The Williad

By | 1 December 2009

The Epic on the Epic, écriture feminine.

Sing to me of the woman, plaintive Muse,
a Writer of twists and turns: her keyboard
unchained, hot for stardom, keyed for success.
She wants to write an epic. But will she?
Perched at her desk, fingers afire, quick,
her vision eager, her screen a-flicker,
the writer cracks her knuckles as she thinks:
how about something of the Iliad ilk,
smoky with striving groans? Eager to please,
avid to last? Or else an Odyssey,
a gourmet traveller's tale of the soul
bobbing on boundless seas to find its way?
Or an Aeneid– teeming with twisted
honour, keen to waste what it has? … Why not?
Good subjects all. But they need to be done
from a woman's perspective. That's the way.
Something girly but frothing with substance,
a clever, double-X-chromosome tale–
cute but smart: one that never tries
too hard to draw a new moustache on things.

The Writer and the Attack of Hunger

And as she bit her pencil, plotting hard,
she felt the presence of Darkness. The Claw
of Hunger began its Perilous Churn,
and Icy Fear swooped as the Writer tied
herself to the chair and stopped her ears.
Soft at first, low like the purr of a cat
as he lets out his claws to pick at silk,
a sound arose from her Cavernous Cave,
then reached a feverish pitch. The fierce desire,
the honeyed buzz of lustful, warlike bees,
the cloying, sweet, Cosmic Hum of the Fridge–
that waylayer of heroes, that pit of True,
Rich Taste, the blessed Harmony of Love,
of Bliss, Fulfilment, Smiles and Pleasant Peace,
past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
on purpose laid to make the taker mad–
‘Bring me a glass of water, o sweet Muse,
a piece of fruit!' called the Writer. Thunder
broke the mighty spell with this mighty word.

The Writer and the Monsters of Child and Housework

The first victory hers, the Writer thought
she would now write her epic. But as she went
to get a coffee, the Growing Pile of Dishes
stabbed her in the eye, and the Toilet Bowl
let out a murky howl. Its voice was drowned
by the cacophony of Dirty Sheets
begging for change. Then the dread Soiled Washing
squirmed in its basket, teemed and churned, growling,
while Dinner spat chips, rattled the fridge-cage
and pushed its fishy fingers towards her.
Fencing with each of these Monsters in turn,
the Writer tripped on toys littering the floor
and groped for balance. A shelf of books
fell on her foot, launching pointy corners
straight into her flesh. ‘Tidy your room!'
she screamed, tearful. ‘Later', grumbled the Child,
‘I want to watch TV now'. The Writer
cajoled; then, toys away, read four stories,
and, later that night, changed some peed-on sheets.

The Writer and the Battle of Bills

And as the golden sun rose in the sky
and eggshell clouds beheld the city's face,
the Writer woke up dreaming of writing
and milking her fresh mind. An early word
catches the worm! First thoughts push like the wind.
But then, a monstrous army caught her sight,
of beings square and white, the Evil Bills–
who, with their ghastly silence and sharp dates
sucked her sweet life-blood, squeezed her living flesh
and clipped the wings that she had tried to grow.
She fought– pushed her knife deep into their slits,
and laid them, flattened, one on top the other
into an ordered pile, a semblance of control–
but felt their scalding scorn, their lethal touch:
unless she earned some good money quick smart,
her Writing would be bulldozed in a flash.
The Writer zips her dress, slicks on her gloss,
sprays on her perfume, primps, flicks out her hair
and clicks her super heels to join the Bright
Battalions of the Bill-Slaying Workforce.

The Writer Conquers Sleep

It is evening: the Child in bed, the cats
fed. As the writer finally settles
with her keyboard and some clever ideas,
along comes Sleep, the Knot of Perfect Traps.
A sudden, silver hush enfolds the room;
the close air thickens with the scent of blossom,
ripening plums, warm orange oil, almonds
and milk. Leaves whisper in the gentle heat.
A cool reflecting pool, smooth-surfaced, clear,
springs on the desk before the Writer's eyes,
a weightless, white lotus flower floating
in it; a snake's diamond head in the deep.
‘No!' cries the writer and hits the special
emergency button on her keyboard
to wake her fingers up. She slaps her cheek,
washes her face, swills some strong coffee
and a No-Doz, smiles, stretches and stands tall,
then clears the swamp rot debris off her desk
and watches the diamond snake slink away.

The Writer and the Strait of Love-Lack

As she recovered from that trial of strength
and faced her heart and her keyboard again,
the Writer felt the hum of Honeyed Strings
lodged deep in her gut. She knew the tremor well,
and hoped it wouldn't strike. Not tonight.
‘Why must I be alone?'– the Writer thought,
‘Will I be found dead, half-eaten by cats
I now feed gourmet Whiskas? Must there be
no one to hold my face, stroke my body,
hang on my every wish?' And while she cried,
the shiver of the Strings picked up, swelled, sighed,
grew wicked, taut and tender. ‘No escape!'
it breathed. Its voice was husky and reckless,
a current behind her ear. In her heart
swelled a warm wave: liquid butterscotch, soft
across her bones. Its movement, unchecked,
stirred the forgotten silt of her rock pools,
making her hurt. ‘Avaunt!' cried the Writer,
‘I call on the Mighty Weapon of Truth!'
She grasped and aimed her Beacon of True Buzz,
and smiled as its mighty pulse split the swell.

The Writer Emerges Victorious

Having conquered all her Enemies Five,
the Writer emerged victorious,
and wrote it all down just as it happened
over a cup of coffee and a snack
five minutes or so before the deadline.
That's the epic. Done! She lifts her hands from
the keyboard, and lo! …
A bluish light explodes
to lift the Writer up on a rainbow path.
Crowned with laurel leaves, her arms aloft,
juggling the Balls of Heaven, Sun and Moon,
the sparkling Stars and Meteors of Beauty,
the Writer glides over turquoise clouds
on Sun's fiery chariot. Her rapt eyes
flicker with glory; her silk Grecian gown
flutters in fragrant winds, her lyre gleams.
Cockatoos descend with emerald ferns,
garlands of fragrant gum leaves, scarlet buds,
clusters of amber grapes and honeyed nuts,
and with a sweet harmony of voices
sing fresh hymns to her beauty and skill:
This is the way a girl ends
this is the way a girl ends
this is the way a girl ends
not with a plough, but with a fiddle.



This poem is dedicated to all the Important Male Influences, dead or alive, who have been playfully utilised in the writing of this Epic.

The title remodels that of Homer's The Iliad;

The verse form (blank verse) has been lifted from Virgil's Aeneid (and many other worthy later users, such as Shakespeare and Milton);

The idea of putting the title of The Iliad to humorous use is pinched from Alexander Pope and his 'The Dunciad', a satirical epic on (male) dunces;

The mock-heroic tone is inspired by 'The Rape of the Lock', a trivial (male) quest described in heroic terms, also by Alexander Pope;

The Writer tying herself to the chair to resist the call of Hunger laughs at Homer's story of the irresistible call of the Sirens; and the Strait of Love Lack recalls the story of Scylla and Charyribdis. Both are in The Odyssey;

Two lines in the stanza on Hunger (‘past reason hated, as a swallowed bait / on purpose laid to make the taker mad') have been lifted from Shakespeare's sonnet 129, a poem on (male) lust. The verses are unchanged; the joke is in the change of context;

Sleep, the Knot of Perfect Traps, plays with Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet ‘Come Sleep, O Sleep, the perfect knot of peace';

Many ancient and less ancient myths and quest stories are remembered in this poem: The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, Sinbad the Sailor, Gerusalemme Liberata, Apollonius of Tyre, Pericles, The Lord of the Rings … none of them female;

The ending takes liberties with the famous final lines of T.S. Eliot's ‘The Hollow Men', a poem on the First World War and the futility of wars.

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