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Forum Home > Poetry > Poems of the Decade

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 835

013.318 at April 18, 2016 at 4:19 AM

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? 

Good, you're meant to be confused: Heaney makes us experience disorientated in a way that mimics his own experience. Once again, I'll have to plug our book if you want the full explanation. But, generally, he's exploring myths, origins and the potential role of literature as curative. I don't think there's a specific significance to their being four parts. But, perhaps, you can convince me otherwise... :)

April 21, 2016 at 8:19 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Mehreen
Member
Posts: 1

Neil Bowen at January 19, 2016 at 3:00 PM

I'm pleased to confirm the nice people at The Guardian are going to publish extracts from our Poems of the Decade book on the Guardian Teacher's Network, hopefully starting this week. :)

Hello, Just a request to make the book "The Art of Poetry: Forward's Poems of the Decade: Volume 3" available on Kindle as I have bought volume 2 on Kindle but volume 3 doesn't seem to be appearing? Please could this happen as soon as possible as the exam is just a few weeks away! Thank you.
April 24, 2016 at 6:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

Mehreen at April 24, 2016 at 6:34 AM

Neil Bowen at January 19, 2016 at 3:00 PM

I'm pleased to confirm the nice people at The Guardian are going to publish extracts from our Poems of the Decade book on the Guardian Teacher's Network, hopefully starting this week. :)

Hello, Just a request to make the book "The Art of Poetry: Forward's Poems of the Decade: Volume 3" available on Kindle as I have bought volume 2 on Kindle but volume 3 doesn't seem to be appearing? Please could this happen as soon as possible as the exam is just a few weeks away! Thank you.

Hi Mehreen, I will do this as soon as I can. I've hesitated because from the previews it looks like the book's formatting goes slightly awry when it's kindled. Is the first book okay visually?

April 24, 2016 at 9:08 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Ciaran O'Driscoll at April 21, 2016 at 6:07 AM

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.’


I’ve been thinking about Helen Dunmore’s ‘To My Nine-Year-Old Self’, and I’m not so confident any more that the lines ‘God knows/I have fears enough for us both’ are near as robust as Hardy’s chrysalis image in confirming a persistence of identity between child and adult.

In one reading, Dunmore’s lines could be taken simply in the colloquial sense of quantity – ‘I have as many fears as the fears of two people added together’ – without any suggestion that the fears of the child are somehow also the fears of the adult. My original interpretation was in the sense of ‘I fear for us both’, which would suggest that the child persists in the adult as ‘the child in me’, and therefore that the poet has fears for both her adult self and for ‘the child in her’.

The ambiguity here has been exercising me, but at this stage I’ve come up with another perspective. I’m now inclined to think that what links the child and adult in Dunmore’s case is the poem itself, as an act of memory. Therefore she had no need to make any statement about the persistence of memory in the poem; the poem is the persistence. Two things follow from this: firstly, we can now give weight to the colloquial meaning of ‘God knows/ I have fears enough for us both’ (while not entirely ignoring the ambiguity) and secondly, having forged a poem that links her to her nine-year-old self, Dunmore can now bid farewell to the girl, leaving her attending to the scab on her knee, while the adult gets on with being an adult.

--
April 27, 2016 at 5:36 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

Ciaran O'Driscoll at April 27, 2016 at 5:36 AM

Ciaran O'Driscoll at April 21, 2016 at 6:07 AM

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.’


I’ve been thinking about Helen Dunmore’s ‘To My Nine-Year-Old Self’, and I’m not so confident any more that the lines ‘God knows/I have fears enough for us both’ are near as robust as Hardy’s chrysalis image in confirming a persistence of identity between child and adult.

In one reading, Dunmore’s lines could be taken simply in the colloquial sense of quantity – ‘I have as many fears as the fears of two people added together’ – without any suggestion that the fears of the child are somehow also the fears of the adult. My original interpretation was in the sense of ‘I fear for us both’, which would suggest that the child persists in the adult as ‘the child in me’, and therefore that the poet has fears for both her adult self and for ‘the child in her’.

The ambiguity here has been exercising me, but at this stage I’ve come up with another perspective. I’m now inclined to think that what links the child and adult in Dunmore’s case is the poem itself, as an act of memory. Therefore she had no need to make any statement about the persistence of memory in the poem; the poem is the persistence. Two things follow from this: firstly, we can now give weight to the colloquial meaning of ‘God knows/ I have fears enough for us both’ (while not entirely ignoring the ambiguity) and secondly, having forged a poem that links her to her nine-year-old self, Dunmore can now bid farewell to the girl, leaving her attending to the scab on her knee, while the adult gets on with being an adult.

Five lines from the end of that last intervention of mine above, I wrote 'persistence of memory' when I meant to write 'persistence of identity'. But now I'm wondering about the link between memory and identity, and the old translation of the Latin 'memoria' as 'consciousness'. Can someone who has lost his memory still have an identity? Certainly yes in an external sense of having the same name, date of birth etc. But not in the Cartesian sense of 'I think, therefore I am'? Good Lord, I didn't mean to begin a tractaus logico-philosophicus! 

April 27, 2016 at 7:30 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Matthias
Member
Posts: 6

Is there any analysis on the poem effects I am going to get the book soon however currently can't 

April 29, 2016 at 6:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Ciaran O'Driscoll
Member
Posts: 20

I think you should get 'the book' – beg, borrow or steal! However, in the meantime, to be going on with, here's a quote from a Guardian review of the Jenkins collection which includes 'Effects',  and I think the reviewer is really spot on:

"I thought of the famous passage in Graham Greene's Sort of a Life , where the young novelist lies in a hospital bed guiltily eavesdropping on the conversation of a couple whose 10-year-old son has unexpectedly died, and notes the "splinter of ice" that lies at the heart of the creative imagination. Jenkins is a splinter-of-ice merchant himself: at the same time, once coaxed into life, his compassion can be devastating. What one admires above all is the refusal to settle for the easy way out, and the honesty of the personal exposure: the occasional metrical untidiness has its echo in the raggedness of the emotions on display." (D.J. Taylor)

--
April 29, 2016 at 8:28 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Mikey Meally
Member
Posts: 6

Matthias at April 29, 2016 at 6:34 AM

Is there any analysis on the poem effects I am going to get the book soon however currently can't 

Hi Matthias

I have already posted something on Effects [go to page 3 of this forum].  It's about the unusual rhyme scheme Jenkins employs in the poem.  However, here is something else on the poem.  This discussion explores the use of poignant synechdoche in the poem as well as the warts-and-all presentation of the relationship between poetic speaker and mother.  Hope it is of some use.


Sentimental Synecdoche

A fancy Greek term for how the part can be substituted for the whole (i.e. ‘sails’ for ‘ships’ and ‘suits’ for ‘business types’ the poem excels in its equation of mundane everyday objects with the recently deceased. Jenkins vividly captures how ordinary personal effects can contain such latent power through their ability to store vast reservoirs of memory.


 

The speaker will not have access to the hands of his beloved mother in the future. But he/she will have the things that adorned them: ‘her rings’ and her ‘classic ladies’ model, gold strap’ ‘watch’. Both items replace the mother after death’s annihilating effect. In fact, the mini-mystery of the watch that ‘was gone’ propels the poem into a series of episodic accounts that convey her descent into senility. Jenkins uses anaphora (the repetition of ‘not’ at the start of poetic lines) as a stimulus to memorialisation. Seeing the dead mother’s hand without the ‘gold strap’ watch compels the speaker to think of that same hand with the watch.


 

The sequence of memories triggered by the watchless hand is a heartbreaking condensation of the mother’s abject loneliness: From the death of her husband, to her ‘scotch’ soaked failure to cope, to her admittance to ‘the psychiatric ward’. The poem ends by bestowing huge value on ‘the little bag of her effects’. Their value does not come from their status as independent objects in their own right; rather it is their dependence on their previous owner that renders them valuable. Essentially worthless personal effects become repositories of the past, makers of memory that bring the dead back to life, if only in the most figurative of ways.



The taste of disdain

The oddly sour relationship between the mother and child is conspicuous in Effects. The poet is unflinching in his refusal to idealise the deceased; there are no funereal clichés such as ‘she was the best mum a son could ever have’. Admirably, the minutiae of life are depicted as sharply and realistically as those of aging and death. The reality of their relationship is characterised by the son’s ‘disdain’ and ‘contempt’ for his mother.


 

The speaker’s mother is ‘old-fashioned’ and backwards in her insistence on ‘bland’ ‘English’ cuisine. She has not, and presumably cannot, move with the times. This is a woman who embodies the narrow spirit of the Little Englander, in how she prefers the ‘familiar flavours’ of the ‘bland’ to ‘funny foreign stuff’. Jenkins’ wealth of f-sounds introduces an element of the conflict between the two. Her designation of anywhere outside England as ‘abroad’, which Jenkins is careful to put into speech marks, suggests a closed-minded woman stuck in the past. Her voice is captured in tiny, trivial soundbites that capture her ordinariness.


 

Not that the speaker comes across as noble character either. The poem is surprisingly candid in this regard. Here we have a man full of snobbish ‘disdain’ and ‘contempt’ for a woman no more to blame for being a product of her time than he is. Telling little details like when he confesses to ‘all the weeks I didn’t come’ in the traumatic loss of her husband betray a cold, uncaring personality. Even when he recognises her domestic toil as ‘giving love the only way she knew’ he cannot help his ‘disdain’ for her backward ways and unsophisticated interests. Most damning is the heartrending moment at the end of the poem where she begs him to ‘Please don’t leave’. Jenkins’ only italicisation of her speech and also his use of a forceful molossus [three stressed beats in a row] maximises the vulnerability of her distress. Tellingly, this is deflated by the casual admission: ‘But of course I left’. There is something too barbed about the mother’s remark about how he ‘grew up and learned contempt’ that implies intense disappointment with the adult speaker. Not only do we get access to his disdain, but also her disdain at his disdain. It is clear that both characters in this intense drama cannot see each other without personal resentment: Jenkins places emphasis on the inability to not see through subtle repetition and variation of language i.e. ‘stared unseeing’, ‘gulped and unseeing’, ‘blinked unseeing’ and ‘blinked and stared’. Symbolically at the end of the poem the mother ‘could not [...] turn her face to see’ her returning son, which implies that reconciliation never happened.


 

However, despite their acrimonious relationship and the lack of reconciliation, there is clearly an intense sense of bereavement. Death seems to defuse the personal antagonisms that life simply could not. Some sort of regret at this situation is suggested in how the speaker reconstructs the pathos of her demise. It is almost as if empathy is only possible after she has passed on. The painful details of her existence on the ‘psychiatric ward’ are nightmarish in their portrayal of an undignified, dehumanising purgatory: TVs ‘blare’ to mask deranged ‘moans and curses’; the patients ‘shuffled round, and drooled, and swore...’. Caesuras, created by the commas, imply an awkward pausing as if the speaker finds it difficult to recount such horrors. More worryingly, the ellipsis at the end of this line allows this recounting to trail off into a guilty silence as if hiding even more horrifying details.

 



April 29, 2016 at 10:16 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

Sorry for the slight delay in getting going - in ironic homage to Ciaran O'Driscoll's poem my school computers have been asking me to 'please wait' while the whirly thing goes round and round. Then, apparently my desktop was being 'prepared'. Anyhow, anybody got any questions or thoughts? 

May 4, 2016 at 2:04 PM Flag Quote & Reply

pol$ki
Member
Posts: 9

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 2:04 PM

Sorry for the slight delay in getting going - in ironic homage to Ciaran O'Driscoll's poem my school computers have been asking me to 'please wait' while the whirly thing goes round and round. Then, apparently my desktop was being 'prepared'. Anyhow, anybody got any questions or thoughts? 

How do these online seminars actually work? Is it the Q and A type or is there going to be some sort of presentation?

--

$$$$$$$$$$ - GET MONEY - $$$$$$$$$$

May 4, 2016 at 2:06 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

pol$ki at May 4, 2016 at 2:06 PM

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 2:04 PM

Sorry for the slight delay in getting going - in ironic homage to Ciaran O'Driscoll's poem my school computers have been asking me to 'please wait' while the whirly thing goes round and round. Then, apparently my desktop was being 'prepared'. Anyhow, anybody got any questions or thoughts? 

How do these online seminars actually work? Is it the Q and A type or is there going to be some sort of presentation?

Thank you Mr polSki for jumping in. Yes, you ask questions and we discuss possible answers. Do you think you could get rid of the random stuff at the bottom of your posts, please?

May 4, 2016 at 2:08 PM Flag Quote & Reply

mcdoe018
Member
Posts: 3
What is the main concept of 'Out of the Bag ' the narrator of the poem is unclear could this be on purpose so that the reader can interpret them to be whoever they like ?
May 4, 2016 at 2:10 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

To help break the seminar ice a little anyone got a favourite and a least favourite poem from this collection?

May 4, 2016 at 2:10 PM Flag Quote & Reply

pol$ki
Member
Posts: 9

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 2:08 PM

pol$ki at May 4, 2016 at 2:06 PM

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 2:04 PM

Sorry for the slight delay in getting going - in ironic homage to Ciaran O'Driscoll's poem my school computers have been asking me to 'please wait' while the whirly thing goes round and round. Then, apparently my desktop was being 'prepared'. Anyhow, anybody got any questions or thoughts? 

How do these online seminars actually work? Is it the Q and A type or is there going to be some sort of presentation?

Thank you Mr polSki for jumping in. Yes, you ask questions and we discuss possible answers. Do you think you could get rid of the random stuff at the bottom of your posts, please?

Alrightt - And you can remark to me as Fil, since pol$ki is just the screen name.

Why did Heany split the poem into 4 parts? From the research I've done it's only meant to be the first part, since it is talking about tools that come "Out of the bag" yet in "Poems of the Decade" he has added 3 extra poems. Is it for the convenience of the reader or does this have some context behind it?

May 4, 2016 at 2:13 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 2:10 PM

To help break the seminar ice a little anyone got a favourite and a least favourite poem from this collection?

In his excellent little book 'On Poetry' the poet and critic Glynn Maxwell comes up with an interesting taxonomy that can be used for evaluating poems. Maxwell suggests all poems have what he calls a solar, a lunar, a musical and a visual dimension. All great poems are strong in each of these aspects. Anybody familiar with these terms?

May 4, 2016 at 2:13 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Antonia Fox
Member
Posts: 5

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 2:10 PM

To help break the seminar ice a little anyone got a favourite and a least favourite poem from this collection?

My favourite poem would have to be 'On Her Blindness' as I find it very relatable. My least favourite is most likely 'The Gun' since I don't really feel anything about that poem.

May 4, 2016 at 2:13 PM Flag Quote & Reply

boutnothing
Member
Posts: 11

Hello, hope alls well this evening!

I was just wondering if you have time to discuss which poems to link together? 

May 4, 2016 at 2:14 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

Thanks Antonia. 'On Her Blindness' is an emotional poem, whereas perhaps 'The Gun' is a little more ideas driven.

May 4, 2016 at 2:15 PM Flag Quote & Reply

boutnothing
Member
Posts: 11

Neil Bowen at May 4, 2016 at 2:10 PM

To help break the seminar ice a little anyone got a favourite and a least favourite poem from this collection?

My favourite poem- I can't choose I like them all. :)

Least favourite due to confusion would be The War Correspondent as I don't really know what to pick out apart from the semantic fields of senses.:(

May 4, 2016 at 2:16 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 835

boutnothing at May 4, 2016 at 2:14 PM

Hello, hope alls well this evening!

I was just wondering if you have time to discuss which poems to link together? 

Of course, Mr/ Miss Boutnothing. Do you want to start with a poem and we'll see how many productive links we can make?

May 4, 2016 at 2:16 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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