Today: Alta Mesa Center for the Arts Kicks Off Reading Series 2022

Featured Readers:

  • Lillian Howan
  • Maw Shein Win
  • Dawn Angelica Barcelona

Sunday, Jan. 9, 4 p.m. ON ZOOM.
Register here.

First Poetry Friday of 2022: A Hunt!

Sir Gawain is feted by a Lord who is very generous with his table. There is much revelry, much laughter, the whole night long. Then, at break of dawn, mass (!), followed by a hunt.

The stags of the herd with their high-branched heads
and the broad-horned bucks were allowed to pass by,
for the lord of the land had laid down a law
that man should not maim the male in close season.
But the hinds were halted with hollers and whoops
and the din drove the does to sprint for the dells.
Then the eye can see that the air is all arrows:
all across the forest they flashed and flickered,
biting through hides with their broad heads.

To be shot by arrows is a particularly gruesome way to die, which self grew to appreciate after watching The Revenant. A forest ambush — the arrowheads were so substantial that self felt ill whenever one entered a human target.

While the lord is at the hunt, the lady of the house attempts to seduce Gawain. But even though she has bolted the door to his chambers, and has him pinned to the bed, he grants her no more than a kiss. In the movie, the lady of the house is played by Alicia Vikander. Self remembers sitting in the theater and being very confused.

Next, a scene of the gutting of the deer, which thank the lord was not in the movie (An excerpt: “Next they lopped off the legs and peeled back the pelt/and hooked out the bowels through the broken belly”). It seems to go on forever, every part of the deer is described, including the offal.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

So Much Alliteration!

Hazel and hawthorn are interwoven,
decked and draped in damp, shaggy moss
and bedraggled birds on bare, black branches
pipe pitifully into the piercing cold.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a verse translation by Simon Armitage

The Quest

Whiplash time! Since today is a very important day in the political life of the United States, self spent the better part of the day watching CNN and reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

A year has passed since the Green Knight showed up at King Arthur’s court. It is now time for Sir Gawain to receive the (surely) fatal stroke from the Knight. But first, he must find him.

He wanders near to the north of Wales
with the isles of Anglesey off to the left.
He keeps to the coast, fording each course,
crossing at Holy Head and coming ashore
in the wilds of the Wirral, whose wayward people
both God and good men have quite given up on.
And he constantly enquires of those he encounters
if they know, or not, in this neck of the woods,
of a great green man or a Green Chapel.

Language

Whiplash yet again!

Self is now parsing each word and phrase in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. For instance, this passage:

He strides to him swiftly and seizes his arm;
the man-mountain dismounts in one mighty leap.

How self adores that hyphenated word, “man-mountain”!

And It’s Back to the Challenge!

So who has the gall? The gumption? The guts?
Who’ll spring from this seat and snatch this weapon?
I offer the axe — who’ll have it as his own?

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation by Simon Armitage

Back to Reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the verse translation by Simon Armitage

Self is reading three books at the moment: My Heart, by Semzedin Mehmehdinovic (which she is hugely enjoying — it’s her first ever book by a Bosnian writer); Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, by Rebecca Donner (about Donner’s great-great-aunt, Mildred Harnack)

She reads according to her mood. This morning, the mood is verse:

The Green Knight:

I’m clothed for peace, not kitted out for conflict.
But if you’re half as honorable as I’ve heard folk say
you’ll gracefully grant me this game which I ask for
by right.

Sentence of the Day, First Saturday of 2022

Yet for all that metal he still made it to mass,
honored the Almighty before the high altar.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a new verse translation by Simon Armitage

A Knightly Exchange

The Green Knight:

“Now grasp that gruesome axe
and show your striking style.”

Sir Gawain:

“Since you ask,”
and touched the tempered steel.

(Just flying through this!)

There is a certain rhythm achieved by the alternating of short with long lines. Now follows a very GRUESOME section, so self must put a

TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic Depiction of Violence

The cleanness of the strike cleaved the spinal cord
and parted the fat and the flesh so far
that the bright steel blade took a bite from the floor.

(Self is wondering if the medieval author would have used precisely those terms — i.e. “spinal cord” — nevertheless the specificity does hold the attention)

The Challenge

The knighthood then unites
and each knight says the same:
their king can stand aside
and give Gawain this game.

So the sovereign instructed his knight to stand.

Ooh! Self loves this! She’s practically flying through the text!

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