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27 June 2007 @ 10:57 pm
inside of a dog it's too hard to read  
Because I'm nosy.

Poll #1011278 These are a few of my favourite things...

What is your favourite book of all time?

Who is your favourite poet? (+ links to a poem if poss)

I must confess that I have no idea how to read poetry. Most poems are a page or two long, and thus take a second or two to read. After that, I’m stumped. Are you supposed to sit still and mull over them for a while? – recite them aloud? – meditate on the deeper meaning and symbolism?

In school, we tore them apart: every word, every nuance, every semi-colon was analysed to the bone. I don’t know any poets, so I can’t speak with authority on how they produce their work, but I don’t think anyone could possibly think that much about what they’re writing. It would make a science of an art (shades of Dead Poets Society). Not to mention their heads would just explode.


I’ve just now finished Volume I of Cecilia; or Memoirs of an Heiress. I’m disposed to like Fanny Burney very much indeed, mainly because she fills an Austen-sized hole in my soul.

I do regard Austen as a genius, or at the very least a woman of great talent. I was reflecting on this in the shower – as you do – and I realised that never once does she describe any character in her books. She mentions Lizzie Bennet’s and Miss Crawford’s bright dark eyes, and Fanny Price’s pale blue ones – but that’s it. No description of clothing, appearance, or action hardly; no mention of how they move. It all rests entirely on what people do or say.

Now that I come to think about it I can appreciate what a daring move that is – how much do I, do we all, rely on all these things to convey personality and character? Yet, you can tell Mrs Norris and Mrs Bennet would dress fussily and Mr Palmer fashionably, without ever being told.

However, I’ve never felt I could empathise greatly with any Austen character – with the exception of Miss Crawford, who is of course a Bad Girl. I don’t know if it’s the effect on her writing of being a clergyman’s daughter, but the strong moral principles shown by all Austen protagonists are taken for granted. The Good People never have any trouble abiding by them, and the Bad People’s Badness is solely derived from their departure from these codes of behaviour. In effect, I don’t think I’ve ever read an Austen girl being perturbed, as such, or ever in much danger of flying into a passion or even getting angry.

Whereas Cecilia, although suffering from an overabundance of ‘benevolence’ and ‘generosity’ – a budding Communist, actually, from what I can tell, although about 100 years too early – does have quite a few trials. I’ve rarely seen the frustration of women’s low place in society so subtly yet powerfully conveyed. Cecilia can’t remonstrate with Mr Harrel or Sir Robert for the latter’s impudence or the former’s audacious obstinacy. In her place I would have screamed. She just ... can’t. Do anything. Add to that the calm assumption of people like Mr Briggs, that any female can’t be trusted with a penny, and you have a boiling pot of frustration. No wonder Freud diagnosed so many hysteria cases among women. How on earth else would you unleash your aggravation?

You never get a sense of that with Austen; the Good Women are respected because they’re Good, and Bad Girls get what’s coming to them.

On the other end of the scale, I sensed a deep similarity of situation between Cecilia and many young people today. (Or maybe it’s just me, but I’m a young person, and ... if I cloned myself this theory would work fine.) Cecilia’s difficulty fitting into her new social situation – her dissatisfaction with the society she’s supposed to keep and the entertainment in which she is supposed to indulge – how many of us can’t identify with that? She prefers to stay home and read rather than go out and do things she doesn’t enjoy, nor understand the basis for said enjoyment. Sounds familiar.

I was also tickled by Mr Gosport’s dissection of the ton into all these rival sects. These, too, have contemporary parallels. The Supercilious are like the ‘cool’ people, the ones who go to the right clubs, listen to the right music, wear the right clothes and drink the right drinks. They don’t talk to anyone who doesn’t go to, listen to, wear or drink the right things, because obviously these people are infinitely inferior to them and would have nothing of worth to say.

The Volubles could be anyone. The Insensibilists remind me of Goths or all those, really, who just can’t be bothered. The Jargonists are like career girls and boys, who are only interested in banging on about things that only make sense to a select number of people.

The use of language by Miss Larolles in particular made me decide that words like ‘exceedingly’ and ‘pecuniary,’ while they sound very grand to me, are the equivalent only of ‘cool’ and ‘loaded.’ (I know pecuniary doesn’t mean wealthy, but it’s in the same ball-park. And there really isn’t any slang – that I know of – for ‘fiscal.’)

To conclude: I like her a lot – but in spite of all I’ve said, in what may be taken as a derogatory light, I love Austen best. How could I not someone so wholeheartedly cynical and unrelentingly sarcastic?

Salient point to note: I don't like this book much. Then again, it would be hard for anyone, I think, to try and compete with Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Vikram Seth in the whole India-for-the-Booker arena. 150 pages in and nothing has happened worth remembering. It needs diamonds or sherbet or a squirrel with a gun! Like now.

I mislike the way ‘pretentious’ (my word, not theirs) writers make generalised statements out of things that are unique and individual. Take love: no two people love the same way, express it the same way, experience it or get over it the same way. Case in point –

Because new love makes sightseers of couples even in their own town

I mean what. Even if 99% of people turn into sightseers (!) on falling in love, even one percent excludes you from using ‘everybody’ in that assertion. It only takes one white blackbird ...

Also, wasn’t the Macarena invented in, like, 1994? Someone in this book knows how to do it in 1986. Is she just forward-thinking or am I wrong?
Current Mood: ditzyditzy
Current Music: Intervention (the Arcade Fire)
jehnt: hp - rouge death eaters!?jehnt on June 27th, 2007 10:18 pm (UTC)
I don’t know any poets, so I can’t speak with authority on how they produce their work, but I don’t think anyone could possibly think that much about what they’re writing.

Ugh, exactly. For this reason, my favorite poet is George Starbuck, whose poems deal mainly with delightful wordplay. I tend to be more concerned with the aesthetic value and flow of words than the actual meaning, so his poetry really appeals to me.

the way ‘pretentious’ (my word, not theirs) writers make generalised statements out of things that are unique and individual.

I tend to not like the way pretentious writers do almost anything... but that's a particularly annoying example. My other favorite is the way their books are often riddled with ungainly prose, awkward or incorrectly-used words, and typos. I can't regard a book as Serious Literature if it doesn't look like they paid any attention to correct word usage and good form!
jehnt: good omens - plastic toysjehnt on June 27th, 2007 10:33 pm (UTC)
Here is a full poem of Starbuck's that I found. I think you can see in it how much he delights in the fun that can be had with words.
(no subject) - scoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - jehnt on June 29th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on June 29th, 2007 07:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Kirihara: Kawaiscoradh on June 29th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)
I've read one or two courtesy of this post, and I'm liking what I see. Mayhap it is time to invest in some volumes of poetry, ne? :D

Ditto for Wordsworth, in my case. Although, personally, I don't want to look at him anyway, because I HATE HIM. He and his posse of poets - I forget what they were called again - are as bad as the Impressionists. I find nothing fascinating in landscape! Nothing!

Nooo ... but the name is familiar, I feel I should know it. What are they about?
Gin: Father McFeely.backinblack on June 27th, 2007 10:35 pm (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Platinum Pair: avec le chat dans gris etscoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:02 pm (UTC)
Cool linkage. May I ask how you came across her - do you regularly trawl for poetry (and if so, how) or was it by chance?

I wasn't terribly taken with A Curse Against Elegies, but I was very much so by Admonition to a Special Person - especially this:

Love? Be it man. Be it woman.
It must be a wave you want to glide in on,
give your body to it, give your laugh to it,
give, when the gravelly sand takes you,
your tears to the land. To love another is something
like prayer and can't be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.

I've bookmarked the page and am reading through it as I type - thank you! ♥
(no subject) - backinblack on June 29th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
amourdevinamourdevin on June 27th, 2007 10:40 pm (UTC)
Concerning my (very valid) assertion that T.S. Eliot is the best ever, I would like to put forth both The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Four Quartets as examples. Both, I believe, can be found here:
Eliot doesn't tell stories, per se, but describes moments, emotions and their evolution. Yummy.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Marui: kissscoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
Ha! The only book of poetry I own is The Wasteland, so I'm familiar with The Love Song. I like the bit about mermaids best. And measuring time with coffee-spoons. He is very much a genius, yes, although the Queen said he looked like a banker. :P
Snakelingsnakeling on June 27th, 2007 10:41 pm (UTC)
My favourite poem of Swinburne is The Garden of Proserpine :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: The turtle movesscoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
Ooh! I found that tricky at first, but there was such a wonderful tempo to it my mind read along without me. I eventually caught up. I'll have to read it a few more times before I get it, but thank you!
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Platinum Pair: Watercolourscoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC)
I can't boast that I've actually read that much poetry - ie none - but I can well imagine it takes more effort than manga. Unless it's like the Petshop of Horrors, which at least in my case meant a lot of flipping back and 'WTF DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN?!'

You can say that again. I hate George Eliot wholeheartedly all because of school, and the way it forced me to read Silas Marner for two whole years. (A book not worth two hours, imo.) I'm not interested in, or should I say not capable of, reading poetry that takes a lot of analysis - I'm more for the sucker-punch effect. I kind of regard poetry as songs continued by other means, and prefer them to be sparse and obvious. Because really I'm dumb, and need to have things spelled out to me.

I don't really hold with that view, though? Love, for me, is something that interweaves with life, becomes a part of and doesn't stand distinct from it. 'Like the rocks beneath, no source of visible joy, but necessary' (or whatever it is). That's probably why my favourite poem, give or take, is In a Bath Teashop by Betjeman. I'm far more inclined to praise people who can make love seem at once both ordinary and extraordinary. Like breathing - something that once you stop to think about it is totally amazing, but also totally ignored otherwise.

I used to write poetry! But I never hated it, although I think it's unspeakably trite now. I agree; I think you'd have to have a deep sensibility for Big Feelings to really write good poetry. I'm too average for that, so I'll stick to prose. :D

True, true, you've got me there! But again, this author was turning love into a hallowed thing. I like 'ordinary, defeated' love as I mentioned above, or the sort of soul-destroying love that you can't keep up for very long (ref: the God of Small Things). Basically this author wasn't capable of what she was trying to do, imo, which was convey how vewy speshul their love was (and considering she's destroying it a few pages later, I think she just couldn't be bothered trying).
secretsolitairesecretsolitaire on June 27th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
I didn't answer the poll because I get stressed out even thinking of picking one favorite book or poet. But I will give you some lists (and links).

Books: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, Little Women (and sequels) by Louisa May Alcott, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Clarinet Polka by Keith Maillard, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, What's Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges

Poets: I tend to browse around in anthologies rather than read collections by individual authors, so I have favorite poems rather than poets. I post lots of poems on my journal, which you can find via the poetry tag if you're interested in browsing, but these are a few of my all-time favorites:

After Work by Richard Jones
Moments of Grace by Carol Ann Duffy
Night Words by Philip Levine
Monet Refuses the Operation by Lisel Mueller
A Blessing by James Wright
Caring for My Lover by Rumi
I Thank You God by e.e. cummings

As for how to read poetry, I don't think there's any right or wrong way. I do think certain poets do choose their imagery very, very carefully, and so in-depth analysis can be productive and enlightening, to a point. But over-analyzing things can also take all the art and mystery and beauty out of them too.

What I usually do is read a poem through once to get a basic idea of what it's about. If I like it, I'll read it again once or twice, more slowly, to let it sink in. And then if I really like it I'll copy it into my journal for later enjoyment. :-)

Finally, here's a poet's take on how to read poetry: Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Blue haired boy w/ phonescoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:26 pm (UTC)
I love Little Women! I've read it like ten times. Gone with the Wind: check. I started Catcher in the Rye but it was during my exams, so I returned it without getting past ... um, a few pages? Pray tell what is it about?

:D Do you like a lot of imagery in your poetry? It seems as if a most of those poems were capturing a certain place, an atmosphere. I liked Moments of Grace, and thought Monet Refuses the Operation very clever. My favourite line would have to be from A Blessing:

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

I thought God, I've actually felt like that.

Maybe some of the older, more stylized poems were written in a time where the symbols used were common currency among the readers? Thinking particularly of Oscar Wilde and all Wordsworth's contemporaries. Analysis is obviously useful in that case, but I prefer the more obvious emotional punch.

Ha, the internet truly has everything. :D

Do you pick up these anthologies randomly at bookshops, or are they rec'ed to you by others?
(no subject) - secretsolitaire on July 3rd, 2007 12:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on July 4th, 2007 08:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
JRevalangui on June 28th, 2007 08:29 am (UTC)
Link to two of Edna St. Vincent Millay poems.
Love is not all: http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/books/notall.html
What lips I've kissed:

Personally I like the kind of poetry that works like song lyrics, you hear them and you're paralized by the beauty of the message and the form at once. If you need to re-read too much then the effect diminishes, although it's also kind of fun to dissect, say, Keats.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Comic stripscoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:28 pm (UTC)
What lips! That was in my school textbook. I loved the first line, so perfect that I can hardly bear to read what comes after. :D

That is exactly how I think of it myself. Couldn't have put it better. Can't say a thing about Keats though, never having read him.
(no subject) - evalangui on June 29th, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - evalangui on July 1st, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - backinblack on June 29th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Kat: misc - heart enslavementkyasuriin on June 28th, 2007 02:23 pm (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Platinum Pair: neck kissscoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC)
*falls on her knees* Thank you so much for that link - I think I've finally found a favourite poet. Ralph Fletcher. Oh god, I swear, I nearly cried over Faithful Elephants and First Touch. You know that funny feeling you get under your tongue, like a tap's been turned on? Yeah, that.

Incidentally, did you design your layout yourself or is it one of lj's? For I greatly covet it.
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(no subject) - scoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
PS - scoradh on June 29th, 2007 08:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Gin: Ethereal.backinblack on June 29th, 2007 08:50 pm (UTC)
I saw soemone had written Leonard Cohen in the poll, and it reminded me of this:

Cohen vs Lorca. Cohen (sometimes loosely) translated Lorca's 'Little Viennese Waltz' and the song is lyrical perfection. He's still a foghorn, but I love him desperately.

All of Cohen's lyrics are poetry. His POETRY isn't as good as some of his lyrics. Suzanne is the most obvious example, but honestly:

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone


And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever

Wah I'm getting chills, it's been a while since words gave me chills.
Gin: I wish to do more violence.backinblack on June 29th, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC)
I totally forgot about this. It's barely poetry, since it's from a play, but:

Beelzebub:—Ladies and gentlemen, your kind attention
To my interpretation of the scene.
I rise to give your fancy comprehension,
And analyze the parts of the machine.
My mood is such that I would not deceive you,
Though still a liar and the father of it,
From judgment’s frailty I would retrieve you,
Though falsehood is my art and though I love it.
Down in the habitations whence I rise,
The roots of human sorrow boundless spread.
Long have I watched them draw the strength that lies
In clay made richer by the rotting dead.
Here is a blossom, here a twisted stalk,
Here fruit that sourly withers ere its prime;
And here a growth that sprawls across the walk,
Food for the green worm, which it turns to slime.
The ruddy apple with a core of cork
Springs from a root which in a hollow dangles,
Not skillful husbandry nor laborious work
Can save the tree which lightning breaks and tangles.
Why does the bright nasturtium scarcely flower
But that those insects multiply and grow,
Which make it food, and in the very hour
In which the veinèd leafs and blossoms blow?
Why does a goodly tree, while fast maturing,
Turn crooked branches covered o’er with scale?
Why does the tree whose youth was not assuring
Prosper and bear while all its fellows fail?
I under earth see much. I know the soil.
I know where mold is heavy and where thin.
I see the stones that thwart the plowman’s toil,
The crooked roots of what the priests call sin.
I know all secrets, even to the core,
What seedlings will be upas, pine or laurel;
It cannot change howe’er the field’s worked o’er.
Man’s what he is and that’s the devil’s moral.
So with the souls of the ensuing drama
They sprang from certain seed in certain earth.
Behold them in the devil’s cyclorama,
Shown in their proper light for all they’re worth.
Now to my task: I’ll give an exhibition
Of mixing the ingredients of spirit.

From Spoon River's epilogue. Spoon River is really amazing if you can do it outdoors and mimic a graveyard. Which is how we did it, and omg there are no better monologues.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Black Booksscoradh on June 30th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC)