One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Feathery limbs in leathery Lambourne

Since azahar has taken the wind out of my Pope post...

Today is the centenary of the poet John Betjeman's birth. God, how I loathe his tedious, sentimental, bafflingly popular doggerel. I don't think it's just because we studied him extensively at school - a soft option for O Levels - because I like some of the other ones we did (RS Thomas, Dylan Thomas, Larkin, Hughes, Owen, Sassoon). What annoys me most - apart from his facile dum-de-dum metrical scheme - is the way he's held up as an exemplar of 'Englishness'. It's not a kind of English I've ever been a part of.

I admit that I don't read much poetry, but I've been trying to read more lately. I've bought the collected works of Norman McCaig (excellent!) and TS Eliot (I really must make a stab at The Four Quartets and The Wasteland again). In the past I've liked Yevtuschenko (who I once met), Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Whitman, Stevie Smith, the Merseypoets (McGough, Henri, Patten), Burns, McDiarmid, Yeats, Heaney.

What poets does everyone remember from school? Did you like them? Did they stick in the mind? Or where they just a boring waste of a period of your life?


psychocandy said...

I didn't get into too much poetry, unfortunately. I like T.S. Eliot. Do Dante and Milton count?

If I wanted to read more poetry (and not too much hippie shit), where would I look?

Fanny said...

Hi edward,
I love poetry and write and perform it myself.

I used to think like you about betjeman, but I've got to like him more now by getting into the humour and reading the poems aloud to myself in silly voices. I think he's a poet to have a giggle at and not get to serious about. Critics often talk a lot of tosh.

Love Elliot, Auden, Yeats, Keats, Browning, Donne amongst others of the famous ones. But loads of others. I've collected quite a few compilation books from second hand bookshops. Crikey Psychocandy of course Dante and Milton count!!

One of my favourite contemporary English poets is Billy Childish.

I find I get more and more into poems by reading them aloud, to explore the rhythms which are so musical.

Edward the Bonobo said...

I'm with you on the reading aloud...or at least, reading in the head and listening to the music.

I once saw the late great Ivor Cutler live. He began his set with a poem composed of strange nonsense syllables. At the end he said:
"When people ask my advice on how to write poetry, I encourage them to start with this sort of thing. After a few years they'll have got the hang of rhythm and metre and the like and they can try their hand at putting some meaning in....You're all laughing because I'm regarded as a funny man, but I can asure you I'm being as serious as I know how."

I'm still not with you on Betjeman. I heard the AN Wilson programme on R4 last night, and I hate him even more. Sycophantic, patronising fraud!

Psychocandy...I'm not really up on 20th/21stC American poets, but if you want to avoid 'hippy shit', I'd suggest trying Langston Hughes.

My favourite poem of all time is 'The Bonnie, Broukit Bairn' by Hugh McDiarmid, which I first encountered on the London tube, many, many years ago. I wouldn't necessarily recommend him for starters. He wrote in what is essentially a foreign language, 'Lalans', his own somewhat artificial version of Lowland Scots. The intention is that the readers have to consult a glossary, thus slowing them down and making them think. However, it does also capture the rhythm of Scots speech. (Translation supplied on request).

Where to start, where to start...Yeats?

Fanny...recommend me a poem or two that I can find online.

healingmagichands said...

Hi Edward. I like to read poetry. My favorite poet is DH Lawrence, but I also like Don Marquis (The Lives and Times of Archie and Mehitabel)

This is one of my favorite poems by Lawrence:

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And mustwait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.
He reached down froma fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over hte edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom.
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sippied with his straight mough,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

Someone was before me at my water-ttrough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

healingmagichands said...

Hmm. Must learn to proofread before publishing.

Edward the Bonobo said...

Have I got a dirty mind - or am I right to read that as typical Lawrence? If the snake didn't clinch it, the water trough certainly would.

I've just had the idea of making 'found poetry' out of the verification codes you need to post here. My poem begins:


To speed up the writing, please include your codes in future posts,

Big Bad Johnny P said...

I've never read much poetry in general, never mind Betjeman in particluar. You've surely got to have some sympathy for his view of Slough though(?).

I did war poetry for O-Level (in the Dark Ages - so what little poetry I have read stems from them. My father has an Anthoology of War Poems (can't remember the details) but this runs the whole gamut from "Horatio at the Bridge" to things like "F***ing Halkirk" (I think). Some of which is very thought provoking.


healingmagichands said...

Okay. The last code was

I don't remember poems from school, probably because they were a waste of time and we were forced to examine them for symbols and meaning within an inch of their lives. But poetry was recited to us, and of course we sang a lot of songs. That's just really poetry set to music. I like the Arkansas Traveller, words are funny and the fiddle part a lot of fun to play.

We also heard a lot of AA Milne Dr. Seuss, and Robert Louis Stevenson, "My Shadow" is a particularly wonderful poem, I thought then and do today.

Today's Code: eayrb
I must have made a mistake. It is making me do another code.


Edward the Bonobo said...


Iobhorkm cvgdccm dnzzy,
eayrb djzxk vixzjhzo.

Err...does anyone speak Czech? See also this, which is a translation of this. (I've been known to quote the French and German versions. It sounds especially good in German).

Reed said...

I was always that deeply annoying little goit (in glasses and braces and zits and the wrong school-uniform socks) who sat at the front of hte class and actually loved the poetry. Keats, Yeats, Tennyson, Barrett Browning, Marvell, Shakespeare, ooh, marvellous. I still have lines of all the above running through my head.

At sixteen, all the girls in my year went all swoony about Sylvia Plath. I rebelled again, refusing to like anything written after 1930 on principle.

But the poem that struck me to the heart was Beowulf, when I got to Uni. I still mutter 'Grendel gongan, goddes ire barr' (Grendel going, God's ire he bore) to myself whenever I am stomping about in a foul mood. It elevates marching about in a sulk to a great and gloomy glory.


Edward the Bonobo said...

My Plath story is that when Hughes spoke at my school, he read a poem which he told us was about 'waiting for a friend to regain consciousness after an operation.' It was only years later that I relised he was probablytalking about Sylvia Plath...but it wasn't an operation.

I wish I understood more about the mechanics of a sonnet is defined, what an iambic pentameter is...all that stuff.

healingmagichands said...

Edward, run over to Reed's site. She's been doing a great job of educating us about poetry, definitions and all, with wonderful examples written by herself.

I always loved the poetry. I just never cottoned to the class thing and being expected to feed the teacher the symbolic crap she wanted us to get from the poem.

I can see the symbolic element in the Lawrence poem "Snake", but for me I tend to just read it as a wondrous depiction of a snake takinga needed drink on a hot afternoon.


Edward the Bonobo said...

Hmm. He's in his pajamas and he's seen a snake?

Q What is small and wrinkled and hangs out your pajamas?
A. Your Gran.

Obviously my mind's as mucky as Lawrence's. C'mooon, though...'water trough'...'deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree'.

I like it :-)

Yes, I'll check out Reed's site. What I'm really needing, though, is some kind of explanation of why I like the stuff I do. Take Yeats' lines as an example:

And I shall have some peace there,
for peace comes dropping slow.

It's the rhythm of the second part that I love...although I suspect that it wouldn't work without the (more ordinary) first part. And I don't think it's a simple matter of stress. The sound seem important too. Why?

And how about:

And all the stars
That never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas.


Anonymous said...

Ah, I'm glad you came by Reed as I was thinking of your big long post on poetry and metrical structure when reading Edward's comment about Ivor Cutler and nonsense verse.

I always thought the poems on the underground wall a great idea when living and working in London. They don't do it on the busses or trains where I live now though which is a shame.

Fanny said...

Here's a few of my faves. I posted this to you earlier on h2g2 because I couldn't see the poetry question here. My idiocy cos I got confused by the title.

Browning; 'The Lost Mistress', 'A Woman's Last Word' Auden: 'As I walked out one Evening', 'Alone', 'Law like Love', 'O what is that sound', TS Elliot,; 'The Lovesong of J Alfred Profock' yeah and the 4 quartets which you mentioned, I kook and relook at them ever so often, well worth buying a book of all his stuff as it's so rich and meaningful. And 2 wonderful poems from Henry Reed, 'Naming of Parts' and 'Judging Distances'.

I really do find it's good to have the physical book though as I frequently re-read poems, according to what's going on in my life. I think I also mentioned Billy Childish, a contemporary English poet. If you hate Betjeman I reckon you'd love Childish.

Oh and I love DH Lawrence's Snake poem too. And 'Bavarian Gentians'

azahar said...

Came across a comment about poetry today that I thought you might enjoy.

"I do not remember where I read that there are two kinds of poets: the good poets, who at a certain point destroy their bad poems and go off to run guns in Africa, and the bad poets, who publish theirs and keep writing more until they die."
-Umberto Eco

Edward the Bonobo said...

I think I know what he's getting at, and I have a certain sympathy...but I disagree somewhat. I think he's talking about the 'tortured soul' school of poets - misfits who take various strange paths ranging from suicide to consumptive swooning to swimming the Hellespont to running guns. But some of the poetry I like best is grounded and down-to-earth (McCaig, McDiarmid...etc.)

I like Seamus Heaney's definition best. As a preamble, he talks about what linguists call 'The Och Line' - a line running from NE to SW through the British Isles, to the North and West of which people say 'Och' and to the South and East of which they say 'Oh dearie me!'.

"Poetry expresses the essential 'Ochness' of life."

On another topic...I heard a book reviewer on R4 talking about the latest Margaret Atwood. She said she loved the idea of a character who sees a picture on a wall called 'The Last Duchess' and fabricates a whole fiction about a Duchess who's been poisoned.

Harrumph! How much do critics get paid? You'd expect them to have at least a basic Arts education. My background is in Science, but even I recognise an obvious Robert Browning reference.