Laughing at Poetry

Laughing at SwinburneIn the April 24th 1942 issue of John O’London’s Weekly can be found a perceptive view by the essayist Robert Lynd on the subject of risible poetry written by good poets. He takes his cue from an incident a century before when Thomas Wakley, the founder of the Lancet, stood up in the Commons to mock some puerile lines from ‘Louisa’ by the Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth.

Lynd then goes on to wonder whether ‘absurdities were so common in the older poets as they came in the period that followed the French Revolution. Shakespeare and Milton seem never to have descended to such unconscious ludicrousness as Wordsworth. I do not think that any of the older poets ever wrote a line that parodies itself so easily as Swinburne’s :–

Swallow, my sister: O Sister

     Swallow. 

‘One of Swinburne’s loveliest poems, ‘Before a Mirror ‘, Lynd continues, ‘begins with a verse of extraordinary nonsense –at least, containing extraordinary nonsense—and yet who can fail to be moved by it:– Continue reading

Reviewers getting it wrong

 

Robert Frost picA Boy’s Will by Robert Frost, reviewed by C. R. Orage in The New Age , June 12th 1913.

‘He declares of his friends meeting with him after some years:-

They would not find me changed from him they knew—

Only more sure of all I thought was true (trew).

 

Evidently he dreamed no great dreams, believed in nothing beyond the will of a mortal boy to accomplish. Let him trot along “in the gloaming “, as he says, with his Mary, and rhyme “those is” with “roses”. As idle rubbish is published every day.’

Frost, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and now recognised as one of America’s greatest poets, was nearly forty when he published this debut collection, which was generally well received. Elsewhere in the same issue, Orage was equally harsh on Yeats, another great poet, who, though only nine years older than Frost, was already established as a leader of the Celtic Twilight movement. From his treatment of all but one of the other poetry and novels reviewed in this issue, Orage clearly despised pretentiousness, preciousness, poetical clichés, lovey-dovey verse, Georgianism, fancy and whimsy, Edwardian chicklit, and melodrama about marriages. The trouble is, Frost’s collection demonstrated none of these faults. Perhaps he just didn’t like Americans.

The only collection Orage approved of was Green Days and Blue Days by P. R. Chalmers—‘fifty or so ditties by a modern young man’, according to Orage. Chalmers, a banker by profession, wrote other ‘ditties‘ and also books on hunting. [R.M.Healey]

 

Frances Mundy-Castle: a neglected poet

Democrats Chapbook cover 001The identity of the ‘ quiet woman‘ who wrote A Democrat’s Chapbook (1942), a hundred page long commentary in free verse on the events of the Second World War up to the time when America joined the Allied forces, was only revealed when Anne Powell included two passages from it in her anthology of female war poetry, Shadows of War (1999 ). However, those who had read her volume of Georgian verse entitled Songs from the Sussex Downs ( 1915), a copy of which was found in the collection of Wilfred Owen, might have recognised the style as that of ‘Peggy Whitehouse’, whose Mary By the Sea also appeared under this name in 1946. All three books were the work of Mrs Frances Mundy –Castle (1875 – 1959).

Thanks to her son Alistair, we now know a little more about Mrs Mundy-Castle. We know, for instance, that she came from a wealthy family and that at the age of sixteen she published a volume of her poems. She then married Mr Mundy-Castle, who managed a local brickworks, and the family settled down at Cage Farm, an early eighteenth century house on the eastern outskirts of Tonbridge. Here she seems to have held a sort of salon for local writers and artists, among whom was the cult artist and writer Denton Welch, who lived a mile or so away and was friends with her daughter Rosemary. In his later years, according to his biographer, she was ‘a frequent target of his malicious humour ‘, despite the fact that it was she who had given him the idea of writing his first book. Continue reading

The Worst English Poets—number 4—Rev Edward Dalton

Jot 101 Worst poets cover 001The Rev Edward Dalton was a Victorian cleric and leading light in the Protestant Association. Here is an extract from his sublime effusion, ‘The Railway Journey’ (in The Sea, the Railway Journey and other Poems, London c1875)

The last friends part,

And off we start,

The engine pants and snorts and blows,

The carriage doorways slam and close,

The broad and ponderous wheels are rolled

By thick-set arms of iron mould,

While streaming from the sprouting side

The steam escapes in hissing tide.

Cranch, crunch, thud, rud, dubber-dub-rub.

Thudder, rubber, dub-dub-dub- a- rub-rub.

 

Startled at starting, for our nerves are weak,

We gasp for breath,

Grow pale as death,

As one long piercing, shrill, unearthly shriek

Rings thro’ ears, and stops the power to speak,

The cry of anguish, or vindictive yell

Of baffled imp, or vanquished fiend of hell,

The death-shriek of some monstrous beast,

We’ve smashed a million pigs at least.

Ah no! no sucking pig has lost a bristle,

The shriek was but the starting railway whistle,

Our speed increases as we rattle down

And reach the suburbs of the outer town;

And there, yes, there

On the look-our slope of the garden sward

I caught a glimpse of my darling Maude… Continue reading

Wilhelmina Stitch

WilhelminaFound a fine copy of Beacons in the Night (Methuen, 1934) by Wilhelmina Stitch. A small book of simple, unsophisticated poetry.   Wilhelmina Stitch achieved some popularity and sales in the first half of the 20th century. As a sentimental poet she was very much the Donovan to Patience Strong’s Dylan. She has no Wikipedia page unlike Ms Strong who has a lengthy and well tended entry. Some facts of her life are known and she turns up on a site Memorable Manitobans who have this to say:

Born at Cambridgeshire, England in 1888, daughter of I. W. Jacobs, she married E. Arakie Cohen while he was visiting England and returned with him to Winnipeg. They had one son, Ralph. After her husband’s death in 1919, she was forced to seek employment to support herself and her son. Her friends encouraged her to submit her writing for publication, which led to a successful career as a writer which continued to the time of her death. Writing under the pen names “Sheila Rand” or “Wilhelmina Stitch”, she had poetry and stories published in the Winnipeg Tribune and the Winnipeg Telegram. In time, she became, in the words an obituary, “one of the best-known women writers in the British Empire”.

While living in Winnipeg, she worked for, and became close friends with, university professor Reginald Buller. He believed that she had telepathic powers and carried out experiments, largely without success, to test them.

She later remarried to Scottish physician Frank K. Collie and moved with him to London, England where she died on 6 March 1936.

Much of her poetry has religious themes and much of it is in prose that rhymes, an odd slightly  kitsch style, like a precursor of rap:


BE OF GOOD CHEER

In the dumps, don’t know why. Cannot smile, want to cry. Mind distressed, awful blue. Felt like this, haven’t you? Not a single soul to care, life is more than I can bear, troubles seem to pick me out, faith’s misplaced by sullen doubt, hope is vanquished by a fear, can’t find comfort, can’t find cheer, heart is sore, awful blue -felt like this, haven’t you?… Lift that scowl, smile instead. Look! The sun is overhead. Didn’t notice it before. Not so blue, Not so sore… Life is sweet, found this true. Felt like this, haven’t you? Continue reading

Poets as plagiarists

 

clouston-pic-001The plagiarist today runs the risk of being sued by an artist, whether novelist, poet, composer or dramatist –or by the artist’s estate. However, in the case of poetry, it has always struck me how easy it must be for anyone entering a poetry competition to filch some particularly impressive lines from a forgotten slim volume or a short-lived little magazine. If the victim of the theft is dead there is only the slimmest possibility that the estate would discover it .

But when the theft is made from a comparatively obscure literary work many hundreds of years old and in another language the chances of the thief being detected in his or her lifetime are very thin indeed. Most literary thieves of this type are exposed many years after their own deaths. The whole issue is discussed in Literary Coincidences ( 1901) by W. A. Clouston, a folklorist and expert on oriental literature well qualified to address this matter.

One of the worst offenders seems to have been Lord Byron. In his Hebrew Melodies we find this first verse of ‘To a Lady Weeping ‘

‘I saw thee weep—the big bright tear

Came over that eye of blue;

And then methought it did appear

A violet dropping dew;’ Continue reading

In Honour of Mr. John Betjeman – Patrick Leigh Fermor

john-betjeman-statueFound- in a copy of Nip in the Air (John Murray 1974)  a book of poems by John Betjeman this affectionate parody by the esteemed travel writer Patrick (‘Paddy’) Leigh Fermor. It is probably from a magazine (pp 379-380), possibly The London Magazine but is not archived anywhere online. It is probably from the 1970s. It deserves a place in a completist Betjeman collection and in any future collection of Fermor’s complete oeuvre.

In Honour of Mr. John Betjeman – Patrick Leigh Fermor

Eagle-borne spread of the Authorised Version,

Beadles and bell ropes, pulpits and pews,

Sandwiches spread for a new excursion

And patum peperium under the yews!

 

Erastian peal of Established Church-bells!

(Cuckoo-chimes in Cistercian towers)

Bugloss and briny border our search. Bells

Toll the quarters and toll the hours.

 

Unscrew the thermos. Some village Hampden

Swells the sward. Fill the plastic cup

For toast to Brandon, to Scott and to Camden,

To dripstone and dogtooth, with bottoms up! Continue reading

The Motor Car ( J.H.Goring)

motor-car-1910I see him at night with his head low down

And his terrible eyes ablaze,

He takes at astride the long street of the town,

Like a dragon of older days

 

The throb, throb, throb of his heart I hear,

And the throb of my own replies

As he booms and bounds from the darkness near,

And into the darkness flies.

 

And I long to leap out on his back and away,

Away, in the night, alone,

Any where out of myself and to-day,

To drown in the deep Unknown.

This little poem by J.H.Goring—a minor versifier of the early twentieth century—was discovered in The Odd Volume (1910). It is not the best or earliest car poem,but it is powerful enough and perhaps deserves a place in an anthology of motoring literature for its evocation of the romantic allure of early motor vehicles.

The opening stanza also recalls that famous engraving of 1845 by George Cruikshank entitled ‘The Railway Dragon’ which shows a locomotive as a fire breathing dragon consuming everything in its path. The difference, of course, is that in 1845 passenger locomotives had only been around for about 15 years and were genuinely feared by many of the older generation, especially farmers, who were terrified that their crops would be destroyed by sparks from a locomotive’s chimney. However, in 1910 motor vehicles were more commonplace. In fact, the first had taken to the road around 1885, and by 1910 around 100,000 were in existence in the UK. That is not to say that in south Essex, where Goring lived, the sight of a motor car did not have to power to thrill and excite the imagination. [R.M.Healey]

An early poem on the thrill of flying

airplane-wright-brothersRescued from a copy of The Odd Volume, a one-off literary miscellany published in 1910 to raise money for the National Book Trade Provident Society, is the following poem by Norman Davey entitled “Aerial Survey (no 3498 K).”

Back from Sahara’s sun-scorched sand,

With its dome of shimmering blue:

Back from beyond Van Dieman’s Land

Where the pack-ice breaks the view :

Back from the glow of the sun-kissed snow

On Fuji Yama’s crest;

We have fled from the grey of the dawning day

—Fleeter than falcon for its prey—

Home to the winsome West,

       My Boys!

Back to the winsome West! Continue reading

Edward Newman, poet of south-east London

Edward Newman picChristopher Adams’s miscellany entitled The Worst English Poets (1958) is a disappointing volume. Though the author may have decided to exclude the universally execrated McGonnigal for reasons of space, there can be no excuse for omitting the work of Amanda McKittrick Ros, arguably the worst poet and the worst novelist in the English language. She was never as prolific a versifier as the Scot.

Still, Adams has managed to include a number of bad poets who were new to me. One ( but by no means the worst ) is Edward Newman, a noted entomologist, whose collection, The Insect Hunters, was undated when a second edition of it appeared around 1855. Here is an extract from the title poem:

Take my hat, my little Laura,

Fix it by the loop elastic;

Let us go to Haddo Villas,

Passing by the church and churchyard,

Now so bright with shortlived flowers,

Apt mementos of the buried;

Passing hand in hand together,

Passing, old and young together,

Gravely walking, gaily tripping,

Continue reading

Barbara Lea – a forgotten Fenland poet

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Found – a copy of The Urgent Voice: and other poems by Barbara Lea  (Fortune Press, London 1948.) She lead a short but productive life and is unknown to Wikipedia or any online database apart from Peerage.com who have a good factual entry* on her as, unusually for a Fortune Press poet, she was an aristocrat. The foreword is anonymous and it is just possible it is by Reginald Caton, the founder of the press but is more likely to be by a friend or family member. We append a good East Anglian poem by her after the foreword.

Barbara Lea (nee Pell) was born at Wilburton Manor in the Isle of Ely in 1903. She never lost her early passion for the Fenland, nor for the house in which she was born; indeed, she loved houses and places, before people, witness her poems ‘East Anglia Revisited’, ‘In Time of Trouble’, ‘First Visit’.

She married in 1924 and had five children, the last being born in 1934, and in spite of all the ties of home life, she became increasingly interested and active, in politics and the Women’s Institutes.

When the war started in 1939 she was on the Executive Committee of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, as well as the Worcestershire Committee, and Chairman of the Woman’s Land Army in Worcestershire; a member of the County War Agriculture Committee, and was occupied by a large number of less onerous activities, such as Justice of the Peace, Guardians’ Committee, Parish Council, Parochial Church Council, District Nursing Association, and others too numerous to mention. In 1943 she was awarded the O.B.E. Continue reading

Clifford Bax on Edward Thomas

Edward in 1913 by Clifford BakFound among the papers of Joan Stevens (1933-2015) the feminist bookseller and expert on the Powys Brothers and Edward Thomas this piece, apparently unpublished, by  Clifford Bax on the poet Edward Thomas.

Clifford Bax (1886 –1962) was an English writer, known particularly as a playwright, a journalist, critic and editor, and a poet, lyricist and hymn writer. He also was a translator (for example, of Goldoni). The composer Arnold Bax was his brother, and set some of his words to music. Between 1922 and 1924 with the mystic painter Austin Osman Spare he edited The Golden Hind, an important and collectable periodical. The photo of Edward Thomas was taken by Clifford Bax in 1913 (many thanks to the Edward Thomas Fellowship.) Bax’s piece was probably written in the 1930s when Edward Thomas’s reputation was much less than it is now – the reference to him not having the status of Patmore could not be made now and for the last 60 years… Only 2 typed pages were present but Bax seemed to be near the end at the point it is cut off..

At intervals during the three years that I lived there (Wiltshire), Edward Thomas, breaking the long journeys on foot of which he wrote so well, stayed with me for a month or more. I had become acquainted with him in the previous winter and as I learned to know him better I realised how raw was my literary sense by comparison with his. The swiftest and happiest way of putting a keener edge upon our perceptions is to associate with a friend of maturer taste. Imperceptibly because we do not understand them. In the end we are astonished that we could ever have made such crude mistakes. Continue reading

Iona – a minor poet sings

IMG_1597Found – a copy of Ionica – a book of  verse by Eton master William Johnson Cory  – this edition published anonymously by George Allen in 1891. It has been bound in an expensive full leather binding with gilt decorated inner dentelles. The book was presented by minor poet Arthur C James* to one Iona F Robinson on whom he appears to have been very keen given the title of the book, its sumptuous binding and the poem he has written to her on the front endpaper. Ironically Johnson Cory, a fellow master at Eton, is known for the gay themes in some of his poems.

Jan 16th. To Iona F Robinson

Not from those violet isles of western Greece,

Nor from the statelier cities which of yore

Looked into sunset from the Aegean shore

O’er varied tracts of bay and Chersonese

Home of the muse whose grace shall never cease;

-But from that northern Island which upbore

Columbus’s cross our Britain to explore, Continue reading

In Memoriam Virginia Woolf (1941)

Unknown-1

Found - a press-cutting of an 'In Memoriam' poem written by Vita Sackville-West and published in The Observer on 6 April 1941 a week after her friend (and lover) Virginia Woolf had drowned herself in the River Ouse. It is odd that this version of the poem is not online (except possibly at a cash-for-knowledge site which reprints a version from the Winnipeg Tribune from May 17 1941 which may or may not be the same.) There is some suggestion that the free version available online was found at Sissinghurst in Vita's tower/study. From that version, presumably a later revision of the Observer poem (or just possibly an early draft) I have printed the changed words in square brackets. The word 'smell' in the tower version is surely wrong...'Mrs Brown' must be taken as representing 'unknown people.' The  lines:

How small, how petty seemed the little men

Measured against her scornful quality.

the same in both versions, have been praised as being particularly acute.

IN MEMORIAM VIRGINIA WOOLF

Many words crowd, and all and each unmeaning.

The simplest words in sorrow are the best.

So let us say, she loved the water-meadows,

The Downs; her books; her friends; her memories;

[her friends; her books;her memories]

The room which was her own.

London by twilight; shops and unknown people;

[shops and Mrs Brown] 

Donne's church; the Strand; the buses, and the large

Swell of humanity that passed her by.

[Smell of humanity]

I remember she told me once that she, a child,

Continue reading

Firework Poems from Turkey

IMG_1446

Found- a copy of a rare book: Poems from Turkey (Taylor and Co., London, 1872). The author is anonymous but is known to be William Platt Ball (born 1844). Loosely inserted is a note giving info about him (see below*.) Of interest is the fact that he was in Turkey advising the Sultan about fireworks and while there seems to have put on a few shows. The frontispiece illustration shows a display over water with the fireworks being launched from a raft or jetty. There are poems about fireworks in the book one of which  ('Pyro's Pilgrimage') is quoted after his preface:

These poems (except a few pages on Turkish subjects added since my return) were written during a stay of fourteen months in Constantinople. During this period I superintended (under His Excellency Halil Pasha)  the Sultan's firework displays, organised a firework factory, and taught the complete art and mystery of firework making to a set of forty Turk soldiers, and English (in the mornings) to a class of four Efendis.

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‘The sewer of this vile book’ : one man’s rage against a poetry anthology.

Paths of Glory poems 001

Today, a hundred years on, most historians find it difficult to justify the carnage that was the Great War. Back in 1919, many were morally divided on the issue. One man who saw the fight against German brutality as a wholly justified, glorious crusade, was the poet and playwright Henry Newman Howard (1861 – 1929). On reading The Paths of Glory, an anthology of anti-war poetry, he sent a scathing letter to its pacifist editor, Bertram Lloyd. A typewritten copy of this letter was recently found, tucked in with a batch of press cuttings relating to the offending book, in a copy of it , which may have been Lloyd’s own, that ended up the library of Maria Assumpta College, Kensington and was subsequently de-accessioned into the secondhand book trade.

Here in full is Howard’s letter to Lloyd:

29 Jan 1919

25, Charlbury Road,

Oxford.

Sir,

Your’ anthology ‘of War Poems is a crime. I grieve that the publishing house fathered by noble John Ruskin should be Sponsors to this execrable publication. Never again will I purchase a book bearing the stamp fouled by the guilt of this sinister booklet. Other books there are one recalls as foul things. Il Principe, possibly John Davidson’s Testament; Nietzsche—these last, like the German Empire, died mad of their guilty thoughts. Your book, garbage from end to end—if not in the individual poems, assuredly in their bringing together—carries the sickly unction of a spurious humanitarianism.

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A Byron forgery—rediscovered

Lord Byron

Forgery has always fascinated historians of literature, whether it takes the form of a whole manuscript or annotations in a printed book, or (of much rarer occurrence) a whole book or books, as in the case of Thomas Wise. The manuscript forgeries of the self-styled Major George Gordon De Luna Byron, alias De Gibler, alias Monsieur Memoir, were of some key Romantic poets, including Byron, Shelley and Keats. The one that concerns us here was a quatrain and a long prose note supposedly written by Lord Byron on the fly leaves of a copy of the fifth edition ( 1777) of the works of the eighteenth century poet, William Shenstone.

This particular forgery was well known to bibliophiles for many years, but had been long lost until our own Jot 101 CEO bought this particular copy in a book sale about eight years ago. Details were then handed on to Byron scholar Andrew Nicholson, who discussed them in a paper published in The Byron Journal in 2010.     We at Jot 101 HQ are grateful to the late Mr Nicholson for his assiduous research which focuses on the nature of the forgery. It  had been acquired by a certain Mr Young from the library sale in 1851 of John Wilks, MP, a well known collector of manuscripts.

The forgeries, penned in black ink, appeared in several volumes of the Works, as follows:

Volume 1: on the first fly-leaf at the head of the page

Trin. Coll. 1807

Byron

Continue reading

The Army of the Planes

51v-xtwfTSL._SX369_BO1,204,203,200_Found in  The Poetry of Flight, an Anthology (edited by Stella Wolfe Murray, published by Heath Cranton, London 1925) this stirring poem by the American poet Minna Irving (1857 – 1940) Her real name was Minnie Odell Michiner and she was from Tarrytown, New York. She published a poetry collection, “Songs of a Haunted Heart” in 1888, and published poems in turn-of-the-century periodicals such as Munsey’sThe Smart Set, and The Gray Goose. She also wrote a science fiction story  “The Moon Woman” which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories (right.) She has no Wikipedia entry.  The anthology, which has pieces by Homer, Swinburne, Duncan Campbell Scott and W.H. Davies is dedicated ‘..to the memory of all have given their lives for aeronautical progress.’ Her poem could have been written by an Italian Futurist and has all  the excitement of the early days of aviation.

The Army of the Planes
They are coming with the drumming of a million pinions humming
And the purr of mighty motors that are all in time and tune
Proudly soaring with the roaring of the thousand northers pouring
Through the vast and hollow spaces sacred to the sun and moon
They are racing into places filled with radiant star faces

Following the meteor’s speedways and the comet’s ancient lanes,
And the universe is shaking, and the waking earth is quaking
At the terror and the marvel of the army of the planes
Wings of wonder as they thunder sweep the rolling clouds asunder
Sailing great uncharted oceans of the empyrean blue;
Struts are singing, wires are ringing, swift propeller blades are flinging
Spray of diamond dust and silver when they cut a star in two.
Hail the aerial squadrons forming through the fields of azure storming, Battle birds the crimson war god to celestial combat trains,
Swooping down from viewless regions to the aid of earthly legions—
Hail the glorious, victorious, valiant army of the planes!

A verse on the 1908 London Marathon

Found- a rare and forgotten slim volume Verses by one Norman Grieve privately published in 1912.  A handwritten note loosely inserted in the book says that Norman William Grieve was director of the Anglo-Ceylon and General Estates Company Ltd. (12950 acres, half tea, 40% forest – the rest cocoa, coffee and cardamons.) He  had interests in Mauritius and also dealt in rubber. The poems are on a variety of subjects – Canada, Golf, Marconi and this topical poem about the Italian runner Dorando Pietri. Pietri finished first in the marathon at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London but was subsequently disqualified. He became something of a hero at the time and met the Queen…

Dorando_portret

The Marathon Race

(Olympia Dorando in First but Disqualified)

“Only a Race,” you say, and yet conceive

The bitter pangs of that brave heart –

Foremost of all the runners, there in sight

The goal, then deathly weariness

And the overwhelming shout of all those watchers:

What anguish! the longed-for laurels

Almost in his grasp, and yet how distant.

O God, to my tired body give

Strength to run out the Course and gain the wreath

Continue reading

Vera Wainwright, poem on Powys

An excerpt from a signed typed letter addressed to the feminist bookseller and Powys specialist, Joan Stevens from Phil Coram (among other things the bibliographer of Hugo Manning.)

Vera Wainwright… have you heard of her Joan? She met the Powys family in 1927 and was “greatly enriched by this meeting”… a curious tie-up here… she was published in COMMENT, the very magazine which Hugo had such difficulty in getting hold of. She was also a good friend of Victor Neuburg and Austin Osman Spare… both of whom were involved with Aleister Crowley. In fact I have a copy of POEMS & MASK by Vera Wainwright which is illustrated by Austin O. Spare (and not published till 1968… 13 years after Spare’s death). These illustrations, as far as I know, are not published in any of Spare’s other books. The thing which may be of interest to you however is the first poem in the collection… at the risk of copyright here goes…

For John Cowper Powys

The sad sea shell that murmurs all the day

Its memories faint; the lost, abandoned stone;

Continue reading