Charles Reznikoff reading

I have neither the time nor the weaving skill, perhaps,
for the intricate medallions the Persians know;
my rugs are the barbaric fire-worshipper’s:
how blue the waters flow,
how red the fiery sun,
how brilliant a green the grass is,
how blinding white the snow.

This is section/poem seven from a sequence of poems by the masterful Charles Reznikoff. It, and countless other poems, including selections from Holocaust, can be heard at PennSound, a vast collection of recordings of the man’s voice. If you know Reznikoff, enjoy! If you don’t, take this opportunity to get to know a magnificent voice in 20th century American poetry. Click here to access the recordings.

I was naked without my line-ends

I’m still in free verse, written in the blue period after sickness, when I felt I could do nothing else well. On the balance side and on the side of formality, I am told all my lines are lines. I do scores of revisions to make them so. I use iambics often loosened into anapests. I suppose definitions of words in the dictionary can be made to do this – anything can be scanned but not made into decisive lines. (…) How different prose is; sometimes the two mediums refuse to say the same things. I found this lately doing an obituary on Hannah Arendt. Without verse, without philosophy, I found it hard, I was naked without my line-ends.

– Robert Lowell (in a letter to Elizabeth Bishop (April 15, 1976), available in the magnificent, indispensable book Words in Air: The complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (eds. Travisano and Hamilton). You need to read it. You know you do.)

Cracking the shell of the world

The artist’s problem is to make life show itself. Homer, Aeschylus, Vergil, Shakespeare – a great deal of Western art has made life show itself by dramatizing crisis and disaster. (…) Again and again, insight is dramatized by showing the conflict between what is ordinarily seen, ordinarily understood, and what is experienced as real. Cracking the shell of the world; or finding that teh shell is cracking under you. The unrealizable ideal is to write as if the earth opened and spoke. I think that if the earth did speak she would espouse no one set of values, affectations, meanings, that everything embraced would also somehow be annihilated and denied.

this is from Frank Bidart’s stupendous book In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 (more precisely, from an appended interview with Bidart) Bishop has praised Bidart’s first volume, and almost every poem in this book is very good, some are really great. One of the very best living poets.

Berryman, Unearthed

I have, on occasion posted videos and links to videos of readings (like this one) and talks (like this one) and of John Berryman. Berryman is, I think, currently my favorite American post-WWII poet. In my review of a critical study of Berryman you may find some reasons for this. Recently, another interview has been put on-line. It was recorded in 1970, two years before Berryman’s departure, the interviewers are William Heyen and Jerome Mazzaro (whose books on Lowell I enjoyed a great deal). It’s in six parts, below you’ll find part 1 and 2. Double-click on any of the videos to access youtube and the other parts.

Part 1 begins with a reading from his poem “The Song of a tortured Girl” (in: The Dispossessed (1948). Click here for the full text)

Harold Bloom reading Wallace Stevens

Harold Bloom recites Stevens’ marvelous poem “Tea at the Palaz of Hoon”. Here is the video, below is Stevens’ text.

Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

A sort of remembered loneliness

Occasionally I see myself, or the ghost of myself, in the places where I first became a poet. On the pavement just around Stephen’s Green for instance, with its wet trees and sharp railings. What I see is not an actual figure, but a sort of remembered loneliness. The poets I knew were not women: the women I knew were not poets. The conversations I had, or wanted to have, were never complete.

Sometimes I think of how time might become magical: How I might get out of the car even now and cross the road and stop that young woman and surprise her with the complete conversation she hardly knew she missed. How I might stand there with her in the dusk, the way neighbours stand on their front steps before they go in to their respective houses for the night: half-talking and half-leaving.

– Eavan Boland (who’s an extraordinary poet, and editor of poetry), from the “Letter to a Young Woman Poet” (link), via peony moon.