Category Archives: Poetry

Inferno, Dante Alighieri

Inferno, DanteInferno by Dante Alighieri
Translated by Robin Kirkpatrick

First Published: c.1308-1321
Translation Published:
2006 (this translation)
Pages: 449 including notes and original Italian  – plus introduction (Hardback)
Form: Epic Poetry
Series: The Divine Comedy #1

Rating:

Dante’s epic in a new, sumptuous and delightful clothbound edition.

Describing Dante’s descent into Hell midway through his life with Virgil as a guide, Inferno depicts a cruel underworld in which desperate figures are condemned to eternal damnation for committing one or more of seven deadly sins. As he descends through nine concentric circles of increasingly agonising torture, Dante encounters doomed souls including the pagan Aeneas, the liar Odysseus, the suicide Cleopatra, and his own political enemies, damned for their deceit. Led by leering demons, the poet must ultimately journey with Virgil to the deepest level of all. For it is only by encountering Satan, in the heart of Hell, that he can truly understand the tragedy of sin.

A belated review for a poem I finished a few weeks ago. And a confession:  somewhere around page LXXV of the CIV length introduction to the poem I gave up (I always read intros after the main book now, been spoiled too often). It wasn’t a bad introduction, it was actually very good – lots of interesting information – but it was all a bit much to absorb for me at the time, I’ll get back to it later, I’m sure – but it’s heavy going. Which, funnily enough, the text of the poem isn’t. It’s lively and funny and very, very vivid. Continue reading

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Beowulf, Unknown & Seamus Heaney

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney Beowulf by Unknown Author

Translated by Seamus Heaney

First Published: between 700 and 1200
First Published:
1999 (this translation)
Pages: 106 including notes  – plus introduction (Paperback)
Form: Epic Poetry

Rating:3/5 = I liked it3/5 = I liked it3/5 = I liked it3/5 = I liked it3/5 = I liked it

Composed towards the end of the first millennium, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf is one of the great Northern epics and a classic of European literature. In his new translation, Seamus Heaney has produced a work which is both true, line by line, to the original poem, and an expression, in its language and music, of something fundamental to his own creative gift.

The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed, in that exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels between this story and the history of the twentieth century, nor can Heaney’s Beowulf fail to be read partly in the light of his Northern Irish upbringing. But it also transcends such considerations, telling us psychological and spiritual truths that are permanent and liberating.

– Taken from Amazon. No blurb on book itself

Taking a quick break from Les Misérables (great, but fucking long) to type up a brief review. And it will be brief because basically all I have to say is that I like the story itself, but I simply can’t make myself trust Heaney as a translator.

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Indian Love Poetry, A.L. Dallapiccola (ed. & trans.)

Indian Love Poetry
Translated and edited by A.L. Dallapiccola

Publisher: The British Museum Press
Pages: 96 – including biographical notes and bibliography, plus introduction (Hardback)
Form: Illustrated Poetry Collection

Rating:

Love is widely celebrated in Indian poetry, whether mystic love for the divine or passionate and affectionate feelings between lovers, husbands and wives, parents and children, family and friends. Although the literary forms and language may not be so familiar, the same themes reappear in many of today’s preoccupations with love and romance.

This attractive collection combines a selection of translations from various languages of the best of Indian poetry with illustrations drawn from some of the finest examples of art in the British Museum. With a brief introduction to the Indian poetic tradition and a short biographical note about each of the poets, this beautiful anthology is the perfect way to discover the treasures of Indian literature and art.

I picked this little book up a while ago when I went to a special exhibition of Indian art at the British Museum a couple of years ago. Because I’m actually rubbish at sitting down and reading poetry, however, it’s taken me this long to get round to reading it. Unfortunately the reason I’m rubbish at reading most poetry is because I don’t very often ‘get’ it, and normally sit there feeling slightly underwhelmed. This was, sadly, no exception.

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The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe

Publisher: Signet Classics
Pages: 139 – including introduction, afterword, and bibliography (Paperback)
Format: Poetry Collection

Rating:

Although best known for his short stories, Edgar Allan Poe was by nature and choice a poet. This edition of his complete poetry illustrates the transcendent world of unity and ultimate beauty he created in his verse. From the exquisite lyric “To Helen” to his immortal masterpieces “Annabel Lee,” “The Bells,” and “The Raven,” Poe stands beside the celebrated English Romantic poets Shelley, Byron and Keats, and his haunting, sensuous poetic vision profoundly influenced the Victorian giants Swinburne, Tennyson, and Rossetti.

Today his dark side speaks eloquently to contemporary readers in poems such as “The Haunted Palace” and “The Conqueror Worm,” with their powerful images of madness and the macabre. But even at the end of his life, Poe reached out to his art for comfort and courage, giving us in “Eldorado” a talisman to hold during our darkest moments – a timeless gift from a great American writer.

This is going to be a very short review because, to be honest, I don’t have much to say. With a few notable exceptions such as “The Bells“, I feel pretty ambivalent about almost every single poem in this collection. This probably reflects more on me than Poe, however; I simply struggle to focus and take in poetry that doesn’t have much narrative – the words and sounds just seem wash over me in a way that makes me lose track of what’s actually meant to be going on. And Poe I find especially difficult – it just feels too flowery and too overblown that I’m left with a sense of pretty sounding but meaningless nonsense when I suspect I’m meant to be taking away something more profound or emotional. Maybe sometime when I’m feeling more up for it  I’ll go back, do some more research into Poe’s life and influences, read and reared each line more thoroughly, and apply some proper critical thinking- I tend to understand and enjoy poetry a bit more once I have a decent context – but it’s a pretty big ‘maybe’. Poe just doesn’t strike me in the same way that someone like John Donne does, I don’t feel an urge to revist and tease out the references and meanings but am happy simply to return it to the bookshelf and let myself forget the contents.  Not a bad book (I suspect) but ultimately just not quite my thing.

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Poetry: Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

Publisher: Heinemann (Random House)
Pages: 313 (Hardback)
Format: Free-Verse Novel

Rating:

An ancient race of lycanthropes survives in modern L.A. and its numbers are growing as packs convert the city’s downtrodden into their fold.

Stuck in the middle are a local dogcatcher and the woman he loves, whose secret past haunts her as she fights a bloody one-woman battle to save their relationship. Meanwhile, dog packs fight and scheme all around them, hiding out in old warehouses, city kennel cages, or the plush comfort of suburban homes.

Paying no heed to the moon, these packs change from human to wolf at will, squaring off against one another as they seek dominance at any cost.

Sharp Teeth is a novel-in-verse that blends epic themes with dark humour, dogs playing cards, crystal meth labs, and acts of heartache and betrayal in Southern California.

I have to confess that, sometime between hearing about Sharp Teeth for the first time and actually getting round to reserving a copy at my library, I completely forgot that it wasn’t written in prose. So when I got my hands on a copy and saw the words ‘novel-in-verse’ my brain did a little ‘oh shit, what have I let myself in for?’. Poetry is something I tend to struggle with, free-verse even more so than most because ‘what the fuck, it’s just putting awkward line-breaks into awkwardly structured sentences!’. Thankfully I ignored this little voice, plowed on anyway, and really enjoyed myself.

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Poetry: The Death of King Arthur, Unknown & Simon Armitage

The Death of King Arthur

Translated by Simon Armitage from the Alliterative Mort Arthure, Author Unknown

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Pages: 163 including notes  – plus introduction (Hardback)
Form: Epic Poetry

Rating:

Like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Alliterative Mort Arthure survives in a unique manuscript by an anonymous author, and is written in a measure which harked back to Anglo-Saxon poetic composition. Unlike Gawain, whose plot hinges around one moment of jaw-dropping magic, The Death of King Arthur deals in the cut-and-thrust of warfare and politics: the ever topical matter of Britain’s relationship with continental Europe, and of its military interest overseas.

The outcome is announced in the poem’s title, and from their stronghold in Carlisle, Arthur and his army embark on a campaign which takes them almost to the gates of Rome, before he is forced to turn back to deal with matters closer to home. But along the way there are as many challenges for the translator of this poetic romance as are faced by its protagonist. . .

. . . A new kind of actuality is present in The Death of King Arthur, whose chivalric code cannot gloss over the carnage and horror of war, or the flaws of a king who is as much a human being as a figurehead. . .

Snipped down version of inside dust jacket

I’m going to start off with the disclaimer that I do not read a lot of poetry and don’t feel particularly comfortable analysing it.This makes me a bit of an uncultured idiot when it comes to trying to write a review, but I’m going to do my best. When I do read poetry – and I’m trying to do so more – my preference also lies very heavily towards old-fashioned narrative  and epic poems that tell an interesting story.  Since I find the King Arthur legend (or legends) one of the most interesting stories there are, buying this book when I spotted it in the shop was a complete no-brainer.  I don’t know what a serious poetry fan or scholar would make of it (nor do I particularly care) but as a piece of Arthurian literature – especially as a piece of medieval and British Arthurian literature – I found it to be an unpolished gem of a book. Continue reading

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