Friday, 30 March 2007

Freaky Browning

What perplexes me is how Elizabeth Barrett Browning read poems like 'Porphyria's Lover' and 'My Last Duchess' and thought, "What a lovely man that Robert Browning sounds, with his bizarre fantasies of wife-murdering. He sounds like the perfect husband." *shrug*

This essay has been the cause of so much angst. I can't even write 2000 words, or hand anything in on time, or turn up to anything. I am so useless. I shouldn't even be at university. I should be in a zoo. Waaaa.

Robert Browning, ‘Porphyria’s Lover:’ A Critical Appraisal

‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is, in many ways, a surprising poem. Jack describes it as “a dramatised short story.”[1] Not only is it a narrative but the story is also told by its protagonist. It is, for this reason, rather like a soliloquy from a play: Browning called it a “dramatic lyric.” He published a pamphlet, Dramatic Lyrics, and wrote in the advertisement: “Such Poems as the following come properly enough, I suppose, under the head of ‘Dramatic Pieces;’ being, though for the most part Lyric in expression, always Dramatic in principle, and so many utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine.”[2] Browning later reclassified the poem as a “dramatic romance,” but really the genre title given to the poem is of little consequence. What is interesting is the emphasis Browning places in his advertisement on the difference between his narrators and himself, though obviously one can see, in the case of ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ why Browning would be anxious not to be associated too closely with the protagonist of his poem.

Despite the character of Porphyria’s lover clearly not being Browning himself, one is led to wonder what connection there may be between the two. As Tracy writes, “Shakespeare often made fools speak deeper truths than his sane men” so maybe Browning was “using his protagonist to convey some of his own beliefs on life and love.”[3] Tracy also affirms, however, that Browning conveys “one positive moral principle: that it is better for a woman to be dead than to marry a man she does not love.”[4] There is certainly evidence in the poem that Porphyria is, in her lover’s eyes, too “weak” (line 22) to free her heart from pride and “vainer ties” (line 24), and marry him despite social restrictions, probably due to her being of a higher social status. However, another, encouraged suitor is not mentioned even implicitly. Furthermore, while it is generally accepted in our culture that marriage without love is a bad thing, the assertion that death is preferable is not necessarily a positive one.

Another aspect of this poem which makes it quite remarkable is how chilling it is. This is not only because of its subject matter, though poems about murder and madness rarely leave the reader feeling comfortable. Flowers believes that the calm tone with which the murderer speaks is largely responsible for the poem’s being so unsettling.[5] Slinn writes that this tone is achieved through the regularity of the verse, both the metre and the form, which demonstrates control over the narrative and the narrator’s emotions.[6] It could also demonstrate the lover’s control over Porphyria, which I will go on to discuss. Flowers writes that a similar control is displayed in the poem’s punctuation. In lines 1-5 and 26-30, for example, the colon expects the next line and the full stop signifies completion. The pattern is then broken when the reader is unprepared, just as the lover was psychologically unprepared for the sudden decision to murder Porphyria.[7] Interestingly, Jack’s interpretation of the lover’s state of mind appears to entirely oppose the one I have just discussed: “the speaker in ‘Porphyria’s Lover,’” he writes, “is obviously (to put it mildly) over-excited.”[8] It is probable, I think, that this is the lover’s true state of mind, but that it is suppressed and disguised by an outer calmness. This calmness is frightening largely because of what it conceals.

‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is an unsettling narrative equally because of the issues of power and control that come into play. Initially, Porphyria is presented as very active. We see this most clearly in lines 10-20, with the accumulation of verbs, emphasised by each line’s beginning with “and.” By the end of the poem, however, Porphyria is, of course, entirely passive. It is not only this which pleases her lover, but also that he imagines she “worshipped” him (line 33). This domination-submission aspect of the poem makes its sexuality, which is apparent also in Porphyria’s pressing her bare shoulder against her lover’s cheek, disturbing. The lover’s possessiveness: “she was mine, mine” (line 36), likewise makes the reader uncomfortable. It is so extreme that Porphyria herself becomes a possession. She is, as Slinn writes, dehumanised, [9] and this is nowhere more apparent than when the lover speaks at length of her only in terms of her head, to which he refers as “it” (lines 52-55). Furthermore, the lover presents both the details of that evening’s events and the reduction of Porphyria to a mere set of attributes in precisely the same factual manner. For this reason, Slinn concludes that “it is the very objectivity of the narrative which is a startling illusion.”[10]

This blurring between objectivity and subjectivity leads to a blurring between fantasy and reality, or rather, it leads to delusion. The lover’s delusion is apparent: he believes the corpse’s eyes “laughed” (line 45) and describes her head as “so glad it has its utmost will” (line 53). His deluded state has led to discussion amongst critics concerning his sanity. Tracy writes, in an offhand manner, “The man, of course, is mad.”[11] Jack supports this view, as he claims that “Browning was particularly interested in insanity and every sort of mental imbalance.”[12] Phelps supports it likewise in his reporting that the poem was intended as a study in abnormal psychology and published with ‘Johannes Agricola’ under caption Madhouse Cells.[13] The lover’s madness seems, then, to be undisputed. Interestingly, though, Phelps adds that Browning believed, in his youth, that any man who murdered his love must be mad, but that he changed his mind later in life.[14] Browning’s initial opinion seems to be logical, as killing someone is the epitome of harming them, while love, by nature, seeks to serve and preserve. Phelps believes, however, that Porphyria’s murder was, at least in the eyes of her lover, a selfless deed, because he risks his own damnation in order to save her from the obstacles in carrying out her socially inappropriate love affair.[15] One must question, though, if the lover’s motive was really such an altruistic one: after all, he saved himself, as well as her, from the difficulties the relationship would cause and gained the control I discussed earlier.

The lover’s madness is of crucial importance when one considers the poem from a moral perspective. It could be argued that his responsibility for his actions is diminished, or even eradicated, that he is not to blame and the murder should be viewed simply as an unfortunate circumstance. Gransden writes that “Browning’s readers were intended to feel that it was irrelevant to condemn these characters as mad or wicked, yet they could not feel quite sure about this.”[16] This adds to the sense of unease which the poem evokes. Gransden also views this moral aspect in a different light, as he claims that the lover’s actions are inevitable and therefore aesthetically ‘right.’”[17] Yet the lover, in spite of his madness, demonstrates an awareness of his wrongdoing in his persistent self-justification: “I am quite sure she felt no pain” (line 42). It is unclear, though, whether it is himself or the reader he is trying to convince. If it is reader, he could be said to believe himself entirely justified.

Much of the moral speculation that has arisen amongst critics in discussion of the poem stems from the final couplet: And all night long we have not stirred, / And yet God has not said a word!” It is clear that Browning intended these lines to be remembered and meditated upon by his readers, as not only are they placed in their emphatic final position, but they form a rhyming couplet. Phelps points out that the phrase “God has not said a word” is ambiguous. It could mean that Porphyria’s lover believes God approves because he has not shown disapproval; it could also mean that the lover is disappointed because God has not expressed approval; or it could mean that the lover believes God to be indifferent.[18] Tracy’s interpretation of the ambiguity is similar: “Was the speaker expecting and subconsciously wishing for punishment? Was he either waiting for God to express his approval or implying that God’s silence was tantamount to his approval? Does the point lie in the irony of his astonishment that the universe has not been disturbed by his sordid crime? Or is there a God at all?”[19] It seems to me that the most likely possibility is that the lover is justifying his actions by claiming that God approves, even though one would generally expect him to disapprove of murder.

‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is, however, not a didactic, or even a particularly moral, sort of poem. As Gransden writes, “God is brought into the poem as a voyeur, not as a critic.”[20] Tracy views this as a failing: “His focus is blurred and his implications contradictory. Ambiguities like these [last lines] indicate Browning’s failure in these poems to provide enough room for his reader to sit beside him on his judicial bench.”[21] I see no reason, however, why this could not have been intentional, as not all poems invite moral judgements on the part of the reader.

What is paramount in this poem is the story it tells. The narration is extremely skilful in that the reader is taken on a type of journey through events, with a memorable beginning and end. The first five lines read:

The rain set in early tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worse to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.

The fifth line clearly points out that pathetic fallacy is being employed here, and on a second reading, we see that Porphyria’s lover is feeling a violent anger akin to that of the wind and that, though he is disguising it, he too has the potential for destruction. We then have a strong sense of foreboding and know that something terrible is about to take place. For the final image, that of a man sitting up through the night with a corpse in his arms, Browning switches to the present tense, “thus we sit together now” (line 58), to make the reader’s experience more immediate. This image remains with the reader like an aftertaste. ‘Porphyria’s Lover,’ then, cannot fail to have a strong effect on the reader and evoke discomfort.

The poem is also remarkable for its versatility. It, to some extent, raises moral issues: questions such relating to love transgressing social boundaries, the justification of murder and whether the mad can be held responsible for their actions. It employs a tremendous range of techniques to create a chilling effect on the reader, with metre, form and punctuation contributing to the lover’s horridly calm tone of speaking, madness and murder featuring in the story, and issues of power and control featuring pervasively. It also employs a range of devices in telling the story of Porphyria’s lover and ensuring that the reader is suitably unsettled by it. Browning was only twenty-four years old when the poem was published, and it is striking that a poet so young could have such a range of skills.


Flowers, Betty S., Browning and the Modern Tradition (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1976)
Ferguson, Margaret, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy (eds.) The Norton Anthology of Poetry (New York: W. W. Norton and Co. Inc, 2005)
Jack, Ian, Browning’s Major Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973)
Phelps, William Lyon, Robert Browning (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1932)
Slinn, E. Warwick, Browning and the Fictions of Identity (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982)
Tracy, Clarence (ed.), Browning’s Mind and Art (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1968) Tucker, Herbert F., Browning’s Beginnings: The Art of Disclosure (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1980

[1] Ian Jack, Browning’s Major Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), p. 79
[2] Ibid, p. 77
[3] Clarence Tracy, ‘Browning Speaks Out,’ in Browning’s Mind and Art, ed. Clarence Tracy (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1968), p. 8-9
[4] Ibid., pp. 9
[5] Betty S. Flowers, Browning and the Modern Tradition (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1976), p. 129
[6] E. Warwick Slinn, Browning and the Fictions of Identity, p. 12
[7] Flowers, Browning and the Modern Tradition, p. 129
[8] Jack, Browning’s Major Poetry, p. 94
[9] E. Warwick, Slinn, Browning and the Fictions of Identiy, p. 12
[10] Ibid.
[11]Tracy, ‘Browning Speaks Out,’ pp. 8
[12] Jack, Browning’s Major Poetry, p. 94
[13] William Lyon Phelps, Robert Browning (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1932), p. 103
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., p. 104
[16]K. W. Gransden, ‘The Uses of Personae,’ in Browning’s Mind and Art, ed. Clarence Tracy (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1968), p. 62
[17] Ibid.
[18] Phelps, Robert Browning, p. 106
[19] Tracy, ‘Browning Speaks Out,’ pp. 9
[20] K. W. Gransden, ‘The Uses of Personae,’ pp. 62
[21] Tracy, ‘Browning Speaks Out,’ pp. 9

Monday, 26 March 2007

Further Trueness on the Nature of Poetry

"Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement."
~ Christopher Fry

Sunday, 25 March 2007

"She hath no loyal Knight and true..."

Write a critical analysis of one poem that has not been looked at in detail either in the seminar or in the lecture part of the course, and which relates to the specific time period covered in the lectures since the beginning of term.

There is much about Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallot” which gives the impression of a fairytale. It appears to be a simple narrative, progressing chronologically through sections or “parts.” The first sets the scene and describes vividly the area around the tower from which the Lady is separated. The second elaborates further on the situation and sets up an atmosphere of mystery and magic. The third describes Lancelot’s appearance and the Lady’s reaction. The fourth describes the Lady’s death. The narrative is ballad-like: its predominantly iambic metre and form of repeated rhymes placed close together, with a refrain or near-refrain at the end of each stanza, make it sound like a song. Its simplicity is deceptive, however, as there are many unanswered questions in the narrative, such as how the curse came about, and a deeper meaning seems to be present. Brooke writes: “As to its meaning, folk have exhausted themselves to find it, and fruitlessly. It was never intended to have any special meaning. Tennyson was playing with his own imagination when he wrote it.”[1] I will be exploring, in the course of this essay, alternative views of the poem in order to assess whether this statement does the poem justice.

In doing this, it is necessary to examine the poem in more detail and address certain questions it raises. Lines 39-42 read:
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be.
The reader is then led to question the precise nature and origin of the curse. Perhaps what are important are not the specifics of the curse, however, but what they represent psychologically in terms of the Lady’s isolation. All of stanzas six and seven are dedicated to what the Lady is missing out on. It is seeing what she’s missing, particularly in terms of romantic love, that causes her to declare that she’s “half sick of shadows” (line 71). There is, however, a possible suggestion of ambivalence in that she is only “half” sick: perhaps the curse of isolation was somehow her own choice, as it protects her from being hurt by others.

Any doubts the Lady may have had are overcome by seeing Lancelot. The lengthy description of him conveys that her focus is on him entirely, and so conveys her love. Much of the language used to describe him is related to fire: his helmet and its feather “burned” (line 94) and his curls are “coal-black” (line 103). This could show that her love for him, like fire, is beautiful but also potentially destructive and painful. The cracking of the mirror (line 115) could be potentially confusing; Ricks explains that curse forbade her “to look directly at life – she must see life only in her mirror.”[1] He believes that it cracks because “she sees somebody doubly mirrored… the protection is cancelled out,”[2] but I think it is more likely that it cracks because she looks down to Camelot, as that is what she was forbidden to do, hence, “The curse is come upon me.” (line 116). There is a sense that she is so overcome on seeing Lancelot that she cannot help but look, as her agitated state is conveyed with a succession of lines beginning with “she” (lines 108-113).

The final section is perhaps the most perplexing as the Lady’s death is unexplained. Ricks writes that she dies “as by some mysterious suicide, some consumptive wish not to go on living.”[3] She appears to have gone mad, lying in her boat and singing (lines 134-144), and this is matched in pathetic fallacy with the noise of the wind and stream (lines 118-121), heard sonically in the poem by the repetition of “ing” at the end of these lines. The tone becomes heavy and oppressive. There are religious connotations to her song’s being described as a “carol” (line 145), but these too go unexplained. It is my belief that these mysteries in the poem are strong evidence that it has a deeper meaning than merely the narrative.

It seems sensible, then, to consider a psychological interpretation of the poem. Sinfield writes that it is about development of the self: it bears witness to “the infant’s move into language and identity, veering away from the discovery that the self is a construction which is always in language, and casting around for an ultimate reality somehow beyond language.”[4] The poem seems to me to be primarily about the relationship between the self and the outside world, as Sinfield has pointed out: the Lady’s “name and ‘Camelot’ are the twin refrain words, but she cannot relate the two – cannot locate a coherent sense of her self in the world.” By writing her name on line boat (line 125-126),“she claims her name as a necessary prelude to social life, but the project is doomed.”[5] Indeed, the tower itself can be seen as a metaphor for social isolation, and the mirror for observing social interaction without participating. Lines 10-18 are dedicated wholly to juxtaposing the Lady’s world in the tower with the outside world. The curse, then, could be seen as social isolation itself and its consequences if broken the disaster of a failed attempt to connect with others.

It is important, however, not to ignore the Arthurian myth on which Tennyson bases his story. This is particularly the case as he retold the same story again later, in “Lancelot and Elaine” which Shaw describes as simply “the longer version” of “The Lady of Shallott.”[6] Elaine was the maid of Astolat, which is a near-anagram of Shallot. We must naturally wonder what it was about this tale that appealed to Tennyson so much that he would retell it twice. Elaine “falls in love with Lancelot and dies of unrequited love.”[7] Perhaps, then, it would be wiser to see the essence of “The Lady of Shallot” as being in terms of the absence of romantic love rather than social interaction. Perhaps, though, Tennyson sees romantic love as itself the pinnacle of social interaction.

In conclusion, there are several ways in which “The Lady of Shallott” can be interpreted. Ricks describes it as “an intensely memorable myth in which the wish not to face reality and the wish to face it, the impulse toward life and the impulse toward death, an inexplicable guilt and a timorous innocence, shine forth as from a cracked mirror.”[8] Tennyson himself saw the poem as being about the individual’s relation to the real world, the world of substance, and less substantial worlds we build for ourselves: “the, for some one, in the wide world from which she has been so long secluded, takes [the Lady] out of the region of shadows into new-born love for something that of realities.”[9] This relationship between the world and the self encompasses the relationship between the self and others. It is evident, then, that “The Lady of Shallot” is not merely a story or a fairytale but has a strong psychological aspect and a deeper meaning also.


Brooke, Stopford A., Tennyson: His Art and Relation to Modern Life (London: Isbister and Co. Ltd., 1894)
Ferguson, Margaret, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy (eds.) The Norton Anthology of Poetry (New York: W. W. Norton and Co. Inc, 2005)
Ricks, Christopher, Tennyson (Hampshire and London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1989)
Shaw, Marion, Alfred Lord Tennyson (Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1988)
Sinfield, Alan, Alfred Tennyson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1986)

“Elaine" A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ed. Elizabeth Knowles. Oxford Reference Online. (

[1] Christopher Ricks, Tennyson (Hampshire and London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1989) , p. 74
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Alan Sinfield, Alfred Tennyson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1986), p. 99
[5] Sinfield, Alfred Tennyson, p. 68
[6] Marion Shaw, Alfred Lord Tennyson (Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1988), p. 133-134
[7] “Elaine,” A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ed. Elizabeth Knowles, Oxford Reference Online
[8] Ricks, Tennyson, p. 76
[9] Tennyson quoted in Ricks, Tennyson, p. 75-6

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Even More Trueness

"It's the poet's job to figure out what's happening within oneself, to figure out the connection between the self and the world, and to get it down in words that have a certain shape, that have a chance of lasting." ~Galway Kinnell

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Another Greek Archaeology Essay

Is sculpture in the Hellenistic period radically different than in the Classical one?

In comparing Classical and Hellenistic sculpture, it is necessary first to establish what we mean when using these terms. The Classical period is generally the term used for 480 – 323 B.C., and the Hellenistic period for 323 – 31 B.C. Pollitt writes that the Classical period began when the Greeks were invaded by the Persians in 481/480 B.C. and the Hellenistic when Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire. Both instances of military success inspired confidence in the Greeks, and also anxiety: Aeschylus, Herodotus and others wrote how hybris (arrogance), leads to ate (folly) which leads to nemesis (retribution)[1], a sentiment similar to that expressed by the English phrase “pride comes before a fall.”

It is necessary to examine the features of both Classical and Hellenistic sculpture in order to compare them. The Classical period includes a wide range of quality and of style, as is evident in the Parthenon’s metopes.[2] Several common features have been identified, however. Biers writes of the sculptors, Polykleitos in particular, whose human forms were idealised, with close-knit musculature, close-cropped hair and the body’s major divisions clearly shown.[3] Pollitt identifies several a further characteristic: a tendency to borrow from dramatists,[4] with statues depicting a scene in a series of events.[5] There was a new interest in the idea of expressing motion, with the arrival of the concept of the rhythmos, which is a “freeze-frame,” a pause within movement which conveys the whole motion. According to Diogenes Laertios, it was first attempted by Pythagoras of Rhegion.[6] Another new development was the style known as “severe” because it had few ornaments or unnecessarily embellishments, being austere to match its solemn subject matter.[7] The faces characteristically have a heavy jaw, heavy eyelids and full lips, with the hair hanging over the forehead.[8]

Hellenistic sculpture is essentially is a development of that of the Classical period, and both similarities and differences can be seen. The diversity increased still further. Biers attributes this to the new cities, which created a demand for a greater quantity and range of sculpture.[9] Stewart, however, believes it to be due to Greek occupation of Macedonia which brought in new impressions and influences.[10] The idealism of the Classical period gave way to realism, in which real models were closely adhered to, even in dramatic presentations.[11] As Aristotle wrote in his Poetics, dramatic tragedy must blur art and real in order for audience to be moved and for the drama to have the desired effect.[12] Sculptors also frequently depicted everyday life and real people, particularly children. Two of the most famous surviving examples of these are the boy with the goose and the drunken old woman[13] (see picture). In the middle phase of the Hellenistic period, a stronger dramatic quality came in. Both ornate and flamboyant, it has been termed “Hellenistic Baroque” and originated in Pergamon. Biers attributes its development to the defeat of the invading Gauls in the second half of the third century B.C.[14] and describes the statues as gigantic, bordering on exaggeration, with deep set eyes and expressions of agony on their faces.[15]

It can, then, be argued that Hellenistic sculpture is radically different from that of the Classical period. There is a sharp contrast between the “severe” Classical style and the elaborate Hellenistic one, and similarly between Classical idealism and Hellenistic realism. In order to understand this, it might be helpful to consider the link between sculpture and religion. As Spivney writes, statues were often of deities and in temples or sanctuaries. In anthropomorphising their gods, the Greeks were faced with the task of reconciling the ideal and the natural,[16] and of portraying the combination of humanity and divinity that characterised the Greek pantheon. Similarly, solemnity of appearance and impressive decoration are two different ways of conveying the majesty of a god or a hero. It seems that the Greeks switched between these from the Classical to the Hellenistic period, but had the same intention in mind.

There are also more obvious ways in which Hellenistic sculpture is not a radical departure from that of the Classical period. Biers writes that Hellenistic sculpture bore the strong influence of the fifth and fourth centuries, and works in the Classical style were still being produced. [17] The Hellenistic sculptors considered themselves to be heirs of the Classical sculptors. They were, in a sense, right to do so, as many were their pupils and were often descended in the same family.[18] Diversity of sculpture also continued and increased. Pollitt adds a strong final point, which links not only Classical and Hellenistic sculpture, but all of Greek art: the need to impose order on chaos. This is a universal human need, but Pollitt believes the Greeks felt it especially. His reasons for this include the anxiety caused by the break-up of the Mycenean world and the importance of order in the Greek religion. This drive to find order in experience, he claims, led to two key aspects of Greek art: the breaking up of the subject into elemental shapes, and the quest to express Plato’s idea of Form or essence.[19] We can see both of these aspects in Classical and Hellenistic sculpture, the former with the representation of the body in the Classical period and the latter with the facial expressions depicting abstractions such as terror or agony in the Hellenistic period. It is wisest, then, not to view Greek sculpture as chopped up into various periods, but as a developing phenomenon and part of Greek art and culture as a whole.


Biers, W. R. (1996) The Archaeology of Greece, Ithaca and London.
Pollitt, J. J. (1972) Art and Experience in Classical Greece, Cambridge.
Spivney, N. (1996) Understanding Greek Sculpture: Ancient Meanings, Modern Readings, London.
Stewart, A. (1990) Greek Sculpture: An Exploration, New Haven, Conn. and London.

[1] Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece, p. 9
[2] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 226
[3] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p.222-3
[4] Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece, p. 27
[5] Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece, p. 15
[6] Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece, p. 56-8
[7] Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece, p. 36
[8] Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece, p. 39
[9] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 295
[10] Stewart, Greek Sculpture: An Exploration, p. 136
[11] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 296
[12] Spivney, Understanding Greek Sculpture: Ancient Meanings, Modern Readings, p. 34
[13] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 303
[14] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 298
[15] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 300
[16] Spivney, Understanding Greek Sculpture: Ancient Meanings, Modern Readings, p. 52
[17] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 296
[18] Stewart, Greek Sculpture: An Exploration, p. 101-103
[19] Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical Greece, p. 3-6

Sunday, 11 March 2007

More Trueness

"The poem... is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see - it is, rather, a light by which we may see - and what we see is life."
~ Robert Penn Warren

Thursday, 8 March 2007


"Poetry describes, enacts, is compelled by those moments of supreme passion, insight, or knowledge that are physical yet intuitive, that render us whole, inspired. Among verbal events - which by their nature move horizontally, through time, along the lines of cause and effect - poetry tends to leap, to try to move more vertically; astonishment, rapture, vertigo - the seduction of the infinite and the abyss - what so much of it is after."
~Jorie Graham

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Poetry Woes

I think I've invented a new kind of writer's block. It's not that I can't write anything, just that I can't write anything good. I feel I've reached a sort of end-of-the-road situation. I got better and better through my teens, and at sixteen I made a great final leap, wrote Novenary, the only half-decent thing I've ever written, and stopped dead. I'm beginning to fear, now, that my writing poetry is going to turn out like my learning Latin: I get to a certain level very quickly, but then I'm stuck there. In which case, a huge chunk of what I'm basing my identity and my future plans on is out the window, and I'm lost. Oh, angst.

I've all but given up on workshopping at PFFA now. It doesn't work for me. I write something, get it the best I can make it, post it and get lots of really sound, useful critique, which I then can't seem to make use of. Partly because people say different things and then I don't know who to go with. Partly because I've "drawn myself out" of the poem somehow. I'm no longer under the spell. Often I've lost interest and want to start something new. And partly because people suggest these big rewrites, which I do, and produce what's almost a new poem, only for it to be as full of flaws as the previous one, in need of another huge rewrite, which is full of flaws, and it goes on forever.

I'm hoping to develop my powers of self-critique at two workshops I'm going to this week, both part of the Runnymede Literary Festival, conveniently held at my university. One's run by Jo Shapcott and the other by Dell Olsen, who teaches various poetry-related things here at Royal Holloway. I had a bright idea this evening, or a cunning plan: go and see Dell Olsen in her office hours and ask her (bowing and scraping, of course) if she'd help me with any of my poems and also with applying for this year's Tower Poetry Summer School. Cheeky, I know, but worth a try.

Could someone clarify something for me - Rob was so kind as to point out that I can't post poems here which I intend to submit places, because apparently it counts as publishing them and no one wants pre-published stuff, obviously. Does this include drafts? How close to the final version can it be? Can you plagiarise yourself? Because I've seen people post poems that are also posted at PFFA and eventually headed for publication.

Also, my poem, Freshers' Week, and short story, The Stone Angel, have both been rejected by Flashquake. Boo. Hiss.