Afric McGlinchey Reviews The Silence Teacher

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

-T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”

SabotageAs I have said before, it is a strange and wonderful thing to read the results of someone reflecting deeply and at length upon your own work. Irish poet Afric McGlinchey does just that in her review of The Silence Teacher for Sabotage:

Peake’s descriptions brim with sensibility, but the sensibility does not obstruct or abstract the lucidity of the seeing. Associations infiltrate the scenes of his poems like groundwater.

You can read the full review here.

Moving to the Country

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

-T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”

“Do I dare to eat a peach?”

-T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

After a year of overcrowded commutes, loud neighbours, litter, pollution, and everything else that goes with a densely-populated metropolis, we have decided to move out of London proper, into the Hertfordshire countryside. I will still be forty minutes by fast train from the heart of London, to serve consulting clients, visit museums, and attend poetry readings. But in deciding where to reside and where to visit, having quiet natural surroundings at our doorstep, and world-class culture and work opportunities a short train ride away — seems like the best possible mix for Val and me at this stage of our lives.

London is a great, energetic city, but from the start I have also felt its centrifugal force. One is either at the very center of things, thriving on that experience — and abiding all that goes with it — or, gradually, it seems that those who aim for a more relaxed pace of life get edged further out over time.

I miss the community we had in Ojai, the small town in California we called home for the six years leading up to our leap across the pond, and hope to recapture some of that spirit, and discover unique aspects of rural English life, in our new village of Wheathampstead. We will be just up the road from Shaw’s Corner, in a cluster of historic villages (many dating back to Roman times), surrounded by gently rolling fields and lush forests, cut by brooks and public footpaths, dotted with farms and country pubs.

Moving day is a week from tomorrow, with a long list of to-dos between now and then. See you again in the countryside!

Seamus Heaney on Dante, Eliot, and Mandelstam

In Seamus Heaney’s long poem sequence “Station Island,” the speaker, on a pilgrimage, is visited by ghosts who rebuke him in an almost Dickensian fashion. “Part XII”, the final poem of the sequence, rouses me like a bugle call:

Then I knew him in the flesh
out there on the tarmac among the cars,
wintered hard and sharp as a blackthorn bush.

His voice eddying with the vowels of all rivers
came back to me, though he did not speak yet,
a voice like a prosecutor’s or a singer’s,

cunning, narcotic, mimic, definite
as a steel nib’s downstroke, quick and clean,
and suddenly he hit a litter basket

with his stick, saying, ‘your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’

It was as if I had stepped free into space
alone with nothing that I had not known
already. Raindrops blew in my face (Opened Ground, 244-245)

The terza rima structure immediately calls to mind Dante, and in his essay “Envies and Identifications: Dante and the Modern Poet,” Heaney acknowledges this influence directly.

In the first part of this essay, he points out how other poets have written their own poetic projects into their translations of Dante. In the second part, he notes Dante’s influence on Eliot’s “Little Gidding” from Four Quartets, wherein “the poet exchanges intense but oddly neutral words with ‘a familiar compound ghost'” (242) and Heaney concludes “as a matter of literary fact, that the lines are more haunted by the squadrons of Dante’s terza rima than by the squadrons of Hitler’s Luftwaffe” (243) Heaney further points out that a major part of the poetic influence was that “Dante was actually giving Eliot the freedom to surrender to the promptings of his own unconscious.” (249) The parallels here, between Dante’s influence on Eliot, and both Dante and Eliot’s influence (as well as Dante’s influence through Eliot) on Heaney himself, could not be made more clear.
Continue reading…