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All Day Permanent Red (extract) -- Christopher Logue

Guest poem sent in by Tim Cooper
(Poem #1487) All Day Permanent Red (extract)
 To welcome Hector to his death
 God sent a rolling thunderclap across the sky
 The city and the sea
       And momentarily--
 The breezes playing with the sunlit dust--
 On either slope a silence fell.

    Think of a raked sky-wide Venetian blind.
    Add the receding traction of its slats
    Of its slats of its slats as a hand draws it up.
    Hear the Greek army getting to its feet.

    Then of a stadium when many boards are raised
    And many faces change to one vast face.
    So, where there were so many masks,
    Now one Greek mask glittered from strip to ridge.
    Already swift,

 Boy Lutie took Prince Hector's nod
 And fired his whip that right and left
 Signalled to Ilium's wheels to fire their own,
 And to the Wall-wide nodding plumes of Trojan infantry--

    Flutes!
    Flutes!
 Screeching above the grave percussion of their feet
 Shouting how they will force the savage Greeks
 Back up the slope over the ridge, downplain
 And slaughter them beside their ships--

    Add the reverberation of their hooves: and
    "Reach for your oars. . ."
 T'lesspiax, his yard at 60°, sending it
 Across the radiant air as Ilium swept
    Onto the strip
    Into the Greeks
    Over the venue where
 Two hours ago all present prayed for peace.
    And carried Greece
 Back up the slope that leads
    Via its ridge
    Onto the windy plain.
-- Christopher Logue
Today's posting [Poem #1480] made me instantly think of Christopher Logue's
transliteration of Homer's Iliad (published piecemeal as Husbands, Kings,
All Day Permanent Red and War Music). You have previously carried one piece
of his, a wryly amusing poem on disposable literature which was a side of
him I had not met before. However what he is absolute master of is a
cinematic style like this extract from All Day Permanent Red. The narrator
seems to swoop across the battle field picking out the scenes which
illustrate his point before moving on to the next one. It's all very macho –
I have no idea whether the original is the same – and absolutely
exhilarating.

One other thing which he does here very subtly is to use his own, modern
imagery without it jarring. It's obvious as soon as I say it, but it wasn't
until many readings that I realised Homer could never have known about a
Venetian blind. The poem is littered with images like that (an army humming
like power station outflow cables, an arrow leaving a hole the width of a
lipstick, a warrior plucked from a chariot by a spear like a sardine from a
tin) that are both thoroughly modern and yet do not jar. He never tries to
use modern imagery to say that the Greeks were modern, but uses it
instead to simultaneously make their world both alien and real.

Regards,

Tim Cooper

[Martin adds]

Tim's comments about the deliberately modern imagery in today's poem,
whereby the world of the ancient Greeks is made to seem "both alien and
real", reminded me of my similar reaction to Auden's "Roman Wall Blues"
[Poem #491], although in that case Auden used not anachronism but the
establishment of a universal common ground that erased the difference
between the Roman and the modern soldier.

(I'm also reminded of similar anachronisms Tolkien introduced in "The
Hobbit"; unlike today's piece, those were definitely jarring when I noticed
them.)

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