In her sixth book of poetry, Memorial, Alice Oswald draws on her classical education and longstanding fascination with the oral tradition – tales told rather than written – to produce a mesmeric reworking of the world’s greatest war story: Homer’s Iliad. Yet where most critics have praised, and most translators have sought to capture, what Matthew Arnold called the poem’s “nobility”, Oswald’s version abandons its narrative – the wrath of Achilles – approaching instead what ancient critics called its “enargeia”, or “bright unbearable reality”. The result is a darkly atmospheric poem which flits between biographical laments for the many war-dead and soaring, dramatic similes; “an antiphonal account”, as Oswald states in her introduction, “of man in his world”. Throughout, the unflinching, plain realism of the former – “DIORES son of Amarinceus / Struck by a flying flint / Died in a puddle of his own guts / Slammed down into mud he lies” – is often as gripping as the elemental blaze of the latter – “Like the hawk of the hills the perfect killer / Easily outflies the clattering dove / She dips away but he follows he ripples / He hangs his black hooks over her” – blending the human and the workings of nature to remarkable, incantatory effect.
You can visit The Poetry Archive today to listen to Alice Oswald read from Memorial, an excerpt taken from the accompanying CD audiobook to the hardback publication. I'd recommend it.