Saturday, June 11, 2011

Off The Shelf Archive ~ June

I know I'm not reading enough poetry when these archives stay so long untended. I'm glad therefor to have recently started a journey--odyssey might be a better word--through the massive compilation of an incredible life's work that is The Collected Poems of Ted Hughes. 

Almost 1200 pages of verse, the book is daunting in scope, yet pretty friendly on a page by page basis. Hughes first became prominent as a poet in the 1950's and was Poet Laureate of Britain from 1984 until his death in 1998. As I've just started dipping into this huge volume, I'm selecting from his earlier work a piece that particularly struck me called The Howling of Wolves, from the 1967 collection entitled Wodwo

You'll find it here in the   Off The Shelf Archives.

Hughes'  full bio is easily available online for more of the messy, painful details that seem to make up most great poets' lives, at The Poetry Foundation and many other sites. I don't include them here as I think they distract more than add in this case.

The previous Off the Shelf selection, two poems by Theodore Roethke, are moved below for a final perusal.

As always, feel free to comment on either post here, as comments are disabled off the main page,  and suggestions for the next selection are always welcome.

Here for their last dance on this site are Journey into the Interior, and Dolor, by Theodore Roethke:

Journey Into The Interior

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
Grey from the long winter, burnt at the base in late summer.
-- Or the path narrowing,
Winding upward toward the stream with its sharp stones,
The upland of alder and birchtrees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.
by Theodore Roethke
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces. 
by Theodore Roethke

courtesy deviantArt


  1. Wonderful offerings, Joy. The poem about wolves is powerful, but about kills me dead, the image of a wolf caught in a steel trap. I haven't read Ted Hughes (I took Sylvia's side:) but he writes very powerfully. I love Roethke's Journey In to the Interior. Brilliant.

  2. Great pair of Roethke poems, late and early in his career, "Journey" sort of the freeing of the strict lyric poet of "Dolor" (who was already tiring of academic exercises). Roethke was the poet who kept me on life support during my early 20s, when i was a monk drunk at college, unable to talk to anyone, going mad as Roethke, taking heart that there was a journey out from the sick places of the mind (elsewhere he called it a "self-infected lair"), healed by that grand interface of human nature and nature. Ah Ted, you old fat bear of a romantic, alcoholic, manic, whose words whirled with his drunk papa's waltz. Thanks for sharing these exquisites; its like hearing the words of a mentor I haven't heard in decades. I wonder now if his madness was form, rhyme and meters which drove him into the moronic inferno, and he was saved by learning to speak in different voice. - Brendan

  3. I love the feral aspects of Hughes' The Howling of Wolves and will come back to it. Our attempts to understand what drives the natural world and how we meet it is so well represented, devastatingly.

    As for Roethke's journeys, I am drawn into his specific world, the details of description, like Bishop, with darkness.

    Thanks for the post, which prompts me to get back to longer bouts with the volumes I have.

  4. @Sherry: Thanks for stopping by and reading both posts. I've never read much of either Hughes or Plath--except the Bell Jar so many years ago I've forgotten everything about it except it depressed me. I have a real problem with suicides, having had them in the family and seen what they do to other people, so I've avoided Plath since--I think knowing too much about a poet can easily make us judgmental. Better to judge the poetry than the person. I've recently started trying to read her a bit, and though she is often way too bleak (and frankly, nuts) for me in a lot of ways, she is without doubt extremely gifted. One feels only pity and compassion for the kind of suffering that shows in her work. Glad you enjoyed the Hughes poem, with it's wolfy overtones, and the Roethke.

    @Brendan: Reading Roethke's bio was painful--everything back then in mental health seemed to be attacked and destroyed with confinement, mega-doses of thorazine and electroshock therapy. But he seemed to deliberately cultivate that side of himself, looking under every twisted mental rock. Still, he found a lot to say, and he was there for me in my 20's also, and for many more, I'm sure, and I still get something new from reading him these days.

    @Ruth: Yes, that poem, and many of the others I'm starting to sift through, seem to really speak and breathe the layer of us that is more animal being than human, yet a cerebral animal, which seems a terrible curse. Yet he seems to resolve that tension somehow. (I haven't got so far as to figure out how. ;-) )

  5. really like the second of Roethke's...the mudane given life...ted hughes, i stumbled on not too long ago myself...honestly i dont have a huge background in reading poetry much further back than 18 months its always a joy to dicover people that others know well and experience them for the first time...

  6. Hmmm, if ever the poetry consumption bug hits me, I will have to come looking to you for advice! Just remember, you shouldn't look at this as a punishment or chore... Unless your reading something horrible.

    Looking forward to seeing what your opinion is on it all and seeing what else comes out from my friend's brain as far as weaving another poetic tapestry! Thanks hedge!

  7. @Brian: I haven't read nearly as much as I ought to, and what I have read mostly comes from what was taught in school forty years ago--they weren't teaching Bukowski, either. :-) Glad you enjoyed Roethke and the Hughes.

    @LV Great to see you stopping by for the educational segment, my friend. Nah, reading the poetry is never a chore for this stuff--sometimes reading about what crap lives most great poets have had is, as I say above, painful, as so many have been majorly screwed up--drunks, crazy, lousy childhoods, etc. But of course, we both can relate to at least part of that eh?

  8. Er...what did I miss? How did you and Sherry get on Plath? Anyway, as soon as I read the wolf poem, I thought of Sherry and was going to tell her about it, though I, too, am horrified at the thought of an injured wolf, steel leg hold traps, and the like. Nonetheless, I love the way Hughes (who I am not familiar with) communicated so well the wolves' wildness, and difference from humans. Also, the picture you chose to go with the poem is just marvelous.

    As you've guessed, Roethke has never been a favorite of mine. But thanks for the introduction to Ted Hughes.

  9. @FB Hughes and Plath have had quite a firestorm tangle in the poetry world, and though I suppose it helps to know he was married to her for some of his work, this piece didn't seem to require it, and with my lack of interest in Plath, it seemed to me a major distraction so I left it out. Glad you enjoyed the poem and the pic. I think he has that kinship of the feral. Roethke, I can see not speaking to you-- probably my germanic gardener earth side, there.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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