‘Guinevere In Baltimore’ By Shelley Puhak (New Year’s Resolution, Book Forty)

9781904130574Finally hit number forty. I don’t see myself making it all the way to number fifty-two, though. Nope. Don’t see it. Which is more than a little disappointing. Certainly, there’s no one to blame but myself. I can make some excuses about work and stress, but, really, it just illustrates the point of how we have let ourselves get away from the critical business of expanding our mind and world and improving ourselves and making a better place by reading.

Anyway…

Puhak won the Anthony Hecht Award, which was judged this year by my beloved Charles Simic. Both poets read at the Folger earlier this month and it was very good. Simic is always great and I very much liked Guinevere in Baltimore – though I liked it better in print than I did in her readings from it. Her readings sounded more repetitive than they come across on the page; this is a book that is meant to be read, rather than listened to.

The conceit is re-imagining the story of Lancelot’s affair with Guinevere, queen of the Britons and wife of his best friend, King Arthur, as something modern, with Arthur as a bumbling CEO, Lancelot as an aging playboy, and Guinevere as a woman of forty – old enough to be very conscious of age and loss and the terrible, silly sadness of her love affair.

As the title suggests, this is Guinevere’s story, with Lancelot a close second and Arthur barely appearing, at least as a speaker.

I’m writing this without the book by my side, so I can’t properly do any excerpts for you, but I do want to credit Puhak for her amazing use of enjambment.

The whole mixing the mythic and mundane is pretty, well, mundane these days. It’s been done. Been there, done that. So making it new (tip of the hat to Pound) isn’t easy, but is critical.

She does a great job of creating these mid sentence enjambments, where the line above resonates with the old mythology and language of myth and ancient times, but then when it continues in the next line, after the enjambment, the sentence suddenly becomes something quite contemporary and sadly sordid. You’ll have to trust me. It’s really good.

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