100 episodes

Readings of poems from Old English to the present.

The Poetry Voice Liam Guilar

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Readings of poems from Old English to the present.

    Jeremy Hooker's '1st of July 2016

    Jeremy Hooker's '1st of July 2016

    Jeremy Hooker. (Born 1941)

    I’m assuming this poem was written to commemorate the Hundredth Anniversary of the first day of the Somme offensive in 1916. When i was at school we learnt the statistics; 60,00 casualties, 20, 00 of them dead. In one morning, between 7.30am and “lunch time”. By the end of the battle, which got them nowhere, when the snows closed it down in November, British, Empire and Allied troops had suffered over half a million casualties. While historians might debate the significance of the battle and the actual casuality figures, (57,470 of which 19,240 died). The image of men lined up in rows and ordered to advance into machine gun fire was a dark shadow on the collective imagination, made more terrible by the fact they were fighting in a ‘war to end wars’.

    Hooker shows how effective a poem can be without the poet having to resort to distorted syntax, complex rhyme schemes or obscure allusions. The tragedy is summed up …’the old men/that we knew and the young men/we did not.’ He also deftly suggests a difference between then and now in its play on ‘divisions.’ The poem is taken from Hooker’s excellent ‘Word and Stone’ (Sheearsman 2019).

    • 33 sec
    Akhmatova's requiem (After the Lesson)

    Akhmatova's requiem (After the Lesson)

    I read the poem Requiem by Anna Akhmatova' on a previous podcast.

    Several things made this poem happen. WHile Akhmatova lived through Stalin’s times, many of the people who persecuted her are now forgotten, they are just ‘footnotes in her history’.

    I used her poem as part of a unit on poetry in translation. I would tell the story of how, when it was being written, she would write the new verses on cigarette paper. She would show them silently to her friend, who would nod when she had memorised the lines, then they would burn the paper.

    Classes often found this most moving part of her story.

    But at the end of every lesson, there’d be at least one of the printed copies of the poem left in the classroom, often dropped on the floor. Once one of the papers had a foot print on it.

    The poem first appeared in the Irish Journal , The SHOp, and was then chosen for ‘The SHOp, An Anthology of Poetry’, their ‘best of’ collection.

    • 36 sec
    Rudyard Kipling's 'The Way through the Woods'.

    Rudyard Kipling's 'The Way through the Woods'.

    Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

    If it weren’t for the rhymes, this poem feels as though it could have been written by Thomas Hardy.

    Kipling could be tub thumpingly obvious when he wanted to be, riding a steady rhythm that takes his poems close to sing song. Here rhythm and rhyme are used to contribute to the way that he suggests a mood and a place and a story and leaves them to settle into the reader’s imagination.

    • 59 sec
    Anna Akhmatova's 'Requiem'

    Anna Akhmatova's 'Requiem'

    Anna Akhmatova 1869-1966

    ‘Requiem’ is Akhmatova’s memorial for those who waited with her outside the prison in Saint Petersburg in the 1930s, hoping for news of their loved ones during ‘the terrible years of the Yezhov Terror’.

    The context of the poem is explained properly in the second section, a prose ‘By way of a preface’. Some sections have titles, others numbers.

    This translation, by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward is taken from ‘Twentieth century Russian Poetry; Silver and steel, An anthology’. Selected and Introduced by Yevgeny Yevthushenko, edited by Albert. C. Todd and Max Hayward. ( Doubleday 1993)

    • 11 min
    Patrick Kavanagh's 'Lines written on a seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin...'

    Patrick Kavanagh's 'Lines written on a seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin...'

    The full title of this poems is: 'Lines written on a seat on the Grand Canal , Dublin, 'Erected to the memory of Mrs Dermot O'Brien'
    It belongs to a cluster he wrote later in life, and his friends took him at his word, clubbed together and made him a memorial which you can see in the picture.

    One cold December day in Dublin, before google maps, I set out to walk to the canal to find the statue. I found it, and Raglan Road which is near by, but that bench seat is metal. You have to be dedicated to sit there long enough to have your photo taken when the temperature is hovering round zero. .
    You can also hear a reading of 'Kerr's Ass', one of his best poems, on the poetry voice podcast.

    • 59 sec
    Taliesin's 'Lament for Owain Ap Urien'

    Taliesin's 'Lament for Owain Ap Urien'

    Taliesin (6th Century)

    There are at least two Taliesin’s. There was an Historical bard who composed poetry in the courts of ‘Welsh Princes’ in the Sixth Century, a contemporary of Aneirin. There was also a character from a folk tale, who gained knowledge and inspiration from a cauldron he was stirring, and after many transformations was born again as a miraculous child who could speak as soon as he was born and went on to be a magician and prophet as well as a poet.

    The Book of Taliesin is one of those precious medieval manuscripts which are worth their weight in Guttenberg bibles. It dates from the 14th century, and the two figures have obviously merged. Brilliant scholars have spent their careers trying to untangle the poems, trying to date which may belong to the Historical Bard and which have been attributed to him. Most seem to think this one might be ‘authentic’.

    It’s a marvellous controlled howl of a poem that belongs to a very different world. “King’ and ‘Prince’ dignify men who spent their lives raiding and being raided by their neighbours. Enthusiastic cattle thieves. It’s also a world where poetry served a very public function and the poet was an honoured member of the court.

    Taliesin laments the dead Owein by celebrating highlights from his ruthless destruction of his enemies. The highest praise possible is to state that he was a generous, ferocious killer. The line 'Medel galon geueilat’ could be translated almost literally as ‘A reaper of foes, a predator’.

    This translation is taken from The Book of Taliesin, Poems of Warfare and Praise in an Enchanted Britain, translated by Gwyneth Lewis and Rowan Williams. Penguin Classics 2020

    My pronunciation is not up to inflicting the original on an audience, but if you can, find a Welsh speaker reading the original.

    • 1 min

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Beautiful readings

Beautiful readings of interesting, well-chosen poems