How a lost manuscript revealed the first poets of Italian literature



Six Tuscan Poets by Giorgio Vasari, 1544. Dante Alighieri,
Giovanni Boccaccio, Petrarch, Cino da Pistoia, Guittone d’Arezzo and Guido Cavalcanti are depicted in the oil painting.
Wikimedia/MIA

Maria Clotilde Camboni, University of Oxford

Imagine a world where we knew the name of Homer, but the poetry of The Odyssey was lost to us. That was the world of the early Italian Renaissance during the second half of the 15th century.

Many people knew the names of some early poets of Italian literature – those who were active during the 13th century. But they could not read their poems because they had not been printed and were not circulating in manuscripts.

Then, in around 1477 the de facto sovereign of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici – “the Magnificent” – commissioned the creation of an anthology of rare early Italian poetry to be sent to Federico d’Aragona, son of the king of Naples.

The luxurious manuscript became one of Federico’s most prized possessions. It was exhibited to and coveted by patricians and intellectuals for half a century – until its disappearance in the early 16th century.

An ornate colour photograph of a manuscript from 1476.
A page from another manuscript of vernacular poetry commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1476.
Gallica/Bibliothèque nationale de France

But it did not disappear completely. The interest aroused by this manuscript generated a paper trail of letters, partial copies and other materials which I, along with other researchers, have managed to piece together. These documents allow us to reconstruct not only the trajectory of the manuscript through different courts in Europe, but – crucially – what works it may have contained.

Who were the vernacular poets?

Vernacular literature – that is, literature written in the language normally spoken by the people – only had a marginal role during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The “real” culture was Latin. This meant that interest in the early poets who wrote in the Italian vernacular was limited – until the flourishing of the Italian language in the age of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

One of these 13th-century poets, Cino da Pistoia, was loved and celebrated by Dante Alighieri in his treatise on the art of poetry, “De vulgari eloquentia”. Dante said of his contemporary Cino:

There are a few, I feel, who have understood the excellence of the vernacular: these include Guido, Lapo … and Cino, from Pistoia, whom I place unworthily here at the end, moved by a consideration that is far from unworthy.

A black and white portrait of Cino.
A drawing of Cino da Pistoia from the 1808 book, Memorie della vita de Messer Cino da Pistoja by Sebastiano Ciampi.
Britannica.com

Guido Cavalcanti was another love poet. He and Dante were best friends and Dante regarded Cavalcanti as an authority on poetry. Cavalcanti is mentioned in Dante’s early poetry collection, the Vita nova.

The whole work is addressed to Cavalcanti and Dante even implies that he is writing in Italian because of him. But despite Dante’s popularity, even the Vita nova was hard to get hold of before 1576 when it was printed for the first time.

Guittone d’Arezzo was another highly regarded poet. He started as a love poet before becoming the most important author (before Dante) writing on moral and political themes.

The Raccolta Aragonese

The collection of Tuscan poetry sent to Federico d’Aragona by Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1477 contained Dante’s Vita nova, as well as rare poems recovered from ancient manuscripts by Cino, Guittone, Cavalcanti and many others. The collection was opened by a letter signed by Lorenzo himself.

The manuscript was later named after its owner and became the Raccolta Aragonese (“the Aragon collection”). It became one of Federico’s most prized possessions and the object of widespread interest and curiosity.

Federico took it with him when he travelled to Rome at the end of 1492 to swear allegiance to the Borgia Pope Alexander VI. During this trip, he showed it to the scholar Paolo Cortesi, who immediately wrote to Piero de’ Medici – the son of the recently deceased Lorenzo the Magnificent. In this letter, Cortesi recounts that he had been shown a manuscript with poems by early vernacular poets, chiefly Cino and Guittone. The excitement is palpable: Cortesi is able to read poems by these authors whose names he had only ever heard mentioned before.

A coin bearing the image of Federico d'Aragona
King Federico of Naples (1451-1504) portrayed on a Francesco di Giorgio medal.
Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Such was the interest in these lost poets that partial copies of the Raccolta started to circulate. The first one was probably made by someone in Federico’s inner circle before he became King of Naples in 1496. News about his collection of rare early Italian poems was spreading.

The widow queen and the duchess

Federico was the last sovereign of his dynasty. He lost his throne when Louis XII of France invaded Italy. When he left Naples in the summer of 1501, Federico took the books of the royal library with him. He later had to sell part of them to sustain himself and his followers during his exile in France. But the Raccolta Aragonese was not sold and after his death in 1504 it was passed on to his widow, Isabella del Balzo.

An oil painting of Isabella d'Este
Portrait of Isabella d’Este by Titian (circa 1534-1536).
Wikimedia/KunsthistorischesMuseum

The widow queen then lent the collection to Isabella d’Este, the Duchess of Mantua, in northern Italy, in 1512. She kept it for two months and, even though in her letters she promised not to leave it in other people’s hands, it is likely that she commissioned a complete copy which led to further partial copies being made.

Even though the transmission of these copies was in manuscript form – and so not widespread – several Renaissance intellectuals managed to read these “lost” works and were influenced by them in their attempts to reconstruct the history of Italian literature.

The real game-changer came in 1527 when a printed collection of vernacular poetry finally took the works of masters like Cino, Guittone and Cavalcanti to a much wider audience. This is when they stopped being obscure and arcane authors and finally took their place in the canon of Italian literature.The Conversation

Maria Clotilde Camboni, , University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A tribute to J.P. Clark, Nigeria’s nature poet



J. P. Clark was one of Nigeria’s most eco-conscious writers.
Ommoclark2020/Wikimedia

Chinonye Ekwueme-Ugwu, University of Nigeria

Everyone dies. Everything that has life must someday relinquish it. But that exit is never final. Plants and animals are generally converted into new states and reabsorbed into nature. Human beings remain alive in people’s memories for varying degrees of time. And if you leave a legacy behind, your life will truly begin after your physical death.

The passing of Nigeria’s foremost poet and playwright, Professor J.P. Clark on 13 October, 2020, has reinforced this belief.

Thousands of scholars and and readers who encountered him through his literature retain him in their memories. They also transfer his existence to future generations looking for excellence in the arts.

Throughout his exemplary life, Clark touched on various issues affecting the globe. He displayed a thorough knowledge of his world through his poems.

His writing explored politics, arts and the socio-cultural character of humans. His intimacy with nature, conveyed via his poems, has made him a favourite of eco-conscious readers.

Rich ecological imagery

Clark’s exploration of the intersection between our natural environment and literature is an inspiration to writers and critics. He often found ways to accommodate nature, even when he addressed the mundane issues within politics and academia. His viewpoints can be found in his poetry collections The Casualties and Incidental Songs for Several Persons. His poem, The Usurpation, is a great example.




Read more:
J.P. Clark: the ‘pepper’ of the Niger Delta activism stew


Clark’s constant ecological imagery shows great knowledge of, and strong attachment to, natural entities. In all their dealings, human beings operate within the natural realm, interacting with other non-human entities.

I read Clark’s poems in the 1980s. My favourites were Night Rain, Streamside Exchange and Abiku. The stories in those poems often excited feelings of empathy with the human characters.

I revisited those poems 35 years later and realised the crucial influence of the natural environment in his work. Many of his poems set in the riverine areas of Nigeria’s Niger Delta, “embody environmental metaphors, capable of projecting authentic African eco-lit” according to a study of “natural trajectories” in the poems.




Read more:
John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo: Nigeria’s bard, playwright and activist


His exploration of nature in his poems stimulates a romantic awareness of the African ecosystem, that goes beyond the current agitations of environmental justice in Nigeria. They project 21st century African literary traditions beyond the domains of activism.

Clark’s works are multifaceted. His attachment to his home region, coupled with his training in the arts and the humanities may have conditioned him towards exploring nature in his works. And he did so alongside other nagging socio-political and economic themes that he equally projected.The Conversation

Chinonye Ekwueme-Ugwu, Lecturer, University of Nigeria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 Rebecca Swift Foundation’s Women Poets’ Prize Winners


The link below is to an article reporting on the winners of the 2020 Rebecca Swift Foundation’s Women Poets’ Prize.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2020/11/the-uk-women-poets-prize-names-three-2020-winners/

2020 CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Poetry Prize Shortlist


The link below is to an article reporting on the 2020 CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Poetry Prize Shortlist.

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https://publishingperspectives.com/2020/11/canada-cbc-poetry-prize-names-its-2020-shortlist/

2020 Forward Poetry Prize Winner


The links below are to articles reporting on the winner of the 2020 Forward Poetry Prize, Caroline Bird, for ‘The Air Year.’

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2020 T. S. Eliot Prize Shortlist


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2020 T. S. Eliot Prize Shortlist.

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First World War poet Wilfred Owen, treated for shell shock, carried readers into the horror of war



Dispatch rider with pigeons leaving for firing line, His Majesty’s Pigeon Service, November 1917, location unknown.
(William Rider-Rider. Canada. Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-002034), CC BY-SA

Mark Libin, University of Manitoba

Remembrance Day commemorates the end of the First World War on Nov. 11, 1918, and the poppy is the abiding symbol of Remembrance Day in Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries, including Canada.

Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen, photograph published in a 1920 anthology of his poems.
(Wikimedia Commons), CC BY

The poppy has been associated with war remembrance in a variety of ways. But
as many who attended elementary school in Canada may remember, the poppy’s iconic popularity is often attributed to the poem by Canadian physician and poet, John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.”

I would like to submit for consideration a different poem as a more suitable and ultimately more resonant poem to guide our reflections this Remembrance Day: Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est.”

‘In Flanders Fields’

“In Flanders Fields” begins with a haunting evocation of poppies growing between marked graves of the war dead in Belgium, a description delivered by those very dead. In Canada and beyond, the poem has become a mainstream literary representation of all the wars and casualties remembered on Remembrance Day.

I have always found McCrae’s poem unsuitable to commemorate the war or Remembrance Day. Its appeal may be attributed to its melancholy focus on the makeshift graves of the dead and its earnest attempt to create an empathetic connection with the reader:

“ … Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders Fields.”

What follows from this poignant memory of being alive, however, is a command to “Take up our quarrel with the foe,” and a warning that these dead will not sleep until we, the readers, avenge their death on the battlefield.

The directive to continue the war until the foe is vanquished is antithetical to the spirit of Remembrance Day as I conceive of it. It’s similarly antithetical to the finest British poetry of the First World War, including that penned by Wilfrid Owen.

Cover of 'The Hydra' magazine.
Wilfred Owen edited six issues of the Craiglockhart War Hospital magazine, ‘The Hydra,’ while being treated for shell shock, including the July 21, 1917, issue.
(The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, English Faculty Library, University of Oxford)

Poetry & shell-shock

Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” has an unambiguous anti-war message, and it works skillfully to immerse the reader in a subsuming, visceral representation of the lived experience of the frontline soldier.

Unlike McCrae, Owen never identifies the “foe” as the German soldiers in their trenches, but rather directs his ire at those at the home front who perpetuate, or simply believe in, the propaganda glorifying the war. The same can be said for Owen’s compatriot writer and friend, Siegfried Sassoon.




Read more:
Owen, Sassoon and Graves: how a golf club in Scotland became the crucible for the greatest war poetry


Both Sassoon and Owen — who met in 1916 while they were both recovering from shell shock at the Craiglockhart Medical Hospital in Edinburgh — felt that young men like themselves had been betrayed as objects of hero worship by their country.

The title “Dulce et Decorum Est,” is from Horace’s epigrammatic line “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country), which is still inscribed on many war memorials. At the end, the poem excoriates this motto as “the old Lie.”

Angry rebuke

Book cover with a sketch of a soldier.
Jessie Pope’s War Poems, published 1915 by Grant Richards.
(British Library)

Owen’s poem is an angry rebuke to jingoistic poets of his time, such as Jessie Pope, whose wartime poems aimed to rally and entice new recruits and lift up “war girls.”

In 28 lines, Owen strives to convey, as accurately and brutally as possible, the daily horror experienced by front-line soldiers. At once, his poem is conventional — adhering to iambic pentameter and a strict rhyme scheme — and highly innovative. His language is designed to provoke emotion in the reader, as we see from the opening four lines:

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.”

The similes comparing the soldiers to “beggars” and “hags” are striking, but so too is the use of the first-person plural to describe the soldiers.

The words “sludge” and “trudge” stand out in this stanza for being distinctly vulgar in their context, while exemplifying the onomatopoeic language that Owen uses to help us experience the soldiers’ fatigue. The elongated vowel sound — “uh” — perfectly mimics the weary drag of the soldiers’ feet as they “trudge” through the muck.

The lethargic pace of the first lines swiftly accelerates when the soldiers are subjected to a gas attack:

“Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time.”

The reader must accelerate their reading pace and perhaps even experience a quickening heart rate alongside the soldiers.

Two men carry a wounded soldier.
Bringing in the wounded, Vimy Ridge, April 1917.
(Canada. Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-001042/Flickr), CC BY

‘I saw him drowning’

The rest of the poem is focused on the lone man who didn’t secure his helmet in time, and who the narrator is forced to watch entering his death throes:

“But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.“

These lines are thick with active verbs; the suffix “ing” dominates the description of the gas attack, and the lines that follow conclude the poem:

“If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face …

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory …”

No peace for the dying

In these final twelve lines of the poem the “we” shifts to “you,” when Owen attacks the notion of glorifying war without any direct experience. The “you” may be both a direct reference to Pope and the kind of audience she sought to capture: Owen originally dedicated the poem in his original manuscript “To Jessie Pope, etc.,” and then in another version “To a Certain Poetess.”

The biggest shock produced by “Dulce et Decorum Est,” though, is when we realize the victim is still alive at the poem’s end — or, still dying.

Owen does not allow this man to slip off into the ruminative afterlife experienced by McCrae’s war dead. He keeps his victim suspended in the act of dying as a way of preserving the poem’s fraught message. There is no peace for this man, until “you,” the reader, reject the “old Lie” and fight to end the war.

Owen was killed in action a week before the war’s end, on Nov. 4, 1918.

Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a meticulously crafted poem of shock and haunting. It might do us good to feel such haunting, such shock, every Nov. 11.The Conversation

Mark Libin, Associate Professor, Department of English, Theatre, Film & Media, University of Manitoba

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dylan Thomas: ‘lost’ fifth notebook reveals how great Welsh poet changed his style



New insights: Dylan Thomas’s fifth notebook shows how the poet’s creative process developed.
Photo by John Gay © National Portrait Gallery, London

John Goodby, Sheffield Hallam University

It’s the dream of every researcher to get their hands on a hitherto-unknown manuscript by the author in whose work they specialise. As you’d imagine, most never realise that dream. But on December 9 2014 at Sotheby’s auction house in London, I was lucky enough for it to happen to me. A school exercise book that had once belonged to Dylan Thomas, filled with 16 of his poems in his handwriting, was bought by my then-employers, Swansea University, for £85,000 and given to me to edit.

A PhD student, Adrian Osbourne, was funded to help me in my labours. A greater honour, and a more daunting, more thrilling task, would have been hard for either of us to imagine.

To begin at the beginning, however, some context. From April 1930, aged 15, Thomas began copying his completed poems into a series of school exercise books. In his short story, The Fight, the “D. Thomas” character notes how: “In the evening, before calling on my new friend, I sat in my bedroom by the boiler and read through my exercise-books full of poems. There were Danger Don’ts on the backs.”

A red school exercise book belonging to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Lost until 2014: Dylan Thomas’s fifth notebook.
Swansea University, Author provided

In a letter of 1933, Thomas referred to an “innumerable” number of such notebooks. And, unlike most poets, he hung onto his juvenilia, carrying them around with him and raiding them for material until 1941. At that point, in the darkest days of the second world war, hard up and with a family to support, he sold the first four, which run from April 1930 to April 1934, to the library of the State University of New York at Buffalo. Scholars were given access to them and they were published in 1967 as Poet in the Making: The Notebooks of Dylan Thomas.

No more notebooks emerged during Thomas’s lifetime, nor – despite much speculation – did any appear after his death in 1953. Thus, the Sotheby’s notebook is the only one to have appeared, and it covers the period summer 1934 to August 1935 – making it a direct continuation of the first four.

Scrap paper?

The fifth notebook’s extraordinary nature as an object is matched by the story of its survival. Two notes contained in the Tesco’s bag in which the notebook was found allowed us to establish this. The first, a brief description by Thomas himself, shows that the last time he was in possession of it was early 1938.

After marrying in summer 1937, he and Caitlin Macnamara lived with Caitlin’s mother at her home in Hampshire until early 1938. The second note – by Mrs Macnamara’s maid, Louie King – revealed that after Dylan and Caitlin’s departure she was given the notebook, with other “scrap paper” they left behind, to burn in the kitchen boiler. King, however, withheld the notebook from its fiery fate – out of curiosity, sentiment, or for some other reason we know nothing about. When she died in 1984 the notebook passed to her family, who kept it, still a secret to the outside world, until 2014.

We now had three tasks – to transcribe the notebook poems, deciphering, if possible, Thomas’s many corrections and deletions. We then set out to compare them with the published versions and to work out what light – if any – they shed on Thomas’s poetic development.

It should be said that the fifth notebook poems are all published ones. Unlike its predecessors it contains no unpublished items (this may be why Thomas does not seem to have minded losing it). Where it differed was in the number of corrections it contained. The poems in the first four notebooks are almost always clean copies. In the fifth, many poems undergo radical revision, allowing us to trace Thomas’s creative processes at first hand.

Two pages from a handwritten notebook of poetry containing revisions.
Unlike the four that preceded it, the fifth notebook contains many of Thomas’s revisions.
Swansea University, Author provided

Luckily, we were able to realise most of our aims. Thomas’s handwriting is clear, so most poems and corrections were easy to read. Some problems arose as the notebook progressed, and the poems grew more complex and worked-over. Usually, educated guesswork (not to mention my colleague’s keen eyesight) carried us through – although in a handful of cases we called in a technician armed with a super-photocopier. In the end only five words were unresolved.

Changing style

Among the deleted passages were many of great beauty and originality, some of which Thomas reworked elsewhere. There were also three stanzas, in two of the poems, which had never been seen before.

Everywhere his incredibly rapid development as a poet was evident. Sometimes, even the tiniest item could alter our understanding of a poem; in I Dreamed My Genesis, the notebook confirmed that a comma should replace a full stop found in three print editions, making better sense of eight lines of the poem.

At the other end of the scale of significance, after poem eight, When, Like a Running Grave, we noted that Thomas had, unusually, written out the date in full: “26th October 1934” – the eve of his 20th birthday – with an emphatic line in the centre of the page. We know from the number of poems he wrote about birthdays (they include Poem on His Birthday and Poem in October) that they held great significance for Thomas. So we feel it is no coincidence that the poems that follow this point, beginning with Now and culminating in Altarwise By Owl-Light, the final poem, differ from these before it, and are the most experimental he ever wrote. Agonisingly aware of human mortality, of the end of youth, this emphatic dating marks the exact moment of Thomas’s momentous decision to adopt a more daring style.

The notebook, then, represents a kind of hinge in his early career, and this is something we could only have learned from the notebook itself, since the stylistic shift is completely obscured by the non-chronological order in which When, Like a Running Grave and Now were published. It grants us the privilege of witnessing, for the first time, the young Dylan Thomas at the height of his powers, seizing and reshaping his poetic destiny.The Conversation

John Goodby, Professor of Arts and Culture, Sheffield Hallam University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 ACU Prize for Poetry Winner


The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2020 ACU Prize for poetry, Geoff Page, for ‘Jericho.’

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/09/22/156923/page-wins-2020-acu-prize-for-poetry/

2020 Blake Poetry Prize Winner


The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2020 Blake Poetry Prize, Judith Nangala Crispin, for the poem ‘On Finding Charlotte in the Anthropological Record.’

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/09/22/156917/crispin-awarded-2020-blake-poetry-prize/