Know Your History – 5th November – Ella Wheeler Wilcox born

know your history - writingOn this day… 5th November 1850, Ella Wheeler Wilcox born.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (November 5, 1850 – October 30, 1919) was an American author and poet. Her best-known work was Poems of Passion. Her most enduring work was “Solitude”, which contains the lines, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone”. Her autobiography, The Worlds and I, was published in 1918, a year before her death.

On Writing

Her most famous poem, “Solitude”, was first published in the February 25, 1883 issue of The New York Sun. The inspiration for the poem came as she was travelling to attend the Governor’s inaugural ball in Madison, Wisconsin. On her way to the celebration, there was a young woman dressed in black sitting across the aisle from her. Ella Wheeler WilcoxThe woman was crying. Miss Wheeler sat next to her and sought to comfort her for the rest of the journey. When they arrived, the poet was so depressed that she could barely attend the scheduled festivities. As she looked at her own radiant face in the mirror, she suddenly recalled the sorrowful widow. It was at that moment that she wrote the opening lines of “Solitude”:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth
But has trouble enough of its own

She sent the poem to the Sun and received $5 for her effort.

Did You Know?..

 Ella tried to communicate with her deceased husband.

She had a pact with Mr. Wilcox that they would keep in touch when either one died. Mr. Wilcox died in 1916. Ella was convinced the promise was kept. One message was, “Brave one, keep up your courage. Love is all there is. I am with you always. I await your arrival.”

Know Your History – 27th October – Dylan Thomas born

know your history - writingOn this day… 27th October, 1914 – Dylan Thomas born

Dylan Marlais Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953) was a Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion”, the “Play for Voices”, Under Milk Wood, and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. He became popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death in New York City. In his later life he acquired a reputation, which he encouraged, as a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet”.

On Writing

Thomas once confided that the poems which had most influenced him were Mother Goose rhymes which his parents taught him when he was a child:

“I should say I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words. The first poems I knew were nursery Dylan Thomasrhymes and before I could read them for myself I had come to love the words of them. The words alone. What the words stood for was of a very secondary importance … I fell in love, that is the only expression I can think of, at once, and am still at the mercy of words, though sometimes now, knowing a little of their behaviour very well, I think I can influence them slightly and have even learned to beat them now and then, which they appear to enjoy. I tumbled for words at once. And, when I began to read the nursery rhymes for myself, and, later, to read other verses and ballads, I knew that I had discovered the most important things, to me, that could be ever.”

Did You Know?

Dylan Thomas wrote in a shed

Dylan Thomas’s Writing Shed in Laugharne (“my word-splashed hut”, as he described it) was where the poet retreated to work during the last four years of his life.

Perched on the cliff overlooking the Taf estuary, held up by stilts balanced on the rocks, he would gaze from his desk at the sands, sea and beautiful Gower peninsula – and compose some of the most lyrical verse in the English language. The Writing Shed and neighbouring Boathouse where Dylan lived are open to the public and should be on a must-see list for an enlightening visit to Wales.

Know Your History – 26th October – Sir Andrew Motion born

know your history - writingOn this day… 26th October 1952 – Sir Andrew Motion born.

Sir Andrew Motion, FRSL (born 26 October 1952) is an English poet, novelist, and biographer, who was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009. During the period of his laureateship, Motion founded the Poetry Archive, an online resource of poems and audio recordings of poets reading their own work. In 2012, he became President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, taking over from Bill Bryson.

On Writing

The Guardian featured an article on writing poetry for your Valentine. This was Andrew Motion’s advice:

  1. Speak from your heart. Poets have in their toolbox every trick of rhetoric and linguistic structuring – from alliteration to zeugma. The toolbox is there to be ransacked, but the strength of your feelings might be diverted if you get too tied up with technical stuff.
  2. Simply to say “I love you” or “you’re beautiful” is not interesting. Remember William Carlos Williams’ advice about writing – there is no truth but in things. So be particular. Things have a fascination that abstractions don’t. A reader will be more likely to identify with your poem if there are references to personal situations or particular features – be it their body, attitude or behaviour.Andrew Motion_early_bird
  3. A sense of humour is not at odds with passionate intensity. Catching the ridiculousness of a situation doesn’t betray the subject or misrepresent the strength of your feelings. And don’t shy away from flaws. The whole business of being attracted to people is connected to their imperfections.
  4. Pay attention to rhymes and rhythms and the sound your words make. The sound of the thing is as important as the dictionary definition of the words.
  5. Revise, revise, revise. Our first thoughts are almost never our best.

Did You Know?..

Motion won the 2015 Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry for the radio programme Coming Home.

The production featured poetry by Motion based on recordings he made of British soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Know Your History – 21st October – Samuel Taylor Coleridge born

know your history - writingOn this day… 21st October 1772 – Samuel Taylor Coleridge born

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. Coleridge coined many familiar words and phrases, including suspension of disbelief. He was a major influence on Emerson and American transcendentalism.

On Writing

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wasn’t shy about his use of opium Samuel Taylor Coleridgewhen writing and even said that Kubla Khan was inspired by an opium dream. Coleridge was interrupted while writing the poem and ended up forgetting the lines he needed to complete the structure as originally intended. It wasn’t published until some 20 years later, and only then because Lord Byron encouraged it.

Did You Know?..

Coleridge appears to have been the first person to use the word ‘bipolar’, in 1810.

Which is appropriate, since some recent critics and commentators believe the poet may have suffered from bipolar disorder.

Know Your History – 19th September – Ingrid Jonker born

know your history - writingOn this day… 19th September, 1933 – Ingrid Jonker born

Ingrid Jonker (19 September 1933 – 19 July 1965) (OIS), was a South African poet. Although she wrote in Afrikaans, her poems have been widely translated into other languages. Jonker has reached iconic status in South Africa and is often called the South African Sylvia Plath, owing to the intensity of her work and the tragic course of her turbulent life.

On Writing

Rather than include a section of her writing I thought this is a rather more beautiful and moving tribute. Her poem The Child, read by Nelson Mandela.


Did You Know?..

In 2005 Chris Chameleon (known better as Ingrid Jonkerthe lead singer of the South African band Boo!) released the album Ek Herhaal Jou (“I Repeat You”), which consisted of a number of Jonker’s poems that he had set to music. The release coincided with the 40th anniversary of Jonker’s death.

Know Your History – 11th September – D.H. Lawrence born.

know your history - writingOn this day… 11th September, 1885 – D.H. Lawrence born.

David Herbert Richards Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter who published as D. H. Lawrence. His collected works, among other things, represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation. In them, some of the issues Lawrence explores are emotional health, vitality, spontaneity and instinct.

About Writing

Lawrence’s idealistic theories about sexual relations, interestd h lawrence dream in mysticism and primitive religions, resulted in some of the most famous of the 20th Century’s censorship cases. The explicit sexual content of Lady Chatterley’s Lover became infamous in the late fifties / early sixties and led to this famous book being banned for many years.

Did You Know?..

At the time of his death, Lawrence’s public reputation was that of a pornographer who had wasted his considerable talents.

M. Forster, in an obituary notice, challenged this widely held view, describing him as, “The greatest imaginative novelist of our generation”.

Know Your History – 12th August – Robert Southey

know your history - writingOn this day… 12th August, 1774 – Robert Southey born

Robert Southey (12 August 1774 – 21 March 1843) was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called “Lake Poets”, and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has long been eclipsed by that of his contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Southey’s verse still enjoys some popularity.

Southey was also a prolific letter writer, literary scholar, essay writer, robert southey - friendshiphistorian and biographer. His biographies include the life and works of John Bunyan, John Wesley, William Cowper, Oliver Cromwell and Horatio Nelson. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to literary history is the children’s classic The Story of the Three Bears, the original Goldilocks story, first published in Southey’s prose collection The Doctor.

On Writing

In 1837, during his reign as poet laureate, Southey got a let­ter from a young lady named Charlotte Brontë asking advice on her poems.

Southey is credited with introducing, or popularizing, many words in English including “autobiography”.

Did you know?

Southey was expelled from school for pub­lish­ing an essay in the school mag­a­zine con­demn­ing cor­po­ral punishment.

For this and other interesting facts on Southey – see this Man of la Book article.