Allusive, spare poems whose twin voices enrich each other as they relate the life of an empress.


The Journals of Empress Galla Placidia


A collection of poems, some previously published, tells the story of Galla Placidia, regent of the Western Roman Empire from 425 to 437.

Aelia Galla Placidia (circa 388-450) was both a pawn and player in the Roman Empire. The daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius I, she was captured by Goths in the fall of Rome, married to a chieftain, Athaulf, and restored to Rome after his assassination. She married Constantius III and, after his death, served for 14 years as regent for their son, who became Emperor Valentinian III. In her eighth book of poetry, Chase (Anonymous Fox, 2009, etc.) presents her “translation” of Galla Placidia’s life, based on her imagined journals, which begin in 410 with Goths outside the gates of Rome. Each poem is followed by comments or glosses from Lepida, a Goth captured as a child by Romans; she became Galla’s nurse and substitute mother. The book’s five sections cover Galla’s imprisonment, marriages, and regency, with reflections on family, childhood, politics, and personalities. The final lines note that “Barbarians are at the Gate again,” as if nothing has changed: “The end mocks / The beginning.” Bitterness and irony run through these pared-down, minimalist poems, leavened somewhat by Lepida’s loyal sympathy. Galla’s voice is stark, observant, dignified, and pulls no punches, as in “At the River Busento,” about Alaric the Goth’s funeral: “Fifty slaves divert the River / For his grave. They bury him / With jeweled daggers, his wives’ braids // And the fifty slaves.” Lepida (herself a slave) doesn’t note the slaves’ deaths; her concern is always for Galla: “My Mistress found [river burial] strange. Her people were put to rest in marble.” The poems tend to be elliptical, and Lepida’s gloss often provides essential context. For example, “Company” reads in full: “King Athaulf visits often.” Lepida explains enough for the reader to understand that Galla is beginning to welcome Athaulf’s courtship, which the next poems confirm. This slender volume isn’t much like a novel, and not all of these pieces work independently, but they do work together.

 Allusive, spare poems whose twin voices enrich each other as they relate the life of an empress.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62549-178-7

Page Count: 86

Publisher: WordTech Communications

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Broadly appealing. Poetry enthusiasts will delight at Held’s formal ingenuity, while those who normally shudder and run at...



Held, George

AFTER SHAKESPEARE: Selected Sonnets ?ervená Barva Press (86 pp.) $15.00 paperback 2011 ISBN: 978-0-9831041-9-3 (paperback)   A deft collection, tragic and whimsical, that pushes back the conceptual and formal boundaries of the sonnet.   With a conceit borrowed from the Elizabethan stage (and page), Held (Phased, 2008, etc.) opens this varied and limber compilation with a four-poem “Prologue” that works to introduce the project at hand, to prebuttally question its own merits and, finally, to defend its worth in modest terms. Demonstrating the formalist’s penchant for order, he organizes the remaining fifty-eight sonnets into three thematically and rhetorically precise divisions—“Giving Place,” “Apostrophes” and “Finding My Way”—while ranging over topics as varied as aging, the Kennedy family curse, tick-borne Lyme disease, the loss of faith, nostalgic whiffs of adolescent lust and the apocalypse. Held evokes a world delineated by violent tragedy. In “How Dad Died,” he writes of “the hole over / his right ear just beginning to crust, / his Smith & Wesson cradled on his chest”; [17] in “Chuck,” a college freshman, at the very moment of all-too-rare transcendent happiness, is decapitated in a car wreck; [62] and “Walt” is found “at 33, Colt .45 / By your outstretched hand, your head crowned by blood.” [64] His response is to decoct the most essential and powerfully defiant and fully-embodied moments, to call back to life the Walt who “at 10, in a lightning storm, / . . . . . / Faced the downpour and thunder with a scream: / “Fuck you, God! Kill me now, I double dare you!” [64] His subjects rarely go gentle, and like his own slant-rhymed, sight-rhymed, sprung-rhythm verses, their best moments come when they break the rules. This defiance shines in his paean to the painter Alice Neel: “Never one to kneel / To what the age demands, ‘This is my mien / At 80,’ you declare; ‘I have no regrets!’” [14]. A few poems would not be missed if cut, such as the pun-choked “Miss Lucid” or the weakly-developed satirical “New Fears,” but these are few and do little to affect the quality of an outstanding collection.  

Broadly appealing. Poetry enthusiasts will delight at Held’s formal ingenuity, while those who normally shudder and run at hearing the very word sonnet will question those connotations when they encounter the form reimagined and reinvigorated by Held’s lively pen. 

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-9831041-9-3

Page Count: 71

Publisher: Cervená Barva Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

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