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Christopher Logue. All Day Permanent Red: the First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad Rewritten.

Christopher Logue. All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad Rewritten. New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2003. 53 pages. $18. ISBN 0 374-10295-3

FOR FORTY-FIVE YEARS the British poet Christopher Logue has been reimagining Homer's Iliad. Without Greek, working from standard translations and word-by-word translations supplied by classicists, he has been making what he calls "a poem in English dependent on the Iliad" or, more simply, "my Homer poem." He began in 1958 with a section of Iliad 21, commissioned for a BBC project. Logue notes in his autobiography, Prince Charming, that when the opportunity to work on Homer came his way, his copy of E. V. Rieu's prose translation of the Iliad was in a box of books he had planned to sell (see WLT 74:4, p. 828).

Previous sections of Logue's Homer poem are collected in War Music (1997), whose contents treat the conflicts of individual characters in the first four episodes of the Iliad ("Kings," "The Husbands"), the death of Achilles" beloved comrade Patroclus ("Patrocleia"), the battle for Patroclus' corpse ("GBH," "grievous bodily harm"), and the subsequent uneasy reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon ("Pax"). In All Day Permanent Red, Logue picks up with Iliad 4 and 5, when the war starts up again after Menelaus and Paris' inconclusive single-combat for Helen. Logue's purpose here remains as he described it in War Music: "to make [the characters'] voices come alive and keep the action on the move."

Indeed, he does that. Logue has created a sharply registered poetic idiom, indebted to modernist sources (David Jones for one, I suspect) and popular culture. (The title is borrowed from a lipstick advertisement.) Logue's condensed syntax and sharp cuts give the poem's opening a powerful, abrupt energy, surveying the Trojan landscape in a primal language akin to a Homeric vocabulary list: "Slope. Strip. Slope. / Right. Centre. Left. / Road. Track. Cross. / Ridge. Plain. Sea." The poem returns to these words again and again to shift, cameralike, from one incident to another: "Go left along the ridge"; "Slope centre." Logue's always surprising use of contemporary imagery makes Homer's world vividly present. Agamemnon gazes on Troy's "skyline" before a Trojan arrow makes "a tunnel the width of a lipstick" through the neck of a Greek warrior and the war recommences. Telamonian Ajax is here a "silent fortress"; Diomedes is "Diomed a.k.a. the Child"; white-armed Hera becomes "Heaven's creamy Queen." Hector, no bland personification of virtue, is a figure of strange and terrifying charisma, decked out in a silver mesh battle-skirt and silver mittens ("They go with everything"), a "vulture plume" atop his helmet. He inspires a suicidal energy in his troops: "'Are you willing to die?' / 'Yes!' / 'Yes!' / 'Then bind to me! I am your Prince!'"

Logue's most remarkable inventions are his startling similes, which, like Homer's own, invoke familiar realities to make the poem's distant reality a present one.
 Think of a raked sky-wide Venetian blind.
 Add the receding traction of its slats
 Of its slats of its slats as a hand draws it up.
 Hear the Greek army getting to its feet.

 Then of a stadium when many boards are raised
 And many faces change to one vast face.
 So, where there were so many masks,
 Now one Greek mask glittered from strip to ridge.

In his brilliant translation of the Odyssey, Stanley Lombardo (who cites Logue as an influence on his work) describes the effect of the poet Demodocus' performance in Alcinous and Arete's palace: "He made them see it happen." Logue too makes us see (and hear) it happen once again.

Michael Leddy

Eastern Illinois University
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Author:Leddy, Michael
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Previous Article:Hettie Jones. All Told.
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