Here at Calibre we are celebrating National Poetry Day 2021 with a look at a form of poetry that has spanned not only the centuries, but also a couple of millennia. The epic or narrative poem has been a popular means of entertainment and expression since the Epic of Gilgamesh was written in 2100 BC. Nowadays, similar extended poems that tell a story are more likely to be described as ‘novels in verse’, and have become increasingly popular in books aimed at young adults.
Three well known poets/authors who have had great success with this form are Elizabeth Acevedo, Susan Crossan and Dean Atta. The award winning Clap When You Land (617800) by Acevedo tells the tale of two half-sisters who learn of one another’s existence when their father dies. The narrative voice switches between the two teenage girls as they come to terms with loving, and losing, someone who was far from perfect.
Sarah Crossan’s critically acclaimed book One (617352), featuring conjoined twins Tippi and Grace, won the CILIP Carnegie prize in 2016 with its exploration of sisterhood, identity, and love. You can also listen to Moonrise (617670) about two brothers, one of whom is on death row, and Toffee (617799) in which a teenage runaway is taken in by an elderly woman with dementia, both by the same author.
Or there’s The Black Flamingo (617638) by Dean Atta, an uplifting coming-of-age story of Michael, who navigates through his experiences of racism, and homophobia, in his quest to find his true identity.
For fans of the more traditional narrative poem we have a wonderful collection in Great Narrative Poems of the Romantic Age (13552) which includes The Eve of St Agnes by Keats, Morte d’Arthur by Tennyson, and Peter Grimes by George Crabbe. You can also immerse yourselves in:
· The Song of Hiawatha (6134) by Longfellow
· Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (12293) by Byron, and
· Evgenii Onegin (9339) by Alexander Pushkin.
To round it all off why not try a modern translation of Beowulf (5526) by Seamus Heaney, the tale of a hero, his triumphs and his death as a defender of his people, or A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Cressida (10065), a retelling of Chaucer’s tale by Lavinia Greenlaw.