15 December 2013

The Antigone Poems

The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight, drawings by Terrence Tasker (Altaire Production & Publication, 2013)

Many feelings are evoked in this short book and in so few words. The short, clipped untitled poems are so confident in their lack of volubility they almost contain an entire biography of a truncated life in their tiny membranes. There is a Greek and tragic sense of violence ("Let blood pour fountains.") in the atmosphere of its pages, a violence spoken posthumously and no less graphic for the intervening time. The lines appear to describe the existential pains of an unspecified mid-life, domestic crisis. But one might as well be reading about a king's sobering behest and a subject's principled opposition to it. The brutal images announce the book's elliptical concerns. They range from the search for the closure of personal sorrows, coping with unimaginable frustration and grief, and erotic experiences. Like wrought iron, there is flexibility in the metaphors: "Your anguish sought this blackened veil. / Your anger wrought this iron hell." The statements might as well be a response to the iniquity of absolute power embodied by Creon's edict: Leave him unburied, leave his corpse disgraced, / a dinner for the birds and for the dogs.

Despite the inner darkness, there is the overriding figure of the sun that starkly burns with passion and abandon at the center of the poem. The blinding fires of "sunlove" purge and purify the deathly serious tone of the work ("All is aflame with life desirous / And death submits / To the laughing wilds."). And for champions of printed matter, The Antigone Poems is an objet d'art. Six charcoal drawings on French folds created from 1974-79 are interspersed between poems written in 1972-81. In space and time, the images are fittingly enclosed by poetry. Shadowy, textured sketches of faces and masks, brooding or menacing or with the countenance of indifferent death masks, the drawings reinforce the power of words to express, to startle, and to silence.

I received an advance review copy of the book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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