Thomas Carew had it right: Lukewarm is icky!

On Tuesday night (6th December) I enjoyed Poet in the City’s monthly drop-in at Waterstone’s Piccadilly. The theme was “Fire and Ice“, based on the famous poem by Robert Frost.

Thomas Carew

Jamie Field, a new blogger for Poet in the City, has posted a short review of the event with a list of the poets and poems read, which is a feast in itself, but I thought I’d post here the full text of the poem by Thomas Carew that I read, because I love it! My friend and fellow Poet in the City volunteer, Alice, suggested I read it and I’m so glad she did, because it reflects how I feel about everything from bathwater to coffee to love!

Mediocritie in love rejected

Give me more love, or more disdaine;
The Torrid or the frozen Zone
Bring equall ease unto my paine;
The temperate affords me none;
Either extreame, of love or hate,
Is sweeter than a calm estate.

Give me a storme; if it be love,
Like Danae in that golden showre,
I swimme in pleasure; if it prove
Disdaine, that torrent will devoure
My Vulture-hopes; and he’s possesst
Of Heaven, that’s from Hell releast:
Then crowne my joyes, or cure my paine;
Give me more love, or more disdaine.

Thomas Carew (1595? – 1645?)

It seems the poem was originally a sonnet, because all the versions that I’ve found have fourteen lines, except for the one I actually read, which adds the final couplet to the end of the first stanza as well. Presumably, this is because it was slightly modified by Little Machine to enable their musical rendering of it, which is worth a listen!

{Wed 5 October 2011}   About Art Accelerating Art

Art Accelerating Art

Is this the shape of things to come?

We had the first rehearsal yesterday for this performance to be held at the Saatchi Gallery 13-16 October.

The idea is to investigate how audience appreciation of The Shape of Things to Come exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery is affected when music and poetry are performed in response to sculpture.

Elinros Henriksdottir asked me to select and perform some poetry in response to certain works and invited A Band of Buriers to do the same in music.

Read the rest of this entry »

{Sun 18 April 2010}   Spring Poetry
Spring Poetry

“Spring Transformations” was the original theme for Saturday’s reading. I was a little worried that we might end up with a round of sickly sweet “positive” poems, but as it turned out, none of us brought poems specifically to do with change and renewal. These ideas are always associated with spring, along with youth, innocence, idealism and hope, but most of us found poems with “a shadow over them” as the poets looked back with a mixture of pleasure and regret on past springs. Perhaps, as none of us are exactly “spring things” ourselves, we are attracted to poems that have a more complex view of this season.

My favourite amongst those shared was the gorgeous Nocturne of Remembered Spring by Conrad Aiken. This is a bittersweet poem, capturing all of the above themes, but from the perspective of one looking back on the promise and potential of a path not taken.

Other poems shared included:

  • Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, From you have I been absent in the spring, a poem of longing where the lover declares that despite the spring all about, winter remains for him while he is separated from his lover.
  • Men ask the way to Cold Mountain (scroll down to read stanzas 6-8) by Han Shan. This does not seem to be a spring poem, but perhaps a reluctant spring is implicit – the reader spoke of a resonance with the feeling of deep-seated cold when the summer is not able to break the ice of winter.
  • Spring (8 Haiku) by Ben Gieske, a whimsical, funny and tender poem that is also of remembrance, of one or several springs.
  • A series of Spring Haiku by different poets, accompanied by photographs, curated by Ray Rasmussen. The Haiku poems sparked quite a discussion about Haiku and even inspired some sharing of poems written by the various participants.

We rounded off the evening by watching Michael Radford’s Il Postino, a funny and touching delight that was good to revisit as I’d last seen it many years ago. I was quite surprised to discover that in fact this story about Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s friendship with, and inspiration of, a humble postman on a remote Italian island is fictional… I suppose I believe so much in the power of poetry that it seemed to me perfectly plausible.

(Update 19/04/10: ) The Haiku shared included this one that I loved and which I can share now with the permission of the poet:

Drowning the day’s sorrow
Back and forth
The swimming pool

© Nitzan Marinov, Spring 2007

{Mon 17 December 2007}   Fabulous festive season poetry evening
Over the past two years, we’ve hosted several very enjoyable Shakespeare readings, with a very merry time being had by all participants (who keep coming back for more!). To do something a bit different for the festive season, we decided to hold a poetry evening instead. Despite the fact that several people had to cancel shortly beforehand due to illness or other unavoidable distractions, and that most of those who did come were severely delayed due to an accident that snarled up all the access routes to our home, the evening was a resounding success.

If you’ve ever longed to explore well-loved poems, or to discover new ones to delight in, with a receptive group, here’s a possible model that you could adapt for your own experience (the poems we shared are listed at the end of this post):


We’re a diverse bunch in terms of culture, countries of origin, languages, religion, age, etc., so “Season’s Greetings” means different things for each of us, but at this time of holidays and festivities families and friends generally come together and individuals look forward to new growth in the New Year. I therefore proposed the following theme for the evening:

To celebrate the season and who we are in it by sharing a poem that connects with a positive aspect of our own heritage

By “heritage”, I had in mind the following very wide definitions found via Google:

I was also intrigued by this definition, as I thought it might well contain the essence of poetry too:

As an example, I explained that I have English, Irish, Scottish and Lithuanian Jewish blood, and I’m connected by birth and culture to South Africa, Israel and the UK, and by my religious roots to Christianity and to Judaism, giving me quite a lot to choose from. I promised to look for a poem that really resonates with me…. and I found a lovely one, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post along with a list of the other equally wonderful ones that were shared.


Reading poetry is a meditative act—we seldom “get it” on the first reading or hearing. A poem communicates on so many levels — visual (images), musical (language sounds), rhythmic (metre and rhythm), narrative (actual and implied story), content (intended and imputed meaning), etc.— and each reader or hearer is predisposed to respond first to one or other of these levels according to temperament, culture, reading habit, education, etc. A single reading thus seldom provides more than a brief and tantalising scent which we must follow by re-reading or re-hearing to truly sink our teeth into its satisfying pleasures.

So I proposed that we’d each read our chosen poem, and then direct some or all of the others in the group in a re-reading of it.
If the original poem was in a different language, and the reader could speak that language, then s/he’d read it twice, first in Japanese or Hebrew, for instance, and then in English. The English translation must be poetic, i.e. lending itself to being read as a poem, rather than simply a literal or prosaic translation.

I asked everyone to bring enough copies of their chosen poem for each person in the group. In the spirit of the festive season, I suggested that we consider each reading a gift: first, a gift from the individual to the group in the initial reading of the poem, and then a gift back to the individual from the group as we gave the poem back in the way s/he requested.

This “giving back” was the reader’s opportunity to hear their poem read by one or more of the others in a sonorous voice, or a soft one, or in a sexy foreign accent, or by a chorus, or in counterpoint, as the group used the voices, accents, tone, attitudes or pace requested for each line or stanza. I explained that this could range from simply asking one person to read the entire poem, to involving the whole group by using them as a chorus, or alternating male and female voices, or British and foreign accents, or asking each person to read a different line in turn, or asking some to hum or drum in the background, etc.

As it turned out, we didn’t do anything too exotic, as most people chose simply to request a reading by one voice, or a few different voices, one for each stanza or line, but there were a few sung versions too, including one wonderful spontaneous rendition of a prayer-like poem as a gospel song, and finishing up with a hearty singalong of all the verses of Auld Lang Syne — a poem which is simultaneously one of the best-known (in terms of its global reach) and one of the least well-known (in terms of its actual words) songs in the world.


Most of the people who come to our literary events are neither Shakespeare nor poetry buffs. However, we don’t allow spectators. Everyone participates, so that no one is ever in an exclusively “observing” role (which may be felt by the others as the role of critic). The ethos is experiential rather than analytical, with space given to comments by anyone on any aspect of any poem that interests them, but with more emphasis on the individual’s response than on academic analysis. My view is that critical training and a knowledge of poetic tools are very valuable, but that they should enhance and inform the individual’s response to the poem, because the individual already has an instinctive response to the poem before the analytical mind is brought to bear on it. If this is ignored, poetry’s vital connection to the heart is cut off and the poem loses its power for that person.

After so much Shakespearean poetry (because, of course, all the plays are poetry), I thought that a poetry evening would be a lighter, simpler event where we’d have a bit more time to chat without the pressure, however enjoyable, of getting through an entire play in the evening. Well, it was simpler for us as hosts, especially because I didn’t spend the usual number of hours on part allocations, but I was surprised at the end of the evening when some people seemed amazed that they had enjoyed it so much, saying that they had been really nervous about it. We discussed the anxiety about “performance” and getting it “right” (both in rendering and in interpreting), that is the appalling legacy of poor poetry teaching at school. I remembered the students I tutored at university who seemed to walk into the seminar room primed with fear and/or loathing of the genre before they even saw the poem of the day. I mentioned that I had just last week met a man who had told me that he didn’t like poetry as he’d had to learn hundreds of lines of poetry as punishment, and one of our group immediately concurred as he had had the same experience. Personally, I think that this is a literary crime that is almost unforgivable—to rob a child and the adult s/he will become of the instinctive, natural joy of poetic experience by burning into their young minds an association between poetry and punishment!

I hope that our occasional poetry evenings will go some way to healing these wounds and freeing people to reclaim poetry as their rightful inheritance—an opportunity for emotional identification, aesthetic pleasure, quieting of the mind, raising passionate spirits or, simply, for joy.


In celebration of the season, we greeted everyone with mulled wine and hot mince pies as they arrived shivering from their respective journeys, but apart from that we kept it simple so that no one had to spend time in the kitchen throughout the evening. We simply had a gorgeous spread of cheeses, pickles, crudités, hummus, aubergine salad, patés, breads, biscuits, cherries, etc. that was available buffet-style, along with a drinks table, throughout the evening, as we normally do for the Shakespeare readings. We did take a short break for an official “dinner” slot as well, but in general people nibbled and sipped throughout the evening and the poems were sufficiently rich that the occasional crunching of a carrot-stick disturbed no one.

The poems

The following are the poems that were shared. Each was a unique and yet appropriate response to the theme and I would love to give them all in full, but I don’t have time to research the provenance of each for copyright purposes, so I’ll just give links where I can find them, and provide the texts of those that are probably in the public domain. Please let me know if you have any alternative information about copyright for any of these.

et cetera