Guest author blog: Oliver Langmead: Why I love epic poetry and you should too

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I’ll put it simply. The epics are some of the most beautiful writing you’ll ever read or hear.

There’s a good reason why we’re still talking about them today. There’s something timeless about epic poetry, evidenced in the way it keeps cropping up every century without fail. In the way we keeping making movies out of them and keep using them as archetypes for stories. And sure, we get to times like these where there’s nobody really writing them as poems (there’s plenty of arguments to suggest that we still write epics, but as movies or vast books, instead of poems with recognisable epic conceits), but I’d dare to say that the reason behind that is because they’re just plain not in fashion right now. As a global modern audience, we haven’t really found the niche for epic poets to thrive in yet. But I’d also dare say that we will, because humanity has been writing epics long before writing was really even a thing and, fashion being fashion, epic poetry will come around again.

Here’s something you might not know about the oldest epics. Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad are thought to have been around for decades, maybe even centuries, before someone wrote them down. The first epic poems are thought to have been orated to audiences, memorised and passed down from orator to orator. They were a form of entertainment, a bit like going to the theatre. Indeed, this was such a popular style that even those poets who wrote theirs down as manuscripts stuck to it. But my reason for telling you this is if you did feel like picking up an epic poem, I recommend finding an audio-book for it. Not only will the archaic language be a lot easier to digest, but you’ll hear it in the way it was meant to be heard.

In fact, of all the old epic poems, of which there are many you will have heard of (The Divine Comedy, perhaps, or the Aeneid), my favourite has to be Paradise Lost. If you don’t know, it’s the retelling of genesis, focusing on the war in Heaven, Lucifer’s fall from grace, and the corruption and fall of Adam and Eve, among a whole host of other biblical themes around the time of creation. It’s a long and varied piece. Mostly, I love it for Milton’s writing, which is undoubtedly stunning. I implore you, if anything, go to book seven of Paradise Lost and read his version of the Christian creation myth. As a faithless man, had Milton written the Bible, I might have been persuaded. Where the Bible makes creation sound quite matter of fact, “God said this and it happened,” Milton writes the biblical creation myth in the way it deserves to be: a glorious communion of words to celebrate his religious beliefs.

All of this inspired me to try it myself. To see if I could use that ancient formula and write a book in verse. And the result is the reason why you’re reading this. I wrote a book called Dark Star and, just like Dante or Milton, I wrote it in narrative verse. The difference is that I tried to write it for a global modern audience. I wrote it without the archaic language and without the seemingly endless passages that tend to make epics difficult to read. In fact, the end result is a book of verse that resembles prose and even reads like prose. But beneath it all is still that ancient tradition, which drove me to write it in the first place. Dark Star might be science fiction, and noir, but it is undoubtedly a contemporary attempt at epic poetry.

I can only hope that one day, someone might think to make it in to an audio book as well.

©Oliver Langmead

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