Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

“Little low heavens”


Please scroll down to the next post for links to A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, today's final chance for a Mercer discount on The Throne of Psyche, 24 Goodreads giveaways, and more.


Dear Diary,
Started the day by shouting French words at child no. 3 while he showered, took him to school (yes, he missed that big yellow bus), and zipped back in time for tea with my husband--afterward we got out a mirror and looked in the robin's nest on the top of the front door frame. Four lovely eggs in the shade of blue so lovely that it became a name.


Clive James at The Poetry Foundation: Any poem that does not just slide past us like all those thousands of others usually has an ignition point for our attention. To take the most startling possible example, think of “Spring,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Everyone knows the first line because everyone knows the poem. “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring” is a line that hundreds of poets could have written, and was probably designed to sound that way: designed, that is, to be merely unexceptionable, or even flat. Only two lines further on, however, we get “Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens” and we are electrified. I can confidently say “we” because nobody capable of reading poetry at all could read those few words and not feel the wattage. Eventually we see that the complete poem is fitting, in its every part, for its task of living up to the standards of thought and perception set by that single flash of illumination.  

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Marly. I wish you'd write more often about this aspect of poetry with concrete examples - so much of what is said about poetry feels too vague, too often -- and yet what grabs our attention and stays in our memory is often an image or connection, that represents common experience seen from a startlingly new perspective, like those eggs.

    It's something I've noticed particularly in haiku and micropoems. A beautiful image is not really enough to arrest attention: the best ones often incorporate an additional thought,connection, bridge to something else.

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  2. That is a good idea... And you're right; much that is written about poetry is a bit fluffernutter-ish.

    Now that I have so much to read by mid-September, I think that I'll be taking to bits of poetry for relief! So I shall keep that suggestion in mind.

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  3. i give thanks to you, too.
    Clive nailed it.
    i'm one of those lazy people who, if the "wattage" doesn't appear early enough, i sail away.

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  4. Yes, I remembered that bit of Clivean wisdom while attempting to see the eggs without bothering the birds too much...

    Sometimes the wattage of what we read never flickers into life, alas. And sometimes it wonderfully does.

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  5. Wonderful words for spring, thank you.

    Just to let you know, Marly, 'Camellia' arrived a few days ago - such a gorgeous cover - tempting me from the table over there. I can hardly wait to begin reading it, once I finish my soon overdue library book!

    Happy May Day, what is left of it!

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  6. Hello, Marja-Leena--

    I am so pleased that you have your very own copy... Yes, Burt & Burt are quite good book designers!

    The same to you--you have quite a few hours more than I do. Have one of your lovely west Canadian sunsets, will you?

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.