Friday, 18 May 2018

WRITERS ON WRITING #108: John Le Carré

I have two, three really good creative hours.  I mean, if you were an athlete you wouldn’t really have more than two or three good hours in the day, but the rest of the day is… work that prepares your body for the same two to three hours…
  Writing is the same.  Part of this semi-athletic process is to keep the brain on edge, to keep the conflict going inside you, to be able to use all the possibilities of your own character.

Quoted in John LeCarré (1999), a TV documentary directed by MARC JAPPAIN

Click HERE to read more about the life and work of British espionage novelist JOHN LE CARRÉ.

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Friday, 11 May 2018

POET OF THE MONTH #47: Derek Walcott

DEREK WALCOTT, 1930 - 2017


Those five or six young guys
lunched on the stoop
that oven-hot summer night
whistled me over.  Nice
and friendly.  So, I stop.
MacDougal or Christopher
Street in chains of light.

A summer festival.  Or some
saint's.  I wasn't too far from
home, but not too bright
for a nigger, and not too dark.
I figured we were all
one, wop, nigger, jew,
besides, this wasn't Central Park.
I'm coming on too strong?  You figure
right!  They beat this yellow nigger
black and blue.

Yeah.  During all this, scared
on case one used a knife,
I hung my olive-green, just-bought
sports coat on a fire plug.
I did nothing.  They fought
each other, really.  Life
gives them a few kicks,
that's all.  The spades, the spicks.

My face smashed in, my bloody mug
pouring, my olive-branch jacket saved
from cuts and tears,
I crawled four flights upstairs.
Sprawled in the gutter, I
remember a few watchers waved
loudly, and one kid's mother shouting
like 'Jackie' or 'Terry,'
'now that's enough!'
It's nothing really.
They don't get enough love.

You know they wouldn't kill
you.  Just playing rough,
like young Americans will.
Still it taught me something
about love.  If it's so tough,
forget it. 

The Poet:  The following biographical statement appears on the Poetry Foundation Centre website.  [It is re-posted here for information purposes only and, like the poem re-posted above, remains its author's exclusive copyright-protected intellectual property.]

Born on the island of Saint Lucia, a former British colony in the West Indies, poet and playwright Derek Walcott was trained as a painter but turned to writing as a young man. He published his first poem in the local newspaper at the age of 14.  Five years later, he borrowed $200 to print his first collection, 25 Poems, which he distributed on street corners.  Walcott’s major breakthrough came with the collection In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 (1962), a book which celebrates the Caribbean and its history as well as investigates the scars of colonialism and post-colonialism. Throughout a long and distinguished career, Walcott returned to those same themes of language, power, and place. His later collections include Tiepolo’s Hound (2000), The Prodigal (2004), Selected Poems (2007), White Egrets (2010), and Morning, Paramin (2016). In 1992, Walcott won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel committee described his work as 'a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.'
Since the 1950s Walcott divided his time between Boston, New York, and Saint Lucia. His work resonates with Western canon and Island influences, sometimes even shifting between Caribbean patois and English, and often addressing his English and West Indian ancestry. According to Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Arthur Vogelsang, 'These continuing polarities shoot an electricity to each other which is questioning and beautiful and which helps form a vision altogether Caribbean and international, personal (him to you, you to him), independent, and essential for readers of contemporary literature on all the continents.'  Known for his technical control, erudition, and large canvases, Walcott was, according to poet and critic Sean O’Brien, 'one of the handful of poets currently at work in English who are capable of making a convincing attempt to write an epic… His work is conceived on an oceanic scale and one of its fundamental concerns is to give an account of the simultaneous unity and division created by the ocean and by human dealings with it.' 
Many readers and critics point to Omeros (1990), an epic poem reimagining the Trojan War as a Caribbean fishermen’s fight, as Walcott’s major achievement. The book is 'an effort to touch every aspect of Caribbean experience,' according to O’Brien who also described it as an ars poetica, concerned 'with art itself — its meaning and importance and the nature of an artistic vocation.'  In reviewing Walcott’s Selected Poems (2007), poet Glyn Maxwell ascribes Walcott’s power as a poet not so much to his themes as to his ear: 'The verse is constantly trembling with a sense of the body in time, the self slung across metre, whether metre is steps, or nights, or breath, whether lines are days, or years, or tides.' 
Walcott was also a renowned playwright. In 1971 he won an Obie Award for his play Dream on Monkey Mountain, which the New Yorker described as 'a poem in dramatic form.' Walcott’s plays generally treat aspects of the West Indian experience, often dealing with the socio-political and epistemological implications of post-colonialism and drawing upon various forms such as the fable, allegory, folk, and morality play.  With his twin brother, he co-founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop in 1950; in 1981, while teaching at Boston University, he founded the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. He also taught at Columbia University, Yale University, Rutgers University, and Essex University in England.
In addition to his Nobel Prize, Walcott’s honors included a MacArthur Foundation 'genius' award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, and, in 1988, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry. He was an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.  He died in 2017.

Click HERE to read more poetry by Caribbean poet and playwright DEREK WALCOTT.

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Thursday, 26 April 2018

THINK ABOUT IT #36: Martin Seligman

The fear of an organism faced with trauma is reduced if it learns that responding controls trauma; fear persists if the organism remains uncertain about whether the trauma is controllable; if the organism learns that trauma is uncontrollable, fear gives way to depression.

Helplessness: On Depression, Development and Death (1967, revised 1991)

Click HERE to read more about the work done by US psychologist MARTIN SELIGMAN in the field of positive psychology.

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Thursday, 19 April 2018

POET OF THE MONTH #46: Thomas Wyatt



They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better, but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And me she caught in her arms long and small,
Therewithal sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, 'Dear heart, how like you this?'

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking.
And I have leave to go of her goodness
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

written c 1527, published 1557

line 2: stalking = moving stealthily
line 5: in danger = in my power
line 6: range = wander, roam
line 7: with a continual change = in an unsettled way
line 9: in special = a close or exclusive connection
line 10: In thin array after a pleasant guise = scantily clad after being finely dressed
line 12: small = slender, narrow
line 16: thorough = through
line 16: gentleness = resignation, acceptance
line 18: leave to go of her goodness = reason to give up her love
line 19: use newfangleness = behave in a fickle way, take a new lover
line 21: fain = be eager to
line 21: hath deserved = what's become of her

The Poet: Thomas Wyatt was born in 1503 (the precise date is unknown) at Allington Castle, located near the town of Maidstone in the English county of Kent.  His father Henry Wyatt was a nobleman from Yorkshire who refused to support the Yorkist monarch Richard III and was gaoled for his obstinacy, spending several months in prison in Scotland until the accession of Henry VII to the English throne in 1485 saw him released and lavishly rewarded for his unswerving loyalty to the Tudor cause.  He purchased Allington Castle in 1492 and was visited there by Henry VIII in 1527 where, as a member of the Privy Council and a Knight of the Bath, he almost certainly participated in the private discussions the King had come to have with Cardinal Wolsey regarding his desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, daughter of Wyatt's friend and closest neighbour Sir Thomas Boleyn whose ancestral seat, Hever Castle, was only twenty miles away.

Little is known of the early life of Thomas Wyatt, who was probably educated at home by a tutor until the age of twelve when he formally entered the King's service as a 'Sewer Extraordinary.'  (A 'sewer' was a noble servant charged with the task of seating guests at the King's table and tasting his food.)  In 1515 or 1516 (sources disagree) Wyatt entered St John's College, Cambridge, combining the study of Humanism, the prevailing philosophical fashion of the day, with his duties at court.  He did this, it is believed, until 1520 when he married Elizabeth Brooke, daughter of the Baron of Cobham.  One year later Elizabeth bore him a son, also named Thomas, who would be executed in 1554 after leading a failed rebellion against Mary I, Catholic daughter of Henry VIII and half sister of the soon-to-be crowned Elizabeth I.

Wyatt's marriage was not a happy one, the blame for which, he always maintained, resided 'chiefly' with his wife.  This may explain his eagerness to follow in his father's footsteps and serve at court, becoming Clerk of the Royal Jewels in 1524 and then an ambassador who accompanied Sir John Russell to Rome in 1526 to petition Pope Clement VII to allow Henry VIII to divorce his Spanish wife so he could marry 'his Anne,' a witty, highly sexed beauty who had also been Wyatt's childhood friend.  He and Elizabeth separated soon after his return from the Continent, with Wyatt citing his wife's adultery as the reason for the split.  (No proof was ever produced to confirm this accusation.)  Wyatt continued to support Elizabeth until 1536, when he declared he would no longer do so and sent her to live with her brother.  They were not reconciled until 1541 when Wyatt, accused of treason and by then languishing in the Tower of London, was released by the new Queen Katherine Howard on condition that he and Elizabeth resume normal marital relations.  It's unlikely, however, that this occurred, as Wyatt was already involved in a long-term affair with Elizabeth Darrell, a former lady-in-waiting who would eventually bear him three illegitimate sons, two of whom survived into adulthood.

ANN BOLEYN, c 1530

Many believe that Wyatt began his affair with Elizabeth Darrell after unsuccessfully attempting to woo his neighbour's daughter Anne Boleyn, who had first appeared at court in 1522 and was, by 1526, being actively pursued by the King. He accompanied Anne and Henry on a visit to France in 1532 and served in Anne's private retinue prior to her coronation in 1533.  While there is no hard evidence to suggest they enjoyed a sexual relationship, Wyatt's poetry is full of veiled references to Anne and what might have been had she not caught the eye and captured the notoriously fickle heart of Henry VIII.  Wyatt's most famous poem, Whoso List to Hunt, portrays Anne as a female deer and himself as its unsuccessful hunter, forced to abandon the chase after reading the words 'Noli me tangere' [do not touch] engraved on a diamond necklace she wears around her neck.  The symbolism is clear and could easily be transposed to They Flee From Me with its tone of resignation and poignant reference to the male lover's 'strange fashion of forsaking.'

Wyatt, who was knighted by Henry VIII in 1535, was taken into custody in May 1536 along with several other courtiers suspected of being sympathetic to the now out of favour Anne.  It is said that he personally witnessed his former sweetheart's beheading from a window in the Tower, from which he was released in June after much anxious lobbying by his well connected father.  His reputation undamaged, Wyatt was named English ambassador to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, serving in this capacity until 1541 when he was once again arrested, this time for treason after he was overheard making disparaging remarks about the King. 

Although he was soon restored to favour –– thanks largely, it seems, to the intervention of Henry's fifth Queen –– and was allowed to resume his ambassadorial duties, Wyatt's good fortune was shortlived.  He fell ill in October 1542 while receiving the envoy of Charles V in Falmouth and died a few days later at Maybank House, the Dorset home of his friend Sir John Horsey.

Although Wyatt's work was known and widely read at court, none of it appeared in print until ninety-six of his poems were included in Tottel's Miscellany, a collection of hitherto unpublished 'songes and sonettes' printed in London in June 1557 by textbook publisher John Tottel.  It was these poems –– along with those of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, which appeared in the same volume –– which introduced the Italian sonnet form to English poetry, paving the way for the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries and what became the Golden Age of Elizabethan literature.  Wyatt's work remains notable for its blending of Italian and English forms, divided as it is into poems of loss and longing and poems which satirize life at court and its many frustrations, vagaries and compromises.

Click HERE to read more about the life and work of English courtier, diplomat and poet THOMAS WYATT. You can also click HERE to read more about his relationship with ANNE BOLEYN, the true nature of which remains disputed to this day.

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