a battle between a shark and a crocodile? Would a tiger defeat a lion or would the lion lick the tiger? Who’d come out on top in the final showdown between Superman and Batman? What about Nigella Lawson against Mary Berry? In this game, the contestants have to be well matched, otherwise there’s obviously no fun in the speculation and not much of a fight.


Obviously Armitage's title is meant to sound like a sports match or a fight. There’s no article (‘a’ or ‘the’ at the start which also makes ‘chainsaw’ sound like a name of a person or team. If we think of chainsaws and their place in popular culture for just a moment or two we’ll soon hit on the notorious horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Chainsaws are clearly serious bits of kit, poweful and dangerous tools that can be wielded as weapons by nutcases in horror films. Powerful and dangerous are not words we would usually associate with the rather flimsy, thin stemmed and fluffy headed pampas grass. In pitching a potentially deadly weapon, armed with rotating sharp serrated teeth propelled by a powerful motor incongruously against some defenceless wavy grass, Armitage makes the battle seem comically one-sided, like Supermans taking on Mary Berry. As the first line of the poem acknowledges, ‘It seemed an unlikely match’. Inevitably the grass will be wiped out, quickly and easily, we assume. Perhaps this will be a rather short poem?

 

Notice that the poem’s speaker is not included in the title: It is not Armitage & the Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass. This adds to the sense that the chainsaw is a character in the poem, acting almost autonously, with a will of its own. It also excuses the speaker from responsiblity for the foreshadowed carnage to come.


Perhaps the distinction between the gratuitously aggressive nature of the chainsaw and the pampas grass's flimsy form is done to emphasise the perhaps misguided and egotistical intentions of the reader?


April 18, 2016 at 4:03 AM Flag Quote & Reply

whoops
Member
Posts: 7

Johanna at April 2, 2016 at 6:04 AM

An extract from my offering on Ford's Giuseppe for the forthcoming The Art of Poetry, vol.3 on Forward Poems of the Decade:


How can we interpret the imagery in this poem?


Anyone who has read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernières, 1994) might well recognise the imagery of the Mediterranean setting of WWII – ‘where the bourgainvillea grows so well’, by ‘the dry and dusty ground’. The lushness of nature springs from the sterility of war and death. There are some important images that arise in the poem that form an overall conceit (an extended metaphor that is used throughout a poem), in this case, the theme of being silenced by violence during wartime.


The first is the the allusion to the Holocaust, which runs throughout. This is expressed through references to human experimentation:

• ‘when they took a ripe golden roe / from her side, the doctor said / this was proof she was just a fish’
• the taking of wedding rings from the corpses of Jews – ‘someone tried to take her wedding ring’
• and the rationale that those who were ‘simple’ (or what Himmler called ‘undesirable’ deserved to be removed from society, ‘butchered on the dry and dusty ground’.


This leads onto another important theme, which is that of violence towards women. A feminist reading of the text would underline the narrative, as shown here, of the treatment of women as an oppressed group. The mermaid is made unfamiliar, a figure that is made monstrous by her lack of words- monstrous in a different way, of course, to her captors. Through making her a fantastical creature, Ford asks us to find the familiar in the strange and otherworldly. In particular, the mermaid’s horrific death is a compact analogy of the kind of sexual violence and torture used against women in times of war, which functions as an enforced imprinting of one party’s, or tribe’s, ethnicity, onto the women of the other side. This means, through forced reproduction, that one race gains prevalence and biological power over another; exactly the goal of the Holocaust in seeking to imprint a ‘right’ ethnicity and to destroy those whom they saw as ‘sub-human’. Have a look at the poem again and see who you think are the more powerful people here. Is it the humans, or the mermaid?


This is another way in which the overarching theme of silence is achieved, which again would sit with a feminist criticism of the text. The mermaid, just as sub-human as other socially oppressed groups, can only make noises within the parameters of what is already stereotypically ‘female’. Hence she ‘screams like a woman in terrible fear’. Her way of expressing herself is reduced to visceral and hysterical sounds, the repeated brash vowel sounds of ‘e’ and ‘I’- ‘she’, ‘fish’, ‘fish’, ‘screamed’, ‘terrible’ and ‘fear’- supporting this. The middle ground, or ‘liminality’, between being fish and human is an analogy for women in general, who historically have been seen as defined in relation to to their bodies (the word ‘hysteria’ comes from the Latin hystera for ‘womb’ and more grounded in ‘animal’ instincts than men. Though she is called a ‘mermaid’ and has ‘golden roe’ taken from her side, the weight of details imply the victim was a woman:


• ‘She was so simple’
• ‘One of her hands’
• ‘Her throat was cut’
• ‘She screamed’
• ‘Wedding ring’


The mermaid is literally ‘butchered’, ‘cooked and fed to the troops’ who have been ‘starved’. Her offspring are removed in the strange fashion of a caesarean section, the ‘ripe golden roe’ coming from her side just as the blood comes from the side of Christ, or Eve from the side of Adam. However, the image here is not redemptive or generative; it ends in death and sterility. Ford uses the many different treatments of the woman’s body to explore the different ways in which we can be physically silenced. 

In my opinionn, 'Guisippe' is the story of a detailed ethical struggle between needs and wants to be good, it is a cruel display of mans dichotomy with the world around them, in how we may choose to take the moral high perhaps suffer as a result or fulfill our basic desires for food, shelter and english poetry blessupandplzbuyfollowscozenglish(is)lit8)

 

April 18, 2016 at 4:17 AM Flag Quote & Reply

pol$ki
Member
Posts: 9

Neil Bowen at December 30, 2015 at 10:50 AM

The Lammas Hireling

Like the killing of the albatross in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the murder of the mysterious, fortune-bringing stranger brings a curse down on the poem's narrator. He cannot even dream now of his dead wife, and his herd, that was as ‘fat as cream’, is now afflicted by malign magic, ‘elf-shot’. In another surprising development the poem ends with the speaker using traditional Christian, specifically Catholic, language to try to absolve himself. The fact that it has only been ‘an hour’ since his ‘last confession’ may convey obsessive feelings of guilt or his desperation to find some way to mend his cursed fortunes. Or both.


Duhig’s poem is a strange, beguiling, Gothic folk tale. The poet leaves the significance of the story for the reader to try to puzzle out. It is like a parable, but one whose meaning is not accessible to outsiders. Perhaps it is a sort of cautionary tale, warning us about how we treat the things in nature we do not understand and the harm we may do ourselves as a consequence of our ignorance. When confronted by the stranger’s mysterious behaviour the poem's narrator immediately demonises what he doesn’t understand, precipitately jumping to the conclusion that the stranger is a ‘warlock’.


The title uses the Northern word ‘lammas’ which is connected to a pagan festival celebrating the wheat harvest. The mysterious stranger takes on the form of a hare, a conventional symbol of fertility. Perhaps then, he is a god of fertility, akin to the Greek God Dionysus, a character from myth presenting himself to a host in humble attire, whose transformational magic is misunderstood by the superstitious narrator and killed with his modern man-made weapon, a gun. After all, did this speaker really have to shoot the stranger, who had brought nothing but benefits into his life? You’ll have to answer these questions yourself.


What is certain, I think, is that Duhig’s poem is wonderfully rich and vivid, it weaves a magic like a charm itself. It is full of memorable images. The American poet Wallace Steven’s dictum that ‘The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully’. It is a great example of what the poet and critic Glynn Maxwell refers to as a ‘lunar’ poem in his useful book On Poetry; a poem that does not give up its meanings easily, but lingers in the mind after reading and haunts the imagination.

Although the significance of the "warlock" is huge, I reckon people overlook the major factor of the sexual connotation mentioned in the same stanza. The fact that this "warlock" was "stark - naked" implicates the idea of a homosexual relationship between the widower and this "warlock". The idea conflicts with the use of holiness in the final line of the stanza, when the widower is asking the priest to forgive him for his sins. The idea flips the whole poem on its head, and aids the factor of guilt of the widower in commiting murder and possibily experimenting in homosexuality, hence him asking for forgiveness for a sin much worse then it originally made out to be, since homosexuality was (and still is) a very demeaning and hugely frowned upon  sin in a heavily Catholic country such as Ireland. 

Besides that, I really enjoyed the interpretation you have posted :) 


--

$$$$$$$$$$ - GET MONEY - $$$$$$$$$$

April 18, 2016 at 4:19 AM Flag Quote & Reply

mcdoe018
Member
Posts: 3

Neil Bowen at March 7, 2016 at 4:40 PM

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’.

I'm quite confused as to the place setting of the poem ' From The Journal Of  A Disappointed Man' and the way in which it ends , also the narrator of the poem is very unclear as to who they are and their significance. Could it have some relation to social classes?

April 18, 2016 at 4:19 AM Flag Quote & Reply

013.318
Member
Posts: 2

Neil Bowen at March 29, 2016 at 5:07 AM

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.

I am quite confused as to the significance of the scene jumping between places and time and why the poem is split into four sections. Also what does the references to ancient Greece in part two show about the narrators thought process and what connection it has to their life? 

April 18, 2016 at 4:19 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Tweedie
Member
Posts: 1

Neil Bowen at December 7, 2015 at 11:52 AM

The shortest poem in the anthology is not on the Edexcel set list. But it makes for a good lesson starter activity on the significance of titles. 


The poem is by academic & poet David Herd and is two lines long:


Worked in the morning.

Watched TV.


What can we say about such a short, seemingly inconsequential poem? How could it possibly have been selected as one of the best Forward Poems of the Decade? Is this another case of the sort of craziness that gives modern art a bad name? Is it some sort of game about how we construct a poem by reading it as such?


Clearly the poem is composed of very ordinary, everyday language and outlines a very ordinary, seemingly insignificant experience. Probably most of us do this or something like it each day and few of us would think of writing a poem about something so mundane. And if we did, we'd probably try to jazz it up a bit. There are none of the usual poetic techniques, such as imagery or sonic effects. Both of the two sentences are incomplete fragments, denuded of a subject, which we take to be 'I'. This helps create the impression of someone speaking, perhaps. They are blunt, truncated and seemingly plain statements of fact - technically both sentences are declaratives.


Each of the two lines ends with an emphatic full stop so that the two experiences of work and leisure seem disconnected. Maybe there's the suggestion that only these two things mattered for some reason. Why, for instance, aren't there further lines, such as 'drank some tea', 'drove home', 'cooked the dinner'? Something about watching the TV at this point must have been very important. 


After spending as long as you or your class can stomach on analysing these 6 words, the next task is to suggest possible titles. Here are a few my cynical yr. 11 class suggested: Life, School, What I learnt today, The shortest poem with the longest possible title we could think of. 


 

Another poem with an evocative title is Simon Armitage's Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass. I'm not going to analyse this poem in detail, for now, for reasons that will become apparent early next year, he writes, hoping to sound a little bit mysterious. So here, for the time being, are jsut a few, introductory thoughts about the title:

 

Perhaps you’ve whiled away some time when waiting for a bus or somesuch by playing imaginary match-ups. Which would win in a battle between a shark and a crocodile? Would a tiger defeat a lion or would the lion lick the tiger? Who’d come out on top in the final showdown between Superman and Batman? What about Nigella Lawson against Mary Berry? In this game, the contestants have to be well matched, otherwise there’s obviously no fun in the speculation and not much of a fight.


Obviously Armitage's title is meant to sound like a sports match or a fight. There’s no article (‘a’ or ‘the’ at the start which also makes ‘chainsaw’ sound like a name of a person or team. If we think of chainsaws and their place in popular culture for just a moment or two we’ll soon hit on the notorious horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Chainsaws are clearly serious bits of kit, poweful and dangerous tools that can be wielded as weapons by nutcases in horror films. Powerful and dangerous are not words we would usually associate with the rather flimsy, thin stemmed and fluffy headed pampas grass. In pitching a potentially deadly weapon, armed with rotating sharp serrated teeth propelled by a powerful motor incongruously against some defenceless wavy grass, Armitage makes the battle seem comically one-sided, like Supermans taking on Mary Berry. As the first line of the poem acknowledges, ‘It seemed an unlikely match’. Inevitably the grass will be wiped out, quickly and easily, we assume. Perhaps this will be a rather short poem?

 

Notice that the poem’s speaker is not included in the title: It is not Armitage & the Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass. This adds to the sense that the chainsaw is a character in the poem, acting almost autonously, with a will of its own. It also excuses the speaker from responsiblity for the foreshadowed carnage to come.


Do you think a interpretation for the poem as a whole could be a lovers feud and the description of 'killing' the Pampus Grass is actually a representation of his 'Ex' with her 'lucrious feathers' and 'stealing the show' ways show his annoyence at his former lover. The poem could either be, in my opinion, a metaphorical way of describing the murder or a metaphorical way of expressing his rage. The poets specific use of 'cloth, jewellery or hair' are all associated with qualities or aspects of a woman, this then followed by 'the chainsaw with it's bloody desire' is suggestive towards the killing of a his audicious ex-lover.

April 18, 2016 at 4:23 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Antonia Fox
Member
Posts: 5

Neil Bowen at March 31, 2016 at 12:08 PM

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.

On your second point of the 'blind leading the not-blind', I found the poem to focus more on the blind, or at least the handicapped, keeping up appearances. There are select moments when the mother is able to admit how hellish her life has become. She is rarely honest about her true feelings, preferring to hide behind smiles and laughs to fill her 'void'. Through the son's eyes we can see the deteriation and strength of a strong willed woman, however her behaviour is that of a performer. I find the poem focuses more on the act of hiding than it is on pitying. The blindness is constantly referred to as an 'it', suggesting it is a deep secret, something that 'one should hide'. It is something personal and difficult. I personally think this poem compares well with 'A Minor Role' by U.A.Fanthorpe on the theme of pretending and keeping up appearences.

April 18, 2016 at 4:24 AM Flag Quote & Reply

umber
Member
Posts: 1

Tinact at February 7, 2016 at 1:59 PM

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.

In 'A Minor Role', I believe that the speaker is the one suffering the illness. This is due to the third andthe last stanza. 'Walking fast in case anyone stops', a partner of someone suffering an illness would be likely to seek comfort from other people, rather than the ill person who is often depending on them. In the last stanza 'it would have been better to die', shows that the speaker is probably the one who is ill as the partner would not want them to pass away, due to their emotional attatchment.

April 18, 2016 at 4:26 AM Flag Quote & Reply

benkell98
Member
Posts: 2

Tinact at February 7, 2016 at 1:59 PM

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.

I believe that aswell as the speaker not wanting to acknowledge her illness, her 'Role' is also put in place in order to protect those around her. She may not want to pull her loved ones down with her 'my heart's in the unobtrusive', meaning she does not open up, or share with others. This poem may also be compared with 'On Her Blindness' due to both speakers hiding from the truth, perhaps to protect others, through a role.


April 18, 2016 at 4:26 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Caroline
Member
Posts: 4

Neil Bowen at December 30, 2015 at 10:50 AM

The Lammas Hireling

Like the killing of the albatross in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the murder of the mysterious, fortune-bringing stranger brings a curse down on the poem's narrator. He cannot even dream now of his dead wife, and his herd, that was as ‘fat as cream’, is now afflicted by malign magic, ‘elf-shot’. In another surprising development the poem ends with the speaker using traditional Christian, specifically Catholic, language to try to absolve himself. The fact that it has only been ‘an hour’ since his ‘last confession’ may convey obsessive feelings of guilt or his desperation to find some way to mend his cursed fortunes. Or both.


Duhig’s poem is a strange, beguiling, Gothic folk tale. The poet leaves the significance of the story for the reader to try to puzzle out. It is like a parable, but one whose meaning is not accessible to outsiders. Perhaps it is a sort of cautionary tale, warning us about how we treat the things in nature we do not understand and the harm we may do ourselves as a consequence of our ignorance. When confronted by the stranger’s mysterious behaviour the poem's narrator immediately demonises what he doesn’t understand, precipitately jumping to the conclusion that the stranger is a ‘warlock’.


The title uses the Northern word ‘lammas’ which is connected to a pagan festival celebrating the wheat harvest. The mysterious stranger takes on the form of a hare, a conventional symbol of fertility. Perhaps then, he is a god of fertility, akin to the Greek God Dionysus, a character from myth presenting himself to a host in humble attire, whose transformational magic is misunderstood by the superstitious narrator and killed with his modern man-made weapon, a gun. After all, did this speaker really have to shoot the stranger, who had brought nothing but benefits into his life? You’ll have to answer these questions yourself.


What is certain, I think, is that Duhig’s poem is wonderfully rich and vivid, it weaves a magic like a charm itself. It is full of memorable images. The American poet Wallace Steven’s dictum that ‘The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully’. It is a great example of what the poet and critic Glynn Maxwell refers to as a ‘lunar’ poem in his useful book On Poetry; a poem that does not give up its meanings easily, but lingers in the mind after reading and haunts the imagination.

I find this poem really interesting, however it makes me wonder if there's any real lesson behind it, or if it's just meant to be a story? After all, the poem does seem to leave an unsolved ambiguity lingering after the last line, "Bless me, Father, I have sinned. It has been an hour since my last confession." Without reading too much into the background and context, the poem could just be passing down the fable Ian Duhig learned throughout his travels, but a more dramatised version, making it more entertaining for the reader. Any other thoughts on this? 

April 18, 2016 at 4:27 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

benkell98 at April 18, 2016 at 4:26 AM

Tinact at February 7, 2016 at 1:59 PM

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.

I believe that aswell as the speaker not wanting to acknowledge her illness, her 'Role' is also put in place in order to protect those around her. She may not want to pull her loved ones down with her 'my heart's in the unobtrusive', meaning she does not open up, or share with others. This poem may also be compared with 'On Her Blindness' due to both speakers hiding from the truth, perhaps to protect others, through a role.


I think the key lines here as to the identity of the sick person are 'Not the star part /And who would want it?' and the final line 'I am here to make you believe in life.' These lines, together with the title 'A Minor Role' and the references to 'servant's patter' at the beginning convince me that the sick person is not the narrator but a loved person whom the narrator is taking care of.  

--
April 18, 2016 at 10:11 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

Ciaran O'Driscoll at April 18, 2016 at 10:11 AM

benkell98 at April 18, 2016 at 4:26 AM

Tinact at February 7, 2016 at 1:59 PM

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.

I believe that aswell as the speaker not wanting to acknowledge her illness, her 'Role' is also put in place in order to protect those around her. She may not want to pull her loved ones down with her 'my heart's in the unobtrusive', meaning she does not open up, or share with others. This poem may also be compared with 'On Her Blindness' due to both speakers hiding from the truth, perhaps to protect others, through a role.


I think the key lines here as to the identity of the sick person are 'Not the star part /And who would want it?' and the final line 'I am here to make you believe in life.' These lines, together with the title 'A Minor Role' and the references to 'servant's patter' at the beginning convince me that the sick person is not the narrator but a loved person whom the narrator is taking care of.  

Thanks Ciaran, indeed this is the reading we advance in 'The Art of Poetry' and we arrived at it through similar evidence. :D

April 18, 2016 at 11:04 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Great minds think alike :)

April 18, 2016 at 3:40 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Ciaran O'Driscoll at April 18, 2016 at 3:40 PM

Great minds think alike :)

I re-read Helen Dunmore's poem To My Nine-Year-Old Self yesterday. I haven't read the entry on this poem in The Art of Poetry Volume 2, so I may be replicating here. But a few things struck me about this foray into the perennial philosophical question of identity and difference. Firstly, it brought back to my mind a stanza from Thomas Hardy's great poem Wessex Heights:


Down there I seem to be false to myself, my simple self that was,

And is not now, and I see him watching, wondering what crass cause

Can have merged him into such a strange continuator as this,

Who yet has something in common with himself, my chrysalis.


Interesting to compare this stanza of Wessex Heights with Helen Dunmore’s poem. In Hardy it is the child who is watching the adult, not the adult watching the child as in Dunmore.


Dunmore’s is a moving poem that ends with a startlingly banal and slightly distasteful goodbye:


I leave you in an ecstasy of concentration

slowly peeling a ripe scab from your knee

to taste it on your tongue.


Banal as it is, this ending nonetheless seems to hit the spot in showing the difference between the adult and the child:


I’d like to say we could be friends

but the truth is we have nothing in common

beyond a few shared years.


In Hardy’s poem, it is the child who is wondering about the ‘strange continuator’ which the adult has become, though Hardy still manages to affirm something in common: ‘who yet have something in common with himself, my chrysalis’. But Dunmore, too, despite declaring that she and her former self have nothing common beyond a few years, also confirms that an identity persists :


‘God knows I have fears enough for us both.’


--
April 21, 2016 at 6:07 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

mcdoe018 at April 18, 2016 at 4:19 AM

Neil Bowen at March 7, 2016 at 4:40 PM

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’.

I'm quite confused as to the place setting of the poem ' From The Journal Of  A Disappointed Man' and the way in which it ends , also the narrator of the poem is very unclear as to who they are and their significance. Could it have some relation to social classes?

You'll have to read our book to get the full picture, but, yes, there is a class issue. Clearly the men the observer is watching are working class and their physicality is emphasised. Our narrator, however, is from a higher class, using, for instance, words like 'fellows' to describe the men and 'bolus' to describe a gob-ful of spit. Though the men & the narrator appear to be opposites - men of action/ man of thought - they share their inactivity and inability to complete their task. Or so it appears. 


Kate Kellaway wrote in The Guardian, I think, that the Motion collection, from which this poem is taken, is full of poems about a lack of occasion. She read this as a reaction to Motion having to write occasional verse as poet laureate. Having given up this royal role, the poet is refocuses his poetry on the ordinary and the everyday.


April 21, 2016 at 8:12 AM Flag Quote & Reply

You must login to post.