Tuesday 28 April 2009

Beautiful Birds (7): Name that poetic bird!

Little Egret
(just to get you thinking 'bird'!

There is a bird-in-poetry quiz on the Poetry Society website. Have a look when you take a coffee break and see how you score! I found it quite difficult, though there were a few firm favourites in the nest. Can you name a favourite bird poem?

Monday 27 April 2009

Calendar Corner (5): End of the Laureate's Term of Office

You can read about Andrew Motion here, as he reflects on his ten year term of office. I, for one, was gripped by his childhood, 'In the Blood'.

Calendar Corner (4): Poem in your Pocket Day

Are you ready for Poem in your Pocket Day on 30 April? I see no reason why this should not become an international event. Which poem will you choose to have in your pocket? I have several in mind: 'The Lady of Shalott' is a bit long, so it might be 'Zennor' by Anne Ridler.

Poetry Matters (6): The Poetic Turn

I have just read an interesting post about whether students enjoy poetry classes. What is it about a poem (rather than a teacher) that makes the subject exciting to a group of nineteen year old? Is it the structure, the nature of the 'turn' or a rhyme scheme? The linked blog, 'Structure and Surprise', complements the book of the same name, edited by Michael Theune from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Calendar Corner (3): World Book [and Copyright] Day

Anne Hathaway's Cottage,
Shottery, Stratford, UK

Today is not only the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 1564 (and death in 1616), but it is World Book Day.
Why, I wonder, do we celebrate this day in March in the UK, and not with our fellow countries? Perhaps it just means that we can have two celebrations for the price of one. Happy WORLD book day, everyone!

Calendar Corner (3): World Book [and Copyright] Day

Shottery, Stratford, UK

Today is not only the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 1564 (and death in 1616), but it is World Book Day.
Why, I wonder, do we celebrate this day in March in the UK, and not with our fellow countries in April? Perhaps it just means that we can have two celebrations for the price of one. Happy WORLD Book Day, everyone!

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Publishing Outlets (1): eTips

Wendy in the Lakes (2009)
Photo: copyright Wendy Webb, used with permission

Wendy and Caroline at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea (2008)
The May issue of eTips has just come out in rtf form. It is produced by Wendy Webb, founder of Norfolk Poets and Writers and editor of Tips for Writers. It contains an excellent interview with Wendy's fellow poet/publisher, Ronnie Goodyer of Indigo Dreams Press. It also features the first of my 'occasional column' pieces (under the heading 'Small is Beautiful') on a new poetry form that is gaining pace in the USA, the Fib (after Fibonacci), created by Gregory K. Pincus. The ezine contains good examples of the Fib by Claire Knight (whose Haiku, windfall apples..., features in the Snapshot Press 2009 calendar) and Norman Bissett.

If you would like to receive a trial copy of eTips, I suggest you visit Wendy's blog, Tips for Writers, where you can contact her via email or the comments facility.

The May edition of eTips also contains poems by poet and international reviewer, Bernard Jackson, from his sparkling Newcastle upon Tyne collection, Ballads of a Northern Town (reviewed by me in the magazine). There are, of course, announcements about Wendy's current challenges and competitions. Why not join us - and join in the fun?

Monday 20 April 2009

Poetic People (6): Laureate and Professor

The Times Higher (9-15 April 2009) comments on the 'race' for the Oxford post of Professor of Poetry. Ruth Padel and Derek Walcott are both in with a fine chance. Nominations close on 29 April and the election will take place on 16 May 2009. I have read works by both poets and have heard them both speak at the Guardian Hay Festival.

Poetry Matters (5): One Word Ripples

Saltmarsh: ripples and reflections
WWT Llanelli

Those who know me know that I love to experiment with poetry forms and unusual words. I read somewhere recently of a challenge to pick a single word as the starting point for a poem. I took this photo with my new camera (I am really quite a techophobe or technodunce, but again I love to experiment); and the ring of ripples in the centre, which you can enlarge if you click on the photo, has kickstarted a poem idea. In the past I have sometimes been helped by a spidergraph: I wonder how your poems develop? There must be a myriad of methods: I would love to list some of your answers!

Window on Wildlife (3): Orange Tip Butterfly

Male Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) at WWT, Llanelli

I have seen Orange Tip butterflies before, but it was only over the weekend that I began to wonder whether the orange pigmentation only belonged to the male of the species. A look in my copy of 'The Butterflies of the British Isles' by Richard South confirmed this fact. The female butterflies, who have black and white wing tips, lay their eggs on the Cuckoo Flower (Cardimine pratensis, aka Lady's Smock), the pale pink plant in the photograph.

Beautiful Birds (6): A red star weekend

You have heard of a red letter day: well, this was my redstar(t) weekend!

Thanks to Mistlethrush, Matt at Polyolbion and other birding bloggers, I am slowly learning my 'A(vocet), B(uzzard), C(arrion crow)' alphabet of the world of birds.

We had great fun watching about three pairs of Redstart (I presume that is the plural: please feel free to advise!) in the grounds of Dinefwr Castle. I tried my best to photograph them; but (assuming my identification is correct), the Redstart does not hang about and my best photograph was blurry, to say the least. The birds flitted backwards and forwards in pairs, along the waterline and then up in the trees. The males, in particular, were a joy to watch, with their black 'cheeks', silver foreheads and bright russet feathers.

Down at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Llanelli, we saw and heard a number of warblers (and once again, Mistlethrush, I wish you had been there to help!). I should be particularly interested to learn the identity of the pair in the photo above.

Incidentally, I wonder what rules we follow in the UK when we write about specific examples of flora or fauna, using our English names. Do we adopt Seabrooke's sensible system of using captial letters for these words? I was writing about the Smooth Newt on my Land&Lit blog, when I realised that unless I used upper case it would not be clear whether I simply meant a smooth newt of any variety or whether I meant the Smooth Newt, Lissotriton vulgaris (formerly known as Triturus vulgaris), in particular.

There is a Swansea suburb called Sketty (Sgeti in Welsh); some sources claim that the name means Ceti's Island, after an Irish saint. Cetti's Warbler, however, is named after the Italian zoologist, Francesco Cetti. I am grateful to Matt of Polyolbion for reminding me to look out for Joanna Boulter's Arrowhead poetry collection, On Sketty Sands.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Language & Linguistics (4): Palindrome and Palimpsest

As teenagers, we used to jump on our bikes, laden with rolls of black paper and gold starry sticks called 'astral' to go brass rubbing in our local churches. We always had to ask permission from the local incumbent before we embarked on these expeditions: some churches were kept locked and others charged a fee for brass rubbing. This was largely in the days before folk realized how much damage could be done to the Medieval brasses. These days one can still enjoy brass rubbing in centres where there are facsimiles. It is, of course, not quite the same (you miss out on the experience of settling down on the floor or rush matting in the churches); but in terms of heritage, it makes sense. I grew up in rural Norfolk, where there were some marvellous brasses. I became interested in the symbolism of the animals - often greyhound-like dogs - who lay at the feet of their masters or mistresses.

In the course of brass rubbing, I encountered a new type of brass: the palimpsest, which was not embedded into the stone church floor because it was two-sided, and the modern viewer was intended to see the back as well as the front. I had always assumed that the word 'palimpsest' referred to the fact that a brass was double-sided: it seems, however, that it actually refers to a brass that has been re-worked (possibly at a later date, and possibly on the reverse side).

The word 'palindrome' finds its etymology in the Greek word, palindromos (running back again): the word 'palimpsest', from palimpsestos, is made up of 'palin' (again) and 'psestos' (rubbed smooth). Apparently, a large number of 16th century brasses were found to be 'palimpsest' when they became detached from their slabs. You might find, for example, a knight on one side and a priest on the other.

All this is really a preamble to my current thinking about something else that is two-sided - the palindrome. You will find a good website of interesting examples here. A famous early palindrome, the Christian 'Sator Square' in Latin, dates from the destruction of Herculaneum.

My friend and fellow-blogger, Wendy Webb, has created a new poetry form, a kind of double sonnet in which the second half or stanza is a reverse of the first. Wendy's form is called the 'palindromedary', and a number of examples have appeared in her magazine, 'Tips for Writers'.

It has just occurred to me that a 'palindromedary' conjures up (in my mind, at least) a picture of a marvellous mythical creature, not unlike the 'pushmi-pullyu' of Doctor Dolittle!

Speaking of doctors, and on a serious note, there is a kind of palindromic rheumatism in which the patient has joints that swell up and subsequently settle down. The joints go through the following palindromic phases:

normal - abnormal - normal.

What is your favourite palindrome? Do we have any examples in languages other than English? Or examples from poetry?
  • Read a poem about a palindromedary here.
  • For Greg Garrard on teaching poetry, see 'The Lines of Beauty' (THES 9 April 2009 p.24), containing his vision of a poetry 'program that would visualise any selected poem through a palimpsest of readings'...

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Beautiful Birds (5): A Post on Puffins

Puffins off RSPB Reserve at Bempton Cliffs near Flamborough Head, Yorkshire
Spring 2009

Puffins have to be one of my favourite birds, as those who follow my blog will have realised! We thought we might be too early for them this year, but it was a delight to find that they had come in from the sea, and were busy preparing their nests on the rocky ledges. The left-hand puffin in the second photograph has grass stalks in her beak, which you may just make out if you click to enlarge the picture.

I thought the name 'Puffin Post' rang a bell, and wondered if I was confusing it with Arthur Ransome's 'Pigeon Post'. A quick 'Google' confirmed that there is indeed a children's magazine called 'Puffin Post'. Curiously, there is even a competition mentioned on the site which has - presumably as a prize - the chance to 'go behind the scenes' at Bempton. I suddenly begin to feel 40-something going on 4!

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Language & Linguistics (3): Translation

The book in Rudston Church
(please advise if this is not the right way up)

Most writers, I imagine, must wonder at one time or another about translation. My poems have occasionally appeared in international anthologies (e.g. from India and the USA); but to my knowledge, none of my poems has been translated into another language. Who knows what the future will hold. Works like Homer and Shakespeare, of course, have appeared in countless tongues. I came across a useful site concerned with translation, and I also found it interesting to read about the eighteenth century views of Samuel Johnson (click link and read 'A thought for the day').

You may wonder what sparked this train of thought. I was recently at Rudston Church near Bridlington, visiting the grave of the novelist, Winifred Holtby (and also looking at a gigantic menhir in the churchyard and reading the memorial tablets to my distant MacDonald ancestors). As we entered the church, my eyes alighted on a delightful copy of South Riding ... translated into Japanese by Suzoku Sakamoto.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Beautiful Birds (4): An Avian Equinox?

Do visit the Birdstack site to catch up on the 'Birds of the Equinox' contributions. I particularly enjoyed reading one of the linked blogs of Arctic musings. On the subject of wintry topics, we have just returned from Yorkshire and the Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve near Flamborough Head where a snow bunting had been spotted. We saw a surprising number of puffins building their nests: pictures to follow. They are such delightful birds.

Thursday 2 April 2009