Monthly Archives: November 2014

Nov. 24, 2014: THAT NOWE IS HEYE SOME-TYME WAS GRASE (John Lydgate)

Dear readers,

Still on the search for good ol’ formal poems, and by ol’ I mean OLD. Now I had a pretty traditional curriculum in high school and college, including requirements of poetry in middle English, which kind of is, and kind of isn’t a foreign language. Personally, I like the odd spellings and strange vocabulary, and while I find the twisted syntax of renaissance and Victorian poems cheap and arch, the weird word orders of some middle English poems tend to strike me instead as rhythmically challenging, and in some ways “modern.”

But I swear I never came across the name John Lydgate (1370-1449) until now. I mean, sure, it sounds familiar, but I couldn’t have told you when he lived or what he was known for. The thing that forced my hand in selecting him this week was the appraisal from the poetry foundation, “Readers with an open mind might actually find that they like him.” It’s as if the editors put their arm around and you and said, Good god, this soda tastes awful–here, try this.

Lydgate composed huge reams of verse, most of it in the form of long, rhymed religious poetry. He also wrote tons of shorter pieces, and here is one that from a glance at the title seems to be a tempus fugit lyric, but I think is actually about heaven. Need some help here–particularly with some of the vocabulary. Scholars will be pleased to know that an envoi or envoy, is a short concluding stanza to some French forms like a ballade or sestina; here Lydgate seems to use the addition to hammer home his theme. -ed.

THAT NOWE IS HEYE SOME-TYME WAS GRASE

Who clymbeth hyest gothe ofte base,
Ensample in medowes thow mayst se
That nowe is heye some tyme was grase.

Lenvoye:
Go forth anon, thou short dite,
Bydde folke not trust this worlde at all,
Bydde theme remembre on e cite
Which is a-bove celestiall;
Of precious stones bylt is the wall,
Who clymbeth theder gothe nevar base,
Out of that place may be no fall,
Ther is no heye but all fresh grase.

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Nov. 17, 2014: Like to these immeasurable mountains (Sir Thomas Wyatt)

Dear readers,

when I looked up Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder,

I thought, my goodness, he looks like Henry VIII. Lo, Thomas’s father served as a councilor to Henrys VII and VIII, and little Tommy himself (1503-1542) grew up a master of languages, jousting, and music, and thus indispensable to Henry VIII’s court. His first role there was “esquire of the king’s body and clerk of the king’s jewels,” tee hee. He was alleged to have been a lover of Anne Boleyn, and when 5 others were arrested in 1536 on suspicion of adultery with her, Wyatt himself was arrested and imprisoned in the tower for about a month. He managed to regain the King’s favor.

Wyatt’s poems circulated among members of the court, but were not published until after his death. 96 of his sonnets and love poems appeared in a famous anthology in 1557, but all his other writings remained in manuscript until the 19th and even 20th centuries. He is most famous for introducing and popularizing the sonnet form in English, though he shares that distinction with other poets. Here’s a 14-liner with a funky rhyme scheme (ABBA ABBA CDDC EE) and a robustly developed central metaphor. In most anthologies, untitled sonnets like this were named by their fist lines. -ed.

Like to these immeasurable mountains

Is my painful life, the burden of ire:

For of great height be they and high is my desire,

And I of tears and they be full of fountains.

Under craggy rocks they have full barren plains;

Hard thoughts in me my woeful mind doth tire.

Small fruit and many leaves their tops do attire;

Small effect with great trust in me remains.

The boist’rous winds oft their high boughs do blast;

Hot sighs from me continually be shed.

Cattle in them and in me love is fed.

Immovable am I and they are full steadfast.

Of the restless birds they have the tune and note,

And I always plaints that pass thorough my throat.

Nov. 11, 2014: GOD IS AN AMERICAN (Terrance Hayes)

Dear readers,

last week’s absence was just one of those laziness/spaced out sort of things. Thanks for your patience. I observed veterans day yesterday, hence no work or online presence.

But today! I’m pleased to report that it was a successful poetry weekend. Not only did I get to hear Terrance Hayes read from his book, Lighthead, but at the same conference, I ran into MV member and prize-winning poet Mary O’Donoghue, whom I haven’t seen in about 10 years, as she was about to step into a cab with her family. What a pleasant surprise!

I learned something from the grad student who introduced Terrance. He read a section from “Carp Poem,” and identified the “heat” of the poem, a concept he learned from Terrance. I’m not sure if Terrance himself thought up the term, but the student described it as where the poem really burns its fuel, focuses on its theme or central metaphor, gets dirty, lets its voice burst through. And as I sat in the conference room, 15 minutes early, I found “God Is an American” on p. 45, and the poem for this week. Because it’s a most perfect Shakespearean sonnet, aka English sonnet, in wonderful contemporary idiom. You know, the English sonnet goes ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Clasically they’d have five iambic feet per line, although Terrance stretches that out a little bit here. He also recycles one of the rhymes, so that technically the rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EAEA FF. I found this thing and I said, Ooh, ooh, that’s one of the best straight love poems I’ve seen in a while. But readers, help me out–where is the heat of this poem? -ed.

GOD IS AN AMERICAN

I still love words. When we make love in the morning,

your skin damp from a shower, the day calms.

Schadenfreude may be the best way to name the covering

of adulthood, the powdered sugar on a black shirt. I am

alone now on the top floor pulled by obsession, the ink

on my fingers. Sometimes what I feel has a difficult name.

Sometimes it is like the world before America, the kin-

ship of God’s fools and guardians, of hooligans; the dreams

of mothers with no children. A word can be the boot print

in a square of fresh cement and the glaze of morning.

Your response to my kiss is, I have a cavity. I am in

love with incompletion. I am clinging to your moorings.

Yes, I have a pretty good idea what beauty is. It survives

all right. It aches like an open book. It makes it difficult to live.

-2010