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Memorial by Alice Oswald
  

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Winner of the Warwick Prize 2013.

Reviewed and selected by our poetry expert, Liam Parkin.

Alice Oswald’s new book, Memorial is her successor to her acclaimed T. S. Eliot Prize-winning Dart. She has definitely not disappointed. Oswald refers to this poem as a ‘translation’ of Homer’s Iliad, in that she has stripped it of its narrative, and focused upon ‘enargeia’, meaning ‘bright unbearable reality’. Beginning with names of the deceased, we are taken through a spiritual journey and indeed are given a vision of the Iliad that has perhaps been previously overlooked. It is refreshing to see a poet continue the oral tradition, and as Oswald writes, it’s meant to adapt ‘itself to a new audience’, which is exactly what it does. Memorial can be read alongside the Iliad, but it would be a mistake to locate it solely within its background. It stands alone as a beautiful, fulfilling, celebrating and lamenting piece of art.

Click here to visit the Poetry Book Society page for Reading Groups and to download extracts from the T S Eliot Prize shortlist.

Synopsis

Memorial by Alice Oswald

Matthew Arnold praised the Iliad for its 'nobility', as has everyone ever since - but ancient critics praised it for its enargeia, its 'bright unbearable reality' (the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves). To retrieve the poem's energy, Alice Oswald has stripped away its story, and her account focuses by turns on Homer's extended similes and on the brief 'biographies' of the minor war-dead, most of whom are little more than names, but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably - and unforgotten - in the copiousness of Homer's glance.

'The Iliad is an oral poem. This translation presents it as an attempt - in the aftermath of the Trojan War - to remember people's names and lives without the use of writing. I hope it will have its own coherence as a series of memories and similes laid side by side: an antiphonal account of man in his world...compatible with the spirit of oral poetry, which was never stable but always adapting itself to a new audience, as if its language, unlike written language, was still alive and kicking.' (Alice Oswald).

Reviews

‘In sharp, bright pictures of bravery and bad luck she continues through a potent list of names until the last man, the Trojan Hector, "died like everyone else".’ The Times

‘This is remembering on a grand scale. This is a concentrated, intense, multi-tasking elegy. And it is written with a freshness to match Homer's own - as if each solder had died on the day of writing ... The style is urgent, simple and spare ... Oswald's poetic structure itself contains grand rhythms - rather like the sea. The extended similes are printed twice. They come at you like repeated waves. They push the poem forward and draw it back ... I long to hear Memorial performed; it would be tremendous. As the death toll rises, one becomes aware that only one thing survives - a life force carrying everything with it: the poem itself.’ Observer - Poetry Book of the Month

About the Author

Alice Oswald

Alice Oswald lives in Devon and is married with three children. Her collections include Dart, which won the 2002 T S Eliot Prize, Woods etc. (Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize), A Sleepwalk on the Severn (Hawthornden Prize), Weeds and Wildflowers (Ted Hughes Award) and, most recently, Memorial, which won the 2013 Warwick Prize for Writing. ‘Dunt’, included in this collection, was awarded the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

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Book Info

Publication date

30th November 1999

Author

Alice Oswald

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Publisher

Format

Hardback

Categories

Poetry
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ISBN

9780571274161

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