Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Requesting opinions--

Poll-time! I have a question regarding Thaliad, as we get ready to do some newspaper pieces. Does calling a poem an epic put readers off? (I mean "general" readers, refined readers, middlebrow readers, any kind of readers! And if you don't know what Thaliad is, check out the tab above.) Does calling it a story in verse help, is it--oh, I don't know--friendlier, less of a barrier? (Is epic a dirty, four-letter word? I'd rather be epic than not, really, wouldn't you?)

It has been suggested that the book be called something like a "post-apocalyptic tale orchestrated in verse." Is that a good idea, to emphasize that the poem is a story and quite readable? People do seem to be saying that they become immersed and don't "think about" the tale being a poem.

If you have an opinion, strong or otherwise, please leave it in the comments. Or any crab-like, sideways thoughts.

* * *

Just for cheer and silliness and to combat my outrageous bug, here's my last night's response to John Coulthart's twitter-based Blavatsky limerick challenge (North American pronunciation of avadavats, mind, so that the line's anapestic: ah VAH dah vats):

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
Liked to wear a wee Roosian cravatski
  As she danced the kalinker
  With two ghosts and a tinker
And her Asian avadavats three.

Feel free to add your own silliness. Quite a few failed attempts litter Twitter! Hal Duncan wrote a complete one, but last I looked, people prefer throwing their hands up in comic style. Blavatsky must be an end rhyme.

22 comments:

  1. So far, facebook comments say "epic" is not a dirty word. Dithering. Need more thoughts. Please leave more.

    ReplyDelete
  2. epic in itself is probably absolutely fine, in combination with poem it might put some people off. Novel in verse might also put some people off. It's a difficult one....

    ReplyDelete
  3. CraftyGreen aka Juliet,

    That's not the answer I'm looking for! Wah! XD

    ReplyDelete
  4. i wasn't ever going to say this, but, since you've asked:
    "Epic" doesn't pose a problem for me.
    i turn away at the words "post-apocalyptic"--in all genre.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ah, now that's interesting! Helpful.

    Thanks...

    I'm bemused at the results of two questions I asked on facebook today. One gets a jillion answers about routers but many fewer about this! Funny. Not sure what that means.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Epic in poetry form remind me of the ancient tales, such as the Finnish Kalevala, a good thing to me. Post-apocalyptic can be more challenging, a warning that it will be full of tragedy and sadness, but so are many ancient tales - but timely again today, I'd say. The so-called 'average' reader may prefer lighter reading but that's no reason to downgrade the 'labelling' of Thaliad.

    Which, by the way, I'm now reading the second time around and loving it, Marly. I only wish I could retreat somewhere to read and be fully immersed without interruption. Oh, I think I said that already a while back....

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh, I'm pleased! Rereading is the best reading...

    Yes, I just got a private letter about "post-apocalyptic." Maybe that's an issue for more people; I don't know. Ah, it's so confusing, this business of how to present a thing!

    ReplyDelete
  8. The trouble is that the Thaliad really *is* an epic, whereas no other modern poem I can think of that gets called an epic is anything like one. So what a modern poetry reader expects of an "epic" is "a hideously overgrown, knotted-up lyric poem with pretensions to philosophy, full of learned abstruse allusions that will make you feel stupid. (v. Ezra Pound, Cantos of.)"

    I wonder if a "story-poem" might find more readers?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very interesting (and amusing) response, Dale! So I shall just blame all the Modernists and those who trailed after for the problem...

    Story-poem. It might!

    Hey, I really like it that you call the poem "the" Thaliad. Now I'm running with the big boys! XD

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is all helpful, thanks, Marly's readers! FWIW, "post-apocalyptic" is much more of a negative flag to me than "epic poem." I'd like to get rid of it in all the descriptions, but then, that's what it is!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yes, I think that the terms we use are somehow misleading, or point to other things that have a grain of truth in common...

    ReplyDelete
  12. I agree that I am not scared off by "epic." It might even be more tantalizing to me!

    ReplyDelete

  13. Epic is not so scary. Instead of repeating the same formula each time, call it by one tag sometimes and the other the rest of the time.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Story poem doesn't work for me because any short narrative poem can be that. This is something special.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Robbi--

    Oh, okay--shake it up a bit? Now one thing, now another... Yes, it's true, a story poem could be tiny.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I always think of Thaliad as an 'epic narrative poem'. There seems to be a general consensus that 'epic' isn't a problem for most readers. 'Post-apocapyptic', I think, is always going to be a turn-off for some, even though it shouldn't be. (I'm greatly enjoying Cloud Atlas at the moment, some chapters of which are clearly post-something-apocalyptic in character.) It's interesting that when describing the book to people who have asked me about it, I have often said 'It's post-apocalyptic, but please don't let that put you off!' Perhaps something along the lines of 'a narrative poem in the tradition of the great epics' is the line to take, although my wording is clumsy.

    An idea. Why not write to all those who have reviewed the book recently, and ask how they'd describe it in a way that would appeal most to them. See whether the problem word 'apocalyptic' appears in their descriptions. I think for me, while I know I shouldn't be prejudiced against that description, it does in fact make me turn aside. However when I was reading Thaliad for the first time, the drama and agony of it never once made me want to put it down, but rather kept the pages turning. That's what's so exciting about it. The unfurling of a marvellous story about characters the reader grows to understand and care about.

    ReplyDelete
  17. That's an interesting idea--I should go back and look at all the things written about it so far. Being a book-length poem, "Thaliad" hasn't collected all that much comment so far, not compared to a novel, anyway! So it wouldn't take long.

    I haven't read "Cloud Atlas" though mean to...

    "A narrative poem in the tradition of the great epics": thanks! Shall fool around with that phrase. We have a little collection of phrases now, and that is good--takes more than one!

    ReplyDelete
  18. To me, 'epic' is fine and is 'poem' but when placed together I think it appears overwhelmingly serious and classical. I think that could put off too many readers who would otherwise be enchanted by this work.
    'Post-apocalyptic' is what this work is about, but if people find that off-putting as well then maybe something like, 'An epic narrative on rebirth' - or something that hints on starting over?

    In time, someone is going to hit the nail on the head - and Clive is right.... it will probably come through in reviews!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Oh, good comment... I shall make a list of all these things and no doubt use some of them!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Does the Thaliad qualify as a "verse novel"? I don't know if this term is used in the US, but there are a few verse-novelists in Australia: Steven Herrick (and imitators of him) in YA, and Dorothy Porter wrote a crime novel in verse called The Monkey's Mask. Alan Wearne wrote some literary verse novels in the 80s and 90s. It seems like a fairly non-threatening classification.—Margo L.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Oh, that's a new idea! I read some this year while doing the NBA panel... Well, it would be fudging a bit but maybe!

    The poem does do epic conventions (although in a rather unusual way, maybe.)

    Verse novel... Thanks, Margo!

    (Am going to read more of your book tonight. As soon as I cros may way through the day's list. Getting there.)

    ReplyDelete

Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.