Before reading this epic poem, I was unfamiliar with Frederick Glasher's work, yet a look in the catalogue shows he has a substantial body of work behind him. What attracted me was the ambition in this work, which attempts to look at what poetic traditions, ancient and modern might have to offer to a world which perhaps has lost touch with its spiritual and ecological centre of gravity.
The poem is described as epic suggestive of ambition. Mention epic poetry and chances are most would think of the likes of Homer, or Virgil or the Ramayana from which the Bhagavad Gita comes. In many ways it goes against the way many twentieth century poets have written, though there have been longer poems that have epic qualities, for example Odysseus Elytis's The Axion Esti, or Derek Walcott's Omeros by Walcott, Derek ( Author ) ON Jan-03-1998, Paperback. But possibly even the ambition of these is dwarfed by what is attempted here.
The writer of Parliament of Poets, Frederick Glaysher is obviously aware of this as he states in his introduction to his long poem. He names his poetic models as Farid Attar's and Chaucer, themselves mighty predecessors. Attar's poem The Conference of the Birds (Classics) is a spiritual odyssey, while the Chaucer poem is unknown to me, but I will be seeking it out after reading this. This is part of Glasher's plan because he is attempting to unify lessons from many traditions, eastern and western, and there are references to many poets from English language ones to ones from places a diverse as China, India, Mexico and Poland, as well as many times. This is an attempt to fuse a truly global vision drawing on many poetic traditions.
To create this in the narrative of the poem there is a gathering on the site of the first moon landing of huge number of poets under the auspices of the god Apollo, who was a patron of poetry. The Persona, who is the narrator, and perhaps the writer's alter to go on a journey of self discovery, learning to discover about himself and his poetic mission. The term poet is used more broadly than as is usual in English (in some languages for example "writer" includes both prose and verse authors). We therefore meet Miguel de Cervantes who was strictly a prose writer, as well a Jane Austin, similarly Black Elk to my knowledge did not to my knowledge write poetry. There are also mythic figures and visionaries, and through the poem we meet them, some of them now endowed with magical powers, for example the Mexican poet Octavio Paz now has shape-shifting powers.
Knowing who some of these figures are, though they are explained in the text may be the biggest problem some readers have here. But this need not be too big a difficulty, because for all the erudition on show here, Glasher is a lucid writer and the narrative is by and large direct rather than hermetic and allusive which puts some readers off modern poetry. The poem takes the reader on a journey through the world, from east to west. The choice of poets as guide is intriguing, especially the one that is perhaps most personal to him, namely Robert Haydn who appears to have been one of Glasher's poetic mentors. But this personalising of the quest itself gives this epic a personal aspect, grounding it in his experience. For those poets I haven't read, I will be looking them up.
This is a highly stimulating read. The range of reading on display is impressive. It is refreshing to see poetry with a mission, and a suggested role in the modern world. This work is an impressive intellectual as well as visionary feat as well as being poetic. It will certainly be of interest to those of a philosophical, poetic and visionary frame of mind. How far Glasher succeeds in his ambition, I will leave to readers. My one problem was reading this in a Kindle version, which plays a little with the lines, and makes it less easy to flip between pages and cross reference. I will be getting a book version of this work. There is much to ponder on here as well as to relish.