Clare Pollard’s Oracular Mixtape

Clare Pollard’s review of the first UK edition of poems by Wanda Coleman appears in The Poetry Review, Vol 111, No 3, autumn 2021

During this past year I have written my first novel, Delphi – about a classicist researching prophecy in the Ancient World when the pandemic strikes. So I’ve been thinking about Greek and Roman myth; seers and prophets; and about the ways we both desire and fear the future. This is a mixtape of poems that I came across during my research, that inspired me in different ways.

‘Zeus’ by Fiona Benson
Fiona Benson’s collection Vertigo and Ghost is just astonishing. Her Zeus poems, my god! I’ve quoted her in Delphi, and her nerve in these poems was a real source of inspiration.

‘Fragment 147’, Sappho translated by Anne Carson
Anne Carson is also a presiding spirit of Delphi, particularly her translations of Sappho – I find her way of marking out the absences so [ ].

‘I, Minotaur’ by Natalie Diaz
Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem is one of my favourite recent collections, and this is such a memorable reimagining of Greek myth: “I know what it’s like to be appetite of your own appetite, / citizen of what savages you” the speaker declares from the heart of the “American labyrinth”.

‘Prophesy’ by Eileen Myles
When I saw Eileen Myles had written a poem called ‘Prophesy’ I remember just rubbing my hands together and thinking “Jackpot!” I knew I was going to enjoy myself reading it.

‘Advice to a Prophet’ by Richard Wilbur
“When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city, / Mad-eyed from stating the obvious…” This poem gives me the chills up the back of my neck. It’s such a serious poem. It really is asking us to judge humanity.

‘Myth’ by Muriel Rukeyser
My novel is set during the lockdowns, during which I did a lot of homeschooling my children. The deep structural inequalities of this patriarchal society have been made very visible by the pandemic, I think. This poem is witty but has a real sting.

‘Edge’ by Sylvia Plath
I’m currently reading the Plath biography Red Comet by Heather Clark. I’m such a Plath glutton, I have to get every new book. I remember reading this poem when I was sixteen and having my mind blown. It’s like a whole Greek tragedy in a few lines.

‘Demeter’s Prayer to Hades’ by Rita Dove
Rita Dove is a genius. The last line of this takes my breath away.

From Eidolon by Sandeep Parmar
Everything Sandeep Parmar writes is worth your time. I loved Eidolon, her clever update of the story of Helen of Troy. There is a version of the myth where Helen doesn’t go to Troy at all, but the gods send an eidolon – image – of her instead, so her reputation is still ruined. It’s a kind of fake news.

‘Ithaka’ by C.P. Cavafy translated by Edmund Keeley
I actually was lucky enough to get some money from the Society of Authors to go to Delphi and research my novel. Except due to the pandemic I still haven’t been. I think perhaps Delphi has become my Ithaca, so it seems fitting to end on this absolute classic.

Clare Pollard is the editor of Modern Poetry in Translation. Her latest book is Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children’s Picture Books (Fig Tree, 2019).