This article is in Pen Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May – June 2017.
Anna’s wide roaming essay is a terrific read especially the bit on Ian Wedde’s Commonplace Odes. Here is a taste:
‘Wedde wrote The Commonplace Odes after ‘a dry spell’ of not writing poetry at all, having become bored, he writes, ‘with mundane unpretentiousness, writing as small talk’, while at the same time he ‘choked on the grandiloquent’.16 If these odes elevate ‘the marvellous, surreal details of ordinary life’ they do so without waxing poetical in the ironic way Sharon Olds does in the spoon ode, or Heather Christle does addressing her ‘Dear forest.’ And this creates a different relation to time. The ‘O’ of the ironic ode at once collapses time, in the way the belatedness of postmodernism uses the quotation marks of irony to bring any traditional element into play in an indistinguishable present, and marks an unbridgeable gap in time between the present and a past that can never be taken straight, can never be truly accessed. In his long engagement with the classics, Wedde has always acknowledged the distance in time that inevitably alters a reader’s relationship with an author ‘Whom I know only by the garlands / laid daily on this tomb,’ as he writes of Horace, ‘and whose tomb / I know only by the books I read, hoping / To hear in them, in their different accounts of the work done, / The equitable voice of the poet, wine cup in hand…’ But to acknowledge this gap in time is not to collapse time – quite the opposite. Shane Butler offers a useful approach to thinking about this difference in his recent work to direct classical reception theory away from thinking of reception only in terms of the immediate present – so that every translation, every reading of a text, is regarded as an entirely new reading best understood in the context of current and local concerns – to thinking, instead, in terms of a ‘deep classics’ that positions our engagement with the classics as an ongoing process taking place across (if not beyond) time, that recognises that our engagement with the classics is, in part, an engagement with the very passage of time that comes between the reader and the text (or, to put it more intimately, between the reader and the poet).17′