Thursday, 4 October 2007

Big day

Today is National Poetry Day. In the UK, pretty much every day and week is designated as National Something Day/Week, my favourite being National Chip Week, because, obviously, we don’t eat anything like enough chips in this country. A day devoted to poetry, on the other hand, seems like a good idea.
I’m going to that Autumn Leafe reading as my poetry fix, so I’ll report back on that tomorrow. Meanwhile, there’s some news here on the Forward Prize announcement. Can’t say I’m over the moon about Sean O’Brien’s win, really, but I won’t argue with Daljit Nagra’s success at all. Most of the first collections, from what I’ve seen of them, would have been very worthy winners.
As I was going through some books last night I realised that my copy of the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle Of Maldon was translated and annotated by Bill Griffiths, who died recently. It’s a superb edition, with an original transcript, a literal translation, an alliterative verse translation, and a good introduction and bibliography. I wasn’t grabbed by his translation of the famous “Thought must be the harder, heart the keener, Spirit shall be more, as our might lessens” passage, mainly because he uses “resources” rather than “might”, which sounds too modern, but that’s quibbling because his version is otherwise excellent. The intro, too, makes some interesting points about why Byrhtnoth might have allowed the Vikings across the causeway. Most commentators consider that the poem shows him being undone by “ofermod” – an excess of spirit, or pride. But Griffiths suggests he was being pragmatic – if he refused passage, the raiders could simply sail away and cause havoc elsewhere. By meeting them in battle, he stood a chance of destroying them, and knew that even if he didn’t, he would inflict enough damage on them to make further raiding difficult. Added to that, he may have been trying to set an example to his country and king, the unfortunate Aethelred Unraed (the Unready, but here meaning “bad counsel”, punning on his name, which means “good counsel”).
A few weeks back, I saw this review at Stride, and sent for the book. It's consistently superb throughout, with at least some absolutely stunning poems, such as the lovely Untitled. I was so taken with it I ordered Solie's first collection, Short Haul Engine, and it arrived today, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck into that. Incidentally, they're both really nicely produced books, in a physical sense, I mean. It doesn't matter THAT much, but it's a nice little bonus, considering they're actually a bit cheaper than many a UK collection.
Right, enough. We’re being taken out to lunch at work today, so I’m off to the pub. Chips for me, I think.


Frances said...

Hi Matt, I was reading Rob's comment on Surroundings about Sean O'Brien. I have the book - it was the Poetry Book Society choice for this month but haven't yet read it. One of the poems is called 'Eating the Salmon of Knowledge from Tins'. A prize winning title anyway.

Matt Merritt said...

Nice title. Admittedly my feelings about his win are coloured by those absurd claims last year by one of the judges that he had written the "perfect poem" - not his fault at all - and by the line he often takes in reviews. I should give the book a chance.

Frances said...

Perfect poem - mmm... not a very sensible thing for a judge to say. I'll let you know how I get on although I must admit I hardly know his work.