After a brief discussion on recent projects, we enjoyed refreshments and readings from both contemporary and long-standing poets. The themes were many and varied and included meditative responses as well as humorous flights of fancy. It was good to hear old favourites and to be introduced to new voices. It was good too to Listen now again as the reader is urged to do at the end of Seamus Heaney's poem 'The Rain Stick'.
Tony presented an insight into the life and work of T S Eliot and highlighted how the poetry of T S Eliot continues to inspire and bemuse and delight. This was illustrated by reference both to serious and humorous work. Specifically, looking at the poems The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Rhapsody on a Windy Night and two poems from 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats' - Gus: The Theatre Cat and Macavity the Mystery Cat enabled those in attendance to bask in the haunting imagery and the musicality of language.
Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Henry Ware Eliot, president of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, and Charlotte Champe Stearns, a former teacher, a social work volunteer and an amateur poet with a taste for Emerson.
In June 1915 at Hampstead Registry Office, Eliot married Vivien Haigh-Wood, a dancer. The marriage nearly caused a family break, but it also indelibly marked the beginning of Eliot's English life. Vivien refused to cross the Atlantic in wartime, and Eliot took his place in literary London. They were to have no children. Later on he was to separate from Vivien, but would not consider divorce because of his Anglican beliefs. Vivien died in 1947 and ten years later he married Valerie Fletcher and attained a degree of contentedness that had eluded him all his life.
During his time at Harvard (1909-1910) his poetic vocation had been confirmed: he joined the board and was briefly secretary of Harvard's literary magazine, the Advocate. From 1910 to 1911 Eliot copied into a leather notebook the poems that would establish his reputation: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", "Portrait of a Lady", "La Figlia Che Piange", "Preludes", and "Rhapsody on a Windy Night". Eliot's reputation as a poet and man of letters, increased incrementally from the mid-1920s. In 1948 Eliot received the Nobel Prize for literature and by 1950 his authority had reached a level that seemed comparable in English writing to that of figures like Samuel Johnson or Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock: The preface to The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock being a quotation in Italian from Dante's Divine Comedy. In it, a character in Hell agrees to tell his story, assuming that no one will be able to return from Hell and tell it to others. "Combining some of the robustness of Robert Browning's monologues with the incantatory elegance of symbolist verse, and compacting Laforgue's poetry of alienation with the moral earnestness of what Eliot once called "Boston doubt", these poems explore the subtleties of the unconscious with a caustic wit. (SparkNotes).
Rhapsody on a Windy Night: Rhapsody on a Windy Night describes a town scene and is based on a musical idea. Details in this poem include the sight of the street-lamps, the woman in the doorway, the smells and the memories, as derived from the novel Babu de Montparnasse (1898) by Charles-Louis Philippe. The windy moonlight night distorts the unhappy memories of the speaker into a nightmare as he walks along the gas lit streets. The theme is the passage of time and the street-lamp at various times of the night releases the memory from its routine organisation. This poem is another version of the dirt and filth of the urban rubbish observed by the speaker while walking down a street in the midnight and reaching his residence at four a.m. (Rhapsody on a Windy Night).
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats': The poems in the Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats were mostly written between 1936 and 1938. Eliot, who named himself Old Possum, had a lifetime affection for cats and indeed sent his godson poems and letters about his own cat. (Spotlight on T.S. Eliot).
With reference to Macavity, Eliot is quoted as saying "I have done a new cat modelled on the late Professor Moriarty, but he doesn't seem very popular; too sophisticated perhaps". Whereas, Gus was theatre cat, indeed like the theatre man that Eliot was himself.
Further information on T S Eliot can be found at:
Notes by Sharon Williams.
Rose introduced her presentation of 'How to Read a Poem as a Poet' with an interesting exercise designed to elicit self-understanding of our own reading priorities and of any reluctance to read contemporary poetry, despite writing it ourselves. The group were asked to record the answers to ten questions, whereby the feedback discussion stimulated a thought-provoking conversation.
For example, the question 'Why do you write poetry?' elicited the following responses:
We emphasised the need for poets to read poetry regularly, to learn and understand what modern poetry is about. Subscribing to good poetry magazines e.g. Poetry Review and reading current anthologies e.g. those from Bloodaxe can be a good starting point.
We moved on to discuss how to read a poem as a poet: several readings will be necessary to do justice to the amount of work the poet has put in to make a successful poem. Read it aloud as well as in your head, to appreciate its rhythm and music. Then analyse it in more detail, looking up any difficult words and references. How does the grammar work – have you understood everything fully? Be patient with the text, it might reward you.
Read through yet again, slowly, checking for poetic devices that may have added to the pleasure of the poem, and which you can learn from e.g. meter, alliteration, rhymes, half-rhymes, metaphors, similes. Consider the form – why did the poet choose this free form, or sonnet, or villanelle? Sometimes a traditional form is semi-hidden in a contemporary poem, through use of enjambment and half-rhyme.
If you find a poem that really speaks to you, learn it by heart and make it part of you. Follow up – find out more about the poet and their work, try to learn from them, write an exercise poem in their style.
We concluded that you must take time – more time – to read good poetry, and read it well. Good reading leads to great inspiration – you will find yourself motivated anew. While it is important to read contemporary poetry, of course don't ignore the great poets of the past. If you love our language you won't.
Rose finished the session by giving a close reading to the contemporary poem that won the National Poetry Competition 2014 'Corkscrew Hill Photo' by Roger Philip Dennis.
National Poetry Competition 2014 – First Prize: Roger Philip Dennis for the poem Corkscrew Hill Photo; accompanying film directed by James William Norton. The Poetry Society's annual National Poetry Competition is for previously unpublished single poems.
Additional links to interviews relating to Roger Dennis winning the National Poetry Competition 2014.
Bibliography: quotations referred to were drawn from 'Staying Alive – real poems for unreal times', edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe, 2003
e.g. 'You shouldn't expect to understand any poem at one reading. Just as you listen to songs – or sing them – again and again, so poems need to be read, re-read, read out loud and read again.' Neil Astley, p. 26
'Poetry is essentially the soul's search for its release in language' Joseph Brodsky, p. 21
Notes by Sharon Williams.
Jane provided an informative and interesting introduction to the Beat poets. The talk was referenced in relation to the background, history and influences of the Beat Movement's work with the reading of a Beat Poets poems.
History and background: The Beat Generation was a group of authors whose literature explored and influenced American culture in the post-World War II era. The bulk of their work was published and popularized throughout the 1950s.
'Central elements of Beat culture are rejection of standard narrative values, the spiritual quest, and exploration of American and Eastern religions, rejection of materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration.' (Wikipedia)
People who participated in the Beat Movement became known as Beatniks – a name bestowed on them by Herb Caen a columnist from the San Francisco Chronicle. 'Beatnik' in popular culture.
Where did the word "Beat" come from? Jack Kerouac introduced the phrase "Beat Generation" in 1948 to characterize a perceived underground, anti-conformist youth movement in New York. Kerouac indicates that it was street hustler Herbert Huncke who originally used the phrase "beat", in an earlier discussion with him. The adjective "beat" could colloquially mean "tired" or "beaten down" within the African-American community of the period and had developed out of the image "beat to his socks", but Kerouac appropriated the image and altered the meaning to include the connotations "upbeat", "beatific", and the musical association of being "on the beat". (Wikipedia)
Significant names: In addition to Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs, we have Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Herbert Huncke, Lucien Carr, Neal Casaday, and Gregory Corso. And somewhat arguably Gary Snyder.
Women of the Beat Movement: Diane di Prima, Elise Cowen, Joyce Johnson, Ann Waldman.
Places of the Beat Movement: New York City particularly Columbia University and Greenwich Village, Times Square; San Francisco-City Lights Bookstore (founded and still owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.)
We read a segment of Howl and A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg. The group discussed how Howl was a long poem which illustrated the rejection of standard narrative values and was packed with imagery. Whereby, A Supermarket in California was a critic of materialism and relevant today as in 1955 when it was written.
Moving on to reading Dog by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, his influence in owing the City Lights Bookstore and publishing some Beat poetry. In contrast, on hearing Riprap by Gary Snyder, showed a different style rooted in nature, meditative as apposed too the more urban beats poetry.
Jane spoke about how the women of the Beat Movement were not famous, not published and ignored until 20 years ago. The poem No Problem by Diane Di Prima illustrated how the beat poets frequently wrote to and about one and another.
Both Howl and Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials but were judged to include redeeming social value. A ruling which did a lot to liberalize publishing laws in the US.
Notes by Sharon Williams.
Sharon presented a lively, interesting introduction to Mid-20th Century Children's Poetry – this brought a chorus of memories and intrigued participation. Reference was made to The Golden Treasury of Poetry, book which had been donated to Sharon by a friend, who had been given it as a child growing up in Norfolk. The Golden Treasury of Poetry is an illustrated collection of English and American 400+ poems, about animals, people, famous events, the seasons, and Christmas, and including nonsense verse, inspirational lines, and wisdom in rhyme. It was originally published in 1959. The poems were selected by Louis Untermeyer who provide an accompanied running commentary and Illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund. The Golden Treasury of Poetry is still in print today.
Louis Untermeyer (1885 – 1977) was an American poet, anthologist, critic and editor. He was appointed the fourteenth Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1961. Untermeyer was known for his wit and his love of puns. An author or editor of around 100 books. His modern American and British poetry books were used widely in schools, and they often introduced college students to poetry.
Joan Walsh Anglund (1926) is an American poet and children's book author. She is the author and illustrator of more than 120 books that have sold over 50 million copies around the world in 17 languages. Anglund became popular in the 1960s for her unique style of illustrations featuring round-faced children without mouths or noses.
Reference was made to the nine different areas of content in The Golden Treasury of Poetry.The sections include: in the beginning, rhyme with reason, creatures of every kind, wide wonderful world and guiding stars. A number of poems from different sections were chosen to illustrate the diversity of poetry and verse found in The Golden Treasury of Poetry. The following were read and discussed by the group:
From the creatures of every kind section Country Cat and The Complete Hen by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth were contrasted with The Hens by Elizabeth Madox Roberts . We looked at the introduction of the section good things in small packages and how Louis Untermeyer explained the Latin phase 'multum in parvo' – 'there is much in little' illustrated by an epigram by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poem chosen from this section was I meant to do my work today by Richard Le Gallienne.
In acknowledgement of 2016 being the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death we read from the gallery of people section Brutus from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare and from the sweet and low section Fairy Lullaby from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. For a more traditional children's verse from the gallery of people section, the group read The Happy Farmer an Old English Rhyme and April by William Watson to finish off from the around the year section.
Notes by Sharon Williams.
Liz introduced the group to a local poet, Matthew Arnold, and in doing so provided an insight which was both informative and thought provoking. The story of how Liz became interested in Matthew Arnold illustrates how past poets are not forgotten. In this case she noticed that a local road where she lives in Cobham is called Matthew Arnold Close and with a curious nature, Liz decided to investigate further by reading books and the poetry of Matthew Arnold.
The group discussed the possibility of Matthew Arnold actually being the first Mole Valley Poet! Having moved to Cobham in 1873, he wrote in a letter to a friend:
'The cottage we have got there is called Pains Hill Cottage...the country is beautiful – more beautiful than even the Chilterns, because there is heather and pines, while the trees of other kinds, in the valley of the Mole, where we are, are really quite magnificent.'
Born into an influential family: his father was Thomas Arnold, scholar and charismatic Headmaster of Rugby. A friend of Matthew Arnold, Thomas Hughes, who attended Rugby, wrote 'Tom Brown's School Days' – the Headmaster was based on Thomas Arnold.
At the meeting the group read the following poems:
Dover Beach (1850): He took the night ferry from Dover to Calais on his honeymoon. Mid 19th Century 'an age in flux'/ 'an old world breaking up into a new' – Ian Hamilton. Loss of meaning, clash of science and religious ideals: Arnold explores deep questions troubling us. Appalled by a growing isolation from God and only love/companionship can console us (and nature in other poems).
The Buried Life: Sense of restlessness, dissatisfaction. Like Dover Beach, this poem has a modern perspective. Sense that we can no longer live an authentic life, but there are moments when we encounter our genuine self: the treasure of our buried life, when '...a lost pulse of feeling stirs again. / The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain'. Arnold uses the extended metaphor of a subterranean river. As in many of his poems, he draws upon the landscape of his childhood which included growing up in Laleham near the Thames and family holidays in the Lake District, where Matthew Arnold's father became friends with Wordsworth.
The Scholar Gipsy (1853): Set in the Oxfordshire countryside (Arnold was elected to role of Oxford Poetry Professor in 1857). The Gipsy way of life stands for poetic way of life, 'the life that Arnold, in 'real life' believes he has abandoned' (Hamilton). Found his Schools Inspector job 'almost insupportable' in first few years. It left him 'too utterly tired out to write,' but he resolved to 'do my duty, whatever that might be'. This poem echoes his inner conflict and desire to escape responsibilities.
Growing Old (1867): As in all his great poems, a powerful sense of loss. Is he mourning the loss of poetic life here? It ended around 1869, the year his 'Collected Poems' were published. 'He thrust his gift in prison till it died,' wrote Auden. For more information on Arnold's struggle between art and duty, read Ian Hamilton's biography – 'A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold.'
Arnold wrote mostly prose in the last 20 years of his life, including 'Culture and Anarchy' series, 'Literature and Dogma', 'God and the Bible'. By the time he moved to Cobham, he was renowned more for his cultural and religious criticism. Wrote his celebrated essay 'The Study of Poetry' in 1880, in which he claimed: 'Mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us.'
The legacy of Matthew Arnold continues with schools in Surrey and Oxford named after him. Matthew Arnold is buried in the family plot in All Saints' Churchyard, Laleham, Middlesex.
Websites for further information:
Notes by Sharon Williams.
On Saturday, June 18 we hosted our annual Sofa Poet workshop. This year's leader was Catherine Smith who read to us from her books Lip and Otherwhere. Catherine's poems raised issues about the subjectivity of memory, memory as a creative act, and distinguishing poetic truth from factual truth. She set us three writing prompts. They were: 1) In the last hour of sleep... 2) If I (or you, he, she, or it) hadn't... 3) and writing a short piece on a set of instructions. The prompts were fruitful and we enjoyed hearing what each of us had made of them.
The workshop was well-attended with eight participants including two people attending on one our events for the first time.
Notes by Jane Freimiller.
The presentation by Sylvia was both illuminating and thought-provoking. It provided an introduction to Robert Graves who wrote over 2,000 poems as well as many novels and works on the Classics. There were war poems as well as poems of love and loss making interesting references to the times he that lived in.
Sylvia discussed how Robert Graves had a number of roles; poet, classicist and mythographer. Particularly as a poet he will be remembered for his war poetry and the best loved poet writing in the English language.
Robert von Ranke Graves (later known as Robert Graves) came from an affluent family being born in Wimbledon in 1895 to a German mother and an English father. He attended Charterhouse school which he disliked and took up poetry and boxing. Although he had a place at Oxford University, instead he joined the Welsh Fusiliers and WW 1. Much of his early poetry reflects the horror of the trenches. He published his first volume of poems, 'Over the Brazier', in 1916 and later on his autobiography 'Goodbye to all that' recounted his experience at the Somme. At the Somme he received life threatening injuries to his lung and was not expected to live. The group read his poem 'Escape' which relates to the Somme and near death.
He was a prolific poet, by the time he was 26 in 1926 he had published 19 books including 11 which were verse. He was married twice, first to Nancy Nicholson and secondly to Beryl Pritchard and had eight children, four from each marriage. Robert was known to have had many affairs with it said that Laura Riding was his true love. Indeed, later on he went to live with Riding in Deia, Majorca where aged 90 he died in 1985.
The group read a number of Graves's poems these included 'Not Dead', 'The Last Post', 'A Dead Boche' and 'Villagers and Death'. As the titles suggest themed from his experience in WW1. Then the group read poems that were written after the trenches of WW1, with images of a Spanish Garden 'Flight Report' and 'An English Wood'. Discussing the diversity of topics and subject of his verse included 'The Colours of Night', 'Between Trains' and 'La Mejicana'.
Notes by Sharon Williams.
Tony introduced his presentation on "Poetry, Therapy and States of Mind" with a view that the whole movement and poetry discussion of the evening was to be through darker experiences into peace, joy and beauty of poetry in nature. The group discussed how particularly apparent that poetry in therapy comes in two ways.
Firstly, looking at the clinical sense of hospital work. As research from Bristol University has found that there is therapeutic value in poetry for treating depression and other mental health problems. Indeed, for some art and poetry have a more therapeutic value than taking medication.
Secondly, talking about a general sense of therapy and connected to well-being. Indeed, Tony pointed out that the poet Auden said that if he went two or three days without writing any poems then he did not feel too well. Meanwhile, the Russian poet Mandelstam went as far as to believe that people need poetry as much as bread.
Tony illustrated and provided another perspective quoting the following:
Breton: "One has to have gone to the bottom of human grief, to discover its strange capacities, in order to salute, with the same limitless gift of self, what is worth living for".
Nietzsche: "You have to have chaos inside you if you are to give birth to a dancing star".
Kala Ramesh: (Indian haiku poet)
out of muck-
the flowering within
Next, Tony provided a wonderful selection of ten poems to discuss and to illustrate the evening's theme of poetry, therapy and states of mind. These also included two of Tony's own poems one from each end of a 30 year period from 1985 and 2015. This certainly evoked a lively group discussion.
For over 30 years, National Association for Poetry Therapy members have forged a community of healers and lovers of words and language. They are from many different backgrounds and work in many settings where people deal with personal and communal pain and the search for growth. As poetry therapists and applied poetry facilitators they use all forms of literature and language in the arts. Also, NAPT members are united by the love of words and the passion for enhancing the lives of others and themselves.
Notes by Sharon Williams.
We explored the theme 'Taking root' – for a plant this means becoming established, putting out roots into the earth; for a person, settling into a new home or country. Roots are the unseen essential support system, reaching out for water and nourishment. A good root system gives stability.
After a brief reading from 'Thumbprints' we looked at 'Broken Moon' by Carole Satyamurti, 'Originally' by Carol Ann Duffy, 'Being and Time' by John Burnside and 'Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend' by Gerard Manley Hopkins which ends with the plea 'send my roots rain'. We discussed the ways in which a poem can take root. We considered the language of childhood and of place.
We wrote on the theme of roots and on the significance of a well-remembered place and shared feedback. We chose particular phrases to share and then wrote using these as a springboard. We wrote in response to brief prompts. There were images of roots calling us back as well as of roots holding us back. There were roots that lift and tear and become bare, reggae roots and root ginger beer. There were images of the meeting of past and future on a path, of a circle within a circle, a home within a home, of an old stone wall and of the silver circle of the sea.
Notes by Helen Overell.
The theme 'Published poems that intrigue/delight/puzzle' was illustrated by reading and discussing the winning poems on the theme of 'Scent' which were published in the summer issue of Poetry News and also on the Poetry Society website.
These poems did indeed intrigue, delight and puzzle. Each approached the subject of scent in a different way and the imagery was often striking and sometimes poignant. There was an element of surprise in the subject matter and in the way the poems moved towards their endings. The scents described evoked memories and discussion. The listening to a poem read aloud is very different from the internal listening to a silent reading. It was noted that this re-visiting by hearing the poem read aloud provided new insights. It was also noted that while only one or two of the poems might have appealed on first silent reading - others were now considered to have much worth.
Notes by Helen Overell.
On Monday 3rd October 2016 the Mole Valley Poets hosted an open mic poetry night as part of the group's regular commitment to the six week Mole Valley Arts Alive Festival.
The evening of poetry and song began at 7.30 pm and was held at the Stepping Stones Public House in Westhumble. We were welcomed at the start with music from Shebang – Dorking's own accomplished Folk Club trio who also entertained during the interval. Shebang provided a lively and fun addition to a well-attended evening.
This year we had 29 people, readers and listeners, who attended a most enjoyable evening of poetry. It was really good to see some new people too. There was a total of 16 readers of poetry. There was poetry for everyone and these were just a few of the topics and feelings evoked: limericks, comedy, laughter, sadness, reflection, nature and memories.
This evening also saw the launch of the Mole Valley Poets Anthology 2016 called Murmuration. A number of Mole Valley Poets who were in attendance took to the mic and read their work included in this year's anthology.
The Mole Valley Poets Anthology 2016, Murmuration, is a collection of poems which have all the swirling intensity of a murmuration with sudden switches of movement and mood, images and sentiment. This anthology has 13 contributors from the Mole Valley Poets. It costs £5 of which £1 from each sale will go to the charity CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young).
Notes by Sharon Williams.
At this meeting Susan introduced the group to Slam Poetry. For many of us this was a new insight into a different form of poetry and Susan gave an informative overview, a summary of which follows.
The history: Poetry competitions are not new, as the Greeks gave a laurel crown to winning poets at the ancient Olympic Games. Also, Basho travelled across Japan and judged Haiku contests. So on to Slam poetry, firstly to explain Slam Poetry. A Poetry Slam is a performance contest with judges selected from the audience. The rules are easy to follow: With every performer given up to three minutes to do their original poem and marked out of 10. Performers are not allowed props or costumes.
Slam is global and the group learnt that there have been national competitions in such places as Germany, Israel and Sweden. This year in January 2016 the National Poetry Slam was held in England at the Royal Albert Hall and was won by a Solomon O.B. who lived in Bristol. The format of the Nationals (Slam competitions) comprises of five judges who score from 0-10 just like at the Olympics! The highest and lowest cards are discounted and the three remaining take the maximum score up to 30. The poems are judged on performance and the writing.
The group listened to a YouTube clip of Taylor Marli performing at Slam nation: 'What teachers make' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGKm201n-U4 Susan introduced the group to a number of slam poems which we read such as:
Susan spoke about the following books:
The appeal of slam poetry is that it is open to everyone and takes place in many different types of venues. For a more in-depth overview here are some websites:
Notes by Sharon Williams.
Tony Earnshaw led on the varied events of this year and on proposals for next year. There was a brief discussion on the roles held by people in the group and everyone was happy to continue. There is much positive feedback on the new MVP Anthology Murmuration – thank you to Sue Beckwith for all her hard work in producing this. 65 copies have sold to date and a donation of £1 for each copy sold will be given to CRY. There will be a reading from both the MVP Christmas Anthology and Murmuration at Pickering House, Dorking on Wednesday 7th December. For Arts Alive in October we discussed the possibility of a workshop on 'Delivering the poem' to be linked to the Poetry Pub open mike event. The cost of this would be similar to and so would replace the Sofa Poet for next year. We discussed the in-house expertise for running writing workshops with a view to holding some of these instead. The Summer School 'Writing in the margins' will be held on the second Saturday in August. Ideas were put forward for and leaders were assigned to next year's programme with Monday evening meetings to include a mini writing exercise.
The workshop poems included images of a sonata of gold & cinnamon, a string of scarlet like a shepherd's crook, thoughts in shoals like minnows and the scrape of a chair leg on flagstones.
Notes by Helen Overell.