Alice Oswald & Bright Unbearable Reality—Wellesley College NaPoWriMo

Today on the NaPoWriMo blog, editor Emily Frisella ’16 writes on Alice Oswald’s long poem Memorial

Wellesley College NaPoWriMo

by Emily Frisella ’16


I discovered Alice Oswald‘s book-length poem Memorial midway through my year at Oxford University, when a tutor suggested I go see her read at a nearby college. But, it turned out, Oswald doesn’t really read. She recites, and her voice—like her poetry—is precise, measured, and utterly electrifying.

Oswald is not a performance poet, and her recitations owe more to lyric poetry’s early history as an oral form than to contemporary spoken word poetry. Memorial is an adaptation and translation of the Iliad, but Oswald describes the poem in more essential terms; Memorial, like so many poems, is “an attempt to remember people’s names and lives.”

Memorial begins with a list of 412 names: the men killed in the Iliad, listed chronologically by death date. With the names printed one to a line in capital letters, the seven-page list looks like a…

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