Robert Bagg: Poems, Greek Plays, Essays, Novels, Memoir

Bob's Blague

Review of The Tandem Ride

November 11, 2011

Tags: Bagg, Junkins, North Dakota Quarterly, poetry, classical, Madonna of the Cello, Cello Suite, ostrakon, Ostrakoi

Review by Donald Junkins in The North Dakota Review, Fall 2009, pp. 190-192

Robert Bagg has one of the few uniquely identifiable voices of his poetic generation at once open and condensed, yet poignantly explicit, probing and multilayered, a voice would one could call Baggian straight talk. In The Tandem Ride, he has compiled a versatile collection of not only a kaleidoscope of imagery and Classical allusions but also a dazzling assortment of personal experience and literary resonance. The distinguishing feature of Bagg's poems, early and late, is that he writes with a deft hand and gliding hawk's eye. He takes his subjects not only to heart but to mind, and the reader receives willingly the full force of both.

A ribbon for Bagg's penetrating diction and his excursions into the heart, for his invitation into the sensual worlds of his and our our own pasts, his minglings of the classical and modern worlds of what it is to be aware and human. No American poet has so updated, dramatized, and clarified within modern experiential settings Greek historical overtones and geographies as has Bagg. His intellectual range is prodigious, and his original diction testifies to his literary perceptions and his openness to human experience. His voice is authoritative and penetrative, and his lines simmer with overtones and undertones rife with wit and melodic in sounds.

In the opening poem, “Ostrakoi”—fragments of clay pots; one use to which 5th century B.C.E. Athenians put them was to find the matching half held by a long-lost relative—he remembers (more…)

Philadelphia Inquirer Review of THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES

November 5, 2011

Tags: Bagg, Scully, Sophocles, Oedipus, Antigone, Kolonos, Elektra, Aias, Philoktetes, Ajax, Athenian drama, Greek plays, Athenian Theater

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From The Philadelphia Inquirer

Bagg, Scully stress the dramatic
in translating Sophocles
The Complete Plays of Sophocles
A New Translation
Translated by Robert Bagg and James Scully
Harper Perennial. 880 pp. $16.99

Reviewed by Richard Lindsey

There is a pithy old Italian saying: traduttore, traditore - (a translator is a traitor). Sophocles, one of the three major dramatists of Athens in the fifth century B.C., certainly hasn't lacked for betrayers in the last 2,400 years.

So in addressing this new translation of Sophocles' seven surviving plays by poets Robert Bagg and James Scully, the inevitable first question is: Why another translation?

For one thing, every translation, like every betrayal, is different. Because no translation can ever be exact in every way, each one has at least the potential to show us something different about the original work.

For another thing, languages and their users change over time. As the translators point out, although Sophocles' plays "communicate in and through time, translations of them do not. Each generation . . . renders them in the style it believes best suited for tragedy."

The equally inevitable second question is: Why this translation? The answer to this question is less simple and perhaps more provocative.

Bagg and Scully argue that Sophocles has often been translated with a kind of general elevation and elegance that doesn't always reflect what is in fact a quite wide emotional and linguistic range. Although Sophocles' language can certainly be formal, dense, and allusive, some of it is simple, direct, and even blunt. The translators have made a point of trying to highlight these differences.

To translate Sophocles' breadth of expression, Bagg and Scully have required "the resources not only of idiomatic English but also of rhetorical gravitas and, on rare occasion, colloquial English as well." Consequently, they've adopted "a wide and varied palette" for vocabulary and levels of speech, striving for "a language that is spontaneous and generative as opposed to studied and bloodless."

In doing so, (more…)

Review of HORSEGOD

October 29, 2009

Tags: poemshape.wordpress.com, Gillespie, HORSEGOD, poems, review, poetry, Bagg

Horsegod: Collected Poems by Robert Bagg

October 26, 2009
by Patrick Gillespie

• In exchange for a complimentary copy, I expressed interest in reviewing poetry by poets “in exile” – the self-published. Specifically, I was looking for poets who trade in meter or rhyme, the disciplines of traditional poetry. This book, Horsegod: Collected Poems, by Robert Bagg, was the first book I received. What a great way to start.

Me? A reviewer?

And in addition to this book, I have two more books to review. I ask myself: What if it were my own poetry? No poet wants a comment that discourages readers from reading their work.

I favor criticism that analyzes poetry on its own terms rather than according to the tastes of the reviewer. For an idea of what I mean, check out my post on Marjorie Perloff’s criticism. (What poet wants to read that his or her rhymes are too simplistic when that is precisely the kind of rhymes they are pursuing.) Poets make aesthetic choices, and my own philosophy is not to criticize them for that – but to observe. Let’s see how I do.

About Robert Bagg

Just a couple words, because there’s a perfectly good biography of Bagg at his own website. The thing worth noting (and to my profound envy) is that he met and studied with (more…)

Kirkus Discoveries Advance Review of HORSEGOD

June 21, 2009

Tags: Poems, Kirkus, Horsegod, Bagg, Review, Editors' Choice

HORSEGOD is moving steadily through the fairly elaborate editing and publication process at iUniverse. So far, I've been impressed by the expert attention my manuscript has received––at least as good as that provided by my trade and university press editors. The initial evaluator was extremely helpful. I accepted virtually all of his/her tough-minded suggestions and strictures, one of which led me to rewrite almost completely my early long poem in 29 Spenserian stanzas, "The Tandem Ride." Curious readers may read it now in its updated version on the Poetry page of this site. iUniverse has also made HORSEGOD an Editor's Choice, which means they'll promote it a bit. It will also be available to bookstores on a free return shipping basis. I'm not sure if that will entice bookstores to stock it, since many are wary of contemporary poetry, except by the Billy Collinses of the genre. But we'll see.

Kirkus Discoveries has issued an the following pre-publication review:

A gorgeous collection that tells the author’s life story in exquisite verse. Bagg writes that he follows Ezra Pound’s dictum, that “poetry should be as well written as prose.” This is curious advice from the Modernist master, since many believe poetry to be the more scrupulous mode—or at least one that requires more careful attention to writing. But after reading a few of Bagg’s poems, readers begin to understand how well written he expects prose to be—and how deeply that expectation has infused his work. In all his verse, the author brings the comprehensibility of prose together with the accuracy of poetry, and accomplishes a near-miracle. Many of his works recall the easy expertise of John Ashbery, another experimenter with prose poems. Listen to the unadorned, unpretentious force with which he announces his mother’s death in the collection’s opening, and perhaps strongest piece, “Ostrakoi”: “The morning Mother died, Dad walked me / through her roses: ‘It’s so unfair … Mom dying / at sixty-two.’” Such economy of language allows for the communication of complex emotion without the embarrassment of showy melodrama. (Another highlight is “The Closest Thing,” the author’s account of his brief brushes with Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, a delicious treat for lovers of 20th-century literature.) Like a well-made shoe, Bagg’s writing is comfortable, durable and put together with meticulous care. But the author is a bit of a cobbler himself, filling his works with myriad allusions to topics from Greek myth to Roman architecture to Dantean tragedy. In the curious “Notes,” the author explains some of his references, but perhaps they are the book’s only real weakness. Bagg seems desperate at times to make sure readers understand his encyclopedic mind, but readers will surely make the effort on their own.

Superb poetry from an established talent.

I agree (in part) with this reviewer's questioning of my 20 pages of notes and have dropped the ones that most poetry fans will not need.

(more…)

Bob's Blague

December 18, 2008

Tags: Barnard, Fogarty, Euripides, Hippolytos, Bagg

The translation of Euripides' HIPPOLYTOS staged by the Barnard Theatre Department at 8 PM on October 23rd, 24th and 25th at the Minor Latham Playhouse was reviewed as follows in the Barnard Bulletin:

Minor Latham Madness: Hippolytos Opens The Theater Season

by Sophia Mossberg

For those lucky enough to catch October’s Hippolytos at Barnard and Columbia’s undergraduate performance space, Minor Latham Playhouse, the show offered a passionate and fitting introduction to this season of Barnard-Columbia theatre, as well as the theatre department in general. While a trend in college and regional productions is to interpret classic plays in a modern context or even produce modern text based on the original narrative, Director Sharon Fogarty, a visiting guest artist who is Co-Artistic Director of Mabou Mines Theatre Company, presented Euripides’ Greek tragedy in a classical interpretation as translated by Robert Bagg. In doing so and by allowing the power of the text to transport the viewer into ancient times with its lyrical chorus laments and poetic language, the play still does not feel dated or inaccessible. Opening with only movement backed by an original choral score recorded by members of the company, flowing and intricate costumes twirled and spun as the actors took to the stage. The cast of 14 demonstrated passionate commitment to a story fraught with the perils of lust and the injustice of the gods’ mandate. Hippolytos tells the story of the downfall of a whole community as the result of Aphrodite’s vengeance for Hippolytos, who is chaste and chooses to revere Artemis instead of her. Aphrodite causes Phaidra, his stepmother, to fall in love with her stepson, therefore compromising Phaidra’s honor and sending her into a lustful and agonizing frenzy. When one of Phaidra’s nurses tells Hippolytos of her secret love for him, Phaidra believes she is a ruined woman and hangs herself. However, upon finding her body and a note from Phaidra, it becomes clear to her husband Theseus that she unjustly blamed Hippolytos for her death. Theseus exiles his son, who is killed en route while leaving, yet not before Artemis frees him of the blame and Theseus acknowledges his vindication.

An engaged and appropriately enthusiastic or lamenting chorus was joined by the charming and evil goddesses Aphrodite and Artemis, each played by three women: Cecilia Watt, SEAS’12, Eloise Eonnet, BC’11, and Tatiana Hullender, CC’10, as Aphrodite, and Khadeejah Anne Gray, BC’12, Judy Butterfield, BC’12, and Amanda Rodhe BC’10 as Artemis. Emerald Mitchell, BC’12, and Natalie Glick, BC’09, were strong as Phaidra’s nurses, and often provided comic relief to scenes bursting with fervor and emotion. Much of this fervor and frenzied emotion lay in Lily Feinn’s, BC’10, portrayal of Phaidra. Feinn’s eloquent handle on language and expressive range was among the show’s best aspects, as she physically contorted her body and gave passages with fiery delivery. Jacob Lasser , CC’12, who played Hippolytos with conviction, and Thadeus Harvey, GS, as a comic and commanding Theseus rounded out the leads. Lighting by Lucrecia Briceno was complementary of a simple and beautiful set designed by Meganne George, and provided smooth transitions that supported the shows’ relatively quick pacing. Audience member Natasha Gordon, BC’12, appreciated the use of “chanting, dance, and classic narration to bring the play to life.”

The theatre department characterizes the work its students do as a creative process that “develops in a dialogue with critical inquiry into the literature, history, culture, and theory of western and nonwestern performance, typically combining coursework in Theatre with study in other fields, such as anthropology, architecture, art history, classics, dance, film, languages, literature, music, and philosophy,” therefore indicating its combinatory nature to be incredibly versatile for a major that is thought to be so specialized. The department’s multifaceted nature rejects the notion that it is an intensely specialized major, opening it to students of all disciplines. The Barnard-Columbia theatre department has a repertoire of historically important and profound plays, and this year is no exception. Past productions include Twelfth Night and Proof, in addition to works by Gertrude Stein and Tennessee Williams. After this production, the season will continue with the staging of the Advanced Directing Class Final Scenes. These scenes will showcase Barnard and Columbia undergraduate individual works. They open at Minor Latham Playhouse on December 8 at 8 p.m., free of charge, and present the opportunity to see student directed work. Also upcoming at Minor Latham Playhouse is Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca’s As Five Years Pass, a surrealist piece about love and loss. The show will play from November 20-22 at 8pm.

Most students know of the staged productions that are featured during the year, and yet there is much more happening behind the scenes as creative students engage with other aspects of the department. In addition to performance, students participate in a multitude of theatre-related activities such as playwriting, directing, the study of drama, and theatre history. For the visually inclined, the department offers courses focusing on costume and mask design; these topics are just a few of many that are relative to other disciplines. . Though there are only about 15 thesis majors this year, around 500 hundred students are involved with the theater department annually. Luckily, if you are interested, there is ample time this spring and next fall to participate in theatre productions. There are plenty of ways to get involved in theatre at Barnard, even if your knees shake just speaking in class or if your schedule cannot possibly include another course elective: join the technical crew, or simply become an usher and take in the night’s show. Classes for the spring are up on the catalogue, and auditions for next year’s season will begin in the fall.

New Content on Bob's Blague Page: Current Reviews of THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES and THE TANDEM RIDE and Other Excursions: Poems 1955-2010