One of my favourite forms of poetry is the Epic. And yes, while I do indeed like so-called ‘epic fantasy,’ they are, for the most part, not epics. Whenever I read that a new fantasy book is an epic, I have to fight back the tendency to roll my eyes or ask (in as snotty of a voice as I can muster) “Oh really? So, it’s a long poetic tale of a hero and a culture’s mythology, then?” I have since, rather begrudgingly, accepted that the modern meaning of ‘epic’ is no longer limited to simply long poetic retellings of a culture’s legends and lore. The language changes over time. As beautiful as the work of Chaucer* and Shakespeare is, I for one am glad our literature has moved beyond that. Epics can be long novels concerning a hero’s journey or the averting of a disaster or other, well, epic occurrences, but whatever they are, they are no longer poetic tales of heroes.
But could they?
I’ve had a thought recently of trying to resurrect the poetic epic. Why can’t our writers and poets weave together the folklore and legends of our culture? I don’t mean our religious beliefs… they have enough poetry already. (Though I would love to see a Hymnal of the Flying Spaghetti Monster… has anyone written that yet? Forever and ever Ramen.) I mean the stories that we tell each other, whether on the playground or the breakroom or in numerous Internet forwards. I mean gathering together our folklore into one spot and forging it into a form that people will remember.
And of course, that means the scholarly poetic style of Shelley or Keats or even Ezra Pound will have to be forgone for something that speaks to our current language. It would have to be told and memorised in short bursts. It would have to be open for widespread meme-ification. Perhaps sections will even be told in LOL-speak or whatever language Doge speaks.
I think there’s something out there, perhaps a thread that one talented poet can pull down and weave into a common, oral (or at least e-oral… God, that sounds like a horrible website, doesn’t it?) tradition, or one that several poets can build on.
* Yes, Chaucer’s poetry is beautiful. One of the best pieces of advice someone gave me (I think it was a writer at The A.V. Club) was to work through the Prologue and the first tale or so with a bilingual or annotated Middle English version. As you get used to his vocabulary and rhythm, it works into your thought and will forever colour (in a good way) the way you read poetry and indeed, the way you take in any kind of storytelling.