Poem Review: “Odin on the Tree” by Jo Walton

2 of 5 stars.

“Heroic poetry is largely of a bygone era. Attempts to resurrect the genre as recently as the 1800’s in England largely failed. So, other than in fantasy books that draw upon medieval imagery (and songs and poem forms) in the construction of their worlds, one rarely sees a new heroic poem. But then there is this, an anachronism if there ever was one. . .” I wrote this about Paul Park’s “Ragnarok”, but here Norse epic poetry rears its head yet again, albeit less successfully.

The exploration of the style is noble however. Most of the lines employ the heavy mid-line pause known as the caesura, but the line lengths are not consistent, with the shorter lines being particularly unhelpful in telling the story. A couple lines consist of merely four elemental nouns and pronouns. Perhaps they serve as a sort of chorus as a variant to standard epic verse with 2 strong beats both before and after the break. The longer lines reflect this tradition:

. . . Light fails, blood price
Death, war, fire, ice.

Here is memory’s price, that I killed and I lied
And I pondered death’s price as I lived, I denied
The dominion of death for the races I shaped
And gave my breath to draw them through the dark.

Throne, price, hang tree,
Fire, ice, you, me . . .

This poem appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew. However, the page formatting is dreadful and compromises the poem. All lines are indented–unnecessarily–which forces nine lines to spill their final word onto the line. This was never as the poet intended as seen with a quick online search for a different format. The broken lines disrupt the poem’s goal of exploring the Old Norse heroic poetic verse with a heavy caesura. The editors of this anthology owe Walton an apology in this regard. One can see the poem as it’s meant to be seen: “Odin on the Tree”. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s wonderful speculative fiction short story, “Sleeper”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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