A richness of good writing

& a painful challenge for poetry

Two Waste Land Revisited milestones already this week. Our June 11th Performance Day script reached its first full draft and is out with its four patient page editors. ( Ama Bolton, Ann Cullis, Marilyn Francis and Ann Preston. ) And on Monday afternoon, the first Waste Land showcase concert allowed us to admire some of the remarkable new work which has sprung from the series of zoom workshops in the autumn of 2021.

Too soon to divulge the secrets of the script which will undoubtedly shape-shift many times before we print it up for June. But this is an excellent moment to list some of the pieces which held us spellbound yesterday.

TS Eliot’s classicism featured strongly, with a rivetting retelling of the myths of Procne and Philomela from Jenna Plewes and of the death of Actaeon from Verona Bass. The sybil in The Waste Land epigraph caught Cathy Nicholls’ imagination, not just in her own right but in her later manifestation as Madama Sosostris who is now busy worming her dark way into all our hearts. The concert was much livened by professional speaker Sally Sedgman who has joined our project as a reader, both for the zoom showcase concerts and for Performance Day in June.

The afternoon was a chance to introduce the themes and sequence of the performance script and readers were able to locate their pieces appropriately as we made our journey down the river, through time and into a near-apocalyptic dark. Graeme Ryan gave us two powerfully imagined recently published narrative poems with River Thames associations . ‘The Charm of London Town’ sequence made a platform for excellent memoir pieces by Jenna Plewes and Verona Bass while Ama Bolton presented a monologue by murderer Kitty Byron, a voice from one of ‘The Dark Places of the Earth’ .

The small scale concert left time for discussion, not only of the readings themselves, but of some of the issues arising from them. In particular, we were engaged with the challenges presented by Cathy Nicholls’ snapshot imaginings of TS Eliot as a sexual voyeur which in turn lead into questions of some of the real challenges we will have to face soon if we continue delving into this utterly remarkable master of twentieth century English language poetry. Eliot’s undisputed anti-semitism for a start.

Last night Russians tanks moved into Donetsk and Lugansk . We do not know whether dark times may be coming in which the bleak landscape of Eliot’s The Waste Land will seem even more relevant than it seemed in 1922.

What is certain is that the kinds of ignorance and intolerance Auden writes about in his great elegy In Memory of WB Yeats ( below) are poisoning our civilisation today, just as they poisoned it in 1939. People will die – or perhaps are already dying – in Russia and the Ukraine, for the same kind of politics that Eliot and Yeats failed to call out. Or to call out loudly or soon enough. And yet, as Graeme Ryan reminded us yesterday, Eliot’s The Four Quartets, written not many years later this anti-semitic poet, is for many poets almost a sacred text.

There will be a lot to discuss in the autumn when Peter Reason will be convening a debate on the relevance of literature and the arts to global catastrophe. We may be wondering how to justify studying poetry if tanks are moving across central Europe as they did in the dark days of the middle twentieth century. Auden’s lines on Yeats are no answer to these hard questions, but he does seem to suggest that we can hope somehow to arrive through poetry at a place of healing.

In the deserts of the heart 
Let the healing fountains start, 
In the prison of his days 
Teach the free man how to praise.

 Can we feel comfortable with this neatly rhymed idea? Or do we feel that Jewish poet Emanuel Litvinoff's poem To TS Eliot   deserves the last word?  Litvinoff read this in TS Eliot's presence at a literary meeting chaired by Sir Herbert Read in the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 195I.  Here are its last lines. It deserves a whole post of its own.

 Let your words  tread lightly 
on this earth of Europe
 lest my people’s bones protest.

lines from ‘In Memory of WB Yeats’

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives,
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honors at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate.
Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

The Story of the Forest is more than the Stories of the Single Trees

We are all learning to marvel at the below ground networks that connect the trees in a forest into a greater whole. It has been a marvel of the lockdowns that writers and artists who could no longer meet face to face have been able to meet up on zoom and remain connected to each other’s work. The Waste Land Revisited project, bringing together writers from so many different places, was made possible by this.

Claudio Moras

Before the pandemic divided us, I was privileged to be a distantly adopted part of an inspiring North Italian poetry group fostered by the Pordenone poet, Claudio Moras. I once had the joy of reading with this group in Sacile and have been able to stay in touch with Claudio through my Facebook Page.

In Sacile 2015

This week I received a beautifully produced anthology of poems by the PoeSiamo group to which Claudio belongs. Its title, Andreis, refers to small village in the Cellina Valley in western Friuli. The poems are inspired by country landscapes, local myths and, above all, by the poetry of Federico Tavan who was born in Andreis and lived there until his death in 2013. Six PoeSiamo poets are represented in Andreis: Cristina Centis, Enrica Piovesana, Monica Trevisan, Stefania Ros, Lucian Poletto and Claudio Moras. The municipal council was so impressed by their writings that they have been invited to showcase their work annually, perhaps in collaboration with other groups.

Federico Tavan

This is how good networks spread, even across distances, even across language barriers. Google Maps tells me that I am 937 miles away from the North Italian village of Andreis and that it would take me 307 hours to walk there from Bath. But even in this pre-pandemic fantasy, I could neither read the poems of Federico Tavan (he writes in Friulano) nor share them with Claudio because we have no common language.

But we have often shared poems, and the very special kind of friendship which seems to exist between people who really believe in the mysterious power and importance of poetry.

Thank you Claudio and thank you to the poets of PoeSiamo for your lovely book. I hope some of you will send me your pictures to add in to this post.

And thank you Claudio for this lovely poem.

I MIEI SOGNI

Io non vivo in un sogno
vivo con i piedi
ben piantati nella terra,
magari, mastico parole
sputo versi
urlo poesie
che qualche volta
lo sono, 
dice qualcuno, ma poi
a me non importa e
vado oltre a tutti gli orizzonti:
io continuo
a dissodare la terra
per seminare
i miei sogni. 

CLAUDIO MORAS

And thank you to the secretive translator who makes it possible to share Claudio's poem on my Page.
MY DREAMS
I do not live in a dream
I live with my feet
firmly planted on the ground.
Maybe I chew words
spit out lines
bellow poems –
well, sometimes they are poems,
someone said, but then
that does not matter to me.
I travel beyond all horizons.
I continue to till the earth
in order to sow 
my dreams.

CLAUDIO MORAS

The Waste Land Revisited group is currently creating work for live performance which sadly cannot be shared online. But we also have a page poetry project, provisionally titled A Waste Land Almanac, which we hope to see in print. This will contain homage responses to Eliot’s famous April opening lines and London memories by writers in the group. This time next year, if all goes well, I will be sending Claudio a copy of our book.

April is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain.

TS ELIOT

The Story of the Forest is more than the Stories of the Single Trees

We are all learning to marvel at the below ground networks that connect the trees in a forest into a greater whole. It has been a marvel of the lockdowns that writers and artists who could no longer meet face to face have been able to meet up on zoom and remain connected to each other’s work. The Waste Land Revisited project, bringing together writers from so many different places, was made possible by this.

Claudio Moras

Before the pandemic divided us, I was privileged to be a distantly adopted part of an inspiring North Italian poetry group fostered by the Pordenone poet, Claudio Moras. I once had the joy of reading with this group in Sacile and have been able to stay in touch with Claudio through my Facebook Page.

In Sacile 2015

This week I received a beautifully produced anthology of poems by the PoeSiamo group to which Claudio belongs. Its title, Andreis, refers to small village in the Cellina Valley in western Friuli. The poems are inspired by country landscapes, local myths and, above all, by the poetry of Federico Tavan who was born in Andreis and lived there until his death in 2013. Six Poesiamo poets are represented in Andreis: Cristina Centis, Enrica Piovesana, Monica Trevisan, Stefania Ros, Lucian Poletto and Claudio Moras. The municipal council was so impressed by their writings that they have been invited to showcase their work annually, perhaps in collaboration with other groups.

Federico Tavan

This is how good networks spread, even across distances, even across language barriers. Google Maps tells me that I am 937 miles away from the North Italian village of Andreis and that it would take me 307 hours to walk there from Bath. But even in this pre-pandemic fantasy, I could neither read the poems of Federico Tavan (he writes in Friulano) nor share them with Claudio because we have no common language.

But we have often shared poems, and the very special kind of friendship which seems to exist between people who really believe in the mysterious power and importance of poetry.

Thank you Claudio and thank you to the poets of Poesiamo for your lovely book. I hope some of you will send me your pictures to add in to this post.

And thank you Claudio for this lovely poem.

I MIEI SOGNI

Io non vivo in un sogno
vivo con i piedi
ben piantati nella terra,
magari, mastico parole
sputo versi
urlo poesie
che qualche volta
lo sono, 
dice qualcuno, ma poi
a me non importa e
vado oltre a tutti gli orizzonti:
io continuo
a dissodare la terra
per seminare
i miei sogni. 

CLAUDIO MORAS

And thank you to the secretive translator who makes it possible to share Claudio's poem on my Page.
MY DREAMS
I do not live in a dream
I live with my feet
firmly planted on the ground.
Maybe I chew words
spit out lines
bellow poems –
well, sometimes they are poems,
someone said, but then
that does not matter to me.
I travel beyond all horizons.
I continue to till the earth
in order to sow 
my dreams.

CLAUDIO MORAS

The Waste Land Revisited group is currently creating work for live performance which sadly cannot be shared online. But we also have a page poetry project, provisionally titled A Waste Land Almanac, which we hope to see in print. This will contain homage responses to Eliot’s famous April opening lines and London memories by writers in the group. This time next year, if all goes well, I will be sending Claudio a copy of our book.

April is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain.

TS ELIOT

Tradition and the Individual Talent

Every goose is a swan to its publisher until he fails to shift it through the till.

But how to identify the swans? Eliot’s 1919 essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ is one of the keys to understanding The Waste Land. He saw the cultural tradition as an assembly of great artefacts which have survived through time, shaping and informing the world which is fortunate to inherit them and being subtly changed in the understanding of later generations by the new art inspired by them and following in their wake.

I have been arguing today with a scholarly friend who thinks Jessie L. Weston deserves a place in my poster collage of writers whose presence haunts The Waste Land. This made me realise that I had instinctively homed in on writers whose influence on Eliot’s poem stemmed from their stature within the same culture he himself celebrated in his work. There is a self-fulfilling circularity in my poster and my Devon friend was right to challenge it.

But Jessie L. Weston? Best known today only for her citation in the notes to The Waste Land? About whose 1920 book Eliot later said that he regretted sending so many readers on ‘a wild goose chase after Tarot cards and the Holy Grail?’ I still think not.

This is what Eliot himself said about the citation of From Ritual to Romance in the Waste Land notes:

‘The notes to The Waste Land! I had at first intended only to put down all the references for my quotations, with a view to spiking the guns of critics of my earlier poems who had accused me of plagiarism. Then, when it came to print The Waste Land as a little book – for the poem on its first appearance in The Dial and in The Criterion had no notes whatever – it was discovered that the poem was inconveniently short, so I set to work to expand the notes, in order to provide a few more pages of printed matter, with the result that they became the remarkable exposition of bogus scholarship that is still on view today.’

The Sewanee Review, Vol. 64, No. 4(Oct.-Dec. 1956)

There is another question of course: How to deal with the way once well-known writers and artists in Eliot’s pantheon have now paled into obscurity for many people who can still read his own poetry with joy. There are writers in my collage many of us may not recognise, and some whose names ring as faintly as Jessie L. Weston’s would if we did not have The Waste Land notes.

This was one of the many challenges that inspired our zoom group’s utterly unpredictable and sometimes irreverent journey towards The Waste Land Revisited. It will explain among other things the delightful appearances of Noel Coward and Marie Lloyd.

Hovering in the wings of Eliot’s Waste Land….
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