Sunday, June 3, 2007

Two responses

Over the years I've had a relatively small number of responses to the work. They range from positive to negative and from articulate to vague. More importantly for this blog, some were spoken, others hard-copy-written, and still others emailed. Though I may someday key in some of the printed comments, but that seems unnecessary.

In December 2005 I got two responses in the same week. The first was from George, a friend of my friend Eric. George lives in NC, where Eric is from. Eric had said that George should absolutely see some of the work, that he'd love it and have lots to say. Didn't work out that way.


.... I just can't seem to really connect emotionally with it. It's certainly well-wrought and pentameterifically well-measured. And the flow of the words is pleasing. But the combination of not knowing what the f--k it's about combined with the obvious great length and lack of much that I could personally relate to makes it very hard for me, personally, to say much more about it. Please tell Dave not to take my lack of enjoyment as a crushing blow. Tell him that I hardly read or enjoy ANY modern poetry, so I'm really not the one to ask. Maybe he should post bits of it at They're more than eager to do detailed critiques of shit that I can't even read. And Bobbie only comes up here to the library once every month or so. I'm sure that Dave's a fascinating guy and I would love to talk to him in a less specialized context. Sorry I can't be any more helpful.


The second response was from Keith, whom I'd found online by virtue of a literary journal he'd edited. I remember being impressed with the journal, though I wasn't sure I'd understood all of the entries. Upon receiving my email Keith said he'd be quite willing to look at some of my stuff, and this is part of his feedback:


I think it is an effective mix of language, form, story and character. To me, the key to writing a modern epic is finding the right mix of these elements, and if you don’t have the right mix of all, your effort is doomed. The epic is, by definition, an elevated style. I think a lot of people have erred by trying to force a modern drawing room drama into an epic style (to give one example). I’ve made that mistake in my verse dramas.

With just the excerpts I got a sense of the story, but I’m obviously missing many of the details. The poem, however, has a fascinating thematic mix of ecology, evolution, apocalypse, fantasy and religion. And the animal perspective gives it a fable quality.

The language is very expressive, the style elevated. Personally, I like a more elevated style. Poetry, I believe, should sound a little odd. It shouldn’t sound like prose. It’s not supposed to be colloquial. The only problem I’ve run into myself is occasionally slipping into a colloquial style which can undercut the overall tone of the work.

The excerpts seem to focus on a world of people and animals – is there a single character presented in depth? Or is it striving to show a whole social spectrum?


Keith's feedback has been on my mind a good deal; that, plus the fact that despite my sincere appreciation of his work on behalf of what I'd sent him, I'd never thanked him. For some reason it's been only recently that I've gotten better at thanking people for what they've done for me. Yeah, I know; pretty inexcusable.
I'm going to thank Keith, even though it's been a really long time since we were in touch. Whether or not he'll be willing to look at any more of the epic will be another matter. I'll keep you updated.

The Story Thus Far

Must start this way; as with my other blog, I've jumped on this bandwagon quite late in the history of blogging. More importantly, it's [hopefully] late in the history of the subject, which is my epic poem.

I started it properly in early March 1997, though some of the basics arose in 1991. I will be posting some selections of the poem, plus news updates, critiques I've received, and maybe a little ranting. In the unlikely event that it gets published (or even if I just finish it, for that matter) I'll have a handy place to document the progress.

The poem is a loosely-construed blank verse. It's roughly 400 single-spaced pages, depending on how one counts it. I'd guess that it's about 10,000 lines, but that's just a guess. It concerns a narrative we all know about, but it's been reworked to suit my own purposes. Not so different from Tom Stoppard did with Hamlet for his play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

More to come.

Also: in case it's not clear, I used the word "Song" in the blog's title not because there's any music involved, but because epics have traditionally been thought of as songs. The idea makes me feel good.

Here are the first few lines:

Won't someone tell me, please, the narrative
of their ordeals, and such beatific stuff
as how they’d lived and died; transformed; and came
around like living, dancing boomerangs
to find again their serried ranks and roles?
O tell me, brain, my antic attic Muse --
assist me as we share their story. Did
an unchecked vengeance make them suffer? Their
beseeching voices claim as much, and cry
for my attention. Me? I yearn for a song
that no one's sung before, and wish that it
would teach me; make me clever; let me try
to make it new. This pen, mundane, becomes
a votive taper – by its glow I will
a novel tale beverse, wrought without
a hero, filled with yet bereft of foes
and wrongs.