Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gawain: "Sithen the sege"

Sithen the sege and the assaut
               was sesed at Troye

                 – that city
a heap of half-burnt timbers and ashes, smoking still –

This poem has now been removed to allow later publication elsewhere. Many thanks for all comments!


Bo said...

I love some of this--the peeping among catkins is a great little detail.

The Editors said...


I consider the deliberate mispelling of 'sage' as my first gripe. It is as if the poet were not only ignorant of the OED, but in fact taking issue with the whole concept of an authoritative bastion of intellect, preserving the cultural life of the language for posterity.

I wonder if the 'half-burnt' is not a sign, however, of the poet's insufficiency of wit to actually tear down the walls of language, as it were? Yet, one would say that the assignation that follows could be considered a sign of the coming threat. We are not to consider ourselves as Troy, under assault from this fangled language, but as the Greeks, who, having basked in the heat of Ilium's burning, merely establish the events that will lead to the Latinate sweeping of Europe.

We would take the 'French flood' as suitably dismissive to perhaps offer the poet a bonus to their application. Clearly, the Sorbonne has nothing on us.

What, though, are we to make of this 'i-Pod'? Is it even in the dictionary?

No, my recommendation is that the poet's application to the post of Professor of Poetry be rejected."

Highly enjoyable draft, Jane, more more!


Jane Holland said...

Catkins is about the only original detail in the thing. Well, this is not one of my favourites, I readily admit it. But it provides a lead-in of sorts. ;)

I suspect it would be better if I kept the first four lines, but
removed the rest apart from the catkins bit. Radical surgery is often beneficial in poems that are struggling to be poems.

It would be an interesting way to start a second draft, at any rate. Leave the head and the ankles, but the rest 'moot pipen in an ivy leaf' as Chaucer might have put it.

Jane Holland said...

Hello there George. So you don't support my application? Quelle surprise. Just as well I forgot to post it then.

Sege and onion. Quite a ring to it.


Jane Holland said...

Sithen the sege and the assaut
was sesed at Troye

- that city
a heap of half-burnt timbers and ashes -

came a boy-king, peeping between catkins
in a forest

[Add your own ending.]

Well, okay, it might not work that well after all. Hmm.

Jane Holland said...

It's interesting how lines can only really work in one particular context. Or rather, they begin to work in a different way if the context is changed. You can't transplant a line from one context to another without changing almost everything about it, including its impact on the eye, ear and brain. And context can mean white space as well as the lines that come before and after.

My head hurts now.

Bo said...

Isn't it maddenning? I've never felt (sorry, dearly beloved and worshipful friend!) that the blurring of medieval and modern (e.g. the i-pod, the guns in B&c) quite comes off. It's not that one should aim for timeless medieval pastiche, just that 'jarring of time-frames' *as a poetic effect* is extremely strong and rather garlicky, and tends to overwhelm the more delicate flavours of the rest of the poem.

PS talking of medieval, guess who's teaching middle english lit at P'house next year?

Jane Holland said...

Hmm, we may have to agree to differ on that one!

I find unmediated medievalism rather icky and cloying after a while. Too much Pauline Stainer makes me want to listen to Britney Spears at top volume. I mean, we're not medieval people, are we? Whether we like it or not, we live in the twenty-first century. We can be inspired by another time period, but to recreate something wholly of another time period in poetry - prose fiction is another matter entirely - suggests to me a lack of reality and perspective. When I read poems that are a bit too floaty and medieval, as though the intervening six to eight hundred years had never happened, I get mental images of bearded men in nice home-made gowns chanting and lighting candles in front of a dodgy video of Excalibur. Nothing wrong with that lifestyle per se, of course, but it's never been the kind of poetry that does it for me. And I suspect Ted Hughes would have agreed with me. There has to be a sharp-edged relevance to it, a purpose to poetry ... it can't just be about recreating something we've lost.

That's my opinion, anyway, fwiw.

So ... teaching Middle Eng Lit next year. Is that you? Poor thing! ;)

Bo said...

Yes, it is me! ARGH....

No, I agree with you---I entirely see where you're coming from. As I say, I'm *against* timeless medieval pastiche, so we are singing from the same song-book there. Do you know Guy Davenport's work? He blurs time-periods in quite a startling way. The risk, of course, is that the juddering, ruler-twanged-over-the-edge-of-a-desk effect of introducing a very modern concept will make a poem fracture rather than come together. It's a very loud effect in an otherwise rather quiet poem. Christiana Whitehead (doesn't she teach you?) has some interesting experiements along these lines.

Rik said...

Add my own ending? Nah. Yours is fine.

Though I did find myself musing about 'sweaty palms' - it's kinda dirty and he's supposed to be a king and all.

'holy palms'?

The Editors said...

I think the idea of what was sewn in the ruins of Troy is a fantastic starting point for a poem, though.

The Greeks have burnt the city to dust, slaughtered all they could find; the Trojans have set sail to found the new Rome. What's left? Who enters first?

The catkins get there first: that's the first idea; then the boy-king. Does he find a city of nature, or a landscape to cull back into the lands of men?

Yes, I like what you've cut down to. It's the start of the poem, where the draft has a bit more description of the things that we already know (but it might have tackled it eventually, if you'd given it the 800 lines it's questing for).


Jane Holland said...

Bo - enjoy that Chaucer. (Groan.) He can be funny, but I never found him particularly easy to discuss as an author. Narrative absence and presence aside, he's a fairly flat writer. I'd rather dissect the Gawain-poet any day.

And yes, CW is a key Med/Ren tutor at Warwick. I was in one of her seminar groups for a few weeks, in fact, before swopping for various reasons. However, I didn't think she'd written - or at least published - any new poetry for some years. Or are you referring to her early Bloodaxe book?

I wanted to mention poetry/Bloodaxe to her on several occasions, but it never felt like the right time. I'm fairly certain she knows who I am though, so if she'd really wanted to discuss the poetry world with me, I'm sure she would have done so at some point.

Rik - if I ever use a flabby, pretentious term like 'holy palms' in a poem, you have my permission to kick me up the fundament. Being a poet who gets off on hard juxtapositions, 'sweaty' fits nicely with 'regal' to my mind. Even the Queen must need an underarm spritzer on occasion - just like any other mortal.

George ... George. If only I could understand you. Is it mushroom season already?

Jane Holland said...

Btw, Bo, I think this particular jarring effect is as much to do with the lay-out of the poem and the 'tagged-on' feeling of those last few lines as it is to do with their change in tone/content.

That's what early drafts are for though. To show me what a complete cock-up I've made of the poem so far and how it can be rescued from my mediocrity - assuming it can be, that is.

Paul Squires said...

Oh that's a pity. Do you still find it necessary to remove the poems from the blog to get them published. Such a silly rule and gradually passing into obscurity, I find.

Bo said...

'holy palms' -- echoes of 'holy palmers' in Romeo and Juliet. I'm not sure it wd be a good idea either. I like sweaty palms better too.