Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lisa Jarnot's Iliad XXII

I've been a fan of the work of New York poet Lisa Jarnot for some time [see my note on her previous work here], from her third trade poetry collection Black Dog Songs (Chicago IL: Flood Editions, 2003), and chapbook Reptile House (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2005). A New York City poet born in Buffalo, Jarnot is the author of two previous volumes of poetry, Some Other Kind of Mission (1996) and Ring of Fire (2001/2003), and chapbooks that include Heliopolis (rem press), The New Mannerist Tricycle (Beautiful Swimmer Press), 9 Songs (Belladonna) and Two of Everything (Meow Press), as well as a novel, Promise X (2004), and a biography of the poet Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus (Berkeley CA: The University of California Press, forthcoming). New from Michael Cross' ATTICUS/FINCH Chapbooks, is Jarnot's Iliad XXII (2006), riffing off the original Homeric classic. As she writes at the beginning of the collection:

This is Book Twenty-Two of the Iliad. It's close to the end of Homer's story: Achilles is angry about the death of his best friend Patroclus, and he's just slaughtered a larger number of Trojans and chased the rest of the army back to Troy. Meanwhile, Apollo has lured him away from the city gates so the scattering Trojans can escape. Everyone is feeling tired and mean, including the gods who have been arguing all day.
It's quite a risk to work any variation on a story so familiar and over-worked that to do it even less than spectacularly would almost be considered a failure; how to work such a text? Still, as Neil Gaiman wrote in his classic comic book series The Sandman, all the old stories eventually return to their original forms. But what does a rework add to such a piece? How can a piece against such be compared?

So spoke he,
and he hauled up his
spear with long shadows
and threw it
far into the air,
and it came down hard
on the shield of Achilles
the Pelean spawn,
and it landed
where it should
but then it jumped back,
glazed from the shield,
and Hector he was
filled with rage
for the fast spear
that had mis-marched
from his hand,
and he stood there
feeling witless
and without another spear
and he shouted back to
Deiphobus of the white shield
to retrieve another spear
but he could not see him anywhere,
and Hector felt it in his heart
and spoke he what had come:

"It's here
it's here for sure
the gods have called me
downward to my death,
for even that
I thought Deiphobus
had been here at hand,
not so—
since he is where he was,
inside the city walls—
is the one who
double-crossed me,
and now it is for sure
my bad news death
comes on to take me,
and it is close to me
and there is no escape-way

and this must
be what Zeus had
planned with pleasure
over time,
and even too his son,
the one named the far-shooter,
and even too
those who helped me readily,
but still my fate has come to me,

I will not die quietly
and I will still die well
that my great deeds
will be known to men,
to those still not yet born."
In the end, all a reader can do is go through the work as its own individual unit. This how far back in history; much like Anne Carson writing Sappho's fragments in If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (New York NY: Knopf, 2002), but not exactly. It makes for an interesting series of questions, such as, why did Jarnot choose to take on this project at all? Why did she pick this particular section? How did she make her particular decisions as far as word or phrase choice? And in the end, was she writing the particular story of women, as the piece ends with:

So spoke she and she wept she
and all the women
they did weep as well.
A staggeringly beautiful object, ATTICUS/FINCH has been producing small, limited edition books for a couple of years, many of which have already gone out of print, such as Cynthia Sailers' Rose Lungs (2003), Elizabeth Willis' Meteoric Flowers (2004), Tanya Brolaski's The Daily Usonian (2004), Eli Drabman's the ground running (2004), Thom Donovan and Kyle Schlesinger's Mantle (2005) and Gregg Biglieri's I Heart My Zeppelin (2005). Forthcoming works include works by Myung Mi Kim (2006), and Taylor Brady and Rob Halpern (2007).

ATTICUS/FINCH Chapbooks, c/o Michael Cross, State University of New York at Buffalo, Samuel Clemens Hall #306, Buffalo, New York 14260-4610

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