Ovid's Heroines: a poetry show with Clare Pollard
Ovid’s Heroides, written in Rome some time around 20BC, is a series of poems in the voices of women from Greek and Roman myth. Women – including Medea, Penelope and Ariadne – address the men they love. Poet Clare Pollard’s new free verse translation (just published by Bloodaxe Books) rediscovers Ovid’s Heroines for the 21st Century, bringing to life a cast of women who are brave, bitchy, sexy, horrifying, heartbreaking and surprisingly modern.
From Spring 2015 to Spring 2017, Jaybird Live Literature brought the Heroines to the stage in a new live literature production. Clare read, recited and performed her astonishing poems against a backdrop of Mediterranean light and sound. Love letters flew back and forth between the ancient world and modern Britain – the messages of longing, suffering and beauty they bore were universal and timeless.
‘Heroides is a radical collection of poems. It is a daring act of literary transvestism. It is an attempt to modernise and revitalise well-worn myths. Its narrators’ stories are deeply subjective, partial and often unreliable, with this highlighted by the telling the same stories from different perspectives. It has been called both first book of dramatic monologues and the first of epistolary fiction.’
‘The motives behind each letter are, in fact, very different indeed, as are the strategies [the women] use to escape from their predicaments – some heroic, some cowardly. The letters are attempts to seduce, plead, threaten, comfort or curse. They range from the anxious letters of a worried wife to vengeful suicide-notes. Deianira, a kind of classical WAG, tries to deal with her husband Hercules’ fame … a queen begs her husband’s son for sex. They articulate love in all its beautiful, messy, stupid complexity.’
‘[My translation] is ultimately a poet’s version, written for pleasure. I hope people will read it in Rome’s cafés after lunch, sipping a caffè as their saltimbocca is cleared away and water plays in a fountain; or perhaps by a pool in Crete under the scalding Greek sun. Ovid’s Heroides was historically one of his most popular texts: it deserves to be so again.’
(all quotes from Clare Pollard’s introduction to her Ovid’s Heroines, Bloodaxe Books 2013)