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RRP: GBP 9.95
ISBN: 978 1 906188 20 7
Categories: 21st Century, Arabic, British, War writings, Women
Published: March 2014
96 pages (print version)
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Also available in: eBook (Kindle), Paperback
Spend GBP 15 or more and receive a free Carcanet tote bag. Available internationally while stocks last.
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My face is made from yours -
your jaw, your weak right eye:
my shin bone’s from your leg,
shattered in the moonlight
as you supervised the digging
of the trench at Kut-al-Amara.
Years on, your long dead smile
watched us from walls, sideboards:
from our mother’s dressing table
casting a shadow round her heart
like your shadow in the album
as you pointed the camera
towards the Bridge of Boats
at Qurna, the army camp at Kut:
father, those splinters of bone
were your salvation, hard shards
from which I sprang with shared
ancestry, looking for you.
Taking Mesopotamia was originally inspired by Jenny Lewis’s search for her lost father – the young South Wales Borderer who fought in the ill-fated Mesopotamian campaign of World War I. Through reconstructed diary extracts, witness statements, formal poems and free verse, the book extends into a wider exploration of the recent Iraq wars. It also includes translations of a number of the poems into Arabic, and photographs taken by Lewis’s father on campaign in 1916. Woven throughout the book is a strand inspired by The Epic of Gilgamesh, whose themes of hubris, abuse of power and fear of death show us how little the world has changed in four thousand years.
Taking Mesopotamia is a truly memorable piece of work. Lewis is an acutely attentive observer, but this is more than a poetic documentary – it lives as much in the ear as in the imagination, so well acoustically arranged that we cannot forget any of the voices in it.
Taking Mesopotamia – a brilliantly ironic title for our times – controls its anger through an accomplished and flexible technique in verse and prose. It is […] an eloquent rejoinder to those who say poetry can’t, or shouldn’t, concern itself with public matters.
'Taking Mesopotamia is a truly memorable piece of work. Lewis is an acutely attentive observer, but this is more than a poetic documentary - it lives as much in the ear as in the imagination, so well acoustically arranged that we cannot forget any of the voices in it.'
'Taking Mesopotamia -- a brilliantly ironic title for our times -- controls its anger through an accomplished and flexible technique in verse and prose. It is [...] an eloquent rejoinder to those who say poetry can't, or shouldn't, concern itself with public matters.'
Bernard O'Donoghue 'Taking Mesopotamia is a stunning collection, one that sticks to you like a burr after you've read it. It is as if in writing it, Jenny Lewis has stumbled across one of the marvels contained within the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of its groves of jewels - and laid it out across the page for us to look at.'
Laura Scott, The North
'Taking Mesopotamia is easily the best collection of poetry I've read so far this year.'
Gareth Prior 'Jenny Lewis' Taking Mesopotamia is a brilliantly conceived and executed, very moving book... This is a modernist route - we will see more poetry collections built on these lines.'
Dilys Wood, Artemis
Praise for Jenny Lewis '...a rich tapestry of wonder and excitement...her description of the Sky Bull, for instance, which is sent by the goddess Inanna to destroy Gilgamesh for rejecting her advances is absolutely something to marvel at...exceptionally beautiful poetry [that] makes these ancient worlds a little more accessible for a modern reader.'
Canonball Read Review No.35, July 2019
'Through the innovations described above, Lewis seems to claim the epic for our shared cultural consciousness, locating it in a fresh imaginative space between what we know today as separate mythic traditions'
Theophilus Kwek, The North
'An impressionistic soundscape for various voices, it is analogous, perhaps, to some of the passages in Logue's adaptations of Homer, but has an affinity also with the magic forests of medieval romance and the encounters with ogres which so frequently take place there.'
David Cooke, London Grip
'By any standard, Jenny Lewis's Gilgamesh Retold is essential reading, not only for her magisterial synthesis of ancient myth, but for her impressive variety of metrical forms which in itself mirrors the evolution of literary traditions from the Dark Ages to the post-modern.'
David Cooke, London Grip
A 'vivid, even cinematic translation... Lewis's approach to her translation - an intuitive interpretation - gives her license to make room for the feminine... Lewis recalls those matriarchal goddesses of early religions who are now so frequently forgotten - or redacted.'
Hetta Howes, TLS
'These innovative tales are full of cosmic creation, dramatic battles, gods and grief. Lewis' evocative and exhilarating poems bring Gilgamesh to life for a whole new generation, discovering the resonance of ancient Mesopotamian myths in recent Middle Eastern conflicts and its enduring relevance today.'
Poetry Book Society Winter Bulletin, 2018
'Gilgamesh Retold by Jenny Lewis (Carcanet Classics) reworks the ancient epic - it's innovative, graceful, erudite and utterly unputdownable.'
Gavin Francis, New Statesman (The best books of 2018)
'Her poems delve into her own past, recalling with powerful specificity...'
Sarah Crown, Guardian
'In this haunted and haunting collection, intuition leads cognition in a pas de deux of great power and beauty.'
Jon Stallworthy, Oxford Times 'Gilgamesh Retold is terrific - and very beautiful. It is the fullest version I have ever read, and the richest. It has the immediacy of dream. I've never felt from other versions just how precious the life is which Gilgamesh longs to keep.'
'Jenny Lewis's Gilgamesh Retold is not simply a retelling of the ancient epic; it is the spirited 'response' of a contemporary poet to the original legend. Using a variety of lively metrical forms and expanding the material where appropriate - notably regarding the goddess Inanna - Gilgamesh Retold is a vivacious reanimation of a timeless narrative for today's readers.'
Theodore Ziolkowski, author of Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic
'Gilgamesh Retold by Jenny Lewis rings with the strength of the original texts and sings with its own poetic originality.'
Fran Hazelton, author of Stories from Ancient Iraq (2010) and Three Kings of Warka, Myths from Mesopotamia (2012)
'While bringing back to life Gilgamesh and the immense cultural heritage of Mesopotamia-Iraq, Jenny Lewis also proves to us that poetry is, as it always has been, the best way to rekindle the past while capturing the essence of the times we live in.'
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