Tellus Issue 3

The third issue of Ailsa Hunt’s journal of poetry inspired by the classical world.
Brian Walter’s “Metrodorus of Skepsis” introduces (to me) this scholar who famously used 360 regions of the zodiacal sky as mnemonic locations for ‘everything he’d ever heard’. The poem doesn’t knock me out, but plays cleverly with the randomness of what we remember, the little details. More focus on apparently random details in Carolyn Dille’s “Clio at the Blue Note”, an imagining of the Muse of History performing at a jazz club, which turns the infinite details of history and causation into a bravura improvisation, ending with the memorable ‘Chernobyl’s chatter, Mikínai’s murmuring stones’.
James Norcliffe’s “Cyclops” takes a few readings, and/but communicates really well the paradox of an ugly, reclusive divine being, shunning life with the gods for the ‘back of the cave’, feeding on ‘sashimi seamen’; Norcliffe takes the same line as Zachary Mason’s story “Blindness” story in the brilliant The Lost Books Of The Odyssey. And Niamh Corcoran, in “Figurehead”, powerfully, in a sequel to Sappho’s fragment 22, describes a strongly physical and lustful relationship (‘Summer came and your love came at me / like a figurehead, bold Venus chiseled / into the prow of the craft’). Nicely evocative descriptions of greedy sex, always tasteful, but in the final words (‘current after cutwater’) surely hinting at the organ central to such lesbian goings on?
But the best poem, imho, is Sarah Johnson’s “On Not Knowing Greek”, on the surface a simple account of trying to work out the meaning of a passage of Greek, and then, on the walk home, watching a dog grab a stick. But the dog grabbing the stick is compared to the hunting hound grabbing Actaeon’s ankle, thereby deftly making the poem into a little meditation on the search for meaning: Johnson’s earlier stanzas are then read as an analogue to Actaeon’s pushing through the branches to get a forbidden glimpse of Artemis bathing (“I worried the tangle for hours, / with Smyth’s Grammar open, / showing its pale belly”), so the poem suggests that a text’s meaning, once spied, can come back and bite you, that the scholarly quest is a kind of indecent, or illicit, prying. Something Johnson’s poem itself demonstrates.

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