Ragged, disused billboards advertise
The warnings of street-prophets, whose alphabet
Is characters a fathom high, the void
Filled by a single word, in Greek: Mistake.
Or else in Lingua franca English, Wake
Up! When did we listen to advice?
Austerity digs deeper into debt,
And ancient glaciers calve the weakened ice,
And doom is just what hasn’t happened yet.
We borrow days as fast as Time will lend them,
And vote on Freedom, blighted referendum,
Yet we are always quarrelling when the Persians
Amass their cohorts. The odds are always harsh
On the field of fennel near the brackish marsh.
The Spartans answered him: You ask too soon.
It is the feast of Carneian Apollo,
Our ancient horned god of flock and field,
The field where men are harvesters and harvest,
Where men are yield because they will not yield.
Life for us is debt that must be serviced;
The husbandry of victory is blood,
Blood is the earth’s enrichment, and Man’s fate.
We’re soldiers bred; our orders are to follow,
We are pall-bearers only of the shield:
With it or on it. None, it’s understood,
Returns unless victorious. Too late,
Too late, you say. We answer: you must wait,
As we must wait, the fullness of the moon.
I am the voice that speaks in desert places,
The voice a man hears when he’s most alone,
Among the wilderness, where are no faces,
But sage and thyme; scale, feather, fur, and bone.
I am the voice of everything connected,
And you must tarry here where you most hasten,
I speak to you of all that you’ve neglected,
I am what silence tells you when you listen.
And I’m the voice that trebles in the crowd,
So hectic blood runs gelid as meltwater,
And heart constricts, and strength and youth are cowed,
And men in terror bolt headlong toward slaughter,
Or petrify, limbs heavy and mechanic,
As I shout my name, which soldiers know as Panic.
There’s always trouble brewing in the East,
You hardly need it from the Sibyl’s mouth,
The yellow sands of discord are brought forth
By the ill-winds that blow out of the South,
And there are always powers to the West,
And occupation comes down from the North,
And Safety can’t be purchased, only leased,
And peace is a season brief as it is best.
All monuments are monuments to Threat,
To what was imminent and overcome,
Or what has happened once, lest we forget,
And once again ignore the warning drum,
And that oblivion, blind, deaf, and dumb,
Should be forgotten for a little yet.
The Road to Sparta is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The film is predominantly about running, and it will hardly come as a surprise that lots of people out there don’t give a tinker’s cuss about any kind of sport, let alone running. It tires them out. They just don’t want to watch.
On the other hand, the film veers away from being a pure sports documentary by angling the lens onto ancient Greek history, the run that Pheidippides made from Athens to Sparta in 490 BC to try and rustle up reinforcements to take on the mighty Persians. Herodotus documents the run in his Histories so it must be true.
Four runners. Four stories. One Greek drama.
Sometimes, as any poet will attest, you just have to scratch. You have an idea and it nags at you for hours, days, months, years. You know it is a good idea, but you aren’t sure how to make it happen. You fret that you cannot do justice to this great idea. You worry yourself out of doing anything about it.
And then one day you just settle down and scratch.
When Helen Pinkerton died on December 28, 2017, she left behind a body of verse that, though modestly compact, has great grace and intelligence. However, while her poetry has never lacked for serious admirers, it has not received recognition commensurate with its excellence. In the following pages, I want to explain why she deserves new readers. She was wonderfully unusual—formidably thoughtful and direct, both in person and on the page. She also had a fascinating life, and to the extent that her life illuminates her poems, I hope to tell her story, blending, so to speak, biography with literary appreciation.
Betty Adcock and Claudia Emerson both write in a Southern tradition not so much agrarian as it is domestic. Like other Southern women poets before them—here I’m thinking especially of their press-mate, the late Eleanor Ross Taylor—both poets hew close to the trappings of daily life: a gravel road, a mirror, an axe, a cup, a match. The natural world is very present for them too, but it’s nearly always in its intersection the domestic sphere. My favorite image from Emerson’s work, for example, will forever be Late Wife’s snake curled up in a silverware drawer. In the case of the collections presently under consideration, both poets make use of the materials of everyday life to consider death. Death, after all, is one of those moments when the natural world makes its presence known despite all we’ve done to domesticate our lives. In Adcock’s Rough Fugue, the death most present is that of her husband, Donald. In Emerson’s Claude Before Time and Space, the death is her own.