Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Review: 'The Antigone Poems' by Marie Slaight, Terrence Tasker

I don't often review poetry because poetry is, similar and yet very unlike to prose, deeply personal. What I look for, and often don't find, is meaning, passion and an understanding of humans. A novel makes it easier to achieve those three things since it has many more words than most poems. The Antigone Poems, a collection of poetry, manages to incorporate all three of these goals in poems that are not only highly modern but also extremely ancient.
Passionate, brutal, and infused with extraordinary lyricism, The Antigone Poems provides a special expedition into the depths of the ancient Sophocles tragedy. The work’s obsessive, ritualistic and ultimately mysterious force brings into sharp focus the heroic, tragic figure at the center of the primordial compact between gods and humans. The work, a collaboration between poet, Marie Slaight and artist, Terrence Tasker, was created in the 1970’s, while the artist were living in Montreal and Toronto.
What initially drew me to this collection was its beautiful cover. There is something about Tasker's charcoal drawings that is frightening and yet it is almost impossible to look away. The face on the cover is one that unapologetically speaks of heart-break and tragedy and is also very feminine, in my eyes. In that sense, he has captured the poetry beautifully. Just look at the way her eyes are drawn on the cover. I personally ffound it almost too intense to look at. I wish I had a posted of this cover, because I would frame it. The way Tasker has worked with shadows, with the single colour of the charcoal that still allows depth, it all comes together in such a way that whenever his drawings appear in the collection, they seem on point. They add to the drama, rather than distract. In the same way that the poems give you an insight into the depths of a human mind, the drawings give you all the shades of black and white and they grey found in between.

Marie Slaight's poetry is exceptional. I am not a big poetry fan and when I do enjoy it, it tends to be classic. Initially I was nervous about whether the modernity of the poems would get in the way of me understanding the collection. There is no clear scheme, there are no obvious rhymes, sometimes there is only one line or one word. And yet, I stormed through the collection, unwilling to put it down. Although I could have mulled over each poem, which I definitely will do during the many times I will reread this collection, there was something about Slaight's style that propels the reader on. Especially during one section in Chapter One, the poem structure and style pushes you along and hardly allows a breath, which fits the subject matter perfectly. Slaight has really managed to find the balance between content and style supporting each other. Neither gets in the way of the other, but rather they come together in a way that simply works.

Not only was the style enjoyable, but the language was beautiful. I love well written poems, I am a big fan of words being used well and I like seeing nothing more than those two things coming together. I could wax lyrical over the language in this collection, but rather I will let the stanza below speak:
'We live our livesThe instant between life and deathTo touch death always,That is the sun.'
I think there is something beautiful about these lines and it is definitely profound without becoming too pretentious. This quote is from an ARC so might appear different in the final product. Is this collection the place to look for a faithful adaptation of the Greek myth? No. But this is definitely where you will find an intense reimagining of the emotions of its main female character.

I can't write this review without mentioning how breathtaking the edition of this collection is. Although I don't want to discredit the beauty every single copy, may it be physical or online, of a book has, there is something magical about receiving a book that has clearly been cared for. Altaire Productions and Publications used specialty paper and section-sewn binding for The Antigone Poems, which gives the collection a very different feel than most other reads. There is something lasting about the heaviness of the paper, its coarseness and the way the cover clings to the pages. It is nice to hold a book that has clearly been made with a lot of thought and love.

I give this collection..

5 Universes

I know I usually withhold this rating for established classics, but I am making an exception. The beautiful and haunting poetry and imagery of this collection make it one of the stand-out books in my bookcase. I don't tend to reread poetry, but there is a draw to The Antigone Poems that will make me come back to it. I don't have a clear recommendation for it, since I don't know which category or genre to fit it into. It seems to defy quite a lot of labels and perhaps that is what should recommend it for you.

1 comment:

  1. One of my main literary loves is Greek tragedy and Antigone is probably my favourite of all. This collection sounds amazing, I will have to look it up.

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