Thursday, May 19, 2005

Of Novels, Poets, and Vampires

A couple of quick things here. First, I've changed the settings on this blog to make it easier for you to email my posts to friends or fellow teachers, and also for you to comment, even without having your own Blogger account. I'd LOVE to hear from any of you reading this, even (maybe especially) to learn if I'm posting anything useful, and if not, what else I could do. (Of course, if I'm not posting anything useful, you're probably not reading anymore. Hmmm...)

Second, I should mention that I've started another blog for my thoughts specifically about Jewish poetry and poetics, with an eye to developing a "Jewish Poetry Curriculum" for K-12 teachers in supplementary schools, and maybe day schools, too. It's called "A Big Jewish Blog"; check it out if you're interested, and spread the word. (Can I still use that phrase?)

Now to the fun stuff--in this case, poets and vampires. I have a shelf full of novels about poets that I've been meaning to read, and yesterday--taking a little "so we'll go no more a-roving" break from my romance novel binge--I just finished reading Tom Holland's novel Lord of the Dead, in which Lord Byron, poet and vampire, tells his story.

I don't really know the vampire fiction genre, Anne Rice, et. al., and have only read a handful of vampire stories in the "paranormal erotic-romance" subgenre (I liked Emma Holly's "Night Owl" and Angela Knight's "Seduction's Gift," in Hot Blooded, though), so I can't say much about this book from that perspective. What I liked about it was the implicit link between the genre of historical-novel-about-a-poet and the whole "the blood is the life" motif, in which the dead live on by eating blood. Near the start of the novel, for example, Greek villagers are trying to trap a vampire by killing a goat and pouring out its blood as bait, and Byron, narrating, equates this with the blood sacrifice that opens a path to the dead in the Odyssey, and hence in the Aeneid (am I right?), and of course in Canto 1:
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead....
Although, of course, the dead in this book are not exactly impotent. Or dead.

Of course, what I would want a book like this to do is send me back to Byron, Shelley, et. al., hungry to read them--and it doesn't quite do that as well as I would like it to. (The mention of Don Juan in Holland's book did make me want to go reread that long poem, but more for escape, in exasperation, than because I thirsted for it.) It did send me back, though, to reread and re-memorize my favorite vampire poem--at least, I read it that way--, "This Living Hand," by Keats, where the dead poet seduces me, the living reader, into giving my life for him:

This living hand, now warm and capable

Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold

And in the icy silence of the tomb,

So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood

So in my veins red life might stream again,

And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is

I hold it towards you.

Whew! Love it. Love it. Love to say it, be the speaker, love to hear myself say it, and be the audience. Yum.

So: now that I have the new comments and email set up, any thoughts on other novels-about-poets I should read? I'll post a list, when I have enough to make it worth your while.

(P.S. Not to toot my own horn, but if you're interested in Muriel Rukeyser, I have a LONG piece on her in the latest Parnassus, "Rukeyser Without Commitment." Enjoy.)

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