My Grendel Essay — Now Published

I’ve had an essay published in the third issue of New Reader Magazine. On their site, you can download the entire (gorgeous) magazine for free. My essay appears starting on page 54.

The essay is called “Thoughts and Slayers: What We Do About Grendel, Our Oldest and Most Persistent Villain.” Here is a quick blurb about it which appeared in my query letter when I was trying to get it published:
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“Even though “troll” used to mean something a lot worse than “random jerk on the Internet,” Beowulf, the oldest surviving poem in the English language, can still help us make sense of current events. What does an Anglo-Saxon epic have to teach us about mass shootings, immigration, or even Congressional gridlock? Given that sometimes our most daunting monster is the one already in our midst, quite a lot. In “Thoughts and Slayers: What We Do About Grendel, Our Oldest and Most Persistent Villain,” I explore what Beowulf has to say about problems we still struggle with. Centuries after it was composed, I use a combination of social/cultural critique to suggest what we can do about the various Grendels still wreaking havoc among us.”
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This essay was shortlisted at more than one magazine but was selected by NRM first, so they got to publish it. I’m really, really proud of this work and hope you’ll enjoy it. If you’d like a teaser of it, here’s the opening…
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The oldest surviving poem in English highlights much of what we still struggle with, centuries later. It involves a monster who destroys the mead hall, the most communal of settings.

Grendel lives. Sadly, he thrives.

The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is a part of our language’s literary canon and cultural heritage, and the poem’s first and most infamous villain remains a threat to us. In the story, Grendel, the monster who attacks the inhabitants of modern-day Denmark, is a vaguely humanoid beast with impenetrable skin who kills and eats the Danes, gobbles them up like jelly beans right in their own mead hall, every night for twelve winters. His monstrosity, however, comes from more reasons than just wrecking shop in the Danes’ mead hall, and he’s still vitally important for what he represents within our society, far removed from Dark Ages Denmark and those who fought against him, or chose not to.

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The epic contains surprisingly little physical description of the monster. When I used to teach Beowulf to ninth graders, I would talk to them about what I called The Grendel Situation and then ask them to draw pictures of him. Mostly they came up with fangy, clawed, hairy, green creatures dripping with the blood of half-Dane corpses. What they could not yet internalize was the abstract evil Grendel presents and the practical, tangible dangers that make him relevant now. They could not yet see that we, too, are living in the mead hall.

(Read the rest of this essay at New Reader Magazine.)

 

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Monday Earworm: Thomas Dolby

English musician Thomas Dolby is probably best known here for his hit “She Blinded Me With Science” — and, as a result, probably best known by people in my age demographic. However, as excellent as that song is, his work definitely deserves a closer look.

His album Retrospectacle, a greatest hits compilation, was one of my favorites during my college years, and even now, it holds up beautifully. His work afterward seemed to be largely in the sphere of soundtracks, particularly for video games.

Here’s just a taste of his brilliance. “Budapest By Blimp” is a mellow song and can be enjoyed even if you aren’t paying attention to its lyrics, but the story in the song really opens it up. If you read the first comment after the video, you’ll see the text of a blog post wherein a teacher wrote to Dolby requesting more information about the song’s genesis and Dolby’s incredibly thoughtful response. It’s well worth reading.

National Poetry Month — Day 15

At the last reading I went to, I shared the stage with an old poetry colleague of mine, from many years ago: Stan Crawford. He and I had been published in the same anthology, Untameable City (Mutabilis Press), about the nature, interpreted broadly, of Houston. This reading was to celebrate the book and some of the poets who’d been included in it.

Stan and I had taken workshops together back in the day, and it was so good to run into him again, as it always is. He graciously agreed to let me include his poem “Hedge Fund” here on the blog this April.

 

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Hedge Fund

 

Make a bet about any arbitrary thing:
for example, when a line of bushes
will at some future time enclose a field, or
a pasture, or any predicted area of vivid

growth. Then hedge the bet you’ve made
upon that hedge, to the amazement of those
who hadn’t quite understood that this is now
a world securitized, protected, bet by bet,

increment by increment. Sell this knowledge.
Reap the standard fee of “2 and 20.” Hedge
again. Buy gold, buy oil, buy lithium, buy
homes designed by different architects

on opposite coasts of several continents. Buy
influence, when control is not for sale. Expand
and merge. One day you’ll be too big to fail,
and what is more, you’ll be a man, my son.