Monday, 14 November 2011

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Alice Oswald, Memorial

Among my other reading, I try each year to cover some new poetry. Memorial is a sixth volume from Alice Oswald, born in 1966 and a previous winner of the TS Eliot prize in 2002.

Oswald read Classics at Oxford and has worked as a gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden. She now lives with her husband and three children in Devon. Her first collection of poetry, The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile (1996), won a Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection) in 1996, and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize in 1997. Her second collection, Dart (2002), combined verse and prose, which tells the story of the River Dart in Devon from a variety of perspectives, and won the TS Eliot Prize in 2002. In 2004, Oswald was named as one of the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation poets. Her collection Woods etc., published in 2005, was shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year). In 2009 she published both A Sleepwalk on the Severn and Weeds and Wildflowers, which won the inaugural Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, and was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize.

Memorial is based on the Iliad, and commemorates the minor war dead recorded in Homer’s great work – “All vigourous men/All vanished”.. An unusual subject, perhaps, but one that has attracted fantastic reviews. As well as the standard trade edition there is a 100 copy limited edition from Faber which is relatively expensive but likely to be a good investment if you are so inclined.

"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.""


The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile - 1996, Oxford University Press, Paperback.  £35-40.
Dart - 2002, Faber and Faber, Paperback in French Wraps.  £35-40.
Woods etc. - 2006, Faber and Faber hardcover. £12-15.
A Sleepwalk on the Severn - 2009, Faber and Faber, paperback. £15
Weeds and Wildflowers - 2009, Faber and Faber, hardcover. £15-20.
Memorial - 2011, Faber and Faber, Hardcover. £15.   100 copy signed limited  hardcover in red boards, quarter black leather and slipcase.£125.

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