Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Thom Gunn's 'In Santa Maria del Popolo' and Caravaggio's Conversion on the Way to Damascus

This painting is Caravaggio's Conversion on the Way to Damascus, painted in 1601. It is in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in Rome, and I saw it when I visited Rome with a friend three years ago.

By then, the painting had already held a great deal of personal significance for me for close to fifteen years. In my last year of high school, when I was sixteen years old, I took a course called Western Civilization, which (oddly enough) was based on the TV series and book Civilisation by British historian Kenneth Clark. I had never before taken a class which gave me such a good overview of the course of Western history over the last two thousand years, particularly in terms of religion, literature, art, architecture and music, and how they related to the events of history. I discovered Caravaggio and this painting through that class, as well as the paintings of JMW Turner, and Bernini's Apollo and Daphne statue, which we also saw in Rome. It was definitely a pivotal moment for me.

Seeing the painting in real life was a very moving experience. It is an incredibly powerful work, and it depicts an extremely crucial moment in one of my favourite Biblical books, the Acts of the Apostles. I'm always glad to not be disappointed when I see something like a work of art that I have waited to see for many years.

I have been thinking about the intersection between visual art and poetry: the places where they meet, or art inspired by poetry, or poetry inspired by art. I haven't reached many conclusions yet, except that the two mediums do two very different things and so it is hard to do one inspired by the other. Art is more immediate and visceral; poetry is subtle, cumulative and chronological - and even by saying that I am aware that I am simplifying far too much.

I tried to write a poem about this painting years ago, when I was about twenty. I doubt it was more than semi-successful. When I lived in Dublin and was discovering the wonderful art of Jack Yeats, W B Yeat's brother, I wrote a few poems inspired by his paintings, particularly For the Road and The Singing Horseman, both of which are in the National Gallery in Dublin. For the Road came out quite well, The Singing Horseman somewhat less so. I have a poster of his There Is No Night, which I used to go look at in the Hugh Lane Gallery. I love it but it has always bewildered me in some way I can't explain. I tried to write a poem about it - in fact, I tried on and off for at least a few years. I never really succeeded, which is still a source of frustration for me.

This is the poem 'In Santa Maria del Popolo', by Thom Gunn. Again, at this point of intersection between art and poetry, I am left uncertain. It is a rather analytical poem, more about Caravaggio's intentions and the poet's somewhat cynical questions, than about the painting itself, or the scene it depicts.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

D H Lawrence's 'Shadows': "I Am In the Hands of the Unknown God"

I have never been a big fan of D H Lawrence, but that has more to do with the fact that I had to study Love Among the Haystacks in my first year of university than with anything else. I was unimpressed by the gender stereotypes and the professor's comment that little girls adored horses because they were a boyfriend substitute. (I was still riding at the time.)

Anyway, this inspiring poem has gone a long way towards rehabilitating Lawrence for me. It is also perfect for the time of year.

The painting is another John Atkinson Grimshaw, Figure in the Moonlight.

SHADOWS (D H Lawrence)

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.

And if, as weeks go round, in the dark of the moon
my spirit darkens and goes out, and soft strange gloom
pervades my movements and my thoughts and words
then I shall know that I am walking still
with God, we are close together now the moon’s in shadow.

And if, as autumn deepens and darkens
I feel the pain of falling leaves, and stems that break in storms
and trouble and dissolution and distress
and then the softness of deep shadows folding,
folding around my soul and spirit, around my lips
so sweet, like a swoon, or more like the drowse of a low, sad song
singing darker than the nightingale, on, on to the solstice
and the silence of short days, the silence of the year, the shadow,
then I shall know that my life is moving still
with the dark earth, and drenched
with the deep oblivion of earth’s lapse and renewal.

And if, in the changing phases of man’s life
I fall in sickness and in misery
my wrists seem broken and my heart seems dead
and strength is gone, and my life
is only the leavings of a life:

and still, among it all, snatches of lovely oblivion, and snatches of renewal
odd, wintry flowers upon the withered stem, yet new, strange flowers
such as my life has not brought forth before, new blossoms of me

then I must know that still
I am in the hands of the unknown God,
he is breaking me down to his own oblivion
to send me forth on a new morning, a new man.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

"Archetypal Dreams": Anne Wilkinson's 'TV Hockey' and the Canadian Obsession

I took this picture in 2009, at the World Hockey Championships in Bern, Switzerland. It was during the gold medal game between Canada and Russia, one of the most classic rivalries in hockey history. Canada lost, but it was still a great game (said the Canadian, graciously.)

It is not really possible to describe to people of most nationalities - except for the Finns, the Swedes, the Russians, the Czechs, and a handful of other nations - what hockey represents to Canadians. For one thing, in most countries you have to call it "ice hockey", and if you're Canadian, that just doesn't seem right. What the English call "hockey" is not hockey, for one thing - it is grass hockey or field hockey.

Most of the teams of the NHL (the confusingly named National Hockey League, the world's number one professional ice hockey league) are now in the United States, with a relatively small number left in Canada, but most Canadians are of the opinion that Americans just do not get it. Some years ago, American TV channels trialled a way to get the tiny black puck to show up better: every time a player shot it at speed down the ice, it left a little fiery trail on the screen, like a miniature comet. It was absolutely ridiculous and Canadians were amused no end. But I've been told by the English as well that they find the play (and the puck) very hard to follow. I was completely bewildered by this when I first heard it. I think that the eye muscles of a Canadian simply develop in such a way that you have no problem following play in the average game, although occasionally the action moves so fast that you don't quite know what is happening - but that's all part of the excitement.

I believe that every single Canadian grows up with hockey at least to a certain extent and it seeps into your personality whether you are aware of it or not. I have very early memories of our old black and white TV, with a rotary channel dial that had to be held in place by (appropriately) black hockey stick tape. The jumpy, joyous theme music for Hockey Night In Canada sometimes races through my head unbidden - I must have heard it played thousands of times. My brother, Lucas Aykroyd, played hockey for several years like most Canadian boys do. He didn't go on to become a hockey player, but he is now a sports journalist and a leading world expert on hockey. Something like it was bound to happen.

I realised after I moved away that I was more Canadian than I previously thought. Given that I have one European parent and grew up going to Europe regularly - and also perhaps because I was the kind of child who doubted her own ability to "fit in" - I always felt at least semi-European while growing up. Having now lived in England and previously Ireland for many years (well, it's sort of Europe...) I feel more Canadian than I did before. I suppose this is all inevitable. But I certainly have a rosy nostalgia around hockey that I never thought I would have. I love the rare opportunities I get to watch the game, especially when my brother has given me tickets to see the Worlds. I thrilled to the gold medal game from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, where a lightning-fast goal from the Canadian star Sidney Crosby sealed the game in overtime against the Americans. (Apparently the entire country exploded at that moment, particularly in Vancouver.) Perceptively, an English commentator said: "To understand what this game means to Canadians, you have to imagine the World Cup final, with England as one of the teams, at Wembley Stadium." I don't think he could have put it much better.

Hockey poetry seems like an unlikely concept, but it is out there and some of it is quite good. In his poem 'Hockey Players', the great Canadian poet Al Purdy called it 'this combination of ballet and murder'. Michael Ondaatje and other poets have also explored the area.

TV HOCKEY (Anne Wilkinson)

I wasn't too familiar with Anne Wilkinson, although her name is ranked alongside that of Dorothy Livesay and P K Page, both Canadian legends. However, this poem really captured me. I realised that there was something about its sensory details and the shape of its movements that struck very deep. This is what I mean about hockey seeping into the personality of every Canadian; it's there even if you hardly think of it. The players do indeed "brood in boxes" and "stumble from their cages", and then they become birds - it is one of the fastest team sports in the world and I find football (soccer!) slow and hard to watch in comparison.

This poem, with its multitude of natural images including the "little black moon" of the puck, seems to invoke a primal spiritual ceremony or the movements of animals in the wild. And yet, if you are familiar with the sport, it is very recognizably about hockey. I love the way that it is familiar, but still casts a new and strange light on something that we Canadians think we know so well.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi at the Mosaic Rooms: "The Jewels of Minutes and Hours"

Leave that glass of memory to memory -
       let its essence transmute all these nights into gold

Leave the voice of Ali Farka Toure
       through the silvered light of that room,
       a room inlaid with the jewels of minutes and hours

- Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi, from 'Garden Statues'

The work of Arabic-language Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi burst into my life earlier this year when I saw a link posted somewhere to the poem 'Small Fox'. A small poem, like its title, but also like a perfect flower or a striking piece of jewellery. Browsing through other poems on the Poetry Translation Centre website, which has been working with him for some years now, I found poems about love and longing, Sudanese history, the imprint of the Nile on Africa, the artistic legacies of Sudan alongside those of other civilisations, and many other subjects. Although I would love to read the poems in the original Arabic (and definitely can't), I was amazed at the delicate flow of images, the emotional integrity and the intricate detail that they presented.

I heard Al-Raddi read at Poetry Parnassus this summer and it was a big highlight. He also very graciously signed my chapbook of his poems in translation. He is currently in the UK for a residency at London's Petrie Museum, where he has been working on a series of poems relating to their ancient Sudanese artifacts. He has been a legendary poet in Sudan for many years and held an influential position at the Al-Sudani newspaper as cultural editor before losing his job for political reasons. His life and work is a reflection of the fact that writing poetry can be a controversial, volatile and dangerous act in certain parts of the world. The fact that he is a pre-eminent poet in a country like Sudan, where poetry is the number one art form, is also an indication of his stature in African literature.

This week I went to an evening of Al-Raddi's work at the Mosaic Rooms, an institute for the promotion of Arab-world arts and culture. It was chaired by Sarah Maguire, the founder and director of the Poetry Translation Centre and an acclaimed poet, who has translated many of Al-Raddi's poems. It was a great evening in an intimate space - Tower House on the corner of the Cromwell Road, which also happens to be the building which formerly housed LAMDA, my employers (although before my time) - and we were surrounded by the lovely crystalline-organic paintings of the Moroccan painter Yamou, who is currently featured in an exhibition there. It was also great to see such a diverse crowd; English and Sudanese poetry enthusiasts were both well represented, among others.

The evening fell into three main parts: Al-Raddi and Sarah Maguire reading some of his older poems in the original and in translation; a discussion with Joanna Oyediran, the Sudan Programme Officer at the Open Society Initiative for East Africa; and the reading of some of the poems that have resulted from Al-Raddi's Petrie Museum residence. Among others, we heard the poem 'In the Company of Michelangelo', which was inspired by one of Al-Raddi's earlier visits to the UK and exhibitions of Michelangelo's work which he saw here - it beautifully evokes the universality of the great artist's vision: "I left you radiant,/resplendent,/wherever your throne sets down".

The discussion with Joanna Oyediran touched on the recent creation of South Sudan and its implications for regional and African politics and art. I was very struck by her description of a map of Sudan where South Sudan had been painted out as though it didn't exist and had never existed. Al-Raddi's work sits at a challenging crossroads; he writes in Arabic but is an African poet, and Sudan is a recently fragmented country which has struggled repeatedly with civil war and rulership by oppressive governments. The poems from the Petrie residence were fascinating, but Al-Raddi declined to tell us exactly which pieces in the museum they referred to; apparently the poems are still works-in-progress, and all will be revealed in time. I also really enjoyed the lively question and answer session at the end, and Al-Raddi's comments on the importance of translation, which as he pointed out equips the poet with different skills and a different style in their approach to poetry. He said that "attempting to write a poem is like embarking on an adventure", and that this was the spirit in which he'd approached the Petrie residence.

Here are a couple of photos from the evening, courtesy of the Mosaic Rooms. First, Sarah Maguire and Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi reading:

And the panel discussion:

This was a wonderful evening and I look forward to further exploring the haunting and complex work of this African poet.

Photos © The Mosaic Rooms

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Paul Celan on London's Mapesbury Road

I have just started reading Homage to Paul Celan, a collection of essays, translations, poems and miscellania about Celan, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and G C Waldrep. Kaminsky's introduction begins: "If there is a country named Celania - as Julia Kristeva once proposed - its holy texts are filled with doubt, and they overcome this doubt almost successfully, with words of wrenching, uncompromised beauty." Pretty irresistible.

It's a couple of years now since I went to the Celan/Poetry after the Holocaust evening at Southbank, with readings by A S Byatt (among others) and musical settings of some of the poems by the Michael Nyman Band. Around the same time, the Saison Poetry Library had an exhibition about Celan's poem 'Mapesbury Road' but unfortunately I missed this. Mapesbury Road, in Kilburn, is closer to where I used to live in west London but it is not somewhere I ever went. Celan visited his aunt, a Holocaust survivor, there in 1968. There is also a glancing reference to the assassination of Martin Luther King and the attempted murder of the West German student leader Rudi Dutschke, both around the same time in 1968.

The poem can be found on the BBC link below, although sadly the radio episode can't be accessed any more. It is a short poem which balances between violence and tenderness, and pivots around stillness. All in a few brief lines.


At work one day some months ago, I took a book order over the phone which was to an address on Mapesbury Road. I was quite transported when the customer gave me their address. So much so, that apparently I neglected to put the book in the envelope. The customer very politely told me a few days later that they had received an empty envelope in the post. This was a lesson to me to not let poetry annihilate practicality in my life. (It was also funny.)

I have not been reading Celan so much recently and I know I have to pace myself with him, but I think Homage to Paul Celan may inspire me to go back yet again.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Edward Thomas's 'Adlestrop' and Writing Britain at the British Library

A few weeks ago, I finally went to the Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition at the British Library. It was in its final two weeks, so my friends and I got in just under the wire. I knew that I couldn't miss it, as I'd had this exhibition earmarked as one of my cultural highlights of the year for quite some time. Concentrating on the importance of place and landscape in British literature, Writing Britain featured so many of my absolute favourite books and writers that I wondered if I had been personally consulted on the exhibition and then fed memory-loss pills so that I would forget all about it. (I am not sure in what scenario exactly this would take place.) From Susan Cooper to Kenneth Grahame, from a Heart of Darkness graphic novel to a letter to John Betjeman complaining that the order of the stations in his poem 'The Metropolitan Railway' was wrong - this was very, very much my cup of tea.

Broadly, the places and movements featured in the exhibition included the following: rural Britain; the gradual vanishing of rural Britain due to the Industrial Revolution; industrial landscapes such as the coal mines of Wales and the Midlands; wild places such as the moors, and their interactions with humans; sacred places; London; the suburbs; rivers; and the sea. London is, as always, primarily a place of darkness, but a remarkably varied one, from Gautam Malkani's Londonstani to the original title for Eliot's The Waste Land, "He do the police in different voices", to Conrad's pre-Le Carré and Orwell vision of The Secret Agent and a city haunted by terrorism. The suburbs are both homely and threatening: the Metropolitan Railway invited middle-class commuters to embrace "Metroland", but in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, the suburbs are often settings for dreadful crimes (one of the manuscripts featured was 'The Retired Colourman', where Holmes investigates sinister doings in Lewisham.)

Many poets appeared in Writing Britain. Ted Hughes's collaboration with Fay Godwin, Elmet, was there; 'Belfast Confetti' by the wonderful Northern Irish poet Ciaran Carson; a video about Simon Armitage's Stanza Stones project, which carves poems into the natural landscape of Yorkshire; Wendy Cope, Sean O'Brien, and many, many others. Also featured was the much-loved poem by Edward Thomas, 'Adlestrop', in manuscript and in a recording read by his wife. Here is the poem:

ADLESTROP (Edward Thomas)

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

'Adlestrop' gives me a strange feeling of looking in on - almost interrupting - something I find moving but don't entirely understand. I can't help wondering if you have to be English to entirely grasp its emotional import. It was written around the start of World War I - which killed Thomas, like so many others - and there is a sense that he is seizing a quiet, simple moment in the English countryside and storing it away, later to imbue it with even deeper meaning. It has also been pointed out that all the young men of some villages were wiped out in the war, and Thomas may have wondered what the fate of this place and its people would be.

I do think that British landscapes, whether urban or rural, are a palimpsest; their own self-contained beauty or terror, with the human traces which have defaced or celebrated them continually overlaid. I've said before that I tend to see places through a lens of literature and art, and this is particularly the case with Britain. Some of the landscapes are spectacular in themselves, but they tend to be understated, and not technicolour, like some other parts of the world. When you know about the great works of art or the acts of human endeavour that they have produced, the terrible or beautiful events and the echoes that they have left, these places have a hundred times more meaning.

The painting is The Hay-Wain by John Constable, one of the greatest of English painters, though I've always found it much easier to love JMW Turner.

A Year In Blogland

...But the weeks go by
Like birds; and the years, the years
Fly past anti-clockwise
Like clock hands in a bar mirror.

-Derek Mahon, from 'Dream Days'

For the record, I am not writing this entry while nursing a drink, whatever the above quotation may make it sound like. I did, however, want to write a brief entry noting that it's just over a year since I began blogging. (October 4th was the anniversary date, and serendipitously, that was also National Poetry Day.)

This seems like a good moment to say thanks to those who have supported the Facebook page, too. For those who have not yet seen it, I always post links to the blog entries there, but I also post quotations, links to poems I've enjoyed, poetry-related articles and news, and so on. Any "likes" from Facebook users are always much appreciated.

I'm quite surprised that I have managed to write so much over the course of a year, and I am even more surprised and pleased that a good many people seem to have appreciated what is mostly just me rambling about some poems I enjoy and how they remind me of bits of my life. It has been quite gratifying that I've been told both by some who are far more immersed in the poetry world than I am, and by some who wouldn't usually turn to poetry, that they have liked the blog.

Being a past-master in the art of procrastination, I have occasionally wondered if this is all just a grand exercise in putting more important things off: writing my own poetry, for instance, and other even more essential aspects of life... For many years I've had a hard time deciding if I am more of a creator or a curator, and the evidence would tend to suggest the latter. But I can't quite decide. If I were only more organised, I could get everything done and probably with ample time to spare.

I also wanted to say that I very much invite suggestions for what you might like to see on the blog. I think I am going to be diversifying just a little more over the next while, but the format is probably going to stay about the same. I do think that I could stand to branch out in my subject matter...the dominance of Dead White Guys on the blog is somewhat alarming.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 5 October 2012

National Poetry Week (Why Not?) - 'Bright Star' by John Keats

BRIGHT STAR (John Keats)

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art -
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors -
No - yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever - or else swoon to death.

This poem has, I think, already been over-posted this week for National Poetry Day's 'Stars' theme, but to say it's overexposed is a bit like saying you shouldn't visit Paris or Prague because they are touristy. Anyway, I think that the effects of National Poetry Day should carry on for at least a few days.

'Bright Star' is probably one of the most beautiful poems ever written. The final lines mirror the opening section; first the poem depicts the faithful star watching tenderly over the almost-personified earth, and the second section depicts the poet's feelings for his beloved, far closer than the distant star and our planet.

Keats was only 25 when he died, just a little older than Keith Douglas. Again, I wonder what he could have gone on to achieve, given that very few can rival what he had already written at a young age.

I loved Jane Campion's 2009 film Bright Star, which depicts the love between Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), and concludes with the grief-stricken Fanny reciting the poem after receiving news of Keats's death. It is a very quiet and lovely film, romantic but very believable. Keats and Fanny have contrasting personalities; he is friendly but shy, while she is more outgoing and flirtatious. They don't fall in love instantly and the sad facts of Keats's poverty, and the illness which is to kill him, constantly intrude. For me, it was a relatively rare romantic film in that it was about real people but I was able to believe that this might actually have been how it was.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

National Poetry Day: 'Stars' by Keith Douglas

Milky Way photo by jurvetson. Used under Creative Commons license

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year's theme is 'Stars'. (It also happens to be a year to the day since I started writing this blog, but I think that may be a subject for another entry.)

Landlocked and lightbound in London, I don't see as much of the stars as I used to growing up in a small city/large town in Canada. When I am back in Canada and I see Orion (generally, the only constellation I really recognise...) and its attendant stars, a pang strikes me. I remember travelling to Australia and New Zealand and being confounded by how different the night sky was. Everything was in the wrong place (actually, I'd noticed that even on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico) and I could see the Southern Cross, which really was thrilling. In recent years, I have been stunned by the wash of stars across the sky in the Sahara and in the Western Desert in Australia. They were like sand and they made the sky white.

Stars can signify so many things. They tend to lead me to thoughts of the smallness of human beings and the overwhelming vastness of the universe; questions of faith and eternity. They can also instill a feeling of loneliness, or give life to striving and attainment. It is very much dependent on the context, like so many things.

I have chosen Keith Douglas's poem 'Stars' for this National Poetry Day. I noticed that the National Poetry Day website had featured this poem in one of its suggested lesson plans for teachers and students, but I had been thinking of writing about it for some time and this is the perfect moment.

STARS (Keith Douglas)

At first I thought that this might be a poem reflecting Douglas's experiences during World War II in the deserts of North Africa, but it is dated 1939 and he did not go to the Middle East until 1941. It seems that the hills he describes in this poem are English and that he was a university student when he wrote it. The poem is dedicated to Antoinette, with whom he was at Oxford and who was either a girlfriend or someone he pursued (I'm not quite sure about this.)

Poets often seem like prophets (or perhaps they are, at least occasionally) but this seems especially the case with Douglas. I could be projecting onto this poem but one could easily assume when reading it that he had already gone to the war. (Of course, whenever the poem was written during the year 1939, everyone knew that the war was coming or that it was going to last for some time.) He writes of the stars as a vast army "marching in extended order", as "comrades". It's easy to imagine the starry army above reflecting a human army below, and soldiers seizing moments of peace amidst death and darkness.

There could be something a little whimsical about this poem - "greetings of ethereal officers", and so on - but the final lines undercut it: "Yes, we look up with pain/at distant comrades and plains we cannot tread." Although Douglas was to write finer, more accomplished poems - he would only have been 18 or 19 when he wrote this - this is one of his truest and most distinguishing marks, and one of the hardest to bear: his brutal, unflinching honesty. When I read those lines I wonder at his state of mind. Knowing that his own death was coming, and soon, is a theme throughout his poems. It's hard to know if it was some sort of death wish, or just a stern realism about his situation, or something else. There is something in the conclusion of this poem that bears out Ted Hughes's comments on Douglas, in his introduction to the Faber Collected Poems. Hughes speaks of a "passionate, fatalistic outlook ...the gallantry a cool acceptance of the worst possible fate. The source of the stage-lighting of this whole performance is, perhaps, that thing difficult to face - a vision of his own early death, his own death already foresuffered."

I am still trying to figure out why Keith Douglas's poetry blew my mind so comprehensively when I started reading him about a year and a half ago. This really does not happen to me often with such speed and force, not since my teens. Hughes's introduction to Douglas touches on some of it. "The dominant component of Douglas's line," says Hughes, "suggests a masculine movement, a nimble, predatory attack, hard-edged with a quick and clean escape." I have a liking for poetry with a certain masculine and muscular quality to it, which also has something to do with my love of Louis MacNeice, among others (see "Manly Men" for more details - I should probably have a Manly Men tagline.) But I found this comment from Hughes's essay particularly haunting, as it reflects something that I quickly came to feel about Douglas: "The music is familiar and intimate, like the inner voice of one's own voice, yet a desolate sort of music, closer to the crying of a bird than to the massed organ tones of great abbeys audible in [Wilfred] Owen." This is spot-on. When I started reading Douglas, there were aspects that felt so close to my own perceptions and experience (and this in the work of someone whose life was very different from my own) that I couldn't understand it, and still don't entirely.

Anyway, I have departed from the original idea of this entry, the National Poetry Day theme of 'Stars'. There are a lot of great poems on the subject out there. This one is by a poet who, I suppose, fulfilled some of the star-related clichés about burning out rather than fading away. I am very glad to have discovered Keith Douglas, as sad as he sometimes makes me feel.

Have a great National Poetry Day!