The roy davids collection: poem manuscripts I covet

“There are people like Senhor José everywhere, who fill their time, or what they believe to be their spare time, by collecting stamps, coins, medals, vases, postcards, matchboxes, books, clocks, sport shirts, autographs, stones, clay figurines, empty beverage cans, little angels, cacti, opera programmes, lighters, pens, owls, music boxes, bottles, bonsai trees, paintings, mugs, pipes, glass obelisks, ceramic ducks, old toys, carnival masks, and they probably do so out of something that we might call metaphysical angst, perhaps because they cannot bear the idea of chaos being the one ruler of the universe, which is why, using their limited powers and with no divine help, they attempt to impose some order on the world, and for a short while they manage it, but only as long as they are there to defend their collection, because when the day comes when it must be dispersed, and that day always comes, either with their death or when the collector grows weary, everything goes back to its beginnings, everything returns to chaos”― José Saramago, All the Names

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The wrap: poetry in the news (w/e 2 May 2013)

A British scholar finds Vita Sackville-West’s poem to her mistress, Violet Trefusis, when it falls out of a book, while a Canadian poet constructs a found poem from reviews of books by women in major publications (but switches the pronouns to male). Par exemple: “Much of his novel seems held together with a kind of teary hormonal paste”. In Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice, Professor Daisy Fried proclaims “The Poetess has long felt that women’s equality should be founded in the notion that a woman is no worse than a man” and proceeds to declare Charles Bukowski “our greatest living poetess“.

newspaper-icon-thumb10559428A British scholar finds Vita Sackville-West’s poem to her mistress, Violet Trefusis, when it falls out of a book, while a Canadian poet constructs a found poem from reviews of books by women in major publications (but switches the pronouns to male). Par exemple: “Much of his novel seems held together with a kind of teary hormonal paste”. In Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice, Professor Daisy Fried proclaims “The Poetess has long felt that women’s equality should be founded in the notion that a woman is no worse than a man” and proceeds to declare Charles Bukowski “our greatest living poetess”. Appalachian Elegy, legendary-feminist bell hooks’ new book of poems, honours the first-people in her native state of Kentucky, while the first known Native American literary writer, Bamewawagezhikaquay (Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky), is remembered on the last day of National Poetry Month. On Poetica Spike Milligan’s poem “Manic Depression at St Luke’s Wing, Woodside Hospital Psychiatric Wing, 1953” opens: “The pain is too much, a thousand grim winters grow in my head, in my ears the sound of the coming dead”, while the working papers to “Sheep in Fog” reveal how Sylvia Plath arrived at the poem’s grim end: “They threaten 
/ To let me through to a heaven /
 Starless and fatherless, a dark water”. A Washington Post critic fears Charles Simic’s whip-smart metaphors are wielding less of a bite, but a professor of economics explains conceptual poets peak early, and experimental poets peak late. Meanwhile a book of cat-themed poetry – I Could Pee On This – swishes its tail on the NPR best-seller lists, amid self-help books and memoirs, while a bemused editor curates a gallery of insouciant feline poems.

Past Wraps:

w/e 25 Apr 2013

Lest we forget: binyon’s ode of remembrance

First published in The Conversation

On an autumn day in 1914 Laurence Binyon sat on a cliff in North Cornwall, somewhere between Pentire Point and the Rump. It was less than seven weeks after the outbreak of war, but British casualties were mounting. Long lists of the dead and wounded were appearing in British newspapers. With the British Expeditionary Force in retreat from Mons, promises of a speedy end to war were fading fast. Against this backdrop Binyon, then Assistant Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, sat to compose a poem that Rudyard Kipling would one day praise as “the most beautiful expression of sorrow in the English language”.

laurence_binyonOn an autumn day in 1914 Laurence Binyon sat on a cliff in North Cornwall, somewhere between Pentire Point and the Rump. It was less than seven weeks after the outbreak of war, but British casualties were mounting. Long lists of the dead and wounded were appearing in British newspapers. With the British Expeditionary Force in retreat from Mons, promises of a speedy end to war were fading.

Against this backdrop Binyon, then Assistant Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, sat to compose a poem that Rudyard Kipling would one day praise as “the most beautiful expression of sorrow in the English language”.

For the Fallen”, as Binyon called his poem, was published in The Times on 21 September 1914. “The poem grew in stature as the war progressed”, Binyon’s biographer John Hatcher observed, “accommodating itself to the scale of the nation’s grief”.

Nearly a century on, Binyon’s poem endures as a dignified and solemn expression of loss. The fourth stanza – lifted to prominence as “The Ode of Remembrance” – is engraved on cenotaphs, war memorials and headstones in war cemeteries throughout the English-speaking world. Recited at Remembrance services in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the poem serves as a secular prayer:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.

These lines, situated at the heart of the poem, lay out an argument for consolation in which the dead are immortalised in the memory of the living.

Binyon died on 10 March 1943, and his ashes were scattered on the grounds of St Mary’s Church in Aldworth. His name is commemorated on a stone plaque in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, alongside 15 fellow poets of the Great War. Wilfred Owen – who died in action at age 25, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice – provided the inscription: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”

the handwritten “ode”

BINYON, LAURENCE (1869-1943) AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF THE IMMORTAL FOURTH STANZA OF HIS POEM 'FOR THE FALLEN',Earlier this month, “an autograph manuscript of the immortal fourth stanza”, signed by Laurence Binyon, came up for auction at Bonhams. The manuscript is a mere four lines, written in Binyon’s hand, on a single octavo page of ruled notepaper. The header contains a YMCA symbol and the imprimatur of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Small letters at the foot instruct: “To economise paper, please write on the other side, if required”.

Binyon did not date the manuscript, but he likely penned it before the war ended in 1918. The BEF notepaper adds a particular poignancy, as the poem was written to honour British soldiers who died on the Western Front – many of whom Binyon, as a volunteer medic, would have served alongside.

controversies

Every year, after ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Australia receives scores of letters about “The Ode”. The issue of greatest concern, according to the DVA, is whether the last word of the second line should be “contemn” – meaning to despise or treat with disregard – or “condemn”. Both words fit the context.

Despite all official versions of the poem using “condemn”, some people have suggested this usage is a typographical error.The British Society of Authors, executors of the Binyon estate, is adamant that “condemn” is correct. Likewise the DVA assures: “Binyon was very precise in his use of words. There is no doubt that had he intended ‘contemn’, then it would have been used.”

The condemn/contemn issue is considered a distinctly Australian phenomenon (oddly, the Academy of American Poets uses “contemn” in its publication of “For the Fallen”). Perhaps now, with confirmation coming from Binyon’s own hand, the issue may be put to rest.

But that’s not the only anomaly. In the Bonhams manuscript, Binyon has used an alternative construction of the famous second line. Instead of “weary” he uses “wither”, which echoes Enobarbus’s compliment to Cleopatra – “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety” – in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”, so TS Eliot posited in The Sacred Wood. “For the Fallen” might be uneven in quality, but in turning his theft “into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn”, Binyon proves himself to be a great poet.

the sale

Bonhams expected Binyon’s manuscript to fetch around £5,000, but the poem once again exceeded expectations when an unnamed buyer parted with £10,000 (AU$15,000) for the honour of holding history in his or her hands.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The wrap: poetry in the news (w/e 25 apr 2013)

In Los Angeles, a Harvard poet wondered ”Is this too loud, is this too soft, am I going on too long?” while Sharon Olds put the ideal of her husband to rest and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Anne Carson published a poem composed using a random integer generator in the London Review of Books, and James Franco released a poem on the occasion of his 35th birthday. Bollywood heartthrob Farhan Akhtar penned a poem after hearing a five-year-old girl in Delhi had been raped and tortured by her neighbour. Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer penned “the worst poem of all time“ in her musings on the younger Boston Marathon bomber. Historians noted 397 and 189 years have passed since Shakespeare and Byron, respectively, died of fevers.

newspaper-icon-thumb10559428In Los Angeles, a Harvard poet wondered “Is this too loud, is this too soft, am I going on too long?” while Sharon Olds put the ideal of her husband to rest and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Anne Carson published a poem composed using a random integer generator in the London Review of Books, and James Franco released a poem on the occasion of his 35th birthday. Bollywood heartthrob Farhan Akhtar penned a poem after hearing a five-year-old girl in Delhi had been raped and tortured by her neighbour. Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer penned “the worst poem of all time” in her musings on the younger Boston Marathon bomber. Historians noted 397 and 189 years have passed since Shakespeare and Byron, respectively, died of fevers. The only known poem by Winston Churchill, “Our Modern Watchwords“, failed to sell at an auction at Bonhams. The priest who found Malta’s earliest poem died at age 97, and Irish rare-book collector Rick Gekoski prayed that the poem James Joyce wrote as a little boy – “Et Tu, Healy” will never be found.