Sunday, 5 December 2010

Snow; Graphic and Poetic

So dear reader it has snowed, in some places more than others, the offering of snow this way has been meagre but some have made huge fattened white bullocks of snow offerings, snow that bellows at you through the windows and through the television screen. I went to the American Poetry Foundation to mull over snow as I was in search of a Wallace Steven’s poem I recall, and because the Americans know about snow , deep and cold. It is often dumped on the Eastern seaboard and other places regular as annual clockwork, so the Americans, and I have to add, the Canadians know their snow, they can contemplate it without surprise. Here is the Steven’s poem, The Snow Man, beautiful, crisp and all one long sentence. Perhaps the English are more uptight about punctuation than the American poets but that is probably a sweeping generalisation that you can throw back in my face like a huge snowball round a brick.

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

That last stanza is worth a few rail disruptions alone, but then I haven’t been that disrupted by the weather so I can say that. I have slithered and slid across some icy back roads in the fens though, deep dykes on both sides tend to keep you focused but snow here has only amounted to a dusting of icing sugar on dark rich Christmas pudding soil in the hinterlands of the fens.
No schools shut but then elsewhere all those children are shaking the shackles free for a while

Snow Day

by Billy Collins

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows

the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.

In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news

that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—

the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.

So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.

And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.

Then browsing snow in these American archives I found Charles Tomlinson, an English poet who has never quite had the recognition here that he deserves I think. He is in The Bristish Poetry Archives but I prefer the selection of his poems they have available on the American Foundation site. He is also a painter and his work is full of visual images and landscapes as well as being deeply influenced by American poets. His poem Snow Signs resonates with his understanding and close observation of landscape and the image of the ‘simplification of the snow’ is for me absolutely spot on.

Snow Signs

by Charles Tomlinson

They say it is waiting for more, the snow
Shrunk up to the shadow-line of walls
In an arctic smouldering, an unclean salt,
And will not go until the frost returns
Sharpening the stars, and the fresh snow falls
Piling its drifts in scallops, furls. I say
Snow has left its own white geometry
To measure out for the eye the way
The land may lie where a too cursory reading
Discovers only dip and incline leading
To incline, dip, and misses the fortuitous
Full variety a hillside spreads for us:
It is written here in sign and exclamation,
Touched-in contour and chalk-followed fold,
Lines and circles finding their completion
In figures less certain, figures that yet take hold
On features that would stay hidden but for them:
Walking, we waken these at every turn,
Waken ourselves, so that our walking seems
To rouse some massive sleeper out of winter dreams
Whose stretching startles the whole land into life,
As if it were us the cold, keen signs were seeking
To pleasure and remeasure, repossess
With a sense in the gathered coldness of heat and height.
Well, if it's for more the snow is waiting
To claim back into disguisal overnight,
As though it were promising a protection
From all it has transfigured, scored and bared,
Now we shall know the force of what resurrection
Outwaits the simplification of the snow.

So I went from that, following footsteps in the snow, to a Kenneth Patchen poem from the forties that a graphic novelist had taken and run with as part of the American Poetry Foundation's project called The Poem as Comic Strip. This, after looking through the various responses seems a great project, I would like to let some British graphic novelists loose on a few poems and see what comes out of it. Not to self must talk to the Boo ( Beloved Only Offspring) who is both a writer and comic book illustrator about this). We have talked now and again about doing a collaboration as we have done another project together quite successfully. There is a graphic novel of The Wasteland by the way if anyone is interested by Martin Rowson

The Snow Is Deep on the Ground

by Kenneth Patchen

The snow is deep on the ground.
Always the light falls
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

This is a good world.
The war has failed.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the snow waits where love is.

Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love.

The snow is beautiful on the ground.
And always the lights of heaven glow
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

If you want to see the comic strip version by Ron Rege here is the link

By way of an after thought here is Fiona Shaw reading a tiny section from the Wasteland, she is a bit like Marmite , some like her, others hate her take on the Wasteland, personally I quite like the humanity she brings to it.

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