Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
The Antigone Poems
Poems by Marie Slaight
Dawings by Terrence Tasker
Altaire Productions & Publications
Paperback, 92 pages, June 2014, ISBN13: 9780980644708
The first thing that strikes you about The Antigone Poems is just how luxurious the book is. Although printed in paperback, it is produced on very thick specialty paper, with a rich matt finish and a blank page on the back of each poem and picture. This lends a bit of weight to each poem and even suggests that you might pull one out and frame it. The pages are numbered using roman numerals. Though there is one long prose poem, most of the poems are very short, sitting neatly in the middle of the page, with lots of white space around it. Though the poems are short, they pack a powerful punch, dealing with teeth grinding anguish in a way that is, at times, relentless:
Only the gaping, silent scream.
As the title makes clear, this book is a poetic and visual retelling of the Antigone story, though it a reasonably abstract correspondence. Antigone is a daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, who is both Antigones’ mother and grandmother and the story opens as she attempts to secure a burial for her disgraced brother Polynices. This back-plot is almost incidental to the poetry and images, which are intense, infused with pain and grief – the likes of which, we know as readers, leads to Antigones’ own suicide, and the others that are influenced by it.
In this retelling, Antigone is both victim and aggressor. She is vengeful and angry, but also hungry, burning with desire:
Daughter of a dark sun
My loins moving
Sweep scarlet over dawn
My peak carrying
Ice-frenzy to the fire
Where ecstasy balms
My lips of pain
There are five distinct chapters, and all of the poems are first person, telling Antigone’s sotry through her fear, her pain, her desire, and her sense of injustice and loss. There might be something driving the narrative forward externally: Antigone’s awakening sexuality, her sense of outrage, her exile, her return and judgment, but the poems are all internal, submerged into the speaker’s sensual impressions:
Your anguish sought this blackened veil.
Your anger wrought this iron hell.
Slaight’s poetry works perfectly with Terrence Tasker’s dark charcoal images. The pictures convey angry masks, faces, slightly abstract, timeless. The book was originally produced in the 1970s, and has been dedicated to Tasker, who passed away in 1992. The book itself is an exquisite artefact – something to keep and re-read. Though the poetry isn’t pleasant, it’s powerful, evocative and uncovers a universal vein of anguish that will resonate with all readers.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at http://www.magdalenaball.com