Recent links of note:
“Hurt into poetry: Ivor Gurney, asylum modernist”
Kate Kennedy, The Times Literary Supplement
A much-anthologized war poet and the composer of some three hundred songs, Ivor Gurney (1890–1937) spent the last fifteen years of his short life not as a celebrated artist, but rather as a patient in a lunatic asylum. Though the author of Severn and Somme (1917) attempted to continue his musical studies after the war, the combined effects of chlorine gas, shell shock, and perhaps a failed romance with a nurse corroded his already fragile mental state. By 1922 he was declared insane. Nevertheless, institutionalization did not diminish his creative output—though much of his poetry from this period, preserved by his close friends, remains unpublished. Kate Kennedy has just written a new biography of this troubled “poet-archaeologist,” whose strange poems contain patterns of images that travel “across centuries, animating landscapes and resurrecting dead comrades.” Gurney’s urgent need to express grief and pain drove him to deploy “jarring colours, rhythms, disjunction,” which makes him, according to Kennedy, an “accidental modernist.” It is a bold claim, but perhaps after nearly a century it is worth re-examining these later poems, regardless of the conditions in which they were produced.
“The Triumph of Mutabilitie”
Catherine Nicholson, The New York Review of Books
This week, Catherine Nicholson reviewed two books on the “poet’s poet” Edmund Spenser and his “genre-bending hybrid of classical epic, medieval romance, and English folk mythologies,” The Faerie Queene. The first, Edmund Spenser and the Eighteenth-Century Book by Hazel Wilkinson, examines the “Spensermania” phenomenon, which saw the poem evolve from an expensive (though barely read) status symbol to a widely disseminated text found in the homes of young writers from William Wordsworth to Leigh Hunt, who adored what Joseph Addison called the “Fairy Way of Writing.” The second is a collection of essays on the poem written over three decades by a single scholar, Gordon Teskey, who grapples with the poet’s “fleeting, flickering, variable quality” that has enchanted and perplexed readers for centuries. Nicholson has heartening words for those of us who have begun and loved the poem, but have not yet finished it, as she notes that for Spenser himself, who died having completed only six of a projected twelve books, the project “started as an aspiration, and it stays that way.”
“The Style of Our Moment: A Conversation with William Logan”
Piotr Florczyk, Los Angeles Review of Books
The poet and critic William Logan, whose many responsibilities include writing The New Criterion’s twice-yearly “Verse chronicle,” sat down recently for an interview with Piotr Florczyk of the Los Angeles Review of Books. Though Logan doubts that “critics of a critical temper” are a dying breed, he takes a dim view of poet-critics who soften their reviews for fear of making enemies. His desire to see more risk-taking extends to poetry writing, too: “Most poets are content—too content—to do again whatever brought them success; and their poems lie on the page, swaddled in style.” The pair discuss the benefits of examining the “also-rans” as well as the masters, the desire for delightful language versus “important” subjects, and the necessity of treating poetry with respect, not “like some wounded sibling of major arts.”
“Music for a while #46: Bach, beekeeping, and more. Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“The Conestoga River flows on” by Stephen Schmalhofer. On the history of the Pennsylvania river.