Category Archives: Lectures

PENDRAGON LECTURES

2015

Epiphanies
The Chaunt Royale
Sidney’s Ideal Poet
The Pindaric Ode
Elliot’s Perfect Critic
Scott’s Epic Voice
The Four Elements
Wendy Cope’s Villanelle
Transcreating Y Gododdin
Transcreating Thirukural
The Tryptych
Overintellectualisation

Me at Work.jpg

Epiphanies

Ye goon to Cauntebury – God yow speede,
The blisful martir quite yow youre meede!
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye sharpen yow to talen & to pleye;
Chaucer

Eighteen years ago this week, I found myself in a modern cell of a studentesque room, high over the rooftops of Portsmouth, England’s fairest port. In the distance I could make out the masts of HMS Victory, & about me in my room were scattered the first few tomes of my rudimentary poetry library. A few months previously, at the back-end of 1996, I had discovered that I was, in fact, & after all, a poet. Since those rather joyous, vernal days – I was only 20 at the time – both my capabilities in the poetic spheres & my library have grown somewhat. On a personal level, I am only a couple of years shy of completing what to Julius Ceasar would be a course of training in the Bardic Arts. In his Gallic Wars he states; ‘reports say that in the schools of the druids, they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training.’ Little did I know when setting out on my own poetic path that my spirit was more that of a Celtic bard than a conventional poet. A great deal of this has been my work with Clio, the Grecian muse of history; to the traditional Celtic bard, & indeed the poets of other more distant lands such as the Izibongo of Africa, a poet’s work consists of both praising their chiefs & chronicling the history of the tribe. Among the last exponents of this practice were the 17th century bards of the Earls of Thomond, who produced praise-poems & genealogies for their noble sponsors.

Despite a recent resurgance in dressing up as Druids down Wales way, the true British Bardic Colleges are long gone. To redress this, I have had to become both my own pupil & teacher, which has led to the initiation of these lectures. With only two years left until my graduation, so to speak, I thought it would be prudent to re-assess all the poetical studies I have undertaken these past two decades, & at the same time set some kind of universal benchmark, a personal dissertation in the poetic field, as certain poets have found themselves compelled to do from time-to-time (Sydney, Shelley, Arnold, Elliot). The final result, I believe, & if I pass my own stringent course of examination, will be my accession to some kind of druidical status: not the mistletoe-chopping, virgin-sacrificing type, but a modern-day version who may influence social matters through the word-weavings of his pen. The title obtained will be that of a Pendragon, whom in Ceasar’s words; ‘of all these druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them.’

To assist me in the endeavour, I am slowly gathering my library in from Scotland – the first installment will be arriving a couple of weeks back from East Lothian, being a couple of hundred books & my old computer. The whole occasion rather reminds me of a passage in the diary of Haiku poet Matsuo Basho, who wrote of his pilgrimage to the sacred mountain of Nikko:

Most of the things I had brought for my journey turned out to be impediments, and I had thrown them away. However, I still carried my paper robe, my straw raincoat, inkstone, brush, paper, lunch box, and other things on my back – quite a load for me. More and more my legs grew weaker and my body lost strength. Making wretched progress, with knees trembling, I carried on as best as I could, but I was utterly weary.

Among the tomes currently collated in the bedrooms of my house in Burnley (70 Laithe Street), is the very excellent Selected Essays of TS Elliot (1917-1932), which are something of a project similar to my own. Elliot was the last meaningful poet to write extensively on the art, & his essay-writing began, interestingly enough, exactly a century before my own studies shall end (1917/2017). Elliot, & his pal Ezra Pound, were the heralds of modern poetry, who muscled the iambic pentameter off the page & opened up the infinite array of possibilities latent within Free Verse. Since the highwater mark of the Beatnik movement in the 50s & 60s, Free Verse has rather waddled along like a duck out of water, & I believe it is time that the art of Poetry must in some way be reset, that we have come full circle. The twentieth century adventure is over, there is nothing more to be gained from persisting in the all-conquering modes utilized by the poets of my peerdom.

The same sentiments are etched into my copy of Elliot’s Essays – I do not know when I scribbled them down, but it must have been sometime after the twentieth of November 2003, when I was due to return the book to Brixton Library. My guess is 2006, for it was in the winter of that year, approaching the half-way point along the bardic path, that I completed my first batch of poetical essays, on the Sicilian island of Marettimo. The scholia form a perfectly apt prologue-cum-manifesto to what I hope to achieve as the Pendragon;

I have perfected poetry on a personal level & now wish to project that mastery onto a wider field by selecting the choicest fruits from the orchard… by founding a school to study all previous poetry as ‘classical’… to form a launch-pad for any future evolution of the Art.

Seven centuries ago, the heraldic war-shields of the English were slightly altered, with the leopards being changed into lions. In the same fashion, it is time for poets the world over to transform themselves into nobler, more powerful beasts, & once again become the respected equals of kings. For this reason, & one of self-determination, I have commenced this protracted journey through poetry & its accompanying literature. I do not know how many essays I shall write, but in due course I hope to establish a new agenda for poetical intercourse, which shall draw massively on the past, but also project well into the future. There are hundreds of thousands of poets out there as yet untrained & as yet unborn, & it is for these that I commit my own erudition into indelible worderie, beginning with the 20th century Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz;

On a steep street somewhere a schoolboy comes home from the library, carrying a book. The book has a title: Afloat in the Forest. Stained by the fingers of diligent Indians. A ray of sunlight on Amazon lianas, leaves spreading on the green water in mats so thick a man can walk across them. The dreamer wanders from one bank to the other, the monkeys, brown & hairy as a nut, make hanging bridges in trees above his head. He is the future reader of our poets

Burnley
April 18, 2015

The Chaunt Royale

In my view a good poem is one in which the form of the verse and the joining of its parts seems light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed.
Basho

Of all the poetic forms I have come across in my time, the ‘Chaunt Royale’ should be seen as the Queen of them all. Her heyday was in Northern France during the 15th century, with a revival of interest in late Victorian Britain. The form consists of 5 eleven-line staves (mini stanzas), & an ‘envoi’ of five lines to close – a total of 60 lines. I looked at the Chaunt Royale about a decade ago, & found the 11 lines a little too complex for the English artistic temperament; so dropp’d a line from the staves & made them into those wondrous ten-lined staves of Keats’ Odes. The results were pleasant, a terrifically usable form with with lots of possibilities for rhyming patterns within the 10-lines, including blank verse.

I also noticed that with the poem being divided into 5 main parts, a Chaunt Royale could be used as a mini-play, & so I began to pour the dramatic muse into its mould. I would wager a good ninety-nine percent of the world’s poets would not have heard of the Chaunt Royale, which is a shame as it allows the poet to become Shakespeare for a moment – fifty-five lines of dialogue are much easier to pull off than, let’s say, composing a Hamlet. My only work thus far with my readacted, refashion’d form was an 8-part Chaunt Royale Grande (my title) which told the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie & the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46. Here is Scene 6 set on Drummossie Moor on that desperate rainy morning. The British cannon are in the process of pounding the Jacobite lines.

Cumberland
Come see the Pretender in the distance,
His rascally & ragged rebel bands,
The Irish… & there look! the flag of France,
At last those fools are fed into our hands!
From Lancaster, Carlisle & Falkirk Moor
He slipped my net, I thought him rather shrewd,
But this, a broken field of boggy moor,
All credence lacks, his choice seems rather crude,
& should, methinks, have shut up in the town…
We princes, now, contest the British crown!

Lord Bury
Most noble Duke, as I surveyed the moor,
Close to those blasted pipes of shrieking skirl,
Above me passed the first shots of the war…
& as you hear our answer is aswirl;
Their lines harangued by wind & hail & sleet,
With cannonballs theirs is a sorry lot,
& hastening th’onset of their defeat,
We rain upon them thick shards of grape shot…
But wait! what is that roar? at last they charge!
Our guns shall seek the measure of their targe!

Wolfe
Sir, now your men in mortal combat meet,
All is confusion, noise, concern & heat,
On the left the thickest of the fighting,
Barrel’s brave boys on their broadswords biting,
But of this day the king will never fret,
Those heathen fall beneath infernal fire,
Or spitted on an English bayonet,
While on the right their charge shows no desire,
Strict discipline & guts rip thro’ that shield,
This godless place becomes their killing field.

Cumberland
Orpheus to my ears! The fleeing shout
& come to a decision the matter,
Tis strange to see the nation’s bravest rout,
Those boasted broadswords not as they flatter,
Not since Lord Noll had they such a thrashing,
Let Lord Ancram pursue them with the horse,
Hold no quarter, slaughter, sabres slashing,
& extirpate that race as fighting force,
Destroy clannism, burn their homes & grain,
Wretches like these shall never rise again!

Wolfe
Great tidings sir, when London hears the news,
The oldest wines shall happily be drunk,
The Bonnie Prince & all his bonnet blues
Into the freezing Moray Firth hath sunk,
The flower of the highlander lies strewn,
Upon this ghastly field & down the roads,
Shall ride many a merciless dragoon
All to the weeping streets of Inverness,
So far we have counted a thousand swords,
Now raise a cry for Britain & God bless!

D’Eguile
The crucial battle has been fought,
The tartan torn & strewn,
The fleeing rats so easy caught,
VENGEANCE shall cut the Celtic throat
Beneath a weeping moon!

In the past century or so, poetry has detached itself from a tradition going back thousands of years, beyond the Egyptians & even the Sumerians. Is it not now the right time to, if not banish completely, at least demote Free Verse from its domination of the page, recognizing the form only as a mere medium through which we can translate some of the time’s mimesi. Let us instead enrich the poetical sensibilities of both ourselves & that of the entire zeitgeist. Any old fool can chuck a few words down on a piece of paper in slap-dash fashion, but if you can pull off a half-decent Chaunt Royale, you will have obtained clearer view of the art form as a fully composite & universal being. You may still write better in Free Verse, but the fact you have a Chaunt Royale in the armoury means prospectively wider horizons.

April 24, 2015

Sidney’s Ideal Poet

Even among the most barbarous and simple Indians, where no writing is, yet have they their poets who make and sing songs, which they call “Areytos,” both of their ancestor’s deeds and praises of their gods.
Sir Philip Sidney

It has often been my pleasure, upon being asked the question, ‘what do you do?’ to answer with confidence that I am a Poet. I love the way a bonnie lady’s ear performs a slight twitch on first hearing the magc word. Far from their vision of a romantic, sonnet-wielding, frantic & beautiful god-between-the-bedsheets, however, there is actual meaning behind the word, what does it actually mean to be a poet? First thing’s first, a poet’s soul must contain a symphonium of music. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Biographia Litereia, writes;

The man that hath not music in his soul can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery,–(even taken from nature, much more when transplanted from books, as travels, voyages, and works of natural history),–affecting incidents, just thoughts, interesting personal or domestic feelings, and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem,–may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talent and much reading, who, as I once before observed, has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural poetic genius; the love of the arbitrary end for a possession of the peculiar means. But the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination; and this together with the power of reducing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learned. It is in these that “poeta nascitur non fit.”

These musical gifts are used by the poet to startle his peers, who would in wonderment listen to his words. Before long, this natural dynamic elevated the poet to the position of teacher, a being which would define the Universe; speaking on behalf of the gods & crafting morality en route. Edward Kelly, in his prologium to Edmund Spenser’s Shephearde’s Calendar, tells us (after Plato), ‘the first inuention of Poetry was of very vertuous intent. For…some learned man being more hable then the rest, for speciall gyftes of wytte and Musicke, would take vpon him to sing fine verses to the people, in prayse eyther of vertue or of victory or of immortality or such like. At whose wonderful gyft al men being astonied and as it were rauished, with delight, thinking (as it was indeede) that he was inspired from aboue, called him vatem.’ The Romans considered the Vatem, or Vates, a divine seer, whose task it was to raise mens’ minds up from the mortal moral morass, enlightening them with heavenly-assisted visions & improving public virtue through divine inspiration. A couple of years later, another Elizabethan poet, Philip Sidney, elucidated;

Among the Romans a poet was called “vates,” which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or prophet, as by his conjoined words “vaticinium,” and “vaticinari,” is manifest; so heavenly a title did that excellent people bestow upon this heart-ravishing knowledge

This passage is a well-spring from the Apologie for Poetry, through which Philip Sidney became the first in a long line of English poet-critics. Written in 1580-81, but printed posthumously for the first time in 1595, within these 60-odd pages exists the best description we possess of what it is to be a poet. He wrote the Apologie after a personal attack upon him & his beloved art by Stephen Gosson, whose 1579 treatise, the School of Abuse, sets about;

Conteining a plesaunt inuective against Poets, Pipers, Plaiers, Iesters & such like Catterpillars of a Commonwealth! Setting up the Flagge of Defiaunce to their mischeieuous exercise & ouerthrowing their Bulwarkes by Prophane Writers, Naturel reason & common experience

Perhaps Gosson had a point, for in the Apologie Sidney himself complains that, ‘England, the mother of excellent minds, should be grown so hard a step-mother to poets.’ Sydney remonstrates against the squallid depths to which the art had degenerated among the English since the heady times of Chaucer, almost two centuries before. Sidney’s point is that the art was not at fault, but the artists. Using ancient poets as his models, Sydney redefine’d the image of the Muses & their Ministers. Such a bold & beautiful statement holds an impressive resonance in these our modern times, for the vision of a poet as portrayed by Sydney (& thus the ancients) is a far cry from the impedantic disrespect of poetry which litters today’s poetical bookshelves.

Of the Apologie, JC Collins writes, ‘a better introduction to the study of poetry could scarcely be conceived, for not only does it put poetry in its proper place as an instrument of education, but it deals with it generally as only a poet himself could deal with it, with illuminating insight, with most inspiring enthusiasm.’ To Sidney, the raison d’etre of his chosen art was to ‘plant goodness even in the secretest cabinet of our souls.’ Little poetry these days comes near to even touching the true divine spark within us all, which has in consequence seen a gradual loss of respect for the art across the human condition. As I said in my first lecture, I intend to reset the clock, so to speak, & to do this we must get back to root, to identify the original kernel of the poet’s soul, beginning with a selection of passages from the Sydney’s vision of the ideal poet.


 

Poets are Fathers in Learning: In the noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges…
Let learned Greece, in any of her manifold sciences, be able to show me one book before Musæus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history he brought that can say any writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some others are named, who having been the first of that country that made pens deliverers of their knowledge to posterity, may justly challenge to be called their fathers in learning…
In the Italian language, the first that made it to aspire to be a treasure-house of science, were the poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch; so in our English were Gower and Chaucer; after whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent foregoing, others have followed to beautify our mother tongue, as well in the same kind as other arts.

Poet as Creator: Let us see how the Greeks have named it, and how they deemed of it. The Greeks named him a Poet, which name hath, as the most excellent, gone through other languages; it cometh of this word poiein which is ‘to make;’ wherein…
Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into another nature; in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew; forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demi-gods, Cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as he goeth hand in hand with Nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit. Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done; neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-much-loved earth more lovely; her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden.

Poets Fashion Ideal Models: Poesy, therefore, is an art of imitation; for so Aristotle termeth it in the word Mimesis; that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth: to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture, with this end, to teach and delight…
It is not rhyming and versing that maketh a poet… but it is that feigning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful teaching, which must be the right describing note to know a poet by…
To bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses; if they will learn aright, why, and how, that maker made him…
brought forth so true a lover as Theagenes; so constant a friend as Pylades; so valiant a man as Orlando; so right a prince as Xenophon’s Cyrus; and so excellent a man every way as Virgil’s Æneas?

Poethood: This purifying of wit, this enriching of memory, enabling of judgment, and enlarging of conceit, which commonly we call learning…
Directed to the highest end of the mistress knowledge, by the Greeks called architektonike which stands, as I think, in the knowledge of a man’s self…
The final end is, to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse by, their clay lodgings, can be capable of.


 

Poets just don’t think like Sidney today – which I suppose, is the chief problem with modern poetry. So much information available at the click of a button these days, that the poets feel neither duty-bound or capable of teaching people very much. This is a sad state of affairs, & I firmly believe that Poetry should no longer deny its original object a stated half a milennia ago by Sidney. ‘A poem is never finished’ they say, & neither is the reason why poetry exists – to teach mankind. We must remember that it is this art’s particular ability to captivate the best words in their best order which amazes its audience, & it is from such a position of intellectual grandeur that mankind may yet be given a worthy education. We poets must begin to raise the bar once more: no-one in the West is absorbing long forgotten or as yet undiscover’d foreign forms; no-one is pushing back the boundaries of the art with conviction; no-one – god dammit – is inventing. All we have now is a sterile pond where bubbling gasses gloop to the surface – cut off by some man-made landslide from the waters of the Parnassian streams.

To rise out of the muck, a poet should return to teaching, Knowledge these days is epic, multiplying almost as quickly as the Big Bang. But poetry’s advantage is its concision, & with it an inherent ability in the arrangements of words so beautiful that people actually enjoy the experience of learning. Now I am not saying the following verses are beautiful – it was an earlier exercise of my youth – but the point is I have stored some very important information in some rather cute-ish lines.

If you have an egg to boil
Heat water up by kettle coil
Let it bubble in a pan
Add an egg & boil to plan
Runny eggs takes minutes three
Served with toast & cups of tea
Hard boil’d egg nine minutes paced
Add mayonnaise & salt to taste

To make a curry hot & tasty
Fry your veggies with fresh chilli
Mix some meat in if you like
Fleshy ham to fresh caught pike
Milk & tomatoes make the sauce
Good curry powder puffs the force
Add other seasonings to taste
Then stew awhile, no need for haste.

Not awarding-winning stuff, granted, but useful. Anyhow, that is all for today’s lecture, but I shall leave you with the close of the Apologie, which sees Sidney at his cockiest & eloquent best;

Since the ever praiseworthy poesy is full of virtue, breeding delightfulness, and void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name of learning; since the blames laid against it are either false or feeble; since the cause why it is not esteemed in England is the fault of poet-apes, not poets; since, lastly, our tongue is most fit to honour poesy, and to be honoured by poesy; I conjure you all that have had the evil luck to read this ink-wasting toy of mine, even in the name of the Nine Muses, no more to scorn the sacred mysteries of poesy; no more to laugh at the name of poets, as though they were next inheritors to fools; no more to jest at the reverend title of “a rhymer;” but to believe, with Aristotle, that they were the ancient treasurers of the Grecian’s divinity; to believe, with Bembus, that they were the first bringers in of all civility; to believe, with Scaliger, that no philosopher’s precepts can sooner make you an honest man, than the reading of Virgil; to believe, with Clauserus, the translator of Cornutus, that it pleased the heavenly deity by Hesiod and Homer, under the veil of fables, to give us all knowledge, logic, rhetoric, philosophy natural and moral, and “quid non?” to believe, with me, that there are many mysteries contained in poetry, which of purpose were written darkly, lest by profane wits it should be abused; to believe, with Landin, that they are so beloved of the gods that whatsoever they write proceeds of a divine fury. Lastly, to believe themselves, when they tell you they will make you immortal by their verses.

But if (fie of such a but!) you be born so near the dull-making cataract of Nilus, that you cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry; if you have so earth-creeping a mind, that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry, or rather, by a certain rustical disdain, will become such a Mome, as to be a Momus of poetry; then, though I will not wish unto you the ass’s ears of Midas, nor to be driven by a poet’s verses, as Bubonax was, to hang himself; nor to be rhymed to death, as is said to be done in Ireland; yet thus much curse I must send you in the behalf of all poets; that while you live, you live in love, and never get favour, for lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph.

April 28, 2015

The Pindaric Ode

He tried to tear the horror from himself,
Searching in the sockets of his eyes with needles
Till they burst blood
The Phoenician Woman

In my last post I wished to demonstrate that the true raison d’etre of poetry is to spread proper morality throughout humanity. The Poet Saints of India are a fine & longevous example – such as the sagely Duda Dayal – who often broke through the restrictions of caste to preach social & religious reform though the medium of song. As a believer that a poet’s path should be one of a didactic nature, I spent most of yesterday composing a new poem on a topic which I feel quite strongly about. Just as Sidney states that a poet should use an ideal character as the model for his teachings, so we modern poets must utilise the unideal to ward off our children from the many pitfalls of the modern state. These I saw & conversed with in abundance all across my previous city of residence, Edinburgh, which was not the setting of the seminal mid-nineties, drug-addl’d film, Trainspotting, for nothing. The cheap heroin that flooded the city in the 80s & 90s has had a profound generational effect, & three decades later the consumption of Skag in all its forms is rife throughout Scotland’s capital, & especially in Leith, its old port.

During my sojurn up in ‘Firenze de la Nord,’ with some discomfort I witnessed a number of promising youths have their lives destroyed by this most wickedest of demons. Never having taken the drug myself, I often wonder’d how it could exert such a powerful force over the human spirit. Thus, yesterday, established well-away from Edinburgh’s seedy underbelly, & given freedom to reflect on the matter in the upmost tranquility, I began to write a few lines. These slowly took the shape of a Pindaric Ode, a wee tour-de-force into which I could consisely pour a decade of observations & frustrations. The result I find pleasing, a little aggressive, yes, but Heroin Addiction is something that cannot be treated with kid gloves… ask the long-suffering parents & partners who are forced to endure the tortured wails & infernal screams of their loved ones as they writhe in their shit-caked, sweat-sodden sheets, withdrawing in their cell-like rooms. This, I am afraid, is real life, & is something that is ignored by the best of our poets these days. There is something not quite middle-class enough about such a theme, with today’s poetry publishers would never dreaming of touching such a hot potato, instead diverting the reading public’s attention to… let me for a moment take a random book from my shelf… it is, NEW POETRIES III: AN ANTHOLOGY edited by Michael Schmidt 2002… to… The Radiator in Your Room (Caroline Bird) / Big Blue Sofas (Linda Chase) / The Calligraphy Shop (Ben Downing) &… well, you get the picture.

Yesterday’s ode conforms to my newly-forged concept of poetry; that is, we have come full circle in the Art & are faced with something of a blank page. The form I have chosen for the occasion is an ancient one, created by the Greek poet Pindar in the 5th century BC to celebrate the victors at the earliest Olympic Games. John Potter in his Archæologia Græca, writes; ‘it was customary, on some occasions, to dance around the altars, whilst they sung the sacred hymns, which consisted of three stanzas or parts; the first of which, called strophe, which was sung in turning from east to west; the other, named antistrophe, in returning from west to east; the other, named antistrophe, in returning from west to east; then they stood before the altar & sung the epode, which was the last part of the song.’ If the Pindaric Ode is what I call the MOULD, then the MEASURE is as modern as it gets, for it is essentially Free Verse, captured within the order’d confines of a tercet stave. Purists on both sides would balk at such a concept, but it is only in such a spirit of re-unification that poetry may gather its forces & move forwards as a stronger being for the betterment of mankind. Overall, however, this hybrid form of mine, this blend of old & new, still remains a Pindaric Ode, for it is the structure of the MOULD which pre-dominates the determination of a poem’s form.

Time swings, things change, & nothing is truly impermanent; thus in the spirit of those Poet-Saints of India, let us hope that a future reader of my new ode will find a phrase or two embedded in their consciousness with enough alacrity that whenever they are offered a ‘hit’ of heroin, they will point-blank refuse & declare rather bluntly that those fools who stooped to offer them such a filthy, soul-destroying drug, are nothing but…


 

JUNKIE FUCKS

Strophe

There’s a Junkie Fuck
Everywhere you look
: in Leith

Great Junkie Street
Five-minutes-to-midnight
Zombie-crowded cash-machines

Kids like, ‘Where’s-my-crack-pipe?’ boy
Grinnin’ into school
Thinkin’ he was cool

‘Im never injecting,’ he blusters upsetly
Blazin’ about his Best Friend’s funeral:
At the Wake… to ease his grief… shoots up first time!

His crack-whore ‘Wudya,’ works the Leith Links’s edges
A posh-painted Picture pick’d up by drunk dockers
While her daughter chews straws at McDonalds

Her looks are fading, she turns to friends
Getting them hooked so maybe they’ll pay
For these needles fresh ‘besties’ dare share

There’s a Smackie Kunt
Always on the hunt
: in Leith

Antistrophe

There’s a Junkie Worm
Every corner turn’d
: in Leith

The Skag is a slippery, shrieking Beast
Cunning as Fox, strong as Lion
Foul as farting Pig

Don’t listen to what they say, but how they say it,
Bullshit Defence Mechanism takes control
Insiduous serpent contorting thought

As poppy seeds to thick’ning branches grow
This crude oil-slick that brings each death-rush on
More hardens & more blackens punctured veins

How the hell can ya call it glamorous?
When glampin’ means beggin’ up the North Bridge
Contemplating suicide in torn, soggy shoes

Viledom’s finest scourge Leith Walk
Piping, ‘We are young… We can handle it…’
‘…We could drop it just like that.’

But when they join the clucking Cold Turkeys
& Methadone Monkeys in gibbering clinics
It’s more { { p e a c e f u l } } just to try it one last time

There’s a Bag-Head Prick
Itching itself sick
: in Leith

Epode

There’s a Junkie Fool
Shuffling past yer school
: in Leith

I was twenty-one once,
Busking down Bournemouth
Boozing wi’ beggars

I’d follow’d ‘em into a nappy-dirty yard
Watching ‘em cook up their hard-earned stuff
& said, ‘I’ll have a go,’ in all innocence

‘You don’t wanna try,’ said Feathers,
‘Do I not?… alright…’ three days later
I found him overdosing in his tent

I took his hard-earn’d wisdom with me
Tossing Junkie friends from my life
Tough-love, but sanity follow’d

Never babysit a Smack-Head!
If you show signs of weakness they will take
take & take & lie & take & steal & take & scrounge

take & take & lie & steal, take & scrounge & take
when you’ve stopp’d givin’ they turn round & hiss,
‘I thought you were my friend?’

There’s a Junkie Shmuck
Lonely, Soul-less, Stuck : in Leith

April 30th

Elliot’s Perfect Critic

But you who seek to give & merit fame,
And justly bear a Critic’s noble name,
Be sure yourself & your own reach to know
How far your genius, taste, & learning go;
Alexander Pope

TS Eliot was the last great poet-critic to really get his boots dirty while attempting to fathom the science behind the mystery of the noble art of poetry. He began his efforts at the age of 38 years, the same as I, just passed his mid-thirties, when a man’s mind is working at its optimum peak. The year was 1917, exactly a century after Coleridge – the previous incumbent – had produced his remarkable Biographia Literaria. Elliot admits his own place in the scheme when he writes, ‘Coleridge was perhaps the greatest of English critics, and in a sense the last. After Coleridge we have Matthew Arnold; but Arnold — I think it will be conceded — was rather a propagandist for criticism than a critic, a popularizer rather than a creator of ideas.’ Towards the end of Elliot’s own essay-writing (1920), all of his studies began to distil themselves into his magnificently erratic ‘Wasteland,’ the game-changing poem which went off like a bomb in the cloistered academes of the English-speaking world; changing the landscape of poetry, & all its conventions, forever. A wonderful description was etched by a certain J.M (Double Dealer 5: May 1923), who described it as ‘the agonized outcry of a sensitive romanticist drowning in a sea of jazz.’

I shall be disseminating Elliot’s first two lectures (& his introduction) which appeared in the 1921 collection, The Sacred Wood: The Perfect Critic & the Imperfect Critic. In these he assimilates & extols the purpose & mechanisms of poetic criticism, which are of great importance to any modern poet wishing to proceed along the deeper channels of the Art. We moderns must all become poet-critics; it is not enough these days to just write the stuff, we must understand everything about it as well. We are entering a time of judgement, for the grand old gallery which holds the work of our masters is having a massive paint-job. When Elliot says, ‘once a poet is accepted, his reputation is seldom disturbed, for better or worse,’ it is up to us to challenge such a stiff, textbook attitude, & make our own minds up. Time is progressing; the canon is increasing; the rules are changing. Some of the longest-esteemed poems may find themselves packaged in bubble-wrap & placed in the cellars, while others may be unwrapped & returned to a place of privilege for the world to admire once again. The Age of the Orcs is over – the time of the Accertamento Grande has come.

During my recent skirmishes with the professors of History across the world (I won 3-0 by the way), I found a similar lazy attitude to the past; when the writings of older scholars are treated as unshakeable dogma & rarely challenged. For the budding bard, you must read everything, & read it with a critical intelligence that widens its inherent abilities with the acquisition of every new poem read. Elliot ruminates on the matter with, ‘the new impressions modify the impressions received from the objects already known. An impression needs to be constantly refreshed by new impressions in order that it may persist at all; it needs to take its place in a system of impressions. And this system tends to become articulate in a generalized statement of literary beauty.’ It can be said that one’s critical intelligence exists through an excess of study, followed by the establishment of personal taste after later meditations on the subject matter. ‘When one creative mind is better than another,’ opines Elliot, ‘the reason often is that the better is the more critical.’ Elliot’s statement was improved upon by a real-life critic, Marianne Moore (Dial 70: March 1921) who, while reviewing the Sacred Wood, wrote, ‘the connection between criticism & creation is close; criticism naturally deals with creation but it is equally true that criticism inspires creation.’

Despite criticism transcending appreciation, to criticize we must first be able to appreciate. During the course of your studies, what you will notice is that each poem contains three basic elements; the poet’s personality, the zeitgeist in which it was written, & the great tradition of Poetry to which all poems belong. By analazying these three pillars of criticism, the future poet-critic shall be able to appreciate a poem in its full & proper context. Of the three, the poetic tradition is the most important, when in Elliot’s words we should be able to, ‘see the best work of our time and the best work of twenty-five hundred years ago with the same eyes,’ which he bases upon his own, ‘conception of poetry as a living whole of all the poetry that has ever been written.’ You must see a poet not as a ‘dead poet,’ but an ever-living entity whose immortal essence is stored within their individual contributions to the Art. To re-read a dead poet is to resurrect the ghost, so to speak, & to converse with them over a cup of warm ambrosia in your place of study. This leads us quite neatly to these wonderful passages of Elliot’s, which every poet should learn something of by heart;

Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year ; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence ; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional.

What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered…and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new.

{The Critic} will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.

That Thomas Stearns Elliot was a poet of the first rank cannot be denied; the 434 lines of his modernist Wasteland have had as much effect on the world as Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura thro’ the Middle Ages. Inspired stuff, yes, but when we read through Eliot’s essays, we observe his perfidious descent into the parlor-room conversaziones of Virginia Woolfe’s London set. His essays contain, subconsciously, some of the scurrilous psychopomp of the still-living Freud, & on occasion his writings are overwhelmed by an over-active mind, leaving the reader somewhat floating in the middle of the air, grasping for a rope to reel themselves to safety. At certain times, however, Elliot’s vision is so penetrating, lasar-beam thoughts clearing the rubble from the obscurer caves of Parnassus. It is these quintessences I have hoped to capture in this lecture, which I shall conclude with this following nugget of Elliot’s, who definitely possessed…

…the first requisite of a critic: interest in his subject, and ability to communicate an interest in it.

May 1st

Scott’s Epic Voice

In my last post I mentioned a concept of the Accertamento Grande, which is essentially a process of re-reading the poetry in existence & trying to establish some kind of order of preferment, to identify the most pristeen models through which we can teach our future poets & bards. As an example, in today’s lecture I would like to restore a quite forgotten poem to the public consciousness. It was composed at the height of the Napoleonic phrenzie, in the summer of 1811, by Sir Walter Scott. Coincidence or not, the poem was divided into the same Spenserian stanzas as those which the young Lord Byron was dividing his Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage, a poem which he gave to his publishers on returning from his European tour in that same year of 1811. In today’s lecture I shall be looking at Scott’s ‘Vision of Don Roderick’ from a certain angle; that is his fashioning of a most sublime rendition of the poetic voice used by Homer. The rest of Scott’s poetic output is rather insipid: the verse-ballads, while selling extremely well, contain little of the true waters of Parnassus. Of this Scott, Walter Bagehot describes an artist who;

Had no sense of smell, little sense of taste, almost no ear for music (he knew a few, perhaps three, scotch tunes, which he avowed that he had learnt in sixty years, by hard labour & mental association) & not much turn for the minutiae of nature in any way. The effect of this may be seen in some of the best descriptive passages of his poetry, & we will not deny that it does (although proceeding from a sensuous defect), in a certain degree, add to their popularity. He deals with the main outlines & great points of nature, never attends to any others, & in this respect he suits the comprehension & knowledge of many who know only those essential & considerable outlines.

Not the most complimentary of words – yet as we shall see Scott’s ‘Vision’ at times matches the solemn grandeur of Homer, Dante & especially Milton, whose meter was caught by Scott’s ear & transferred into his own poem. ‘The Vision of Don Roderick,’ was printed at Edinburgh by James Ballantyne & Co. in 1811, before Napoleon’s march on Moscow & at a time when most of Continental Europe was held in his Corsican clutches. Only the Iberian peninsular was proving to be a problem, with the Spanish revolting against Napoleon’s brother’s rule, assisted manfully by the Portuguese & British with the whole confederation led by the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The poem was written to celebrate this campaign, when the British were holding their own against a megalomaniac, led by a true ative hero in the vein of Achilles or Aeneas. The poem’s chief contents are based upon an episode in Ginés Pérez de Hita’s Guerras civiles de Granada, a book which Scott had devoured as a boy. The mimesis from thaose readings were stored up for years in his memory banks, & then suddenly had a channel through which to pour, the force of which elevated Scott’s poetic voice from rustic piper to Olympian bard, from layman’s lyrics to dithyrambic neologisms. His own introduction reads;

The following Poem is founded upon a Spanish Tradition, bearing, in general, that Don Roderick, the last Gothic King of Spain, when the invasion of the Moors was depending, had the temerity to descend into an ancient vault, near Toledo, the opening of which had been denounced as fatal to the Spanish Monarchy. The legend adds, that his rash curiosity was mortified by an emblematical representation of those Saracens who, in the year 714, defeated him in battle, and reduced Spain under their dominion. I have presumed to prolong the Vision of the Revolutions of Spain down to the present eventful crisis of the Peninsula, and to divide it, by a supposed change of scene, into, THREE PERIODS. The FIRST of these represents the Invasion of the Moors, the Defeat and Death of Roderick, and closes with the peaceful occupation of the country by the victors. The SECOND PERIOD embraces the state of the Peninsula when the conquests of the Spaniards and Portuguese in the East and West Indies had raised to the highest pitch the renown of their arms; sullied, however, by superstition and cruelty. An allusion to the inhumanities of the Inquisition terminates this picture. The LAST PART of the Poem opens with the state of Spain previous to the unparalleled treachery of BUONAPARTE, gives a sketch of the usurpation attempted upon that unsuspicious and friendly kingdom, and terminates with the arrival of the British succours.

Here we have an epic tri-parted echo of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Scott himself thought the poem was a mere ‘Drum and Trumpet performance’ (letter to William Hayley, 2 July 1811), but this sentiment reminds us of Virgil, who wanted to throw the Aeniad into the flames, before being persuaded to preserve his epic for the Roman people. Scott’s handling of an epic sweep through Spanish history propels his wordsmithery to heights he never before, or afterwards, got close to. Here are three examples of Scott’s work; a passage from his famous Lay of the Last Minstrel, one from his Marmion, followed by a stanza from the Vision.

They bid me sleep, the bid me pray,
They say my brain is warp’d & wrung
I cannot sleep on Highland brea,
I cannot pray in Highland tongue
But were I now where Allan glides
Or heard my native’s Devan tides
So sweetly would I rest & pray
That Heaven would close my wintry day.
Last Minstrel

Not far advanced was morning day,
When Marmion did his troop array
To Surrey’s camp to ride;
He had safe-conduct for his band,
Beneath the Royal seal & hand,
And Douglas gave a guide;
The ancient Earl, with stately grace,
Would Clara on her Palfrey place
& whispered in an undertone.
Marmion

So passed that pageant. Ere another came,
The visionary scene was wrapped in smoke
Whose sulph’rous wreaths were crossed by sheets of flame;
With every flash a bolt explosive broke,
Till Roderick deemed the fiends had burst their yoke,
And waved ‘gainst heaven the infernal gonfalone!
For War a new and dreadful language spoke,
Never by ancient warrior heard or known;
Lightning and smoke her breath, and thunder was her tone.
Vision

There is no doubt we get a different sensation from reading the first two stanza than the third. They seem different voices, but what has happened is that Scott is speaking with the immortal tones of the epic voice. Similarily, the voice Milton used in his Paradise Lost was different to those used in his Nativity Ode or his Lycidas; Virgil’s Aeneid is different from his pastoral Eclogues & Dante’s Vita Nuova is different from his Divine Comedy. I shall now elucidate more of Scott’s usage of traditional epic themes in the ‘Vision.’ Among these we may see Don Roderick’s descent into an enchanted cave to learn the outcome of the Moorish invasion, which mirrors the passage of Aeneas into the underworld to listen to the prophesies upon the future Roman Republic. Elsewhere in the poem we have;

The Epic Hero

Lives there a strain, whose sounds of mounting fire
May rise distinguished o’er the din of war;
Or died it with yon Master of the Lyre
Who sung beleaguered Ilion’s evil star?
Such, WELLINGTON, might reach thee from afar,
Wafting its descant wide o’er Ocean’s range;
Nor shouts, nor clashing arms, its mood could mar,
All, as it swelled ‘twixt each loud trumpet-change,
That clangs to Britain victory, to Portugal revenge!

The Invocation

But we, weak minstrels of a laggard day
Skilled but to imitate an elder page,
Timid and raptureless, can we repay
The debt thou claim’st in this exhausted age?
Thou givest our lyres a theme, that might engage
Those that could send thy name o’er sea and land,
While sea and land shall last; for Homer’s rage
A theme; a theme for Milton’s mighty hand
How much unmeet for us, a faint degenerate band!

Tribute to Older Epics

Ye mountains stern! within whose rugged breast
The friends of Scottish freedom found repose;
Ye torrents! whose hoarse sounds have soothed their rest,
Returning from the field of vanquished foes;
Say, have ye lost each wild majestic close
That erst the choir of Bards or Druids flung,
What time their hymn of victory arose,
And Cattraeth’s glens with voice of triumph rung,
And mystic Merlin harped, and grey-haired Llywarch sung?

Here, Scott is alluding to the poem Y Gododdin, etched by the 7th century bard Aneirin. On its discovery in the 18th century, a startled Lewis Morris proclaimed to Edward Richard (1758); ‘Who do you think I have at my elbow, as happy as ever Alexander thought himself after a conquest? No less a man than Ieuan Fardd who hath discovered some old MSS. Lately that nobody of this age or the last ever dreamed of. And this discovery is to him & me as great as that of America by Colombus. We have found an epic poem in the British called Gododin, equal at least to the Iliad, Aeneid or Paradise Lost. Tudfwlch & Marchlew are heroes fiercer than Achilles or Satan

The Plea for Immortality

For not till now, how oft soe’er the task
Of truant verse hath lightened graver care,
From Muse or Sylvan was he wont to ask,
In phrase poetic, inspiration fair;
Careless he gave his numbers to the air,
They came unsought for, if applauses came:
Nor for himself prefers he now the prayer;
Let but his verse befit a hero’s fame,
Immortal be the verse!–forgot the poet’s name!

Epic Geographical Sweeps

Explore those regions, where the flinty crest
Of wild Nevada ever gleams with snows,
Where in the proud Alhambra’s ruined breast
Barbaric monuments of pomp repose;
Or where the banners of more ruthless foes
Than the fierce Moor, float o’er Toledo’s fane,
From whose tall towers even now the patriot throws
An anxious glance, to spy upon the plain
The blended ranks of England, Portugal, and Spain.

Supernatural Agents

Fixed was the right-hand Giant’s brazen look
Upon his brother’s glass of shifting sand,
As if its ebb he measured by a book,
Whose iron volume loaded his huge hand;
In which was wrote of many a fallen land
Of empires lost, and kings to exile driven:
And o’er that pair their names in scroll expand –
“Lo, DESTINY and TIME! to whom by Heaven
The guidance of the earth is for a season given.”

Heroic Speeches

That Prelate marked his march–On banners blazed
With battles won in many a distant land,
On eagle-standards and on arms he gazed;
“And hopest thou, then,” he said, “thy power shall stand?
Oh! thou hast builded on the shifting sand,
And thou hast tempered it with slaughter’s flood;
And know, fell scourge in the Almighty’s hand,
Gore-moistened trees shall perish in the bud,
And by a bloody death shall die the Man of Blood!”

Catalogues

From Alpuhara’s peak that bugle rung,
And it was echoed from Corunna’s wall;
Stately Seville responsive war-shot flung,
Grenada caught it in her Moorish hall;
Galicia bade her children fight or fall,
Wild Biscay shook his mountain-coronet,
Valencia roused her at the battle-call,
And, foremost still where Valour’s sons are met,
First started to his gun each fiery Miquelet.

The Epic Simile

As that sea-cloud, in size like human hand,
When first from Carmel by the Tishbite seen,
Came slowly overshadowing Israel’s land,
A while, perchance, bedecked with colours sheen,
While yet the sunbeams on its skirts had been,
Limning with purple and with gold its shroud,
Till darker folds obscured the blue serene
And blotted heaven with one broad sable cloud,
Then sheeted rain burst down, and whirlwinds howled aloud:-

Here we have the best example amongst the entire Romantic corpus of the Epic – or Heroic – simile. This is an elaborate piece of showcasing, a wonderful learned little ornament that adds dignity & variety to a poem. Another example would be Milton’s;

He stood & called
His Legions, Angel Forms, who lay intrans’t
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallambrosa, where th’Etrurian shades
High overarch’t imbower

That Scott mentions Milton a couple of times in his poem & has fashioned a similar sounding epic voice tells us a copy of Paradise Lost must have lain before Scott as he wrote. That Scott was using Milton can be truly discerned from the following two stanzas, in which Napoleon is portrayed as the satanic anti-christ attempting to storm Spain, a country portrayed by Scott as another Eden.

“Who shall command Estrella’s mountain-tide
Back to the source, when tempest-chafed, to hie?
Who, when Gascogne’s vexed gulf is raging wide,
Shall hush it as a nurse her infant’s cry?
His magic power let such vain boaster try,
And when the torrent shall his voice obey,
And Biscay’s whirlwinds list his lullaby,
Let him stand forth and bar mine eagles’ way,
And they shall heed his voice, and at his bidding stay.

“Else ne’er to stoop, till high on Lisbon’s towers
They close their wings, the symbol of our yoke,
And their own sea hath whelmed yon red-cross powers!”
Thus, on the summit of Alverca’s rock
To Marshal, Duke, and Peer, Gaul’s Leader spoke.
While downward on the land his legions press,
Before them it was rich with vine and flock,
And smiled like Eden in her summer dress; –
Behind their wasteful march a reeking wilderness.

One of the key components of an epic is its narrator, & Scott plays the role well, tho’ the poem gets lost a little in the middle. The epic voice is an elaborate creature which must be sustained throughout an entire production, but the poem shows moments of melancholia & dullness. The attempt, however, was a noble one, possessing genuine moments of clear magnitude, which if sustained throughout the rest of his ouvre would have placed him at the top of the Romantic tree. With Calliope at the helm, however, despite her brief visitation, Scott’s blood-drenched poem possesses a wonderful music & portrays at all times that ever-present focus of Scott’s powers which produced the ‘Drum and Trumpet’ effect he mentioned… i.e. an epic voice. His production is a mini-Iliad of regions, wars, & heroes, & should rightly belong to the class of poems called Epyllia, or ‘little epics.’

With the Vision, Scott is moving his imagination out of Britain & onto the European stage – a precursor for Byron’s imminent Childe Harolde, whose scenes of continental travel fired the imaginations of a book-buying public trapped on their island by Napoleon’s European blockade. Byron would go on to fashion his own epic voice, which manifested itself best in his rambling & operatic Don Juan. Scott’s ‘Vision,’ however, has primacy, & it also raised 100 guineas for the war fund. Written when the real struggle for Europe was about to begin, I don’t think any soldier reading it at the time would have failed to have been moved militarily to match the feats of which Scott’s epic voice had sung.

May 5th

The Four Elements

In my previous lecture, I chose a certain poem of Sir Walter Scott’s to show how occurred a period in his prodigal career when he managed to elevate his voice to the lofty heights of the Calliopean muse. Just as a poem’s form can be divided into MEASURE & MOULD, so a poet’s voice is divided into two composite halves; the MOOD & the MUSIC. The Mood can be defined as a trance which envelops the poet as they compose their piece. The Music is the pure artifice of linguistic creation as the poets translate their Mood into words. Understanding such a pretext, the order of poetical creation is as this;

Mood (then) Music (then) Measure (then) Mould

The process of poetical composition is thus. Once the words have appeared, ballooning out of the poet’s Mood, they will possess certain sounds & harmonies, which are the Music. These must then be arranged in as pleasing an orde as possible, for just as notes played by an instrument are best heard in uniform parcels of time, so poetical words traditionally settle in a line marked by its Measure. Each of these lines will then be organised into a poem or a stanza, i.e. the Mould, finally presenting us with the poet’s aesthetically pleasing & sense-stirring dreamscape. The four individual parts of a poem neatly correspond to the four elements. The Mould would be the very-solid Earth, the beautiful brick-work which furnishes a poem with its infrastructure. The Measure would be Water; like the Mould it too is of a physical nature, but more pliable, more fluid, & as we follow a line of poetry, the boats that are the psyche’s mental recievers flow along the course. The remaining two elements are of the metaphysical kind; the poet’s Mood is Fire, which gives the poem its spark of creation & keeps the mind cooking throughout composition. The Music of a poet’s words is like Air, filled with the heavenly wind & instrumental breath of a poet’s voice. Let us now analyze a poem of my own;

Spring

Wool white wilderness
Pendle to Chelsea garden
Mist lock’d frost & snow

Beams of warm amber
Penetrate the morning mists
Snowdrops drink the thaw

O trees! Such budding!
Thy delicate bursts of green
Nervous turtleheads

Amidst the celadon buds
The burgeoning woods promise
Their blossoming hues

Pinks & pastel whites
Lend the tender blossoming
Hints of sensual scent

Year’s first warm morning
Lone bee stalks the wilderness
Birds breeze on the wing

Sol gestures higher
Colors surprises the eyes
Spring! She smiles at last

Mood/Fire
‘Spring’ is something of an ode I decided to write in order to record the various sights & sensations which the year’s first sensation convoked throughout its three month-course. It was composed in the spirt of youthful awakening.

Music/Air
With this particular season full of life & promise, I chose my language accordingly, as in ‘first warm morning,’ & ‘burgeoning woods.’ The poem also contains many pastoral moments to help invoke a natural scene, such as when a, ‘Lone bee stalks the wilderness,’ & ‘Beams of warm amber Penetrate the morning mists.’

Measure/Water
Although having a preference for syllabic metres, I appreciate the sheer energy & vitality that vers libre has given the Poetic animal. Indeed, it was like an adrenalin injection between the breast-plate into the very heart of the Art. It has won for itself a place at the high table of metre, but as I have already lectured, it is not the boss, only a meter among equals. As for traditional metre, I shall leave it to Robert Graves, who in a letter to Wilfred Owen during World War One wrote;

Owen, you have seen things; you are a poet; but you’re a very careless one at present. One can’t put in too many syllables into a line & say ‘Oh, it’s all right. That’s my way of writing poetry’. One has to follow the rules of the meter one adopts. Make new meters by all means, but one must observe the rules where they are laid down by a custom of centuries. A painter or musician has no greater task in mastering his colours or his musical modes & harmonies, than a poet.

In my poem, ‘Spring,’ the measure is the Japanese, which alternates 5-7 syllabic patterns throughout its stanzas.
Beams of warm am-ber
1 2 3 4 5
Pen-e-trate the morn-ing mists
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Mould/Earth
Continuing with the Japanese theme, the form I chose was the tri-lined Haiku, the most favoured home of the 5-7 metre. The nature of this highly traditional, highly ritualized form has always been to record nature & to note, especially, the changing of seasons. Its photographic snapshots & often pensive third line contain an incredible potentiality for recording the natural world.

As I understand it, the art of Poetry is stricken with a certain poverty in these these our modern days. Many poets have lost not only their sense of form, but also the invidivual focus to fully balance & utilise the four poetic elements when creating their poetry. Moods often become confused with the electric static of modern society, leaving us with rather chaotic ramblings that appear to the reader as something of a surrealist painting. T1ke the following published poems for example.

Mhari & Annika

A lot of people listening to it

Have these stripes that belong to different parts of the country then we have twodays dancing festivals & some traditonal festivals & probably since I was five I have gone

My mother was a dancer it was great

It’s probably awful ya

Annika’s English is awful

But it’s poem

He’s going to make a poem out of it?
“How Finnish & Estonian are speaking English” oh my god
I had so much wine

William Letford (Bevel, 2012)

Interesting musings yes, but is this really poetry, or ‘poem’ as Mr Letford inquires? It is definitely not Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

The difference between the modern poem – & Shelley’s is that our long-dead Romantic maintains a keen focus throughout the composition. Ozymandias has come down to us as a piece of wonder, & should continue through the paths of appreciation well into the future. When we examine the hundreds & thousands of post-war poems published across the planet, however, heaven knows what the hell we are supposed to preserve for posterity. There are a few classics out there, I must admit, Ginsburg’s ‘America,’ for example, but in general, the saturation of vers libre has diluted the Parnassian waters to such an extent, that almost anything can be petrified on the page & sold as poetry, such as;
There is No X on this Map in Any of Its Usual guises

We are marks on this map.
Its vellum was cut
from the finest part
of the last unicorn’s dorsal skin.

No: The horn was broken up
and sold by the carat
when the beast was a foal.

No: The arrow is purely for decoration.

Wait: Lift your left palm.
Under it (a little moist)
is the design of a tattoo
your next lover will acquire
in the first weeks of your courtship
to amuse the man she will leave for you.

Now you see
that it would be prudent
not to mention this map
to those who come after. Or at all.

Judy Brown (Loudness, 2011)

The two modern poems I have included in this lecture are quite symptomatic of the general malaise which has struck poetry in recent decades. These, & multitudes of others, are lacking in body; their mould & measure simply crumbling to dust as we read them. They are genetically defective organisms which would be better left in pickling jars in some research laboratory in the Arizona desert rather than be offered to the public on silver platters. David Sneddon, in his ‘The Trouble With Modern Poetry – a Personal View’ (Sonnetto Poesia, v.9 2010), writes;

I have a love-hate relationship with modern poetry. I don’t speak from ignorance. I have studied it widely. I find the best really very good, but I also find some poets celebrated by the poetry establishment either very patchy or truly awful. Much of what is praised today is the Emperor’s New Clothes, & I wonder if it’s not simply just from the affection & weak-mindedness that some commentators seem to state a love for the dullest of it. And yet, it is considered almost blasphemy to speak out against them. It seems that, in poetry terms, being PC means being Politically Correct, & that means liking excessively intellectualised poetry & felling superior about it.

In this age of mutual backscratching, poets write for each other & not for the public, resulting in Poetry becoming detached from the pulic consciousness. As I write this essay, the taste of the public which remains endeared to poetry has been battered into submission by modernism, actually prefering these Pollock-splashes of verbose paint. The universal poet should learn to appeal to such minds by blending modern tones with the mechanics & music of this ancient art. It is absolutely vital that poets should raise their game, live life, go home, study their craft & write poetry to be remembered.
May 7th

Wendy Cope’s Villanelle

Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance
Matthew Arnold

I am now up in Glasgow enjoying a brief flirtation with Scotland. It was while en route from Lancashire, gazing on the hilly gorgeousness of the Lake District & the Scottish Lowlands, that I opened up a copy of Wendy Cope. Among the heavyweights of modern British poetry, her work possesses refreshing brevity of wit, sprinkled with some quite resonant observations. With her reputation well established, she was not afraid to attempt an old & obscure form, the Villanelle. Originating in the folk-songs of rural France, its etymology derives from the Medieval Latin ‘villanus,’ meaning ‘farmhand.’ Out of many regulat & irregulatr variations, the Villanelle found its modern form in the early 17th century, when Jean Passerat published his Villanelle (J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle) in 1606. Passerat’s effort became the standard villanelle when prosodists such as César-Pierre Richelet based their definitions of the form on that poem. This structure would then be taken to heart by the exotica-loving British Victorians, with their first batch of compositions being published in Gleeson White’s Ballades and Rondeaus, Chants Royal, Sestinas, Villanelles (1887).

Despite its definition as a French form, by far the majority of Villanelles have been composed by English speaking poets. There is no established meter to speak of, but the rhyme scheme is very much what defines a Villanelle. The poem consists of five tercets, followed by a single quatrain, for a total of nineteen lines. It is structured by two repeating rhymes and two refrains: the first line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the third line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. The rhyme-and-refrain pattern of the villanelle can be schematized as A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2. It seems the quirky rhyme form & tempo of the form fits perfectly with the sensibilities of the English tongue. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas, is a supreme example of what a Villanelle may achieve when composed in the English language.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears,
I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The chief elements of a Villanelle are its 19 lines, the convoluted rhyming scheme & the use of two distinct refrains in the third line of each tercet. The two refrains are also used to conclude the poem in the closing quatrain. With this in mind, let us examine how Wendy Cope handled her own experience of composing with the Villanelle form.

A Villanelle For Hugo Williams

What can I say? I’d like to be polite
But have you ever seen a villanelle?
You ask me “Have I got the rhyme-scheme right?”

Is that a joke? You’re not a neophyte
Or some green-inker who can barely spell.
What can I say? I like to be polite.

No, not exactly, Hugo. No, not quite.
I trust this news won’t plunge you into hell:
Your rhyme-scheme is some miles from being right.

What’s going on? I know you’re very bright.
You’ve won awards. You write supremely well.
What can I say? I like to be polite

And this is true: your books are a delight,
In prose, free verse and letters you excel.
You want my help with getting rhyme-schemes right.

You seem dead keen to master them, despite
Your puzzling inability to tell
Which bit goes where. These lines, if not polite,
Will be of use, I hope. The rhyme-scheme’s right.

Not a bad effort, a little bland & somewhat awkward metrically – but at least, ‘the rhyme-scheme’s right.’ In the same collection in which this poem appeared, Family Values (2011), there are two more Villanelles; Probably & the most excellent Lissadell, with which I shall close this lecture. Notice how in Lissadell the measure has changed, proscribeing an overall effect of lyrical beauty. Just like Dylan Thomas, the words are given further beauty by the Villanelle’s enigmatic trundle.

Last year we went to Lissadell.
The sun shone over Sligo Bay
And life was good and all was well.

The bear, the books, the dinner bell,
An air of dignified decay.
Last year we went to Lissadell.
This year the owners had to sell—
It calls to mind a Chekhov play.
Once life was good and all was well.

The house is now an empty shell,
The contents auctioned, shipped away.
Last year we went to Lissadell

And found it magical. “We fell
In love with it,” we sometimes say
When life is good and all is well.

The light of evening. A gazelle.
It seemed unchanged since Yeats’s day.
Last year we went to Lissadell
And life was good and all was well.

For the coming poets of future days engaging in the Villanelle, or something like it, is the perfect pathway for those taken with a wish to experiment in alternative forms. To begin with you should write a kick-about, cardies-as-goalposts poem, in order to feel your way into the form, as in Cope’s effort for Hugo Williams. At a later stage, when you are fully aware of the form’s nuances & capabilities, you should fill it with your heart’s overflow. Think Tolkien writing the Hobbit in a playful mood, then absorbing his soul into the Lord of the Rings. From exercise mastery comes.

May 11th

Transcreating The Gododdin

Who do you think I have at my elbow, as happy as ever Alexander thought himself after a conquest? No less a man than Ieuan Fardd who hath discovered some old MSS. Lately that nobody of this age or the last ever dreamed of. And this discovery is to him & me as great as that of America by Colombus. We have found an epic poem in the British called Gododin, equal at least to the Iliad, Aeneid or Paradise Lost.
Lewis Morris (1758)

The transcreation is an important part of any poetical training, when for a briefish period of time a poet may enter the very spirit of one of the past masters. The essence of transcreation is the breaking down of an old text into its composite parts & the rebuilding of them again, in the hope of making something different, something modern, something new. During my own training I have attempted two transcreations; the Kural of Thiruvalluvar & the Gododdin of Aneirin, the processes behind the latter of which we shall be looking at in this lecture.

The Gododdin of Aneirin is the first great vernacular poem produced in these islands, or at least the first one that survived the ravages of time. We are told the story of the battle of Catraeth, a seminal event in the early history of the British Isles. At the of the seventh century, the embattl’d British tribes embarked upon a noble expedition in an attempt to stem the relentless tides of Saxon invaders, among which were a contingent of warriors called the Gododdin, from the Lothian region about Edinburgh. Their gruesome fate was discovered in the pages of a single 13th century manuscript, which contained poetry penned by the bard Aneirin, an actual eye-witness to the battle. In the poem he tells us of his march to Catreath with the British army, where he would become one of only four survivors of the slaughter. He goes on to describe how he endured captivity at the hands of his enemies, before his ransom was paid by Ceneu, the son of the poet-king, Llywarch Hen.

On surviving the slaughter of Catraeth, Aneirin sang his song. Y Gododdin, considered by the Welsh bards to be the supreme poem. Its parallels with the other surviving poetic masterpiece of British antiquity, Beowulf, are palpable. As Beowulf is the pedigree literary representative of the early English, so Y Gododdin is the hallmark of the Old Welsh. It is clear that Aneirin’s command of his language could only have come from the Bardic school & its years of intensive training; a combination of endless compositive exercises & the memorizing of the vast canon of Welsh bardic poetry. Among the bards, Aneirin stands out as a special talent, whose masterpiece tells us at first, in the most beautiful fashion, of a great meeting of the Kymric nobility, when;

From Eidyn’s fort no force like this e’er flow’d.

Edinburgh, or Dun Eidyn as the poem names it, was the seat of the Gododdin, a later evolution of the Brythonic tribe that the Romans named ‘Votadini.’ Their realm spanned both shores of the Firth of Forth, with its southern regions corresponding roughly to the three Lothian counties of modern times. During the Roman era, the capital of the Votadini tribe sat on the summit of Traprain Law, near Haddington in East Lothian. Come the late sixth century, the tribe had moved its main base to the grand, volcanic & precipitous crag on which Edinburgh Castle sits today. The lands controlled by the Gododdin lay on the north-eastern limits of a Brythonic world which stretched westwards to the Kingdom of Strathclyde, then turned south through modern-day Lancashire, then carrying on through Wales & into Cornwall. Since the departure of the Romans, the eastern parts of Britain had been settled by tribes of German warriors known as the Anglo-Saxons, year-by-year encroached on the territory of the native British, & it was only when the messiah-like figure of King Arthur rose up & inspired his countrymen to battle that the Saxons were stopped in their tracks. The Annals Cambrae tell us that Arthur died in the year 537, after which the unity of the British once again began to disintegrate. According to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, ten years after Arthur’s death, the Angles had established themselves on the Northumbrian coast.

A.D. 547 : This year Ida began his reign; from whom first arose the royal kindred of the Northumbrians… He built Bamburgh-Castle, which was first surrounded with a hedge, and afterwards with a wall.

Bamburgh Castle was built on the site of a Brythonic fort known as Din Guarie, whose occupation showed the Angles meant business in the area. The fortress pressed a sharp dagger point on the territories of the Gododdin, whose capital lay only fifty miles to the north-west at Edinburgh. Fifty years later, this dagger was picked up by a new & powerful king of the Angles called Aethelfrid, of whom the English historian Bede tells us;

At this time, Aethelfrid, a most worthy king, and ambitious of glory, governed the kingdom of the Northumbrians, and ravaged the Britons more than all the great men of the English for he conquered more territories from the Britons, either making them tributary, or driving the inhabitants clean out, and planting English in their places, than any other king or tribune

This brings into perspective how vital a battle was Catreath was to the Gododdi, a life or death struggle for their very existence against a ruthless enemy whose star was very much in the ascendence. Aneirin describes how warriors from all over the Brythonic world fought at Catreath, amplifying the significance of the battle & catapulting its legacy into the halls of immortal fame. Catraeth was fought, according to my historical investigations, in the year 598 AD. Four decades later, Irish chronicles speak of a ‘Siege of Etain,’ after which the Gododdin are never formally heard of again. This gives an added importance to the poem, for it records forever the valorous deeds of a long, lost British tribe, whose back had been broken at the battle of Catraeth.

The brilliance of Aneirin’s poetical remembrance was soon recognized. An 9th century monk called Nennius lists the five great bards of ‘Y Cynfeirdd,’ those Early Poets of Welsh tradition, among whom Aneirin proudly appears;

Then Dutgirn at that time fought bravely against the nation of the Angles. At that time, Talhaiarn Cataguen was famed for poetry, and Neirin, and Taliesin and Bluchbard, and Cian, who is called Guenith Guaut, were all famous at the same time in British poetry

Roll on a few more centuries, & medieval poets were proclaiming Aneirin a ‘Medeyrn Beirdd’ – i.e. the King of Bards. The tradition he belonged to is one of the treasures of British history, most of whose ouput has been been lost to the ravages of time. Enough of their material has survived to modernity, however, that we can gain a fairly decent idea of the bardic mindset, & also a healthy picture of their life & times. The poetry we possess is deposited in a number of medieval literary anthologies, known by such delightful names as the White Book of Rhydderch & the Black Book of Carmarthen. Of these collections, there is one tome that concerns us the most. Known to curators by the unassuming title of ‘Cardiff MS2.81,’ but to the rest of the world as The Book of Aneirin, it consists of nineteen sheets of parchment, with text covering both sides of the paper – giving us thirty-eight pages of beautifully written Welsh poetry in total. Dated by J Gwenogvryn Evans to the year 1250, the Book of Aneirin contains four small poems known as the ‘Gwarchan,’ & two different versions (A&B) of a longer stanzaic poem called ‘Y Goddodin’. When combining the Gododdin recensions together, we obtain 140 stanzas of moving & deliciously detailed verse, attributed in their entirity to Aneirin. By the creation of Cardiff MS2.81, the language used had evolved in the main to Middle-Welsh, which has influenced academic dating of the poem. A number of portions, however, contain a much older version of Welsh, indicating that at least some of the poetry we read today does indeed herald from Aneirin’s time. ‘The historical arguments,’ wrote Thomas Charles-Edwards, ‘suggest that the poem is the authentic work of Aneirin; that we can establish the essential nature of the poem from the two surviving versions; but that we cannot, except in favourable circumstances, establish the wording of the original.’

The nature of Y Gododdin is elegaic, a series of florid reports upon the heroes who fought & died at Catraeth. Of the 300 men who marched, Aneirin gives us the names of 90 warriors, less than a third of those who fell, suggesting a great many stanzas are lost to us. The abrupt breaking off of the text at the end of page 38 of the manuscript does suggest we have lost some of the text forever. What survives is full of vibrant, militaristic bombast, & has been a joy to transcreate. My own rendition of the poetry of Aneirin is different to all others in that I have blended the two versions of YG into a composite whole, rearranging the stanzas into what I believe is the best chronology possible. I have found that many of the stanzas of the B recension were similar to those found in the A, & often merged them into a single stanza, choosing the best passages from each. I have also added select passages from the gwarchans, & certain passages from the poetry of Taleisin which concern the battle. The final production consists of twelve cantos of twelve stanzas each, bringing an epic feel to what is essentially the first epic poem of the British Isles.

My transcreation caps a long line of translations, the first of which soon followed the discovery of the manuscript by Evan Evans in the 18th century. He printed ten stanzas with a Latin translation in his book, Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Antient Welsh Bards, published in 1764. The first English translation of the poem was published by William Probert (1820), followed by John Williams (1852), WF Skene (1866) & Thomas Stephens (1888). The twentieth century saw further translations by Ifor Williams (1938), JP Clancy (1970), KH Jackson (1969), AOH Jarman (1988) & JT Koch (1997). I had many of these translations at my desk, nibbling on both their spirit & phraseology, before regurgitating my own lines.

During my transcreation, I have attempted to furnish the reader with something of the music of the original. The Welsh bards infused the concept of Cynghanned throughout their poetry – that is the use of rhyme, assonance & alliteration, assembl’d in the most harmonious of wholes. An example of the practice in English can be discerned from my line, ‘Like quaffing liquer mead in laughters midst.’ Listing the individual phonetic sounds & their repetitions we can see how a great deal of music can be obtained from just ten syllables of poetry.

L-3 / K-3 / F-2 / M-2 / T-3 / S-2 /IN-2

Another example comes from the line, ‘Clove spear path kinks of light thro phalanx’d foes.’

K-3 / L-3 / F-4 / S-3 / P-2 / TH-2 / N-2

Another mainstay of Cynghanned is the frequent use of end-rhymes. Aneirin was a wonderful exponent of this, as can be seen from an example stanza from YG;

Kaeawc kynhorawc aruawc eg gawr
Kyn no diw e gwr gwrd eg gwyawr
Kynran en racwan rac bydinawr
Kwydei pym pymwnt rac y lafnawr
O wyr deivyr a brennych dychiawr
Ugein cant eu diuant en un awr
Kynt y gic e vleid nogyt e neithyawr
Kynt e vud e vran nogyt e allawr
Kyn noe argyurein e waet e lawr
Gwerth med eg kynted gan lliwedawr
Hyueid hir ermygir tra vo kerdawr

To keep the correct sense of the poem I have had no choice but to dispense with Aneirin’s protracted use of rhyme. Despite this loss, there is enough Cynghanned latent in the English language to recreate something of the atmosphere of Aneirin’s recitations, or as the poet Dafydd Benras gushed in the 13th century;

To sing as Aneirin sang,
The day he sang the Gododdin

May 13th