TiaTalk











{Sun 28 March 2010}   Warm Winter Poetry Reading
Warm Winter Poetry Reading

Given the sparseness of my snowy post and my subsequent apparent absence from the blogoverse, you’re forgiven for thinking that winter got the better of me and I didn’t make it through! There’ve been times, given the !*&#insert-curse-here*~&! weather in the UK over the past six months, that I didn’t think I would.

But, contrary to appearances, I have actually been around, lurking and learning and adding my two cents’ worth to a few other web projects. I’ve also been having some offline fun, such as the poetry evening we hosted at home on 30th January.

This event came together quickly due to last-minute cancellations for the scheduled reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. We didn’t have enough people to read the play, but we still wanted to do something Shakespearean. I asked each person to bring a favourite Shakespeare sonnet, with another poem, by any other poet, which addresses that sonnet’s themes. It worked brilliantly – the selections delighted us with their variety, yet there was a strong sense of unity because of the Shakespeare connection.

These are some of the poems that were paired:

Because there were only six of us, and because the readings were much shorter than when we read an entire play in an evening, not only could we have a sit-down dinner instead of a buffet, but there was also much more time for discussion and for diverging along delicious poetic and non-poetic tangents.

Speaking of delicious… I created a new soup for the dinner, which went down extremely well and had everyone demanding seconds. As I’m not the world’s best chef, this was something of a culinary miracle, so, for posterity, here’s the recipe:

Tia’s Green Soup

Serves 8

Ingredients:

1 large leek (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 whole broccoli (chopped)
1 whole cauliflower (chopped)
5 celery sticks including leaves (chopped)
6-8 peeled carrots (unless the peel is sweet, then use it)(chopped)
1 large pkt spinach
1 pkt “salad or stirfry” leaves
1 can green flageolet beans

4 tsp vegetable stock granules
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 bayleaf
sea salt (to taste)
olive oil
1.5 litres water

In a very large pot:

1. Fry leek and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes
2. Add broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots and stir-fry for a few minutes.
3. Add spinach, “salad or stirfry” leaves, vegetable stock granules, mixed herbs, bayleaf, sea salt and water and simmer for about twenty minutes. Add more water if the mixture doesn’t look right, or if you cook for a bit longer, but the goal is to keep the soup really thick, so don’t overdo it.
4. After twenty minutes, add the green flageolet beans with the liquid from the can and cook for another five minutes.
5. Remove the bayleaf and use a hand-blender to liquidize the soup to a thick, smooth consistency.

The result is an amazingly creamy, tasty, green soup. I finished preparing this two hours in advance and then reheated it to serve and it was great.



{Sun 25 March 2007}   The Priesthood of the Soul
I have just found in an old backup file some essays of mine on subjects close to my heart, which I had feared were lost. They were created in WordPerfect in 1992 and 1993 on my first computer – a 7.5kg whopper of a laptop which I abandoned in about 1997, I think. I have no idea whether these thoughts and approaches would be considered to have any validity now in any current education programme, but part of me doesn’t care. I just want to affirm and reconnect with my experience of “flow” at the time and also to reconsider now these influences which I know have formed and informed my approach to poetry.

As I read through them, and read the markers’ comments again, I am amazed both at the intensity with which my mind was working at the time, and at my concurrent inability then to absorb either the praise or the criticism that the markers gave. My relative maturity now enables me to see how much care was taken by the markers in their thoughtful comments and I am embarrassed to realise how little I valued them then. My driving need for approbation and reinforcement prevented me from realising that people were offering me exactly these simply by taking my writing seriously enough to offer me thoughtful feedback.

I have no record of the mark I received for this one, but the lecturer actually wrote a five-page response to this twelve-page essay which begins as follows:

The Priesthood of the Soul: The relationship between Imagination and Reason in Keats.

The Romantic obsession with the apparent dichotomy between Passion and Reason is given a new twist in Keats’s unique theology:

Call the world … “The vale of Soul-making”…. There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions — but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself…. Spirit-creation … is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years — These three Materials are the Intelligence — the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul… As various as the Lives of Men are — so various become their souls (Letter 123, 335-6).i

That Keats favours a chemical metaphor for the processes of both poetry and human experience indicates how much his rational and his imaginative faculties complement each other. In The Chemistry of the Poetic Process, Stuart M. Sperry minutely demonstrates how much Keats borrows from his scientific reading to develop his poetic philosophy.ii He shows that Keats sees poetry as a process whereby the material world’s beauties and travails are absorbed via the senses and distilled, through an inner contemplative-experiential mechanism called ‘intensity’, into an essence of thought. Such thought, however, cannot be equated with rational conclusions arrived at through logic. Sensation acted upon by the imagination (the agent of intensity) produces a fresh complex of sense-stimulating beauties which open up new avenues for exploration. For the reader, the poem then forms an acutely tuned part of his material world and invites him to a similar experience of intensification and distillation of thought. In consequence, the reader’s appreciation may differ from the poet’s. Keats’s own capacity for existing in uncertainty allows his readers to fashion their own souls as they choose. In one letter he asserts that poetry can lead man into contemplation and through it to an active awareness (by which he means sensitivity to potential pathways rather than any single, absolute conviction) which could transform humanity (48, 103-4). This is how the poet functions as priest of the soul in ‘the vale of Soulmaking’.

Read the rest of this entry »



This essay by Timothy Steele has been around awhile, but it’s so well-written and its defense of the value of “meter, rhyme and stanza” is so well-supported with resonant examples that it still bears reading.

The Forms of Poetry by Timothy Steele, from The Brandeis Review, 12 (Summer 1992), 28-33

Today, I am particularly taken with these two passages:

“The original revolutionaries perceived more acutely what they wished to challenge or undermine—meter and rhyme in poetry, representation in painting and sculpture, conventional melodic arrangement in music—than what they wished to establish. As a result, the revolution had considerable destructive vitality, but it did not have comparable constructive powers to create alternatives to replace the conventions it swept away.”

“Meters reflect patterns of speech that occur naturally in language. Poets do not invent them out of thin air. To construct a new metrical system, one would first have to construct a new language, or the pronunciation or accentuation of the existing language would have to change radically. So once the battle the modernists fought had been won, their followers tended simply to maintain a somewhat meaningless spirit of rebellion, meaningless because the styles and attitudes against which the rebellion had been directed had ceased to exist.”

It seems an inevitable part of human experience that “the revolution”, after a heady period of free-spirited innovation, always acquires its own orthodoxy and becomes a vicious enforcer of “rules” of freedom. The insistence on the new way of seeing things as the only way of seeing things invalidates the experience, wisdom and creative productions of whole generations, and robs current generations of access to beauties and insights that have empowered and developed human consciousness for thousands of years.

This has always been the pattern with “renewals” in church history. At first they ride on a tide of openness, soul-searching, risk-taking and energetic action as people strive to “live out” their refreshed understanding of the meaning of their faith, sometimes taking great steps of love and courage and martyrdom which change lives and invigorate communities. But after a while, the actions become forms in themselves, nothing more than repeated, futile attempts to recreate the mysterious energy of spirit (Spirit?) that impulsed them so naturally before. The challenge to the status quo becomes the status quo, and the s/Spirit flees.

Why, oh why, is it so difficult for us to maintain “negative capability” (Keats) and realise that any form may contain or even generate mystery, that form does not preclude mystery and that neither form nor lack of form guarantee mystery?



{Fri 23 February 2007}   Seeking the Muse: Beautiful Melancholy
This poem by John Keats is one of my favourites. I return to its themes again and again as I try to understand that the capacity to enter fully into joy is the same one that enables me to grieve to the end of grief. Conversely, while my grieving is blocked, my bliss cannot flow.

The Ode on Melancholy urges me not to stop on the “obvious” expressions of Melancholy in my search for poetic feeling as this leads to a static non-productive depression, like artificially-induced altered states that purport to intensify experience but in fact deaden it. It urges me to yield to the exquisite apperception of true emotion that occurs when I am truly present to life and enter fully into its pleasures. A wholehearted contemplation of beauty must bring awareness of its transience. Ultimately, my pleasure in it is heightened precisely because of its transience. Human life is a bittersweet paradox of continual reaching for beauties which begin to dissipate almost in the moment of their flowering. The soul alert to this can truly feel.

Today, while researching it on the web, I was surprised to discover a discussion I hadn’t come across before (by marilee at englishhistory.net) of a preceding stanza that was removed before the Ode was published. It seemed at first a little impenetrable, but I realised that this was partly because I am so familiar with the other three stanzas. On rereading it, I was drawn in, especially by the idea that a poet might try to “stitch creeds together for a sail” — see my two previous posts!

Although I do think (as Keats and his publishers evidently did) that the poem as it is widely known can stand on its own, the possible prior stanza does convey the urgency that might drive the seeker to contemplate the extreme (suicidal) options covered in the stanza beginning “No, no…”. He really, really wants “To find the Melancholy”!

So… here it is, with four stanzas instead of the usual three.

Reading this poem slowly, aloud, is an incredibly rewarding experience. Enjoy!

Ode on Melancholy
by John Keats

Though you should build a bark of dead men’s bones,
And rear a phantom gibbet for a mast,
Stitch creeds together for a sail, with groans
To fill it out, bloodstained and aghast;
Although your rudder be a Dragon’s tail,
Long sever’d, yet still hard with agony,
Your cordage large uprootings from the skull
Of bald Medusa; certes you would fail
To find the Melancholy, whether she
Dreameth in any isle of Lethe dull.

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.



{Sun 26 November 2006}   On deciding not to marry a priest
On deciding not to marry a priest

Let us, as much as now within us lies,
Cherish these moments, and the memories
Of others such, not letting Cupid’s cease
Cry knell to friendship. Though he dearly dies,

Let’s celebrate with piercéd shining eyes
The new enlargement of those mysteries
Of discourse: soul’s and flesh’s discoveries,
Added as laurels to each other’s prize.

Then, let us coolly choose the sacrifice
Of valued passion for very valiant peace
That rules with justice o’er our yielded lease
And flattens mountains to make valleys rise.

That bonds, beyond the fail or flawed surprise
Of Nature, which forth from Father’s Spirit flies.



et cetera