Archive for Derek Walcott

Last Week in Poetry #6: 5/11-5/17/2009

Posted in Weekly Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2009 by czarnickolas

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium. Unfortunately, it’s Monday, but at least that means this must be Last Week in Poetry. Today we’ve got more great steps for women in poetry, a Yoko Ono sighting, and John Keats’ love life now appearing at Cannes.

1 – Ruth Padel Brings Some XX to Oxford Faculty

As reported by the AP, Oxford broke down another barrier last week:

Ruth Padel, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, became Oxford University’s first female professor of poetry on Saturday.

She was voted to the prestigious five-year post by graduates and academics, and she is the first woman to hold the job since it was created in 1708.

Her series of poems about the famous naturalist — “Darwin A Life in Poems” — received rave reviews when it was published earlier this year, and Padel said she wanted to use her new post to unite poetry and science.”

Unfortunately, Ms. Padel’s appointment has been marred somewhat by the controversy surrounding one of the post’s other candidates. Not lost among the coverage of this event is Derek Walcott’s withdrawal from consideration after a smear campaign irreparably damaged his chances at the post. Covered here last week, Walcott faced the resurfacing quarter-century-old sexual harassment charges. Supporters see conspiracy:

James Fenton, a former incumbent of the professorship, went further, blaming Ruth Padel, Walcott’s chief rival for the post, and more pertinently the journalist John Walsh, who wrote an inflammatory piece in The Independent…

Fenton raged: “It has been disgusting to watch as this hypocritical duo have kicked a 79-year-old poet in the slats, not because he represented some kind of threat to the weak-willed young women of Oxford (come on!) but because he stood in the way of Padel’s ambitions.”

Padel herself has disclaimed any responsibility: “What we all should have been talking about all this time was – and is – poetry.” There are few, including Walcott, who criticise Padel’s poetry, although fewer who would place it in the same league as his.”


Los Angeles, 2004

2 – Keats Love Story at Cannes

Professor Harper often cited Keats in class as an example of what one can accomplish by the age of 25, but he admonished us not to get too caught up in trying to catch him. “There will never be another Keats,” Harper always said. Lost in Harper’s lectures was Keats’ romantic life. Thankfully, Jane Campion – the Kiwi director behind “The Piano” – decided to shine some light on the subject. Her latest project, “Bright Star,” shows viewers the romantic side of Keats’ last two years alive, featuring his affair with Fanny Brawne:

“My feeling was that Fanny didn’t know much about poetry, ” Ms. Campion said in an interview before the festival. “But she got Keats’s poems.”

“Fanny blooms with health and beauty, while the poet, played by Ben Wishaw, withers away: tuberculosis killed him at 25. His last sonnet, “Bright Star,” was written on the ship that took him to Rome, where he died.

“The story of Keats has so many portals you can enter,” said Ms. Campion. “I chose not to show how he died, because Fanny didn’t know.”

The movie took a while to get off the ground, in part due to marketing considerations:

Ms. Campion was captivated by Keats’s poetry in high school, and for years dreamed of making a film about his life.

“It was an incredibly unpopular subject when I first thought of it — a very aggressive time, people were only interested in making money. Slowly, shyly, I shared the idea with Jan Chapman, my producer, who also loves Keats.”

3 – Yoko Ono + Twitter + Haiku = Can’t Miss Poetry Event

Citizens of London have a unique chance participate in the world’s first interactive Twitter poetry competition. Not only that, but a certain Mrs. John Lennon will be among the celebrity judges:

“Commuters who pass through King’s Cross and St Pancras are being invited to submit haiku-style poems on the subject of “the great British summer” from their phones using the social micro-blogging tool. The poems are displayed, within minutes of submission, on a board in the stations, from today until Friday. The best will then be selected by judges including the poet Jackie Kay and artist Yoko Ono.”

The competition combines the classic icon of London transportation – St Pancras station – with the micro-blogging giant Twitter:

“From The Ladykillers to Harry Potter, the station has been recorded in film and literature but the thousands of people it brings into London each day are rarely acknowledged,” said Peter Millican, the head of Kings Place. “Poetry is a big component of our spoken word series of events on a Monday and we wanted to raise the profile of the night with a different group of people to our usual audience. Twitter and haiku just seemed to click.”

Poet Jackie Kay agrees. “I’m intrigued by Twitter; it’s a whole new form of communication,” she said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery and brevity of haiku, how people can say simple things, profoundly. I’m looking forward to seeing how these two forms will collide and communicate with one another.”


NYC, 2004

4 – Poetry Therapist

We covered poetry as therapy a few weeks ago, but this week we’ve got a profile on a poetry therapist. It may sound like “hoo-ha” to some, but Nessa McCasey stands by her work, “meeting with individuals, couples and groups to heal ‘individual and community wounds so often overlooked or cast aside during our busy daily lives.'” McCasey acknowledges potential shortcomings, “careful not to hold herself out as a licensed clinical therapist”:

She will not counsel someone with an issue that should be treated in a more acute manner by others. “I might need to tone things down or talk to them privately, to make sure they’re getting help,” she said.

Still, McCasey sees value in poems as healing agents, and she grew her English degree from the University of Michigan in a circuitous way that eventually led her into the job she has today.

“You’ve probably heard of music therapy and art therapy,” she said. “Poetry therapy is under that same umbrella, but it’s a younger organization than the other two.”

Be sure to check out Nessa McCasey’s Web site Writers of Wrongs.

5 – Link of the Week- The Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando

Kerouac is a favorite here at The Poetry Project. If he’s a favorite of yours, too, and you would like to live rent-free in the Orlando house he stayed in at one point, give this link a look.


Last Week in Poetry #5: 5/3-5/10/2009

Posted in Weekly Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2009 by czarnickolas

It seems impossible, but I assure you it’s not: it’s Monday again. What that means for most people is burnt coffee, chronic self-loathing, and “Someone’s got a case of the Mondays!” underpants. What that means for you, dear reader, is another list of stories that – just last week – turned the world of poetry on its head. (And what that doesn’t mean is a series of awful Shaquille O’Neal puns.)

Without further delay, let’s go back a week!

1 – Craig Arnold: 1967-2009

Craig Arnold, 1967-2009
(© unknown)

As reported here last week, poet Craig Arnold went missing while on a remote volcano in Japan. News sources confirmed Friday that Arnold suffered a leg injury and then fell to his death off a steep cliff.

“The only relief in this news is that we do know exactly what befell Craig, and we can be fairly certain that it was very quick, and that he did not wait or wonder or suffer,” wrote Rebecca Lindenberg, Arnold’s partner of six years, on a Web site she maintained during the search.

Jacqueline Osherow, professor of English at the U. and Arnold’s adviser in the doctoral program, said is devastated by the loss. Osherow said her letter recommending Arnold for the fellowship in Japan weighed on her at first after news of his disappearance, but has since lifted. She described Arnold as a big-hearted person whose immense talent let him do what he wanted in life.

“I’m more broken-hearted for him than the poems he didn’t live to write,” Osherow said. “This is a loss to American literature and letters. It’s wrong to say he was full of promise, because he delivered on that.”

The Poetry Project sends its condolences to Craig’s family and friends.

2 – Lord of the Verse

Tolkien fans rejoice: after being lost for 70 years, J.R.R.’s poetic adaptation of old Norse legend has found the light of day, thanks to the efforts of Tolkien’s son Christopher. The poems are available as The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun and contain, as do all good sagas, “betrayal, love, and slaughter” as well as “dragons, dwarves, golden hoards, and a lot of drinking.”

The poems – the “New Lay of the Volsungs” and the “New Lay of Gudrun” – aren’t direct translations of the original Old Norse “sources,” which were “various in their nature.” This was J. R. R.’s attempt to “organize the Edda material dealing with Sigurd and Gunnar.”

The “Volsungs” deal with the life and death of the Volsung family. It’s mainly about Sigurd who slays the dragon Fafnir, takes his cursed gold, wins the love of the warrior maiden Brynhild but is told to come back when he has a kingdom. Sigurd, overcome by an enchantment, marries the beautiful Gudrun instead, then deceives Brynhild into marrying his friend, Gunnar. As you might guess, the proud Brynhild doesn’t take this well. Sigurd is assassinated and Brynhild kills herself so she can join him on his funeral pyre.

Although there is no word yet whether Viggo Mortensen will be involved in a staged reading of the poems, I’m pretty sure that Dominic Monaghan is looking for work.


Los Angeles, 2008

3 – White House Hosts Poetry Slam… Or Jam… Or Something Like That

In his continued effort to bring distinguished artists to the White House, President Barack Obama has scheduled the White House’s very first poetry slam. While I support Obama’s intention to “open up the White House and remind people [it] is the people’s house,” I’m not sure that Obama’s PR team has sufficiently investigated the meaning of the phrase “poetry slam.”’s Bob Holman and Margery Snyder agree that the name is a bit misleading:

“Poetry slam” is in quotes in our post’s title because the evening’s program doesn’t sound like an actual poetry slam — the invited artists include Mayda Del Valle, who is known as a slam poet, but also novelist Michael Chabon, bassist Esperanza Spalding, pianist ELEW and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. But poetry slam has deep roots in Chicago, one of Obama’s home towns, and being a poet himself, I imagine Obama has ideas about slam, so it may well be that an actual poetry slam is staged at the White House this week.

An exhaustive list of articles relating to poetry in last year’s presidential campaigns appears here, courtesy again of Bob and Margery. Thanks for your hard work, guys.

4 – Spotted: Lonely Professor Making Passes at Aspiring Young Poets

When jockeying for a professorship starts to resemble a terrible episode of Gossip Girl, things have gotten out of hand, especially when all-time great Derek Walcott is at the eye of the storm. UK’s Times Online reports:

The race to win poetry’s most prestigious academic post has turned dirty after Oxford academics were anonymously sent a lurid dossier accusing Derek Walcott, the frontrunner and Nobel laureate, of being a sex pest.

The package was circulated last week to staff and graduates eligible to vote in next Saturday’s election for the Oxford professorship of poetry, as well as to the offices of Cherwell, a student newspaper.

The dossier recounts a sexual harassment claim against Walcott, 79, when he taught at Harvard in the 1980s.

The poet was reprimanded following the allegation that he tried to pressure a female student into sleeping with him.

Two things jump out here: first, the claim is over twenty-five-years-old; second, the claim was handled by Harvard already. Yes, the UK has a different legal system than the US does, but surely the concept of double jeopardy isn’t lost on the fine minds of Oxford academics. Walcott has faced these accusations already – judge the man on his merits, not the crimes for which he has already been punished. Professor Hermione Lee agrees:

Lee, president of Wolfson College and a leader of the Walcott campaign, was one recipient of the dirty dossier. Criticising the “campaign of vilification”, Lee said: “The fact that this has been anonymously circulated is rather shocking. It is an unpleasant way of carrying on.

“Should great poets who behave badly be locked away from social interaction? We are acting as purveyors of poetry not of chastity.”

Amen, Hermione.

MasonAtECTLos Angeles, 2008

5 – Cowboy Poets!

From the OMGWTFBBQ sauce files: a new youth Cowboy Poetry Workshop has begun in Mesquite. I would write that sentence again in a much larger font, but I don’t want to come off as amateurish. So many questions spring to mind: What is “Cowboy Poetry”? How do I go about starting my own Cowboy Poetry Workshop? Since when is Mesquite more than just a flavor of BBQ sauce? I’d go on, but it’s all covered here:

The youth are learning the rules of cowboy poetry as provided by well-known cowboy poet [and Lariat Laureate!] Sam Jackson from Kanab, Utah, a sheep herder and guest poet at Mesquite’s 3rd Annual Cowboy Poetry Hootenanny, which was held on April 10-11 this year.

There will be some invited guests who will be speaking to the youth about their experiences in the field of cowboy poetry.

The goal of the group is to learn to read, write and recite cowboy poetry to their own ability and with originality.

Their skills will be honed within the next several weeks so that they can present their “works” at a program to which the public will be invited.

If anyone is interested in forming a Chicago-based Cowboy Poetry Workshop with me this summer, please leave a comment.

…and that’s Last Week in Poetry!

Poet #5: Sterling Brown

Posted in Poets with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2009 by czarnickolas

Sterling Brown

“[T]he sincere, sensitive artist, willing to go beneath the cliches of popular belief to get at an underlying reality, will be wary of confining a race’s entire characters to a half-dozen narrow grooves.”
— Sterling Brown

(© unknown)

The African American poetic tradition spans over 200 years and features many celebrated artists, such as Phillis Wheatley – a slave at seven-years-old and the first published African American poet; Robert HaydenUS Poet Laureate and one of the genre’s great scholars; Gwendolyn Brooks – another US Poet Laureate and advocate for public readings; and Derek Walcott – winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize for literature, just to name a few. In their collection, The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton assembled the works of 50 essential contributors. What may surprise many readers is how much attention is paid to a poet too often overlooked, a man whose whose efforts birthed the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts movements. I refer to Mr. Sterling Brown.

“From the ‘adopt’ and ‘adapt’ phases of African American poetry – its adoption of rhetoric and form from English poetry in Wheatley and others and its adaptation of these forms to distinctly black subjects in the Harlem Renaissance – this tradition could be said to have come into its own with Brown’s ‘adept’ creation of an entirely new prosody. Though often confused with the work of ‘dialect poets,’ poets who simply forced black speech into English forms in some of their poems (Dunbar and Hughes among them), Brown’s poetic project was in fact quite different. His life’s work was to foreground the ‘folk.’ He strove to show that rural southern blacks in particular, while generally dismissed by white Americans, even those who worked for social reform, as passive sufferers, had in fact developed a system of active strategies for encompassing the harsh economic and social situations in which they foun themselves. Brown’s poetry does not ennoble his subjects but serves to underscore their preexisting nobility.”
— Harper/Walton, The Vintage Book of African American Poetry

Brown’s goal detailed by Harper and Walton comes across immediately in most of his work, including the poem “Southern Road”:

Southern Road

Swing dat hammer–hunh–
Steady, bo’;
Swing dat hammer–hunh–
Steady, bo’;
Ain’t no rush, bebby,
Long ways to go.

Burner tore his–hunh–
Black heart away;
Burner tore his–hunh–
Black heart away;
Got me life, bebby,
An’ a day.

Gal’s on Fifth Street–hunh–
Son done gone;
Gal’s on Fifth Street–hunh–
Son done gone;
Wife’s in de ward, bebby,
Babe’s not bo’n.

My ole man died–hunh–
Cussin’ me;
My ole man died–hunh–
Cussin’ me;
Ole lady rocks, bebby,
Huh misery.

Guard behin’;
Guard behin’;
Ball an’ chain, bebby,
On my min’.

White man tells me–hunh–
Damn yo’ soul;
White man tells me–hunh–
Damn yo’ soul;
Got no need, bebby,
To be tole.

Chain gang nevah–hunh–
Let me go;
Chain gang nevah–hunh–
Let me go;
Po’ los’ boy, bebby,
Evahmo’ . . .


“In ‘Southern Road,’ Brown abstracts the rhythms of a work song to make it slightly more regular and so to emphasize the grinding, repetitive nature of the chain gang.”
— Harper/Walton, The Vintage Book of African American Poetry

Born on the campus of Howard University in 1901, Brown’s aptitude and scholarly instincts brought him through Dunbar High School, Williams College, and Harvard University. After his formal education – and prior to his appointment as Professor of English at Howard – Brown spent three years in Lynchburg, Virginia, teaching at the Virginia Seminary and College. “It was within this intimate, rural niche of African American culture,” write Harper and Walton, “that his talents as a teacher and a folksayer without peer blossomed.”

“I learned the arts and sciences at Williams, I learned the humanities in Lynchburg, Virgina.”
— Sterling Brown

(photo © Roy Lewis)

Perhaps Brown’s greatest gift as a poet was his ear, which helped him merge “common, racy, living speech” with the traditions of A. E. Housman and Thomas Hardy. “Brown’s poetic goals were communal,” explain Harper and Walton. “His hope was to create a community of voices and readers in antiphony.” Brown also found inspiration from W. B. Yeats’s Irish Renessaince.

Slim Greer in Hell

Slim Greer went to heaven;
St. Peter said, “Slim,
You been a right good boy.”
An’ he winked at him.

“You been travelin’ rascal
In yo’day.
You kin roam once mo’;
Den you come to stay.

“Put dese wings on yo’ shoulders,
An’ save yo’ feet.”
Slim grin, and he speak up,
“Thankye, Pete.”

Den Peter say, “Go
To Hell an’ see,
All dat is doing, and
Report to me.

“Be sure to remember
How everything go.”
Slim say, “I be seein’ yuh
On de late watch, bo.”

Slim got to cavortin’
Swell as you choose,
Like Lindy in de Spirit
Of St. Louis Blues.

He flew an’ he flew,
Till at last he hit
A hangar wid de sign readin’

Den he parked his wings,
An’ strolled aroun’,
Gittin’ used to his feet
On de solid ground.

It’s a crime that Brown continues to be overlooked, but there is no shortage of theories about why this is so. Perhaps the most logical comes from Harper and Walton in African American Poetry‘s introduction:

“Brown’s life’s work was to hold up the face of [the southern, rural man] and make us look behind it. He aimed to take his reader through the looking glass in a sense – into that part of society that “society” has defined itself against. His work was dismissed because the face he held up is in fact a looking glass: to see that face accurately we would first have to see ourselves, to see those things about ourselves and the country we have made that we still, even at this late date, do not like to see.”
— Harper/Walton, The Vintage Book of African American Poetry

Sterling Brown was a native of Washington, D.C. After attending Williams College and Harvard University, he taught poetry at Howard University for forty years. His students included Amiri Baraka and Gwendolyn Brooks among many others. Brown died in 1989.

(© unknown)