Editorial, Issue 5
In this issue, five poets dive into antiquity and come back slicked with the stuff.
Jason Schlude and Tatiana Faia write on mothers and fathers, politics and classics, place and time.
Tatiana Faia talks to and about a mother in ‘three poems for my mother, the translator’. The mother-figure is at the edges of things, a catalyst of form and content, being after all that arch changer: a translator. Faia tells stories of travel and slipping between borders. Tales zip from Granada to Paris via Greece and Rome. Greek gods pop in for a cameo. Eliot stops by. An octopus envelops the American empire via Star Wars. And Faia pulls of the incredible when she incorporates Donald Trump into poetry in a way that is not trite. Portugal, Spain, and antiquity come together in a constellation-like Iberian poetics of classical reception. We publish these poems bilingually, in English and Portuguese.
In the poem ‘The Horatians’, W. H. Auden asks ‘Into what fictive realms can imagination / translate you, Flaccus, and your kin?” Stephanie Burt answers Auden’s question with breathtaking originality, skill, and control. In ‘Mr Stark’, Burt updates Horace’s ode by colliding it with the mass cultural phenomenon of the 21st century: the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The MCU is already untimely in its heady patchwork of archaisms and futurology, and thereby near-readymade as a costume for refashioning the classical. This ‘writing back’ is ‘literature made from literature’ and cinema and art; an artful fan fiction offering new ways into both understanding Horace’s text and producing meaning from it today.* With great humour, Burt tackles the thorny formula of mentor/mentee or patron/patronised, offering us answers to some of the questions antiquity has left us. It is a touching poem, Horace’s form turning out to be perfect for the tragic arc of Peter Parker and Tony Stark.
Jason Schlude digs us some poems from the earth. Like truffles, they are musky, gamey, rich and complex. The poems from We Lived among the Bones — a kind of archaeo-bildungsroman — summon antiquity into the interpersonal. We spend time with grandfathers, fathers, and sons. The wisdom of Silenus gets mixed up with still-warm fish guts, while Plato is rebuffed by a gruff materialism. Odysseus and Laertes and weaponry are mixed into rural life: a child’s worship of the swirl in the grain of a walnut shotgun stock reminiscent of Homeric concern over spears and shields. The terrible ending to many of antiquity’s hunting stories comes up modern. These poems engage the classical in a rare encounter with physical work, hardiness and hoariness, grit and gunpowder, love and tradition.
With unflinching precision, Anna Jackson’s sonnet cycle runs a sword through sensuality and revelry in Catullus’ poems. In ‘waitress sonnet’ after Catullus 51, she pierces the heart of the fiery engorgement in the poem, disembodying the god-gaze for a capitalist setting. More fragmentary, but no less lyrical, ‘bedroom sonnet’ after Catullus 2 transforms the light claws of Lesbia’s sparrow to a pounding compulsion. Transferred lust inverts the innocence of Catullus 5 to sand-blast the knowing void of social media in ‘high school sonnet’, and word play titillates the fetishisation of anatomy in ‘party sonnet’ after Catullus 27. Finally the frankly tedious simile of Catullus 48, remixed into the spinning hangover fragments of ‘the dawn sonnet’, gains a new piquancy with hints of betrayal, and the zinging couplet of Catullus 85 produces an abstruse equation for our time.
Stephanie Burt also translates and adapts verse from the Greek Anthology for the issue. We publish two of her Hellenistic epigrams: the first a subtly surreal piece giving voice to a warrior’s shield, the other spoken to one well-worn. This Greekly absurd duo is updated by Burt to deal with the political of today, subverting hyper-masculine war language yet inserting bright brute matter: ‘soil, blood, pus, and bone’. The two poems at once reconstruct and critique the Greek, questioning agency, utility, and the fetishisation of war-stuff. If ‘Mr. Stark’ brings us the artistic passion of antiquity, then ‘Two Shields’ brings us its histories of violence.
Our editor Joshua Barley — fresh from his translations of the poet Michalis Ganas — translates a Greek folk song for us. ‘The Return of the Long-lost Husband’ is one of the most beloved ballads in Greece. Bearing the beguiling name παραλογές, these narrative poems are said to have preserved ancient Greek stories through the intervening centuries in the form of pantomime. The word παραλογή is said to come from παρακαταλογή, which in Aristotle and Plutarch means ‘recitative’. George Seferis adapted the ballad in his poem of the same name.
We would like to extend our thanks to Lucius Elliott and Nancy Hine for art direction, Sophie W. for sharing MCU knowledge, and to Ika Willis [no relation] for helping make this issue possible.
*See Willis, I. 2018. Reception. UK: Routledge. 51, 91-2.