Poetry at the Post: “Discretions of Alcibiades” by Robert Pinsky, or Prepping for The Peloponnesian War

“Discretions of Alcibiades’
by Robert Pinsky

First frost is weeks off, but the prudent man
With house plants on his front porch marks the season,
And moves the potted ficus back indoors

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904): Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the House of Aspasia, 1861
Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904): Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the House of Aspasia, 1861

Friend and foe of both Athens and Sparta, Alcibiades was a game changer during the long and ugly war that dominated the last half of 5th century BCE Greece.

A powerful orator and statesman with a strategic military mind, Alcibiades had his enemies. Accused by his opponents of mutilating the hermai, or the heads of the god Hermes, Alcibiades fled his native Athens for Sparta, and when the opportunity arose, flipped back to Athens. He knew when to “move his plant indoors.”

Hermes with his mother Maia. Detail of the side B of an Attic red-figure belly-amphora, c. 500 BC.
Hermes with his mother Maia. Detail of the side B of an Attic red-figure belly-amphora, c. 500 BC.
Oh what a duplicitous traitor! — or perhaps, what a clever survivor, a prudent man!

This is just one of the many, many intriguing stories woven throughout Thucydides’s contemporaneous account of the Peloponnesian War.

Move over Homer! as we’ll be tackling this engaging story of power and justice in the Global Reading Group*, a virtual literary salon. Yes, I won’t deny it. This is a long and, at times. tedious read but believe me, it is vale la pena. Come join us as we read and discuss The History of the Peloponnesian War.
We begin March 25, 2015.

640px-Uranometria_orion
The stars are similar: “The wheeling Bear

One white eye on the Pleiads, rolls another
At glowering Orion…

Lost Pleiad (1884) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
Lost Pleiad (1884) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

*The Global Reading Group is a virtual literary salon that follows Horace’s
definition of the aims of poetry, “either to please or to educate” (“aut delectare aut prodesse est”.) Free and open to interested readers worldwide. We read one classic book of literature every month. Send a note to alicecatherinej at gmail.com to join

Poetry at the Post: Searching for a Heroine

Philosophia Perennis
BY ANNE WALDMAN

I turned: quivering yellow stars in blackness…

"Pleiades large" by NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory     The science team consists of: D. Soderblom and E. Nelan (STScI), F. Benedict and B. Arthur (U. Texas), and B. Jones (Lick Obs.) - http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2004/20/image/a/. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Pleiades large” by NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory The science team consists of: D. Soderblom and E. Nelan (STScI), F. Benedict and B. Arthur (U. Texas), and B. Jones (Lick Obs.) – http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2004/20/image/a/. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Philosophia Perennis” captures the core of “the everywoman,” the one who dreams of being the protagonist, the heroine.

Amidst “The dish, the mop, the stove, the bed, the marriage, “The picture changes & promises the heroine.”

I find this poem powerful—even more so when when I listen to Waldman read it aloud. The “I and I and…” is a mantra that emboldens my spirit.

Catherine Morland of Jane Austin’s Northanger Abbey could probably relate.
By 17, she was an “heroine in training,” yet
“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.”

Come join us as we FINALLY read an epic about a WOMAN, in the Global Reading Group*, a virtual literary salon. We launch October 15th. And with “rambling houses, locked doors, and family secrets”—this is the perfect Gothic tale for those dark and spooky October nights.

Northanger Abbey is deliciously instructive, much like Waldman’s poem, “Philosophia Perennis.”

northanger abbey readers

*One book a month.

Poetry at the Post: Ducks, Ducks are Everywhere & Now a Kangaroo!

The Duck and the Kangaroo
BY EDWARD LEAR

Said the Duck to the Kangaroo,
‘Good gracious! how you hop!
Over the fields and the water too,
As if you never would stop!

"Bucephala-albeola-010". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bucephala-albeola-010.
“Bucephala-albeola-010”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

With so much rain and water in the desert Southwest, I keep thinking about ducks.

When I first read the poem, “The Duck and the Kangaroo,” I thought it was all nonsense. And, actually it is—a “nonsense poem” that is

Masada (or Sebbeh) on the Dead Sea, Edward Lear, 1858, on display at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor Masada (or Sebbeh) on the Dead Sea, Edward Lear, 1858, on display at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor

Edward Lear (1812-1888) was an English poet, illustrator and artist. He was also a wanderer. I am a wanderer too. Ah ha! Now the poem makes sense! “The Duck and the Kangaroo,” is about Edward—and me. We are “the duck.” We want to go somewhere else, always leaving home.

My life is a bore in this nasty pond,
And I long to go out in the world beyond!
I wish I could hop like you!’
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo.

Lear wandered for almost 40 years before establishing himself in a villa in San Remo,Italy.

Said the Kangaroo, ‘I’m ready!
All in the moonlight pale;
But to balance me well, dear Duck, sit steady!
And quite at the end of my tail!’
So away they went with a hop and a bound,
And they hopped the whole world three times round;

In “The Wild Duck,” a play by Henrik Ibsen, there is a duck and a son who leaves home yet returns after 15 years away. Ibsen’s play is a masterpiece; it is not silly at all. We will begin reading THE WILD DUCK in THE GLOBAL READIN GROUP-THE ANNEX, a virtual literary salon. It is free and open to all. Come join us! You can find out more here: https://alicecatherinej.com/the-global-reading-group-a-virtual-literary-salon/

THE WILD DUCK

Poetry at the Post, Day 14: Bulgaria Anyone? да, Bulgaria!

Poetry at the Post, Day 14: Bulgaria Anyone? да, Bulgaria!

“Noah, The Carrier” by Kristin Dimitrova, as translated by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

The Season of Delicate Hunger Anthology of Contemporary Bulgarian Poetry, Accents Publishing
The Season of Delicate Hunger
Anthology of Contemporary Bulgarian Poetry, Accents Publishing

To Gilgamesh*, however, he’d spoken like this:

I freed a pigeon, but it returned.
I freed a swallow—same thing.

I was going to head next to Greece at The Post but decided to stop in Bulgaria along the way. Today’s poem is by Kristin Dimitrova, a Bulgarian poet whose work appears in the 2014 Anthology of Contemporary Bulgarian Poetry The Season of Delicate Hunger, edited by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer .

Lake Pancharevo in southern Sofia

I like this poem because thematically it explores myth & legend and truth. We all have those friends who only tell you what you want to hear and then again, many times folks only hear what they want to hear. How much of religion or history is truth? As, we know, history is always written from the viewpoint of the victor, or dominant culture.

There is no way
Truth does not make a good legend
Yet legend is truth’s only carrier.

In an interview Dimitrova says, “I’d like American readers to know that Bulgarian poetry exists.” I must admit I know little about Bulgaria, well, okay, almost nothing.

You can read more about Dimitrova as well as the entire poem “Noah, the Carrier” here. There’s a fun twist at the end.

http://accents-publishing.com/blog/2013/12/10/meet-a-bulgarian-poet-kristin-dimitrova

#spaldingmfa

*The Gilgamesh is one of my favorite epics and we’ll be reading it in the Global Reading Group, a virtual literary salon.

The Hungarian National Epic

Nikola Šubić Zrinski's Charge from the Fortress of Szigetvár
Nikola Šubić Zrinski’s Charge from the Fortress of Szigetvár by Johann Peter Kraft, 1825

I’m addicted to epics! I admit it. I’ve read 13 of them so far but a few days ago I stumbled upon The Siege of Sziget, the Hungarian national epic. Where had this one been hiding? Within the Hungarian language, apparently, as it has only recently been published for the first time ever in English. (THE SIEGE OF SZIGET by Miklos Zriny, as translated by László Kõrössy. Catholic University of America Press, 2011.)

The Siege of Sziget is a latecomer in the European epics. Written in 1647 by Miklós Zríny, it tells the story of the final battle of another Miklós Zríny (the author’s great granddad) against the Ottomans in 1566. The Ottomans were the victors but at a heavy cost with 20,000 Turks lost including Sultan Suleiman, their leader. However, it stopped the Ottomans from pushing forward towards Vienna that year and so from the Christian point of view, the Battle, although a loser, was successful.

From the the little I have read so far, The Siege of Sziget has all the characteristics of the traditional epic. It begins with an invocation to a Muse; there is a bloody battle; and things get mixed up (or conveniently arranged depending on one’s point of view) by the interference of the gods, or in this case, God. I’ll be adding The Siege of Sziget to the list of upcoming epics in the Global Reading Group, a virtual literary salon, so send me a note if you’d like to read along. http://moiramcpartlin.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/epics-on-global-scale.html

For more info on The Siege of Sziget and its translation, visit

http://www.academia.edu/3039358/Review_of_Miklos_Zrinyi_The_Siege_of_Sziget_trans._Laszlo_Korossy_in_Times_Literary_Supplement_9_March_2012

And, as an extra bonus, here is Szigeti veszedelem, or The Siege of Sziget , in Hungarian.

http://szelence.com/zrini/index.html#tart

Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleiman the Magnificent as a young man by Nakkas Osman, 1579.
Topkapi Palace Museum
Istanbul Turkey
Photo courtesy of Bilkent University

Something of interest I discovered was that Suleiman, known as Suleiman the Magnificent, was also a poet and a big time supporter of the arts during his 46 year reign. Most of his poems were written to his wife, the daughter of an Orthodox priest who had been abducted and sold as a slave in Constantinople. Reportedly, the great Suleiman was quite mad about Hurrem Sultan—so much so that she was the only one of his harem he made his legal wife. You can read one of his lovely ghazals here: http://www.ottomansouvenir.com/General/Turkish_Poetry.htm#Gazel6#lateantiquitystudiesBudapest2014

My weekly prompt (feel free to use it too): Write a ghazal. Here are some words to consider incorporating in the poem: to crush, to blow, to swell, stiff-necked, Constantinople, blanket, and blood. Use a title of rank and the imperative “Believe, believe…”