Wednesday, April 29, 2009

his vinegar prayer

Knopf's Borzoi Reader Poem-A-Day e-mails during National Poetry Month offer choice morsels of daily poetry, reintroducing us to great masters as well as opening the door to poets and poems we might not yet have heard of. One of my favorites so far has been Kevin Young's "Ode to Pepper Vinegar," (click on the title to read the actual poem) which transforms a simple Mason jar full of a family recipe into an epic entity. This ode is part of a food-related series of poems which Kevin Young wrote following the death of his father, with distinct tastes reflecting upon cultural and personal heritage. His latest collection is called Dear Darkness, and his other work is very much looking into.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

painting and poet of the month

Often described as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" -- a phrase coined by spurned lover Lady Caroline Lamb -- the great poet and adventurer Lord Byron (1788-1824) was always a study in contrasts. Notably handsome and virile yet afflicted with a clubfoot, he was also a womanizer who wrote poetry of depth and beauty while managing to avoid heavy sentiment. There is further speculation that Byron was bisexual and even slept with his own half-sister Augusta, with some reported personal anxiety on Byron's part that he might be the father of Augusta's child. While certain people brought out a sarcastic cruelty in Byron, he could be quite caring toward animals, especially his beloved dog Boatswain. Boatswain contracted rabies and eventually died from the disease, but Lord Byron kept vigil by his side until Boatswain passed away, despite warnings that he might be endangering his own life in being so close to a fatally rabid dog.

Byron traveled often and died in Greece on April 19, 1824, while joining the Greeks in fighting their war of independence against the Ottoman Empire. This portrait of Byron in Albanian native costume was done by Thomas Phillips, and while it represents Byron as he looked circa 1813, the painting itself wasn't completed until 1835. Phillips' work can be found at the National Portrait Gallery, where Byron is very well-represented. And though he wrote verse of a much greater magnitude, this short self-reflective George Gordon Byron poem is one of my favorites:

Through life's road, so dim and dirty,
I have dragg'd to three and thirty.
What have these years left to me?
Nothing - except, thirty-three.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Morning or Easter Mystery -- Maurice Denis, 1891

Saturday, April 11, 2009

we are most amused

Though Queen Victoria was reportedly fond of the phrase "We are not amused" to express general displeasure, we here are quite amused and pleased to have received an Excessively Diverting Blog Award nomination from Royal Rendezvous' blogspot. The EDBA is described thusly:

The aim of the Excessively Diverting Blog Award is to acknowledge writing excellence in the spirit of Jane Austen’s genius in amusing and delighting readers with her irony, humor, wit, and talent for keen observation. Recipients will uphold the highest standards in the art of the sparkling banter, witty repartee, and gentle reprove. This award was created by the blogging team of Jane Austen Today to acknowledge superior writing over the Internet and promote Jane Austen’s brilliance.

Once nominated, you are supposed to choose seven of your own nominees, but being such an ersatz blogger and blog reader, I'm going to have to do more research before I come up with a full seven. In the meantime, however, I wanted to acknowledge the regal nod from Royal Rendezvous and say many thanks!

(Featured Painting: Queen Victoria in Her Coronation Robes, Sir George Hayter)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

amy's spring day

It's National Poetry Month again -- and it's spring -- which made me think of Amy Lowell's "Spring Day," a kind of Whitmanesque, morning-to-night flowing rush of verse. Amy could be a bit over the top sometimes, but I've always liked her enthusiasm for life and how her work is so full of vivid colors and impressions. Born February 9, 1874 into the prominent Lowell family of Massachusetts, Amy won the Pulitzer Prize shortly after her death in 1925. Most likely a lesbian, she was apparently disinclined toward convention and had a strong passion for poetry and the arts. This excerpt is from the Breakfast Table portion of "Spring Day," with an accompanying painting by Edouard Vuillard (The Breakfast, 1892). "Spring Day" in its entirety can be found by clicking here.

In the fresh-washed sunlight, the breakfast table is decked
and white.
It offers itself in flat surrender, tendering tastes, and smells,
and colours, and metals, and grains, and the white cloth falls over its side,
draped and wide. Wheels of white glitter in the silver coffee-pot,
hot and spinning like catherine-wheels, they whirl, and twirl -- and
my eyes
begin to smart, the little white, dazzling wheels prick them like darts.
Placid and peaceful, the rolls of bread spread themselves in the sun
to bask.
A stack of butter-pats, pyramidal, shout orange through the white,
flutter, call: "Yellow! Yellow! Yellow!" Coffee steam rises in a
clouds the silver tea-service with mist, and twists up into the sunlight,
revolved, involuted, suspiring higher and higher, fluting in a thin spiral
up the high blue sky....