in verse #80 : goodly feres

Because of a project I’m working on right now, I looked up Ezra Pound’s “Ballad of the Goodly Fere,” which I had accused him, in December 2016’s post,  of employing “the kind of fake folk style that John Mason Neale abused in his carol Good King Wenceslas” in its writing.  I still think there’s a fakeness to the poem, in that I find it nearly impossible to read aloud while honoring all of Pound’s elisions and abbreviations — which I should be able to do in a poem from the oral tradition.  But it’s such a fine poem.  Here — give it a try, aloud:

Ballad of the Goodly Fere

Simon Zelotes speaketh it somewhile after the Crucifixion.[i]

Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.

When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see, Continue Reading →

in verse # 79 : Swift and Pound

In 1732 Jonathan Swift published “The Lady’s Dressing Room,[i]” a poem commenting on contemporary vanity.  At 144 lines, it might not seem too long to enter into this post, and I might be willing to enter it in its entirety, but Swift, as anyone who has read Travels into several remote nations of the world, in four parts / by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships, will know, Swift was, not to put too fine a point on the matter, a satirist.  That work was first issued in a bowdlerized edition in 1726, and then in an amended edition in 1735[ii], after “The Lady’s Dressing Room” was published.

But Swift was a satirist, not a satyrist, although a lady named Satira appears in the poem.  It has been controversial from the first, being considered sexist.  But at least one of the problems with that view is that the satire is more anti-humanist, which allows Swift to vent in 144 lines on every human vice, folly and defect.  He was, after all, a clergyman, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  But before that, he was born, in Dublin, to Anglo-Irish parents who had come to Dublin to seek their fortune.  His father died seven months before he was born,[iii] and his mother left him in Dublin and returned to England.  I’m sure that had nothing to do with “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” in which a swain, one Strephon, steals into his lady Celia’s dressing room and finds all in disarray and gross display.  After 114 highly descriptive lines laying all that out, Strephon finds himself in a bind.  As Swift has it:

Thus finishing his grand Survey, [115]
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous Fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia  Continue Reading →

Mormon missionary in Sweden inspires Jens Lekman to begin his “mission”

Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman opens up his latest album, with the song “To Know Your Mission”.

The song is based on an experience that Lekman had when he was approached by a Mormon missionary in Gothenburg when he was 16 years old. The first part of the song is told through the missionary’s eyes. Lekman has commented in an “Under the Radar” interview, “I was fascinated that he had this mission; he had this purpose already in life. He knew exactly what he was going to do, and I was this super confused 16-year-old. I think it’s not until right at this very moment [when the song was written] that I figured out where things were going and what my mission is.”

The article continues, “By the end of the song, Lekman has concluded that his mission is to be a musician who tells his and his fans’ stories through his songs. (Or, in the words of the song, ‘In a world of mouths, to be an ear.'”

The song opens the alternative dance-pop album titled Life Will See You Now. It’s a good song, take a listen.

Here is the song as it appears on the album.

Here is a live acoustic version of the song. Continue Reading →

An interview with Matthew James Babcock, AML Poetry Award winner

Matthew James Babcock is the recipient of the 2016 AML Poetry Award for his collection Strange Terrain (Mad Hat Press, 2016). He is interviewed here by Dayna Patterson, who runs the Psaltery & Lyre poetry website.  

DP: Can you talk about the title of your collection, Strange Terrain, and how you arrived at it?

MJB: The title comes from a line in the poem “Five Laotians.” It has no special meaning, but I liked the way the words went together, and I liked the way they described the collection as a whole: a ramble through some strange psychological, emotional, visual, and textual switchbacks and sloughs. The book is a bit form, a bit formless, more unformed than formed, and so given its harum-scarum approach to a kind of evolutionary, organic poetics, I thought I’d call it that. It’s a weird book, in the same way some landscapes in the Rocky Mountain Northwest are weirdly beautiful, and don’t seem to go together until you stare long enough to see they do.

DP: Why the almost restless experimentation with form? What drives you to attempt new forms in a poetic age that largely eschews formalism?

MJB: One luxury of being a writer of no consequence is that you can ignore editorial bias.  You can eschew those who choose to eschew you. Such stylistic stoicism, however, has its cost, as it’s taken me a quarter century to bring out this book. Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t know two things: 1. that it would take twenty-five years to write this book, and 2. that I was writing a book. In my twenties, I think, I was just sounding off my pop-gun of poems, trying prose, trying forms, trying anything to figure out what kind of writer I was. In my late forties now, I’m not sure I’ve figured that out. That “restless life unchanged” in “Cherry Tomatoes: A Rhapsody” is most certainly mine. Continue Reading →

in verse #78 : Pound, and Moore

I was reading The Alfred Smurthwaite family, a family history self-written and self-published, and came across this gem of youthful enthusiasm:

Rooty toot toot, Rooty toot toot
We are the boys from the Institute!
We don’t smoke and we don’t chew
And we don’t go with the girls that do
(Whispered in a quasi-pious voice)[i]

That last line appears to be a characterization of the style of the singer, rather than a fifth line of the song.  I’m not sure what a “quasi-pious voice” is, whether it means a jocular self-mocking voice, or a voice halfway between the pious and the profane.  But my interest in this song is the rhythm of the first line, and its contrast with another poem.  The rhythm is militant, not suppliant (and there was no indication of what kind of institute was meant, whether military or religious).  It matches the rhythm of the third and fourth lines of the following ditty:

Rented a tent, a tent, a tent;
Rented a tent, a tent, a tent.
Rented a tent!
Rented a tent!
Rented a, rented a tent.
*****—  Snare Drum on Mars[ii]

The attribution is part of the savage jocularity of the source, Continue Reading →

in verse #76 : Why I did not post in April

I did not contribute a post from “in verse” to Dawning of a Brighter Day for two simple reasons, and one complex one.  The first simple reason is that I had spinal fusion surgery on the 29th of March to correct pinched nerves.  I was therefore in the hospital, cut off from my usual sources of information, when Jonathan Langford died on the 31st of March.  I had posted late in March, on Monday the 26th (although the entry is date-stamped Tuesday the 27th at 01:37) because that entry was a hard one for me to finish.

I was not released from the hospital until April 6th, due to complications.  And I couldn’t really sit at the computer for a week or so after, and then only in short spurts.  So I didn’t know that Jonathan Langford had died until I noticed that I had received no reminder from him in April to post punctually on the 27th.  I liked receiving his kind reminders and composing clever replies, such as “I’m on it like white on snow,” to which his replies, when he made them, were never less than pleasant, no matter how much scorn I deserved.

Continue Reading →

Susan Elizabeth Howe: AML Lifetime Achievement Award

The Association for Mormon Letters presented Susan Elizabeth Howe with the AML Lifetime Achievement Award at the AML Conference on April 22, held at Utah Valley University. Susan attended both the award ceremony and a panel discussion about his career after the award ceremony.

Citation

It is hard to imagine anyone more deserving of AML’s Lifetime Achievement Award than Susan Elizabeth Howe.  After teaching for nearly 30 years, Susan recently retired from BYU.  Thus 2017 affords an excellent occasion for looking back and celebrating her many contributions: as an editor and literary citizen, as a university professor, and as an award-winning writer. Continue Reading →

in verse #75 : free verse, dear love

Turns out Walt Whitman had a greater influence on fin de siècle American poetics than I had supposed.  It was his plain diction that led Pound to largely forgo archaicisms,[i] and led to the plainspeak of the Cantos, insofar as that exists.  Before going into that, however, let me allow John Tytell to place Pound in the context of this time:

As a young man Pound frequently referred to himself as a genius and at this time saw himself as connected to a great chain of poets whose lessons he could master and who could speak through him in his poems.  Much of Pound’s most successful early work was imitative — he had the best ear among poets of his generation and could mimic to perfection.  Of course he had his own taste and his struggle during the early years of his apprenticeship, from 1908 through 1912, was to forge his own voice.[ii]

This period of apprenticeship, as Tytell dates it, stretches from Pound’s publication of A Lume Spento and A Quinzaine for this Yule in 1908 through The Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti and Ripostes in 1912, or about 245 pages of verse.[iii]    We saw the young Pound expressing the feelings Tytell reports in the poem “Histrion” in my December post.  I bring it back here for its value in illustrating Pound’s self-absorption:

No man hath dared to write this thing as yet, Continue Reading →

2016 AML Awards Finalists #2: Poetry and Short Fiction

We are excited to announce the finalists in the Poetry, Short Fiction Collection, and Short Fiction categories of the 2016 Association for Mormon Letters awards. Middle Grade Novel and Young Adult Novel were announced previously, and we will be announcing the other category finalists over the coming week. Those categories include Comics, Creative Non-Fiction, Drama, Film, Novel, Picture Book, Religious Non-Fiction, and Video Series. The final awards will be announced and presented at the AML Conference at Utah Valley University on April 22. The finalists and winners are chosen by juries of authors and critics. The finalist announcements include blurbs about each of the books and author biographies, from the author and publisher websites, as well as a poem from each of the poetry collections.

Poetry

Neil Aitken. Leviathan. Hyacinth Girl Press.

Babbage Attempting to Solve for the Unknown

Let x be the rain that falls in a year.
Let it be what overflows from the cisterns and wells,

from whatever vessels are set upon the walls of the city
or buried in its depths.

Even this water must have someplace to go.
All year it grows line after line parallel to the earth,

to the lip of crumbled brick, to the dark felt of shadow
that runs the length of a fallow field.

Let it be the solution to the bodies of grey-feathered birds,
to the cats thrown at you by children, to the withering snap Continue Reading →

in verse #74 : verse wants to be free?

Consider this quotation from Amy Lowell:

The definition of Vers libre is: a verse-formal based upon cadence. To understand vers libre, one must abandon all desire to find in it the even rhythm of metrical feet. One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader. Or, to put it another way, unrhymed cadence is “built upon ‘organic rhythm,’ or the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing, rather than upon a strict metrical system. Free verse within its own law of cadence has no absolute rules; it would not be ‘free’ if it had.”[i]

Photograph of Amy Lowell at Sevenels, by Bachrach, ca. 1916.

The academic tone of this definition matches her tone in the quote from last month’s post on “The Poet’s Trade”.  Lowell “never attended college because her family did not consider it proper for a woman to do so,”[ii] and this definition speaks in the tone of the auto-didact in its statement that “One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader.”  As long-time readers of these posts will know, I don’t disagree with the primacy that statement gives to reading verse aloud.  It’s the overall tone, the insistence on an “intelligent reader,” that betrays a certain in-group knowingness I associate with auto-didactism.

I would argue that the better part of that definition is what is quoted in the end, and I haven’t been able to find who is being quoted there, or whether Lowell is quoting herself; but the reliance on “the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing” fits better my understanding of English meter, with its Anglo-Saxon heritage of stress harnessed with its French insistence on a metrical foot, than the first part of the definition.  And the statement “Free verse within its own law of cadence has no absolute rules” is perfectly descriptive of most of the verse of my contemporaries that Continue Reading →

Post Navigation