The Penelopeia, by Jane Rawlings

When Odyseus returns home from his long journeys, he finds that his wife Penelope has not only been steadfast in her defense of her home, but that she has managed to keep secret the birth of Odyseus’ twin daughters — a secret kept to spare them from the suitors ravaging their home.

But the gods are not done with this noble family yet, as it has been decried that Penelope and her two lovely daughters must travel to Pythia to visit the oracle and on from there to visit Helen so that her daughters may learn her secrets of healing.

Rawlings writes this continuation of The Odessy in the epic poetic style of Homer, mimicking the tone and voice of her favorite translation of the work. She accomplishes this quite well, for except for the fact that her poem is in first person, it sounds almost exactly like the Odessy as I remember reading it years ago.

I was slightly bored by it at time, though, because much of the epic poem is spent in convincing Odyseus to allow them to leave and in the sharing of only mildly interesting tales. It takes quite a while for Penelope to even get on the ship, let alone begin her adventures. Further, her adventures, being those of a woman are much tamer than her husbands. There is very little reason for her to use her cunning, which she clearly has as seen in the Odessy. The most exciting moments are those that came more than half way through the book, when she is taken up by the great Amazon warrior women who wish her to join their ranks. My interest was only roused then, and was diminished when she left their ranks.

In some ways Rawlings had to cheat to make this story happen, had to invent and secret in aspects of the story that were not in the Odessy in order to make it work. And even, the restrictions of women according to the time and culture in her characters lived meant that she could have gone further with this story, to delve deeply into strength and potential of women as I had hoped. Any attempt to have women go off on adventures on their own in ancient Greece, unless their were Amazons or in some other way free from men and the burdens of reputation, ultimately results in a story that sounds forced. Or perhaps it can be done, but it came out sounding forced here, despite Rawlings best efforts. In the end I was a bit disappointed with this tale.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Poetry Review — Post Meridian, by Mary Ruefle

I picked up this book of poetry, because I read and loved A Little White Shadow, in which she took an old Victorian manuscript and whited out text to create what she calls erasure (or whiteout) poetry. It was a fascinating way to approach found poetry, which has inspired me to play with the form in my own writing.

Post Meridian is a collection of her original poetry. It is sometimes heavy as tree branches bowed under the weight of snow, though it is also often playful. Mocking in a kindly way. Poking fun at the ghosts and shadows and day to day terrors that we often take far too seriously.

I enjoyed this book of poetry, though at times there was a disjointed quality, one line encapsulating a thought process that collapses upon another. Sometimes this made it difficult to take the whole poem in as a whole. Though each line in and of itself would be captivating, the entirety of the work assembled could occasionally be somewhat baffling.

Not that poetry has to have clear meaning — being multilayered as a puzzle box is part of the enjoyment of reading poetry, though I admit that my own enjoyment comes from discovering how each piece fits into the next. The resulting imagery and meaning as perceived by me allows me to (perhaps delusionally) believe that I have tapped into the secret key of the poem and discovered a truth denied to others. Egotistical? Maybe. But I doubt I’m alone in this experience.

The poetry in Post Meridian, however, often denied me this. The pieces did not always neatly fit, and I sometimes felt as though I were standing on the edge of the poem rather than being let in to its secret chambers — a confounding experience, but not necessarily negative. Perhaps these poems open more wholly to others; perhaps I need merely return to them at another time when I can look at them from an altered perspective. Either way, this is an enjoyable collection of poems that I would definitely recommend.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Book Review – Talking Back to Poems: A Working Guide for the Aspiring Poet, by Daniel Alderson

Reading poetry is a vital part of writing poetry. Alderson takes it a step further, however, by suggesting that poets not only read poetry, but respond to it, to talk back to poetry with poems of their own. Part I presents four short sections that briefly introduce the aspects of Sound, Image, Form, and Meaning in poetry, while Part II follows with a collection of poems, each followed with instructions to copy the poem by hand, note down what you notice about the poem, and then a prompt for writing your own poem in response to it.

There is a long history of poets writing in response to poets, and I’ve even written a few poetic responses myself. However I was not very impressed with the prompts in this book as Alderson presents them. His idea of talking back to poems is far too much like mimicry to me. In the examples of his students’ writing that he includes in the book, the students (using their own themes and ideas) echo almost exactly the form and flow of the poem being responded to. This is far too restrictive for me, especially when it comes to mimicking strict forms, such as sonnets that have tight rhyme schemes. This restriction of form often has the tendency of causing me to freeze up when I’m writing rather than opening up and becoming loose as one would hope.

My experience with writing in response to poetry involves not mimicry, but a playful dialogue. The few poetic responses I’ve written have little relation to the original poem (one example is here), but is rather reacts to the subject matter of the poem in kind of debate. Of course, this is not the only way to go about this, and Alderman’s way of talking back to poetry is equally valid. Just as there are many poets who comfortably play in rhyme and strict forms, which I do not.

The practice of handwriting out a poets previous work also did not appeal to me. Though I understand his reasoning for having a writer first copy the poem by hand (in order to get a feel for the rhythms and voice of the poem), I did not feel that it helped me gain any greater sense of the poem. Rather, I found that reading the poem out loud was a much better way to get a feel for the rhythm and sound, as well as a sense of the residual meaning.

I’m sure that there are many poets out there who would find this book very valuable and inspiring, however I am not one of them. Of the 20 or 30 poetry prompts in the book, I found myself interested in responding to only a handful of them. And when I did respond, I often found myself jumping outside of the prompts and guidelines, coloring outside the lines as it were, and responding to the poems as I damn well felt like it — which is really how it should be anyway.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Books Read in November

Books Read:
1. The Walking Dead: The Heart’s Desire, by Robert Kirkman
2. The Walking Dead: The Best Defense, by Robert Kirkman
3. The Walking Dead: This Sorrowful Life, by Robert Kirkman
4. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
5. Fables: War and Pieces, by Bill Willingham
6. Fables: The Dark Ages, by Bill Willingham
7. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, by Brian Lee O’Malley
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, by Brian Lee O’Malley
9. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness, by Brian Lee O’Malley
10. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, by Margarita Engle
11. Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
12. The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende
13. Under the Volcano (audio book), by Malcolm Lowry

Click here to read reviews.

Book Review: The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

The Neverending Story by Michael EndeBastian is a fat, ordinary boy, who is always picked on by his fellow students and ignored by his father. Escaping a band of bullies, Bastian slams into a books store. Inside is a grumpy old man is reading a strange book with two snakes curling around each other eating each other’s tails — The Neverending Story. Drawn to the book, Bastian steals it when the man’s back is turned. He runs to the attic of his school and begins reading. As he follows a young hunter’s journey to save the Childlike Empress, Bastian is surprised to discover that he is drawn more and more into book itself, into a world that is very much real.

I always loved the movie as a kid and I still love it now. I wanted to hang out with Atreyu, the hunter, and ride Falcor, the Luck Dragon. I wanted to visit this dangerous beautiful world in which a childlike empress was in charge of everything. I even liked the subpar sequel with the super cute Jonathan Brandis as lead.

As is to be expected the book has far more subtlety and depth than the movie. Though I was surprised to find that both movies were adapted from the book with the end of the first movie being the midpoint of the book.

The childlike empress is much so much more in the book, closer to the spiritual soul of Fantastica. She loves everyone and everything equally, including those considered evil by other, because all has a purpose and a place to her. Atreyu is even more steadfast and brave, and Falcor is beautiful and far less creepy.

Bastian’s journey throughout The Neverending Story becomes more of a spiritual quest in the book than the simplified adventure that the movies (especially the sequel) present. He does have many grand adventures, but as he looses his memory, he loses a part of himself. He rises and falls, does grand deeds and fails, and in the end he must find his way back home.

This is really a brilliant story, and I wish I had had the chance to read it before seeing the movies that affected me so much and left such an imprint on my mind. I still the love the movies for what they are and as a part of my childhood nostalgia, but the book is amazing. I almost wish it really was never ending.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]