The Invisible Reality of the Muses with Joe Safdie
Tuesday October 12th 2021 – 6:30pm – 8:00pm: £10 (UK time) via Zoom
Where do you get your inspiration? Today we might “breathe in” any number of influences, but the people of ancient Greece had only one source: the Muses. The Muses were the Greek goddesses of poetic inspiration, and were deities of song, dance, and memory. That last item might come as a surprise, because we usually think of something new when we hear the word “creation.” But the mother of the Muses was the Greek goddess Mnemosyne, or Memory, and their music – sometimes divine, sometimes silent – enabled a few lucky people to have visions of the past: as mysterious as insight into the future, and only partially dependent on one’s own powers. This 90-minute session with discussion introduces the Greek poet Hesiod and his Theogony, the best and most detailed explanation of who the Muses were and where they might best be encountered today.
Are the Muses Still Around?
Some people say the muses are imaginary, and that’s true: at least, more true than when an inspired artist labels this or that person a muse. But the muses are invisible; they might live with us awhile, but we’re never more than sojourners in their realm. And they don’t speak our language. As Wordsworth wrote (not about them), “They’re an amplitude of mind.” Or as Dante had it, in the Inferno, “poet by the God you did not know lead on.” By the end of our talk and discussion about inspiration, poetry and memory, I hope to have suggested a few ways to cultivate the muses, but in these matters, there’s no guarantee: what’s unknown is best. As the Greeks knew, the truth is always a mystery.
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Joe Safdie’s latest book of poems is The Oregon Trail (Spuyten Duyvil); previous books and their publishers include Mary Shelley’s Surfboard (Blue Press, 2008), Scholarship (BlazeVox, 2014) and Coastal Zone (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016). His own trail to Oregon included stops in California (most recently in San Diego, where he taught English Literature and Creative Writing), Colorado (Boulder), Washington (Seattle) and the Czech Republic (Olomouc and Prague): now in Portland, he’s studying the language of trees. His talk on Charles Olson for the American Literature Association is now available on YouTube; other poems, essays, and reviews can be found in Jacket, Jacket2, Caesura, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars and many other journals and periodicals.