Monday, 8 October 2018

Reading Challenge Week 40 - A book of poetry

Challenge issued
To read a book of poetry
Accepted with thanks


Brenda Carter read The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin.

For this week’s challenge, I decided to revisit a collection of poems I read at university, The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin. I very much enjoy Larkin’s style – droll, insightful, dark at times but always beautifully written.

Larkin himself said that deprivation for him was “what daffodils were for Wordsworth”. “The Whitsun Weddings” is just one poem from this anthology; the poems explore themes on relationships, philosophy and everyday objects and events, and each one has something poignant or profound to say. Larkin manages to capture what is common to all experience and with which we can readily identify, but expresses things in an uncommon way.

Larkin’s life was quite colourful and he shunned popularity, but he was a distinguished librarian for over thirty years and supposedly wrote some of his best work on the job…

If you haven’t read of any of Larkin’s work, The Whitsun Weddings can be found on the shelf at 820 LAR 1B WHI with other anthologies by Larkin close by.


Samantha Baxter read The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by C.J. Dennis.
The world 'as got me snouted jist a treat;
  Crool Forchin's dirty left 'as smote me soul;
An' all them joys o' life I 'eld so sweet
  Is up the pole.
Fer, as the poit sez, me 'eart 'as got
  The pip wiv yearnin' fer--I dunno wot.
So begins the tale of Bill, who is yearning for something more in life, and then he meets Doreen and what follows is their courtship as Bills turn from a violent gang member to a loving husband.
Despite being familiar with most old Australian slang, I must admit I was glad of the glossary at times.

Each poem The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (820A DEN 1B SON ANG) builds on the next, so it was a little more like reading an epic poem than a collection of poems. They were originally published in the Bulletin as a serial and I can imagine it was entertaining to read the trials and tribulations of Bill and his ‘sweetheart’ as they unfolded. The poems are quite humorous and the language and ideals are typical of their time (the early 20th century). My favourites are: ‘A spring song’ - I think it captures that aching melancholy we all sometimes get with a light heartedness, and ‘The Play’ - Bill’s retelling of Romeo and Juliet, where he compares his own life and times with that of the Montagues and Capulets in Verona.


Scott Dale read The Dream Songs by John Berryman.

The Dream Songs (810 BER 1B DRE) are not for singing. There are probably some cool jazz cats who could sing their way through these verses, but they were not written to be sung. The “songs” follow a pattern, each have three stanzas with six lines in each stanza. It is the total of these 385 songs that make up the poem. The first volume, 77 Dream Songs, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1965. 

There are many characters throughout the poem. The central character is Henry, who is not Berryman. Henry has a friend, never named, who refers to Henry as Mr Bones and variations of that theme.

This is a collection of verse that I can enjoy without knowing exactly what’s going on. There is the potential for quite a lot of head scratching and a perplexed face when reading through the songs. The language changes often and it can be hard to find your way. The more songs I read, the more I enjoyed the poem, resigned to the fact that a great many references were lost on me.

If I were to give this book an emoji rating it would be: confused face, smiling face. 


Sharon Bryan read From a Garden in the Antipodes by Ursula Bethell.

I first read From a Garden in the Antipodes several years ago, and I absolutely fell in love with Mary Ursula Bethell's poetry. I've read several of her other works since then, but I come back to Urusla's Garden every few years or so. It stands up well to re-reading, and it's a lovely place to visit. Every time I walk into a second hand book-shop I keep an eye open for a copy to have for my very own, but unfortunately I haven't been in luck (and the second hand copies that I've found online are too highly priced for my liking).

So I keep borrowing the Collected Poems (820NZ BET 1B COL) from the JCU Library to revisit Ursula's Garden.

From a Garden in the Antipodes was Bethell's first collection of poems, and it pulls together a number of poems that were written as letters to friends. Bethell had moved to back to New Zealand after living for a time in England (where she was born, her family having emigrated to NZ when she was a child), and was making a fist of creating a garden on the other side of the world. The poems really do have a "friendly" quality to them - it feels like you are checking back in with an old friend who moved away.

It's oddly wonderful to hear about whether or not she wants to order shrubs from her gardening catalogue ("Come, let me read this catalogue of shrubs,/ And choose out those with lovely-sounding names"), or how her cat is squashing the plants during his night-time roistering (O Michael, you are at once the enemy/ And the chief ornament of our garden").

The poems are all reasonably short, but they carry you away to sit in Ursula's garden for a moment - and I find reading them has the same soul-nourishing effect as sitting in a real garden often has.

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