Welcome to the fourth and final day of the first round of Countdown to New Year’s dead poet dates! It’s hard to believe that we’re already almost through 24 poet dates … yet by the end of today, that’s exactly what will have been accomplished over the past few days! So far, nine poets have moved on to round two; with just three slots left, there’s a lot of pressure on the dead poets pulling out all the stops today.
Get ready to have your heart thumped gallantly by the six poets vying for the last three spots. In case you’ve missed the previous days’ results, be sure to scroll to the bottom, where you can find links to previous dates and results. If you missed the Day 3 results, they posted yesterday in a separate post; you can view those results here.
Finally, stay tuned for an updated bracket and new date rules going into Round 2!
Let’s get started! (You can still nab a copy of the round one bracket to follow along if you’d like!)
Breakfast Date: John Keats versus William Butler Yeats
We meet for breakfast at a local dairy, where we are served sweet strawberries with cream and a light and fluffy custard, along with crisp, cool water with apple slices and mint leaves and a fresh tea sampler. John (October 31, 1795 – February 23, 1821) begins serving tea as he shares his life story. He was born in London, and while his early years were spent primarily with his mother he would eventually live first with his grandmother and then with the guardians his grandmother appointed to him and his three siblings. John began his career as a medical student, but eventually gave up the practice to pursue his writing. Although his career as a poet was first met with little enthusiasm, and throughout his career he would face much criticism for his poetry, he persisted and continuously revised his style. In a pre-date interview, Charles Brown said that John, from his boyhood, “had an acute sense of beauty, whether in a flower, a tree, the sky, or the animal world.” John swiftly offers me a bowl of sugar cubes for my tea, and as he hands it to me also slides a rolled page with his “To Autumn” across the table at me.
William (June 13, 1864 – January 28, 1939) shares his story as he offers both John and me generous slices of bread smoothed over with a buttery cream. He was born, and went to school, in Dublin, Ireland. Throughout his studies he was interested in various subjects, including Irish myths and folklore, which informed much of his poetry. He preferred form to free verse, but bucked tradition through a varied diction within his poems. The scent of the mint leaves reminds William of his and his wife Georgie’s experiments with trances and communication with spirits. Proud of his Irish heritage, he often spoke—both in poetry and speech—with a voice informed by Irish nationalism. In a pre-date interview, fellow contestant W.H. Auden praised William as having written “some of the most beautiful poetry” of the time. As I gather the dishes and plop the last of the strawberries into my mouth, William slips a copy of his “When You Are Old” to my place at the table.
Which poet’s poem managed to make itself the perfect sweet for your poetic sweet tooth?
Lunch Date: Sterling Allen Brown versus Claude McKay
Sterling and Claude meet me at the bakery where we’re served fresh-baked breads, a mixed tray of sandwich stuffers, and a wine sampler. Sterling (May 1, 1901 – January 13, 1989) begins preparing sandwiches for each of us as he shares that he was born in Washington, D.C. He spent much of his career as a professor at various universities, including Lincoln, Howard, and Fisk. His work focused heavily on the influence of dialect writers, and he spent extensive time researching and studying rural African-American culture. His poems, he shares, relied greatly on the cultural traditions he witnessed, as well as the influence of jazz and blues music. He boasts that during his teaching career he had among his students the likes of Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, and Ossie Davis. In a pre-date interview, Darwin T. Turner shared that, in his study of the field of African-American literature and its influences, “I discovered that all trails led, at some point, to Sterling Brown.” Sterling slides a copy of his “Ma Rainey” under a corner of my sandwich (which looks delicious) and urges me to enjoy all the flavors.
Claude (September 15, 1889 – May 22, 1948) pours each of us a different wine, and swirls his glass as he tells us some of his history. Born in Jamaica, Claude came to the United States in 1912. Before leaving Jamaica, Claude was influenced and mentored by Walter Jekyll, who encouraged Claude to pursue his writing and helped him publish his first book of poems, which featured the first poems published in Jamaican Patois. Upon arrival in the U.S., Claude was shocked by the racism he witnessed, and as a result his earlier poems published in the U.S. sometimes featured anti-racist sentiments. He would travel to London, and then the Soviet Union; both traveling experiences also influenced not only his writing but also his politics, as did his later trips to Paris and tours of Europe and northern Africa. In a pre-date interview, Arthur D. Drayton called him a poet who, in seeing “the significance of the Negro for mankind as a whole, [was] at once protesting as a Negro and uttering a cry for the race of mankind as a member of that race.” As the wine glasses are cleared, Claude hands me a copy of his “After the Winter”.
Which poem would you call the best thing since still-warm-and-freshly-sliced bread?
Dinner Date: Dylan Thomas versus Thomas Hardy
Dylan, Thomas, and I laugh as we fumble over a table of ingredients to make our own sushi rolls. It’s a new experience to all of us, and it is as we struggle with pressing our rice that Dylan (October 27, 1914 – November 9, 1953) shares his story. Born in Wales, Dylan was considered an unremarkable pupil while in school, despite his early interest in poetry, which he had published in school magazines. He admits that much of his biography sounds “unflattering”—including alcoholism, frequent philandering, and a struggle throughout his youth to determine his identity—but adds that these experiences also shaped some of his early work. He says he was always obsessed with the sound and rhythm of words, as well as the richness of meanings of words, despite that these obsessions left him feeling “frequent muddle-headedness” in his poetry. In a pre-date interview, R.B. Kershner described Dylan as “the wild man from the West, the Celtic bard with the magical rant, a folk figure with racial access to roots of experience which more civilized Londoners lacked.” Dylan jokingly wraps a copy of his “This is Remembered” in seaweed and uses a set of chopsticks to pass it to me.
Thomas (June 2, 1840 – January 11, 1928) is more somber as he gently slides the raw fish away and creates what we christen a “saltwater stir-fry au naturel.” While he picks and chooses which offerings to add to his meal, he tells us a bit about his life. Born in Dorset, he says he was highly influenced in his childhood by both the musicality of his father and his well-read mother. Despite the ending of his formal education by 16, he had an alacrity for learning that made him a promising pupil and perpetual critic of his society. While he disliked the social inequities of his England, he was also inspired by its landscape and history. He merely shrugs when Dylan points out that many critics have called him a bleak personality, though he goes on to defend his writing when he describes himself as a poet “who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst.” In a pre-date interview, Irving Howe said that “whatever it was that makes for [Thomas’s] strange greatness is hard to describe.” I almost don’t notice when he places a copy of his “The To-be-forgotten” near my plate.
Which poet’s offering could wrap your heart tighter than a sushi roll?
Your Turn! Please help me choose today’s winners by sharing your thoughts on the poets and their poems in the comments below!
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Check out the rest of Round One in the Our Lost Jungle Countdown to New Year's: