how poetry ruined my life, episode three

Cordite Poetry Review‘s Epic edition is now online. The issue’s guest editor, Ali Alizadeh, writes of his interest in the epic poem being met with rejection and ridicule on a poetry forum, and the form is self-consciously referred to as archaic. I’m here to tell you that epic/narrative poetry is far from past its expiry date, and that the verse novel is on the rise. Yes, it happens that I’m putting the finishing touches on my own second verse novel manuscript – this is, in part, shameless promotion of my chosen genre.

Famous literary examples  are easy to spot: Dante’s Divine Comedy, Homer’s Iliad. Not to mention Ferdosi’s Shahnameh (Book of Kings) written in Iran approximately one thousand years ago, consisting of 50,000 couplets written over sixty years. This narrative is partially factual, partially fictitious, and the work had the important historical and linguistic impact of bringing the Persian language back into focus after years of being infiltrated by the Arabic language.

The verse novel has come a long way from its epic roots. My personal contemporary favourite is The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, who uses Pushkin’s Onegin Stanza for his story set in 1980s San Francisco. Dorothy Porter’s famous verse novels in free verse form give even greater hope to the genre’s growth in Australia – if you haven’t read What A Piece Of Work, I recommend it.

My own project is made up of considerably longer poems, all free verse, varying regular and irregular meter, it rhymes when it’s light, the lines are shorter when it’s somber – the form and sound techniques alter to suit the scene, but the voice remains the same. A prose novel can’t do that. A lone post-modern poem certainly can’t do that. Viva the epic. Viva the narrative. Viva the verse novel (even if it kills me). And kudos to Alizadeh and Cordite for giving the epic its groove back in the Australian literary scene.

And on another note, viva Overland‘s Subscriberthon!

Tara Mokhtari

Tara Mokhtari is a Persian-Australian poet and screenwriter based in New York. She is the author of The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing and Anxiety Soup.

More by Tara Mokhtari ›

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  1. How could anyone reject and ridicule the Epic poetry form. Homer’s The Odyssey is my favourite story/poem of all time and I’m sure will be read and reread for a much longer time to come than most modern day poetry. Here’s to the Cordite’s Epic Edition.

  2. I studied with Alan Wearne, perhaps the greatest Australian verse novelist of all time. The Lovemakers…The Nightmarkets…are you familiar with his work? It’s amazing. He rocks as a person too. He once asked me to housesit a beachfront house over the summer. For that, I will eternally promote him. Go and buy his books.NOW. ..but only after you subscribe.

  3. I’ve read Don Juan, What a Piece of Work, The Golden Gate, two of Stephen Herrick’s young adult verse novels, and Paradise Lost, off the top of my head. Spenser’s Faerie Queen (sorry about the mispelling) really is one of my favourite books of all time, poetry or no. Come in under the rock, the weather’s lovely!

  4. Well, I love hearing about contemporary writers who are drawn to the classics and aren’t just preoccupied by what’s in fashion.

    I’m also in a good mood because an attractive Spud Bar employee just asked me if he’d “satisfied my hunger”. So…

    Viva Edmund Spenser!

  5. Hi Tara,

    Thanks (belatedly) for mentioning Cordite! I’m certainly proud of the Epic issue, in all its ragged glory. We’ve now launched the second part of the issue, Post-Epic, which involves readers posting lines to produce a multi-part Epic poem. Now sure if links work here, but the issue is online at

    Thanks again – and viva Overland!!


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