poetic history

Dylan Thomas in Winter

dylan
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By Byron Beynon
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Dylan Thomas had a healthy nostalgia for childhood, the winter months, Christmas and the New Year, conjuring up feelings and memories within stories, poems and reminiscences of time past, using language of a familiar season when thoughts were cast back to more innocent times.
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“Memories of Christmas” was reissued, enlarged, and sold to Harper’s Bazaar for 300 dollars under the title “A Child’s Memories of Christmas in Wales”. He also made a recording of it.  It begins with:
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“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years, around the sea-town corner now, and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
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He leaves his house in Cwmdonkin Drive and walks down the festive hill facing the bay as:
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“All the Christmases roll down the hill towards the Welsh-speaking sea, like a snowball growing whiter and bigger and rounder, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street;”
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He later returns to the comfort of his home “and the fire in the front room, and bang go the crackers, and holy, holy, holy, ring the bells, and the glass bells shaking on the tree…”
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In a letter from Laugharne in December 1939 he wrote to his friend and fellow poet Vernon Watkins; it opens with a reply “What do I want for Christmas? Oh, that’s nice.  I want a war-escaper – a sort of ladder, I think, attached to a balloon ….. could I perhaps have the New Yorker Annual (published by Hamish Hamilton…) which is all funny drawings, half a game, half a book? I should like that very much indeed …. But there will be Christmas Eve for us, and we’ll smoke your ridiculous cigarettes and buy bathfuls of Cointreau, bitter, biddy, or ink.  For you this Christmas a record: which?”
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The writer and commentator, John Ackerman, noted in his book “Welsh Dylan” that “Thomas had anticipated this presentation of the natural world in the poems of childhood, and also in “A Winter’s Tale”, which is an expansive and lyrical evocation of country life in winter:” The opening 10 lines sing through the winter air:
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“It is a winter’s tale
That the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes
And floating fields from the farm in the cup of the vales,
Gliding windless through the hand folded flakes,
The pale breath of cattle at the stealthy sail,
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And the stars falling cold,
And the smell of hay in the snow, and the far owl
Warning among the folds, and the frozen hold
Flocked with the sheep white smoke of the farm house cowl
In the river wended vales where the tale was told.
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Dylan sent the completed poem to the American anthologist Oscar Williams in New York saying: “The longish one, I’m glad to say, has taken a great deal of time & trouble”. It was eventually published in Poetry (Chicago) in July 1945.
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Back in Swansea, after much of the town he loved had been destroyed during the war he recalls in Return Journey: “It was a cold white day in High Street, and nothing to stop the wind slicing up from the docks, for where the squat and tall shops had shielded the town from the sea lay their blitzed flat graves marbled with snow and headstoned with fences.  Dogs, delicate as cats on water, as though they had gloves on their paws, padded over the vanished buildings.”
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And again, from the same piece, the excellent “staring through the glass of the hotel door at the snowflakes sailing down the sky, like Siberian confetti.”
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In “The Followers” he is again in Swansea, prose full of detail and vivid as a painting: “It was six o’clock on a winter’s evening.  Thin, dingy rain spat and drizzled past the lighted street lamps.  The pavements shone long and yellow.  In squeaking goloshes, with mackintosh collar up and bowlers and trilbies weeping, youngish men from the offices bundled home against the thistly wind…”
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And finally, as the old year becomes history and a new year approaches Dylan writes: “Of what is coming in the New Year I know nothing, except that all that is certain will come like thunderclaps or like comets in the shape of four-leaved clovers, and all that is unforeseen will appear with the certainty of the sun who every morning shakes a leg in the sky’” (from The Crumbs of One Man’s Year)
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Byron Beynon lives and writes in Swansea, Wales

 

An Interview with Lyn Lifshin

Lynn Lifshin 2

Lyn Lifshin has published  over 130 books and chapbooks including 3 from Black Sparrow Press: Cold Comfort, Before It’s Light and Another Woman Who Looks Like Me. Before Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle, Lifshin published her prize winning book about the short lived beautiful race horse Ruffian, The Licorice Daughter: My Year With Ruffian and  Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness.  Recent books include Ballroom, All the Poets Who Have Touched Me, Living and Dead. All True, Especially The Lies, Light At the End: The Jesus Poems, Katrina, Mirrors, Persphone, Lost In The Fog,  Knife Edge & Absinthe: The Tango Poems .  NYQ books published A Girl Goes into The Woods. Also  just out: For the Roses poems after Joni Mitchell and Hitchcock Hotel from Danse Macabre. Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle.  And Tangled as the Alphabet,– The Istanbul Poems from NightBallet Press Just released as well  Malala,   the dvd of Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass. The Marilyn Poems was just released from Rubber Boots Press. An update to her Gale Research Autobiography is out: Lips, Blues, Blue Lace: On The Outside. Also just out is a dvd of the documentary film about her: Lyn Lifshin: Not Made Of Glass. Just out: Femme Eterna  and Moving Through Stained Glass: the Maple Poems. Forthcoming: Degas Little Dancer and Winter Poems from Kind of a Hurricane Press, Paintings and Poems, from Tangerine press (just out)  and The Silk Road from Night Ballet, alivelikealoadedgun from Transcendent Zero Press Just Out and forthcoming Refugees   http://www.lynlifshin.com/

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  • g emil reutter

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The Interview

Lynn Lifshin

GER: What brought you to poetry and who were your inspirations?

LL: As a child I was read to a lot and I remember one of my favorite books was the collection of poetry, NOW WE ARE SIX, with its poetry of Tattoo the Cat, Alexander the beetle his grandmother let out, and Anne, Anne playing in the willows. I still have that book. When I was about 3, driving from Barre, VT to Middlebury, VT I am told I said “it looks like the trees are dancing.”  My mother, who named me Rosalyn Diane, a name she thought would be appropriate for an actress, something I think she always wanted to be herself, sighed, “well then maybe she will be a poet.”

 In elementary school, because I read and wrote well, I skipped from first to third grade. There, I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Flag. Each morning she brought in something—a branch of apple blossoms, colored stones, prints of famous paintings and asked us to write about them. I still have those blue books with hand written poems about apple blossoms, water fowl, snow in April. One day I copied a poem of Blake’s and told my mother I had written it. Since Middlebury was a small town it wasn’t unusual that my mother ran into my teacher and told her what an inspiration she’d been—how I had written a poem with words in it she didn’t even know I knew. By Monday I had to write my  poem with those particular words in them: rill, descending, nigh.

In college I never felt I could write enough so didn’t take any writing courses. But I did write a few poems over summer. Robert Frost, who spent the summer in Ripton, VT, often wandered around Middlebury in baggy green pants carrying a bag of strawberries. Like my father, he was a taciturn, quiet man and would only let my father, who worked in my uncle’s department store, wait on him. My father one time showed him one of my poems and Frost wrote on it. “wonderful images—bring me some more poems.” By the time I had any more poems, Frost was dead. In my first year of college I fell in love with Federico Garcia Lorca and in graduate school, Dylan Thomas. And later Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin.

GER: You never attended a workshop yet you have taught numerous workshops. What value do you place in workshops?

 LL: For so many writers who start writing on their own, maybe a workshop is a great place to try out poems and stories, meet other writers, start a magazine. At times I think these workshops become so insulated they only publish their own poems but I suppose there are good things coming out of them. When I started writing, I wouldn’t have any idea of where to even look for a writing workshop.

Lyn Lifshin Reading

GER:  Do you use a particular formula in creating your poems?

LL: Not really. I did an article for Writers Digest about the many way I’ve started poems and there are so many. I like assignments: people looking for poems on a certain subject. That often triggers a who series of poems on that subject. A forthcoming book, THE SILK ROAD came  from a request for poems about silk and spices. Requests for poems on certain subjects often turn into whole books: poems about Jesus, (JESUS ALIVE AND IN THE FLESH)  (poems about dick for a day, mother and daughter poems, (TANGLED VINES) and (THE DAUGHTER I DON’T HAVE.) Marilyn Monroe (MARILYN MONROE) political poems (BLUE TATTOO), Barbie  poems (BARBIE), Malala (MALALA). So often when I am asked for a poem on a subject it seems I couldn’t stop and wrote not one or two poems but a series. FOR THE ROSES came from a request for poems about Joni Mitchell. Sadly the week the book was  released, the editor-publisher became sick and died –I had received only about ten copies of the book and no one could find the others or discover the key to printing more copies—so the few that are out are truly collectors’ copies. ) I paid to have a group reprinted but sadly the book didn’t get the attention it should had though I think it is still on Amazon and I have a few copies;  an Obama file came from two requests for two books on Obama that came out just around his election. I never submitted that file anywhere else.

LittleDancercover

GER: Tell us about your latest release, Little Dancer–The Degas Poems.

 LL:  I’d always loved ballet- in Middlebury there was not much of a chance to take classes. For a year or two a lovely, exotic dancer from Paris, Mrs. Berge—later we learned she was Mrs. Berger who had come to escape the Holocaust. I was a chubby 8 year old but I loved the classes and she gave me a tiara and costume she wore in the Metropolitan Opera that I still have and cherish. Though I still take ballet barre, now my passion is ballroom and Argentine tango. The original statue of the little dance is in the National Gallery in Washington DC and I wrote the  poems after seeing a  play based on Degas and the little dancer.

AliveLikeALoadedGun

GER: In 2014 Femme Eterna was released followed by #AliveLikeALoadedGun  in 2016. Could you share with us your thoughts on these books?

LL: Classical images and themes haven’t been a mainstay of my work. But an artist wanted to collaborate on a project for THE WOMEN’S MUSEUM. She had an idea of showing women thru the ages and how they each had some area of power. We planned to begin with the earliest well known women and work up to the present.  We each picked out a number of women in myth and history and she began working on paintings and I worked on poems. I started with Enheduanna because I knew nothing about her. It was fun. I loved the fact that she was not only the first woman who signed her name to what she had written but she was also a poet. I loved reading about the Euphrates, imagining her shiny dark lips as she wrote on her lapis lazuli tablet. I was impressed, imagining the patience and time it must have taken to write with a stylus and in cuneiform. When I was in Turkey, I saw a stylus of similar cuneiforms and was even more amazed at Enheduanna’s accomplishments.   It was easy to identify with Scheherazade, another story teller, who imagination kept her alive. I learned so much about Nefertiti’s life, her power, her heart breaks. It was very different for me to focus on the myths and history of these special women. The project my artist friend and I were working on never happened. More recently we talked about resurrecting a project that would combine our poetic and artistic works.     

ALIVELIKEALOADEDGUN came together in a rather traditional way. The editor-producer wrote me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a book. I sent him several, (many—I probably drowned him in files) of new poems and he made the selection.       

GER: Over 135 of your books have been published and after decades of writing you remain prolific. To what do you attribute the continued flow of creativity?

LL: I’m really not sure. In the cabinet over my desk are about 59 hand written notebooks—spiral notebooks with about 70 pages each of poems so if I never write another poem, I will have more than enough to type up for years!. I am still writing. Two of my poems that I felt were strong were just accepted by a magazine that felt they were some of the strongest I’ve written.

 For a while I was fascinated with horse racing and three of my strongest books came from that subject: THE LICORICE DAUGHTER: A YEAR WITH RUFFIAN; BARBARO: UNBROKEN; SECRETARIAT:THE RED FREAK, THE MIRACLE. Before that, many of the poems were family poems, poems about people. My three Black sparrow books have many poems about family: COLD COMFORT, BEFORE IT’S LIGHT and ANOTHER WOMAN WHO LOOKS LIKE ME. And I did a series of books about places: AUDDLEY END, THE OLD HOUSE ON THE CROTON, SHAKER HOUSE POEMS, PLYMOUTH WOMEN, THE OLD HOUSES, PLYMOUTH. I’ve also done many nature themed books NUTLEY POND and MOVING THRU STAINED GLASS—THE MAPLE POEMS.

lifshin hat

 GER: How has the poetry scene changed since you first came on the scene?

 LL: In so many way. The many advanced degrees in poetry at many schools has created little enclaves or cliques of poets.  Submission has changed with Submittable being the main way of sending poems. In early anthologies RISING TIDES and PSYCHE:THE POETRIC FEMININE  –anthologies that go from Emily Dickinson to the present include my work while there are only about 5  other contemporary poets. But I’ve never won a Push Cart. Or had a poem on Garrison Keillor’s daily poem program.

GER: So I hear you like to tango. Do you find any similarities between the art of the dance and the art of words?

LL: I suppose there are—tango never came as easily as poetry but I’ve loved it as much. On my web site there is a tango dance I’ve done after only half a year of classes. But I wish I did more. I do have a book of tango poems; (all written before I did any tango dancing) KNIFE EDGE & ABSINTH:THE TANGO POEMS. And BALLROOM, another of my favorites, is also from the press where the editor died—I do have some copies and I hope Amazon does too. It all is rather ephemeral isn’t it? I do have a movie LYN LIFSHIN: NOT MADE OF GLASS and I used to tape all my poems only to realize my tape recorder wasn’t very good. But there are some readings of poems on my web site http://www.lynlifshin.com and a reading and interview at the Library of Congress and is on my web site.

Watch Lyn Lifshin doing the Argentine Tango!

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2  Poems
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IT’S BEEN SO LONG
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since I’ve dreamed
anything that was
not nightmare
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This spring
with goslings in
the roses, tulips
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and crocuses pushing
color thru crystal
ice, I hardly
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notice the wood
ducks. I don’t hear
geese in flight.
 
I used to dream
goose music, scan
black ripples
 
walking back
from the pond.
Before I photographed
 
the last light
glowing in dark
woods
 
the sun gulped.
Just one tree
on fire as
 
if glowing
from within
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THE MAD GIRL LONGS TO SEE THE VERMILLION MOON
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a word she used in a freshman
comp class and was told it
didn’t exist. She wants that
moon, exotic as the long gone
sailor’s eyes, the ripples at
Lake Dunmore glowed in more
years ago than she can believe.
She doesn’t want just any
moon but a moon the color
of her cries, garnet and tangerine,
a Harvest Moon that will turn
her bare arms and thighs
rouge as he did. Later, she opens
the blinds. She’d almost
forgotten about the moon but
suddenly something pulls her from
the quilts to the window and
it was there, as if waiting for her
in her dream, a moon
as in love with secrets as she is,
letting mysteries bleed into
the shadows of her bedroom,
into the round blond
vanity and hassock she once
watched her mother stand behind
her braiding her hair, Otter
Falls crashing in the distance into
the whirlpool she isn’t sure
came from other worlds
or from her own imagination
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To learn more about Lynn Lifshin please visit her at:  http://www.lynlifshin.com/ 

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter
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