Happy Birthday Andrew Motion

Image result for andrew motion

UK poet laureate from 1999 to 2009, following in the footsteps of Ted Hughes (husband of Sylvia Plath).  The top choice for that gig was Seamus Heaney, but the Irishman ruled himself out.

Born Oct 26th 1952 Motion had the good fortune to study under W.H Auden in Oxford and to have Philip Larkin as a colleague at Hull.  He followed Malcom Bradbury as professor of creative writing in University of East Anglia.  Now esconced at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA.  A brilliant poet from a stable of brilliant poets.

Andrew Motion shares a birthday with Dublin Poet Trevor Joyce, but we’ll give this page to Andrew on the day England defeated the All Blacks in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Semi-Final in Yokohama.

Diving; by Andrew Motion

The moment I tire
of difficult sand-grains
and giddy pebbles,
I roll with the punch
of a shrivelling wave
and am cosmonaut
out past the fringe
of a basalt ledge
in a moony sea-hall
spun beyond blue.
Faint but definite
heat of the universe

flutters my skin;
quick fish apply
as something to love,
what with their heads
of gong-dented gold;
plankton I push

an easy way through
would be dust or dew
in the world behind
if that mattered at all,
which is no longer true,
with its faces and cries.

Feliz cumpleaños José Zorilla

Jose_zorrilla

José Zorilla Y Moral

Spanish romantic poet José Zorilla was born on this day in 1817.  He lived a live of poetry and poverty until the very end of his days when he at last achieved recognition, a pension, honours and the post of Poet Laureate of Spain.  He was so happy with all this recognition that he died within 4 years of getting it.

I like to fool around with poetry translations.  You can’t just translate a poem word for word.  Even if it makes sense it loses all meaning.  So I have made a stab at translating this one and updating it a bit to convey the same sentiment but to make it more relevant and more accessible.

Hope you like it!

 

Ay del triste; de José Zorrilla.

¡Ay del triste que consume
su existencia en esperar!
¡Ay del triste que presume
que el duelo con que él se abrume
al ausente ha de pesar!

La esperanza es de los cielos
precioso y funesto don,
pues los amantes desvelos
cambian la esperanza en celos.
que abrasan el corazón.

Si es cierto lo que se espera,
es un consuelo en verdad;
pero siendo una quimera,
en tan frágil realidad
quien espera desespera.

 

Feck Hope; by Donal Clancy (apologies to José Zorilla)

Feck Hope!  Don’t waste this life on dreams.
Don’t wager your outcome in the game of life
in the scales of some imagined judge.

Hope, that dismal gift of the heavens
becomes a heart rending jealousy
in the clutches of restless lovers.

So what if your dreams come true anyway!
This chimera, this fragile reality
always ends in doom.  Feck Hope.

Leaving Cert Poetry in a poem

BillyCollins

Look at that smile, those eyes, you just know he is all about trouble.  But in a good way.  Billy Collins, happy birthday today, born in 1941, is a poet, a professor of poetry and former Poet Laureate of the USA.

We Irish can claim a stake in him through his father’s people.  He is that rarest of creatures, a well loved, and well read poet.  In 1997 he recorded 34 of his poems on “The Best Cigarette” and it became a best seller.  In 2005 it was released into public domain, so you can listen for free.

I love this poem below.  For me it sums up generation after generation of secondary school and university students who are introduced to poetry as a form of verbal torture.  Sadly there are many of them who leave poems tied to the chair and never get the pleasure of waterskiing over one.

 

Introduction to Poetry; by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Canary Wine

Malmsey

In Elizabethan England the prize wine on the market was Malmsey, a fortified wine from the Canary Islands in Spain. It is  a wine celebrated in the writings of Shakespeare.  Indeed the popularity of the sweet white fortified wine predates Elizabeth’s reign.  The Duke of Clarence, brother to Edward IV, was killed by being drowned in a barrel of Malmsey in 1478 during the wars of the Roses.

Made from the Malvasia grape, thought to have originated in Greece, the vines thrived on the volcanic soils of the Canary Islands.  In those days only a fortified wine could survive the long sea voyage from Spain to Britain.  Indeed prolonged maturation in the cask on board ships at sea actually improved the quality of these wines.

In Shakespeare there are multiple references to “Sack” and “Sweet Sack”.  These are the sweet fortified whites that were popular.  Some from Jerez, but the best from the Canaries.  The name “sack” causes some confusion as the French term “sec” means dry, but these wines are clearly sweet.  It appears to be a derivation from “sacas” a Spanish word used in past times to refer to exports.

The Poet Laureate of England in 1630, Ben Johnson, petitioned for the salary of the post to be raised.  His wish was granted and a tierce of Canary was added for good measure.  A tierce was a large barrel, equivalent to 42 Imperial Gallons or just about half a standard modern bottle of wine per day for the year.  Just the right amount to lubricate the pen of a good poet.

The supply of this vintage ran into difficulty in 1666 when the Canary Islanders rebelled against the London based Canary Island Company and smashed all their wine casks, so that the streets flowed with wine.  The British company responded by banning imports from the Canaries and moving production to Madeira.

The tierce of Canary became a tierce of Madeira until the appointment of Henry James Pye to the post in the 1790’s.  Pye was appointed for political and not poetic reasons.  His work was scorned in his own lifetime and ever since.  The barrel of wine was converted into a stipend of cash, probably because he was suffering under a weight of debt.  Pye received €27 a year to churn out bad doggerel.

But how bad can his poetry be?  Oh let me promise you it is execrable.  What is worse is that it is mostly interminably long.  It reminds me of the Woody Allen joke about the 2 Jewish women in a holiday resort in the Catskills.

Woman 1:  The food this year, it’s not so good.

Woman 2: And the portions, so small.

If you are going to serve bad fare, at least make the portions mercifully small.  So here is a small portion of the work of Henry James Pye, the worst English Poet Laureate, born this day in 1745.  Read it and weep.

The Snow-drop; by Henry James Pye

Hail earliest of the opening flowers!
Fair Harbinger of vernal hours!
Who dar’st unveil each silken fold
ere Sol dispels the wintry cold,
and with thy silver leaves display’d
spread lustre through the dreary glade.
What though no frgarance like the rose
tincturing the Zephyr as it blows,
thy humble flowers from earth exhale
to scent the pinions of the gale;
What though no hues of gaudy dye
strike with their dazzling charms the eye,
nor does thy sober foliage shew
each blended tint of Iris’ bow;
Yet in thy meek unsullied grace
imagination’s eye shall trace
the glowing blossoms that appear
proudly to paint the vernal year,
and smiling Maia’s blushing dyes,
and jocund Summer’s cloudless skies,
and Autumn’s labors which succeed
to bid the purple vintage bleed,
our hopes anticipating see
led on in radiant train by thee.

Happy Birthday Claudia Emerson

PianoFire

Claudia Emerson, Poet Laureate of Virginia and Pulitzer prize winner, born 1957.  In a cruel trick of fate she died at 57, in 2014, of Colon Cancer.

 

Piano Fire : by Claudia Emerson

How she must have dreaded us and our sweaty coins, more
than we hated practice, the lessons, scales, the winter-hot parlor,

her arthritic hands, the metronome’s awful tick. She lectured
to us about the history of the piano: baby and concert grand,

spinet and player had come across oceans in the holds of ships,
across continents in mule-drawn wagons, heavier than all the dead

left behind. On her face we could see the worry: all the struggle had come
to this, the tacky black upright she had once loved haunting the room

it could never leave. And her piano was now part of a mute,
discordant population doomed to oldfolks homes, bars, church basements,

poolhalls, funeral parlors—or more mercifully abandoned
on back porches where at least chickens could nest, or the cat have kittens.

So when she could no longer play well enough even to teach us,
she hired some of the men to haul out and burn the piano

in the field behind the house. We watched the keys going furious and all at once,
heard in the fire a music-like relief when the several tons of tension

let go, heat becoming wind on our faces. We learned that when true ivory burns
the flame is playful, quick and green. And in the ash, last lessons: the brass,

clawed feet we had never before noticed, the harp’s confusion
of wire, the pedals worn thin, shaped like quenched-hard tongues—loud, soft,

sustain. We waited with her until they were cool enough to touch.