Discovering John Clare at the Festival of Ideas 2010

The Festival of Ideas started on Wednesday and I started off well by going to a lecture on poetry that very evening. It’s always so much easier to understand a poem when someone else has done all the research for you. My favourite poem was Clock-O’-Clay by John Clare and I now have the music of ‘Here I lie, a clock-o’-clay/Waiting for the time o’ day’ floating around in my head. The poem has these lovely Northamptonshire dialect words like Clock-O’-Clay (ladybird) and peeps (the bell of a flower) and is on the surface a gentle poem with a beautiful music of it’s own but look a little deeper and you see the dangerous world of the ladybird which Clare makes us aware of with his use of eyes. The poem is full of references of hiding from sight while eyes are all around – the dew is like fishes eyes and fly buzzing around while harmless for us seems more dangerous for a little creature hidden in a flower bell. The first stanza really brings this home for us because it is full of the i /aɪ/ sound – lie, fly, lies, eyes. The other stanzas carry the sound through for us – surprise, sighs, night and sight. The poem uses echoes from The Tempest such as Ariel’s speech ‘Of his bones are coral made;/Those are pearls that were his eyes’ demonstrating Clare’s somewhat surprising education because Clare was the son of a farm labourer and he lived and worked in rural areas his whole life. His poems reflect his love of the countryside and laments for its loss. It is now accepted that he is one of the great c19th poets.

So heartened by the fantastic experience on Wednesday I returned yesterday for more poetry reading fun with Grahame, after Yuko and I had been to see the John Cage exhibition at Kettle’s Yard and eaten a hearty lunch of Dauphinoise at the Punter. Cage’s modern abstract art reflects his interest in chance and it was produced using chance-determined arrangements. The work is to be hung like a score and there will be three movements throught the course of the exhibtion so don’t be surprised if you go back and all the painting have been rearranged.

After the poetry Gahame and I walked back to meet Nicole in the Punter and ended up sitting at the wooden bar next to the sunflowers playing chess. In a truly egalitarian spirit we took it in turns to win.

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