Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Kurp’

Why is light verse in disfavor? The crusade to save it.

Friday, March 29th, 2019
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The man behind “Anecdotal Evidence”

One of our favorite fellow bloggers, Patrick Kurp of the highly (and justly) respected Anecdotal Evidence, has a article on light verse in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It makes a thoughtful, rewarding read, recognizing in particular Light, the biannual journal founded by a retired Chicago postal worker, John Mella.

One of his goals, Patrick writes, was “to salvage verse from what he called the ‘cheerless, obscure, and finally forgettable muck’ of poetry written by and for academics.” The journal was launched in 1992 and has become a modest literary industry of its own, continuing after his death in 2012. It’s all online now, here.

There has long been a prejudice against light verse in such magazines as The New Yorker, that used to champion the wit and wisdom of Dorothy Parker, the sparkle of Ogden Nash. “It’s a shame the sophisticated humor in its cartoons can no longer be found in its poetry, which is fairly dreary and has been for years,” according to R.S. Gwynn (we’ve written about him here and here). “Maybe the magazine is too high-minded to think that poetry can entertain.”

Joe Kennedy, éminence grise

It’s a commonplace attitude, writes Kurp, that light verse “kids’ stuff, doggerel, greeting-card fodder, unhappy echoes of Richard Armour, whose whimsical riffs appeared in Sunday newspaper supplements starting in the Great Depression. Definitions of light verse are notoriously slippery.”

We’ve written about X.J. Kennedy here and here. Kurp calls him “the éminence grise of American light verse.” His poem “The Purpose of Time Is to Prevent Everything from Happening at Once” is one of my all-time favorites of the genre, and I tend to repost it everywhere on his birthday. (He just turned 89 on August 21.)

According to A.M. Juster (we’ve written about him here and here), who is quoted in the article: ““Light verse has to deal with the timeless issues the way that Martial, Horace, Swift, Byron, Dorothy Parker at her best, and Wendy Cope do, to have any longevity at all. Just wordplay and/or inside jokes on the issues of the day doesn’t last. Dialect poems, which were also popular in the first half of the 20th century, went almost immediately from funny to the elite to offensive to everyone.”

“Light verse requires polish.”

Athens-based A.E. Stallings, a MacArthur Fellow and translator of Hesiod and Lucretius, recalls her early publication in Light, and her interactions with Mella, “I was often less successful in placing poems I truly considered ‘light’ verse with Light,” she says. “Rather, [Mella] seemed to like darker things with music to them. It was often a place where I would send in things that were quite polished, but perhaps didn’t have the scope or gravitas for a ‘serious’ magazine. But light verse requires a great deal of polish. It can be harder to turn out a perfect squib than a publishable page-and-a-halfer, the typical form around the millennium.” It seems to have paid off: read the moving short poems on the refugee crisis, which seem to draw their conciseness from some of her work in a lighter genre.

Discussing a poem by Barbara Loots, Patrick writes:”Deflation — reducing human vanity to its ridiculous or distasteful essentials — is a frequent strategy of light verse. Loots’s poem starts as the 10-thousandth Robert Burns parody and quickly turns Swiftian and more substantial. Critics risk killing the patient when dissecting light verse (or dissecting any kind of humor), but one can’t imagine Loots’s poem written as free verse.”  Here’s her matchless “Colonoscopy: A Love Poem”:

My love is like a red, red rose.
I know because I’ve seen
the photographs inside of him
projected on a screen:

the petal-like appearance of
his proximal transverse,
his mid-ascending colon
like a rose’s opening purse,

appendiceal orifice,
a bud not yet unfurled —
Oh, what a pleasing garden is
my true love’s inner world!

How very like a red, red rose
his clean and healthy gut.
I love my laddie all the more
since looking up his butt.

René Girard and the Three Stooges

Monday, August 20th, 2018
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It’s an honor when a highly esteemed writer takes on your book. I’ve had several to date, and yesterday brought another: Patrick Kurp of the matchless Anecdotal Evidence blog reviews Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. It’s the lead story over at the University Bookman here.

He begins with the Three Stooges:

Merci, Monsieur Kurp.

In their 1941 short feature In the Sweet Pie and Pie, Larry, Curly, and Moe are ex-cons hoping to marry three wealthy debutantes. The girls have other ideas. They throw a high-society party and bribe the butler to dump a cake on Moe’s head, expecting the Stooges to disgrace themselves. Moe responds with a cream pie to the butler’s face. A matron, recipient of collateral damage, prepares to retaliate when the butler points at Moe and says: “He did it.” The matron replies, “Thank you, but you started it,” and beans him with a pie. Soon the Stooges and guests in gowns and tuxedoes are enthusiastically heaving pies, and René Girard would have laughed and understood the scene perfectly. Once encountered, Girard’s theory of mimetic desire, his essential contribution to making sense of human nature, is irresistible, and helps to explain everything from slapstick, to social media, to the threat of thermonuclear cataclysm. …

He continues with some kind words for the reviewer and her subject:

Haven is a seasoned literary journalist who has devoted books to Czesław Miłosz and Joseph Brodsky. She is attracted to the theme of civilization embattled, the persistence of culture, and its defenders in the face of barbarism and indifference. Her study of Girard is neither clinical nor drily academic. It welcomes readers previously unfamiliar with Girard and his work, as well as specialists. It also serves as an hommage. Haven befriended Girard and his family in his later years at Stanford University, an intimacy that provides glimpses of the husband, father, colleague, and friend not immediately available to readers familiar with his thought strictly through his books. Haven draws an attractive portrait of a thoughtful man who, until his death in 2015, was never too self-important to treat others with dignity and respect.

He concludes:

Summarizing Girard’s insights, Haven writes: “We live derivative lives. We envy and imitate others obsessively, unendingly, often ridiculously.… We find it easy to critique the mimetic desires of others, but our own snobbishness and sensitivity to public opinion usually escape our notice. We wish to conceal our metaphysical emptiness from others, in any case, and from ourselves most of all.” As the pies are flying in the Sweet Pie and Pie, Moe pauses and sententiously declaims, “Stop, stop. This has gone far enough. Love thy neighbor.” On cue, five guests, including a pompous U.S. Senator, push cream pies into his face.  

Read the whole thing here. And just for you, Gentle Reader, we include the film clip below:

Letters as “a listening device, a means of silent communion, a snare or net”: wise words from Andrei Sinyavsky

Sunday, June 10th, 2018
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Sinyavsky reunited with the woman who was waiting on the other side.

I’ve been laboring over a text on Russian prosody this weekend, so Russia is clearly still on my mind, even after Friday night’s post on “Eating and (mostly) drinking with Dostoevsky.” However, in an idle moment I turned to yesterday’s post over at  Anecdotal Evidence, and apparently Russia is on blogger Patrick Kurps mind, too.  I didn’t think many others in the West remembered  Andrei Sinyavsky, who wrote under the pen name borrowed from a Russian-Jewish gangster, Abram Tertz (a move that didn’t keep him from getting arrested).

As Patrick explains: “In 1966 he was sentenced to seven years of forced labor for trying to ‘subvert or weaken the Soviet regime.’ That is, he sent a pamphlet and stories to Paris for publication. Totalitarian regimes pay writers the compliment of taking their work seriously. Modern democracies don’t care, and let’s hope it stays that way.” Let’s hope indeed. Sinyavsky was freed in 1971, and emigrated to Paris, where he died in 1997.

Patrick, in turn, was inspired by a web article a few days ago by John Wilson, the founding editor of Books & Culture. Also worth a read.

All this returned me to my own well-worn 1976 copy of A Voice from the Chorus (translated by Kyril Fitzlyon and Max Hayward), with my London phone number scribbled in the front cover. I can’t remember when or for whom I wrote a review. I just remember the book reshuffling my internal dynamics.

These are Sinyavsky’s letters from a labor camp. He was allowed to write to his wife Maria Rozanova only twice a month. The book is poignantly fragmentary – sometimes a sentence or a words overheard in the camp, sometimes the words spill into a mini-essay of several pages. The inside front cover of my book is full of penciled notes for passages I wanted to remember, like this one:

What makes us what we are? It probably all depends on our relationship to surrounding space. A man unconfined in space constantly aspires to go forward into the distance. He is sociable and aggressive, and needs ever new pleasures, impressions and interests. But if he is constricted, cut down to size, reduced to the minimum, then his mind, deprived of forests and fields, creates an inner landscape out of its own immeasurable resources. This is something that monks well knew how to take advantage of. To give away all your worldly goods – is not this to throw out ballast?

Not a man, but a well.

We are not outcasts or prisoners, but reservoirs. Not men, but wells, deep pools of meaning.

But above all these are love letters to the woman waiting for him on the other side, year after year. “I often sit down to a letter not because I intend writing anything of importance to you, but just to touch a piece of paper which you will be holding in your hand…”

And here:

“Oddly enough, all this idle chatter in my letters is in large measure not so much self-expression on my part as a form of listening, of listening to you – turning things over this way and that and seeing what you think about them. It is important for me, when I write, to hear you. Language thus becomes a scanning or listening device, a means of silent communion – absolutely empty, a snare or net: a net of language cast into the sea of silence in the hope of pulling up some little golden fish caught in the pauses, in the momentary interstices of silence. Words have no part in this, except in so far as they serve to mark off the pauses. We use them only to jolly ourselves along as we make our way towards silence, perfect silence.”

Richard Wilbur’s heresy: “elegance, wit, and declaration of faith in the cosmic order”

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017
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A poet of “wit and wakefulness”

Over at the Los Angeles Review of Booksthe matchless Patrick Kurp (who blogs Anecdotal Evidence) writes of the late Richard Wilbur, a poet who favored “wit and wakefulness.”

From “’The Exceptional Man’: Rereading Richard Wilbur”:

Like his mentor, model, and friend Robert Frost, Wilbur has been routinely misunderstood by admirers and detractors alike. To some among the former, he is safe and wholesome, like oatmeal. To his more emphatic critics, Wilbur commits heresy with every act of elegance, wit, and declaration of faith in the cosmic order. In this sense he was a well-mannered outsider, a fugitive from fashion. If Wilbur, who died October 14 at age 96, ever wrote a mediocre poem — one that is perfunctory, careless, egocentric, or empty — I couldn’t remember having read it.

Taking on the “Collected” in one go.

On his death, Patrick decided to take on the poet’s 600+-page Collected Poems 1943–2004 (there have been several small volumes since 2004), cover to cover. “After all, reading a writer attentively is the truest, most respectful act of criticism.” His goal: “to avoid the chestnuts and pay attention to the poems less well remembered.”

He paused at this passage from Wilbur: “The presence of potential rhymes sets the imagination working with the same briskness and license with which a patient’s mind responds to the psychologist’s word-association tests. When a poet is fishing among rhymes, he may and must reject most of the spontaneous reconciliations (and all of the hackneyed ones) produced by trial combinations of rhyming words, and keep in mind the preconceived direction and object of his poem; but the suggestions of rhyme are so nimble and so many that it is an invaluable means to the discovery of poetic raw material which is, in the very best sense, far-fetched.”

Patrick writes:

Note the order in which Wilbur describes composition: “fishing” for rhymes, sorting them, winnowing, rejecting most, all the while remembering the “direction and object” of the poem. A good rhyme isn’t the snap of a lock but a key to open the imagination. The ability to write first-rate poetry, like the gifts for mathematics and music (composition and performance), is a freakishly rare combination of rigor and openness. Few have been so lavishly gifted as Wilbur. Tin-eared critics will dismiss rhyme as handcuffs, something artificial to bind the imagination. On the contrary. When Wilbur likens rhyme to a psychologist’s parlor game, he’s not suggesting repressed memories and the unleashing of buried anguish and guilt. Music goes deeper than that. So melodic are some of Wilbur’s poems, so gracefully arranged, one might be tempted not merely to read his lines but intone them, as in these from “A Black Birch in Winter” (The Mind-Reader: New Poems, 1976): “Old trees are doomed to annual rebirth, / New wood, new life, new compass, greater girth.” Ella Fitzgerald would sing this bouncily, allegro moderato, with light stress on the nouns.

Wilbur once wrote that poems “should include every resource which can be made to work,” and in his best poems, no motion is wasted. They resemble happy athletes: the flab has been trimmed, the muscles are limber. They move with confidence and strength, and they make it look effortless.

Read the whole thing here. It will reward the effort.  So will his blog Anecdotal EvidenceMy favorite in recent days, his excellent mini-essay on historian and poet Robert Conquest is here.

A postscript on Dick Wilbur from the poet R.S. Gwynn: “Being an ‘exceptional man’ is part of Wilbur’s exceptional quality as a poet. Frost had “a lover’s quarrel with the world’; Wilbur had a lifelong lover’s quarrel with the words that make it up. Lovers quarrel to bring their best, sometimes hidden qualities to the fore. Wilbur did the same thing with language.

 

“It’s a negative freedom, something like a negative capability type of freedom.”

Friday, October 27th, 2017
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“I love the technical joy and pleasure,” says poet and translator Dick Davis. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Our friend and eminent blogger Patrick Kurp of Anecdotal Evidence has a review over at the Los Angeles Review of Books this week – “A Negative Freedom: Thirteen Poets on Formal Verse” (it’s here). The book considers Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, a collection of interviews edited by William Baer. A number of other dear friends – poets, all – are mentioned. And there’s some splendid words about the often-overlooked form of “light verse.”

A moralist at heart

Said Richard Davis, the foremost translator from the Persian into English ever as well as a top-notch poet in his own right, said, “I do love those kinds of poems — light verse as it’s called. I love the technical joy and pleasure that takes place in the writing of such poems, and the hope that those reading them will sense the pleasure that the poet experienced while writing them.”

Patrick Kurp notes that R.S. Gwynn is often labeled a writer of light verse, “a classification at once limiting and dismissive.”

Top blogger Patrick Kurp

He wrote: “Like many formal poets, Gwynn is a moralist at heart, one who favors mockery over sermons. His instincts, if not his politics (which remain unstated in the interview with Baer), are conservative, and the best satires are most often produced by writers of conservative sensibility. Think of Juvenal, Pope, Swift, Johnson, and Waugh.”
According to Sam Gwynn, “[M]y lyricism works best when it’s counterpointed against something else, like irony, for example.” From Patrick’s review:

In “Approaching a Significant Birthday, He Peruses The Norton Anthology of Poetry,” Gwynn assembles a poem consisting entirely of lines from 28 certified poetic war horses. Half the fun is identifying the sources and marveling at the deathless elasticity of iambic pentameter:

All human things are subject to decay.
Beauty is momentary in the mind.
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Lucretius fan

MacArthur “genius” Fellow A. E. Stallings, who recently translated Lucretius’s The Nature of Things into rhyming fourteeners, also writes witty, graceful, and profound poems in form. Rhyme, she says, allows her to “say something shocking or something totally unexpected.” In Alicia’s own words:

It’s helpful and effective to have some limitations on one’s choices and even to “give up” some control over the poem. Which, I suppose, is a little scary for some people. To give up some control to the muse, to outer things. I feel there’s almost a sort of Ouija Board feeling about rhyme and meter, where maybe you’re in control, and maybe you’re not. […] Maybe it’s a negative freedom, something like a negative capability type of freedom.

Read the whole review here.

Lonesome George’s lesson: light verse is not always a laughing matter.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017
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George

A lonely life on the Galapagos for George (Photo: Mike Weston)

Two friends have the spotlight today: Patrick Kurp, one of our favorite bloggers over at the incomparable Anecdotal Evidence, writes about the poet X.J. Kennedy, who turns 88 this year in the today’s Los Angeles Review of Books. The review, “‘A Sweetness in This Sense’: On X. J. Kennedy’s That Swing: Poems, 2008–2016,” spotlights the latest collection of his poems. Well, we’ve written Joe Kennedy’s thoughts about aging here, on the occasion of one of his previous birthdays. And we’ll most likely have more to say about him after the West Chester Poetry Conference next month, where he will be a guest of honor. 

Here’s what Patrick has to say about Joe, aging, and the light verse for which the poet is renowned:

thatswing“Kennedy’s standing as a poet recalls the late Thomas Berger’s as a novelist. Berger, the author of some of the funniest novels in the language, always denied being a comic writer, because, in our culture, humor is regarded as suspiciously frivolous. But consider the serious humor of Kennedy’s “Lonesome George,” devoted to a giant tortoise, the last of its species, kept in a pen at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galápagos Islands:

No mate for him exists.
.  Last one of his subspecies,
he solemnly persists
.  in turning into feces
eelgrass brown and dry,
.  spine-sprinkled cactus leaves.
Straining to gulp a fly,
.  dejectedly retrieves
blunt head. Dead-ending male,
.  lone emblem of despair,
he slumps on his kneecaps, his tail
.  antennaing the air.
For a long moment we bind
.  sympathetic looks,
we holdouts of our kind,
.  like rhymed lines, printed books.

XJKennedy

Da man.

“Lonesome George, like his author, persists in doing what he does best, and without self-pity. Humor has many timbres and tones, and Kennedy plays with most of them, from the scatological to rarefied wit. Has anyone before him rhymed “subspecies” and “feces”? Kennedy’s gift for concision is a marvel (the meeting of poet and tortoise could easily be a fleshed-out essay or story, and much would be lost), as is the way he bends and shapes his basic iambic trimeter line. In a note to the poem, Kennedy, who visited George in 2011, delivers the punch line: “In June 2012, a few days after this poem appeared in a magazine, George died, leaving no progeny.” Light verse isn’t always a laughing matter.”

Read the whole thing here.

A Christmas Sonnet (For One In Doubt)

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016
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robinson

We have poet Ernest Hilbert to thank for drawing our attention to this seasonal poem, “A Christmas Sonnet (For One in Doubt)”  by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935), one of America’s greatest poets. Today is his birthday.

“Edwin Arlington Robinson is poetry. I can think of no other living writer who has so consistently dedicated his life to his work,” according to Amy Lowell. In 1928, Robinson published Sonnets, 1889-1927. This is the last sonnet he ever wrote (see Patrick Kurp‘s Anecdotal Evidence here for a lovely mini-essay on it):

While you that in your sorrow disavow
Service and hope, see love and brotherhood
Far off as ever, it will do no good
For you to wear his thorns upon your brow
For doubt of him. And should you question how
To serve him best, he might say, if he could,
“Whether or not the cross was made of wood
Whereon you nailed me, is no matter now.”

Though other saviors have in older lore
A Legend, and for older gods have died—
Though death may wear the crown it always wore
And ignorance be still the sword of pride—
Something is here that was not here before,
And strangely has not yet been crucified.

Hurricane comes to the Book Haven

Monday, June 9th, 2014
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It’s been awhile since we heard from our friend Patrick Kurp, who runs the excellent blog, Anecdotal Evidence. It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from pretty much from anyone, hunkered down over a book manuscript as we are. However, he sent me this recent photo to add to our gallery of best book cats. This one is his own feline, Hurricane, who is keeping on top of Polish literature, as you can see below. I recognize two of my own books on the shelf: An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz and Czesław Miłosz: Conversations. It’s nice to be nestled in-between two beloved poets: the Polish Nobel laureate himself, and Adam Zagajewski, via his prose,  In Defense of Ardor: Essays and his memoir, Another Beauty. Why such an ominous name for this handsome tabby?  Patrick explains that his son Michael, then about four, named him in December 2005, when the furball showed up at the door just a few months after Katrina and Rita. Welcome to our pages, Hurricane! (Photo: Sylvia Wood)

WP_000724

Postscript: Patrick posted about his “Pole Cat” today here. He pointed out that Zbigniew Herbert (who shares the bookshelf) would have approved. Don’t we know it. We visited the poet’s cat a few years back in Warsaw. That’s Herbert’s big cat Szu-szu at right, and Mouszka at left, a later addition to the family by Madame Herbert. Stroking Herbert’s cat made a wonderful frisson of connection with the poet through time.

szu-szu

Can a dog be the test of a good poem?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012
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Winters loved Airedales.

Patrick Kurp‘s blog Anecdotal Evidence is always a treat, but it is particularly excellent today, as it celebrates the birthday of two poets: the late Yvor Winters and very current Les Murray, who identifies himself as “a very high-performing Asperger’s.”

How can we avoid sentimentality?  According to Murray, “I think it’s probably in not telling lies. There’s always something false about the sentimental. When it’s feeling without lies, it’s terribly scary, but it’s not sentimental.”

Winters defined a poem as “a statement in words about a human experience,” and later in the same text added, “special pains are taken with the expression of feeling.”

He wrote elsewhere:  “The basis of evil is in emotion; Good rests in the power of rational selection in action, as a preliminary to which the emotion in any situation must be as far as possible eliminated, and, in so far as it cannot be eliminated, understood.”

These are two very different poets, but one thing they had in common was their love of dogs.  “Here’s a test for both poets,” says Patrick. “If any subject invites sappy sentimentality, wallows in whimsy, it’s dogs. Their extreme poetic admirers want to be admired for their love of canines. To address the subject in poetry without falsity or self-admiration means swimming against the warm fuzzy tide.”

See how both poets fare in Patrick’s essay, with two poems on the death of their dogs.  Well worth the read.  It’s here.

Meanwhile, happy birthday, Les Murray and Yvor Winters, wherever you are in time and space.

Miłosz at the Faculty Club

Monday, June 11th, 2012
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My friend Mike Ross immediately thought of me when he read today’s post from “The Rice History Corner” blog at his alma mater, Rice University in Houston.  (I’m flattered.)  It features a Czesław Miłosz having lunch at the university’s faculty club with Prof. Ewa Thompson.  The Nobel poet recorded a program for KUHT-TV with Thompson and other Houston writers and scholars, and also gave a talk at the University of Houston.

Zagajewski provided another Houston link

The column is written by the university’s “centennial historian,” who doesn’t give her name.  She has good taste, though:  Patrick Kurp‘s blog Anecdotal Evidence is at the top of her blogroll.  Moreover, she delights in such poets as Zbigniew Herbert and Adam Zagajewski, as well as Miłosz.

The connection between Miłosz and Houston rang a bell in other ways.  Adam Zagajewski arrived on the campus of the University of Houston in 1988, and later launched a program connecting the students in Texas with Miłosz in Kraków.  So the link between Miłosz and Houston is stronger than might be supposed.

Meanwhile, in my perambulations around the web, I found Christopher Hitchens‘s “The Captive Mind Now,” words written on Miłosz’s death in 2004, in which he revisits the landmark Captive Mind and “ketman,” and somehow brings Azar Nafisi‘s Reading Lolita in Tehran into the mix, with its dedication from the Polish poet’s “Annalena”:

To whom do we tell what happened on the
Earth, for whom do we place everywhere huge
Mirrors in the hope that they will be filled up
And will stay so?

“The Hitch” concludes:  “The long-term achievement of Milosz was to have scrutinized, not just in between but clean through, and well beyond, the party ‘lines’ that claim for themselves exclusive truth. In doing so he shamed the so-called intellectuals who managed the ugly trick of denying freedom to their own minds, the better to visit the same deprivation upon others.”