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Old 05-20-2001, 05:55 AM
balogna balogna is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 100

Tim Murphy mentioned that he would post poems from the best of contemporary formalists in this forum; I'd love to read them.

Is there a copyright issue?
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Old 05-20-2001, 03:50 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,831

Alan and I have posted a number of contemporary poets here, including Derek Mahon, Greg Williamson, R.S. Gwynn, and Dick Davis. One does so guardedly because “Mastery” is much to claim for the contemporary. I am concerned, however, (appalled?) that my fellow Spherians evince no knowledge of or thirst to acquire the books by the best poets writing today. And because the sonnet seems to be the form of choice around here, I’ll post a number of them, beginning with this.

Charles Martin is author of Steal The Bacon and What the Darkness Proposes, both finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, as well his superb translation of Catullus, and his forthcoming Ovid's Metamorphoses. Here is his “Vain Speculations.”

What then, if Ri va Thurrison had missed,
When Grozmal, leaping from his brettathurk,
Uncoiled the brindled hydra with a smirk
And fell upon him? Fetid was the mist
That bleared Ri’s sight, green tendrils clasped his wrist—
In one sure motion, he unsheathed his dirk
And thrust it home! “My gift has done its work,”
The ancient Hag of Lower Lochmar hissed;

And as Ri stared, her wrinkles fell away
Until his eyes drank in sweet Delia’s face!
They mounted Grozmal’s ‘thurk, and none can say
Where they rode off to, for they left no trace.
But had he missed I’m certain that today
The world would be a very different place.
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Old 05-24-2001, 06:10 AM
balogna balogna is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 100

Thanks for posting this, I enjoyed it. I like the way Martin jumps into the middle of the mythical narative, leaving much unexplained. Subtly humorous.

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Old 05-25-2001, 02:32 PM
robert mezey robert mezey is offline
Master of Memory
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Claremont CA USA
Posts: 573

Davis, Martin, Mahon etc, all fine poets, and I'm
always happy to see their poems. But I wonder why
no one ever seems to mention Donald Justice, who
has seemed to me for many years the real master. I
don't mean only technical mastery, although no one
is better---I envy him his skill. And no one has
mastered so many forms. There have been quite a
few terrific sonnets over the last few decades, and
I'm uneasy about calling any one poem the best, but
if I had to nominate one, it might be this:


In a hotel room by the sea, the Master
Sits brooding on the continent he has crossed.
Not that he foresees immediate disaster,
Only a sort of freshness being lost---
Or should he go on calling it Innocence?
The sad-faced monsters of the plains are gone;
Wall Street controls the wilderness. There's an immense
Novel in all this waiting to be done,
But not, not---sadly enough---by him. His talents,
Such as they may be, want an older theme,
One rather more civilized than this, on balance.
For him now always the consoling dream
Is just the mild dear light of Lamb House falling
Beautifully down the pages of his calling.

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Old 05-27-2001, 12:18 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Location: Fargo ND, USA
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Bob, I couldn't agree more with you that mastery is a trait we can ascribe to Mr. Justice with no ??'s. I know this poem as Henry James By The Pacific. Has he changed its title? Here's another sonnet of his that's always struck me.

The Pupil

Picture me, the shy pupil at the door,
One small, tight fist clutching the dread Czerny.
Back then time was still harmony, not money,
And I could spend a whole week practicing for
That moment on the threshold. Then to take courage,
And enter, and pass among the mysterious scents,
And sit quite straight, and with a frail confidence
Assault the keyboard with a childish flourish!

Only to lose my place, or forget the key,
And almost doubt the very metronome
(Outside the traffic, the laborers going home),
And still to bear on across Chopin or Brahms,
Stupid and wild with love equally for the storms
Of C # minor and the calms of C.
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Old 05-27-2001, 12:44 PM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Athens, Greece
Posts: 3,206

As long as we are sharing sonnets by living masters...

I love this one by X.J. Kennedy, its superb harnassing of form and function. (The meter in Heaven, where "nothing functions as it ought," is delightfully rubato, and even the just-right off rimes occur in an asymetrical pattern; Hell, appropriately lurking underneath, is slick and perfect as clock work.) I think he may have tinkered with it (I hope not, though) since this version, which I got out of my beloved "The Sonnet: An Anthology" edited by Bender and Squier.

Apologies if this has appeared in Musings on Mastery before.

Nothing in Heaven Functions As It Ought

Nothing in Heaven functions as it ought:
Peter's bifocals, blindly sat on, crack;
His gates lurch wide with the cackle of a cock,
Not turn with a hush of gold as Milton had thought;
Gangs of the slaughtered innocents keep huffing
The nimbus off the Venerable Bede
Like that of an old dandelion gone to seed;
And the beatific choir keep breaking up, coughing.

But Hell, sleek Hell hath no freewheeling part:
None takes his own sweet time, none quickens pace,
Ask anyone, How came you here, poor heart?--
And he will slot a quarter through his face,
You'll hear an instant click, a tear will start
Imprinted with an abstract of his case.

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Old 05-27-2001, 01:27 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,831

Oh, thank you, Alicia. Not only hasn't this poem appeared here, Uncle Joe has never before graced these ingrate pages. Has anyone done more to foster formal verse and its practitioners in the dark years? Not likely! Seeing the off rhymes and the gracefully imprecise meters I realized for the first time how much Stallings owes Kennedy.
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Old 05-28-2001, 10:48 AM
Caleb Murdock Caleb Murdock is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: New York City
Posts: 800

All of these sonnets are very beautiful -- and I find myself greedily wondering if I could get them for my site without paying royalties. But I must point out that two of the best modern poets are posting on this very thread (Tim and Alicia). At the expense of embarrassing A.E., here is one of her sonnets which has become one of my all-time favorites:

A Postcard from Greece

Hatched from sleep, as we slipped out of orbit
Round a clothespin curve new-watered with the rain,
I saw the sea, the sky, as bright as pain,
That outer space through which we were to plummet.
No guardrails hemmed the road, no way to stop it,
The only warning, here and there, a shrine:
Some tended still, some antique and forgotten,
Empty of oil, but all were consecreated
To those who lost their wild race with the road
And sliced the tedious sea once, like a knife.
Somehow we struck an olive tree instead.
Our car stopped on the cliff's brow. Suddenly safe,
We clung together, shade to pagan shade,
Surprised by sunlight, air, this afterlife.

A.E. Stallings

When are we going to see another book, Alicia?

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Old 05-29-2001, 05:59 AM
balogna balogna is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 100

Tim, Robert, Alicia and Caleb -

These sonnets are all lovely, thanks for posting them.
I'm afraid my hands are empty.

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Old 05-29-2001, 08:55 AM
Len Krisak Len Krisak is offline
Join Date: Aug 2000
Posts: 539

Hi, guys.

At the risk of making even more of an idiot of myself than usual, I'm pretty sure Joe has indeed tinkered once or twice with the hellacious sonnet. Unfortunately, I can't remember which version I like best (oh, senility thy name is Len), but Dick Davis used one version in his sonnet class last year at West Chester.

I yield to none in my admiration for Alicia, Tim, and certainly Dick Davis, but many, many thanks to Mr. Mezey for posting the Henry James sonnet of Justice's--it is exquisite!
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