Monday, April 24, 2017

Beloved Brit Bard Penned Protests

A.E. Houseman--young scholar and poet.

A.E. Houseman, born March 26, 1859 in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England was one of the great classical scholars of his era and is among the most beloved British poets of the late 19th and early 20h Centuries.  His poetry was lauded for its lyricism and emotional intensity.
Acknowledged at an early age as a brilliant scholar and awarded school prizes for his precocious poetry, he won an open scholarship to St John’s College, Oxford, where he studied the classics.  To everyone’s amazement and his own humiliation  Houseman managed to fail his final examinations and be denied graduation.  That made the academic career he had anticipated and coveted impossible.
Instead he went to London where his college roommate and adored friend Moses Jackson got them both minor sinecures in the Patent Office.  The two lodged together again until 1885 when Houseman finally took his own rooms.
Despite these circumstances Houseman pursued the difficult path of an independent scholar and published landmark work on Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles.  He became known as the leading practitioner of textual analysis.  When the sheer magnitude of his accomplishments became undeniable, University College London offered him a professorship in 1892.  He thereafter specialized solely in Latin poetry. 
In 1911 he finally made the academic big time when he was given the  Kennedy Professorship of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained for the rest of his life.
All the while he continued to write poetry, but considered it a completely secondary to his academic pursuits.  Also quite different.  Poetry, he believed should appeal to emotions rather than to the intellect.  Thus his verse provided an emotional outlet otherwise unavailable to a man described by a friend as “descended from a long line of maiden aunts.”

A Shropshire Lad, 1932 edition,          

A Shropshire Lad was published in 1896 but has become a British cultural treasure never out of print and rivaling Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese in perineal popularity.  He published a second collection Last Poems in 1922 which contained dramatic verse grappling with the huge losses of a generation of young men in the Great War.  After his death in 1936 his brother Laurence Housman issued a posthumous collection, More Poems  and a few other poems have been found and printed since.  Americans know him mostly as the author of the widely anthologized To and Athlete Dying Young and When I Was One and Twenty..
But within Houseman’s poems are clued to two public secrets—either of which could have landed in him in prison, destroyed his reputation, and made him a reviled outcast like Oscar Wilde.  Both of those secrets began at Oxford.  First, he utterly rejected Christianity and embraced an atheism that was contemptuous to God, clergy, and church.  Second was the realization of his homosexuality and his life-long unrequited love for his heterosexual roommate Moses Jackson who eventually decamped to India to avoid his declarations of love.
Moses Jackson, Houseman's unrequited love and roommate at Oxford and in London.
Houseman salted his work with subtle—and sometimes not-so-subtle protest verse rooted in these two realities.
This one seems prescient today….
Easter Hymn
If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.

But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.

—A.E. Houseman

This protest to the bigotry of Christian presumption to make moral laws for other like him who reject orthodoxy and convention was inspired by the ugly fate of Oscar Wilde.


The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God’s?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.

—A.E. Houseman

And this stark fragment rose from the blood and mud of France.

from More Poems, XXXVI

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

—A.E. Houseman

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Random New Resistance Verse for National Poetry Month

These six women, members and friends of the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry who joined the March for Science in Chicago on Saturday along with a press-reported 45,000 or so others.  Carol Hamlin Fauré, Casey Fauré, Sandy Eckert, Andria Myers, and Sue Rekenthaler.   Sue is even holding the perfect sign for this post. 

It’s the Sunday before the last week in April on the glide path now to the landing strip at the end of National Poetry Month.  We have dedicated this month here to poems of resistance and now we are in the midst of a season in the streets—an unprecedented wave of mass demonstrations and protests.  Last week Tax Day and Where-the-Hell-are-Your-Returns-Cheeto-Head protests and surly mobs of outraged voters at whatever District event Repug Congress folk dared to show their faces at.  Yesterday were global Marches for Science for Earth Day.  Next Saturday if will be the People’s Climate March.  Then there is May Day with marches, rallies, and even calls for a General Strike.  Millions in the streets.  And we seem to have gotten under the thin skin of the Man on the Golden Throne and his hangers on and toadies.
So I decided it was a good time to take a quick spin around the internet to see what brand spanking new and fresh protest poetry is out there.  This is what I found….

Poet and English teacher Dante Di Stefano.

Rattle, a quarterly journal dedicated to encouraging the writing, reading, and enjoyment of poetry also has an on-line edition and now offers a new protest poem every Sunday.  Promise Poetry features a poem written within the last week in response to real events.  This was one of them.  Dante Di Stefano teaches sophomore and senior high school students in Upstate New York and wrote this for them in honor of National Poetry Month. 
National Poetry Month, 2017
I’ll spend it sequestered in my classroom
in upstate New York, watching the rain sheet
the asphalt on the street below, holding
the little ladder inside the apple

of a poem my students are climbing,
holding steady whatever equipment
they can carry to trim the branches back
in there. We teachers are supposed to say

keep climbing, rocket higher, clamber up,
knock loose the shale of your misconceptions,
but some days it is hard not to dwell in
the knuckles’ ache of whatever bad news

unfolds and flits and flits from screen to screen.
Some days the smell of chalk dust betrays us.
Some days the scent of lilac spells despair.
Some days, children, I want to build with you

a world less rickety, spinning slower,
jagged and pinkish at the horizon,
ricocheted with uncompromised shining,
an orchard inside a seed the wind clips out

into the heart of the heart of a field,
which is the endless golden field inside
your own wild, shrewd, dubious, strange, greening,
teenage hearts and lungs exhaling amen,

and blessing me now in my middle age.
As gorgeously unseen as the new moon,
we’ll sing from the apple’s interior;
together, children, we will choir these bones.

Dante Di Stefano

An endangered species with an Irish ancestor.
Although Irish poet and playwright Paula Meehan’s poem The Solace of Artemis first appeared  in the Notre Dame Review in the fall of 2012, on-going and accelerated man-made climate change has already catastrophically melted so much Arctic sea ice that there are real fears that polar bears and other creatures are doomed to extinction.  The poem, more relevant than ever, was cited by the blog 20th Century Protest Poetry in March for its immediate relevancy.  

The Solace of Artemis

I read that every polar bear alive has mitochondrial DNA
from a common mother, an Irish brown bear who once
roved out across the last ice age, and I am comforted.
It has been a long hot morning with the children of the machine,
their talk of memory, of buying it, of buying it cheap, but I,
memory keeper by trade, scan time coded in the golden hive mind
of eternity. I burn my books, I burn my whole archive:
a blaze that sears, synapses flaring cell to cell where
memory sleeps in the wax hexagonals of my doomed and melting comb.
I see him loping towards me across the vast ice field
to where I wait in the cave mouth, dreaming my cubs about the den,
my honied ones, smelling of snow and sweet oblivion.

—Paula Meehan

Poet Maggie Smith and her children--what won't she tell them?

Maggie Smith, not to be confused with the indomitable actress is an award winning younger poet whose 2016 poem Good Bones from her 2016 chapbook  Disasterology struck such a chord that it went viral on the internet and was quickly translated into several languages.  It even got the highly unusual cultural validation of being quoted on CBS’s topical melodrama Madame Secretary.
Good Bones
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

—Maggie Smith

Monica Youn read her poem at from the Writers Resist NYC event in January.

Finally Monica Youn read this poem at the Writers Resist NYC rally organized by PEN/America from the steps of the iconic New York Public Library just before the inauguration of Donald Trump.  She was then invited to share it on PBS Newshour.

A Guide to Usage: Mine
A. Pronoun
to me.
how should I define the limits of my concern the boundary between mine and not-mine the chime of the pronoun like a steel ring cast over what I know what I name what I claim what I own the whine of the pronoun hones its bright edges to keenness because there is power in the categorical that prides itself and plumps itself and proliferates till there is no room in here for anything but power till there is no air in here but there would be no need for air if you could learn to breathe in whatever I breathe out
B. Noun 1
A pit or tunnel in
the earth
from which
stones or ores or coal
are taken
by digging
or by other methods.
because the earth does not gleam with the shine of the noun to dig into the earth is imperative to use my fingers or else to fashion more rigid more perdurable fingers that cut or delve or sift or shatter because we are more evolved than animals because to mine is not to burrow because the earth is not for us to live in because the earth is not precious in itself the earth is that from which what is precious is taken the earth is what is scraped away or blasted away or melted away from what my steeltipped fingers can display or sell or burn
C. Noun 2
A device
to explode
when stepped upon
or touched,
or when approached
by a ship, vehicle,
or person.
my devise my device redefined by intent so thinskinned this earth is untouchable a sly simulacrum of innocence concealing an infinity of hairtrigger malice the cry of the noun sealed in a concentric sphere that sheaths its lethal secret in silence unapproachable it sings its unspeakable harvest in this field I have seeded with violence
D. Verb
To dig
away or otherwise remove
the substratum
or foundation
To sap.
To ruin
by slow degrees or secret means.
to dig is to build dark dwellings of negative space to knit a linked network of nothing the seams of the seemingly solid unravel the itch of erosion the scratch of collapse each absence the artifact of specific intention an abscess a crater a honeycomb of dead husks the home of the verb is founded on ruin the crime of the verb hollows out prisons and graves the rhyme of the verb tunnels from fissure to fracture from factory to faction from faultline to fate this foundation is equal parts atom and emptiness this fear invades fractally by rhizome and root what cement could salvage this crumbling concrete should I pledge my allegiance to unearthing or earth.
Monica Youn