29 December 2012


~ cutting review of Alice Oswald's "Memorial" ~

Wonderfully dismissive review by William Logan in the New York Times of Alice Oswald's Memorial ~ at least I think it's wonderful, Logan seems alone in not gushing.

OK, put it this way, I'd love to have delivered some of his cuttinger lines.

Was doing over Christmas what I couldn't stand about my mother - reading bits aloud.

  • "In “Memorial,” Alice Oswald has had the idea of boiling down the poem to two of its most striking features: the gruesome fatalities and the similes that often lie in pastoral counterpoint to the action.

    The subtle portrayals of emotion, the strikingly modern psychology, the ancient tactics, the fate-haunted warriors — all that life almost three millenniums old has been reduced to little more than a bureaucracy of death.

  • "Oswald claims she has paraphrased the lives of Homer’s warriors but translated his similes; in fact, she plays fast and loose with both.

  • "A deeper and more disturbing problem is Oswald’s Frankenstein transplant of similes from the original. When Homer compares Menelaos and Meriones, bearing away the body of Patroclus in Book 17, to mules dragging a roof beam or a ship timber, it shows what a dead weight the dead are: even the king and his companion are reduced to draft animals by their labor. By grafting the simile onto the deaths of a Trojan and his chariot driver, Oswald denies us the original’s unsettling contrast — and it’s not clear if the mules are the dead men or the live horses.

    Too often this rough-and-ready recycling destroys the force, and the cunning, of the Iliad.

    Oswald’s rendering is often more vivid than the Greek, but the lack of punctuation makes the syntactical relation of her similes obscure or impossible.

    Worse, her insistent use of “like” for “as” turns her narrator into a gum-chewing Valley girl (“Like suddenly it thunders,” “Like when a ditch-maker takes a mattock”).

    The similes are printed twice in succession, as if the reader were too dim to get them.

    ... Oswald at times seems to misunderstand Homer — Pandarus’ difficulty isn’t that his arrows were “flying off at angles,” but that they hit his enemies without killing them (she thinks the arrows were flint-tipped, as if the Trojans were Sioux braves). Her description of his death makes nonsense of the original — a spear that hits him “between the eyes” cannot somehow emerge through his chin.

  • Fair play - I'm being generous talking about 'fair play' because I have no idea if Logan's right and everyone else wrong. But at least let me end on a balancing note by pointing you to Phil Womack's slightly OTT garland.

    Simon Baddeley said...

    I'd like to think it's win-win. Logan's blacklight shows up Oswald's cut coke, but it'll still hook some new users. Carrie's given me Marguerite Desmurger's little Stories for Greek History for Christmas 'to read to Oliver when he's bigger XXX L' Glancing through them I recall the enchantment of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales 'When Jason, the son of the dethroned King of Iolchos, was a little boy, he was sent away from his parents, and placed under the queerest schoolmaster that ever you heard of. This learned person was one of the people, or quadrupeds, called Centaurs. He lived in a cavern, and had the body and legs of a white horse, with the head and shoulders of a man. His name was...' "Snort hard lad, get that into the back of your throat" Why do people want fecking drugs when this stuff's legal, damn near free and keeps you high for the rest of your life. (...and how about 'queerest' as a reclaimed adjective?) X

    Corfucius said...

    " ... legal, damn near free and keeps you high for the rest of your life."

    you, sir, continue to give good comment to keep *me* high, bravo n thanks.