Monday, 31 October 2011

How many legs has a centipede?

Lithobius meccanus, the Terminator centipede

Well, if it is a hundred, (which it isn't, but could be over forty, depending) and I were a centipede I'd be down to my last three or four. Awake at 4 am, full day's work, then event, with the same to come tomorrow, then the flight to Munich. My intentionality involves sleep and cognizance of the fact that the word YES is not the only word in the dictionary.

Tomorrow I read with Yang Lian at UEA. The Munich reading is at the university on Thursday.

Tried Dylan Thomas's Fern Hill on second year undergraduates today. It doesn't cut it. It just doesn't cut it. It doesn't ring true. It feels like visionary Disneyland (nobody said that but deep down I suspect that's how they felt). I suppose it is understandable for much the same reasons as it was for Larkin, but I can't help thinking once the ecstatic disappears off the verbal radar the world of the imagination feels a little narrower. Maybe the poem seems like a supercharged advert for country life. Mr Larkin's I Remember, I remember is closer to the mark. Nothing, like something, happens anywhere, yes, but I sang in my chains like the sea. Well, occasionally.


Gwil W said...

Fern Hill was an actual farm occupied at one time by his aunt and uncle.

It was written during the summer of 1945.

He was influenced by the poems of D H Lawrence which he had recently read. "O the green glimmer of apples ... the wet walk of my brown hen ... tears on the windowpane ..."

I think there's a genesis for this poem in his poem 'The force that through the green fuse' which poem in turn has its genesis in Wm Blake 'The Sick Rose'

All that aside because of it's very Welshness I think he does cut it!

Coirí Filíochta said...

Perhaps, reared on a diet of 'reality' media in which ecstatic imaginary excess has been squeezed out, the critical equipment of kids today has been programmed to find, fix upon and favor, poetry of the pubby ennui school that dominates the scene?

Poems with a narrator speaking in a world recognisably their own. Working or middle-class voices speaking in non-challenging syntax and presenting a fairly straight picture with no unfashionable flowery bits.

But then again, Fern Hill, for some, is over-rated.

So much of Dylan's poetry relies on it being heard, like Hopkins. I had read Pied Beauty by him numerous times, but it was only when I heard it being recited by a gifted voice at a live poetry do, that the depth and power of it hit home.

There's a brilliant recording of The Leaden Echo & The Golden Echo by Richard Burton that brings to life what a young undergraduate's ear today, used to the low-key conversational norms of modern delivery, could find dead on the page.

Gwil W said...

Of Fern Hill I think the Philip Madoc recording is the best I've heard. It's on You Tube together with a lovely green painting of Worm's Head, a magical place on the Gower, a place where the young Dylan tramped with his knapsack and picnic.

George S said...

Well of course I read it aloud as best I could. I don't think I did a bad job.

...the critical equipment of kids today has been programmed to find, fix upon and favor, poetry of the pubby ennui school...

That is a fair point for some, Coiri, though I suspect it is also the resistance to rhapsodic prose in advertisements that inures them to a certain tone. I cannot blame them for that. I never forget that the young have an vital stake in truth and honesty - both truth and honesty on their terms of course, both based on a certain scepticism about whatever is being offered to them. It may be that Dylan Thomas's high-octane vision will touch them later.

There is an interesting contrast in Alice Oswald, who does go down very well with them because while her poems do have the potential for ecstasy they are also full of self-doubt and doubt about the capacity of language to 'become' the 'thing'. Her poem about the wind in which she leaves silences for the imagined wind to enter is probably the best case in point.

I'll listen to Philip Madoc, Gwilyam. I know the Burton.