Christopher Logue Analysis
Christopher Logue’s poetry has developed from its first Romantic-modernist beginnings under the inspiration of Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, and T. S. Eliot, to a fully fledged mock heroic. His first two volumes of poetry contain work that is by and large modernist but with occasional Romantic flashes. In this, it is not strikingly original in any way, but it does suggest someone trying to move away from the formalism of the Movement poets of the time, while refusing to get drawn into what he felt was the too comfortable Romanticism of the later Yeats. “For My Father” is one early poem in which the poet has struck an authentic voice. Real dialogue lies at its heart. The influence of Pablo Neruda can be seen in the collection Red Bird as well as The Man Who Told His Love.
As early as 1959, however, Songs shows the poet breaking away from the erudtion and allusiveness of his first poems. Logue was beginning to find the voice that made him famous as a public poet, declaiming in a popular style on the issues of the day in the idiom of the day, a voice that perhaps culminated in the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, where he gave public poetry readings before some 100,000 people and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan performed. The biggest influence on these 1959 poems was German Marxist dramatist Brecht. Logue abandoned the academic style of poetry, and his language became dramatic, strident, racy, and satiric.
As time went by, Logue adapted this style to both comic and children’s verse. He used some forms of children’s verse in his poetry for adults; for example, he adapted the rhyming ABC for adult satiric verse as in Abecedary. At the same time, Logue had a developing interest in Homer’s great epic poem, the Iliad. Early attempts to put this into English verse, not as a translation but as a new, culturally relevant version, include Patrocleia and Pax. These two attempts were reprised and enlarged in War Music in 1980. The volume dealt with the episodes in the Iliad in which Achilles re-enters the war on the Greek side, enraged by the death of his partner, Patroclus. Two further volumes, Kings and The Husbands, were then packaged with War Music and reissued as one volume under the title Logue’s Homer—War Music in 2001. Two further volumes followed: All Day Permanent Red, which got its title from a Revlon lipstick advertisement, and Cold Calls. The enterprise closely parallels that by the contemporary West Indian poet, Derek Walcott, whose Omeros (1990) is likewise based on a work by Homer but set in the Caribbean.
New Numbers is probably the most representative of Logue’s populist poetry. Its opening poem is typical in that it brashly refuses to behave like a poem, challenging the audience with “This book was written to change the world.” In other words, the volume is intended to be politically charged and dynamic, not merely of academic or aesthetic interest. It is absurdist in language and imagery. None of the poems have titles, and they are divided from each other only by small spaces, giving the sense of continuity and creating a cumulative effect.
One of the longer ones, “I have to tell you about Mr Valentine,” is an allegory of the search for the ideal love preventing enjoyment of the real and actual grace of life as it is to be found in its fullness. The figures at times are cartoon-strip figures, grotesque, with fragments of dialogue thrown in. They capture the culture of the 1960’s, with hippies, beatniks, and the search for Eastern mysticism. Each topic is treated with sympathetic absurdity. Many seem takeoffs of stories from the gutter press. The language is demotic, colloquial, and begging to be read aloud. This is the Brechtian ideal done in English.
Selected Poems, published in 1996, has become the most available collection of Logue’s poetry, as many of the earlier volumes have gone out of print. The collection draws from earlier volumes but does not identify the collection in which each poem was originally published. However, the earliest poem, “Professor Tucholsky’s Facts,” is from Songs, the first of Logue’s populist collections. Some poems were selected from Ode to the Dodo and Songs from the Lily-White Boys. Others have not been published anywhere else, including the last poem in the collection, “From Book XXI of Homer’s Iliad,” which was a discarded experiment for War Music. The collection also presents work from Singles (1973), a series of lyrics set to music. The final lyric contains the lines “Last night in Notting Hill// I saw Blake passing by. . . .” These poems are reminiscent of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) because of their lyric and ironic quality and also in that they comment on contemporary London.
Other selections are made from New Numbers and The Girls. Urbanal (1975) is possibly the best poem of the volume, an urban elegy not unlike Robert Lowell’s. It references Blake again, beginning with a lament for a thirty-year-old tree taken down because it is inconvenient to a neighbor. It takes on a tragic note, the poet/tree identification being deeply felt. The fact that there are very few poems representing the 1980’s and 1990’s show how much of Logue’s creative writing was being put into the Homer project.
Cold Calls, billed as the penultimate volume of Logue’s Homer, covers book 5 of the Iliad, going back before the original War Music to where Achilles, the great Greek hero, is still sulking in his tent, refusing to help his side. It covers the battle in the plains before Troy, where the Trojans sweep the Greeks back to their ships and threaten to burn them, despite suffering heavy losses themselves.
The style is clearly dramatic and, in fact, does better read aloud. Dialogue, commentary, and narrative mingle in a fast-paced, easily understandable style vastly different from traditional translations. There are detailed descriptions of the blood-thirstiness of the fighting, mingled with the gods’ frequent interventions as they take sides. The volume is just forty-four pages long and needs almost no notes. The gods, especially Aphrodite, are made to seem very fallible, very human. However, it is difficult to see the poet as a pacifist. The soldiers are made to seem ridiculous at times, but only from a political point of view.