another sip

For my Masters (in English) degree I majored in 20th century poetry with my thesis about W.H.Auden.  I made this choice for several reasons: 

1) I had just been engaged to my future  husband - on the night of the day I had received my application for  Columbia University to work on my Masters degree. I was 19 years old, a bit young, my parents (father) thought, to get married ("to throw myself under the wheels of happiness" - a line from Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not for Burning - don't make me look up the dates now, this is not totally relevant).  I compromised - it didn't feel like compromise.  My father reminded me I had always (?) intended to get m M.A. and I should stick to that plan. A postgraduate degree would be good insurance, he said. How right he was! Just about the only insurance I had, as it turned out.  So then it was a question of where to focus in my studies.  

2) I chose 20th century  poetry because I didn't read poetry as easily as I read prose.  I wanted to train myself to read poetry the way I read a mystery thriller.

3) I wanted to work with the best mind available to me at the university: Chester Duncan  (1913-2002: wrtier, broadcaster, university professor, pianist and composer). He was particularly knowledgeable about W.H.Auden and had composed music for many of his poems, still doing it when I signed on. 

4) I didn't want to go away. If I had left Bill then it was likely that we wouldn't have been married. After a year apart at that tender age we would have been strangers. 

So I stayed home and we had a long engagement.  I convicted with my  M.A. in May of the following year and I married 17 days after that.  Thank goodness. We had been married 20 years when he suddenly died.

This is about sipping poetry.  I still read poetry and I still find poets who get inside me, and stay there,  That's a long preamble to introduce Eleanor Ross Taylor (1920-2011)  whom I first encountered in The New Yorker.    Her second book of poetry, Welcome Eumenides (1972), its title taken from a diary note of Florence Nightingale, has a long poem written int he first person as if by Nightingale, very moving.  I didn't find the book until after Bill had died and I was still raw when I read it, so my underlines are selfish and personal.  Good poetry, though.I won't dwell too long as i have taken too long now. I'll just take a few lines from a poem called "Sirens".

The ambulance

Arriving for one

I never expected

To leave.


Siamese partner,

If  your heart fail

Shall I not panic?



just a little sip

Does anyone remember the playwright N.F. Simpson? (1919-2011) I was thinking of him the other day and I'll tell you why in a minute, but i looked him up to check dates and so on. I saw one of his plays (maybe two?) at the Manitoba Theatre Centre (now Royal). Founding director John Hirsch taught his Prairie audiences about the world of theatre beyond Canada. So I saw  One-Way Pendulum (written in 1959), and I don't remember it.  But little as I remember about the plot (if any) I do remember one thing. Simpson was hailed by the critic Kenneth Tynan as "the most gifted comic writer (to emerge) on the English stage since the war."  He was ranked among the great playwrights of the Absurd (Ionesco, Beckett, etc.) I never liked him as well.  I thought a lot of the Absurd was like the Emperor and his invisible clothes. I didn't get it. And yet I remember this.

Frances Hyland was a Canadian actress, famous at one time, a regular (star) at the Stratford Festival, touring Canada for several years with the Canadian Players so she was well-known. Difficult  to find now, Franny, as I knew her, died too soon. (1927-2004) No RRSP then, no benefits; actors (like writers) led a precarious life. She was one of the first occupants that I knew of the PAL house in Toronto (Performing Arts Lodge), a residence with independent apartments for which retired artists pay what they can.  In Franny's case and that of other ealy Canadian artists, their payments were pretty low. I diverge like this because I had a little trouble finding Franny.

But she was the star of the Simpson play I saw and - this is what I remember - she came into the scene and her hosts offered her refreshment and she chose a book of poetry.  She read a little, wiped her mouth and said she felt much better.  That's what I remember. See,  I do that. I did that this past week - that's why I was referring to Ruth Stone a few blogs ago.  I pulled a couple of others and I'll get to them - maybe.  But there I was, wiping my mouth after a taste of Stone, thinking of Franny and of N.F.Simpson.

Curious thing about Simpson. He stopped his theatre work in 1983 and for twelve years poked around the canals of England in a boat.

It ain't over till it's over.