Tag Archives: Virginia Woolf

#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

 

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.

Why Journal?

As the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues and today, which should have been a simple Saturday, has now become J is for Journal, my tune is starting to switch from Edith Piaf’s “Je ne Regrette Rien” to: “Why Why Why Delilah?”

When I first took on the challenge, I almost thought it would be too simple. However, even though I already post most days, I’m usually writing about the day’s events or something which has fired me up, rather than conforming to any kind of set format. So far, I been needing to do quite a lot of research to complete the daily post and by the time I’ve uploaded the photos, the day and even the night are gone. At the same time, however, I can feel myself being stretched and challenged and participating has really helped me take things up a notch. Growth usually comes at a price, after all. I’ve also discovered some fabulous new blogs… a fabulous kaleidoscope of people and tales.

Another complication for me, of course, has been that the kids are currently on school holidays and we’ve gone away to an absolute slice of paradise at Sydney’s Palm Beach and I have no intention of spending the whole time with my head stuck in my laptop. I’ve been out kayaking the my daughter while my husband and son were out sailing today and I also had an impromtu paddle to rescue our dog Lady yet again after my daughter noted she’d left our backyard and was heading for her favourate rabbit hunting ground. Later in the day, we went for a drive to Whale Beach. It was a bit late for good photography. However, we all enjoyed clambouring over huge slabs of sandstone which have fallen from the cliffs throughout time and feasting on the dusky pinks of the fast-fading light.It was so timeless and serene, that we almost drifted in suspended animation. That is, until Mister who had been showing off his rock climbing skills one minute, was now well and truly stuck!! As they say, pride goes before a fall and he was along way up and the ground was naturally, a long way down.

I’ve divided this post into two parts:

1) Why journal?

2) Journaling: Dear Anne.

Why Journal?

When I was 11 years old, I started writing my first journal or “diary” as it was known back then. My teacher was a committed and passionate diarist and he just encouraged us to use a student diary, which allowed about a paragraph’s worth every day. The aim seemed to be establishing that routine, the consistency rather than writing pages and pages and not being able to keep it up. While hardly the Diary of Anne Frank, this diary does talk about the arrival of our first dog, Lassie and so I really treasure it. Having something like that from your childhood is so very, very special. At least, it is to me.

As much as I rave on about the virtues of keeping a journal and a regular one at that, I must confess that my commitment has waxed and waned and over the years, Consequently, my diaries read more like a series of stepping stones than a smoothly flowing stream. Indeed, quite often, it’s been quite such long leap in between entries, that I’d make it into the long jump finals. This is hardly surprising because I struggle to even comprehend consistency, let alone maintain some kind of routine day after day after day. That said, my blog shows that I’m somehow capable. It’s just that I’m inconsistently consistent. Or, perhaps Aldous Huxley got it right:

“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead”.

If you are interested in the benefits of keeping a journal, or the “why”, I recommend you read here: http://www.easyjournaling.com/2011/07/101-reasons-to-write-a-journal/

Probably the main reason I keep a journal is to document not only what has happened but also how I feel about it as a form of historic record. Having started writing diaries from such a young age, I have long appreciated being able to read about the past and pick out the bits which resonate in the here and now and have been able to identify certain threads or themes, which weave throughout my life journey. Following these threads over time and reading about my personal ups and downs and revisiting the details, has really helped me gain a better grip on who I am, where I’ve been and my place in the bigger picture. I have also been intrigued that even though so much has changed both around me and within, that there is still this sense of self…me…something solid and concrete which I could stick a flag in a claim as my own. This is quite a breakthrough for someone who has been through brain surgery and even had that self revamped and even further challenges came which I became a parent and also developed the muscle disease. A sense of self isn’t something I take for granted and it has been a long battle where journalling has really helped both in terms of providing feedback on my progress but also consoling me along the way.

Another famous diary.

So, writing my journal has also been cathartic. Being quite emotionally intense,  I need to get those emotions out. If for whatever reason, I can’t express that angst, then it travels inward, a bit like poison and threatens serious consequences. After all, we all know stress does nasty things to our health. Journalling is very good. It helps to vent and let out a hell of a lot of steam!!

Journalling was particularly helpful as an angst-ridden teen when shattered romance and rejection inevitably resulted in very intense emotions and my diary and my dog bore the brunt of these. As I’m sure most of us have been there, these are the sort of emotions you can’t really put into words in a verbal way and given that friends can blab or run off with your latest love interest or “prospect”, there’s good cause for keeping a journal and sticking to your own counsel.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (1985) Poster

Since having children, my journaling has taken on another function, particularly given my precarious medical situation. A parent is something of a human super-computer watching, analyzing and storing millions and millions of snippets about their kids. Kids just love it when people reflect back on their journey, their story and all their little battles from the cut finger and surgery out at Westmead Children’s Hospital to the stitch at Little Athletics when Mister came last by a country mile and when he sang Imagine with his class in the school musical. I store all their medical histories and bits and pieces about their milestones in my head as well as in their precious “Blue Books” where everything is recorded for posterity.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/09/Diary_of_a_wimpy_kid.jpg

When a child loses a parent, they also lose this ready-reckoner and such a swag of memories that they literally lose a huge chunk of themselves. To combat this, I have written my own journals expecting my husband and kids to read them and need them. I have also tried to record what the kids have done and their funny little comments etc in journals that are their own. I did this much more when they were younger and and also at times when my health has reached a crisis point. It has slackened off of late as I’ve been well, busy blogging and I’ve also been wanting to hand the batton over and get the kids to write in their own journals. Miss has a had a few stop starts but when it comes to Mister, I’d have an easier time pulling teeth. Writing isn’t his thing. At least, not at the moment!!

https://i2.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1345386687l/1950183.jpg

While discussing journalling as a family, we have found out that my husband’s Great Great Grandfather, Irishman Daniel Burke was mentioned in Jail Journal by John Mitchell. John Mitchell was an Irish radical who was exiled to Tasmania but managed to escape to America. It turns out that Daniel Burke who lived in Westbury, loaned him a horse which was instrumental to his escape. Finding a historic, personal reference like this is priceless to a history lover.

While I have extolled the virtues of writing not only a journal but also the virtues of making journalling an ongoing, life-long habit; I should also point out some challenges.

If you are wanting to really do your journals justice, you also need to re-read them and that also means thinking about how and where you are going to store them where they can be somewhat accessible but also protected against the elements. This can be quite problematic for a prolific journal-writer because storage can become a serious problem, especially if you’re on the move.

That’s where writing your journal on your computer has real advantages over using those gorgeous handwritten journals, which really do look inspirational and pretty but probably aren’t the most practical solution.

The other problem with putting all your journals in one spot is that if there is some freak of nature, one goes up, they all go up. Also, if they are private and someone else finds them, they’ll have your entire life’s story in their grasp. Is that what you want?

Naturally, anybody who has written a private journal has included those personal secrets that are your secrets and there remains that lingering question about whether they should be burned. That is an incredibly personal matter. I haven’t destroyed any of mine but I have considered it.

So do you keep a journal and do you find it helpful and if you are doing the A-Z Challenge, what did you blog about today?

xx Rowena