One-Minute Book Reviews

March 5, 2009

Muriel Spark Satirizes Bad Writing in Her Poem ‘The Creative Writing Class’

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:56 am
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“Read this!” the critic emoted. “You’ll like it!” she opined. “And laugh!” she chortled.

Muriel Spark is better known for her novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie than for her light verse. But the 73 poems in All the Poems of Muriel Spark (New Directions, 2004) show how well she mastered this and other forms of poetry.

In “The Creative Writing Class,” Spark satirizes the pretentious overwriting often found in the work of bad novelists, amateur poets, and students in MFA programs. This 20-line dialogue poem begins: “’There is,’ he declared. / ‘Really?’ she grinned. / ‘Undoubtedly,’ he stated. / ‘Tomorrow,’ she burbled.” The poem goes on in the same vein, with an alternating male and female voice, through a last line that suggests the frustration of a teacher who has had enough: “‘Silence!’ she sneered.”

Each line in the poem ends with a word ending in “ed” (a variation on the device known as epistrophe, the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of a line). And “The Creative Writing Class” could be a great poem to read aloud in a writing class: Students with a flair for drama could raise this one to a much higher level of hilarity even than it has on the page.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 13, 2008

Muriel Spark’s ‘The Goose’ – A Poem for the Financial Crisis

The poem "The Goose" works as a parable for a time when the "golden eggs" are golden parachutes for CEOs.

Muriel Spark’s brief, wry poem “The Goose” isn’t about a worldwide financial meltdown. And it’s not one of those buck-you-up poems like Rudyard Kipling’s “If –” that reminds you that if you can keep your head when all others are losing theirs, you can recover from that double-digit loss to your (401)k plan.

But “The Goose” speaks memorably to surviving financial hardship. Spark wrote the poem around 1960 — the exact date is unknown — or less than a decade after Britain ended the food rationing adopted in World War II. “The Goose” has just eight lines, which begin:

Do you want to know why I am alive today?
I will tell you.

The speaker says that in a food shortage, “Some of us were miraculously presented” with a goose that laid a golden egg. The narrator admits to having killed and eaten the goose. The poem then ends with the lines:

Alas, many and many of the other recipients
Died of gold-dust poisoning.

You can interpret “The Goose” in several ways. Spark had survived food shortages, and you can read the poem as an autobiographical commentary on her life and work. Or you can read it as a Catholic writer’s religious allegory that uses “goose that laid a golden egg” ironically: The goose is spiritual food or, more specifically, the Eucharist, that others rejected.

The poem also works as a parable about the follies of chasing financial or other golden eggs, whether in the form of junk bonds, subprime mortgages or golden parachutes for executives of bankrupt companies. If you read it that way, “The Goose” is about valuing survival ahead of the promise of future riches. How many financial institutions have died of “gold-dust poisoning” because they put wealth ahead of staying alive?

Postscript:

Copyright laws don’t permit quoting “The Goose” in full here. But it appears in All the Poems of Muriel Spark (New Directions, 130 pp., $13.95, paperback), a collection of all of Spark’s light and other verse. And Ian Sansom quotes the full text of “The Goose” in a 2004 Guardian review of the book books.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5082333-110738,00.html. The Complete Review has posted its own review at
www.complete-review.com/reviews/sparkm/alltheps.htm#ours.

You can read about the Edinburgh-born Muriel Spark (1918–2006) in the attractive online Spark archive National Library of Scotland www.nls.uk/murielsptheark/index.html. A review of Spark’s best-known novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, appears at
www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 27, 2007

Muriel Spark’s Masterpiece, ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’

Filed under: Classics,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:29 am
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Spark’s modern classic was published before the Booker Prize was established but towers over two of this year’s finalists

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (HarperPerennial, 160 pp., $13.95, paperback) didn’t appear on my recent list good books with fewer than 200 pages www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/24/, which focused on less well-known titles. But this modern classic by the late Scottish novelist Muriel Spark has been on my mind a lot since the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced on Sept. 6. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie missed a shot at the Booker by dint of its publication in 1962, six years before the award began. But neither of the 2007 finalists that I’ve read, On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip, can touch this brilliant psychological study of female power as deployed by a teacher at an Edinburgh girls’ school in the early 1930s and her teenage acolytes. The 1969 movie version included a memorable star turn by Maggie Smith without capturing the most remarkable aspect of the book: It is a masterpiece of tone. Spark neither sentimentalizes nor demonizes her heroine, but describes her with the kind of cool detachment rarely found in novels about the sexually overheated world of girls’ and boys’ schools. Any book group could spend hours talking about the title alone: Was Miss Jean Brodie really “in her prime”? Or did she merely persuade her students – and herself – of it?

Links: Reading group guide at the HarperCollins site www.harpercollins.com. Background on Spark at the National Library of Scotland www.nls.uk/murielspark/. Spark was a finalist for the first Man Booker International Prize www.manbookerinternational.com, awarded in 2005 to the Albania’s Ismail Kadare. For information on the movie search the Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com for the title of the book.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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