Wednesday November 27, 2013
Pablo Picasso is of course primarily remembered as a visual artist, but he was also a poet, and William Blake was as much artist, painter, printmaker and illustrator as writer—we’re sure that you, dear readers, can easily add names to the list of poets who make art and artists who make poems. Here’s another: Sylvia Plath.
Plath’s work in the visual arts has recently been much in the public eye. In 2007, Oxford University Press came out with Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath’s Art of the Visual, in which editors Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley show us many of her drawings and paintings and set them in the context of her writings (). Then in 2011, a selection of 44 pen-and-ink drawings, never before shown, were exhibited at the Mayor Gallery in London, and both The Telegraph and Flavorwire posted galleries of images from that exhibition that are still available online. The newest splash of Plath’s art into public view is the portfolio of drawings from the early years of her marriage to Ted Hughes, just released by her daughter Frieda Hughes and accompanied by selections from her letters and diary entries of the time (). The drawings are lovely, precise and hard-edged, very like the crystalline poems in Ariel.
More on Sylvia Plath:
Our biographical profile of Plath, with links to buy her books
Thinking About Sylvia Plath as the Winter Darkness Comes On (November 2012)
Ted Hughes’ “Last Letter” to Sylvia Plath (October 2010)
Shrines to Ted and Sylvia (September 2010)
Sylvia Plath Speaks in Her Own Voice (April 2010)
A Star Chart for Sylvia Plath’s Birthday (November 2008)
Thursday November 21, 2013
William Blake was that rare thing, a great artist who was as much poet as painter, as much illustrator as writer. He was a visionary who created his own mythology, wrote satires, prophecies, epics and children’s rhymes, and made hand-colored illustrated books that remain admired icons of the two arts centuries after his death. Knowing that his Songs of Innocence and Experience date back to the end of the 18th century, a time when the United States of America was a newborn nation, you might not look to Blake for commentary on the state of American society in the 21st century—but there it is indeed. Just read Mark Edmundson’s explication of “London” in The Chronicle of Higher Education (pointed out when the essay was originally published by our friend Jim Finnegan on the NewPoetry list):
“William Blake’s America, 2010,” by Mark Edmundson
“Sometimes you need some help to see what’s directly in front of you: It’s often the most difficult thing to see. Looking for a compressed vision of the state of America now, I’m inclined to turn not to any of our esteemed journalist-pundits or renowned public intellectuals but in the direction of the poet William Blake, who did his work 200 years ago.... If he were to recast ‘London,’ probably his best-known poem, for the uses of the present, he might be inclined to retitle it ‘New York’ or ‘Washington’ and update some of the diction. Other than that, I’m not sure that he would have to change all that much. Grandly, shockingly, the poem reveals us to ourselves.”
More on William Blake:
Our Profile of Visionary English Poet/Artist Blake
Library: Poems by William Blake
“Burning Questions,” Study Guide to “The Tyger”
“Wm. Blake & 3 Li’l Voids,” Valentine’s Day Meditation on “The Clod and the Pebble”
Wednesday November 20, 2013
Something to think about if you’re visiting with your family for Thanksgiving and there are children about: Most people’s first experience of poems comes in the family setting, in the form of nursery rhymes—the lullabyes, counting games, riddles and rhymed fables that introduce us to the rhythmic, mnemonic, allegorical uses of language in songs sung to us by our mothers and other elders. Our collection of classic nursery rhymes will help you remember the nursery rhymes that have been handed down through the generations in the English-speaking world. Why not take the time this Thanksgiving to teach a few of the rhymes of your childhood to your young ones?
And better yet, help us expand our collection by sharing your first remembered poems: Readers Respond: The First Poem I Ever Knew.
Thursday November 14, 2013
Six years ago, when the Hollywood film version of Beowulf had just come out, we began posting a bilingual Old English/modern English version of the original poem, wanting everyone to see that the real Beowulf is in the words, not in those glossy motion-capture 3D visuals. This month we’ve seen new notes about Beowulf in words and in pictures. First came word from a British professor that the famous first word of the poem, “Hwæt!,” has for many years been misinterpreted:
from The Independent (UK):
“Listen! Beowulf opening line misinterpreted for 200 years,” by Jonathan Brown
“It is perhaps the most important word in one of the greatest and most famous sentences in the history of the English language.... Yet for more than two centuries ‘hwæt’ has been misrepresented as an attention-grabbing latter-day ‘yo!’ designed to capture the interest of its intended Anglo-Saxon audience urging them to sit down and listen up to the exploits of the heroic monster-slayer Beowulf.... According to an academic at the University of Manchester, however, the accepted definition of the opening line of the epic poem—including the most recent translation by the late Seamus Heaney—has been subtly wide of the mark.”
from the University of Manchester:
“Real meaning of English poetry’s first line discovered”
“A University of Manchester lecturer has discovered that the famous first line of English language’s oldest epic poem has been misinterpreted, ever since it was popularised almost 200 years ago.... Dr George Walkden, who is a historical linguist, says because translators of the iconic Beowulf have relied on a faulty interpretation of its first word, the meaning of its first sentence must be understood differently.... The poem, in Old English and believed to be written between 1,200 and 1,300 years ago, has captivated poetry lovers ever since it was first published in 1815 by the Scandinavian scholar Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin.... However, according to Dr Walkden in a new paper published this month, the first word hwæt penned by an unknown poet, is not a stand-alone sentence meaning ‘listen up!’ as previously thought.”
Then came the news item reporting that a new Hollywood version of the Beowulf story is in the works, as a cable television series—how do you suppose they will begin the story?
from The Hollywood Reporter:
“‘Beowulf’ Series in the Works at Syfy,” by Lesley Goldberg
“Syfy is prepping to explore one of the oldest poems in literature.... The development project, from Universal Cable Productions, is described as an adaptation of the classic epic poem that further examines the hero's rise to power and his feud with the monster Grendel.”