Heart Starter, 2015: Notes to the poems

Heart Starter, 2015: Notes to the Poems

(See many photos from the Sydney launch on 4 July 2015 here: http://johntranter.net/?page_id=9664)

Venue and sometimes date of publication is listed herein.

The poems in Section One, from ‘Algernon Limattsia’ (p.13) to ‘That Greenish Flower’ (p.72), are loosely derived from some poems in The Best of the Best American Poetry (BBAP), 25th Anniversary Edition, Robert Pinsky, Editor; David Lehman, Series Editor. Scribner: New York, 2013.

The poems in Section Two, from ‘Variations on a Theme of E.P. (Elias Pfenning)’ (p.75) to ‘Fly’ (p.97), are loosely derived from some poems in The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of ‘Poetry’ Magazine (TOD). Don Share and Christian Wiman, Eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

The poems from ‘Abjure’ (p.122) to ‘The Consonants’ (p.136) are sonnets, mostly though not always rhymed.

Page 13, ‘Algernon Limattsia’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Terminal Nostalgia’ by Sherman Alexie (who identifies as a Native American), The Best of the Best American Poetry (BBAP), page 1. The title is an anagram of ‘Terminal Nostalgia’. Published in New American Writing No 32, 2014.

p.14, ‘My Sister’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Soft Money’ by Rae Armantrout. BBAP 23. Published in Vlak magazine (contemporary poetics and the arts), Prague, 2015.

p.15, ‘The Puma in the Duma’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Wakefulness’ by John Ashbery. BBAP 25. Published in Australian Book Review, October 2014.

p.16, ‘Robed With the Cloth of Gold’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Bored’ by Margaret Atwood. ‘Bored’ is an anagram of ‘Robed’. BBAP 27.

p.18, ‘In Junction Junction’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Injunction’ by Frank Bidart. BBAP 29.

p.19, ‘Intuition’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Feminine Intuition’ by Stephanie Brown. BBAP 30.

p.20, ‘The Animals’ began as a draft using some of the end-words of ‘The Life of Towns’ by Anne Carson. BBAP 34.

p.23, ‘Three Lemons’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Three Oranges’ by Charles Bukowski. BBAP 32. Published in Southerly magazine, 2015.

p.24, ‘Small Town’ began as a draft using some of the end-words of ‘The Life of Towns’ by Anne Carson. BBAP 34.

p.26, ‘A Pompeiian Aristocrat Considers the Future’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Self-portrait as Four Styles of Pompeian Wall Painting’ by Henri Cole. BBAP 47. Published in Southerly magazine, 2015.

p.28, ‘Family’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘En Famille’ by Robert Creeley. BBAP 52.

p.30, ‘God Goes to Work’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Dharma’ by Billy Collins, BBAP 50.

p.31, ‘A Nipping and an Eager Air’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘You Art A Scholar, Horatio, Speak To It’ by Olena Kalytiak Davis. BBAP 55.

p.32, ‘Regeneration’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Our Generation’ by Carl Dennis. BBAP 58.

p.33, ‘Bare Skin’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Skin’ by Susan Dickman. BBAP 60.

p.34, ‘The Parkas’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Desire’ by Stephen Dobyns. BBAP 62. Published in Eleven Eleven at the MFA Program, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, November 2014.

p.36, ‘Doting on Blubber’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Difference’ by Mark Doty. BBAP 65. Published in New American Writing No 32, 2014.

p.38, ‘All Souls College’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘All Souls’’ by Rita Dove. BBAP 68.

p.39, ‘A Man and a Woman’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘The Imagined’ by Stephen Dunn. BBAP 72. Published in Oz-Burp, Donnithorne Street Press, Melbourne Vic 2014.

p.40, ‘How it Starts’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘How it Will End’ by Denise Duhamel. BBAP 70.

p.42, ‘Never Safe’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Safe’ by Linda Gregerson. BBAP 84.

p.45, ‘Congress, the State of Mind’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Powers of Congress’ by Alice Fulton. BBAP 73.

p.46, ‘Fernando’s Hideaway’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Salutations to Fernando Pessoa’ by Allen Ginsberg. BBAP 74.

p.48, ‘Pesca Land’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Landscape’ by Louise Glück. BBAP 76. The title is an anagram of ‘Landscape’.

p.50, The Manifest’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Manifest Destiny’ by Jorie Graham. BBAP 78.

p.55, ‘Borodino’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘The War’ by Linda Gregg. BBAP 88.

p.56, ‘American Prophecy’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Prophecy’ by Donald Hall. BBAP 91.

p.60, ‘Boston Café’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Cafeteria in Boston’ by Thom Gunn. BBAP 89.

p.61, ‘Picking on the Oil Company’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Having Intended to Merely Pick on an Oil Company, the Poem Goes Awry’ by Bob Hicok. BBAP 108. Published in Vlak magazine (contemporary poetics and the arts), Prague, 2015.

p.62, ‘One Night in Nam’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Facing It’ by Yusef Komunyakaa. BBAP 132. Published in Vlak magazine (contemporary poetics and the arts), Prague, 2015.

p.63, ‘Baby Weather’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Past all Understanding’ by Heather McHugh. BBAP 146.

p.64, ‘Engagement Ring Cycle’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘The ‘Ring’ Cycle’ by James Merrill. BBAP 152.

p.67, ‘The Animal Generation’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘There will be Animals’ by Thylias Moss. BBAP 159.

p.68, ‘Hateful Mail’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Hate Mail’ by Carol Muskie-Dukes. BBAP 167.

p.69, ‘Q and A’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Q’ by Sharon Olds. BBAP 169. Published in Vlak magazine (contemporary poetics and the arts), Prague, 2015.

p.70, ‘At Arles’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘The Window at Arles’ by Megan O’Rourke. BBAP 170.

p.72, ‘That Greenish Flower’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Asphodel’ by Alicia E. Stallings. BBAP 211. Published in Vlak magazine (contemporary poetics and the arts), Prague, 2015.

p.75, ‘Variations on a Theme of E.P. (Elias Pfenning)’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘In a Station of the Metro’ by Ezra Pound. The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of ‘Poetry’ Magazine (TOD) page 21.

p.76, ‘The Linden Tree’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Anti-Romantic’ by Marie Ponsot. TOD 23. Published in Overland, Melbourne, 2015.

p.77, ‘Young Folly’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘The Young’ by Roddy Lumsden. TOD 24. Published in Overland, Melbourne, 2015.

p.78, ‘The Tyrant Eros’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Eros Turannos’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson. TOD 27.

p.80, ‘Dog’s Life’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘It was a Bichon Frisé’s Life…’ by Ange Mlinko. TOD 29.

p.81, ‘The Search’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Song’ by Muriel Rukeyser. TOD 30.

p.82, ‘Your Life’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘The Hereafter’ by August Kleinzahler. TOD 31. Published in Australian Book Review in 2015.

p.84, ‘Look at my Parents, Will You?’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Look’ by Laura Kasischke. TOD 39.

p.85, ‘One Variation’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘from ‘Eight Variations’’ by Weldon Kees. TOD 40.

p.86, ‘Older than Forty’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Men at Forty’ by Donald Justice. TOD 54.

p.87, ‘Man With Banjo’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘O Daedalus, Fly Away Home’ by Robert Hayden. TOD 83.

p.88, ‘Me and My Landscape’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘My Chosen Landscape’ by P.K. Page. TOD 59.

p.90. ‘Et in California Ego’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘On visiting a Borrowed Country House in Arcadia’, by Alicia E. Stallings. TOD 48. Published in Cordite magazine in November 2014.

p.92. ‘In Plato’s Bed’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘In the Naked Bed, in Plato’s Cave’ by Delmore Schwartz. TOD 52.

p.93. ‘Show Us at the Ming Place’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Mingus at the Showplace’ by William Matthews. TOD 53.

p.94. ‘Meditation at Breakfast’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Meditation on a Grapefruit’ by Craig Arnold. TOD 57. Published in Oz-Burp, Donnithorne Street Press, Melbourne Vic 2014.

p.95. ‘Coffee at the Palace of the Great Hoon’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘Tea at the Palaz of Hoon’ by Wallace Stevens. TOD 63. Published in Cordite Poetry Review in 2014, at http://cordite.org.au/

p.96. ‘Tomb in the Rain’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘At Melville’s Tomb’ by Hart Crane. TOD 82.

p.97. ‘Fly’ began as a draft using the end-words of ‘The Lie’ by Don Paterson. TOD 146.

p.101, ‘Cold Spring’ is a ‘quintet’ derived from Richard Yates, Cold Spring Harbour. New York, 1986: Dell Publishing. The form ‘quintet’ was invented by myself, and consists of taking a novel and typing out five of the author’s sentences: the first and last ones, and any three other sentences, usually spaced more or less evenly through the text. Lineation is added to form a poem.

p.101, ‘Power’ is a quintet derived from Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory.

p.102, ‘Quiet’ is a quintet derived from Graham Greene, The Quiet American.

p.102, ‘Heaven’ is a quintet derived from Graham Greene, Travels with My Aunt.

p.103, ‘The Rats’ is a quintet derived from A.J.A. Symons, The Quest for Corvo.

p.103, ‘Honor’ is a quintet derived from Graham Greene, The Honorary Consul.

p.104, ‘Variations and Reverse Mazurka’ is based on the eight ten-line rhymed stanzas of John Keats’ 1819 poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. The poem begins with a line from Keneth Koch’s poem ‘Fresh Air’ quoted by Stephen Burt in an article titled ‘Close Calls with Nonsense: how to read, and perhaps enjoy, very new poetry’ as follows: ‘Despite the achievements of very famous modernists (T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams), by the mid-1950s most American poetry seemed predictable, passé; its elaborate stanzas reflected the safety of professors’ lives. (Kenneth Koch epitomized and parodied their output in one line: “This Connecticut landscape would have pleased Vermeer.”)’. Published in Island magazine, Hobart, 2015.

p.107, ‘Five Egyptian Pieces’ are all derived from the official English translation of a speech by French Foreign Minister D. De Villepin in Cairo, Egypt, 2003 (Speech by Mr Domenique de Villepin, Minister of Foreign Affairs for France, Cairo, 12 April 2003: ‘The Mediterranean World and the Middle East’.) In the case of each poem, most of the words of M Villepin’s speech were removed, and the remainder, in the same order as they appeared in the speech, made up the poem. All five poems were first published in the magazine la Traductière, Paris, in June 2007, as part of the thirtieth Festival Franco-Anglais de Poésie. Also published in Cordite Poetry Review, August no. 47 2014.

p.109, ‘Least Said’ is a reply to a poem by John Ashbery (‘Feel Free’) published in the November 2011 issue of Australian Book Review; the two poems were published side by side. The last word of each line of John Ashbery’s poem is used as the last word of each line of ‘Least Said’. The title is a completion of the title of John Ashbery’s earlier poem ‘Soonest Mended’; together they make up the folk saying ‘Least said, soonest mended.’ ‘Joy H. Breshan’ is an anagram of ‘John Ashbery’.

p.110, ‘Manacles’ was written in Cambridge UK.

p.113, ‘Rubies’ is a poem in free verse. ‘rubes’: country bumpkins, ‘della bosco’, ‘from the woods, woodlands’ (Italian). Cf. English ‘bosky’, wooded.

p.114, ‘Four Variations on a Poem by Pam Brown.’ Each sonnet consists of two different Petrachan quartets with a non-standard rhymed sestet.

p.117, ‘Adjectivitis at Lagunitas’ is a version of a poem by US poet Robert Hass, ‘Meditations at Lagunitas’, 1987. First published in Van Gogh’s Ear, 2008, ed. Dawn-Michelle Baude.

p.118, ‘Loxodrome’ is dedicated to poet Ken Bolton.      ¶ the sunset / says something lurid against a shop window] refers to ‘the sky to the west was glowing / like the windows full of Italian furniture / & thanks to its low rent coloratura / or a style suggesting its own collapse / for a moment I felt le sang des poètes’, John Forbes, ‘Serenade’.     ¶ Sir Francis Bacon] ‘…in March 1626, driving one day near Highgate [a district to the north of London] and deciding on impulse to discover whether snow would delay the process of putrefaction, he stopped his carriage, purchased a hen, and stuffed it with snow. He was seized with a sudden chill, which brought on bronchitis, and he died at the Earl of Arundel’s house nearby on April 9, 1626.’ – Encyclopedia Britannica 2004 Deluxe Edition CD.      ¶ Charlie Parker] Among various and sometimes dubious explanations of jazz musician Charlie Parker’s nickname ‘Yardbird’ is the following: ‘Parker’s famous nickname, “Yardbird”, came from an incident when the band’s bus ran over a chicken. The bus driver stopped and Parker retrieved the bird and later had it cooked by his landlady.’ <http://charlie-parker0.tripod.com/id12.html>.      ¶ Title] loxodrome [back-formation from loxodromic, from Gk. loxos, oblique + dromos, course] a rhumb line, a curve that appears to be a straight line on a Mercator-projection map, an imaginary line on the earth’s surface cutting all meridians at the same angle, used as the standard method of plotting a ship’s course on a chart. First published in Rabbit magazine number 11, Australia, early 2014.

p.122, ‘Abjure’ is an unrhymed sonnet; that is, a free verse poem of fourteen lines. First published in The Australian, June 2012.

p.122, ‘Opus Plus’ is a free-verse sonnet with truncated lines.

p.123, ‘Poem Beginning With a Line by Bunting’ is a Shakespearean sonnet. See later extensive note on Bunting. Alert readers will have noted that some of the sonnets following are loosely based on the concept behind Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Voyelles’ sonnet dealing with the supposed colours of the vowels (un sonnet en alexandrins d’Arthur Rimbaud écrit à Paris dans les premiers mois de 1872, Wikipedia), though with a more variegated palette. It should be noted here that Rimbaud chose to sequence the vowels AEIUO, not AEIOU as it usually is in French and in English, perhaps to coincide with the Biblical quote ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’. Metrically, most of the sonnets in this book are loosely in iambic pentameter.

p.123, ‘The Year my Shadow Pagoda Lost its Savage Home’ a free verse sonnet which uses all the words that Australian poet Pam Brown claimed (in 2013) should never be used in a poem or book title: pagoda, shadow, year, lost, savage, home, miracle, archaeology, unsung, paradise, paradox, dark, heroes. Published in Intertia Magazine, USA.

p.124, ‘The Hairdresser’ is a Spencerian sonnet, a form invented by English poet Edmund Spenser as an outgrowth of the nine-line stanza pattern he used in his book-length poem ‘The Faerie Queene’ (a b a b b c b c c), and has the pattern a b a b b c b c c d c d e e. First published in Steamer, Australia, June 2013.

p.124, ‘The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover’ follows the rhyme scheme and (roughly) the metrical scheme of Pushkin’s ‘Onegin’ sonnet form, of which Wikipedia says is ‘the verse form popularized (or invented) by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin through his novel in verse Eugene Onegin. The work was mostly written in verses of iambic tetrameter with the rhyme scheme a B a B c c D D e F F e G G, where the lowercase letters represent feminine endings (i.e., with an additional unstressed syllable) and the uppercase representing masculine ending (i.e. stressed on the final syllable).’ The supposition that J. Edgar Hoover was secretly a cross-dresser or was gay (or both) has a weird aptness, but it is probably untrue. Line 9: couch and fescue] two varieties of lawn grass. Couch is pronounced ‘cooch’. First published in The Australian, February 2012. Published in The Battersea Review, London, ed. Ben Mazer, July 2013. Published on The Best American Poetry blog at http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.125, ‘Poem Beginning with a line by John Anderson’ is a Shakespearean sonnet. John Anderson was an Australian poet, 1948–1997. The poem was written while listening to a paper on his poetry given by Ella O’Keefe at the University of Auckland in March 2012.     ¶ Jindyworobaks] ‘The Jindyworobak Movement was a nationalistic Australian literary movement whose white members sought to promote Indigenous Australian ideas and customs, particularly in poetry. They were active from the 1930s to around the 1950s. The movement intended to combat the influx of “alien” culture, which was threatening local art.’ – Wikipedia. Published in The Melbourne Age, 2012. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.125, ‘Postcard From Ischia’ follows the rhyme scheme of the Onegin sonnet. Published in Southerly magazine in 2012.

p.126, ‘Hark’ This poem is in a rhyme scheme of my own invention – let’s call it the Tranterian sonnet – rhyming a b a c b d c e d f e g f g. It uses phrases taken from the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper during August 2013, phrases that were occasionally modified. Published in Rabbit magazine in 2013.

p.126, ‘The Creature’ is another Tranterian sonnet. I had long wished to use the bilingual rhyme ‘Nietzsche / creature’.

p.127, ‘Hollywood Story’ is another Tranterian sonnet.

p.127, ‘Sex and Money’ is a Shakespearean sonnet.

p.128, ‘Mr Hyde’. ‘On his Tod’ is Cockney rhyming slang for ‘On his Tod Malone’, ‘on his own’. Published in Otoliths magazine in 2013.

p.128, ‘Heroic Story’ is a Tranterian sonnet. Published in the Harvard Review, 2013. Published on The Best American Poetry blog at http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.129, ‘Poem Beginning with a Line by Kenneth Koch’ is a Shakespearean sonnet which begins with the same line from Koch’s poem ‘Fresh Air’ used in ‘Variations and Reverse Mazurka’ on page 104. Published in Mascara magazine in 2012.

p.129, ‘Another Poem Beginning with a Line by Kenneth Koch’ is in pentameter rhyming couplets, that is, heroic couplets. Published in Mascara magazine in 2012.

p.130, ‘Lost Weekend in Boca Raton’ is a sonnet crudely in the manner of US poet Wallace Stevens, and is in free verse, though in the form of a double reverse acrostic: the first letter of each line spells out the name Wallace Stevens, and the last letter of each line spells out the name in reverse order.      ¶ San Simian] ‘Publishing baron William Randolph Hearst… inspired the forlorn millionaire of [the movie] Citizen Kane—thanks to a feud with filmmaker Orson Welles. [His]most famous [home] is undoubtedly Hearst Castle, a hilltop compound constructed on oceanfront ranch land Hearst had inherited from his mother near San Simeon, Calif. Architect Julia Morgan […] was enlisted to design the 90,000-square-foot compound. Once complete, the sprawling personal palace contained 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 entertaining rooms, indoor and outdoor tiled swimming pools, tennis courts, a private movie theater, an airfield, the world’s largest private zoo, and 127 acres of gardens. Constructed over a period of nearly thirty years, from 1919 to 1947, and never truly completed, the extravagant private home cost Hearst upwards of $500M in today’s dollars. The Hearst Corporation donated the estate to the state of California, which now operates it as a museum.’ [From: http://curbed.com/tags/hearst-castle] Published in Southerly magazine in 2014.

p.130, ‘747 Sonnet’ I believe Pam Brown named this type of sonnet as the kind of poem written by an English Department academic scholar on the flight home from a sabbatical break ‘overseas’, that is, anywhere outside of Australia. In fact this poem was written in a Boeing 747 passenger jet en route from Sydney to Los Angeles. It uses the rhyme scheme of the Shakespearean sonnet, though the acute reader may note that lines 9 and 11 fail to rhyme. Published in the Melbourne Age, 2013. Published in the Battersea Review London in 2013. Published as a broadside poem by Desmond Kon at Squircle Press in Singapore in 2013. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.131, ‘Spork’ is a Petrachian sonnet, type 1.

p.131, ‘Nitrile’ begins as a Shakespearean sonnet, and after the octet utilises a Petrachan sestet. Published in Southerly magazine in 2013; also in Battersea Review London in 2013.

p.132, ‘Dental Adhesive’ is a Tranterian sonnet. Published in the Melborne Age, 2015.

p.132, ‘Plum Tree’ uses the rhyme scheme of Rimbaud’s ‘Voyelles’ sonnet: a b b a b a a b c c d e e d. The conceit of the ornamental plum tree’s marital colour change is taken from a poem by New Zealand writer Janet Frame.

p.133, ‘Tasman Sonnet’ has a modified Petrarchan octet with a Petrarchan sestet. Published in the Times Literary Supplement in June 2013. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.133, ‘Mouton Cadet’ uses the rhyme scheme of Rimbaud’s ‘Voyelles’ sonnet. Published in the Times Literary Supplement in June 2013.

p.134, ‘Crowded Hour’, rhyme scheme ditto. Published in the Best Australian Poems anthology in 2013. Published in the Times Literary Supplement in June 2013. Published on The Best American Poetry blog at http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.134, ‘Detour’, rhyme scheme ditto. Published in The Australian 2013. Published in the Battersea Review London in 2013. Published on The Best American Poetry blog at http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.135, ‘Far North Farm’, rhyme scheme ditto. Published in the Times Literary Supplement in June 2013. Published on The Best American Poetry blog at http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.135, ‘The Good Ship Lollipop’, rhyme scheme ditto. Published in the North-East Review Boston in 2013.

p.136, ‘Weasels’ is a Petrachan sonnet type 1. Published in the North-East Review Boston in 2013.

p.136, ‘The Consonants’ has the rhyme scheme of Onegin sonnet. Published in the Best Australian Poems anthology in 2013. Published in Australian Book Review, 2013. Published on The Best American Poetry blog at http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/. Published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013.

p.137, ‘Fashion’ is a rhyming couplet with truncated lines. Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, September 2012.

Bunting: The sonnet titled ‘Poem Beginning With a Line by Bunting’ (page 123) was first published in the Melbourne Age on 3 March 2012, and later published in the chapbook Ten Sonnets, Vagabond Press, Sydney and Tokyo, September 2013. Like many of Shakespeare’s sonnets, on which it is modelled, it’s obscure, and for that it requires a note: my apologies.

The focus of the poem is British poet Basil Bunting, 1900-1985. He was born in Northumberland in Northern England, and developed non-conformist Quaker beliefs, a thick Northern brogue and a Northerner’s distrust of ‘southrons’ (English people from the south of the North.) He spent a traumatic year in prison in 1918 as a conscientious objector, and later travelled widely. Bunting’s poetry began to show the influence of Ezra Pound, whom he had befriended in the 1920s. He visited Pound in Rapallo, Italy, and later settled there with his family from 1931 to 1933.

During World War II, Bunting served in British Military Intelligence in Persia under cover of working as a journalist for The Times, and after the war he continued to serve on the British Embassy staff in Tehran until he was expelled by Muhammad Mussadegh (or Mossadeq) in 1952. He was active in stirring up mob violence and demonstrations against Mossadeq, who had been elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1951 by the Parliament of Iran by a democratic vote of 79 to 12.

Bunting was part of the plot engineered by the CIA, MI6 and Anglo Oil to depose Mossadeq, whose administration, as Wikipedia says, ‘introduced a wide range of social reforms but is most notable for its nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC/AIOC) (later British Petroleum or BP).’ They go on to say that he ‘was removed from power in a coup on 19 August 1953, organised and carried out by the United States CIA at the request of the British MI6.’ Soon Shah Pahlevi and the CIA-trained SAVAK, his repressive secret police force, took power.

Wikipedia says ‘The coup is widely believed to have significantly contributed to anti-American sentiment in Iran and the Middle East. The 1979 Iranian Revolution deposed the Shah and replaced the pro-Western dictatorship with the largely anti-Western Islamic Republic of Iran.’ That’s the Iran regime that, over thirty years later, was keen to build nuclear weapons and ‘wipe Israel from the map’.

Back in Newcastle, Bunting worked as a journalist on a local paper until he was rediscovered a decade later by the young poet Tom Pickard, who encouraged him to continue writing. In 1965, he published his long poem ‘Briggflatts’, named for the Quaker meeting house in Cumbria where he is now buried. Unlike all his earlier work, which met a muted response, ‘Briggflats’ enjoyed an immediate success among a new generation of writers and readers.

I go on at length about Bunting because, though he had a brief fame in the 1960s and 1970s, when many young poets came under his influence, his floruit as an important writer was relatively brief, and he has now been dead for nearly thirty years. Beside his mentor Pound, whose huge fame cast its shadow over half a century, Bunting is a minor figure with not much to say, and there are many poets today who have not heard of him.

Where can you find out more about Bunting? Jacket magazine has a brief feature on his work, as well as a link to a recording of Bunting reading a short poem, ‘At Briggflatts Meetinghouse’ (1975). The poem begins:

Boasts time mocks cumber Rome. Wren
set up his own monument.
Others watch fells dwindle, think
the sun’s fires sink.

I have borrowed from the poem’s first line for my poem. In Jacket magazine on the Internet you can read a translation of that first line into standard southern English, kindly provided by the late Richard Caddel, then a Director of the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre at Durham University:

 – ‘Boasts (noun, plural) [at which] time mocks [en]cumber Rome’; or,

 – ‘The boasts which Rome once made about its permanence now encumber it, and are mocked by the passage of time’.

 – ‘Wren’ is Sir Christopher Wren, 1632-1723, English architect and professor of astronomy at Oxford.

The second line of my poem (‘Roasts thyme scents set on ledge’) echoes the first, though in a lighter key. A translation into plain English might run like this: ‘Roasts (legs of roast lamb, or roasted chickens, perhaps) which the herb thyme has scented, are usually placed on a window-ledge to cool and to let the meat ‘set’, or become firm.’

The third line adverts to the ancient practice of singing rhyming hymns in St Paul’s Cathedral (designed by Wren), hymns Bunting might well criticise as belonging to the official state religion of the ‘southrons’, the Church of England.

‘Pound disposes’ refers to the common motto ‘Man proposes, God disposes’, taken from a work in Latin by Thomas à Kempis. Pound’s acolytes would have seen him as a master poet, and like a god of literature. As well the phrase ‘humans merely err’ adverts to the motto from Pope ‘To Err is Human; to Forgive, Divine’ (from Alexander Pope, ‘Essay on Criticism’ l.525, 1711) though that is based on earlier English sources and indeed appears in Latin: humanum est errare, it is human to err.

Lines seven and eight note the fact that Bunting could speak smooth English as well as any ‘southron’ when required, but slipped back into his Northern brogue to orate his poetry.

I think of the apparent ease with which Bunting slips into the role of servant of the English upper class as a spy for MI6 in Tehran, sipping cocktails at Embassy receptions and speaking with a fluent Southern English accent, eager to help destabilise an elected government at the behest of his masters, Anglo Oil, and I don’t quite know how to judge him.

The only biography we had (in mid-2013) of Bunting is by Keith Aldritt. It poses some disturbing questions. At one point in Tehran, Bunting in his role of MI6 spy send an American woman to her death.

When she arrived in Isfahan, Basil, tipped off by the Russians, observed her and finally handed her over to the Americans. He thought that such a guileless, amateur spy would simply be told off and sent home to Chicago. He was horrified to learn, three days later, that the American Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, had shot her.

Readers may like to note that there is a more recent biography, A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting by Richard Burton (Infiniteideas, pp.608, £30, ISBN: 9781908984).

‘Brag, tenor bull’ is an adaptation of the opening of Bunting’s famous long poem ‘Briggflats’ (the Rawthey is a river):

Brag, sweet tenor bull,
descant on Rawthey’s madrigal,
each pebble its part
for the fells’ late spring.

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