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Anna Wickham's "The Contemplative Quarry": XII

I am reading Jennifer Vaughan Jones's biography of Anna Wickham alongside the poems. Quite horrified to learn that her husband committed her to a mental asylum for no reason other than the suspicion of an illicit liaison, her emotional outbursts and her stubborn desire to write poetry. In one of these outbursts, from the garden, Anna had shouted at Patrick her poem "Nervous Prostration," which begins:

I married a man of the Croydon class
When I was twenty-two,
And I vex him, and he bores me
Till we don't know what to do!
It isn't good form in the Croydon class
To say you love your wife,
So I spend my days with the tradesmen's books
And pray for the end of life...
Little wonder that Patrick was angered by Anna's poetry, an anger easily transmuted into a "concern" for Anna's sanity. Though Anna suffered much fear and many indignities in Brooke House, the asylum, she secretly carried out of it at the end of her time there 80 poems she had writte…

Anna Wickham's "The Contemplative Quarry": V

The fifth poem of Wickham's second book "Need to Rest" begins with an arresting claim:

I have no physical need of a chair
Not sure if she needs the word "physical" but it is there to contrast with the mental need she describes later in the poem. Why does she not need a chair? Because

I can double my body anywhere
Yes, witty follow-up. The body can find rest in itself, by acting upon itself, "doubling" as it were. Self-reliant, it can rest on a "stone" or the "ground," no chair necessary. But what the speaker needs is to "feed my wit/ With beauty and complexity." The emphasis here is on the feeding, and not the having. For if she thinks she already possesses "philosophy," then she were "high man without complexity." "Man" here means primarily humans, but I think by using "man" she also takes a dig against male complacency at having the answers to life. The complacent man, the "hig…

Dads, Superheroes and English Professors

Quick movie round-up. Before I forget. GH and I watched Beginnings before I left for Singapore. The second feature film of conceptual and graphic artist Mike Mills, Beginnings explores the relationship between a father, who comes out as gay very late in life, and his son, who is still struggling to commit himself to a woman. Cine 1.0 has a good review, by Felicia Feaster, which looks at some of the film's artistic influences. Christopher Plummer turned in a nuanced performance as the gay father Hal Fields, and Ewan McGregor submerged himself in the son Oliver. GH loved the movie for its understated and subtle depiction of human complexity. I liked it too, but found it a little unambitious.

On the way to and in Singapore, I watched three comics flicks. On SIA's Kris World entertainment system, The Green Hornet, directed by Michel Gondry, played for laughs. It turned out to be the only way to take the film seriously. Seth Rogen played the hero Britt Reid aka The Green Hornet, bu…

2011 Gay Pride

I arrived home, in NYC, a day after New York passed marriage equality. GH had heard the announcement on TV, and gone down to the Stonewall Inn to celebrate the historic occasion. I was happy to hear the news, though marriage equality has not been as important to me as it is to the LGBT community in the USA. I did feel, however, that I had missed the moment, as I did, and will do, for other moments, because I am always on the move.

GH and I cannot decide right now whether to march in the Parade today. It'd be odd for him to march with the Gay Asian Men's Group, and not till now do I feel the limitations of racial and ethnic identification. I would feel odd too marching with his church group, though less so than he would feel marching with gay Asians. I do not think of myself as Christian any longer, but will go to the church service this morning with my guy.

I question my need to identify as gay by marching today. It's easy to join in a celebration, much harder to stand up …

From Anna Wickham's "The Contemplative Quarry": II-IV

The next three poems, increasingly longer and more complex in thought, express Anna Wickham’s views of her art.

In “II The Singer,” the speaker does not have peace to sit and sing, but is “stung with goads and whips,” and so instead of making a lovely poem, she builds songs “like iron ships.” Goads and whips evoke horses and chariots, and so subtly prepare for seafaring vessels. Since the next poem refers to the old Greek myths, it is not too far-fetched to think that by “iron ships” Wickham had in mind Homer’s “hollow ships.” All this is to point out that the imagery in the quatrain is more martial than it may first appear. The poem concludes with a modest but affecting wish, built in a sturdy tetrameter couplet.

Let it be something for my song.
If it is sometimes swift and strong.
“III New Waters” is less successful a song. It is clunky and chockfull of abstractions: it is not sufficiently imagined. The speaker rejects the Greek myths as tales “over-told.” By a “new risen Attic stre…

From Anna Wickham's "The Contemplative Quarry": "I Amourette"

The poems in Wickham’s second book are numbered as well as titled, giving the appearance of a sequence. Though the poems focus on recurring themes, they are written in different stanzaic forms, most often as a single stanza. They often rhyme in couplets too. This marriage of strict numbering and varied forms creates an impression of great spontaneity.

“I Amourette” is a dialogue between the Woman and the Philosopher. Unusual to the dialogue form is a kind of prelude in which the two speakers talk to themselves about the other before they join in “argument.” The Woman asks herself how she can please man best. Two options present themselves: “Shall I be silent? Shall I speak?” The Philosopher does not question himself but rather questions whether a woman can be wise when “her philosophy is but a lure.” The Philosopher thus sees wisdom as antithetical to love, or, more generally, feeling. He does not want his wisdom to fall to the “arsenal of charm” and the “ammunition of her thought.”

From Anna Wickham's "Songs of John Oland"

According to the editor’s note, many poems of this privately printed collection (1911) were reissued in later volumes. This selection of 14 poems already presents the major themes, which recur in Wickham’s writings. The conflict between men and women is depicted in “Song of the Low-Caste Wife,” “Surrender,” “Divorce,” and “All Men to Women.” The ambition to be a writer appears in “Illusion,” “The Artist’s Life,” and “Inspiration.” The post-Darwin loss of religious faith inspires the poems “The Call for Faith,” “The Song of the Child,” and “The Sinner.” Finally, the theme of motherhood is expressed in “The Song of the Mother,” “The Town Dirge” (about the death of a poor couple’s child), “Outline,” and, most tenderly, in “Song to the Young John,” Wickham’s firstborn.

The poems in this first collection, as indicated in the repetition of “song” in many of their titles, are stirringly lyrical. “Illusion,” the best of the short lyrics, begins with gigantic confidence but soon discovers, by…

Readings for SPARK and Books Actually

On June 15 met Nick Liu and Jen Crawford at NTU's School of Humanities and Social Sciences theatrette to be video-recorded for SPARK, a soon-to-be-launched online poetry archive. It is the hope that the archive will be to Singapore poetry what Poets.org, for instance, is to the Americans.

Following the format of the series, I read a poem that has influenced me, in my case, Boey Kim Cheng's "Day of No Name," talked about it, and then read a poem of mine that is related to the first. I chose to read "In His Other House." Not only does it refer to Boey's book Days of No Name, but it expresses a vision of an alternative Singapore that is implicit in Boey's writing. The poem is also further and happily linked to Boey as it has been published in Mascara, edited by Boey and Michelle Cahill.

I think I said clearly what I found helpful in Boey's poem, but afterwards I wished I had said something more about the usefulness of living away from Singapore to …

"The Writings of Anna Wickham"

I am participating in National Poetry Reading Month on this blog. Friends from PFFA, featherless biped, Janelo, Jeanne G, Pclem, Scott and scraps, are also blogging on their books.

I read Anna Wickham's "The Fired Pot" in the Norton Anthology, and was inspired by it to write a poem during NaPoWriMo. I decided that I had to get to know the woman and the poet better, and so bought a biography as well as The Writings of Anna Wickham: Free Woman and Poet, edited by R. D. Smith. The Writings, published to celebrate the centenary of Anna Wickham's birth, includes selections from her published and unpublished poetry, an autobiographical fragment and other prose writings.

The book's front material summarizes the bare facts of a life:

Anna Wickham was born in Wimbledon in 1884. At the age of six she went with her parents to Australia, where she was educated in Brisbane. In 1904 she returned to England and, after a period studying singing at the Paris Opera, she married Pat…

Book Launch in Singapore

I will be reading on June 16 (Thursday) at the Singapore launch of Seven Studies for a Self Portrait, organized by the independent bookstore, Books Actually. Details are here on the Facebook event page. Kenny Leck, Karen Wai and Renee Ting are masterminding the event. I'm really looking forward to reading at home.

Natal Drama in Ocean Vuong's "Burnings"

Ocean Vuong's poems are quieter on the page than his dramatic reading style may suggest, and the poems benefit from their quiet inwardness. Burnings is the first collection of this Brooklyn College undergraduate, and already it showcases a significant lyrical talent. 
The book is divided into two sections. The first consists of poems about Vietnam, and Vuong's flight, with his family, to the United States. The second section takes for its subject gay love. The two sections have the same number of poems (12) but they are not equal in quality. The first section is superior. It shows a remarkable sensitivity to the plight of women, and finds the images and structures to express that empathy. 
The poem "The Touch" is emblematic of the section. The child sleeps with the mother on a hardwood floor, "bones cushioned/ with cardboard," and feels the mother shaking with crying. He wraps his arms around her waist, "the way a man does," but knows that the actio…

Suspension of Time

An inspired pairing by Alan Gilbert: the world premiere of Sebastian Currier's Time Machines (2007) and Bruckner's Symphony No. 2 in C minor. Currier's rather literal and programmatic musical depiction of fragmented time, delay time, compressed time, overlapping time, entropic time, backwards time and harmonic time prepared the ear to hear the dynamics in Bruckner keenly. Gilbert writes in the program:

There are few composers whose music I could conduct every day for the rest of my life and be satisfied as a musician, and Bruckner is one of them. He is a traditional symphonist but what he does the symphonic form is truly personal. There's a kind of suspension of time in which all the elements that you expect from a symphony are there, but they unfold at a pace that he controls exquisitely, and very deliberately.
The New York Philharmonic played with committed urgency. The sound was in turns lush, etched, lyrical, precipitous, and powerful. The second movement, Andante, …

A Mixed Diet of Attention

from TLS May 27 2011

One of my favorite authors, Julian Barnes wrote in a Commentary piece in the TLS:

It is bad for a writer to become either the sole property of the general reader, or the private fiefdom of scholars. A writer is most usefully kept alive after death by a mixed diet of attention: from the "ordinary" reader, the living writer, the professional critic, the academic theorist, and the amateur scholar. Paradoxically, the greatest writers are often less intimidating to the outsider and the freelance.
After hearing in the past two weekends how academic theorists deal with authors, I agree wholeheartedly with Barnes. I would like to kept alive after death by a mixed diet too.