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: Should I Get an MFA?

Workshop
BY BILLY COLLINS
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now

Poetry Workshop outside Galway, Ireland Photo: Maria Hofman
Poetry Workshop outside Galway, Ireland Photo: Maria Hofman

Now that I have an MFA in Creative Writing, writer friends have asked, “Should I get one too?”

Well, I can’t answer that question as getting an MFA is a personal decision based on one’s objectives, needs—and financial resources. But—if you have already decided to take the plunge and commit yourself to 2-4 years of demanding work then Spalding University’s MFA program may be the one for you.

But what I’m not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,…

One of the reasons you may not have applied to an MFA program yet is that you are nervous about the “workshop experience.” I know I was but  “Serious critique doesn’t have to hurt. At Spalding University, you’ll find a top-tier low residency MFA program that celebrates creativity and community, not competition. The program offers real intellectual stimulation in a supportive environment while giving writers the tools to make writing fresher, richer, more uniquely their own. There’s no such thing as a “Spalding voice.” It’s your voice, and at Spalding, it will be heard and read.”

Four years ago I became a member of the Spalding MFA family— a very large family indeed! Not only am I now connected to all of the incredibly talented and caring staff, faculty and fellow students but also to an alumni group over 500 writers strong. In addition, because I elected to do my residencies abroad, I have poet/writer friends around the world—and one of them is currently translating a selection of my poems into Bulgarian!

Poets in Paris Photo courtesy of Stephen Woodward
Poets in Paris Photo courtesy of Stephen Woodward

Residencies abroad? Yes! For me, a global nomad, this was a compelling reason to consider a Spalding MFA.  At Spalding, you have the choice to attend your residencies in Louisville, Ky or abroad—or do a combo of the two. During my years at Spalding, I traveled to Rome, Tuscany, Paris, Dublin, Galway, Prague and Berlin. I actually graduated in Berlin! How cool is that?

Graduating class Summer 2014 Spalding MFA in Writing. A biergarten in Dresden, Germany Photo courtesy of  Karen Chronister
Graduating class Summer 2014 Spalding MFA in Writing. A biergarten in Dresden, Germany Photo courtesy of Karen Chronister

But the best part is that in actuality you never really graduate as you can continue to connect with the Spalding family with opportunities for post graduate study, homecoming in Louisville,  and even travels with the program as an alumn.

In 2015, Spalding’s summer residency will be in Athens and Crete, Greece.

So-what are you waiting for?

The application deadline for spring and summer is February 1. Holy Ouzo! Get that application started today!

You can email: mfa@spalding.edu for more information. Or contact me at alicecatherinej@gmail.com.

You never know—we may meet up this summer in Greece. I hope so! First ouzo is on me!

But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite.
This is where the poem wins me back,

Poetry at the Post: Farewell to Bath, Hello Susa!

Farewell to Bath
BY LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU

(15 May 1689 – 21 August 1762)

To all you ladies now at Bath,
And eke, ye beaux, to you,
With aching heart, and wat’ry eyes,
I bid my last adieu.

Lady Montagu in Turkish dress by Jean-Étienne Liotard, ca. 1756, Palace on the Water in Warsaw
Lady Montagu in Turkish dress by Jean-Étienne Liotard, ca. 1756, Palace on the Water in Warsaw

Having just read Northanger Abbey, England, I was pleased to discover “Farewell to Bath” by Lady Montagu, a poem that captures my own feelings as I say farewell to Jane Austen’s Bath.

This poem was fun to read but I wanted to know more about the poet behind the poem. Who was Lady Montagu?

 Pope makes love to Lady Mary Montagu, 1852. Print from oil on canvas original at Auckland City Art Gallery
Pope makes love to Lady Mary Montagu, 1852. Print from oil on canvas original at Auckland City Art Gallery

Born in an aristocratic family in London, Lady Montagu educated herself via her father’s extensive library. Although she considered herself a poet, Lady Montagu is best remembered for her Letters from Turkey, written while living in Istanbul with her husband, the British Ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu. Given access to the private quarters of Islamic women, Lady Montagu was able to offer her readers a fuller—and quite interesting—picture of 18th century Turkey.

Lady Montagu was witty, intelligent, and quite outspoken. She rejected Alexander Pope’s romantic advances; openly took Jonathan Swift to task for his poetry; and introduced smallpox inoculation to England from Turkey.

A propos of distempers, I am going to tell you a thing, that will make you wish yourself here. The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless, by the invention of engrafting, which is the term they give it. There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox; they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nut-shell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what vein you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her, with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch) and puts into the vein as much matter as can lie upon the head of her needle , and after that, binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell, and in this manner opens four or five veins. (From Letters from Turkey)

Eventually she abandoned England—and her husband—to live abroad..and…well… I am digressing from Bath.

Now is the time to say goodbye to society balls, carriage rides and waters “Hot reeking from the pumps” as we travel back to ancient Persia and Greece.

Our next read in the virtual literary salon is The Persians by Aeschylus. Pride, grief and the folly of vengeance—all rolled up in a script of a mere 23 pages. We begin DECEMBER 1, 2014. Send a message to alicecatherinej@gmail.com to join. Free and open to all.

We have a great group of worldwide readers and although we meet online, at times there are surprising personal encounters. Two readers recently met for the first time at a book fair in Scotland while just last Sunday my neighbor—and also a Northanger Abbey reader—stopped by with this nice note a la Jane Austen.

jane austin 1jane austen 2

My heart is full I can no more—
John, bid the coachman drive.

Good-bye Bath, Hello Susa!

Poetry at the Post : Here Come The Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians
BY C. P. CAVAFY, AS TRANSLATED BY EDMUND KEELEY AND PHILIP SHERRARD

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

I had one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities this summer to take a course at Central European University in Budapest. For one week, our group of twenty-six considered the transformation of the borders from the 2nd to 6th century CE.

I am still trying to unwrap the experience. The lone poet amidst a group of late antiquity scholars, I listened.

Day 1

“The relationship between the barbarians and the Roman Empire was never a neutral subject. Much less could it be today…” began Professor Rita Lizzi Testa. Yes, I think. Of course, here come the barbarians.

What caused the fall of the Roman Empire? Invasion and ruin?

Did Rome ever Fall? Or did the barbarians merely “seep” inside to be gradually accommodated?

Cavafy1900

In “Waiting for the Barbarians,” C.P. Cavafy, echoes the views of the late nineteenth century historians: “…the idea that the end of of the Roman Empire (or perhaps as Cavafy suggests all empires) was the result of a ‘fatal disease…'” or its own decadence.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians
.

For me the fall or “unfall” of the Roman Empire is of passing interest but I am bothered by borders and the concept of “barbarians.”

They are the ones on the other side of the wall, the limes.
They are “the others.”
What would happen if the borders disappeared? Cavafy had a theory.

Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

Poetry at the Post, Day 15: Onward to Greece! —and a poem by Katerina Iliopouolou

On weakened legs I walked around the town the whole day. I took photographs” by Katerina Iliopoulou, as translated by John O’Kane

Ia Santorini-2009- Photo courtesy of Simm 1CC BY-SA 3.0
Ia Santorini-2009-
Photo courtesy of Simm 1CC BY-SA 3.0
#onwardtogreece2014


The Hungarian photographer André Kertész with his walking (during thirty years) wore out the network of streets of at least three cities. Eighty-five now, confined (by grief) to his apartment…

Katerina Iliopoulou is a poet, artist and translator, who lives and works in Athens.

What I like this poem is the convergence of so many places that have personal meaning. The stream of images leading to an unexpected ending is quite wonderful too.

In Paris he photographed himself double closing his eyes and a crumpled half-opened white door reflecting in the mirror.

You can read more about Iliopoulou and the entire poem here: http://iliopoulou.wordpress.com/bio/

Andre Kertesz (1894 - 1985)  Circus, Budapest, 19 May 1920 Denver Art Museum #lateantiquitystudiesbudapest2014
Andre Kertesz (1894 – 1985)
Circus, Budapest, 19 May 1920
Denver Art Museum
#lateantiquitystudiesbudapest2014