Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gilgamesh by Derrek Hines

In bringing the epic of Gilgamesh to us, Derrek Hines says he "added material in an effort to recapture for the modern reader some of the vigour and excitement the original audience must have felt."

By golly he certainly has, and it's wonderful. He's turned what was essentially an oral poem-epic into something crisp that chirrs and whizzes in your ears if you read it aloud, and also sits comfortably and tightly on the page.

Here's how he starts off:

Here is Gilgamesh, king of Uruk:
two-thirds divine, a mummy's boy,
zeppelin ego, cock like a trip-hammer,
and solid chrome, no-prisoners arrogance.

Pulls women like beer rings.
Grunts when puzzled.
A bully. A jock. Perfecto. But in love? --
a moon-calf, and worse, thoughtful.

The words tumble and hop with energy. The language is tight, with turns that alternate between dry humour ("Pulls women like beer rings.") and the strung-out and character-revealing ending to both these stanzas. This Gilgamesh is immediate and fully present, both mythic and real.

Hines can get beautifully and evocatively lyrical without losing any of the compression and energy that makes this stuff zing. Here is a brief passage between descriptions of two very different sexual encounters.

Soft-mouthed as a gun dog
dark retrieves these few sounds:
a clatter of supper plates,
the dry thresh, like a woman's stockings,
of palm fronds,

the rustle of moonlight, rinsing itself
up to its wrists in the river.

What Hines is so good at is ratcheting up the energy by presenting an image that is intensely palpable ("Soft-mouthed as a gun dog") or visually specific ("zeppelin ego") and then bringing you to a full stop with either a slow-down of the rhythm ("and solid chrome, no-prisoners arrogance.") or an image that, with light repeated vowels, literally immerses itself, but only so far, then stops ("moonlight, rinsing itself / up to its wrists in the river.").

Beautiful stuff.

Gilgamesh, by Derrek Hines

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