Spring poems: winged words and direful springs!

Dear Kevin,

Thank you for your fine and well made poem which I really enjoyed.

Speaking of poetry, I should tell you that I have –belatedly, it is true– begun to involve myself in your wonderful version of The Odyssey, filled with light. What an extraordinary undertaking! Thank you so much for it, and my apologies for not getting to it sooner.

Would you say a bit more about how you came to do it?

(It’s been a long time since I checked in with Homer –although, Beth, didn’t we do a Staten Island OutLoud reading not too long ago?)
And, Beth again, thanks for that Emily Dickinson poem. Lovely.

Must be something in the air: I myself have been working on a “springtime” poem –in which all is not quite what it seems.
But then, is it ever?

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5 Responses to “Spring poems: winged words and direful springs!”

  1. Kevin T. McEneaney

    I began work on the Homer when I was laid off from teaching. I was never really satisfied by the different versions available, although there are many. I must confess that at first I approached Homer backwards from two perspectives: I had the idea that there were really two different authors whose work had been melded together by a third redactor, and I did not understand how being blind affected his work. These misunderstandings led to numerous obssessive revisions over two years, trying to be both accurate to the Greek and poetic in English. I’m glad you like it and yes light is the right word, for the poem is about striving for light, moral clarity, and a fight for dignity. Some speculation on my part: I never liked the near-apocalyptic ending of the poem, but through the imagery used it is clear Homer is killing his literary and political critics. I think he was dismissed by some as “nothing but a war poet” and in The Odyssey he tried to encapsualte all known forms of poetry while presenting a popular narrative. Greek drama is descended from acting out parts of Homer.

  2. Malachi

    Thanks for that Homeric background, and those insights. I have only recently become aware of the disputes regarding authorship, and must confess that they do seem somewhat superfluous, removed from the sheer enjoyment of the lines.

    I especially liked what you said in response to my use of the word ‘light’; I quote you: ” I’m glad you like it and yes light is the right word, for the poem is about striving for light, moral clarity, and a fight for dignity.
    For me the word ‘light’ has always had a special meaning, a special significance. But it is only in very recent years that I have begun to examine it, to define it, to try to understand why it should have that extra significance and meaning for me –that, presumably, I have attached to the “dictionary” word.

    Whatever has been attached along the way, I have no doubt as to when it began. Even today, right now, I can vividly recall an event from my early early past –I could not have been more than two or three years of age.
    I am at home, in Cobh, in the room we called “the dining room”, the room where the piano is. My mother is playing the piano –likely Chopin or Beethoven: she played very well. Richly.
    I am looking out the window at the lawn amd the tree beyond. Just outside the window, a rose bush –a dog rose, pink, fragrant. It must have been early summer, because there were leaves on the trees, but not so full that one could not see sky through them.
    It was a bright sunny day and the sunlight was shining through the leaves which were slightly moving in the breeze….

    Being there, with the clear music filling my ears and my head, and smelling the fragrance of the rose, and seeing the play of brilliant sunlight filtered and flashing through the leaves: I was filled, overflowing, with a sense of well-being. It’s a feeling that has been something of a benchmark for me –all my life, I suppose.
    And that is the extra meaning and significance that I attach to ‘light’.

    So thank you –and Homer– for associating all this for me.
    (Unfortunately I have to rush right now; no doubt there is more to say on the subject. So –more later.)
    A last question: did you also translate the Odyssey from the Greek?

  3. Kevin T. McEneaney

    No, my Greek has vanished (I once studied it so I could read a few poets and some Plato, but there is a three-volume line by line commentary bu Huebeck et al. published by Oxford. I consulted a number of translations: Butler for character, Lattimore for literal accuracy, Pope for moral perspective, Fitzgerald for economy, as well as a few more translations (there’s a couple dozen available). I do not care for the work of Robert Fagles, the translation most used today in schools; his Odyssey is overly literary while his Iliad makes the warriors sound like high-school coaches on a football team.
    Most passages received over a dozen drafts as I tried to be both poetic and accurate. Passages I didn’t quite get the gist of I wrote obtusely and went back to revise them. It was the most intense literary labor I’ve ever undertaken, aside from my own epic poem, Boldface Names, which I’ll send to you if you might be interested.
    I really loved your description of your mother palying the piano and your synesthethic experience of sound, color, and light! Light itself has become a critical criteria in European thought. Kundera used it in his great novel, popularizing that criteria. Off the top of my head I can’t remember who began it. Adorno? Luckas? But it really comes from Dante Alighieri.

  4. Kevin T. McEneaney

    Didn’t realize you would reply or I would have gotten back to you earlier.

  5. Malachi McCormick

    Kevin: Presumably the Kundera novel you mention is “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” –one of my alltime favorite books. Thanks for this reference: I had not made the “light-lightness” connection, and now I want to know more.
    Thanks too for the background information on your work on the Odyssey. Very interesting.
    I have been reading some more of it –it gets better and better.
    I especially appreciated your comment about my mother’s playing the piano.( I have some more to say of this, for me, rich memory, and hope to get to it soon.)