Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Saturday, July 13, 2013


     July 13th may be the saddest day in the history of 21st Century poetry.  This is the official date of death for Margaret Ann Griffiths (aka "Maz" or "Grasshopper", May 23, 1947 to July 13th, 2009).  That we cannot say it is her actual date of death is part of the tragedy. 

     I always find it difficult to speak of Maz without sentiment and without people suspecting hyperbole.  That being the case, I'll contain my remarks to those that will create little controversy among those lucky enough to know her. 

     No tribute does Margaret justice.  Maz is remembered for everything from her opinions on book reviews to her dealings with transparent trolls (e.g. "...mind-reading is easy when there's such large print involved").  Unfortunately and as far as I know, "Epigraph: The Pismire Oration" is the only recording of her voice.  She was also notoriously camera shy;  the two photos of her that you see here are the only ones I've encountered.  While sparse, her Wikipedia entry is informative.

     Maz's charm stemmed from her demonstrating every conceivable virtue and a few delightful faults, chief among them her impatience with arrogant fools, evidence of which you saw on "Now, that would be a rejection slip!"  That Maz was voted the best poet of our time by the world's toughest critics before she wrote her signature poem, "Studying Savonarola", is a matter of record.  She was highly regarded as the co-editor of Worm, revered as a critic on PFFA, Gazebo and Eratosphere, and was the only Brit ever celebrated as a Guest Poet on Poets.org's critical forum.

     It is a testament to her characteristic modesty that, when informed of the latter honour, she asked the contact person to check his sources, certain that there must have been an error in communication.  That functionary replied:  "Yes, Poets.org should make more such 'errors'!"

     Margaret's only book, collected and published posthumously by fans worldwide, is a masterpiece, made all the more remarkable by the fact that most entries were drafts posted to online workshops for critique.  Maz had few equals as a technician.  Students can learn and professors can teach more from her book than most other 21st century collections combined.  As an example, check out the text to "Studying Savonarola" and then a technical analysis of it.

     It should quickly become obvious why some of  her fans have adopted the mantra "those not jealous of Maz have the most reason to be."  Margaret's grace, generosity, wit, and talent made a fan of anyone who read her poems, critiques or commentary.  To quote one fan:

     "Talking about Margaret Griffiths is bittered by sorrow, sweetened by memory, and distinguished by understatement being mistaken for hyperbole. She had the wit of a Dorothy Parker, the insight of a Don Paterson, the practicality of an Adrian Mitchell, the technique of an Algernon Swinburne, the critical skills of an Ezra Pound and the humility of an Emily Dickinson.

     "As a critic, this century provides no superiors.

     "As a poet, this century provides no peers.

     "As a role model, history provides no proximates."

Studying Savonarola (by Margaret Griffiths) posted by Earl Gray on Vimeo.

     I have only one thing to add to D.P. Kristalo's alexandrine elegiac sonnet:  I miss Maz.


Grasshopper posted by Earl Gray on Vimeo.

There are no stars for us.  Fate-weary heroes, roads,
and thrones won't anchor us this far from London light.
No sirens skirl for us, no crow or squirrel goads
us, sounding rancorous, as shadows turn to night.

You dreamed of holy mud, tanks melted down to spoons,
of standing by the Thames, the last of those who warred
against the staining blood, against the draining moons,
against the crippling memes, against the Vogon horde.

Time jumps, grasshopper style, as London light recedes.
Your verses, in their youth, will cross the Bridge of Sighs.
Night falls to mourning while my every breath concedes:    
you spoke the wicked truth and I the honest lies.

So says Calliope:  "Your orphaned words will reign
where coast ends path and sea, while time and space remain."


  1. Adding a comment here as requested:

    You may already know this: Julie Stoner is preparing both a second edition of Maz's collected and an annotated version. I have been proofreading and copyediting sections of both texts over the past couple of weeks. The plain-text version does the poems the favor of gathering them thematically, which adds to their interesting by making it clear where her wild imagination shone at its brightest. The annotated text is absolutely fascinating to those who interacted with her on poetry boards at any time. Are they commercially viable? Who knows? But they should be read, and they're models of modern textual criticism.

  2. That is excellent news, Maryann! Thanks for letting us know.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I must stop whatever I am doing, no matter what it is, whenever I encounter an article (or anything for that matter) about Maz so that I can immerse myself in it and hopefully absorb it. So enchanted am I with the pixie(esque) qualities of her voice in her recording of "Epigraph: The Pismire Oration,” whenever I hear it, so captivated am I with “Studying Savonarola,” whenever I read it.

    1. You're welcome, OPW. I only wish we had more of Maz.


Your comments and questions are welcome.