Tag Archives: poet

Poet for Peace.

A small voice called out

in the wilderness:

“Why must you throw

your sticks and stones?

Why grow anger,

instead of love?

Or, do you even know?

 

But then,

the great wind came,

blowing the small voice

from pole to pole.

Yet, its whisperings spread.

Amelia footprints in sand

Footprints in the sand.

 

“Why must you throw

your sticks and stones?

Why grow anger,

instead of love?
Or, do you even know?

 

Brother asked sister.

Sister asked brother.

Husbands and wives,

partners…

questioned why.

The neighbours wondered

whether a cup of sugar

would be better instead.

 

Slowly but surely,

the people started looking in,

instead of blaming out.

After all, peace in our world

begins in our hearts.

amelia heart painting

My daughter’s painting

 

And so,

after  scattering the seed,

the small voice called on

the sun, rain and soil,

waiting for love to grow.

 

Rowena Curtin

26th August, 2016

This is my contribution for Poets for Peace, a collaboration of poets right around the world urging for peace. It is being hosted by Forgotten Meadows Deadline for Contributions is 31st August, 2016.

“In response to the recent unceasing, and, in fact escalating global violence, we have seen and felt a corresponding surge in poetry about it.

We would like to take this opportunity to invite you to share your thoughts and feelings, a piece of yourself, to add to other Poets from around the world. We are hopeful that the combined weight of our collective spirit and wisdom will be felt worldwide as well.

The only restriction is that absolutely no hate is expressed other than the hate of violence. Any and all words will be appended to the running poem. This is not about ego, so you retain the rights to your creation, we are only interested in doing what we can to stop the violence.

Please share your poetry and your platform to spread the word for Poets everywhere to unite in this effort we are calling, “Poets for Peace.”

Google +1 it, Tweet & share it on Facebook, wherever you are able. Hashtag #PoetsForPeace

 

#AtoZchallenge Reflections…66, 652 Words Wiser.

It’s no wonder I needed an ambulance and a stretcher when I reached the end of the A-Z Challenge. I’d researched and written a staggering 66, 652 words and these weren’t any ordinary words either. They were probing philosophical investigations into the works and lives of over 30 exceptional poets, which were interwoven with my own ups and downs through life’s milestones.

letters-young-poet-rainer-maria-rilke-paperback-cover-art Just to recap, my theme was Letters to Dead Poets. While writing to dead poets does have an air of the macabre, the theme was simply a play on Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. If an old poet could give advice to a young poet, surely dead poets had something to offer!

Each letter explored philosophical questions such as what it means to be a man, how to deal with adversity and a poet’s heart and somehow survive. Many of these poets didn’t.Naturally, I couldn’t write these letters without addressing the tragic nature of their deaths. Indeed, I wrote this post: Dedication To A Poet Dying Young. Emotionally, this was incredibly difficult and challenging, which stretched well beyond showcasing the poets who’ve inspired me through life’s ups and downs.

It is a reflection of my own tenacity that I could grapple with these contentious issues without going down myself. That my feet are firmly planted on terra firma and my head, heart and soul are in a good place. This isn’t something that happened overnight. I have a poet’s heart and have always been incredibly sensitive and know all too well how to dance with the dark side and succumb to its charms. I have survived brain surgery and live with a life-threatening auto-immune disease. Life is no picnic. I’ve gone up in flames and somehow walked out of the ashes. Well, I was actually carried out unconscious but I’m still here.

Not unsurprisingly, I needing to balance out the heaviness and developed a lively undercurrent with the age-old battle between cats and dogs. There were poets who were famous cat lovers like TS Eliot and Ernest Hemingway and ardent dog lovers including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf and Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. My two dogs jumped into the fracas standing up for the “pollicle” dogs (poor little dogs …TS Eliot). They were rather unimpressed that there is no Dogs: The Musical!!

Quite unexpectedly, many roads led to Paris. Paris the city of love, which can inevitably become the city of heartbreak. Although heartbroken in Paris myself back in July 1992, I did a solo poetry reading at Paris’s famed Shakespeare Bookshop , which attracted the likes of Hemingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin when they were in town.Somehow, a 22 year old backpacking Australian with her self-published anthology Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth, was following in their enormous footsteps. I have since discovered that young poets were considered “audience”. So, I have no idea how this crazed backpacker from the Antipodes slipped through the cracks and up the rickety red wooden staircase to perform.

Poetry Reading

Poetry Reading, Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris 1992.

So, after going through all of this, it is hardly surprising that I staggering across the finish line barely conscious. Every cell in my body was aching and my brain had liquefied into soupy mush. That’s what happens when you try researching and writing faster than the speed of light. You start to fall apart.

By writing so much, I clearly went way beyond the scope of the challenge, which really is about writing very short, sharp posts under 500 words and becoming something of a blogging slut getting around to as many blogs as possible every day to build new connections and expand your reader base. However, I went the other way. Instead of short and sweet, you could say I did the extended version. However, they cover significant psychological and philosophical issues and aren’t simply a handful of words…a throwaway.

So without further ado, here’s An A-Z of Letters to Dead Poets:

A: AA Milne

B: Banjo Paterson.

Banjo Peterson Replies.

 

C: Lewis Carroll.

Lewis Carroll Replies.

 

D: Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl’s Reply.

 

E: TS Eliot.

TS Eliot Replies.

F:Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken.

Robert Frost A Reply.

G:Kahlil Gibran.

Kahlil Gibran Reply.

H: Ted Hughes.

Ted Hughes Reply.

A Surprise Letter From Ernest Hemingway.

Q & A With Ernest Hemingway.

I- A Letter to Issa- Japanese Haiku Master.

Issa: A Reply.

J-A Letter to Jim Morrison-The Doors

Jim Morrison Replies

K-A Letter to John Keats.

Keats Replies

A Letter from Rudyard Kipling including the poem: “If”

L-A Letter to John Lennon

A Reply From John Lennon.

Lao Tzu: A Poem about The Journey.

M-Dorothea Mackellar: Australian Poet.

Dorothea Mackellar Replies

Mary Stevenson “Footprints”.

A Letter from Mary Stevenson re “Footprints”.

Maya Angelou

Dr Maya Angelou A reply.

N:Oodganoo Noonuccal: Indigenous Australian Poet

O-Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde Replies

P-A Letter to Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker Writes to the Poor Little Dogs.

Dogs Accuse: “Dorothy Parker Is A Fraud!”

Dorothy Parker Defends Dogs’ Accusations

P-Sylvia Plath

Help Me Dorothy Dix: What to Write to Sylvia Plath.

A Letter to Sylvia Plath

Q-Qu Yuan Chinese Poet

A Letter From Qu Yuan: Chinese Wisdom.

R-A Letter to Rumi

Rumi Replies

Rilke: Letters to Young Poets

Rilke Replies: Advice to Modern Poets.

S-Percy Bysshe Shelley

Advice from Percy Byssche Shelley

William Shakespeare

I delayed writing my letter to William Shakespeare by a day to coincide with the 400th Anniversary of his death on 23rd April, 1616. By the way, when Shakespeare woke up, he found his head was missing.

Despite writing some of the most loved and recognised love sonnets of all time, Shakespeare admitted that his track record with love wasn’t a commendation. So, he introduced me to poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.

Shakespeare Time travels 400 Years

Shakespeare on Love 400 Years On.

T-Letters to Rabindranath Tagore

Wisdom of Tagore: Love, Children and Dogs.

U-A Letter to John Updike.

John Updike: On Dogs

V- A Letter To Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf Replies…Letter to A Young Poet

Poetical Dogs Unite…A Letter from Virginia Woolf’s Dog

Elizabeth Barrett’s Love Poem to Her Dog.

W- Letter to William Wordsworth

Wordsworth I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

X-Anon: Unknown Native American Poet.

Y- Letter to William Butler Yeats.

Yeats: Easter 1916.

Yeats: Sailing To Byzantium

Yeats On Life

Z-Xu Zhimo: On Leaving Cambridge Again

ZZZZ: A Letter from Xu Zhimo

We Are Donne: Donne

I hope you’ve enjoyed the A-Z Challenge and are returning to life again after a week’s R & R.

xx Rowena

A2Z-BADGE 2016-smaller_zpslstazvib

 

ZZZZZZZ…The End: A Letter from Xu Zhimo

Dear Rowena,

Every journey reaches an end. Not a dead end but a place of transition, rebirth and a turning inwards before turning outwards again. This is a place of rest, sleep and ZEDs.

You have worked hard. It is now time to recharge your body in the pauses in between words and ideas and listen to the whisperings of your spirit, the tinkle tinkle of the winds blowing through the leaves and the twittering of your colourful lorikeets and hold your family close. Walk along the beach with your dogs and cleanse your being in all that healing sea breeze and just be. You can not be a non-stop human doing without breaking down.

Too many poets fly straight into the candle flame without taking due care. Poets don’t have to die young. Unfortunately, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time but although I had a short life, it bore fruit.

I will leave you here with the wisdom of a man who greatly inspired me, Rabindranath Tagore:

Tagore Portrait

Rabindranath Tagore.

The Wisdom of Tagore:

“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”

“The small wisdom is like water in a glass: clear, transparent, pure. The great wisdom is like the water in the sea: dark, mysterious, impenetrable.”

“Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.”

“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.”

“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”

“Love is an endless mystery, for it has nothing else to explain it.”

“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.”

“I am restless. I am athirst for faraway things. My soul goes out in a longing to touch the skirt of the dim distance. O Great Beyond, O the keen call of thy flute! I forget, I ever forget, that I have no wings to fly, that I am bound in this spot evermore.”

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.”

eagle zoom

Australian Golden Eagle: Photo Geoff Newton. Tasmania 2005.

Take care of your dreams. Sleep on them but don’t leave them under your pillow. Let their wings grow and carry you up to the stars.Yet, never lose touch with the Earth. You don’t want your dreams to burn.

Now, it is time for you to go.

Good bye and Goodnight.

Yours,

Xu Zhimo

Y- William Butler Yeats: A letter to Dead Poets

Gratitude To The Unknown Instructors

WHAT they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.

William Butler Yeats

 Dear Mr Yeats,

How are you? No doubt, it’s been quite a surprise to regain human form and return from Byzantium. I assure you that this isn’t some kind of belated April Fool’s Day prank. Rather, I am writing a series of Letters to Dead Poets from A-Z and you are my second last stop. I know you’re probably sick of almost always coming last. This is unless there was a “Z”. I’m sure that you and “Z” would have been the best of friends!

So, being “Y”, I had to ask you: WHY????

This journey from A-Z has become quite a philosophical journey, exploring a plethora of seemingly rhetorical questions like what it means to be a man?  Why do some people suffer so much and what is the point of suffering? What’s more, when things in our own lives go devastatingly wrong, how do we survive? How do we go on, when we want to let go? What is love and how can it last a lifetime and overcome its many challenges and hurdles? What does it mean to be happy and how do we find happiness? Why do so many creative people struggle with depression and mental health issues? Is it wise to become a poet or should we get a “real job”? Why did Hemingway shoot himself and John Lennon get shot? Why was Shelley out sailing in a violent storm and when he was cremated, why didn’t his heart burn? Indeed, why did his wife, Mary, wrap his heart up in the manuscript from Adonais and keep it in her desk until she died? You weren’t even all that close. I’m not even going to ask what happened to Shakespeare’s head. That said, I might ask if that’s really you in “your grave” in Ireland? Of course, conspiracy theories prevail!

That will keep you busy for awhile!

I must admit that I find writing to you rather intimidating, although you would think I’d be used to it by now. In 1923, you were the first Irishman awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature  for what the Nobel Committee described as “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”. However, you are one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize. Indeed, TS Eliot called you “one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them”. Indeed, I’ll defer to WH Auden’s eulogy:

Yeats By Rohan Gillespie Stephen St Sligo

Statue of Yeats by Rohan Gillespie

In Memory Of W.B. Yeats

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

[Auden later deleted the next three stanzas.]

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

WH Auden

However, it seems you understand what it’s like to have a dream which is still a work in progress:

Aedh Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

I have read your poem: Easter 1916.

Having Irish heritage myself, of course, I had to mention Ireland. While in so many ways our family are Heinz Variety Australians, a good number of our ancestors came from Ireland and brought something of Ireland with them which keeps being passed down from parent to child, in our souls as well as in our genes. My husband’s great something grandfather, Daniel Burke, helped Irish revolutionary John Mitchell escape Tasmania bound for America by lending him his horse…a role which earned him a mention in Mitchell’s Jail Journal. My ancestors somehow survived the Great Famine and came to Sydney. These Irish people were tough. After surviving the famine, their beloved St Mary’s Cathedral burned down in and they raised the money to rebuild through donations brick-by-brick. There was no falling on their sword crying “Woe is me”. No talk of how they’ve survived the famine only to have the cathedral burn down. No, they immediately started fundraising the next day and when that fledgling structure was also burned down, they started over. Indeed, John and Bridget Curtin lost three children and yet they battled on in the overcrowded hardship of Sydney’s Surry Hills and Paddington. Yet, they never gave up. That said, they might have drunk a bit too much…

I have never been to Ireland and am quite curious to see whether I feel a sense of home there or not. Just how Irish am I?

Humph! Despite raising poets from the dead, I still can’t quite click my fingers and travel over to Ireland in an instant. So, I am back to searching for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to fund my trip.

So, this leaves me sitting about to board the train to meet up with my very last poet…Z.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Notes

Aedh was a Celtic God of Death, one of the children of Lir.Yeats seems to have used this character in some of his stories along with Ahearne and Michael Robartes and describes him as fire reflected in water.

Y- Yeats: Easter, 1916 #atozchallenge.

Easter 1916

I have met them at close of day

Coming with vivid faces

From counter or desk among grey

Eighteenth-century houses.

I have passed with a nod of the head

Or polite meaningless words,

Or have lingered awhile and said

Polite meaningless words,

And thought before I had done

Of a mocking tale or a gibe

To please a companion

Around the fire at the club,

Being certain that they and I

But lived where motley is worn:

All changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent

In ignorant good-will,

Her nights in argument

Until her voice grew shrill.

What voice more sweet than hers

When, young and beautiful,

She rode to harriers?

This man had kept a school

And rode our wingèd horse;

This other his helper and friend

Was coming into his force;

He might have won fame in the end,

So sensitive his nature seemed,

So daring and sweet his thought.

This other man I had dreamed

A drunken, vainglorious lout.

He had done most bitter wrong

To some who are near my heart,

Yet I number him in the song;

He, too, has resigned his part

In the casual comedy;

He, too, has been changed in his turn,

Transformed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone

Through summer and winter seem

Enchanted to a stone

To trouble the living stream.

The horse that comes from the road,

The rider, the birds that range

From cloud to tumbling cloud,

Minute by minute they change;

A shadow of cloud on the stream

Changes minute by minute;

A horse-hoof slides on the brim,

And a horse plashes within it;

The long-legged moor-hens dive,

And hens to moor-cocks call;

Minute by minute they live:

The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.

O when may it suffice?

That is Heaven’s part, our part

To murmur name upon name,

As a mother names her child

When sleep at last has come

On limbs that had run wild.

What is it but nightfall?

No, no, not night but death;

Was it needless death after all?

For England may keep faith

For all that is done and said.

We know their dream; enough

To know they dreamed and are dead;

And what if excess of love

Bewildered them till they died?

I write it out in a verse—

MacDonagh and MacBride

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

William Butler Yeats

September 25, 1916

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

Although Yeats didn’t consider himself “political”, he wrote this poem about the Easter Rising (or Easter Rebellion of 1916) of around a thousand Irish Republicans who wanted to secede from Great Britain and establish an independent Ireland. The insurrection was put down less than a week later, and many of its leaders were swiftly executed by firing squad. Although the original rebellion did not enjoy wide support among the general populace, the ruthlessness of the British response unnerved the Irish and led to the growth of the ultranationalist group Sinn Féin.  “I had no idea that any public event could so deeply move me,” Yeats said, months later. In the wake of the courts-martial and executions of May 1916, he wrote to Lady Gregory that he was “trying to write a poem.” His simultaneous awe of and ambivalence toward the event are clearly coded in the both title and refrain. The Easter Rising is a double entendre on the holiday; the “terrible beauty” was “born” during Holy Week, which marks the occasion of Christ’s sacrifice. Hence, the Easter Rising is simultaneously crucifixion and resurrection, reality and archetype.

Source: Wikipaedia.

Do you have a favourite poem by William Butler Yeats?

xx Rowena

 

V: Virginia Woolf Replies: A Letter To A Young Poet

 

for my part I do not believe in poets dying; Keats, Shelley, Byron are alive here in this room in you and you and you — I can take comfort from the thought that my hoping will not disturb their snoring.

Virginia Woolf, Letter to A Young Poet.

This letter arrived for me this morning written in Virginia Woolf’s characteristic purple ink.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter and see the fine art of letter writing isn’t dead. Back in my day, I observed:

“The penny post, the old gentleman used to say, has killed the art of letter-writing. Nobody, he continued, examining an envelope through his eye-glasses, has the time even to cross their t’s. We rush, he went on, spreading his toast with marmalade, to the telephone. We commit our half-formed thoughts in ungrammatical phrases to the post card… But when the post came in this morning and I opened your letter stuffed with little blue sheets written all over in a cramped but not illegible hand — I regret to say, however, that several t’s were uncrossed and the grammar of one sentence seems to me dubious — I replied after all these years to that elderly necrophilist — Nonsense. The art of letter-writing has only just come into existence. It is the child of the penny post. And there is some truth in that remark, I think. Naturally when a letter cost half a crown to send, it had to prove itself a document of some importance; it was read aloud; it was tied up with green silk; after a certain number of years it was published for the infinite delectation of posterity. But your letter, on the contrary, will have to be burnt. It only cost three-halfpence to send. Therefore you could afford to be intimate, irreticent, indiscreet in the extreme[1].”

Your human words were much appreciated. These days, I write my words on Autumn leaves, which are promptly read and eaten by the worms. While it might be a much humbler existence, I have finally found peace and stillness in my once turbulent mind. What a relief!

Your series of Letters to Dead Poets accumulating our collective wisdom, enthralls me. What a flood of words, thoughts, feelings are flowing through your pen and this laptop machine you keep tapping away on.

Indeed, you are “ a poet in whom live all the poets of the past, from whom all poets in time to come will spring. You have a touch of Chaucer in you, and something of Shakespeare; Dryden, Pope, Tennyson — to mention only the respectable among your ancestors — stir in your blood and sometimes move your pen a little to the right or to the left. In short you are an immensely ancient, complex, and continuous character, for which reason please treat yourself with respect.[2]

Naturally, I was quite wary about sticking my head above ground again. Even my beloved Leonard, couldn’t save me from this wretched disease and I have found such peace. I couldn’t go back. You’d have to say that filling my pockets with stones and drowning, despite my great love for Leonard and my sister, reflects great determination.

Yet, I’m such a curious soul. When offered the chance to travel into the future, I grabbed it with both hands. I was so relieved to wake up to peace, instead of a living in a battlefield with planes fighting overhead and bombs blowing up homes with their precious families still inside. I still remember seeing the shell of an exploded house. All were dead inside yet a bottle of milk survived unscathed out the front. There was no meaning in any of it. No sense at all.

No doubt, the news that World War II is finally over, will be tempered as further news comes to hand..

However, my first order of business is the theatre. I wanted to catch up with Judith Shakespeare (see A Room With A View) and see whether she finally calls the world  her stage. Indeed, I was most delighted to have tea with Angelina Jolie this morning. Indeed, Miss Jolie embodies all the dreams and hopes Judith Shakespeare ever had. That said, she has also made tough decisions and remained that lighthouse standing tall. I wouldn’t want to follow in all of her footsteps but she has my utmost respect.

Letters to Young Poets

Now that I’ve settled that matter, I wanted to get back to my Letter to Young Poets, which you mentioned. What might have been a little obscured, was that these young poets were not only learning the craft of poetry, but were also from a younger generation who experienced the world through quite a different lens.

Indeed, this letter was ostensibly written to John Lehmann, who was the manager of our Hogarth Press. We had published his first collection of poetry: A Guarde Revisited in September 1931.  However, the letter was also addressed to three other young poets WH Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis and Stephen Spender.

You might not be aware that I received quite a hostile response from Peter Quennell, representing the younger generation. He urged me to empathise with the discontented outlook of the younger generation who “can recall barely five or six summers before “the end of the Ware to end all Wars” He added that the modern poet is “the creature of his social and political setting.[3]

Yet, I was still concerned that collective experience should be the main subject of modern verse.

Prose Writers’ View of the Poet

Although you’re quite the social butterfly and mix with writers from all genres, I thought you’d appreciate  some insights into the novelist’s perspective of the poet. It’s always good to see yourself from an alternative perspective:

“For how, we despised prose writers ask when we get together, could one say what one meant and observe the rules of poetry? Conceive dragging in “blade” because one had mentioned “maid”; and pairing “sorrow” with “borrow”? Rhyme is not only childish, but dishonest, we prose writers say. Then we go on to say, And look at their rules! How easy to be a poet! How strait the path is for them, and how strict! This you must do; this you must not. I would rather be a child and walk in a crocodile down a suburban path than write poetry, I have heard prose writers say. It must be like taking the veil and entering a religious order — observing the rites and rigours of metre. That explains why they repeat the same thing over and over again. Whereas we prose writers (I am only telling you the sort of nonsense prose writers talk when they are alone) are masters of language, not its slaves; nobody can teach us; nobody can coerce us; we say what we mean; we have the whole of life for our province. We are the creators, we are the explorers. . . . So we run on — nonsensically enough, I must admit.

What is a poet?

“On the floor of your mind, then — is it not this that makes you a poet? — rhythm keeps up its perpetual beat. Sometimes it seems to die down to nothing; it lets you eat, sleep, talk like other people. Then again it swells and rises and attempts to sweep all the contents of your mind into one dominant dance. To-night is such an occasion. Although you are alone, and have taken one boot off and are about to undo the other, you cannot go on with the process of undressing, but must instantly write at the bidding of the dance. You snatch pen and paper; you hardly trouble to hold the one or to straighten the other. And while you write, while the first stanzas of the dance are being fastened down, I will withdraw a little and look out of the window. A woman passes, then a man; a car glides to a stop and then — but there is no need to say what I see out of the window, nor indeed is there time, for I am suddenly recalled from my observations by a cry of rage or despair. Your page is crumpled in a ball; your pen sticks upright by the nib in the carpet. If there were a cat to swing or a wife to murder now would be the time. So at least I infer from the ferocity of your expression. You are rasped, jarred, thoroughly out of temper. And if I am to guess the reason, it is, I should say, that the rhythm which was opening and shutting with a force that sent shocks of excitement from your head to your heels has encountered some hard and hostile object upon which it has smashed itself to pieces. Something has worked in which cannot be made into poetry; some foreign body, angular, sharp-edged, gritty, has refused to join in the dance[4]. “

So, I would say that if your children love to dance, that they could well indeed have a poet’s heart.

Advice to Young Poet’s

“And for heaven’s sake, publish nothing before you are thirty.

That, I am sure, is of very great importance. Most of the faults in the poems I have been reading can be explained, I think, by the fact that they have been exposed to the fierce light of publicity while they were still too young to stand the strain. It has shrivelled them into a skeleton austerity, both emotional and verbal, which should not be characteristic of youth. The poet writes very well; he writes for the eye of a severe and intelligent public; but how much better he would have written if for ten years he had written for no eye but his own! After all, the years from twenty to thirty are years (let me refer to your letter again) of emotional excitement. The rain dripping, a wing flashing, someone passing — the commonest sounds and sights have power to fling one, as I seem to remember, from the heights of rapture to the depths of despair. And if the actual life is thus extreme, the visionary life should be free to follow. Write then, now that you are young, nonsense by the ream. Be silly, be sentimental, imitate Shelley, imitate Samuel Smiles; give the rein to every impulse; commit every fault of style, grammar, taste, and syntax; pour out; tumble over; loose anger, love, satire, in whatever words you can catch, coerce or create, in whatever metre, prose, poetry, or gibberish that comes to hand. Thus you will learn to write. But if you publish, your freedom will be checked; you will be thinking what people will say; you will write for others when you ought only to be writing for yourself. And what point can there be in curbing the wild torrent of spontaneous nonsense which is now, for a few years only, your divine gift in order to publish prim little books of experimental verses? To make money? That, we both know, is out of the question. To get criticism? But you friends will pepper your manuscripts with far more serious and searching criticism than any you will get from the reviewers. As for fame, look I implore you at famous people; see how the waters of dullness spread around them as they enter; observe their pomposity, their prophetic airs; reflect that the greatest poets were anonymous; think how Shakespeare cared nothing for fame; how Donne tossed his poems into the waste-paper basket; write an essay giving a single instance of any modern English writer who has survived the disciples and the admirers, the autograph hunters and the interviewers, the dinners and the luncheons, the celebrations and the commemorations with which English society so effectively stops the mouths of its singers and silences their songs.”

Well, you Rowena don’t need to consider all of that. Not that I’d consider you an “old” poet but let’s just say you’re free to publish!

By the way, before I head off, I’ve already seized upon a new subject for one of my legendary essays…the mobile phone. While I’ve heard that texting is “speaking with your fingers” and doesn’t represent the final destruction of the English language, I am not convinced.

Virginia Woolf Grave

Adding fuel to the fire, is the selfie. You wouldn’t believe the thousands who visit my grave leaped in front of my visage with their mobiles mounted on some metal contraption photographing themselves. They no longer come here to see me but to see themselves, their own reflections…a touch of narcissus I suspect.

Anyway, I understand your train is due to depart. Quite a marvel of modern engineering and no smoke and coal dust billowing over the platform.

Keep dancing my friend!

Warm regards,

Virginia Woolf.

Tagore-Dancing Woman

Dancing Woman – Rabindranath Tagore

 References

[1][1] Virginia Woolf “A Letter To A Young Poet” in The Death of the Moth, and other essays.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alice Wood: Virginia Woolf’s Late Cultural Criticism: The Genesis Years.

[4] Ibid.