The Poetry Exchange celebrates poems as friends. Through conversations, gift recordings and our podcast we capture the insights of readers and share them.
The Poetry Exchange celebrates poems as friends. Through conversations, gift recordings and our podcast we capture the insights of readers and share them.
Vers De Société by Philip Larkin - Poem as Friend to Stephen
In this episode, Stephen Beresford talks about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Vers De Société' by Philip Larkin.
Stephen visited The Poetry Exchange in London. He is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Michael Shaeffer and Fiona Bennett.
Stephen is a highly acclaimed Film, TV and Theatre Writer. Find out more about Stephen and his work here:
Michael reads the gift reading of 'Vers De Société'.
My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
You’d care to join us? In a pig’s arse, friend.
Day comes to an end.
The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed.
And so Dear Warlock-Williams: I’m afraid—
Funny how hard it is to be alone.
I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
Who’s read nothing but Which;
Just think of all the spare time that has flown
Straight into nothingness by being filled
With forks and faces, rather than repaid
Under a lamp, hearing the noise of wind,
And looking out to see the moon thinned
To an air-sharpened blade.
A life, and yet how sternly it’s instilled
All solitude is selfish. No one now
Believes the hermit with his gown and dish
Talking to God (who’s gone too); the big wish
Is to have people nice to you, which means
Doing it back somehow.
Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines
Playing at goodness, like going to church?
Something that bores us, something we don’t do well
(Asking that ass about his fool research)
But try to feel, because, however crudely,
It shows us what should be?
Too subtle, that. Too decent, too. Oh hell,
Only the young can be alone freely.
The time is shorter now for company,
And sitting by a lamp more often brings
Not peace, but other things.
Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course—
Philip Larkin, "Vers de Société" from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.
Photo Credit: Rory Campbell Photography
Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas - Poem as Friend to Adrian
In this episode, Adrian talks about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Fern Hill' by Dylan Thomas.
Adrian joined The Poetry Exchange online, via video call, for one of our 'Lockdown Exchanges' that took place as part of City of Literature - a week of conversations, reflections and connections presented by the National Centre for Writing and Norfolk & Norwich Festival.
Many thanks to our partners, the National Centre for Writing and Norfolk & Norwich Festival for enabling this to go ahead in spite of the physical restrictions. Do visit them for more inspiration:
Our thanks also to David Higham Associates and Dylan Thomas Trust for permission to share the poem. For more information about the poet and his work, please visit:
Adrian is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Michal Shaeffer.
Michael reads the gift reading of 'Fern Hill'.
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Remember By Joy Harjo - Poem As Friend To Rachel Eliza Griffiths
In this episode, Rachel Eliza Griffiths talks about the poem that has been a friend to her – Remember by Joy Harjo.
Rachel Eliza visited The Poetry Exchange 'long distance' in an online conversation between London and New York. She is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Michael Shaeffer and Fiona Bennett.
We are very grateful to Rachel Eliza for allowing us to share the conversation with you, and to Joy Harjo and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. for their permission to feature 'Remember.'
'Remember' can be found in She Had Some Horses: Poems by Joy Harjo, 2008, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. www.wwnorton.co.uk/books/9780393334210-she-had-some-horses
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a multi-media artist, poet, and writer.
Her literary and visual work has been widely published in journals, magazines, anthologies, and periodicals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Best American Poetry 2020, and many others.
Griffiths is widely known for her literary portraits, fine art photography, and lyric videos. Her extensive video project, P.O.P (Poets on Poetry), an intimate series of micro-interviews, gathers nearly 100 contemporary poets in conversation, and is featured online by the Academy of American Poets.
Griffiths is the author of Miracle Arrhythmia (Willow Books 2010) and The Requited Distance (The Sheep Meadow Press 2011). Griffiths’ third collection of poetry, Mule & Pear (New Issues Poetry & Prose 2011), was selected for the 2012 Inaugural Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Her most recent full-length poetry collection is Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books 2015), which was a finalist for the 2015 Balcones Poetry Prize and the 2016 Phillis Wheatley Book Award in Poetry.
Her forthcoming collection of poetry and photography, Seeing the Body, will be published by W. W. Norton in June 2020.
Remember is read by Fiona Bennett.
by Joy Harjo
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
'Remember' reproduced from She Had Some Horses: Poems by Joy Harjo (c) 2008 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
'Then or Now' - Adrienne Rich - a poem-score for Ballet Black
We are delighted to share a special edition of The Poetry Exchange podcast featuring the score from Ballet Black’s new piece, Then or Now, choreographed by William Tuckett, which would have had its world premiere at The Barbican, London, on March 26th.
The score features poems by Adrienne Rich and the music of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704), played by solo violinist Daniel Pioro. Poetry Direction is by The Poetry Exchange’s Founder and Director, Fiona Bennett and poems are voiced by Natasha Gordon, Michael Shaeffer and Hafsah Annela Bashir.
It is with great thanks to the Adrienne Rich Estate and all the artists involved that we are able to share this unique collaboration between Ballet Black and The Poetry Exchange with you as a prelude to the full experience, once the ballet can be performed.
Adrienne Rich is one of the greatest modern poets of our time. She was a tireless activist and ambassador for human rights and social justice. She was an active force in the Civil Rights Movement, a leading voice in the Feminist Movement and spoke out against all forms of oppression and injustice. Her exemplary approach to political activism, her scholarly and artistic integrity make her a highly relevant and vital source of inspiration for our time. She died in 2012 and her legacy is a defining force in the ongoing development of poetry.
You can find out more about the life and work of Adrienne Rich through the Adrienne Rich Literary Trust here: www.adriennerich.net
We are grateful to The Adrienne Rich Literary Trust and W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. for granting us permission to feature poems from Dark Fields of the Republic. Dark Fields of the Republic is published by W.W. Norton and available here: www.wwnorton.co.uk/books/9780393313987-dark-fields-of-the-republic.
Many thanks to the wonderful Ballet Black and The Barbican. Find out more about their work below, and to stay updated with rescheduled ‘Then or Now’ performance dates:
The extraordinary work of violinist, Daniel Pioro can also be found here: www.danielpioro.com/
Below is ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ by Adrienne Rich - the opening poem from 'Dark Fields' of the Republic, and this episode.
Photo credit: Camilla Greenwell and Ballet Black
What Kind of Times Are These
By Adrienne Rich
There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I already know who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.
Ashes Of Life By Edna St. Vincent Millay - Poem As Friend To Laura
In this episode, Laura Wade talks about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'Ashes of Life' by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
We are very grateful to Laura for allowing us to share this conversation with you.
Laura visited The Poetry Exchange in London. She is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Michael Shaeffer and Fiona Bennett.
Laura Wade is an Olivier award winning playwright and screenwriter. Her National Theatre play HOME, I’M DARLING premiered at Theatr Clwyd in 2018 before playing at the National, where it received rave reviews. HOME, I’M DARLING won the award for Best New Comedy at the 2019 Oliviers.
Laura’s screenplay THE RIOT CLUB, an adaptation of her acclaimed 2010 stage play POSH, opened in cinemas on September 2014. The film is directed by Lone Scherfig and stars Max Irons, Sam Claflin and Douglas Booth.
Laura has also adapted Sarah Waters’ TIPPING THE VELVET for the stage and in 2018, Laura adapted Jane Austen’s unfinished novel THE WATSONS for the stage for Chichester Festival Theatre.
You can find out more about Edna St. Vincent Millay and read more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/edna-st-vincent-millay
Ashes of Life is read by Laura at the beginning of the conversation, with the gift reading of the poem by Fiona Bennett.
Ashes of Life
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will, — and would that night were here!
But ah! — to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again! — with twilight near!
Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through, —
There's little use in anything as far as I can see.
Love has gone and left me, — and the neighbors knock and borrow,
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, —
And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
There's this little street and this little house.
The Hug by Thom Gunn - Poem as Friend to Sam
In this episode, Sam talks about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'The Hug' by Thom Gunn.
Sam visited The Poetry Exchange in Manchester Central Library, as part of the celebrations of International Mother Language Day in the city.
Many thanks to our partners Manchester Poetry Library, Manchester Libraries and Manchester UNESCO City of Literature.
Sam is in conversation with The Poetry Exchange team members, Sarah Butler and Alistair Snell.
Sarah reads the gift reading of 'The Hug'.
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who'd showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.
I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
Thom Gunn, "The Hug" from The Man with Night Sweats. Copyright © 1992 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved
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