Thursday, May 26, 2011

Paul Park -- Ragnarok



Paul Park's Ragnarok sets off conficted feelings in me as a reader. It's a poem Tor.com published online, and it's available on Kindle as a $0.99 read. As a lover of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, I feel that I should be grateful whenever an established writer makes a serious attempt at writing poetry. As a lover of poetry, the poem itself does not leave me impressed. It leaves me wholly unsatisfied.

Ragnarok is a meant as a post apocalyptic tale told in heroic verse. By heroic verse, Paul Park is not using metrical verse found in Homer, but more of the alliterative type seen in the Old English version of Beowulf (See the Heaney translation)and the sagas of the vikings.

Paul Park has a facility with language. That's the one thing I did enjoy about Ragnarok. He takes alliteration and uses it masterfully as an organizing poetic principal. For example:


There was a man, Magnus’s son,
Ragni his name. In Reykjavik
Stands his office, six stories,
Far from the harbor in the fat past.

That's just the inter-lineal alliteration. Paul Park also works his sonic groupings in such a way that sounds from one line also work with the line that came before. All of this is very well done.

So, what's my problem? It's not with the story, but it's largely a case of poetical aesthetics. I get what park is trying to do here. He's trying to juxtapose a post-apocalyptic time with the "heroic" dark ages. However, it doesn't work -- or, it doesn't work for me, at least.

It goes beyond the use of alliteration as an organizational principal. Park even mimics the modifiers used: "Far from the harbor in the fat past." Present-day idioms seem mismatched to me with this type of versifying. So, as poetry, this sounds far from contemporary. In a way, it makes the whole poem read rather stiff and stilted. As a result, the language seems contrived, not natural.

And this is a shame. Park clearly has the ability to work with language on a poetic level. His use of line organization demonstrates that -- the lines seem like, UM, lines ... not prosaic sentences arbitrarily chopped into lines, which, unfortunately, is a rather common problem in "science fiction" poetry.

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