I’m a man who likes poets … and poetry

April is National Poetry Month, so this one is for all ye poets out there, and all ye who read poetry.

I’ve been told that if you want to be a poet, you should support poets. And not just the old dead ones but the living breathing ones. By buying their books. Well, I have my share of poets on my book shelves. There’s a special place because I believe poets deserve better than they’ve gotten over the years. Don’t know any that make a living off of their poetry. Just talking, better known as lecturing, and teaching about poetry.

On my shelves, it starts with Old Man Gilgamesh himself. Compared to Gilgamesh, Homer was a modern. Then there’s the ultimate anti-war novel, The Iliad, and his partner, The Odyssey. Both are translated by Robert Fagels. I like him. I like him a lot. Haven’t gotten his translation of The Aeneid yet. And then there’s The Divine Comedy about a man who suddenly goes middle-aged crazy. That’s the male version of menopause. Some might blame it on Beatrice. I blame it on middle-age. You can tell that’s what the man is suffering from by those opening lines of The Inferno, Canto 1:

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.”

He couldn’t buy that new red Ferrari, so off he went on a journey, to hell and back so to speak. And right by his side is another fellow I like a lot, Geoff Chaucer. Geoff is English for Jeff. His journey begins in April and “When in April the sweet showers fall….” Elmore Leonard says don’t begin with the weather but it seems to work well for old Geoff. Course, next door is the Poet Supreme, the House of the Bard. I’m talking Shakespeare here folks, and my version is the big fat volume of The Norton Shakespeare. A lot of Shakespeare in a lot of book. Not sure about what to say on Elmore’s advice about the weather cause here’s another writer starting off with the weather:

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York….”

Guess these guys can break the rules if they want to. Beside these fellows is Alfred Lord with his Idylls of the King. Must admit that one of my favorites of his is “Ulysses”. Ulysses is Roman for Odysseus. In the poem, Odysseus is an old man and longing for the adventures of his youth. When you get old, you too will understand his meaning.

Now I am not partial to Walt Whitman and Emily D, though I have a volume of her stuff on my shelf. Though her poems don’t fit the form, I think you can call her the American haiku-ist. I’m sure Basho would be honored to have her in his company. They do fit the spirit.

I even have a couple of T S’s volumes but he’s not someone I would call a friend. Too brainy for me. Nor do I care much for Robert Frost. I lose something of the meaning of the poem because he depends so much on rhyme. Oh, I know how hard it is to do what he did, but it gets a bit distracting.

No, it’s Basho, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder, Dylan Thomas, Pueblo Neruda, Jane Kenyon, Derek Walcott, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton, James Dickey, Seamus Heaney, Naomi Shahib Nye and Garcia Lorca for me. Some dead, some living. I tend to turn to these friends when I am looking for some good companionship. They all wear well on me. And I even have a local poet, Summer Rodman’s “A train came by and slow ed”. Reminds me a bit of John Ashbery. And these are just a few of the two or three shelves of poetry I have.

There was a time that I found e e cummings interesting. But I tired of his gimmickry, although I still pull out “On Being Brand New” for a good laugh.

I’ve always read and bought poetry. I’m not sure why. I just like having them around to whisper in my ear their secrets and their beauty. It took 9/11/01 to make me value their value. Afterwards I picked up Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, Anna Akhmatova’s “Reading Hamlet”, and the one Whitman I like. Though it is awfully wordy and seems to go on way too long, it is “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”. In it, Whitman mourns for Abraham LIncoln. There are moments in that poem that are intensely moving. As far as Akhmatova is concerned, I keep coming across those words,

“To the right, wasteland by the cemetery,
beyond it the river’s dull blue.”

That seemed to measure my feeling after 9/11. Guess I am a little bit strange to feel that but I did, and sometimes still do.

I don’t know how I came by this love of poets and their poetry. It certainly does not run in my family. No poets among my kin. Nary a one. Maybe it came from reading The King James Bible and The Psalms early on. I sure do like reading Jesus’ Blesseds and Psalm 23 in the KJB. Haven’t found a better translation. Maybe those were the sections Old Will worked on. I just know that poets give me great comfort and I wish there were a hell of a lot more of them. Perhaps if there were, we’d have a bit less war and injustice.

I’ve often wondered why I have watched and studied politics so much over the years. If Boris Pasternak and his Zhivago should have taught me anything, it is don’t give a damn about politics. It never solves anything. And often makes matters worse. Then there’s Yeats’ wonderful lines:

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

Again maybe I should have embraced Zhivago as a role model. Maybe I would have been much better off. I know politics gives me a headache these days, hearing arguments about things that most of us don’t take any comfort in. A lot of this and a lot of that. Mostly tweedledee and twiddledum. Why don’t they just get on with it? As the fellow said on Saturday Night Live a while back, “Just fix it.”

One of my favorite intros to poems and poets is Molly Peacock’s How to read a poem … and start a poetry circle. She introduced me to Jane Kenyon’s wonderful poem “Let evening come”, one of my favs these days. In all my poemer-writing years I have never come close to something so lovely, so beautiful. It reveals to me how much beauty there is in the world if we only look and see.

So here I am late on a Saturday night. I’ve finished my weekly chores and I find myself turning to a poem or two for comfort. Not sure what has gotten into me. But I raise my glass and toast them all everyone. Thanks for the poems that have been spoken and that are to be spoken.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie Spotlight: Let the binge-ing begin.

ANNOUNCEMENT: For the last few years, I have spotlighted Creators, Music and Movies on a regular basis. Doing three or four blog posts a week takes up quite a bit of time. Unfortunately this has left me with less time to devote to longer project such as a noir novel called The Man Without a Tie and longer short stories such as Jesus Junction.

Beginning next week, I have decided to cut back to two blog posts a week.Those blog posts will be my anchor post on Sunday and my Wednesday post. From time to time, I will spotlight a creative artist, a movie and a song. Those will be included as a part of the Sunday and Wednesday posts.

I want to thank all my Readers who continue to follow and read Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such. So read on and enjoy the entertainment for today.

This week’s Spotlight Movie is the TV series, “The White Queen” (2013):

George R. R. Martin has said that his “Game of Thrones” was partially based on a series of English civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses. Now that you’ve completed your “Game of Thrones” viewing and you’re thirsty for another series, maybe a series based on the inspiration might be just the thing. I recommend “The White Queen”.

“The White Queen” is a ten episode miniseries adapted from Philippa Gregory’s trilogy of what she calls “The Cousins’ War”: The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of wars from 1455 to 1487. Two families, the Lancasters (the red rose) and the Yorks (the white rose), fought for the English throne. They were two rival branches of the House of Plantagenet.

But the rivalry didn’t start in 1455. It originated under the reign of mad king Richard II back in the Bad Old Days of the 1300s. King Richard exiled and stole the lands of Henry of Bolinbroke. Henry returned to England to reclaim his estate as Duke of Lancaster. Finding Richard unpopular, he did a why-not and crowned himself King Henry IV. After all, he had as much right to the throne as any of the other contenders, and he had the army.

Though there were uprisings during his reign, England was mostly at peace during his years and the years of his son, Henry V. When Henry V died at thirty-six, his son, and heir, Henry VI was only nine months old. While waiting for Henry to grow up, a Council of Regency ran things. When Henry became an adult, he was not a very good king, and things went from not-so-good to bad to worse.

The Yorks became fed up and went to war against the crown. They were just as Plantagenet as the Lancasters. At first, the Yorkist Richard, Duke of Gloucester, only wanted to get rid of Henry’s bad advisers. After a while, he decided he could do the king job much better than Henry. During one of the battles, Richard was killed. His son, Edward, took over the leadership and eventually defeated Henry and the Lancasters.

Much of this part of the story can be found in Shakespeare’s plays, Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, Henry V, Henry VI Parts One, Two and Three, and Richard III. Seven of these plays have recently become two excellent BBC series.

It is at this point that “The White Queen” picks up the story, a part of the story left out of Shakespeare’s plays.

One fine day, Edward is out doing Edward stuff. Chasing down the bad Lancastrians, going from here to there recruiting more troops. He comes across the widow, Elizabeth Woodville, and he is smitten. She is not only a Lancaster. She is also a commoner. Not the kind of wife a king should have. Not only does his mom disapprove, his buddy-in-arms, Warwick, isn’t happy either. He has other plans for the new king. He is to marry a French princess.

But Mel Brooks summed it up best when he said, “It’s good to be the king.” Edward decides he doesn’t want to learn French. He marries “the witch” and tells his subjects, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” You’d think that would be the end of it. You’d think there’d be no more civil war. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. It’s Game of Thrones English style.

Thursday’s Music Spot: How Sweet the Moonlight Sleeps

Mostly Shakespeare doesn’t work on film for me. I only have a short list of Shakespeare plays on film I have thoroughly enjoyed. There’s two Hamlets, Lawrence Olivier’s and Franco Zeffirelli’s, as well as Zeffierelli’s “Romeo and Juliet”. The comedies, “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Kevin Kline, and Trevor Nunn’s “Twelfth Night”. And the BBC productions of the seven plays of the War of the Roses: Richard II; Henry IV, V, and VI; and Richard III.

I think part of the problem most directors have when approaching Shakespeare is they simply don’t understand the medium of film. They want to give us the play, and nothing but the play.

But I have to say that director Michael Radford got his film of “The Merchant of Venice” right and gave me my all-time favorite Shakespeare. From the set designs to the actors to the music by Jocelyn Pook, he takes me to a time and place that Shakespeare would absolutely have loved.

In Act 5 Scene 1, Jocelyn Pook gives us this lovely piece of music, How sweet the moonlight sleeps.The voice is that of Andreas Scholl, a German countertenor, specializing in Baroque music. Enjoy.

Hamlet: Off to England He Goes

Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service—two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end. Hamlet Act 4 Scene 3.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 4 Scene 3. Hamlet enters the presence of King Claudius. He is in no mood for kowtowing, and towkowing either. Not in no mood at all.

“Hey, Chief,” Hamlet starts off.

Claudius is not amused with Hamlet’s irreverence. “Your Magnanimousness, if you please.”

“Right, Boss,” Hamlet giggles. Could it be that he’s been in the winery? “I thought I would bring my complaint straight to the Big Cheese. That’s you, right?”

Claudius cannot believe his ears. But he nods his head yes.

“We need some new plumbing around here,” The Hamster lets out. “The toilets have a real constipation problem. I went to poop and, man, talk about backup.”

Changing the subject, Claudius asks, “Where’s Polonius’ body?”

“Maybe he’s the reason for all the backup. Could it be somebody tried to flush him away?”

“Where’s the body?” Claudius insists.

“He might be coming to dinner,” Hamlet says. “I really can’t say.”

“Go ahead and say.”

“Since you ask me, he was taking a vaca the last I heard. By FedEx first class.”

“What am I going to do with you, Prince Hamlet?”

“Without a body, there’s no evidence that Polonius didn’t just run off with the farmer’s daughter.”

“Where is his body?” Claudius is now getting in Hamlet’s face big time.

“Whoa, Big Guy, you really need to do something about that breath of yours. Poor hygiene ain’t the way to make friends and influence people.”

Claudius returns to his throne and plops down. “Here’s what you’re going to do. You need to get out of town for a while. So I am going to send you first class to England.”

“Oh, boy, the Coliseum. And I’ll get to see the Pope too. Always wanted to know what a pope looked like.”

“No,” Claudius says. “That’s Rome. England, I said.”

“Oh, goody, the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées.”

“That’s Paris, not England.”

“Wonderful. I’ll get to see Michelangelo’s David.”

“That’s Florence, not England.”

“I hear the gondoliers sing,” Hamlet says.

“Not Venice. England,” Claudius is extremely frustrated.

“Not England. I hate fog,” Hamlet resists.

“Yes, England, and you can stay at Buckingham Palace.”

“Well, okay. As long as it’s not the Tower of London. You can catch cold there from the draft.”

“Then it is agreed. It’s what your mother wants too.” Claudius is relieved. Dealing with Hamlet is extremely tiring. The king is going to need a nap soon.

“Oh, if Mom says it’s okay, then it must be okay,” Hamlet wise-guys.

Claudius hands Hamlet an envelope with his tickets and his per diem.

“Well, ta-ta, Big Guy,” Hamlet says. “I’ll see you in Tuscany. And remember it’s a long way to Temporary.”

“You mean Tipperary?”

“If you say so,” Hamlet sashays out the door.

Claudius calls after him, “And take those two Bozos with you.” Of course, he was talking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Who else?

Since there is always a bard in these kinds of plays, there is a Barde here as well. (In case any of you were wondering, Barde is French for Bard.) Our friendly Bardie sings, “Hamlettown”:

Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to sea
Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to England

Down in Elsinore Castle there was a tragedy
Old Hamlet died, poisoned as poison could be.
Was it a snake bite or was it some other thing
That took down the Dane and Elsinore’s king?

Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to sea
Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to England

It was in the days when the cold winds blow
When all the laughter had turned to snow
The young prince sadly returned to the castle
To find the new king made Hamlet his vassal

Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to sea
Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to England

One night Hamlet saw the ghost of his pater
Dressed in armor just like his dad, his father
Demanding revenge and demanding it quick
“Take out Claudius before you can shake a stick.”

Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to sea
Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to England

Hamlet went mad or so the Danes were led to think
Even his mom said that he wasn’t in the pink
He gave the king’s man a very big tummy ache
Now Polonius will never again awake

Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to sea
Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to England

There was but one thing that Claudius could do
Send Hamlet away to get the king out of the stew
It was off to England with a note to the English
Take off his head to give this plot a good finish.

Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to sea
Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to England

There’s more to this tale than England could finish
When R and G lost their heads to the British
Hamlet stole the note that was to go to Olde England
And changed it from  Claudius’ original plan

Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to sea
Hamlet, O Hamlet, it’s off to England.

Hamlet and the Speakeasy

I can counterfeit the deep tragedian;
Speak and look back, and pry on every side,
Tremble and start at wagging of a straw,
Intending deep suspicion.
Richard III Act 3 Scene 5.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 3 Scene 2. Every actor in the world wants to be the director. With one exception. Michael Caine. Sir Michael knows an easy road when he sees one. He learned during his working-class odd-job early life not to make waves. Directors make waves. Partially because it’s their job to piss people off, especially actors and producers. Partially they can’t help themselves.

Now here’s Hamlet. Right up front he wants to piss the actors off. By telling them how to do their job. Here he’s telling them to speak the speak and speech the speech. As if they don’t know how to speak the speech and speech the speak. They ought to. They have done it something like one thousand and fifty-four and a half times.

That half time is stretching it a bit. This visiting acting troupe hadn’t done a good job at the halftime celebrations of the Superbowl between the Martin Luthers and the Torquemada Inquisitors. They did a bit on the Ninety-five Theses. They called it the Ninety-six Thesis because it was the thesis that the Martin Luthers left out. This thesis claimed that Jesus was six feet seven and had played pro basketball for the Nazareth Carpenters. That went against the Church’s teaching.

According to the Church teaching on Jesus’ basketball career, the Good Lord was seven feet tall and had played for the Bethlehem Cradles. The Church had stained glass to prove it. They had Jesus’ contract for forty-five shekels for his rookie year. He played three games, then he was out for the season. He had injuries in his two palms. Something about splinters. Basically it put him out for good. Jesus never played pro basketball again. A little touch football with His Boys but never anything pro. As they say, everybody has a cross to bear and that was His.

Except for that screw-up, this acting troupe had standing room audiences at all its performances. Now here was the Hamster, an amateur, trying to tell them how to do their job. But he was paying the bill, so they let him do his thing. They just didn’t listen and went about their acting biz the way they always did. Professionally.

Hamlet must have thought he was William Shakespeare. Had Hamlet lived it is very likely that he would have gone to London and started his own theater troupe. Now that would have been a hoot. Not.

Hamlet was so good at tragedy he could have been the next Chris Marlowe. When it came to comedy, it was an ix-nay on that. From the evidence we have seen in the play so far, all Hamlet could do was sad, really sad. He would have made “The Massacre at Paris” look like a children’s play.

The Elizabethans would have run from his plays, barfing. ‘Course that would have made him even more popular since the Elizabethans loved to barf. Francis Bacon wrote three treatises on the subject. Queen Elizabeth, for whom the era was named, had contests at court to see who the best barfer was. Leicester won them hands down. Guess that was why he was the Favorite-in-Chief.

Hamlet would have been the one that all those scholars think was The Bard. Alas, it was not to be. But Hamlet still made his mark anyway. Thanks to Horatio, his story became the most popular in all the world. Folks as far away as Cathay would get a taste of it. It would be seen by more audiences than any other drama, except The Game of Thrones. So Hamlet can take his bow.

Now Hamlet gets the chance to produce, direct, and playwright. Who knows? He may even have played the ghost. Just like William the Playwright played the ghost but not the lead. Oh, that’s right. There isn’t a ghost in the Gonzago play. But no worries. Hamlet has written a part for himself. He will Olivier this little tragedy the actors perform. Talk about Multiple Personality Syndrome. Hamlet was a regular Orson Welles. A Mr. Multiple Personality.