Meeting Notes 2008


Our programme this year opened with a talk on haibun given by Diana Webb. Different styles of haibun were read and discussed and the combined effect of prose and haiku was very striking. Here are some examples together with links to haibun websites.

A Spot on the Stream Diana Webb
Claude Monet- Monochrome (High Tide at Etretat 1868; The Magpie 1869) Diana Webb
Takeaway Diana Webb

Contemporary Haibun Online
Haibun Today

7th January 2008


For the second meeting of the year, Michael gave a brief biography of Tennyson and then led the group in a reading of Tennyson's poem "Locksley Hall". Excerpts from "In Memoriam" were then studied and an overview of the "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" followed. This led to a lively discussion on Tennyson's work and the style of poetry written in the nineteenth century.

28th January 2008

Why write poetry in the 21st century?

For the third meeting of the year, Rose led a lively discussion on how we see poetry - a shorthand of the heart, a new use of language, a portable altar, images, voice - followed by readings of 21st century poems. Rose concluded that making time for poetry seems to be very important, particularly so in a materialistic, fragmented and technologically-orientated society.

25th February 2008

Zen in English/American poetry

A A Marcoff introduced the idea of Zen as being a heightened awareness of the mystery of things. Zen is meditation and is used as a preparation for the practice of martial arts. In Zen, mind and matter are one which is in contrast with Western thought which sees mind as separate from matter.

According to R H Blyth, Zen "is the active principle of life itself" which resonates with Peter Abbs' description of poetry as "the living breath of integration". Humour is valued in the Zen mind which is ordinary and everyday.

Examples of poetry which illustrate Zen were read and discussed: "The Garden" by Andrew Marvell, "Auguries of Innocence" by William Blake, work by Emily Dickinson, John Donne, William Shakespeare, Eric Fromm...

Haiku are good examples of Zen poetry. Extracts from work by both Tim Sampson and Bill Wyatt were read and discussed.

Zen poetry is written with "furyu" (wind flow) - a quality of mind at once fully engaged and yet detached. Love and compassion are held in this point of creative tension.

31st March 2008

Poetry and Faith

Tony explained that as he had found there was a vast amount of material available on world faiths he had decided to focus on Christianity. He began with a reading of George Herbert's "Love bade me welcome" and moved on to John Milton's "When I consider how my light is spent".

"As Kingfisher's Catch Fire" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, was then read and discussed. This poem stresses the uniqueness of each individual.

"The Journey of the Magi" by T S Eliot highlights the sense of alienation felt by those whose experiences set them apart on their return home.

"Advent" by Patrick Kavanagh speaks of "the luxury of a child's soul" and of the time of fasting enabling a rediscovery of that newness of perspective.

"St Kevin and the Blackbird" by Seamus Heaney tells of love and prayer.

Extracts from the Old Testament's Song of Songs and the Psalms were read followed by poems by John Donne, R S Thomas, John Betjeman, John O'Donohue, Steve Turner and Stewart Henderson.

28th April 2008

Denise Levertov

Diana gave a brief biography of Denise Levertov who was born in 1923 and died in 1997.

Denise Levertov was brought up in Essex, wrote poems from an early age and studied ballet. During the war she worked as a nurse. She met her husband, an American, shortly after the war in Paris where she was nursing. She married and went to live in America in 1948.

Her mother was a Welsh Congregationalist and her Russian father, a Hasidic Jew, converted to Christianity and ordained as an Anglican priest. She moved from a background rooted in Christianity through scepticism to Christian belief.

Denise Levertov read widely and was influenced by the cadences of the American language. She was considered to be both a British and an American poet. She was influenced by Buddhism and by Julian of Norwich. Her writing shows her social, political and spiritual convictions.

Diana then led us in a reading of Denise Levertov's poems beginning with an early poem "The Instant" and a later poem "Merritt Parkway" - both very visual poems with resonant themes. Poems chosen from several collections followed. The images of nature and animals are vivid and intense and full of a sense of light and life. The reading drew to a close with the poem "Enduring Love".

2nd June 2008

The myth of communication

John Lemmon spoke on "The myth of communication". He described the unconscious life of a poem - the thoughts and emotions that are associated with the words. He then played a recording of "I am 25" by Gregory Corso, a beat poet, which was then discussed. This was followed by a close reading of "The Corridor" by Tom Gunn in which the watcher becomes the watched. The surface life of a poem - words, syntax, narrative - can be fairly straightforward but is often of less interest than the psychological pulses which lie beneath. There needs to be a tension between the cerebral and the emotional when writing poetry which can be considered as an interrogation of self - a confrontation with the unconscious. Straightforward language encourages wider readership and yet perhaps in writing for the culture in which we live poetry becomes a ghetto art.

30th June 2008

Humourous poetry

As with anecdotes and jokes, humour in poetry can take many forms. There are cautionary or moral tales, limericks, humorous or fantastical stories or stories told straight with a kick in the last line.

There are old favourites with wide appeal such as "Macavity: the mystery cat" by TS Eliot and "The lion and Albert" by Marriott Edgar.

John began with a reading of "Bad day at the Ark" by Roger McGough in which the humour was light hearted combined with a serious conservation-of-the-species overtone. He followed with "Giving potatoes" by Adrian Mitchell which was again light-hearted. "The Execution" by Alden Nowlan ended on a very dark note. "Colouring In" by Peter Wyton led to a wry comparison of childhoods perhaps fifty years apart. "Breezing Along" by Jim Dalton-Taylor raised questions on identity. "Symposium" by Paul Muldoon introduced a play on proverbs. "Litany" by Billy Collins presented humour in metaphor.

28th July 2008

Notes on Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop was born in 1911 and died in 1979. She was brought up by her mother's parents in Nova Scotia and then by her father's family in Worcester and Boston. She attended Vassar College and then spent a year in New York, followed by some years in France before moving to Key West, Florida in 1936.

Elizabeth suffered from asthma, depression and alcoholism. In 1951 she became ill on a trip to South America. The boat sailed without her leaving her in Brazil where she lived for 18 years. She met Lota de Macedo Soares and the couple lived together for 15 years. The relationship broke down and Elizabeth returned to the United States. Lota committed suicide in 1967. Elizabeth met Alice Methfessel in 1971 and this relationship lasted until her death.

Elizabeth often spent many years writing a single poem. Her first collection North and South was published in 1946. A Cold Spring followed in 1955 and Questions of Travel in 1965. Her final collection Geography III was published in 1976.

Helen began with a reading of The Map which has references to the places and seas that Elizabeth knew. This was followed by The Fish which is a very detailed description of a tremendous fish caught and held and let go - the moment captured. Next, a linking of lichens with the moon and hair with shooting stars in The Shampoo. The Fishhouses again pays great attention to detail and seems to revisit Elizabeth's childhood, recreating the sequinned fish scaled herring tubs and the seal to whom she sang Baptist hymns. Sandpiper was then discussed - the anxious darting bird, brought to life in five stanzas, staring at the dragging grains of sand. The talk concluded with One Art which is a wry look at the art of losing expressed as a villanelle.

1st September 2008

Kathleen Raine b 1908 d 2003

Kathleen Raine's parents met as students. Her father was a Methodist and her mother was a Scot. As a child, Kathleen lived with her aunt in a manse in Northumberland. She loved the moors, fields and flowers, the vibrancy of life, the people. She had a sense of at one-ness with everything. She had always wanted to be a poet.

Kathleen read Natural Sciences and Philosophy at Cambridge. She taught at Harvard and at the Yeats School in Sligo, Ireland and worked for the British Council. She was a professor at Cambridge and wrote many scholarly books.

Kathleen married Hugh Sykes-Davies and then Charles Madge with whom she had two children. The love of her life was Gavin Maxwell but this was a troubled relationship and caused her great pain.

Kathleen lived on a smallholding in Cumbria, Northumberland for many years. She had a visionary awareness of nature and her return to London removed her from her natural habitat. Kathleen was a Neo Platonist for much of her life and then, in later years, became a Catholic.

Sylvia began with a reading of "Sweet-briar fragrance on the air" which celebrates the beauty of the moment. This was followed by "Starlings" in which starlings are "like scattered leaves returning to their tree" and "The Hyacinth" where eternity gives place to love and the world unfolds into flower. The next two poems about Martindale showed Kathleen's strength of belonging to that place. "Tree 1947" reflects on age and death. "The House" and "The Ring" are love poems which use lyrical nature imagery - "He has married me with a ring of bright water". This image was used, unattributed, by Gavin Maxwell for the film and song "Ring of Bright Water". "The End of Love" is a bleak statement and "Introspection" moves from fear to grief to an acceptance of death with startling imagery of splintered iron, moon rise and "this body of earth".

29th September 2008

Poetry Pub

Poetry Pub 2008 in the Lincoln Arms, Dorking, was well attended and proved to be an enjoyable and convivial evening. Guitar music was provided by Tom Copson who also sang, and Emily Ormiston who sang with him.

There were sixteen readers and each in turn read out two or three of their own poems. After a short break and a musical interlude, the readers again took turns to read. The poetry ranged from haiku to free verse, from serious to humorous, from expressions of sadness to expressions of joy.

The audience were attentive and appreciative. The poetry gave voice to an eclectic range of life experiences

6th October 2008

Sofa Poet

The Sofa Poet event was held in the conference room at the Lincoln Arms, Dorking and was attended by about twenty people.

Paul Matthews, from Emerson College, was the Sofa Poet for the evening. He read from his own work and talked about how poetry arises from a love of words and a way of seeing. He talked about naming the world and of how a poem is often a shape that emerges before the words coalesce. He described how a poem can be enabled, can be given permission.

Paul Matthews led the group in various collaborative writing exercises. One of these involved each person writing one word on a page and then in small groups of three or four putting the words together to make a poem - thus "summer friend - concertina branch", "sun autumnal sweeps".

Another exercise, worked in pairs, asked each person in the pair to provide alternate lines for a simple poem, thus

growl mistily
loom over us -
nameless fears -

There were several exercises which produced striking imagery and novel use of language.

The evening was extremely enjoyable and was imbued with a sense of careful listening and well-being.

27th October 2008

Oral poetry of the world

Oral poetry can express the wisdom of the tribe - as in the Aztecs and Aborigines, the Eskimos, the African people. Oral poetry can be associated with ceremony as in the Rose Garden in Iran where poetry read aloud and the partaking of tea belong together. Oral poetry can be the means of survival of the poetic form in societies where the written word poses a threat to the writer - as when Russian women have memorised their menfolks' verse.

The creation myths of the peoples of Earth are many and various. These have survived by means of the oral tradition using rhyme and imagery. Some have been transcribed.

Tony M began with a reading of the African myth (Dahomey) which describes the turning of the world as being attributed to a serpent coiling and uncoiling. This was followed by an Indian (Hindi) myth of the dividing of Man.

The African (Nigerian) myth of Tortoises, Men and Stones tells of how death and children came into the world and of how stones never die.

The Maori creation myth is expressed in very spiritual language - the world made light.

Three Eskimo poems show a positive attitude towards life and a meditative approach to everyday activities. Bob Dylan asks if we are identical with our breath. In Eskimo, to make a poem is to breathe.

The Maori celebrate their poets and grant them priestly status. Aboriginal myths express absolute truths in the language of dreamtime.

Oral poetry can take many forms - songs, ballads, street cries, lullabies, curses, incantations.

Tony M concluded the evening with a shared reading of the Hungarian poem by Ferenc Juhasz "The Boy Changed Into A Stag Cries Out At The Gate of Secrets" translated by Ted Hughes. The imagery here is powerful and evocative and haunting.

24th November 2008