Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Emily Brontë: ". . . in evening's quiet hour . . ."

Emily Jane Brontë, portrait by her brother, Branwell

My favorite novel of all time is Wuthering Heights. I can't remember how many times I've read it over the years.

However, I also love the poetry of Emily Brontë.  Her most anthologized poems being "No Coward Soul is Mine", "Remembrance" and "I Am the Only Being Whose Doom".

In her book The Brontës (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969), Phyllis Bentley has this to say:
Emily Brontë was a 'space-sweeping soul', to use her own phrase about a philosopher; her thought on life, death, immortality, imagination, liberty, deity, had a depth and a breadth of vision comparable to that of Wordsworth or Shakespeare.

It has been the fashion to speak of her as a metaphysical poet, but I prefer to call her a pantheist; she saw the universe as a whole, and her vision comprehended the lark, the woolly sheep, the snowy glen, the nature of being and God Himself as all part of one great harmony. Nor can her thought be called speculative; she writes with a majestic, almost casual, certainty. These tremendous themes, these minute observations, are both conveyed with an absolute simplicity of language; no purple patches of metaphor or simile, no elaboration of construction, no experiments with metre -- one feels Emily would have thought any such artifices contemptibly vulgar. She merely says what she means in the clearest, hardest hitting terms she can find. But if her metres are conventional and her words austere, her rhythms have a poetry so intense as to be deeply thrilling, in the most literal sense of that expression.

by Emily Brontë

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost, and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While then canst speak with such a tone!

So hopeless is the world without;
The world within I doubly prize;
Thy world, where guile, and hate, and doubt,
And cold suspicion never rise;
Where thou, and I, and Liberty,
Have undisputed sovereignty.

What matters it, that all around
Danger, and guilt, and darkness lie,
If but within our bosom’s bound
We hold a bright, untroubled sky,
Warm with ten thousand mingled rays
Of suns that know no winter days?

Reason, indeed, may oft complain
For Nature’s sad reality,
And tell the suffering heart how vain
Its cherished dreams must always be;
And Truth may rudely trample down
The flowers of Fancy, newly-blown:

But thou art ever there, to bring
The hovering vision back, and breathe
New glories o’er the blighted spring,
And call a lovelier Life from Death.
And whisper, with a voice divine,
Of real worlds, as bright as thine.

I trust not to thy phantom bliss,
Yet, still, in evening’s quiet hour,
With never-failing thankfulness,
I welcome thee, Benignant Power;
Sure solacer of human cares,
And sweeter hope, when hope despairs!

As one who has just completed a new collection of poetry, I can attest to the exhaustion writers often feel at having poured out their heart's essence. The Muse has been an infrequent visitor these past few months, and I sometimes wonder whether she will ever return on a regular basis. Emily Brontë's "To Imagination" gives me hope.



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

REVIEW: Canadian Literature: "Something new and beautiful"

Philip Miletic's review of Glad and Sorry Seasons appeared in Canadian Literature some time ago. I only learned of it today.

I love this part: Yet, the strength of Chandler’s return to these forms is more than homage, it is revision, revising the patriarchal discourse and “ownership” of older poetic forms and highlighting the constraints and criticisms of women poets who are consistently left out of the “canon”.

Finally, someone who "got" my poem, "Beach Dogs"!

You can read it HERE in its entirety.

Blurb HERE.

He concludes his review of the three books as follows:

Each of the poets looks towards old forms, whether these forms be language itself, poetic forms, or the forms of work. They see in the old a reflection, and, as Winger writes, “the reflection there / might tell me something new.” The old hat, the old cliché, the old form carries the potential to reflect on the present, and through that process of reflection something new and beautiful is created.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

REVIEW: Richard Wakefield on Lines of Flight

Lines of Flight by Catherine Chandler

Lines of Flight
by Catherine Chandler
Able Muse Press 2011
ISBN:  978-0-9865338-3-9
Pages: 98
Reviewed by: Richard Wakefield

Whatever else our brains do – or our hearts, if you prefer a more figurative view – they seem as ineluctably dedicated to reading meaning into the world as our lungs are evolved to separate oxygen from air. It’s as natural as breathing, this process of seeing things in the fourth dimension of significance. Call it the confluence of the outer and inner worlds.

Catherine Chandler is one of the skilled and discerning few who help us navigate the resulting stream. In place of the fragments of meaning glimpsed by most of us most of the time, Chandler gives us a coherent view of the course along which we speed. The view sometimes enlarges us, makes us more at home in the world, and at others forces us to look a little more soberly at the vast and frightening void toward which we are hurled.

In “66” she contemplates a coincidence of toponymy: “Along Route 66, connected by / a six-mile stretch of road, two towns align; / one bears his family name, the other mine.” A charming bit of chance, it seems, a bit of geography that reflects an emotional connection, the kind of thing we might notice and recall as an anecdote. But Chandler traces its meaning far beyond the trivial. “The decommissioned highway’s gone to hell,” she continues, and the fading connection between the two towns becomes a metaphor for the complex ambivalence of human relationships. The road connects; the road separates. We find that we and those we love inhabit “universes spinning parallel.” That may not be the meaning we wanted, but it’s more true to experience than the facile sentimentality we might have preferred.

Someone noted once that poetry gives us tools for living. A poem like “66” does exactly that, nudging us out of complacency and into an awareness that will better serve us. The poem acknowledges the separateness that we work so hard to ignore, and yet, paradoxically, it makes us a little less alone by assuring us that we are not alone in our loneliness.

What better occasion for sentimentality than Mother’s Day? And what can be more oppressive than the narrow, mass-produced emotions that holidays can impose on us? In “Mother’s Day” Chandler opens a woman’s heart to reveal wounds that the woman herself cannot express; in fact, as she weeps, the tyranny of expectations makes others blind to the real meaning of her tears. There must be no more profound loneliness than that. We understand the woman better than those closest to her, and perhaps we understand ourselves and our own loved ones a little better for it.

“Supernova” begins by asking why we should “dull” the beauty of nature with “a lapse to metaphor / or scientific fact, or myth.” A telling word, that “lapse.” Our need to analyze, to probe beneath the surface of beauty, can feel like a fall from grace (perhaps it was that very need that drove Eve to eat the forbidden fruit which, after all, was from the tree of knowledge). At the conclusion of three stanzas that seem to celebrate the “burnished afternoon” in preference to what she will later call “logic, reason, purpose, cause,” the poet asks, “Why resort to words / when hush will do?” The answer comes in the second half of the poem, where we learn that the speaker has come to scatter a loved-one’s ashes: “…I find / it’s easier to release you, as I must, / less harrowing by far, / knowing that all human dust / was once a star.” How do we live through loss? The Book of Common Prayer, with its “dust to dust,” assures us that our senses get it wrong when we see mortal remains as mere elemental dust; science, teaching us that all elements had their origins in the fires of supernovas, assures us that there is nothing “mere” about dust. Either way, our consolation – dare we say our salvation? — comes in our ability to see more than motes.

A big part of a writer’s inner life is, of course, literature. It is no surprise to find that the meaning Chandler finds in the world is informed in part by her wide reading, just as there’s no doubt that her own poetry will become part of many readers’ inner lives. The epigraph to “Journey” comes from Robert Frost’s “Hyla Brook,” a poem about how memory conditions our view of what we care deeply about: “We love the things we love for what they are.” What they are, inevitably, is a palimpsest, one impression written over another and over yet another – the sum of our experience of them.

“New Hampshire Interval” pays explicit homage to Frost. At the farm to which Frost returned after his desperate (and successful) quest for recognition in England, Chandler sees the tangible objects, “his Morris chair,” “the woodstove,” “the frosted trees” he tapped for maple sugar (delightful trope, that “frosted"), and she sees them all transformed by her knowledge of Frost’s life and work, hears him “speaking to God about the world’s despair.” Just as Frost himself wrote meaning into the landscape, Chandler writes another page of her own, and for us.

“Vermont Passage” also transforms a landscape, describing the profuse flowers of summer that linger in memory after summer gives way to cold: “I breathe in honeyed memories of clover, / and winter, for a while at least, is over.” We live in two worlds, or many worlds: the literal “bitter night” of winter, along with our memory of what was, which is also our expectation of what will be. Chandler gives texture to the flat world. If there’s any truth to the cliché that poetry reminds us to stop and smell the roses, Chandler’s poetry reminds us that we can also revel in the smells and sights that linger in our recollection. It is the remembered roses we smell most poignantly.

“Lines of Flight” ranges far and deeply. The poems display a craft that is all the more impressive for the way it never distracts us from the scene but, rather, adds a dimension of music and, yes, memorable texture.

Catherine Chandler, an American poet born in New York City and raised in Pennsylvania, completed her graduate studies at McGill University in Montreal, where she has lectured in the Department of Languages and Translation for many years. She is the winner of the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award. Her poems, interviews, essays and English translations from French and Spanish have been published in numerous journals and anthologies in the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia.