Aug. 17, 2013

Tullamore Poetry Recital

by Paul Durcan

It was a one-man show in Tullamore,
'The Sonnets of Shakespeare'.
The newspaper advertisement bubbled:
'Bring Your Own Knitting.'
The audience of twenty-five
Was devout, polite, attentive,
All with their knitting,
Men and women alike with their knitting.
I shut my eyes and glimpsed
Between the tidal breakers of iambic pentameter
The knitting needles flashing like the oars of Odysseus.

But as the evening wore on, and the centuries passed,
And the meditations, and the thanksgivings,
And darkness fell, and with it a fullish moon,
Not quite full but fullish,
Putting on weight by the teaspoonful,
One was aware of a reversal advancing,
The incoming tides being dragged backwards.
The knitting needles were no longer oars
But fiddles in orchestras sawing to halts.
One became aware of one's own silence.
One was no longer where one thought one was.
One was alone in the pit of oneself, knitting needles.

"Tullamore Poetry Recital" by Paul Durcan, from Daddy, Daddy © The Blackstaff Press, 1990 and from Life Is A Dream © Harvill Secker, London, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Ted Hughes (books by this author), born in the town of Mytholmroyd, England (1930). He grew up in the countryside, surrounded by moors. He joined the air force and was assigned duty as a wireless mechanic in an isolated spot in rural Yorkshire, where he read Shakespeare all day. At Cambridge he studied anthropology and archaeology. After he graduated, he helped found a literary magazine, and at the launch party, he met an American student named Sylvia Plath. They were married less than four months later.

Plath worked on her own writing, but she also helped her husband. She typed up his poems and sent them out to magazines, and she encouraged him to enter a contest sponsored by the Poetry Center in New York City, a contest whose judges were W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, and Stephen Spender. Hughes won first prize, and his poems were published as The Hawk in the Rain (1957), which got great reviews and made him famous.

Hughes and Plath had two children together, but they separated in 1962 when Hughes had an affair with another woman. The next year, Plath committed suicide. Hughes didn't write his own poetry again for years, but instead, spent his time editing and collecting Plath's poetry. A few years after Plath's death, Hughes' new lover killed their four-year-old daughter and then herself.

In 1984, Ted Hughes became the poet laureate of Britain. He died in 1998, a few months after publishing Birthday Letters, a book of poetry about his life with Sylvia Plath. It was the first time he had written about her in the 30 years since her death.

Hughes' many books of poems include Crow (1971), Moortown (1980), and Wolfwatching (1990), and some books for children.

It's the birthday of actress and playwright Mae West, born in Brooklyn, New York, (1892). She appeared on the vaudeville stage when she was five, then went on to burlesque, and later became an American stage and movie comedienne. In 1926, she wrote and directed the Broadway show Sex, which resulted in her arrest for obscenity. She signed with Paramount six years later and broke box office records with She Done Him Wrong (1933).

Mae West said, "It's better to be looked over than overlooked."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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