World Poetry Forum

When Mahmoud Darwish died last August the Palestinian president declared three days of mourning. The international poetry forum UniVerse now has a tribute to Darwish along with several of his poems.

UniVerse publishes lauded poets alongside under-recognized refugee poets and poets writing in marginalized nations. Some of our contributors write poems to preserve the stories and colors of their culture; some craft boldly individual works. Their voices combine the singular and the collective, and their lives demonstrate courage and compassion.

We thank them for their poems. Each is a glimpse of the human world and an invitation into an honest and intimate relationship. And we know that the universe expands whenever we deepen our relationships.

nadia-anjomanOther featured poets include  Afghan Nadia Anjoman (1980-2005), who secretly studied literature and began her poetic career in clandestine meetings at the home of a literature professor during Taliban rule and was beaten to death shortly after publishing her first collection of poetry, Gol-e Dudi (‘Smokey Flower’), Darwish’s translator Fady Joudah, and Palestinian Naomi Shihab Nye . Read the rest of this entry »

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Write a poem, win a pan

What is art?

Jimmy, the boyfriend of Robin at Caviar and Codfish, a really good food blog, has it figured out.  He has a competition going:  post your own poem about food in the comments and win an exotic piece of cookware.

By posting your own food poem in the comments section (any length, any form) you might just win yourself a ScanPan! You can also submit an unusual but successful egg recipe — quiche, frittata, scramble, whatever (not all cooks fancy themselves poets, after all, and everyone should have a shot). Robin and I will choose our favorite poems and recipes, aiming for a total of five entries (though we might include more if it’s close); then — because poems and recipes are in many ways subjective and because we’ll surely know some of the contestants — we’ll use the random number generator to pick the winner.

So that’s the secret of choosing good poetry–it’s totally random.

My favorite poem so far (written by  “Jeremy”)  is:

Herbs cook quickly in a wok.
It’s not only Chinese — how fast
Thyme fries.

…although someone has posted the witches’ chant from Macbeth.  All I can say is “Cheaters don’t win, and winners don’t cheat”.

The deadline is midnight Tuesday, so now you’ve got something productive to do during Monday’s holiday and Tuesday’s  inauguration.

UPDATE:  Comments at Caviar and Codfish are now closed, but I’ll be watching with great interest for the winning poem.

Scandinavian Skalds

Did the Scandinavian skalds lose their status because they did not convert to Christianity?  Here are some tidbits I discovered while trying to find the answer to that question.*

The skaldic poets weren’t into adjectives or even verbs, it was all about nouns and nesting one kenning inside another.  A kenning is a phrase that substitutes for a noun, like “ship of the desert” for camel. There were also very strict rules for how many syllables in a stanza and which consonants and vowels had to match.  The normal alliterative line is a four beat measure–every long line, as it is called, divides into two half-lines.

Apparently Lee Hollander’s The Skalds that everybody references is now out of print. Looking through Hollander’s introduction, here are some interesting points in no particular order:

  • The skalds did not read or write; they were warriors. This was a oral form and the complex rules for structure probably helped in memorizing the poems so they were transmitted for centuries.
  • In Old West Germanic Poetry the format of the four beat measure with alliteration falling on two or three of the beats was popular into the middle ages, when it was gradually replaced by “end-rimed verse”.
  • Nothing is known about the development of the form. It appears fully developed with Bragi Boddason the Old in the first half of the ninth century
  • The poems were preserved by religious clerics (in Iceland at least) trained in reading and writing or by people they had trained.
  • “Far from the eye of watchful and jealous eye of Rome there was no hostility to native traditions.”
  • The number of mythologic kennings dropped during the period of Christianization (“well-known use for magic purposes, was essentially a heathen art to be shunned”), but had a renaissance in the 13th century when they were considered innocuous.
  • Encomiastic poems became less important for historical documentation after the 11th century.
  • West Germanic and Eddic poetry uses kennings sparingly, but Skaldic poetry has “extravagant, unlimited use of the kenning in every conceivable variety and complexity…the result is characteristic baroque, frequently grotesque, overornamentation.”… “Or from another angle, in the kenning a hackneyed, faded term or names is avoided in favor of a circumlocution exhibiting the object in a new, unwonted light.” The complexity of the kennings decreases in the Christian era.
  • The greatest Christian poem of the Scandinavian middle ages is Eystein Asgrimssons’s “Lilja”–celebrating the Virgin Mary in Skaldic meter but entirely in un-Skaldic style” (text in Old Norse here, here, (Skaldic database) and here)
  • “Expressing as they do the general Catholic religious sentiments of Europe at the time, the Christian skaldic poems are of decidedly less interest to students of Old Germanic poetry than those of the earlier period. And most have no literary value.”
  • Icelandic nobles depended on good relationships with Norwegian nobles for continued trade of homespun wool for wood and other commodities not available in Iceland. Traditionally an Icelandic youth was sent abroad to visit in a Norwegian court and had already memorized a poem in praise of the king when he arrived.

Some other interesting links:

Translation of Odens Korpgalder (The Lay of Odin’s Corpse or The Lay of Odin’s Ravens)

Galdr of Óðinn’s raven: HRAFNAGALDUR ÓÐINS (also called Forspjallsljóð) translation, apparently by an academically inclined practicing heathen.  If you want to see examples of what the Old Norse looks like with translations in English, go here first.  In spite of its heathenness, or maybe because of it, has some links to the academic skald database.  There are some other interersting links to various translations.

Skaldic Project homepage “An international project to edit the corpus of medieval Norse-Icelandic skaldic poetry”.  From the skaldic database–here are some kennings.

List of skalds in Hollander’s book

Examples of translations of skaldic poetry–has the Hollander translation of Egil Skallagrímsson Sonatorrek (literally, “the difficult vengeance of sons”), written after the death of his son, after he emerged from locking himself inside his bedcloset.  Egil Skallagrímsson (ca. 910-1000) was skald to Eirík Bloodaxe, the last Viking king of York.

Here are some examples of various Norse meters. (scroll down)

Wikipedia on Ulfr Uggason’s poem Húsdrápa with links to test, English translation, and comparison of text from preserved fragments.

*Answer: probably not. The conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian countries was relatively bloodless (with the exception of the rule of Saint Olaf) and there was a long period of “dual faiths,”  especially in Iceland, although pagan witchcraft was still believed in and the effects very much feared. There was also a provisional type of mass baptism available for those who wanted to trade in areas limited to Christians. One Viking in antiquity complained about the quality of the clothing provided for a particular mass baptism, claiming he had received better from a different king.