Testaments Betrayed

Read the poem here: Testaments Betrayed

Last weekend I finished reading Stephen Fry's delightful book on poetry, "The Ode Less Traveled". In it, he explores the depth and width of meter and prosody, different poetic forms, the evolution of English poetry and the poetic sentiment in general. I don't usually like reading "how to" books, but knowing Fry's vast literary knowledge and incomparable humor, I decided to give it a try, and loved it: it made sense of things I thought were going to always be an impenetrable mystery to me, like all those greek words defining meter and the many forms poetry has taken throughout history.

One of those forms/styles described by Fry, from back in the Anglo-Saxon times, was the alliterative verse, which, unlike the majority of english poetry, which is syllabic-accentual, focuses mostly on the accentual qualities of verse: a verse in this particular style must have four stresses per line, but they don't have to be equally distributed, and instead of rhyme, the device it resorts to is alliteration (which, I discovered, isn't focused on the first letter of the words as much as it is on the first letter of the stressed syllable, which means that happens and perhaps will alliterate). The way Fry described it was that it follows a "bang-bang-bang-crash", rhythm, meaning that the first two "rises" (stressed words) alliterate, then comes a small pause (caesura), the next rise also alliterates and the final one does not. This is the style of Beowulf or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Age of Anxiety by W. H. Auden.

Enthralled by this mysterious form, and the strange trance that alliteration makes arise in the reader's mind, I decided to give it a go. It's a more verbose poem than I'm used to, and it didn't do that well in the OC Poetry subreddit, but I had a lot of fun writing it because alliteration is an interesting change of mindset: you're not looking for the ends of words to have some rhyming relationship, but the beginnings of the stressed parts of words, which drives you to double check pronunciations of words, and to see if they have the same sounds, not only the same letters (tank and Thursday won't alliterate, for example), which means that one needs to say the lines out loud; and this, really, is what gives life to poetry, the spoken word.

The poem also deals with a bit of nostalgia for a decade ago when I thought that european art was a universal heirloom, that there was nothing amiss with my affinity for English, German and French traditions: I couldn't even begin to conceive that there were people out there who thought people like me, from the tropics, didn't have a right to their poetry, literature and music; sadly, recent events have taught us that there's indeed not great people out there who think locally instead of universally. The name of the poem, apart from alliterative, is a reference to one of Milan Kundera's books on the art of the novel, by the same name, where he posits that art should transcend national borders and explore universal human themes. My little poem, by borrowing a language and a style, tries to do a tiny bit to heal the rift between those testaments and these times.

Here's that link again, now that you know: Testaments Betrayed.