After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’, and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Good day, poets! I hope you all are having a kick-ass April. Since it’s also the Poetry Month, I wish all the best to those who are partaking in the strenuous month-long challenge to write a poem every day. It has always been difficult for me to write on a daily basis, primarily because of the self-imposed pressure to write a quality verse every single time. Well, I hope none of you have been brought down by the self-critical nature of being. Ha!
I welcome you to dVerse Poetics which is all about a particular theme that you can interpret in your own manner and write and share a poem that adheres to some part/aspect of it. For this week, I would like to talk about the oft-read and discussed myths and legends, while navigating through their relevance and narrative in contemporary poetry and expression. In that purview, let’s reimagine these myths and legends.
How would Helen of Troy narrate her story and existence? What do you think she would do in the 21st century? Here’s a very interesting and thought-provoking poem on the same by Jeanann Verlee, Helen Considers Leaving Troy:
after a bottle of chianti
Don’t mistake me, I’ve pondered this before.
But tonight I’m serious.
One bottle and the end is certain.
Tomorrow: Lawyer. Boxes. Road map. More wine.
while walking the dog
Paris won’t even notice.
I’ll feed the pup, pack a quick bag,
take out the trash, and slip away into the night.
Home to Sparta. Or Santa Monica.
An island off the southernmost tip of Peru.
Disappear. Like fog from a mirror.
while paying the bills
Guess I’ll have to give up that whole new career plan.
Academic dreams. House-and-yard dreams.
Stay on like this a few more years. Or forever.
Face the bottomless nights in solitude.
Wither. Drink. Write poems about dead ends.
Drink more. Work. Pay rent.
when Paris comes home drunk
Call Clytemnestra. Make a plan.
Move a few things into Clym’s spare room,
storage for the rest. Set up arbitration.
File what needs to be filed.
Head to Athens. Or back to Crown Heights.
Maybe find a roommate in Fort Greene.
All I know is out out out.
Sure, I can blame the past or the scotch
or my own smartmouth or my worst rage,
but blame is a word. I need a weapon.
when Menelaus writes a letter
from the ocean floor
Bathtub. Ocean. Whichever. All this water.
Yes, Paris pulled me from the ruby tub.
Menelaus fed me to the river a year before that.
Metaphorical, and not at all.
O, a girl and her water. Such romance.
Gaudy. And gauche.
How do I leave what cared enough to keep me?
What of those goddamn ships?
That ridiculous horse? All those men?
Now, wretched little me. All this dizzy sadness.
How many kings to tame one woman? Silence her?
How many to put her under?
I found it so interesting to read this perspective which focuses on the characters of the myth by giving them more agency over their fates. Based on the Greco-Roman myths, I think you would also like Auden’s The Shield of Achilles:
She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead.
A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.
Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.
(Read the complete poem here)
There can be a self-aware understanding of tales and legends in poetry which is so well expressed by A. E. Stallings in Fairy-tale Logic,
Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross a sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible what someone asks—
You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve,
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.
How about a feminist narrative of the story of Eve in Autobiography of Eve by Ansel Elkins?
Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
Also, read Saeed Jones’ Daedalus, After Icarus and Patricia Hooper’s Narcissus. Well, I am letting these examples speak today without emphasizing on particular meanings and interpretations of these reimagined and recalibrated forms of expression, inspired by the stories already known and told to us.
This is Anmol (alias HA) and today, I am asking you all to reimagine the myths and the legends that you have grown up with, through the perusal of classic literature or local lore. Think of the characters involved and the plot-lines and break them apart and think about them again — make them more fantastical or perhaps more humane with the mundane narrative of daily life — do as you must or based on where the muse carries you, and write a poem about the same. Perhaps you would want to talk about Osiris languishing at a beach-side resort or you may want to contribute to the urban legends surrounding Elvis Presley’s sightings. How about Medusa pining for all her lovers that she has turned to stone or Odin (or Ares) who is now turning into a pacifist?
Once you have written and posted your verse, add it in the linking widget down below. Do not forget to visit others and share your words/comments with them. Happy Writing!