Starting the week with poetry: inspired by Greek mythology

Probably not the best way to start this post but: I don’t really read that much poetry. At least not as much as I would like. Still, there are quite a few collections I’ve enjoyed immensely, so I thought I might make a series on that. (Most likely it won’t be actually a weekly thing, since I would run out of the things to rec too soon…) I’m also hoping this will motivate me to read more poetry tbh!

For this week I’m going with Greek mythology themed poetry books, since that’s what the last one I read (Sunblind by Ramona Meisel) was about & what’s one of my all time favourites (Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson) is about as well. They both focus on a gay relationship, too. Another thing they both share is the modern day setting, which makes them easier to connect to, but also somehow even more heartbreaking?

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Autobiography of Red + its sequel Red Doc> by Anne Carson

Anne Carson is a Canadian poet and you might know her because of her incredible Sappho translations (If Not, Winter). Or just translations of ancient Greek poetry & plays in general. In any case, she’s a renowned classics professor and also one of my favourite poets.

Autobiography… is actually a coming-of-age novel in verse. Where’s the mythology, you ask? Well, it tells the story of Geryon. He’s not the most popular figure, let’s be honest, but a quick google search will tell you that he’s a “son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe and grandson of Medusa, was a fearsome giant who dwelt on the island Erytheia of the mythic Hesperides in the far west of the Mediterranean”. Heracles had to get his cattle as his tenth labour and ended up doing not only that, but also killing Geryon. Of course.

Most of what we know about Geryon comes from a great poet of the VI century BC – Stesichorus. Carson doesn’t forget about that even for a moment, in fact, she starts the novel with an essay about him & her own translations of fragments of his poem about Geryon. The first line we get from Stesichorus seems to be the foundation of Autobiography… and it’s:

Geryon was a monster everything about him was red

Now, in Carson’s take Geryon isn’t a giant & has no cattle, but he’s still a monster & he’s still red (with rage, with love, with tragedy). He takes a lot of pictures, falls in love with Heracles, travels the world… Really, in terms of the plot Carson writes a simple story. But it’s also a whimsical labyrinth where nothing is what it seems.

I opened this post with a mention of heartbreak and in Autobiography of Red we get it both from simply the story of Geryon’s life – tragic from the very beginning – and from the love story. Because Carson doesn’t play around, right there on the title page she calls this “A ROMANCE”. But we already know that Heracles killed Geryon, so really, expecting a happy ending here is… a mistake.

Yellow? said Geryon and he was thinking Yellow! Yellow! Even in dreams
he doesn’t know me at all! Yellow!

Herakles’ gaze
on him was like a gold tongue. Magma rising. (…)
The effort it took to pull himself
away from Herakles’ eyes
could have been measured on the scale devised by Richter. (…)
The Richter scale has neither a minimum nor a maximum threshold.
Everything depends on
the sensitivity of the seismograph.

Autobiography of Red is a book you can read many times. I’ve read it three times myself since my friend recced it to me & every time I find something new, some new meaning, new metaphor that I’ve overlooked. And each time I’m just as affected by Geryon and his story. Because it focuses a lot on him being a monster, which means him being misunderstood by pretty much everyone he meets.

(tw for child sexual abuse)

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Sunblind + its sequel Sunchoked by Ramona Meisel

Ramona is a German poet and she writes mostly on tumblr. Her poetry collection Sunblind tells the (tragic) love story between Icarus and Apollo. (I suppose at this point you guys might’ve decided I have a thing for tragic gays™ & umm… you wouldn’t be wrong.) Like I already said, it’s a modern day retelling. And the modern part of it is visible both in the background of the characters & the setting of the story, but also – in the structure of poems & the general feeling of the style itself.

The boys don’t fly and aren’t gods, but they compare each other to ones a lot. Actually, that’s probably one of the reasons they end up destroying each other – no one should be hold to a God-like standard. They each want the other to save them and they each know what they’re doing is not healthy. But they’re college students & they’re in love (even if it’s the toxic kind).

From Lies Icarus told recently:

I’m not drunk on him.
The first time I saw you my mind screamed
murder. (…) Maybe if you kiss me right my
sadness will escape when I exhale. (…)
You smell a little like Eve’s garden –
ruin and salvation at once. (…)
I’ll teach myself to be happy. You stare
at me like a criminal right before you kiss me.
Falling feels like flying. Nothing spells b r o k e n
like f o r e v e r.

The collection is divided into three parts: Rise, Fly and Fall. And yes, those mean exactly what you’re expecting. There’s no hope for a happy ending here, but I don’t think that’s a spoiler, since I don’t think anyone would go into this really counting on one. Like I mentioned before, the poems are very modern in their form. Apart from more traditional one, we get texts, voicemails, post-it notes… And each format gives as much inside into the characters as its contents do.

I think this is the case for most of tumblr poets nowadays, since Siken is so popular over there, but sometimes you can feel that he influenced Ramona’s writing. Personally, I don’t find it to be a flaw, but then I adore Crush. There are just a few lines and epithets that sound like something he (could) have written (“stitched up in all the wrong places”, “blood in your mouth”), but they are all used well & fit the rest.

From Fall of the Sun:

You don’t see it yet, you never do, but your shoes are filling with his blood and
the weight slows you down because this boy is everything that is not right with
you, desperate hands grab at the hem of his leather jacket, pull him
back, turn him around, worried big eyes so unlike like his own with
fear around the edges, sharp and – He patches you up in places no one
should be allowed to touch. Can’t you see?

This is not a pretty story, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. With just roughly 70 poems, Ramona makes you care deeply about Icarus & Apollo and their inevitable ruin feels like a punch to the stomach. It’s rich & alive and there is simply no way to avoid getting your heart broken in the end (like the boys do). But it’s worth it for the beauty of Ramona’s writing and the raw emotions.

You can buy both Sunblind and Sunchoked on Ramona’s payhip for a silly 8.5€!

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Have you read either of those poetry books?

Or maybe you’ve read some other mythology themed collections you’d like to rec?

Let me know!

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