Saturday, January 25, 2014

Poetry within a novel

In planning my new writing project, Agamemnon Must Die, I gave serious thought to including sections in poetry. This is partly because my inspiration, Aeschylus' Oresteia, was written in poetic form and partly because my work will be a radical retelling of the story that will include "paranormal" experience and exposition. It is also because I feel it a good thing to challenge oneself with a form, not prose, once in a while.

Upon the recommendation of a fellow writer, I chose to read some poetry new to me (not e.g., T. S. Eliot or the English Romantics), Stephen Vincent Benet's John Brown's Body, first published in 1928 but frequently  reprinted or republished since. I learned from this reading the following, adapted from a review posted on Goodreads and Amazon:

National epics do not make for good poetry. Virgil, for instance, pales in comparison with Homer. And of Tennyson's patriotic poems, the most memorable are really silly pieces with good rhymes, rhythms and a jingoistic spirit. Benet's work is sprawling and changes its rhythms often as it tries to encompass the Civil War. Would it have been better with a consistent meter such as empower The Iliad or The Spreading Chestnut Tree? A silly counter-factual question, I know.

But I found some lines heart-breakingly good:

What do souls that bleed from the corpse of battle
Say to the tattered night?
...
There was no real moon in all the soft, clouded night,
The rats of night had eaten the silver cheese,
Though here and there a forgotten crumb of old brightness
Gleamed and was blotted.

... and this on Abraham Lincoln:

Honesty rare as a man without self-pity.

The experience of reading Benet's work did not change my plans for Agamemnon Must Die and I hope to share selections from my forays into a new written form for me soon.