I may have done some serious violence to Sophocles, but I reckon he can withstand it with ease. He may even have suffered worse than my attempt at verse.
For this week, after discussing the chapter in Maxwell’s On Poetry on Space in which he discusses verse drama, we were given the opening chunk of a not particularly poetic translation Sophocles’ Antigone and invited to poeticise it. I gave the feisty Antigone sprawling alexandrines, and Ismene more restrained pentameters.
One of the biggest issues for me here is fusing the ‘elevated’ form of verse with the colloquial speech of two sisters from a dysfunctional family. I imagined ‘the Palace’ as maybe a nightclub, or something. I haven’t fully thought through the dramatic context that would be needed if I were to turn this into a full length verse drama adaptation (having gang warfare feels a bit West Side Story-ish), but I have got a potential cast in mind: Antigone is to be played by Maxine Peake, Ismene by Julie Hesmondhalgh, and the Chorus by – erm – Jeremy Kyle.
Our assignment this week was to write a sonnet, but with the rhymes in the third and fourth line of each quatrain not occurring at the end of the line.
So, here is the second in my OED series, shaped to fit that brief. Given that the rhyme scheme becomes ‘submerged’ taking this approach, I wanted to let it rise to the surface again by having the last line of the third quatrain rhyme fully with the first line, before finishing with a convetional couplet. Maybe this echoes the murky, underwater tangling of the Blue Planet documentary that inspired it, while the ‘resurfacing’ to conventional rhyme heightens the irony of the call for a return to ‘simpler’ times that in a sense never really existed. ‘Chalypsography’ is an invented word, etymologically mal-formed, and neber used again, for a type of printing that was (apparently) initially devised for the printing of banknotes. Sigh.
Our last task was to write a poem with the focus on using rhythm, and preferably the interplay of contrasting rhythms.
The poem below was intended for a Christmas poem competition, but I missed last week’s entry deadline, so I don’t mind putting it up here. The starting point is a piece that I wrote a few years ago, but I ended up stretching most of the lines past the point where they can be strung comfortably along a recognisable metrical pattern. The long lines are typically around sixteen syllables, and the underlying iambic pattern would suggest eight stressed syllables, but I think the variation in degrees of stress becomes more accentuated the longer the line, and the stresses with truly siginficant weight probably varies from five to seven, but there are clearly legitimate possible variations of intonation both within and beyond that tendency, while the use of internal rhyme at various points disrupts further any attempt to establish a neat regularity in the longer lines.
You can decide for yourself what motivation I may have had for creating that rhythmic tension, perhaps informed by the other main rhythmic feature of this poem: the counterpoint between those long lines, and the short lines that interpose – each a half-line
stolen borrowed from ‘Away in a Manger’.
The shops have been full of Christmas stuff since they took the Halloween decorations down, so I hope I can be forgiven for chucking in a Christmas poem even before Advent has begun. It seems somehow fitting given the slippage and disruption of the traditional seasonal calendar.
In my native dialect, the word ‘form’ is a synonym for ‘bench’, so this blog title is a pretty esoteric pun, by which I hope to deflect from the fact that the task of creating a ‘new’ form has been dealt with in a frankly pretty half-hearted way. I have substituted the full rhyme associated with the first and third lines of terza rima for half-rhyme, and added an internal full rhyme to each first line. I have also eschewed the final couplet, and instead returned, in the final stanza, to the rhyme of the first line of the poem to supply the rhyme for the middle line. So I guess that’s sort of a new form, right?
This poem begins to put into form an idea I have had for many years of producing a sequence of poems using the volume divisions of the twenty volume second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. It turns out that this edition (published in 1989) is expected to be the last printed edition, which fits thematically with a number of things I’m working on. My long fiction work so far features a main character who was an enumerator on the last UK national census for which the forms were collected by house-to-house collection, and lives in a house where someone is delivering the yellow pages, the last printed editions of which will be distributed over the next couple of years. Some uses of the physical printed word are disappearing; others are proving to be resilient and even making a resurgence. The connection between the continuities and changes in the way we make and transmit meanings in culture have parallels in the continuities and changes in our sense of self, and how we make meaning of our lives, while the destruction, loss and reinvention of broader cultural memes and myths seems to me to have echoes in our interaction with the physical world and its ecology. The latter aspect is only obliquey hinted at here in the transformation of the Ox into the letter ‘A’ (‘aleph’ in the phoenician alphabet, derived from the Egyptian ox’s head hieroglyph).