About Odysseus Weeps — recent “epic” poem, posted at La Parola Vivace….
Some of you know that a year ago I sat down to come to terms with a trip to southern Italy I took many years ago, and a relationship I embarked upon there. I began a memoir of my journey, “Nightfall in Verona”, wrapping that up in the early spring. The memoir is under query and a sample chapter is here.
In the many years that had passed since that trip, I had forgotten the impact upon me of the gorgeous provinces of Calabria– the southern region of Italy. When I was there, obviously under the influence of amore and lots of vino, I was enraptured by the beauty of the Costa Viola, and in particular the promenade along the harbors of Reggio and the Costa Viola south of Reggio where there is a little town called Scylla– pictured below in a clearly compromised state- but look at those exquisite, ancient villas….
I remember speeding around the cliffs in the Fiat driven by my lover to see the very sight that must have taken other writers’ breath away as it did mine. Scylla is a jewel of a town built up against the cliffs, looking out at the Strait of Messina, luminous with antiquity, the faces of the villas salt-eaten.
I remember that my amore and his cousin went fishing out in a boat, and I stayed behind to write in a little cafe of a villa built against the cliffs, where I found Mozart on the jukebox. The town relied then and continues to rely in part on fishing– particularly the magnificent swordfish– the “pesce spada” (who can bear to harpoon such a creature, even for food…).
The whole area was mythic and mystical– glitteringly beautiful and pristine. Therefore, when I found my way psychologically and artistically back, I was driven to bring it to life as a virtual paradise.
Not long after I wrote my memoir, I ran across immensely distressing information– that the southern Italian mafia, aka the “‘Ndrangheta”, had taken over the region with its Cosa Nostra-style hierarchy and codes of honor and silence– honore and omerta’– and of course, the blood codes of vendetta.
I found it terrible to learn that there had been a series of blood baths in the streets of Reggio Calabria in the 80’s and into the 90’s in which around 800 people had been killed, many of them in vendetta crossfire. The beautiful and mythic waters I dreamed of over the years were contaminated by the running of drugs and guns, and recently by the dumping of toxic waste via Mafia contracts with other countries.
The irony of how this place had inspired passages of the Odyssey– that Homer had been there, perhaps made a camp on the seacliffs and was so struck by the beauty of the Strait of Messina that he conjured up Scylla and Charybids and wrote that Poseidon reared out of the sea to take down the ship– and that now the place had been desecrated and defiled by a reign of terror and bloodshed, affected me deeply.
By far the most poignant discovery I made and posted about, was the anti-mafia youth movement that remains active in Reggio despite the assassination of anti-mafia prosecutors in the area over the past twenty five years and the suicide of young people under protection for giving up their family members.
I began to make notes for something I loosely conceived of as an epic that might sing of the the things that had come to pass there. I had written poetry about the region and my own odyssey there, but never undertaken anything of this scope.
Months later I have a draft, titled “Odysseus Weeps,” based on the idea that if Homer could himself return to that place, through his hero, he would need to give it voice.
Perhaps it is somewhat arrogant of a comparatively unknown poet to attempt to incorporate anything related to The Odyssey into her own poem, but I’ve always been a risk taker. I certainly haven’t pushed myself to the extent that there are a myriad of literary references requiring an annotated Odyssey at hand, as is the case with other poets, notably Derek Walcott, who have been drawn to such an enterprise.
I am aware that this poem might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it represents a moving away from the solely personal sphere, a good thing. It tries to tell the truth, relate fact and let the facts inform the poem.
For me, to write politically is to write of signature events– to marry the past to the present, the personal with the cultural and social, to give things a psychological context. In that sense, to write such a poem is to undertake a mission: to make a record of something that in my view needs to be brought to people’s attention–to show the continuum– the most radical acts of love and the worst atrocities. This to me is the daunting mandate of the poet, even now, as it has always been, and was in Homer’s day.
I do think my draft is a worthy read! xxxj