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Pindar’s Odes

The introduction to Andrew M. Miller’s translation of Pindar’s Odes[1] tells us that he is ‘generally reckoned the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece’. I don’t think many non-Classicists read him now, though he, or the idea of the Pindaric, had a huge influence on poetry in different European languages over centuries in which Sappho was barely a name. Nowadays, positions are reversed: only crumbs of Sappho’s work survive, but her fragments are much translated and widely loved. Her brilliance was acclaimed in her own day, of course, but it seems to me that for later generations the … Continue Reading

Hugo Williams, Lines Off – review

In different ways, Edge, Afterwardness and Flèche are all written in overtly poetic forms and styles. Williams, too, writes with polished skill in his Lines Off, but achieves the hallucinatory vividness of his poems with an art so understated as to seem almost artless, except for the symmetrical patterns the poems fall into.

Understatement reaches an extreme in this stanza from ‘St Pancras Old Church and Hospital’, one of many poems presenting Williams’s experience of kidney dialysis and a life-saving transplant:

 

I passed my days
lying down with a machine,
till someone unknown to me died
and allowed me to … Continue Reading

Mary Jean Chan, Fleche – review

Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche describes the speaker’s struggle to assert her gay sexual orientation despite social prejudice and her mother’s horror. This story is interwoven with themes of cultural change and intercultural migration as the poet travels from Hong Kong to America and England. The whole book is framed by metaphors drawn from the sport of fencing – flèche itself and the section titles ‘Parry’, ‘Riposte’ and ‘Corps-à-Corps’. A more deeply imagined inner structure lies in a series of accounts of eating, drinking and cooking that runs through it, and particularly in an implicit parallel between Chan’s gnawing erotic need … Continue Reading