October 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

– Seiichi Niikuni

The kanji at the bottom means ama or rain. Below lines and lines of the semi-colon-like marks, which are really just the “dots” of the kanji freed from their frame, the ama symbol becomes a little house in a rainstorm, the structure dwarfed by the expanse of the sky.

“maggie and milly and molly and may”

May 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

– E. E. Cummings

A certain sort of fun derives from unlocking the meaning behind Cummings’ (yes, capitalized) idiosyncratic use of punctuation. It’s best to view his typographic decisions as examples of impressionistic flourishes. In this poem, one trick is present, and that is the lack of space between word and punctuation mark. For me, it means a gaggle of giggling girls out-of-breath from dancing, jumping, running on the beach, but I think its real meaning is meant to stay ambiguous.

Unscrambling the Waves at Goonhilly

April 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

– Edwin Morgan

Goonhilly Downs, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel, contains the Satellite Earth Station, a cluster of satellite dishes that was once the largest ground station in the world.  “Unscrambling the Waves at Goonhilly” starts as a garbled satellite transmission trying to relay the names of various sea creatures. Like the computer in “the Computer’s First Christmas Card”, the satellite, or the scientists manning the satellite, must make several attempts to sort out a simple message. The transmission ends up being a list of rather mundane marine life ending in telstar, which sounds like an aquatic animal but is actually a type of satellite. This semi-surprise ending emphasizes the tension between the phonetic and spatial aspects of the poem; when we hear star we think it will match with fish, but we see that the two could not be paired with each other. Part of the fun is watching the odd combos that result in the syllables bouncing off each other before finding their proper partner — dogphin (dog’s fin?), hadfish (lost at sea?), sardock (cynical sardine?)

Small Song

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

The reeds give
way to the

wind and give
the wind away.

– A. R. Ammons

A moment of insight, a wisp of wordplay, a perfect title.

Myfanwy at Oxford

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Pink may, double may, dead laburnum
  Shedding an Anglo-Jackson Shade,
Shall we ever, my staunch Myfanwy,
  Bicycle down to North Parade?
Kant on the handle-bars, Marx in the saddlebag,
  Light my touch on your shoulder-blade.

Sancta Hilda, Myfanwyatia
  Evansensis — I hold your heart,
Willowy banks of a willowy Cherwell a
  Willowy figure with lips apart,
Strong and willowy, strong to pillow me
  Gold Myfanwy, kisses and art.

Tubular bells of tall St. Barnabas,
  Single clatter above St. Paul,
Chasuble, acolyte, incense-offering,
  Spectacled faces held in thrall.
There in the nimbus and Comper tracery
  Gold Myfanwy blesses us all.

Gleam of gas upon Oxford station,
  Gleam of gas on her straight gold hair,
Hair flung back with an ostentation,
  Waiting alone for a girl friend there.
Second in Mods and a Third in Theology
  Come to breathe again Oxford air.

Her Myfanwy as in Cadena days,
  Her Myfanwy, a schoolgirl voice,
Tentative brush of a cheek in a cocoa crush,
  Coffee and Ulysses, Tennyson, Joyce,
Alpha-minded and other dimensional,
  Freud or Calvary? Take your choice.

Her Myfanwy? My Myfanwy.
  Bicycle bells in a Boar’s Hill Pine,
Stedman Triple from All Saints’ steeple,
  Tom and his hundred and one at nine,
Bells of Butterfield, caught in Keble,
  Sally and backstroke answer “Mine!

– John Betjeman

“Myfanwy at Oxford” chimes with the people and places of a halcyon era. Always a name-dropper, Betjeman invites Freud and Kant and Tennyson and Joyce to swing through the sunshine on the lap of a golden girl bicycling through the campus grounds. The sonic joy of the landscapes whooshing past (“Bells of Butterfield, caught in Keble”) must match the joy in the poet’s fluttering heart. That Betjeman’s love for Piper was ultimately unrequited (she would become a notable art critic and marry another man) makes the poem that much more poignant, a schoolboy’s dream suspended in amber.


February 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins

The lushness of “Inversnaid” can be attributed to Hopkins’ love of words (he collected unusual ones in his diaries); his love of nature, which he saw as an extension of God’s beauty; and cynghanedd, the use of heavy alliteration, assonance and internal rhyme, which he borrowed from Welsh poetry.

I love “Inversnaid” for its lyrical beauty. Each line is as vivid, as kinetic as the thing it describes, while the foliage of language — the twisty syntax and obscure words — keeps the sense partially hidden; I think a clear image of the waterfall emerges only after multiple readings. It’s like discovering a secret corner of the forest.

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