The Antigone Poems

Poetry - General
104 Pages
Reviewed on 01/29/2015
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Rich Follett for Readers' Favorite

In Greek mythology, Antigone is the quintessential tortured woman of strength - born of incest, condemned to die for the act of burying her dead brother’s body against the wishes of her uncle King Creon, and doomed to be remembered solely in terms of the curse that defined her life. Marie Slaight’s The Antigone Poems offers a dark, probing examination of the shadows of their namesake’s curse -- shadows which loom over women even today. Images of isolation, helplessness, death, blood, daemons, and a host of other archetypal afflictions pervade this stark, masterful collection. None of the poems bears a title but the lines are as distinct as if each were a fingerprint left in blood at the scene of an unspeakable crime: “We live our lives/the instant between life and death.”

Mask-like, immutable illustrations by the late Terrence Tasker (1947 - 1992), to whose memory this collection is dedicated, stare accusingly from random pages, bearing anguished witness to the psychic wounding encompassed by the verses and providing a perfect contrapuntal tension as Slaight’s tragic testimonial unfolds. The overall effect is riveting in the same way that one cannot look away from a car crash - death is omnipresent but the infinite number of possible manifestations defies augury. In the end, we can only watch in abject terror and wait for the toll to reveal itself.

As with all works of tragedy, catharsis is key; we keep reading because we do not want to accept that the situation is hopeless and because the absolute nature of the chaos before us makes our own human condition seem comparatively well-ordered and temporarily manageable. Slaight herself proclaims, in a parting gesture: “I wanted everything. To live all lives, all deaths, encompass all women. To smash every confine.” Antigone would have been proud.

Jack Magnus

The Antigone Poems is a poetry collection written by Marie Slaight with illustrations by Terrence Tasker. The poems are set as a series of chapters and are written in free verse. Tasker's illustrations are charcoal drawings which closely correspond to the mood of the work. Slaight and Tasker released The Antigone Poems in the 1970s. Antigone, according to Sophocles' tragic Oedipus Rex trilogy, was the daughter of Oedipus and his mother, Jocasta. Her two brothers fought for the throne and killed each other in the attempt. Antigone's regent uncle, Creon, decreed that one brother would be buried according to their customs, but the other would not. Antigone challenged this and was imprisoned. Her lover (Creon's son) was ordered to execute her but killed himself instead.

Marie Slaight's poetry collection, The Antigone Poems, is stark and muscular. Each poem, with one exception, is but a few words, but the words are employed so powerfully. Colors leap from the page, feelings shatter and overwhelm with word choices such as 'erotic', 'ice-frenzy' and 'ecstasy'. There's blood and anguish and so much pain in these poems, and I started to see in my mind's eye the Trojan women wailing on their wall. These poems are dark and veer between anger and madness, and the reader can't help but turn the page and keep on listening to Antigone's story. While there are the occasional rough edges that serve to shake off the overall spell of the work, those edges could also be seen to heighten the tension of the work. Slaight's final words to the reader are her own, her vision and purpose in creating this powerful collection, and in a way, they are my favorite lines, ones to be read over and over again. The Antigone Poems is remarkable and compelling, and it's most highly recommended.

Gisela Dixon

The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight, as the title suggests, is a collection of poems on Antigone, a tragic figure in Greek mythology and the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. The poems are a contemporary re-telling of Antigone, the play written by the famous Greek tragedian, Sophocles; interspersed with several vivid and dramatic charcoal drawings by Terrence Tasker. The general mood and feel of the poems is somewhat dark, but feels right in the context of the subject matter. I enjoyed the descriptive lyricism, and the dark, vivid, and at times disturbing imagery that came to mind while reading some of the stanzas. The charcoal drawings by Terrence only add to the general feel of the book, and definitely showcase his talent and artistic ability.

All in all, I feel this is a great read for poetry lovers and people who are interested in Greek mythology. Marie Slaight has done a great job with her writing and one truly feels transported into the ancient world and, more particularly, into the life and mind of Antigone. Antigone leads a turbulent life and this book portrays the essence of who she was and certainly makes the reader empathize with her. The credit for this goes both to the writer and the illustrator of the book. The book is wonderfully laid out with minimal, sparse writing on each page, and the white space and charcoal drawings just add to the overall effect. The front cover is also very eye-catching. Overall, this is one of those books that easily catches your eye and, once you open it and start reading it, does not disappoint.

Mamta Madhavan

The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight is a dark and intriguing collection of poems that captures negative emotions like anguish, despair and sufferings of women. The charcoal drawings in the book enhance the dark mood and tone of the poems and bring out the despair and starkness felt by the poet. Love, passion, loneliness, loss and pain come alive through the eyes of the poet and touch readers with its mystery, aggression and tragedy. An element of bleakness and starkness runs through all the poems and the minimalist style works well to give the poems a menacing feel and urgency while reading.

I liked this collection for various reasons. The poet's dark tone of anguish and despair is tangible, even through the few words. The word choices are powerful and compelling and they make a strong impact. The charcoal drawings in the book highlight the poet's voice; anguish, pain, darkness and harshness. The poem '…gods speak to the wind and winds whip through me…' conveys a lot through that one line. The book requires a couple of reads to perceive the depth of the poet's feelings and thoughts. The poem on loneliness captures the exact feeling:

Gut in an ache.
No joy.
No pain.
Only the blackened thrust.

The collection is unique and original, and that makes it interesting. The pain and suffering have been conveyed effectively. Every poem reeks with anguish, pain and brutality, heightened by minimal but effective use of words.

K.C. Finn

The Antigone Poems is a collected volume of poetry and sketch-work by writer Marie Slaight and artist Terrence Tasker, which explores and interprets the Greek tragedy Antigone by Sophocles. Themes and instances from the original Antigone play are prevalent, such as civil disobedience, burial, death and the presence of the gods overseeing life, but The Antigone Poems introduces new elements as interpreted by the poet, including an overtly sexual context and a strong female narrative of suffering throughout the work. The volume contains 33 poems and 6 sketches in all, arranged into chapters as the themes and narrative develop and grow in their darkness.

As both a student and fan of the works of Sophocles, it’s clear for me to see where specific influences from the original tragedy are presented in The Antigone Poems. Yet I suspect that readers unfamiliar with Greek tragedies will glean an entirely different meaning from the works of Marie Slaight. Terrence Tasker’s art provides an emotional and eerie addition to Slaight’s well-crafted words, which strike true in the heart with stark emotion, even before you begin to unpick the delicacy of her phrasing and choice of words. As the book’s preview states, this work is an intensely personal interpretation of the ancient tragedy, transformed in perspective by a modern poem with a tremendous amount of skill. Whether you’re familiar with Sophocles or not, you will feel these poetic works leap off the page and attack you, as the fearful eyes of the charcoal sketches bore into your very soul.