Monday, July 18, 2005


In my favorite local independent bookseller today to pick up a copy of the new Harry Potter for another member of the household (tho I'll confess to having read the first 3 chapters already) (Eric, would that be a "wave" offering or a "heave" offering? – "wave," I guess, with the wands and suchlike), I finally picked up the most recent installment of Christopher Logue's "retelling" of the Iliad, All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad Rewritten (FSG, 2003). I've always found Logue's versions compelling and very readable indeed, if not quite the revolutions in translation some people have made them out to be. This latest one, 20 pages in, is even more cinematic than War Music and Kings; I want to retitle it, "The Iliad: The Director's Cut," it has so many shooting directions.

One can be forgiven for forgetting that Logue is a pretty decent poet in his own right, even aside from his Homeric spasms. (As I say that, I realize that I have no idea whether he's ever had a book of poems published on this side of the Atlantic.) A couple from his Selected Poems (Faber, 1996): The first one shows that Logue's one of the few English-language poets who can write a Brechtian poem that doesn't sound like pastiche:

The Ass's Song

In a nearby town
there lived an Ass

who in this life
(as all good asses do)

helped his master,
loved his master,

served his master,
faithfully and true.

Now the good Ass worked
the whole day through

from dawn to dusk
(and on Sundays, too)

so the master knew
as he rode to mass

God let him sit
on the perfect Ass.

When the good Ass died
and fled above

for his reward
(that all good asses have)

his master made
of his loyal hide

a whip with which
his successor was lashed.

The second is a bit less mordant:

Last night in London Airport
I saw a wooden bin
So I wrote a poem
and popped it in.

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