Thursday December 5, 2013
Long ago the narrative poem-songs we call ballads carried the cultural memories of medieval folk in an oral tradition, stories remembered and retold by anonymous minstrels in variations hung on a structure of stanzas and repeated refrains—like the spooky fairy tale of “Tam Lin” or the murder of “Lord Randall” revealed in the question-and-answer dialogue between a mother and son. In the 18th century, broadside ballads were “poetry as news,” commenting on the events of the day.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Romantic and Victorian poets took hold of this folk-song form and wrote literary ballads, telling their own stories as Robert Burns did in “The Lass that Made the Bed to Me” and Christina Rossetti did in “Maude Clare”—or reimagining old legends, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson did with part of the Arthurian story in “The Lady of Shalott.” Ballads carry tales of tragic romance (Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”), of the honor of warriors (Rudyard Kipling’s “The Ballad of East and West”), of the despair of poverty (William Butler Yeats’ “The Ballad of Moll Magee”), of the secrets of brewing (Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Heather Ale: A Galloway Legend”), and of conversations across the divide between life and death (Thomas Hardy’s “Her Immortality”)... The combination of narrative propulsion, implied melody (ballads are often and very naturally set to music), and archetypal stories is irresistable—read some of our collection of classic ballads out loud and you’ll hear what I mean.
Thursday December 5, 2013
Poetry is meant to be shared—though it may be written in solitude and silence, it is a communicative art. For many of us, our first introduction to poetry came in the voice of a parent, singing traditional nursery rhymes, or a teacher, reading from a book of poems for children in the classroom. Times are hard, though—educational funding has been cut back so severely in many places that the arts have nearly disappeared from classrooms, and teachers are forced to buy their own teaching supplies, even the essential necessities. If you love poetry and want to share it with the world, we suggest you turn some of your holiday gift-giving this year to that end: go to Donorschoose.org, where individual teachers can post their needs for classroom projects and individual donors can contribute to funding them, and browse through the poetry projects seeking funding.
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”