There will always be singing; an appreciation of Doris Lessing

 

Author and Poet Doris Lessing
Author and Poet Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Fable

When I look back I seem to remember singing.
Yet it was always silent in that long warm room.

Impenetrable, those walls , we thought,
Dark with ancient shields. The light
Shone on the head of a girl or young limbs
Spread carelessly. And the low voices
Rose in the silence and were lost as in water.

Fable is © Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing (1919-2013) was  a novelist, poet, and sci-fi writer. This appreciation of Doris Lessing was first published on the Women Writers, Women’s Books Site  in 2013 with thanks to Anora McGaha, and to Barbara Bos who live edited the piece at the time of writing. Thanks to Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd who has allowed me carry Poems by Doris Lessing here at Poethead.


When a person of great age dies, there are many responses about the richness of their life and how we have been blessed by their presence for so long in our world. Yet for me there was and is profound sorrow at the loss to us of Doris Lessing Nobel Laureate, author, philosopher and poet. I do not delude myself that my sorrow is one of intimate connection to her, a whole generation of women writers have that connection to her voice.

My connection to Doris Lessing’s writing began in my twenties when I first read The Golden Notebook, I read almost all her work after that. I am unsure of where the gut tear occurred with my reaction to her work, but here was a writer who did things that I admired. It was difficult to locate her effect on me, but I knew it and recognised it as important to my writing.

Living in Dublin city, I often retreat to a small house in Mayo, where my now deceased friend, Michael McMullin, a philosopher and jungian, had retained a library. His Doris Lessings were collected on the top shelf of his library, alongside some images of Chartres Cathedral, and his Yeats collection. Like Lessing he had attained a great age and had a voracious thirst for knowledge, he was born in Ceylon in 1916.

Michael’s assidious collecting of Doris Lessing was winsome, and he often referred to her. His nomadism had taken him from Ceylon, to Cambridge, to escape from Hitler’s invasion of Paris, to Finland, to Canada, and at the end his life, a hillside In the North-West of Ireland. I did not meet Doris Lessing, but I had met in Michael that intellectual and questing spirit that seems to inflame the diasporist writer. It can only be described as a great and humble presence, their being present to everyone who he/she encounters all the time.

Doris Lessing’s death brought back my own recent loss with a punch. I saw the rumours of her death emerging from early Sunday morning and waited to hear if it were true. My decision to go ahead and link the Lessing poems was an urgent need to show people that there was more to her output, although it is sadly unavailable.

Two years ago while re-reading Lessing in the Mayo library awaiting a death, the Lessing poetry began to make me a bit more than curious. On returning to the city, I thought to do some searches of her writing, as I was aware that she like Ted Hughes, had elements of Sufism in her writing. I was aware that she had written poetry but couldn’t find much. The place to look for the mythological, esoteric, and philosophical mind of the writer is in their poetic output. Poetry is the revelatory act of participation in the world.

Doris Lessing had written a small collection Fourteen Poems in 1959, published by The Scorpion Press, and she had contributed to the Inpopa Anthology (2002). Her poetry isn’t available online. The Scorpion Press Archive is housed at the McFarlin Library (Special Collections) at the University of Tulsa.

Alison Greenlee, Librarian at the McFarlin Special Collections Library located for me a copy of the book in my Alma Mater, University College Dublin. I made an appointment to go in as soon as I could and transcribed a selection of the poems for myself. The next step was to contact Jonathan Clowes Ltd, who are Doris Lessing’s agents.

Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd, Doris Lessing’s Literary Agents, worked on my behalf to bring Doris Lessing’s poetry back online. We corresponded initially by letter and I procured a temporary 12 month licence to add Lessing to my index of women poets. I wanted her to be recognised for her entire body of work and not alone the novels. After the initial permissions to carry the Lessing poetry were given, the first letter went awol and had to be re-issued, I put them up and shared them regularly across multiple social media platforms including FB, Twitter, Salon.

I wrote about the poems on Open Salon. There were 3,000 hits on the poetry over the two blogs. People contacted me to say that they wanted to read the books, that they had no idea that she was a poet, and that they were heartened to see a woman poet of great age appearing on their computer screens, as there is often a problem with having older women visible in the media.

The following year, I sent Olivia Guest a synopsis of the reaction to Doris Lessing’s poetry and we agreed to extend the licence for another 12 months. She was surprised that the reaction to lessing’s poetry had been so widespread and curious. I sent her screenshots of the data and emails regarding the works.

This year of 2013, I again contacted Olivia and reminded her that my licence to carry the poetry was about due to end and that it gave me great sorrow to take the poems off my index, people were always looking for them, they accounted for a lot of searches for women writers, alongside Dorothy L. Sayers and Nelly Sachs.

last week I received an email that made me sadder. Doris Lessing had little confidence in her poetry and her agents were happy to allow me keep them indefinitely because they did not see the possibility of a re-issue.

This is the email that Olivia Guest sent me recently,

Dear Christine

We’d be delighted for you to host the poems for longer especially if you’re getting such good reactions. Doris Lessing was never very keen on her poetry and didn’t think it was any good so I doubt we will see a re-issue but at least this way, they are available in an alternative form.

Many thanks and best wishes

Olivia

The Megaliths Series, by Ann Madden (Irish Artist)
The Megaliths Series, by Ann Madden (Irish Artist)

I wondered then if Doris Lessing knew over these years that I had the poems and that they had caused such a reaction on the Poethead ? I still do not know if she did. Last week I announced on Poethead that I would be retaining the poems for sometime, and that I had received the above letter, blogged it in absolute delight, because it is a small but profound part of her writing jigsaw and it allows us to call her a poet.

To a mind like Lessing’s, death is a transformation and not an ending. Yesterday, after I decided to honour her writing and look again at the story of the poems, I closed up my blog for the day and took a walk with my daughter. When I got home, I saw that there were upward of a thousand hits on the Lessing letters, articles, posts and poems.

Today there is a similar amount building up. People want to know that questing intellect and they are searching. If I could say one thing to Doris Lessing, it would be that her poetry is the source and cause of joy and many, many people feel her loss in this world.

RIP Doris May Lessing (1919-2013)

 

Note: November 2014: Since the time of writing this piece in 2013, the stats for the Lessings posts have changed.

  • Open Salon, An Appreciation of Doris Lessing- 2360 views
  • Poethead Posts On Doris Lessing  – 2184 Views , 1319 Views, and 4673 views

MeControlXXLUserTileChristine Murray is a City and Guilds qualified stone-cutter. Her poetry is published in a variety of print and online publications. Her poem for three voices, Lament, was performed at the Béal Festival in 2012. Her Chapbook Three Red Things was published by Smithereens Press in June 2013. A collection Cycles was published by Lapwing Press in September 2013. A dark tale The Blind (Poetry) was published by Oneiros Books in  October 2013. Since time of writing this appreciation She (Oneiros Books) and Signature (Bone Orchard Press) were published in 2014.

 

 

 

There will always be singing; an appreciation of Doris Lessing

‘Woman and Scarecrow’ by Marina Carr

ws2

Excerpt from Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr

Enter the thing in the wardrobe, regal, terrifying, one black wing, cobalt beak, clawed feet, taloned fingers. It is scarecrow, transformed. Stands looking at woman, shakes itself down, woman stares at it.


Scarecrow takes woman’s hand, pierces vein in her wrist, a fountain of blood shoots out. Scarecrow dips quill into woman’s wrist. A cry of pain from Woman.

Woman We don’t belong here. There must be
another Earth. And yet there was a moment when
I thought it might be possible here. A moment
so elusive it’s hardly worth mentioning . . . an
ordinary day with the ordinary sun of a late
Indian summer shining on the grass as I sat in the
car waiting to collect the children from school.
Rusalka on the radio, her song to the moon,
Rusalka pouring her heart out to the moon, her
love for the prince, make me human, she sings,
make me human so I can have him. And something
about the alignment of sun and wind and
song on this most ordinary of afternoons stays
with me, though what it means is beyond me and
what I felt is forgotten now, but the bare facts, me,
the sun, the shivering grass, Rusalka singing to
the moon. And I wonder is this not the prayer
each of us whispers when we pause to consider.
Make me human. Make me human. And then
divine. And I wonder is it for these elusive
prayers we are here, these half sentences that
vanish into the ether almost before we can utter
them. Living is almost nothing and we brave
little mortals investing so much in it.

Scarecrow You’re determined to go with romance on your lips.

Woman I know as well as the next that the arc of
our time here bends to tragedy. How can it be
otherwise when we think where we are going?
But we must mark those moments, those
passionate moments, however small. I looked up
passionate in the  dictionary once because I thought
I had never known it. And do you know what passion
means ?

Scarecrow It comes from the Latin, pati, to suffer

© Marina Carr , all rights reserved

Excerpted from *Woman and Scarecrow, published Gallery Press, 2006.

scarecrow cover


Gallery Press celebrated their 43rd Anniversary in publishing this week of February 2013. Marina Carr is a playwright known to us for the excellence of her work. I was incredibly privileged to witness Marina read from her play Woman and Scarecrow in Galway during Gallery Press’ 40th Anniversary celebrations three years ago. I blogged about Carr’s reading here.

I  am interested in how writers use the theatrical-space to create image and symbol, as much as I am interested in how poets use the theatrical-space for poetic works. Gallery Press publish both poetry and drama, thus I wanted to look at Marina Carr’s use of structure and symbol in Woman and Scarecrow. Thank you to Suella from The Gallery Press who has helped me to find the relevant sections of the play, and who has often aided me in the past with regard to permissions for hosting Gallery poets on this blog.

  • Images from Woman and Scarecrow can be found at the SecretSpaces blog
‘Woman and Scarecrow’ by Marina Carr

‘Introspections, the Poetry and Private World of Dorothea Herbert’ by Frances Finnegan

The Rights Of Woman,

Or Fashions for the Year 93 – being the Era of Women’s literally wearing the Breeches.  – Health and Fraternity !

Whilst man is so busy asserting his Rights
Shall Woman lie still without gaining new lights
Our sex have been surely restrain’d enough
By stiff prudish Dress and such old fahion’d stuff
Too long have been fetter’d and tramelld I wot
With Cumbersome Trains and the Strict petticoat
Yet should a poor Wife dare her Tyrant to chide
Oh she wears the Breeches they tauntingly cried
But now we’re enlighten’d they’ll find to their Shame
We’ll have the reality not the bare Name
No longer will Woman to Satire be Dupe
For she is determin’d  to figure Sans Jupe
And once she is rouzed she will not be outdone
Nor stop at this one Reformation alone
For mark me proud Man she’ll not yield thee a Jot
But soon will become e’en a true Sans-Culote
And flourish away e’er the Ending of Spring
Sans Jupe, Sans Culote , in short – sans any thing

— Ca va et ca…ira
–Liberty and Equality for ever ! 

© by Dorothea Herbert

from ,  Introspections, the Poetry and Private World of Dorothea Herbert  by Frances Finnegan , Congrave Press 2011.

This poem is tagged found books , as I hit upon it whilst looking for something else. The cover image of the book caught my eye. I contacted Frances Finnegan in the last week and requested permission to use two poems from her recently published book about Dorothea Herbert, and she generously recommended that I use two of the shorter poems, or indeed excerpts from one of the longer poems. I thought to publish another of the poems (or excerpts) with a review of the book , at a later date.

Information about Introspections, the Poetry and Private World of Dorothea Herbert  by Frances Finnegan is available at  Congrave Press  . It seems remarkably careless that poets of Herbert’s talents are so easily consigned to dusty archives, though it appears to be a peril that disproportionately affects the woman writer and poet in Ireland.

 

Dorothea Herbert
‘Introspections, the Poetry and Private World of Dorothea Herbert’ by Frances Finnegan

A poet-companion,Tess Gallagher translates Liliana Ursu.

There are two posts on this blog which link to short poems by Lilian Ursu.  The poems are from the Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation of The Sky Behind the Forest, by Liliana Ursu. The volume had two translators, Adam J Sorkin and Tess Gallagher. Interestingly, the volume does not initial the translators work beneath the text , so  it is very hard to identify which poems were translated by Gallagher. This blog is dedicated to the work of women writers, editors and translators, so I thought to examine Gallagher’s approach to the poet and to her work.  I am referring to  the  published notes on the translations throughout.

Liliana Ursu is Romanian, she was born in Sibiu in 1949 and  lived in Bucharest during the Ceaucescu regime. She graduated in English at Bucharest University and taught part-time there for ten years. Ursu has published two books of short stories, six books of translation and  books of poetry. She travelled as a  visiting professor to Pennsylvania State University on a Fulbright Grant in 1992-1993. I have decided to include here a Bloodaxe page about Ursu, as well as a link to Lightwall.
.

 Tess Gallagher describes herself as a poet-companion in her preface to the Poetry Book Society edition of Ursu’s The Sky Behind the Forest. It is an apt description for a fellow-traveller in the arts.Bad translation has been a bugbear of mine for some years, given that  wide internet dissemination has  sometimes led to appalling and quite inflexible machine-spewed translation. The ability to translate  from an academic, collaborative or empathetic base is what wholly contributes to the poetry reader’s pleasure in coming as close as it is possible to the spirit of the poem and to the intent  of the author.

I chose The Gallagher translation of Ursu as an exemplar of collaborative translation, but I could just as easily point to Hugh Maxton’s wonderful  translations of Ágnes Nemes Nagy’s Between , or Marion Glascoe’s edition  of Julian of Norwich. Gallagher is a collaborator  both  as a poet and as a woman, and her ability to communicate the Ursu text , along with Sorkin, hinge on collaborations and on  poetic sympathy.

Her approach is not solely academic but  occurs at a  level of universality, which is indicated in her approach to the work here ,

In the Dusk.

by Lilian Ursu.

” In the dusk the statues smile more enigmatically.

Not a breath of wind troubles their gaze.

You look at me and know how autumn makes its way.

In the dusk, under our bodies the hill sinks to ruin –

weightless, at last.


from The Sky Behind the Forest. Publ. Bloodaxe ,  1997.

A poet-companion,Tess Gallagher translates Liliana Ursu.

Simply and Not All The Time by Maria Laina

SIMPLY

 
A mauve bird
with yellow teeth
red feathers
green feet
and a rose belly
is not
a mauve bird.
 

by Maria Laina.

Published in Pacific Quarterly Moana (Hamilton, New Zealand). Vol. 5, No. 3, 1980, and in Ten Women Poets of Greece. Wire Press – San Francisco, 1982
 

NOT ALL THE TIME

I ignore poetry
– not all the time –
when the blood throbs on walls
when pottery falls to pieces
and life uncoils
like thread in a bobbin
I spit at my sorrow and completely
ignore poetry
when colours plague my soul
yellow blue and orange
I withhold my hate and calmly
ignore poetry
when your eyes tie my stomach
into knots
 

What’s more
– not all the time –
I ignore poetry
when it becomes a quaint ambition
 

a rare find
on a love-bench in a future hall.
 

by Maria Laina
 
Published in Contemporary Literature in Translation (Canada) No. 27, Summer 1977, and in KUDOS (UK),  Issue Six, 1980 , http://www.poiein.gr/archives/2192/index.html

Notes on the Poems

Rather than imagining that the problem is with how a woman poet uses her voice, I expect that the issue is more with how literature (serious poetic literature) is often still considered to be a male preserve. As I have said before now , male poets mature with age and women poets disappear ! Luckily England does not seem to share the disappearing poetic-lady syndrome!

Here’s Laina’s Wikipedia page and list of poetry  books  ,

Ενηλικίωση (Coming of Age), 1968
Επέκεινα (Hereafter), 1970
Αλλαγή τοπίου (A Change of Landscape), 1972
Σημεία στίξεως (Punctuation Marks), 1979
Δικό της (Of her own), 1985
Ρόδινος φόβος (Rose fear), 1992
Εδώ (Here), 2003

Simply and Not All The Time by Maria Laina