curt johnson | gott ist gross und gott ist gut.

10 06 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND… No.143 | June 10, 2008

Curt Johnson: 1928-2008

Gott ist gross und Gott ist gut.

Dear Friends,

I just learned that Chicago writer and publisher, Curt Johnson, died.

I was a friend, we were friends, for over 40 years. He was one of the best writers out there, and never received the attention he deserved, slugging it out for so many years with his own small press and magazine, december, for so many of us who looked forward to reading whatever he was up to, as well as hoping to some day get the official nod from Curt, to be included in anything he edited and published. Among his early ‘finds’ Ray Carver.

I can’t imagine the literary small press scene in America without the no bullshit attitude of Curt, always hovering over the scene, separating the crapola (Academia and government grants) from the writers who wrote solid, lived the little mag/small press life–no strings attached. Curt had an eye for those folks. It’s no wonder his heroes were writers like Nelson Algren and Jack Conroy. The poetry of the streets, the working stiff. The school of hard knocks.Tell it (in writing) like it is–is something Johnson wrote and lived, long before it became the popular thing to say

As the publisher and editor of Cross+Roads Press, one of the projects and books I’m proudest of is SALUD, Selected Writings by Curt Johnson. It was a bear of a book to work on, there was so much of his writing that deserved to be to included, it took far longer than I imagined, but luckily Curt was alive (though not well) and in touch via phone, snail-mail, and his daughter,Paula. I wanted him around to see this book happen, introduce him to young writers and readers who never heard of him, or may have forgotten he was still around. Which happened, to some degree. And that was just last year–2007. I’ll never forget his smile, when I delivered the first copy to SALUD to him and his eyes began to well, standing there in the kitchen of his small house in Highland Park, Illinois. “It’s beautiful, Norbert…beautiful,” he whispered in his gravely voice. One of the small satisfactions of small press publishing that few will understand or experience. To print something to make sure that writers like Curt are not forgotten.

But I remain more than unhappy over the reception of SALUD in the hometown, Chicago. Not one goddamn newspaper or literary magazine gave SALUD or Curt the print he deserved. Believe me, I contacted all of them. It was like tossing copies over a cliff. Granted, he had made some enemies in the media world in his time. He did not suffer fools or what he perceived as injustice. But for all the time, effort, concern that he put into ‘the city of the big shoulders” that they should give him the cold shoulder pisses me off considerably, to this very day.

Only the little mags and newspapers, publications read mostly by other writers gave it some print–and continue to give it some attention (one even featuring Curt at their writer of that issue)–most of this thanks to the tireless efforts of Milwaukee writer, Charles Ries, who maintains a passionate mission to ‘get the word out there.’ For which I thank him again here.

But I’m still waiting to hear more than wind from the Windy City. Chicago, where the hell are you? You lost a champ. Somebody, please wake up Oprah. Not to mention the Trib, Sun-Times, Chicago Magazine, all the alternative newspapers, all the literary mags still riding whatever small wave was once the Chicago writing scene.

Rest in piece, old friend. The important thing: You got it all down on paper, kept the faith, said it well. It’s their loss.

Salud,
norb blei

Let us turn over the page

And see what is written

On the other side of the night.

—Thomas McGrath

P.S. Copies of SALUD are still available. $15 plus $2 postage from CROSS+ROADS PRESS, PO Box 33, Ellison Bay, WI 54210. Blatant advertising. An out-and-out pitch. (Curt would have loved it. I can see him grinning). For those of you who enjoy reading essays, short stories, memoirs, novels, satire, political commentary, etc. For anyone out there who wants to become a writer or a publisher, or knows someone who is entertaining the notion of writing seriously, here’s the book. Not “How To” but “How It Is”. Curt wrote this one for you.





carl sandburg | father to son

9 06 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 238 | June 9, 2008

Poems for the Father #2

in celebrations of Father’s Day, June 15, 2008

Father to Son by Carl Sandburg

A father sees a son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
‘Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum and monotony
and guide him amid sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
And left them dead years before burial:
The quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
Has twisted good enough men
Sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use amongst other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

From THE PEOPLE, YES by Carl Sandburg


Some
selected Carl Sandburg recordings and books:

abelinc4.jpgalways4.jpgcowboy4.jpgd43564.jpgflatro4.jpgfog4.jpgfs3094.jpggreat4.jpgnewsong4.jpgsings4.jpgspotli4.jpgtc20034.jpgsongbxx4.jpgsongb2a4.jpgdalessi4.jpg

strichblack.jpg

Carl August Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer, and folklorist. He was born in Galesburg, Illinois of Swedish parents and died at his home, named Connemara, in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

H. L. Mencken called Carl Sandburg “indubitably an American in every pulse-beat.” He was a successful journalist, poet, historian, biographer, and autobiographer. During the course of his career, Sandburg won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: The War Years) and one for his collection The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg.

During the Spanish-American War, Sandburg enlisted in the 6th Illinois Infantry, and he participated in the landing at Guánica on July 25, 1898 during the invasion of Puerto Rico. Following a brief (two-week) career as a student at West Point, Sandburg chose to attend Lombard College in Galesburg. He left college without a degree in 1902.

Sandburg lived for a brief period in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during which he became a member of the Social Democratic Party and took a strong interest in the socialist community. He worked as a secretary to Mayor Emil Seidel, the first socialist mayor in the United States.

Sandburg met Lilian Steichen, sister of the famed photographer, Edward Steichen, at the Social Democratic Headquarters. Lilian (nicknamed “Paus’l” by her mother and “Paula” by Carl) and Carl were married in 1908; they would go on to have three daughters. Sandburg moved to Harbert, Michigan. From 1912 to 1928 he lived in Chicago, nearby Evanston and Elmhurst. During this time he began work on his series of biographies on Abraham Lincoln, which would eventually earn him his Pulitzer Prize in history (for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 1940).

In 1945, the Sandburg family moved from the Midwest, where they’d spent most of their lives, to the Connemara estate, in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Connemara was ideal for the family, as it gave Mr. Sandburg an entire mountain top to roam and enough solitude for him to write. It also provided Mrs. Sandburg over 30 acres of pasture to raise and graze her prize-winning dairy goats.

Much of Carl Sandburg’s poetry, such as “Chicago”, focused on Chicago, Illinois, where he spent time as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and the Day Book. His most famous description of the city is as “Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat/Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler,/Stormy, Husky, Brawling, and City of the Big Shoulders.”

Sandburg
is also beloved by generations of children for his Rootabaga Stories and Rootabaga Pigeons, a series of whimsical, sometimes melancholy stories he originally created for his own daughters. The Rootabaga Stories were born of Sandburg’s desire for “American fairy tales” to match American childhood. He felt that the European stories involving royalty and knights were inappropriate, and so populated his stories with skyscrapers, trains, corn fairies and the “Five Marrrrvelous Pretzels”.

Sandburg was awarded a Grammy Award in 1959 for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

Here is an incomplete list of books and anthologies published by Sandburg:

  • * In Reckless Ecstasy (1904) (poetry) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * Incidentals (1904) (poetry and prose) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * Plaint of a Rose (1908) (poetry) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * Joseffy (prose) (1910) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * You and Your Job (1910) (prose) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • * Chicago Poems (1916) (poetry)
  • * Cornhuskers (1918) (poetry)
  • * Chicago Race Riots (1919) (prose) (with an introduction by Walter Lippmann)
  • * Clarence Darrow of Chicago (1919) (prose)
  • * Smoke and Steel (1920) (poetry)
  • * Rootabaga Stories (1920) (children’s stories)
  • * Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922) (poetry)
  • * Rootabaga Pigeons (1923) (children’s stories)
  • * Selected Poems (1926) (poetry)
  • * Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926) (biography)
  • * The American Songbag (1927) (folk songs)
  • * Songs of America (1927) (folk songs) (collected by Sandburg; edited by Alfred V. Frankenstein)
  • * Abe Lincoln Grows Up (1928) (biography [primarily for children])
  • * Good Morning, America (1928) (poetry)
  • * Steichen the Photographer (1929) (history)
  • * Early Moon (1930) (poetry)
  • * Potato Face (1930) (children’s stories)
  • * Mary Lincoln: Wife and Widow (1932) (biography)
  • * The People, Yes (1936) (poetry)
  • * Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939) (biography)
  • * Storm over the Land (1942) (biography) (excerpts from Sandburg’s own Abraham Lincoln: The War Years)
  • * Road to Victory (1942) (exhibition catalog) (text by Sandburg; images compiled by Edward Steichen and published by the Museum of Modern Art)
  • * Home Front Memo (1943) (essays)
  • * Remembrance Rock (1948) (novel)
  • * Lincoln Collector: the story of the Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln collection (1949) (prose)
  • * The New American Songbag (1950) (folk songs)
  • * Complete Poems (1950) (poetry)
  • * The wedding procession of the rag doll and the broom handle and who was in it (1950) (children’s story)
  • * Always the Young Strangers (1953) (autobiography)
  • * Selected poems of Carl Sandburg (1954) (poetry) (edited by Rebecca West)
  • * The Family of Man (1955) (exhibition catalog) (introduction; images compiled by Edward Steichen)
  • * Prairie-town boy (1955) (autobiography) (essentially excerpts from Always the Young Strangers)
  • * Sandburg Range (1957) (prose and poetry)
  • * Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960) (poetry)
  • * Wind Song (1960) (poetry)
  • * Honey and Salt (1963) (poetry)
  • * The Letters of Carl Sandburg (1968) (autobiographical/correspondence) (edited by Herbert Mitgang)
  • * Breathing Tokens (poetry by Sandburg, edited by Margaret Sandburg) (1978) (poetry)
  • * Ever the Winds of Chance (1983) (autobiography) (started by Sandburg, completed by Margaret Sandburg and George Hendrick)
  • * Carl Sandburg at the movies : a poet in the silent era, 1920-1927 (1985) (selections of his reviews of silent movies – collected and edited by Dale Fetherling and Doug Fetherling)
  • * Billy Sunday and other poems (1993) (edited with an introduction by George Hendrick and Willene Hendrick)
  • * Poems for children nowhere near old enough to vote (1999) (compiled and with an introduction by George and Willene Hendrick)

source





robert hayden | those winter sundays

8 06 2008

Poetry Dispatch No.237 | June 8, 2008

Poems for the Father

Father’s Day, June 15th, is one week from today. In celebration and memory of ‘the father’ I thought it appropriate for Poetry Dispatch to devote this entire week to poems about “Dad” in all his guises, complexities, relationships in the family.

You can’t write to any depth or read anything worthy of thought and concentration without running into the age-old story of dear old dad. Literature abounds with “fathers and sons”—fathers and daughters as well. There’s love; there’s conflict; there’s admiration; there’s hate; there’s forgiveness; there’s guilt; there are things one should have said and never did; there’s the absence of a father; there’s the father one becomes with little to go on but the father who was yours; there’s the father who lives only in memory and, perhaps, comes back to visit only in dreams. Ah speak, memory… Norbert Blei

P.S. Everyone should have a favorite father poem, own a book of someone’s poetry with a father poem he loves, an anthology of poems devoted to the father. Every poem on Poetry Dispatch this week will be identified by the title of the book in which the poem appears and whatever source information that may be available, should the reader be so inclined to seek out a gift copy for—the father, the son, the daughter, the grandchild, himself/herself or the family.

Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

from FATHERS, A Collection of Poems, Edited by David Ray and Judy Ray, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999, $10.95

Robert Hayden (August 4, 1913 – February 25, 1980) was an American poet, essayist, educator and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

Born as Asa Bundy Sheffey, Robert Hayden grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Born to a struggling couple, Ruth and Asa Sheffey (separated before his birth), Hayden was taken in by a foster family, Sue Ellen Westerfield and William Hayden, and grew up in a Detroit ghetto nicknamed “Paradise Valley.” The Haydens’ perpetually contentious marriage, coupled with Ruth Sheffey’s competition for young Hayden’s affections, made for a traumatic childhood. Witnessing fights and suffering beatings, Hayden lived in a house fraught with ‘chronic angers’ whose effects would stay with the poet throughout his adulthood. His childhood traumas resulted in debilitating bouts of depression which he later called “my dark nights of the soul”.

Because he was nearsighted and slight of stature, he was often ostracized by his peer group. As a response both to his household and peers, Hayden read voraciously, developing both ear and eye for transformative qualities in literature. He attended Detroit City College (Wayne State University), and left in 1936 to work, for the Federal Writers’ Project, where he researched black history and folk culture.

He was raised as a Baptist, but converted to the Bahá’í Faith during the early 1940s after marrying a Bahá’í, Erma Inez Morris. He is one of the best-known Bahá’í poets and his religion influenced much of his work.

After
leaving the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938, marrying Erma Morris in 1940, and publishing his first volume, Heart-Shape in the Dust (1940), Hayden enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1941 and won a Hopwood Award there.

In
pursuit of a master’s degree, Hayden studied under W. H. Auden, who directed Hayden’s attention to issues of poetic form, technique, and artistic discipline. After finishing his degree in 1942, then teaching several years at Michigan, Hayden went to Fisk University in 1946, where he remained for twenty-three years, returning to Michigan in 1969 to complete his teaching career.

He died in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1980, age 66.

Hayden was elected to the American Academy of Poets in 1975. From 1976 – 1978, Hayden was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the position which in 1985 became the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Hayden’s most famous and most anthologized poem is Those Winter Sundays, which deals with the memory of fatherly love and loneliness.

Other famed poems include The Whipping (which is about a small boy being severely punished for some undetermined offense), Middle Passage (inspired by the events surrounding the United States v. The Amistad affair), Runagate, Runagate, and Frederick Douglass.

Hayden’s influences included Wylie, Cullen, Dunbar, Hughes, Bontemps, Keats, Auden and Yeats. Hayden’s work often addressed the plight of African Americans, usually using his former home of Paradise Valley slum as a backdrop, as he does in the poem Heart-Shape in the Dust. Hayden’s work made ready use of black vernacular and folk speech. Hayden wrote political poetry as well, including a sequence on the Vietnam War.

On the first poem of the sequence, he said, “I was trying to convey the idea that the horrors of the war became a kind of presence, and they were with you in the most personal and intimate activity, having your meals and so on. Everything was touched by the horror and the brutality and criminality of war. I feel that’s one of the best of the poems.”

Bibliography

  • * Selected Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: October House 1966.
  • * Words in the Mourning Time: Poems by Robert Hayden. London: October House, 1970
  • * Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: Liveright, 1975
  • * American Journal: Poems by Robert Hayden. NY: Liveright Pub. Corp., 1982
  • * Collected Prose: Robert Hayden. Ed. Frederick Glaysher. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 1984.
  • * Collected Poems: Robert Hayden. Ed. Frederick Glaysher. NY: Liveright, 1985; rpt. 1996.

source





john ashbery | re-visited

29 05 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 236 | May 29, 2008

FROM THE POETRY DISPATCH ARCHIVES: John Ashbery, Re-visited

Additional bio, resource info, & commentaries can be found here…

READ/SCROLL DOWN TO THE END.
CHECK TOO (ON THE RIGHT) THE LATEST COMMENTARIES ON PREVIOUS DISPATCHES.
ENJOY.
MORE (OF EVERYTHING) COMING…
Norbert Blei

Please click here to see the latest comment on John Ashbery postings from the past.





norbert blei | basho’s road

28 05 2008

Thanks to so many of you for all the positive comments regarding the introduction to the new site, /Basho’s Road/. The initial essay (“Basho’s Road, Part I” ) has now been archived by Monsieur K. (Click to the link at the bottom of the page “*ABOUT BASHO’S ROAD*” for those who missed it or may want to pass it on) or just here…

Speaking of Monsieur K, he deserves accolades galore in supporting the launching of this new site, not to mention his acumen in design and layout. We both worked hard to find the right graphics. And, as usual, he saw what I saw. /Merci, Monsieur K, from me and many others./

The first poem on this site belongs to Basho, deservedly so, since he is the inspiration for all I hope to present here. Since I mentioned the ‘problem’ of translations in Part I of the introductory essay (Parts II and III, in progress). I thought we might take a look at two translations of the same poem–a poem appropriate enough for this time of year as I see it, looking out at my own woods in May, considering the ‘many variations on the theme of green.’ Norbert Blei

RESPONSE/BASHO’S ROAD

Norb,
Thanks for these. There is so much here. Among my Basho favorites:

A fishy smell–
perch guts
in the water weeds.

and

Don’t imitate me;
it’s as boring
as the two halves of a melon.

and from Issa

Climb Mount Fuji,
O snail,
but slowly, slowly.

Thanks again, Norb. Gar

oku-no-hosomichi — very cool….the journey begins…

norb, this is absolutely exquisite… ronald

Sometimes it feels too painful to live in this world. So I have been having a very very sad day. And then I just got this message. It has helped me to try to think beyond my sadness and beyond the meaning of anything. Once again, thank you Norb. m

THANKS FOR THIS, NORB. THE ART WORK ALONE IS BREATH-TAKING….

….this one is a real sparkler and a terrific piece of craftwork…Zeeee

Norbert,

I will get this link up for you in my site. Had a chance to catch any of the shows yet? Best, Jane

Gorgeous site–I will make it one of my regular stops. J

The graphics are so perfect and beautiful for the content. How do you find time to do all this? Everything about it is exquisite. The background color, the white and red of the words, the stretch and pull haiku’s demand, The you entwined with the ancient mysteries and disclosures of zen. The way all of it is there in stillness. Creating stillness on a page. No explanation of how such a thing can ever be done, and yet, somehow done. I’m quite amazed with this. –b

That’s a stunner! Even the paintings make me want to write. I’m linking from SUFFOLK PUNCH. -BH

Norb
I am impressed. MB

Norb,

A great start to an intriguing journey…I look forward to going along for the ride. –BILL

Beautiful. Wondered what you were doing with all your spare time. (HA !) I’ve already made a link from http://caparem.blogspot.com Keep the short stuff coming. - R.

Oh I love it, read it sometime around two in the morning, have to go back and look but I especially liked the essay…..e.

norb,
your first installment on haiku & the short poem is splendid. e.m.

On my way out of town for a few days, so just giving it a glance. I’m loving that you’re doing this. lv,s

This is soooooo beautiful, Norb. Thank you. A. E.

Norb, Excellent! I too am a fan of Basho. I have a translation of his “Narrow Road to the Interior” which is quite small (about 4.5 x 5). His interweaving of the journal with haiku seems so – fitting. One which I enjoy (all are enjoyable) is:

Speechless before
these budding green spring leaves
in blazing sunlight

Yes! Bill

-wow… i was just at the library the other day and got ‘rustic roads’ cause i see you have an essay in it…then i get this note from you about this neat new project…on a related note, inspired by our mutual buddy, jeff winke, i’ve been going through my road notes puling out incidents that I can use as the basis for haibun… charlie

nb
thanks for this –here is what it prompted from today’s garden. rvf


Swallow in garden
injured and waiting for dusk
it’s mate swoops farewell

Dear Norbert,

Your new website is such a thing of beauty, I’m stunned and have nothing but ohs and ahs in reply.

It’s interesting that haiku lends itself so nicely to translation. It has to be the briefness of the poem, so that once all the parts are there (water, frog, sound) the translator doesn’t have a lot of margin for error, as it were, in terms of excess language, boneheaded interpretation, missed point. Clint studied and wrote about and translated the poetry of a couple of Bengali poets, both of which were leading lights in their respective areas (lyric and epic). The one extolled Bengal in poems absolutely revered by Bengalis and, as far as I can tell, almost impossible to translate into an English that touches us even marginally. Clint is good at what he does, and comparisons of his efforts with those by Bengalis and Bengali-wallahs prove the case that you have to be the equivalent of a native speaker in both languages in order successfully to cross the divide, which he does in several poems.

There’s an excellent memoir on translation by Gregory Rabassa (“If This Be Treason”) who is the premier translator of Latin American prose, specifically that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who called him “the best Latin American writer in the English language.” Had I known the dangers and pitfalls of translation, I’m not so sure I would have tackled my dissertation topic’s text, a killer of a 7th-century Sanskrit narrative. Even so, I got something out there that no one else would have attempted (you have to love such a work to allow yourself to become immersed in it and in the labor of showing it off to your fellow English speakers). It’s whatchma call a “contribution.”

As is all that you do, Norb. Your contributions to journalism and literature and to the promotion and support of other writers and poems are immense. As are your efforts to make our little corner of paradise, as many see it, a better place. Keep truckin’. Love, Gwen

When I went to Japan to visit my brother 3 years ago, Barbara Larsen gave me Basho’s book of travels. Mark took me part of the way where Basho walked, so we read his writing, and haiku’s. I also enjoyed Knappen’s review of your new issue of Meditations, I guess I must send for that one, too. g

Norb
Don’t know if I responded to this. This is great. Michael

Love the paintings / especially the one on the first “Basho” site ~~ the house / village in the mountains, as well as the Ticht Naht Hahn comments: observing a tangerine. This is like getting “University of the Air” on Haiku / via email. Many strange and wonderful things float up from out that woods out there … the one about 200 feet from where I sit … thank you. xojg

You cannot imagine how poignant I find either version! I fear I’m looking out at a half-dead orchard of some 500 Montmorencys which will produce no measurable fruit and precious few leaves…the drought of 2007. Since we hand planted and pruned them all, it’ll be like a death in the family. Jean the druid

thanks for doing this work. you’ve forced me back to my Basho. Al DeGenova

Thanks Norb. I much prefer the first translation. The translator’s art is crucial to the success of literature in another tongue. It must be especially difficult in poetry to capture the poet’s thought and feeling, to make the work evoke what the poet intended, and to make it scan satisfyingly in another language.

In many of the big opera houses today, there are translated “supertitles” projected above the proscenium. Several years ago at a performance of “Tosca” at Lyric Opera the audience roared at a translator’s gaffe. Tosca is in the church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle watching her lover, the artist Cavaradossi painting an image of the Madonna. Tosca, a raven-haired singer with dark eyes, is angered that the model he used had blue eyes, and she adjures him to darken the orbs of the lady in the painting. What cracked the audience up was the translated line, “Give her black eyes.” Marty

Lovely format! I assume you saw the National Geographic Magazine article about Basho this spring. It is nice, too. Thank you for choosing that lovely haiku for the first poem. g

You do
good work
Basho/Blei/Re
sharp as a small
paring knife

S.





william topaz mcgonagall | rises from the ashes, his critics of yore he doth bashes or oh ye of little faith

18 05 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 235 | May 17, 2008

“THE WORST POET IN BRITISH HISTORY”

POET, WILLIAM TOPAZ McGONAGALL, RISES FROM THE ASHES,
HIS CRITICS OF YORE HE DOTH BASHES
OR
Oh Ye of Little Faith

Norbert Blei

BIO: Born in Edinburgh, of Irish parentage, McGonagall was working as a handloom weaver in Dundee, Scotland when an event occurred that was to change his life. As he was later to write:

The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet, which was in the year 1877.

It was with this that he wrote his first poem An Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan, which showed all the hallmarks that would characterise his later work. Gilfillan commented

“Shakespeare never wrote anything like this.”


McGonagall has been widely acclaimed as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms of his poetry are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. In the hands of lesser artists, this might simply generate dull, uninspiring verse. However, McGonagall’s fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings generate. The inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most spontaneously amusing comic poetry in the English language.

“Poet-baiting” became a popular pastime in Dundee, but McGonagall seemed oblivious to the general opinion of his poems, even when his audience were pelting him with eggs and vegetables. It is possible, however, that he was shrewder than he is given credit for, and was playing along to his audience’s perception of him, in effect making his recitals an early form of performance art. He died penniless in 1902 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. A grave-slab installed to his memory in 1999 is inscribed:

SAMPLE POEM: Lines in Memoriam Regarding the Entertainment I Gave on the 31st March, 1893, in Reform Street Hall, Dundee

‘Twas on the 31st of March, and in the year of 1893,
I gave an entertainment in the city of Dundee,
To a select party of gentlemen, big and small,
Who appreciated my recital in Reform Street Hall.
The meeting was convened by J. P. Smith’s manager, High Street,
And many of J. P. Smith’s employees were there me to greet,
And several other gentlemen within the city,
Who were all delighted with the entertainment they got from me.
Mr. Green was the chairman for the night,
And in that capacity he acted right;
He made a splendid address on my behalf,
Without introducing any slang or chaff.
I wish him success during life;
May he always feel happy and free from strife,
For the kindness he has ever shown to me
During our long acquaintance in Dundee.
I return my thanks to Mr J. P. Smith’s men,
Who were at my entertainment more than nine or ten;
And the rest of the gentlemen that were there,
Also deserves my thanks, I do declare.
Because they showered upon me their approbation,
And got up for me a handsome donation,
Which was presented to me by Sir Green,
In a purse most beautiful to be seen.
Which was a generous action in deed,
And came to me in time of need.
And the gentlemen that so generously treated me
I’ll remember during my stay in Dundee.

LATE BREAKING NEWS FROM THE LONDON TIMES, MAY 16, 2008: McGonagall Proves His Worth After All

From The Times. May 16, 2008. McGonagall proves his worth after all. by David Lister

Acclaim of a sort has finally come to William Topaz McGonagall, otherwise known as the world’s worst poet, after a collection of 35 of his original poems beat expectations to sell for £6,600 to a mystery buyer at auction yesterday.

McGonagall, who has been credited with some of the most heinous crimes ever perpetrated against the English language, found himself in esteemed company at Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh, where his poems fetched more than a collection of Harry Potter first editions signed by J.K. Rowling. Dating from 1882 to 1899 the poems, which had a guide price of £4,500-£6,500, were snapped up within minutes by a buyer who asked not to be identified. Sold as one lot, they included 15 originals not held by the National Library of Scotland.

The auction is just the latest proof that the “Tayside Tragedian”, whose public readings were so excruciating that they left audiences rolling on the floor with laughter and even provoked riots, is finally achieving the popularity that the author – despite the derision of the literary establishment – always believed he deserved.

Also at the auction were 27 first and second edition Ian Fleming novels, including a first edition of Diamonds Are Forever and a first edition of From Russia with Love, which sold for a total of £27,000.








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