Posted by: aediculaantinoi | November 13, 2013

Review of Michael Routery’s From The Prow of Myth

Before you read this, it would be great if you listened to Michael’s appearance on Galina Krasskova’s Wyrd Ways Radio show (with co-host Sannion!) last week, so that you can hear some of his poems as read by him–that makes a huge difference in reading poetry, in my experience…!

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Michael Routery, From the Prow of Myth (San Francisco: Vindos Press, 2013), 118 pp.; $16.00 U.S. ISBN/EAN13:0615888127 / 9780615888125. Available Here!

As someone who produces polytheist/pagan devotional poetry, I can say with some confidence that there’s not only a lot of it out there, but a good deal of it isn’t fantastic poetry; it’s almost as if poetry is an assumed artistic “talent” that most pagans think they have simply by virtue of being pagan. Granted, the poetry doesn’t always have to be high-quality to accomplish its ends, but it is wonderful when it is able to do so…

And, in case you were wondering–SPOILER ALERT!!!–Michael Routery’s poems in From the Prow of Myth are high-quality and skillful poetry, and highly effective and evocative of their diverse subjects. Every poem is suitable for usage in a ritual or devotional setting, or can be appreciated on their own as a good evening’s reading…or, better yet, recitation. (We too often forget that poetry, perhaps more than any other form of writing, is meant to be read aloud, not simply scanned with our eyes on the printed page or the flikering pixels of the computer screen.)

In the interests of full disclosure, Michael is a friend and co-religionist, both in the sense of being a Celtic Reconstructionist and fellow practitioner of filidecht, and an initiate of the Antinoan Mysteries. We’ve been in a variety of rituals together since 2007, at my first PantheaCon, as well as outside of that context when I’ve been in the Bay Area (including several at Sutro Heights Park with the statue of Diana), and when I said on the Wyrd Ways Radio show that he is one of my favorite polytheists, I was not exaggerating in the slightest. (Though, being a polytheist, I have a rather large number of favorites…!) All of that having been said, I am not simply giving empty praise here because he is my friend and colleague: I have admired Michael’s writings for a long time, and was extremely excited when he announced last February (at PantheaCon!) that he would be publishing this collection of poetry in the near future.

With the seventy-three poems in this collection, they are divided into thematic areas: thirty-one are Celtic (with the majority being Irish, plus a few Welsh/British, and a few Gaulish), twenty-eight are Greek (or Graeco-Egyptian), and the final section is of fourteen poems focusing on features of the land, mostly in California but also in Hawai’i. The book ends with a comprehensive glossary of the names of the various deities and heroes mentioned in the book, which serves as a good introduction and reference to many of them (if one has not heard of them before).

Some of the poems were familiar to me from earlier Bibliotheca Alexandrina devotional anthologies, and likewise a few have been shared in Antinoan contexts or were entered into the Megala Antinoeia agons of years passed–but all of these have “weathered well” and are just as enjoyable to read now as they were in their earlier manifestations. There are several poems that deal with Dionysos in various ways in the Greek section, and beginning with “Flower Anthology,” there is also a group of poems that deal with Antinous, several (including the aforementioned) in the long tradition of discussing him amidst other examples of mortal beloveds of deities undergoing kataphytosis. The beautiful reflections of “Hadrian and Sappho” then lead into a poem dealing with “Hadrian’s Sappho,” the poetess Julia Balbilla, as she writes to the Empress Sabina while at the Colossoi of Memnon (a festival which will be celebrated next week!). Other heroes and deity-beloved individuals are also recognized in this section, including Ganymede, Iolaus, Hylas, Erigone, and Hippolytus (the latter all-too-often forgotten, but often written about by Michael, including in the Artemis devotional, Unbound), and a number of the more well-known deities of Greece likewise receive honor in these verses.

There is a quality to many of these poems that is simultaneously reminiscent of the Orphic Hymns in their grand and traditional lyricism, but which likewise has a touch of what I can only describe as a variety of “pagan beat poetry,” in the very best sense of that set of terms. There is a Zen-like, haiku-esque use of linguistic economy and restraint that ends up being more suggestive and evocative, and nearly apophatic amidst the generally kataphatic phraseology of poetry. It’s a quality I’ve also sensed in other modern polytheist poets, including in Erynn Rowan Laurie’s Fireflies at Absolute Zero, a poet who likewise shares the CR/filidecht and Antinoan Mystery tradition associations with Routery and myself.

Famous poets from these traditions also feature in Routery’s work, including Orpheus, Taliesin, Suibhne (both in the Celtic section and in the land spirits section), Amairgen, and Finn mac Cumhaill (whose first name in proto-Insular Celtic, *Vindos, gives the name of Vindos Press!). With Taliesin, Routery’s poem not only portrayed the tale of Gwion Bach’s transformation into the radiant-browed poet Taliesin beautifully and accurately, with a sensitivity of character I’ve not seen previously, but he also resisted the tendency of too many modern pagan poets (that is likewise indulged in with Amairgen) to simply list a panoply of previously-unattested earlier incarnations and forms of the purported poets in a pantheistic fashion. The treatment of Amairgen in the poem “White-Kneed” focuses on the poet’s invocation of Ireland, as well as the often-overlooked (at least in modern pagan circles) death of the poet’s wife to drowning before his successful gaining of Ireland for the Milesians.

The section on land spirits was especially wonderful, and given the general neglect of these in modern pagan and polytheist practice, this is all the more commendable. Even though many of us do revere and honor these beings in our local geography, not many of us write truly devotional poetry to them, and so this section may be of especial interest to those who wish to see exemplary models to follow in this regard for the future.

While there are many poems in the collection that are wonderful, one which took me especially by surprise and which has become a favorite amongst this treasure-house of jewels is “A Grammar for Aphrodite,” which has that simultaneous Orphic-Hymn-and-haiku quality, as well as a playfulness and innovation with language which you simply must read and experience for yourself…!

My only critique of this book is one that will not be an issue for most readers. Some of the Irish names are not always given in consistent orthography, with missing accents or unusual spellings; however, as already stated, this will not be of concern to the non-specialist potential readers, who will recognize the names without difficulty (even if they remain Irish and thus relatively difficult for those not familiar with this language to parse and pronounce). In “A Prayer for Earth,” the Roman goddess Tellus Mater’s name is given as “Tella Mater,” which is an unusual (and, to my knowledge, unprecedented) usage. Terra Mater is sometimes found as the name of this goddess, but not “Tella.” The noun tellus (genitive telluris) is a third-declension feminine noun, rather than an incorrect or unusual second declension (usually masculine) noun ending in -us in the nominative. Living languages, however, tend to re-analyze nouns at later stages, such that Morrígan becomes Morrígu (with a genitive being Morrígain as a result), which argues for the poetry of Michael Routery–and all poetry, for that matter–being the crucible of language and new linguistic usages, which can only bode well for those of us who still use Latin and other supposedly “dead” languages in our modern polytheistic devotional poems, at very least!

Of the five books that I’ve read in the last few weeks, this one has definitely been the favorite, and the one with the least in it that can be criticized; but, even if I had read this book amidst many other favorites, I’d still regard it as an exceptional work, and one worth procuring for oneself with haste. (And, it would make a fantastic Sigillaria gift as well–so, buy four copies!)

Michael Routery/Finnchuill’s blog is here, and the website for Vindos Press is here. With any luck, Vindos Press will bring us many more wonderful writings of Michael Routery, both in poetry and fiction, in the years to come!


Responses

  1. I suspect that the reason Finnchuill and I both exhibit characteristics of beat poetry is because we’re both pretty heavily influenced by it. I know I’ve acknowledged that influence in more than one place, given that a couple of my favorite poets are Diane di Prima and Gary Snyder.

    I’m really hoping new poetry comes out of my massive life change and the move to Italy.

    • And, if I’m remembering correctly, didn’t the two of you go to City Lights at one point while you were down there (and while it still existed)? There’s a beat pilgrimage if there ever was one! ;)

      I wanted to make light of that in this review just to demonstrate that there are not only diverse and specifically poetic influences to be found in modern pagan poetry, but also to just highlight how interesting it is that several of us share these similar spiritual orientations and/or experiences, and yet are still diverse in our own ways. I do like the beats, but have not been influenced as much by them as y’all have…and, honestly, I wonder if it not just a matter of age/generation, since they weren’t emphasized in my own poetic curriculum/training very much, though they were mentioned.

      I have more influence, probably, from the Liverpool Poets (via Adrian Mitchell, for example) than from the beats–but, it’s not a contest, because they’re all equally cool! ;)

      And: we are fili and you will be assimilated!, so I can’t imagine that you could live in Italy without having it infect–in a good way!–your poetry after the briefest amount of exposure.

      • City Lights is still there, and yeah, we went to the bookshop where we ran into one of his friends, and then over to the Beat Museum.

        There are definitely a multitude of poetic influences upon all of us and, even though we share some of them, we process them through our own experiences and weigh them differently accordingly.

        I don’t know that it’s necessarily a matter of age but perhaps of taste? Or just exposure. Remember that I have not been trained in poetry in any consistent manner. I decided I was interested in the beats after finding them on my own, and it was that interest that led me to Naropa for the week-long writing program.

      • I thought I heard something in the last few years that it closed…well, I’m glad I am wrong on this! (I didn’t think they really could close it, but these days, you never know…)

        The beats aren’t outside of my taste, I don’t think, based on what I know of them; but, for the most part, I think when they were “big” was before my time, but in the lifetime of yourself and himself. There aren’t that many “popular” poets these days, outside of Seamus Heaney–and especially outside of him now, since he’s gone the way of all flesh–whereas I’ve always understood that the beats were relatively well-known, even if not universally liked, etc.

        The matter of “poetic training,” so to speak, is interesting…at SLC, it varied quite a bit how (and even “if”) we were given much to read, or anything in particular to read. We were only encouraged to read relatively widely in the last poetry workshop I took there, where the textbook for the class was a reader that consisted of “Ninety-Nine Imperishable Poems,” each by a different author. (I still have it somewhere, but never read it cover-to-cover.) I’m pretty sure “Howl” was in there, which I’d heard or read a few times before that; but, there’s so much more out there…

        How would one formulate a modern school of filidecht, I wonder? Perhaps we should have a conversation about that at some stage, maybe a PantheaCon or two down the road–it might even be a panel event with the three of us, who knows? ;)

      • Now there’s an interesting idea. I’d love to talk it over with you though it seems physical face to face opportunities are going to be few and far between very soon. We could certainly try emailing between the three of us. ;)

        I think you have at least a start with your courses on filidecht (which you’ve said I already know most of, when I inquired about it a while back). I certainly have some ideas, at least beyond the study of traditional Gaelic meters. I’m hoping to work more on the development of my take on filidecht when I have time again; certainly Brigid plays into it, as do the cauldrons.

        There’s a lot that could be discussed, I’m sure.

      • Very definitely!

        It is a bad time to be bringing this up, I think…and yet, why not? I know PantheaCon 2014 isn’t in the cards for you, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start talking about ’15 at this point. ;)

        Certainly, I’m going to get down there this month…I’m trying to figure out how the 30th can work, but maybe another weekend can work, too. It would be good to just hang out and chat (and probably eat at some point)…perhaps I can get Tara to do another trip. And, my friend Vickie would like to meet you before you go away, too, so maybe we can all get in on the action at some point not far from now. Anyway, we’ll figure it out, even if it means me on a bus at yuck-dark-thirty one morning and then back again in the afternoon, etc.

      • Unfortunately, the beats have fared badly in academia, or at least the more elite branches of it. I think the actual spiritual vision directedness of many beat poets didn’t sit well with various would-be arbiters (di Prima is a practicing magician). And probably the fact that some were fairly popular, as far as poetry goes.

        But Europe seems to feel otherwise, if all the Italians, French, German, etc. tourists thronging City Lights is is any indication (and yes, the bookstore is very much open and seems to be flourishing).

      • With no disrespect to the wonderful individuals involved in it, I wouldn’t classify the poetry department at Sarah Lawrence as particularly academic–they’re very good at what they do, but they’re much more on the practical side of things than anything…

        All of that having been said, and as popular as more modern forms of performance poetry are not only espoused but are almost required, there ddidn’t seem to be much nodding toward the influence of the beats in all of that (and there definitely is an influence, I think). As I said, I think “Howl” as mentioned by my senior year prof, and then one of the students did “Kaddish” (sp.?) for the weekly memorization and recitation that we had to do for a few weeks in a row, and that was about all of Ginsberg or any of the beats that we heard or heard about.

        I’ve noticed in a great deal of modern poetry–as in stuff being produced in the last 15-20 years–there’s a certain amount of flirting with spirituality that is allowed, encouraged, and applauded, but one can’t ever cross a certain line of being a kind of self-ironic neo-agnostic; but then again, that’s also sort of expected in academia generally speaking as well (including in religious studies).

      • I think the movement away from genuine spirituality in “mainstream” modern poetry has been reflected by the move away from it in society generally, so it’s really no surprise there. As noted, academia has not been particularly welcoming to that kind of thing for a very long time.

        What we do is, sadly, a fairly specialized sort of work, even within the Pagan communities. I would love to have a larger community of people doing this work to talk with, to compare notes with, to share ideas with. I do think that a school of filidecht of some sort would be a good start in that direction — it would, at the very least, give others the vocabulary and a start on the knowledge needed to have those kinds of conversations.

        Of course, at the moment, too many things and not enough lifetime to stuff them all into.

      • My comment about academic was on the vague side and SL wasn’t thinking of SL at all; I’m surprised there wouldn’t have been more of the beats there, actually from the kinds of folks I’ve known who attended it. I’m referring more to English Department as opposed to Creative Writing programs, and especially what gets promoted institutionally, like through Norton anthologies. Decades of language poetry, or an emphasis on stuff where everything is so ironic that there is no real meaning, or personality minutiae that opens to nothing deeper or broader, spiritually or politically, and so on. Though Ginsberg is widely anthologized, and well into canonization. Exceptions always lurk in the manicured lawns like unruly gophers and dandelions.

    • Indeed! And I think Jerome Rothenberg’s influence in his range of poetries in Technicians of the Sacred also (?)

      • Have not read/seen that book yet…I’ve certainly heard of it in passing many times, but haven’t sought it out. Would you recommend it?

      • By all means, I would recommend it. It’s a global collection of early and indigenous poetries. Excellent stuff.

  2. I don’t seem to be getting a chance to reply directly to the thread, but I think a filidecht panel is a fantastic idea–and I had just earlier today thought of such myself!Yeah, I’d be happy to have a three-way e-mail back and forth…

    • You, me, and Erynn in a three-way: now there’s something for people to ponder over. ;)

      But, yes, I think these sorts of ideas have a synchronicity about them. Perhaps we can figure out a way to Skype together or something at some stage. It’ll be like the “Brigid’s Irregulars Outsiders Reunion,” in many respects!

      • I might actually be willing to do a video skype if it will help with planning this, though I prefer the text version. (I also think the text version will actually allow us to preserve the conversation’s details.) Right now, though, everything is just so crazy. I have no idea when I’m going to be settled enough to contemplate this in more than a “that sounds cool” fashion.

      • Well, when Erynn start to settle in Italia–I’m talking about the skype thing ;)

      • You can find me on skype by my legal name. I’m rarely on there unless I’m actually talking with someone, but I would certainly be up to conversations if we set them up in advance.

  3. […] Check out the review of From the Prow of Myth over at Aedicula Antinoi: http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/review-of-michael-routerys-from-the-prow-of-myth/ […]

  4. […] can read my review of From the Prow of Myth here! Go buy this book RIGHT […]


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