Monthly Archives: November 2018

Monday’s Verse 11/12/2018

Dear readers,

you’ve probably followed some commemorations of WWI this weekend. I couldn’t help but find one of the WWI poets for our reading today. We’ve read several of them (mostly British, but some American) over the years, but can’t recall if we’ve looked at Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) before. He was also a composer, and even before enlisting in WWI, had suffered nervous breakdowns. He was wounded twice in the war, the 2nd time by poison gas.

WWI is seen as definitive break with the world that came before, partially because of new technologies (machine guns, tanks, poison gas) that made the horrors of combat more vivid (Along with, of course, the scope of the war). And the WWI poets, faced directly with that imagery, pushed writing about the battlefield past the patriotic complacencies of prior war poetry.

This example, however, retreats a bit from the responsibility of the poet to depict the horrors of the battlefield. It is, instead, a stately sonnet (ABBA ABBA CDE CDE) that speaks unironically about the skill, might, mettle, and honur of the craft, and of the military action. Unless I’m reading it wrong — this is my first time with Ivor Gurney since using a big anthology for Brit Lit in about 1992. Have a good week,

ed.

TO THE POET BEFORE BATTLE

Now, youth, the hour of thy dread passion comes;

Thy lovely things must all be laid away;

And thou, as others, must face the riven day

Unstirred by rattle of the rolling drums,

Or bugles’ strident cry. When mere noise numbs

The sense of being, the sick soul doth sway,

Remember thy great craft’s honour, that they may say

Nothing in shame of poets. Then the crumbs

Of praise the little versemen joyed to take

Shall be forgotten; then they must know we are,

For all our skill in words, equal in might

And strong of mettle as those we honoured; make

The name of poet terrible in just war,

And like a crown of honour upon the fight.

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Monday’s Verse 11/6/2018 — election day special

Dear friends,

take time to vote, and take time to smell the roses, and then take 3 minutes for poetry. I really apologize for my inattention to the listserv the past couple weeks! Things happened, mistakes were made.

Jericho Brown published his first volume in 2008, and it won the American Book Award. He’s since published a second, placed poems in many of the top journals, and has been teaching creative writing at Atlanta’s Emory University. But I think today’s poem is the first time he’s appeared in Poetry Magazine. There are depths and layers to this one, using an extended metaphor of Achilles’ relationship to his lover and fellow soldier Patroclus from the Iliad.

Not knowing many of Mr. Brown’s poems, I don’t know if he worships assonance in all his work as much as in this example. I tend to like poems that look like this — really long at first glance, but really, not much more than a sonnet in total, with its consistently short lines. Three, four, or five words each, pretty much. And you still get a lot of internally rhyming syllables packed into those short segments. It’s sort of the opposite of Homer’s dactylic hexameter. He evokes some of Homer’s epic themes, but then leaves them be (in my reading). I think he’s more concerned with the personal in this poem — what is it to be in one’s own skin, what is it to put on another’s armor? And is their word play? Yes, there is word play. Have a field day. -ed.

TROJAN

When a hurricane sends

Winds far enough north

To put our power out,

We only think of winning

The war bodies wage

To prove the border

Between them isn’t real.

An act of God, so sweet.

No TV. No novel. No

Recreation but one

Another, and neither of us

Willing to kill. I don’t care

That I don’t love my lover.

Knowing where to stroke

In little light, knowing what

Will happen to me and how

Soon, these rank higher

Than a clear view

Of the face I’d otherwise

Flay had I some training

In combat, a blade, a few

Matches. Candles are

Romantic because

We understand shadows.

We recognize the shape

Of what once made us

Come, so we come

Thinking of approach

In ways that forgo

Substance. I’m breathing —

Heaving now —

In my own skin, and I

Know it. Romance is

An act. The perimeter

Stays intact. We make out

So little that I can’t help

But imagine my safety.

I get to tell the truth

About what kind

Of a person lives and who

Dies. Barefoot survivors.

Damned heroes, each

Corpse lit on a pyre.

Patroclus died because

He could not see

What he really was inside

His lover’s armor.

-October 2018