Thursday, April 14, 2005

A forgotten poet

I came across an interesting poet who seems to have dropped belowthe cultural radar since her death in 1914: Adelaide Crapsey. Although she sound's like she's got a made-up name (not that I'm one to talk), she is perfectly real, and included in The Albatross Book of Living Verse, published by Collins in the 1930s (and given as many poems as Wilfred Owen). Her claim for revival is that her use of a new verse-form, the Cinquain (sometimes spelled Quincain). The form is strangely effective in a halting way, a bit like a Samuel Becket speech: it comprises five lines, of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 2 syllables.

These are hers:

Cinquain: Triad

These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow . . . the hour
Before the dawn . . . the mouth of one
Just dead

Cinquain: November night

Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisped, break from the trees
And fall.

Cinquain: The warning

Just now,
Out of the strange
Still dusk . . . as strange, as still . . .
A white moth flew. Why am I grown
So cold?

She also wrote this:

On seeing weather-beaten trees

Is it as plainly in our living shown,
By slant and twist, which way the wind hath blown?

Cultural values are always relative, but these certainly seemed to jump off the page as I flicked through the anthology.

(Oh, and if you're wondering, this is not a hoax or parody).

Not as forgotten as I thought. There is a strong US tradition of the Cinquain (so spelled) as developed by Crapsey.

Her poetry book Verse is available in full at American Verse Project.

There is a journal called Amaze dedicated to promotion of the Crapsey cinquain.


Anonymous said...

Lawnmower won't
Start. I think it needs a
New sparkplug or ignition lead or

A poot is born.

Martin Locock said...

There's an interesting article by someone who at first dismisses Crapsey as twee and naive but realises that she was actually quite clever and serious.

Anonymous said...

I particularly enjoyed this quote "I remembered what Northrop Frye had written of Emily Dickinson: "For the thousands of people, most of them women, who make verse out of a limited range of imaginative experience in life, love, nature, and religion, who live without fame and without much knowledge of literature beyond their schoolbooks, Emily Dickinson is the literary spokesman.""

Of course, Frye had such a an eventful, experience packed, life in comparison. He was born, went to school, and went to university. Then he got a real job for a year or so, and then went back to university. Then, eventually, he died.

If we apply his argument to say Jane Austen vs Norman Mailer , the latter must be a much better writer because he is male, has been to Africa, and run for Mayor in New York. Un huh.

Martin Locock said...

Yes, quite!