Wednesday, October 19, 2005

War Music

I don't know much about poetry, but I know that I like War Music, Christopher Logue's "account" of The Iliad. Logue's highly idiosyncratic take on Homer's epic is a thirty year work in progress, with the poet presently at work on the sixth and final installment. War Music is not a translation; Logue does not even read Greek. Instead, he has used a range of English translations as source material for an original poem that is not only fascinating, but also something of a page-turner.

Logue uses cinematic techniques to create a kind of poetic screenplay, full of jump-cuts, zooms, and striking juxtaposition. The authorial voice is constantly on the move, now describing a scene with sober precision, now sharing a knowing aside with the reader, now zooming in with unflinching certainty upon the endless honour feuds and violence, the twin engines that power the single-minded bravado of the Homeric heroes.

Logue's language is urgent and direct, occasionally coarse but always dancing on the page. It's hard to look away, particularly when at any moment you might strike one of Logue's bizarre anachronisms:
It was so quiet in Heaven that you could hear
The north wind pluck a chicken in Australia
Best of all is the way Logue manages to balance his very modern sensibilities with the pre-humanistic savagery of Homer's Greece. This is no sentimentalised version, no allegory or lesson. Logue builds around, rather than upon, Homer's ancient foundation. War Music is great stuff, proving (to me, at least) that poetry still has legs.

The edition reviewed here is the 2001 Faber & Faber paperback, which incorporates the first three installments of Logue's poem. Books four and five are also available separately.

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