after Pied Piper of Hamelin
White-necked (Pacific) Heron,
Water Memory and other poems is © Jackie Gorman
|Jackie Gorman is from Westmeath. Her work has featured in Bare Hands, Wordlegs, The Honest Ulsterman and later this year, her work will feature in Poetry Ireland Review, The Sentinel Literary Quarterly and Obsessed by Pipework. She has been highly commended in the Patrick Kavanagh Award and the Goldsmith Poetry Competition. She was a prize winner in the 2015 Golden Pen Poetry Competition and her work has appeared in creative writing collections, edited by Noel Monahan, Alan McMonagle and Rita Ann Higgins.|
The Middle of April by Fiona Bolger
After Robert Hass
Tree Tunnel by Geraldine O Kane
Geraldine O’Kane is originally from County Tyrone. She has been writing poetry since her teens, and has had numerous poems published in journals, e-zines and anthologies such as BareBack Lit, FourXFour, Illuminated Poetry Ireland, Poetry Super Highway and more.
Laundry by Roisin Kelly
Off Duty by Katie O’Donovan
Pair Bond by Barbara Smith
Pair Bond is © Barbara Smith
Eve labouring for 37 hours; the yes poem
Eve Labouring for 37 Hours; the yes poem at Levure Littéraire 12 is © C. Murray
The weft of Margaret Atwood‘s The Penelopiad is contained in and revealed through the chorus voiced by the twelve maids hung by Telemachus (on Odysseus’ orders) just after the men returned from their manly adventures. Margaret Atwood runs the chorus line throughout her Penelopiad, the executed maids sing their songs at ten intervals in the book. I was struck by a comment that Atwood makes in her notes about the maids. She stated that:
‘The Chorus of Maids is a tribute to such uses of choruses in Greek Drama. The convention of burlesquing the main action was present in the satyr plays before the main drama.’ (Margaret Atwood, Author Notes for The Penelopiad pp. 197-198)
I am always interested in how women writers burlesque the heroic perception of the classics through use of device and structural underpinning. In this instance I have been reading Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Alice Oswald‘s Memorial. Both Atwood and Oswald approach Homeric themes in a sidelong fashion to get to the meat of the oral tradition, their poetic focus is decidedly on the lament. Atwood gives voice to the subversive and unquiet maids of The Odyssey. Oswald creates a dirge through interweaving the names of fallen warriors of The Iliad. Both Atwood and Oswald use the lament as the kernel for their thematic variations from and approaches to Homeric mythos. The poets use repetition to add texture to their laments thereby shaping and focusing the small forgotten voice toward expressing a universal grief. This is a not heroic poetry, it is a poetry of keening and loss.
Oswald’s Memorial has drawn quite divided critique. I mention in particular Jason Guriel‘s reductionistic approach to the book in which he refers to it as ‘a rose-fingered yawn’. This slighting throwaway remark does little to evoke interest in how women poets actually write, nor does it sufficiently disguise Guriel’s critical ennui. I would point the general poetic-reader to Michael Lista’s critique of Memorial in order to garner a more balanced view of the work.
Atwood’s twelve maids defiantly do not not burlesque the main action of The Penelopiad. They are the main action of the book. Penelope reveals herself to be a tedious bore whose lack of wit and guile are vaguely repellent. I wanted Atwood to get her toe out of the water and focus on the maids who enliven the text with their songs and shanties. The central pivot of The Penelopiad revolves round the nasty relation between Penelope and Helen rather than on the texturing of the maids burlesquing. In this, Atwood’s approach to Homer is a bit of a missed opportunity. The strength of the book is in its sub-theme which Atwood had not developed into a fuller rendering.
Oswald did not make a similar mistake in her approach to Homer’s The Iliad. She has broken down the book and re-made it a powerful dirge. The fact that this has led to an inability by her critics to get to what she is doing only strengthens the work in my view. The index for Memorial comprises an unnumbered litany of names from The Iliad. Oswald weaves their names into the text whilst interspersing their histories with individual laments for the warrior-groupings. These laments vary in length, they are devices to allow the mourning voice through. They are not separate to the main action of the book but are organically interleaved into and caught up in the theme and direction of this epic poem-dirge.
|‘Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth
And watered it and that wand became a wave
It became a whip a spine a crown
it became a wind-dictionary
It could speak in tongues
It became a wobbling wagon-load of flowers
And then a storm came spinning by
And it became a broken tree uprooted
It became a wood pile in a lonely field.
Like a man put a wand of olive in the earth
It interests me that contemporary women poets are approaching Homer through the use of the lament. They are voicing the silent mourning that occurs when the glory of battle is over. Atwood is giving voice to the abused girls whose life experiences are of enslavement and of misuse. Oswald does not state that the mourning voice in Memorial is that of a woman, but the cadence of the mourning poems that intersperse her text suggests the chorus, the lament.
In terms of contrast in poetic approaches to direct engagement with classical literature, one could point to how Ted Hughes re-told the twenty-four Tales From Ovid (Metamorphosis) or look at Heaney’s Beowulf. The fact that critique ignores the poetic engagement of women with the classics of literature only points to critical-disengagement, or at best to a narrow conservatism. It is time that The Chorus (that most pertinent part of Epic) is re-read, and given its place in the overall texturing of great poetic works. What would T.S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral be without the integrity of the women’s voices?
|‘…he took a cable which had seen service on a
blue-bowed ship, made one end fast to a high
column in the portico, and threw the other over the
round-house, high-up, so that their feet would not
touch the ground. As when the long-winged thrushes
or doves get tangled in a snare…so the women’s
heads were held fast in a row, with nooses round
their necks, to bring them to the most pitiable end.
For a little while their feet twitched, but not for very long.’ The Odyssey, Book 22 (470473)
Transverse threads, women poets and Homer by C. Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
This year I wrote a cycle of poems relating to war and to women. I titled part of it Two Songs of War and a Lyric for the SouthWord Journal, although it is intimately related to an earlier sequence of art poems, and to the 75th anniversary of Guernica which was marked in 2012.
The second poem in the art series , Gernika, was written for Euskal PEN and was read during the 75th anniversary commemoration of Guernica this summer of 2012. The first and last poem of the sequence, A Lament, was written some time ago and had been put in a folder. A Lament is too awkward a piece to submit to most journals as it is written for three voices and does not slip easily into the submission guidelines of many reviews. A Lament was written firstly as a poem and then as a chorus. It was conceived to weave in and out of the sequence which was published initially in SouthWord Magazine. Lament is an inherent part of the sequence because it involves the voices of the women who inhabit the poems in Two Songs of War and a Lyric.
As if, Sabine, Gernika , A Lament, and Through the Blossom-Gate are meant to work together, and are about loss and recovery. Here is what has happened to the original cycle, the Lament, and the unpublished cycle of seven poems since I sent them out.
- Gernika was read on the Anniversary of the Guernica Massacre in 2012
- It was published in a batch of poems titled, Two Songs of War and a Lyric
- It will be anthologised forthis project
- A Lament is a companion poem to Two Songs of War and a Lyric, published SouthWord in 2012.
- It will be programmed at the Béal Festival , November 2012. Notice here.
- Cycle of seven poems , at Bone Orchard Poetry
The 7 cycle is provisionally entitled Eamon Ceannt Park Cycle , after the park that the dream-sequence was written in. I had planned to send it out, as it is ready. However, in all the entire sequence including the lament amounts to thirteen inter-related poems written over the period of a year or two. They inherently form one piece. There is also an emergent coda for the entire. (Completed)
I am glad the poems have found homes and that they resonate with people. I hope to publish the thirteen poems together at some point, but I see that I will have to make my own arrangement for them, as they hardly fall into a traditional submission-shape. The most important thing for me is that they maintain their integral unity and coherence. I am editing them into a folder and deciding how I will eventually publish them in their integrity as a whole piece.
I included the list where the poems appear separately beneath this post.