Nice to See You Again, Mr. Tchaikovsky
A New Beth Gibbons Song

A New Poetry Thing: Poems Ancient and Modern

Why "thing"? I couldn't decide on the right word. Calling it a "journal" or "publication" doesn't seem quite accurate, though the former would do. Neither does calling it a "site," as it's one of a great It is in fact a Substack entity. Somehow referring to a specific Substack, as simply that: "a Substack," as in Rod Dreher's Substack, bothers me. It's a bit like hearing people say "We ate McDonald's last night."

All right, clearly this is just one of my little quirks. Setting that quirk aside, with an effort, I am referring to a Substack written by Sally Thomas and Joseph Bottum, and it's called Poems Ancient and Modern. (I think that should be italicized, like the name of a magazine.) And it's about poetry. The two authors are themselves poets and impressively knowledgeable and perceptive about poetry. You may recognize Bottum's name as a conservative politics-and-culture writer. I have not read any of his poetry. Sally Thomas is the author of Motherland, a book of poems which came out a couple of years ago and which I love; you can read my remarks about it here.

Every weekday they publish a poem, most old enough to be in the public domain, with a sharp-eyed and informative preface. So far--and "so far" is only two weeks--the range is very great, from the obscure to the famous, from the comic to the serious. Within those ten days we've had little-known poems by little-known poets, well-known poems by well-known poets, and little-known poems by well-known poets. I don't as yet see a well-known poem by a little-known poet but I'm sure that will come. 

I can pretty well guarantee that the commentaries will show you something you might not otherwise have considered about the poems, and very likely add to your general knowledge in some way. If you have much interest in poetry, you should probably do yourself a favor and subscribe. My understanding is that a free subscription allows you to read the posts, while a paid one allows you to join the comments as well. Not to mention supporting something very worthwhile. 

I do have one reservation: a post every weekday is a little much for me. Each one demands a significant degree of attention and of course time, at least more than one would likely give to some internet item of equal length, and with many other things in my life to which I want or must give time and attention, I don't necessarily want to give that much every day to a poem of someone else's choosing, however worthwhile it may be. I am, for instance, just now, on Saturday afternoon catching up with the past week.

Here's the link again: Poems Ancient and Modern


In case you've ever wondered, I have considered switching to Substack. It's a very nice platform, and might at least potentially attract more readers (though perhaps lose some as well). But if nothing else the lack (as far as I can tell) of a means to import the twenty years of this blog into Substack puts an end to the idea. The only thing that would make me switch to another platform now would be Typepad shutting down, which unfortunately doesn't seem to be a very far-fetched possibility, as it is much less popular than, for instance, WordPress, and no longer accepts new accounts. 

I just did a search for "are blogs obsolete" and got a lot of hits for stories which seemed to answer "no" quite insistently. Well, good, but who cares anyway? I'm pretty obsolete myself. 


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I actually like getting a poem every weekday. The abundance relieves one of the obligation to attend deeply to every one. My quibble is that the poem should come before the commentary, so that's the order in which I read the posts. If I read the commentary first, I find myself reading the poem with a treasure-hunt mindset, looking for the items the commentary pointed out instead of thinking about the poem itself as a whole.

I agree with you about the order, especially as the commentaries are often so detailed. I think I'll adopt your practice.

I love the Poetry Ancient and Modern Substack too. I agree that a new poem every day is difficult to savor. And it could quickly wear the originators out.

BTW, I think you can import your blog to Substack!

I don't think so. At least not in a directly supported way. I started the import process, just to see what could be done, and importing from Typepad isn't one of the options. There may be some roundabout way, some intermediate format or something, but it wasn't apparent.

Yes, I would think the proprietors of PAM would wear out pretty quickly. Not only picking the poems but writing about them in some detail. At least they get the weekends off.

I adopted Anne-Marie's procedure of reading the poem first, commentary second, and find it to be a big improvement. In general I don't like to read criticism or other commentary on a work before the work itself. I want to form my first impression without preconceptions. I am a couple of hundred pages into Bleak House in an edition that has an introduction by Osbert Sitwell that I'm eager to read. But I forced myself to skip it.

I've got the same edition of Bleak House, Mac, and skipped the intro as well. I'm farther along than you, however -- I've got about 150 pages left. I'm enjoying it very much. What's really dawned on me in reading BH is how well Dickens is able to give his characters completely different voices. That's something you don't see much in contemporary fiction -- everybody tends to talk the same.

I understand that there's a good BBC dramatization of Bleak House, which I've put off watching because I wanted to read the book first. I'm looking forward to seeing it after I finish the book.

In general his ability to make even minor characters distinctive and memorable is pretty astonishing. That's a good point about the voices.

I've seen that Bleak House dramatization and vaguely remember thinking that it was good but that there was something significant that I disliked about it. Could have to do with Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlok--I'm not keen on her British roles. I may watch it again when I've finished the book.

I finished Dombey and Son a couple of weeks ago and will discuss it here soon. There's also a BBC dramatization of it. I watched the first episode, only 30 minutes long, last night, and it's good so far, though it was made in the early '80s and seems somewhat dated in some respects now. Absolutely faithful to the book so far, but as it's only five hours long it's going to have to cut out a lot--the novel is roughy 1000 pages.

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