Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review of “Helen of Troy” by Charlotte Pence

Each year our graduate department gives awards for fiction and poetry, and this year I placed first in poetry for this poem “Helen of Troy.” All the award winners are reading this Monday night at 7:00 in the University of Tennessee auditorium. These readings are always stellar, and this year should be no different judging from my compatriots who will also be reading. The reading includes: Josh Robbins (second place--poetry), Darren Jackson (third place--poetry), and in fiction we have my fiancé Adam Prince placing first, with Turning Bowling (second place) and Matthew Duffus (third place).

This is an older poem of mine that serves as the sphragis to my chapbook Last Night. Sphragis is from ancient Greek and literally means a seal placed on books. I view the contemporary sphragis as that opening poem that conveys the book’s subject and tone; the poem is also placed before the sections such as with “Temper” from Beth Bachmann’s book Temper.

This poem is one that I wrote, published, “finished,” and then two years later as I was driving a new ending came to me. Subsequently, the new ending required a whole new re-working of the poem such as changing the point of view. (I first wrote it from the point of view of Helen.) I was not working on any conscious level on this poem, but a part of me knew it was not right. Now, let me be clear. I don’t believe in easy poofs to write a poem, but for this one in particular it was an odd mix of editing, editing, editing—and letting go.

Also, the reading on Monday night will be the release of issue three of Grist (the journal I edit). We’ll have copies on sale and unveil the new look of the journal. And the writers in this issue are excellent—more on all of this in the next blog. For now, here is my poem.


By Charlotte Pence (Published in New Millennium Writings)

The Trojans kept Helen for twelve years,

winning at least a little while.

So often we focus on the loss

rather than the years of attainment.

But any love that matters will one day

be taken for granted. Last night,

lying down to sleep next to you

on wrinkled sheets, warm where

the dog curled, cold by our feet,

I realized as your hand grazed my thigh

you hadn’t touched me all day.

Each morning when I wake I understand

you’re like an eagle scanning the next ridge.

The bed heaves as you rise first,

your steps hard, stiff, while the erupting

sky behind you eases from gravel gray

to blue. You don’t glance back

at the soft curve of my body,

not yet rigid with the day’s to-dos.

What you do is place cereal and fruit

in a bowl, then call my name.

The milk cold. The peach sliced.

Without motive or need

we sleep, eat, read, breathe together,

you running a hand under my shirt

whenever you want. But I was talking

about Helen, about how she loved

as she wished at least once, willing

to witness the loss of a world for it.


  1. Big congrats, C. Wish I could be there to hear you all read. The lineup is fabulouso!

  2. Antigone PantanizopoulosApril 24, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    you sent this poem to me and i love(d) it. can't wait to hear you read it on monday night. which means i'll be there.

  3. Charlotte - this poem meant a great deal to me as I read it, and then read it to Steve. It is very special. thanks, Your cousin, "Helen"