Saturday, 22 November 2014

Myth Makers

For Amanda Jernigan, reports of mythopoetry's demise have been exaggerated. She singles out Mark Callanan's mermaid poems as an example of some of the broad new directions the movement is taking:
Insofar as myth is simply the narrative element in literature, the story of mythopoetry is the story of poets’ fascination with story itself, from classical accounts of gods and monsters, to the genesis stories of science and religion, to literary narratives, to pop-culture anecdotes. (Macpherson calls myth, very broadly, ‘any element in literature that has the effect of enlarging a work’s scope beyond the merely descriptive’.)
She also makes a fascinating point about how lyric poetry may, in part, be responsible for the renewed interest in myth:
But lyric poems—contemporary, written-down lyric poems—retain their fascination with narrative. And it is perhaps precisely at the point that poets move away from the longer forms we associate with epic, and toward the shorter, lyric modes, that myths in the sense of canonical stories, stories recognised within a culture by certain basic and recurring elements, become most useful to poets: because this kind of story can be referenced in a phrase, a word.
Jernigan, however, quibbles with a line from Michael Lista’s review of her recent book, and goes on to explain why he doesn’t get contemporary poets incorporating myth in their poetry. This is an odd comment, since Lista does incorporate myth in his poetry. In fact, The Scarborough’s power comes almost entirely from the perspective-altering use of the Orpheus story, for example. More than that, I would argue that Lista’s book might even show us a way past Jernigan’s fear of mythopoets being tagged as “appropriators.” Lista doesn’t practice costumey adapations or new-twist translations or skillful rehashings. Instead, myths become a re-seeing—they enter his metaphorical idiom, his line-making, his sense of self. To borrow from Eliot, Lista becomes the catalyst in the reaction that changes the myths that feed him.

1 comment:

Amanda Jernigan said...

Now, now: I don't explain why Lista 'doesn’t get contemporary poets incorporating myth in their poetry'; I merely say the definition he gives in his review is reductive. Just to set the record straight! A.J.