Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christopher Logue (1926–2011)

The British poet Christopher Logue has died. He is best known for reimagining Homer’s Iliad in a long work that he called “a poem in English dependent on the Iliad” or simply “my Homer poem.” Or as others have called it, “Logue’s Homer,” a decades-long project that began in 1958 with a section of Iliad 21 commissioned by the BBC. Logue noted in his autobiography Prince Charming (1999) that when the opportunity to work on the Iliad came his way, his copy of E.V. Rieu’s prose translation of the poem was in a box of books he had planned to sell.

You can read Logue’s Homer in three volumes: War Music (1997, collecting Kings, The Husbands, and War Music), All Day Permanent Red (2003), and Cold Calls (2005), whose jacket flap calls it “the penultimate installment.” (Will there be another?)

Logue’s Homer seems to me the last great work of literary modernism, collapsing past(s) and present with grim wit and startling originality. Three brief examples:

“Hail and farewell, dear Ek.”
(The Husbands, Paris speaking to Hector)

Blurred bronze. Blood? Blood like a car-wash:
    “But it keeps the dust down.”
(All Day Permanent Red)

They find him with guitar,
Singing of Gilgamesh.
(Cold Calls, the embassy to Achilles)
[“Hail and farewell”: “ave atque vale,” from Catullus 101, the poet addressing his dead brother.]

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