Meeting Notes 2019

Social evening

We each in turn read a poem to the group and we then had a break for refreshments before continuing with another couple of rounds of readings. There was work by contemporary poets including Mary Oliver, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Sheena Pugh and Roger McGough as well as poems written by MVPs. There was a speech by William Shakespeare which echoed our times. There was work by Gerard Manley Hopkins and by Jorge Luis Borges as well as work by Canadian poets. There was writing of great depth and solemnity and writing with much humour and resilience.

There were images of wild geese, of dragonflies over a river and of an olive underfoot. There was a rescued monkey and a single bat and a snake that met death. There were red dogberries with caps of snow. There was a mimosa and a caterpillar with yellow bristles.

There were themes of justice, of politics, of the peace to be found amongst wild things, of loss, and of calm reflection on life at a great age. There was a sewing of shirts, a summoning by bells and an engagement with washing-up the dishes. There were refugees. There was climate change.

There was a specular poem in which the reversal of line order at the mid-point turned negativity into positivity. There was a long almost ballad-like poem in which repetition reinforced and deepened the sense of loss. There were jaunty poems in which rhythm and rhyme accentuated the humour. There were haiku and haibun and gogyoshi.

This was indeed a celebration of poetry in many and various forms.

Notes by Helen Overell.

7th January 2019

Alice Oswald, presented by Rose Wagner

Rose provided an illuminating introduction to the work of Alice Oswald. As some of the group had not read any of Alice Oswald's poetry before, we began by concentrated listening, with eyes closed, to a reading of 'Shadow' from her latest book 'Falling Awake'.

After outlining biographical details and her publications and many awards, we then read, analysed and discussed a selection of her poems: two of her short poems: 'The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile', from her first published book, and 'A Short Story of Falling' from her most recent book, 'Falling Awake'. Also extracts from two of her longer poems: 'Dart', a book-length poem inspired by conversations with people who live and work on the river Dart, which she calls : 'a sound-map of the river, a songline from the source to the sea', and 'Tithonus', also from 'Falling Awake', which is a 46 minute performance poem about the dawn.

In the course of discussion, we highlighted Oswald's rich use of varied vocabulary, metre and imagery, noting her characteristic use of anthropomorphic metaphor and frequent skilful articulation of the insubstantial (e.g. the gap in the squeeze stile).

Through our reading aloud, we felt the flow and flexibility of her use of different forms, rhythms and structures, from free form to iambic pentameter, often incorporating rhyme, half-rhyme and repetition to create song-like effects. This helped make reading the longer poems less daunting.

We considered how she creates a poetry that is light, lyrical, visionary, meditative, musical, and beautiful, while still being grounded in everyday reality - a poetry that is original, challenging, both modern and traditional, and experimental.

We saw how she uses her mastery of poetic techniques and skills to express an intense love and observation of nature, and deep understanding of classical literature.

We noted how her wide-ranging use of imagery and metaphor can be shocking yet always pertinent, and concluded that she demonstrates how a modern poet can incorporate in their work a range of styles from Homeric and Shakespearian to the spoken English of today.

The group were encouraged to follow up after our discussion by listening to Alice Oswald's own readings of her work on YouTube. Steeped in the oral tradition of poetry, she is also a consummate performance poet, since her poetry is written to be spoken, and she memorises her own work to perform it.

Brief biography

Born in 1966, Alice Oswald read classics at Oxford. She then trained as a gardener. She lives on the Dartington Estate in Devon with her husband and three children. She has won most of the major awards for her poetry, which reflects her intensive observation of the natural world, while depicting it through an oblique use of language and imagery that is completely her own.


Acknowledgements and references

Recommended follow-up:

BBC Radio 4 Bookclub on Alice Oswald's 'Falling Awake' to be broadcast on 03/02/19, 07/02/19 and subsequently archived on the BBC website

Notes by Sharon Williams and Rose Wagner.

28th January 2019

Notes on a haibun - a musical workshop, presented by Diana Webb

Diana invited us to take turns to read aloud some haibun with musical themes. These included 'The Mute Note' in which 'middle C goes mute as stone' and is eventually coaxed into life by the monkey in the music box and 'After Vermeer' in which a woman is tuning her lute. Other haibun portrayed the music from an accordian, the singing of a scythe to a whetstone, the rattle of dry leaves and Bruch's violin concerto. We looked at the way in which the haiku, a breath-length poem, interacts with the prose so as to bring a new dimension to the writing. We were invited to write a haibun in response to a favourite remembered piece of music and to write haiku in response to photographs of the natural world. We listened to a piece of music and wrote a haibun on the imagined journey that this created. We also wrote using a postcard of a painting as a prompt. We shared our work and Diana offered insight and encouragement and invited us to send our completed haibun to her for consideration for publication in Time Haiku.

Notes by Helen Overell.

16th February 2019

Love poetry, presented by Pauline Watson

Pauline introduced the group to the theme of her presentation; poems on 'love and romance' together with insights into the lives of the poets. The poems spanned centuries and included work by Anne Bradstreet, Yeats, and Rawland Storm. There were 'new' poems and 'old' favourites. There were moving affirmations of love, wry comments on being in love and the lingering ache at the loss of love.

A wonderful introduction to the topic was made using the poem 'The Sexes' by Dorothy Parker (b.1893). Pauline expressed how much she enjoyed the cynical wit of Dorothy Parker who wrote poetry that reflected her lifestyle. Then, to provide a contrast, the group read a poem from nearly three centuries earlier, 'To My Dear and Loving Husband' by Anne Bradstreet (b.1612), who incidentally moved to America, had eight children and achieved the title of the American Colonies first female poet. Next, another poet who wrote about their spouse was Robert Louis Stevenson (b.1850), his poem simply entitled 'My Wife'.

To add to the conversation on poetry and romance, Pauline chose a number of other romantic poets and also gave an overview of their writing and romantic life. The group read Lord Byron (b.1788), the poem 'To Ellen', also Percy Bysshe Shelley's (b.1792), 'When Passion's Trance Is Overpast' and William Butler Yeats (b.1865) 'When You Are Old'.

Finally, a personal story of a poem handed to Pauline by a friend who had kept it for many years folded up in his wallet. This was by an American preacher of strong beliefs, the contemporary poet Rawland Storm's (b.1948) poem 'The Test'.

Further reading

Dorothy Parker

Anne Bradstreet

Rawland Storm

Notes by Sharon Williams.

25th February 2019

The Weather, presented by Tony Marcoff

Tony Marcoff provided an interesting and in depth talk on 'Weather: Illuminations'. It was explained to the group that the Modern Greek poet Odysseus Elytis said 'The duty of a poet is to cast drops of light into the darkness.' Furthermore, indeed one of the members of the group elegantly commented that indeed Tony's talk cast drops of light into the evening.

To begin with, a reading of 'Frost and Snow, Falling' by JH Prynne. A poet who writes poems of becoming and that speak of moments of living more deeply. This was followed by an extract from a short story called 'The Dead' by James Joyce. In this story Gabriel's wife tells him of a man who loved her and who had died. Gabriel watches the flakes of snow and hears 'the snow falling faintly though the universe'. Next, parts were allocated for a reading from King Lear Act III Scene 1. In which King Lear speaks of the tempest without and within his mind and pities the homeless out in all weathers.

Then exploring various writing such as Thomas Hardy's 'A Light Snow-Fall after Frost' about an ageing man who appears to be on a road transformed by snow. Also the seashell in Shinkichi Takahashi's 'Beach Rainbow' lives in the moment in this meditative poem. Whereas, Anna Akhmatova in 'July 1914' tells of terrible times and yet also of the miraculous 'longed for from time immemorial'.

Yet, Yang Lian who survived the Cultural Revolution and the banning in China of the writing of metaphors writes in 'Biography' of a wind that 'calmly changes the direction of day' and birdsong that floods the sky. The group looked at haiku and tanka including work by Diana Webb and concluded with Tony's poem 'the world, & rain' where stillness and silence and light shone as if raindrops held the mind of God.

Further Reading

Notes by Sharon Williams.

25th March 2019

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