Ode to a Community Arts Worker

(after Horace Ode 1.13 Cum tu, Lydia)

Robbie, what’s she got that I don’t have,
this latest little protégée of yours?
The way you keep on bigging up her poetry
makes me sick.

And if I have to hear you one more time
say, bet we haven’t heard the last of her
I promise you I’ll scream because believe me,
I’m fed up to the back-teeth.

Quite literally my own words start to choke me
watching hers impress you.  It seems a flash
of pen or a well-thrown line and that’s you sunk.
She’ll eat you for breakfast.

Why do you never listen to me, you pillock.
The bitch is using you to suit her ends.
What makes you think she’ll want the likes of you
when once she’s made it?

Whereas you and me, Robbie, we’ve grown together.
We’ve scratched each other’s backs, you get my drift!
We should try to get to know each other better.
Nothing dodgy though!

Process Notes on 1.13

See West’s Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp.62-65

In the fourth line the relation of bile to liver is not clear in the Latin, which could mean either by, with, from or in bile.  In the second stanza how odd to say that neither mind nor colour stays in its fixed seat, and how strange that a furtive tear should make anything clear, least of all how slow are tormenting fires. The slowness of the suffering, which is crucial to line 8 of the ode, seems to linger … where the metaphor may well be otherwise inactive.  In line 8 the word ‘torment’ loses the literal flavour of macerare, a technical term from cooking in Latin as in English….. Sometimes it is a dead metaphor meaning simply ‘to torment’ or ‘to weaken’.[1]

‘The symptomatology starts in the first stanza: ‘by boiling liver swells in indigestible bile’.  If liver were stewing in a pot, on this interpretation bile would be the stock and the liver would certainly swell.   Then in the next stanza, ‘my mind does not stay in its fixed place’.  Nor would a boiling liver.  ‘My colour,’, similarly, ‘does not stay in its place’.  Here the fit is not perfect, but the proposition that Horace himself changes colour is not too far away and it suggests colour changes in the cooking.  Moisture trickles down furtively on to Horace’s cheeks, as moisture may trickle down the side of a simmering pot.  Now we know why tears are here referred to, very unusually, as moisture, umor.  This overflow demonstrates that the liver is being cooked through and through by a slow heat which is to say that Horace’s tears reveal the depth and the duration of his suffering.[2]

I believe that this ode represents jealousy: ‘But Horace is Horace.  He is not going to have trembling in his breeze or go as green as grass or be near unto death as Sappho was and he is not going to end by being ashamed of himself like Catullus.  He has his feelings and ruefully admits to them, but smiles at Sapho and Catullus and at himself as he does so, by expressing his suffering in this whimsically detailed metaphor from cooking.’[3]

Horace’s ending suggests an alternative relationship as an ideal in contrast with the current unsatisfactory one – I put this in a literary context, referring to the ideal of a life-long erotic/patronage relationship.

The phrase ‘She’s gazing in your eyes for her reflection’ (line 2, stanza 4) is meant to suggest, that he (Robbie) is taking the gazing as admiration whereas as she (the latest protégée is gazing both to see the physical reflection of herself, but also to suggest the definition of reflection as ‘thoughts and thinking’ in other words that she has managed to make Robbie think and see things as she does.

[1] D. West, Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   1995,  P.62/3

[2] Ibid p.63

[3] Ibid p. 64

Ode to the S.S. Poetry

(after Horace Ode 1.14 O navis, referent)

You call yourself a Flagship! a literary liner
for such as me to cruise away their days.
Don’t make me laugh, you’re listing on new waves.
You make me sick.

Your passengers have stripped you bare.  It seems
a re-fit’s what you need, and while you’re here
best drop the erotic colours from your flagpole;
they’ve led you astray!

Crippled by a cargo of translation
that drags you down below the water line
you creak and whine and make your invocation,
to the god Obscure.

Iced quatrains and measured Canberra couplets
help me ride the storm, but even so
concrete fore and aft is not enough
I’m tossed like a cork,

and bounced about by sexy stanza makers
with ropey rhymes that skim along your decks.
Unrated prats like me with no commission –
We keep you afloat.

Plot a middle course between the rocks
of old volcanic form and swirling spume.
I’m sick to death of sailing round in circles.
Cut me some slack.

Process Notes on 1.14

See West’s Notes at: West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp.66-71

Personification is the basis of the intense feeling that runs through the poem and culminates in the last stanza….  The first line shows the ship’s helplessness and the rest of the stanza expostulates, telling her (the ship) to act with speed and courage and make a realistic assessment of her difficulties.  We then learn what they are.  One part of her is naked, another is crippled, another is wailing; she seems scarcely able to hold out as the sea becomes more and more bullying; she is calling on the gods…..  This detailed personification leads to the climax in the final stanza, ‘recently you were an anxious distress to me, now a longing and a care…..The personification is vital but the force of the poem comes also from the vividness and drama of the description.  Horace is on shore.  The ship has been coming in to harbour and has been swept out to sea again by a heavy swell…. The first impression is that this is a vivid account of a ship caught in a storm.  But this obvious interpretation does not work.  The anxiety and passionate longing of the last stanza are out of all proportion unless this is a very special ship.  We know what ship it is.  This poem is … related to poems of Alcaeus… References to the city, to ancestors, and to tyranny suggest that Alcaeus’ ship is the Ship of State and this is the unanimous view of ancient commentators on Alcaeus.  This is also the unanimous interpretation of Horace’s Ode 1.14 in the ancient commentators…. Not all the details in Horace’s scene make a precise fit with the political allegory, but the storm is war.  The new waves are a renewed outbreak.  Courage is needed.  The vessel is in a sorry plight and there is wailing…. The emotion at the end of the poem may well apply not only to the state but also to its guardian, Augustus.  In that case line 17 would imply that Horace had suffered anxiety and distress because of the continuance of civil war and line 18 would suggest that when it broke out again he was concerned for his patron’s safety.’[1]

In the world I have created for my versions of these Odes, this is a ship of poetry, which nicely substitutes the Ship of State in the original.  ‘New wave’ picks up the Latin, mare te novi and the last stanza brings out the swirling/rotic language. I have used the idea of ‘encircle’ to match ‘Cycladas’, the circling islands’

Although I do not open with the words, ‘Oh Ship of Poetry’, nevertheless I have personified the ship of poetry and I think the opening line is good enough, given that my ode has the title, ‘Ode to the Ship of Poetry.  The difficulties of ‘naked’ and ‘crippled’ and ‘wailing’ are all represented in my poem and the god my poetry ship looks to is the god of obscurity who does little to help.  ‘The gods were there to protect the ship but the ancients well knew that they did not always do so.’[2]

The anxiety and passionate longing for the very special Ship of State in the original is replaced by my anxiety and passionate longing about the Ship of Poetry and the dangers it seems to subject itself to by taking on ‘sexy’ new themes.

[1] D. West, Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   1995,  P.66-70

[2] Ibid p.67

Ode for a Maker of Performance Poets

(after Horace Ode 1.15 Pastor cum traheret)

When a DJ drags me off into the floodlights,
(a traitor to his own poetic cause),
and drops me, his class act onto the deck
to grope around the half-lit stage in fear

I admit I’m flattered; wouldn’t you be?
Then I hear the mutterings from the floor,
how her sort are the thin edge of the wedge;
how she’ll kill this place and ruin Davey’s cred.

A boy-band on before me gets applause
that brings the house down; I begin to shake.
Too late to run and hide, I’ve burnt my bridges,
I sense I’m going to end up on my arse.

Now the DJ, silly bugger,’s terrified;
despite the cheapo beer he’s organised
it’s dawned on him he’s serving neither cause:
by playing away we’d had it from the start.

He’s well and truly caught, pathetic dope,
between the usual rock and poetry’s hard place.
Too scared to sing my praises he lopes off
to find himself a safer watering hole.

I shouldn’t have submitted to this coupling;
and the masters of the web have barely started.
Miles from poetry and everything it means
they’ll U-tube me and stick me up on Face-Book.

Process Notes on 1.15

See West’s Notes at:  West, D. Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Test, Translation and Commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1995), pp.72-77

According to West, ‘This ode purports to give the prophecy delivered to Paris on the voyage by the sea-god Nereus.  The language of prophecies is often obscure and portentous and that is why Horace begins this poem with such an awkward first stanza.[1]  In Horace’s poem it is Paris who drags Helen off across the sea and of course the result is the Trojan War.

‘The voice of the prophet is heard again in the last stanza again with characteristic obscurity.  How could Paris have begun to understand that the fleet of Archilles would postpone the doom of Troy?  He could not at this moment have had any notion that Achilles would weaken the Greek armies by retiring in high dudgeon to his tent and thus postpone the fall of Troy’.[2] 

‘The central bulk of our poem is a meditation on one aspect of the Iliad-the abduction of Helen by Paris, its baneful effects upon his own people and also the Greeks, the fearful armoury of the goddess of war, the impotence of the goddess of love, the uselessness of Paris’s carefully groomed hair and prettily scored music… and his vain attempts to avoid the horrors of battle.  Then, after a muster of the formidable enemies who are hunting him down, the prophecy ends with an image of cowardice.’[3]

Here I try to pick up the original context with its sea language, hence the ‘slamming decks ’ to suggest both the deck of a ship and the slamming (i.e. music) decks.  I try to create the feeling of a storm brewing as the DJ slowly begins to realise that he is alienating both sides.  –  also building up towards war. The ‘wolf’ reference in the original is represented by the phrase ‘loping off’’ and ‘watering-hole’ has both a human and animal meaning.  As in the original, my poem has an image of cowardice/failure with the DJ running off to a safe watering-hole..

The main point of mine is a meditation on the ‘abduction’ of a poet into the world of slam/ hip-hop/pop which results in both sides being ‘at war’ both with each other and with themselves Although I do not use antonomasia (as in the original); my ‘Maker of Performance Poets’ is not one particular individual, but rather a ‘type’ which I would hope readers (especially poets who have been dragged into such performance poetry from time to time), will recognise. My prophecy tries to point out that when new technology gets hold of poetry, things will be even worse, thus predicting what is likely to happen next, just as in the original.

[1] D. West, Horace Odes I Carpe Diem: Text, Translation and Commentary, Oxford:  Clarendon Press,
   1995,  72

[2] Ibid 75

[3] Ibid 76/7

Ode to an Offended Fellow Poet

(after Horace Ode 1.16 O matre pulchra)

Ignore my email, trash my sarky poem.
Don’t forward junk, it just makes matters worse.
My God, but you’re your father’s son all right.
Shred the bloody thing!

No women’s writing groups, no gender mags
cause laddish authors’ droop: they still perform.
No one-too-many, washed-up poetry coach
bangs on quite this much.

Your anger’s grabbed you firmly by the balls.
No heated row or threat of sharp reviews,
no casting you adrift from writing circles
makes you shut your trap.

What’s said about your poetry isn’t true
despite the buzz.  If God’s name doesn’t calm you
nothing will because you’ve got yourself
into a write frenzy.
I’ve warned you lots of times about the critics,
the freaks who make and break us at a stroke,
but you can’t wait to take things to the line;
fire everything up.

The spicy sauce you drizzle on their plate
is not enough to hide your thinned-out verse.
They’ll bring you down and tear you limb from limb
then hang you out to dry.

They’ll make you eat your words: And this idea,
this view you hold, that most things go my way,
for me the sun will literally reverse,
it drives you red with rage.

Your work is strong, but fury grinds you down.
You plumb the depths and turn your students off.
You need to warm your words or see your class
razed to the ground.

I’ll dump the worst of verse, (that’s yours, not mine!)
Recycle poems, take back all I’ve said.
We must be friends again: bad blood got me
when I was your age too!