Several weeks ago Mary Agner sent me her fine chapbook in trade for my 44 Sonnets, and I've been more than remiss not to mention her work before now.
The beginning and ending poems of Ancient Alternatives are drawn from or reference the Classical tradition and are written in a variety of forms, from pentameter ("Ellen in Egypt") to free verse (the wonderful "Penelope Speaks") to unmetered rhymed couplets ("Warning"). All are deftly handled, but I'm particularly fond of the alliterative sequence "The Eightfold Year" at the center of the chap. I love the delicacy — so difficult to achieve in alliterative verse — of the opening lines from "Litha":
We depart in the dimness before dawn,
our picnic basket packed with asparagus, peaches,
bread, and cheese, bound for the beach,
the sunshine, golden as a strawberry seed,
reaching over the horizon. Our ritual …
Another favorite, "Middle Night," is an interpolation of lines from Sappho which mention the Pleiades, long very special to me for reasons I don't really understand. It's easy to see why the poem is special, even though the moon's apparent full trip across the sky in only half a night is, to my mind, a problem (italicized lines are from Mary Barnard's translation of Sappho):
I lean back to steady myself. The sky, older
than I, yet freshly crushed velvet. I watch the moon
rise, rub out the stars, pass overhead, pass
under into out-of-sight. Next, an oval, a cluster
of blurred light: the Pleiades.
The night is now half-gone, youth goes
with these sisters, hands decorated by callouses,
dark curls framing dark eyes, skin bronze
even in the blackness, arms linked
through another's, airy and smooth in embrace,
fire and tendon to those who pursue them.
The night is now half-gone, youth gone,
the sisters set. I am in bed alone.
Mary tells me she still has copies available. Get them all.