Cold Calls is the fifth instalment in Christopher Logue's remarkable adaptation of The Iliad. Logue has been working on different episodes of Homer's epic on and off since the late 50s, at first mainly for radio performance. The stunning War Music appeared in book form in 1981, followed in the early 90s by Kings and then Husbands (these three were gathered together under the general title War Music in 1997).
Cold Calls, together with its immediate predecessor, All Day Permanent Red (2003), narrates the opening battle sequences of Homer's poem. Both books are exhilarating reads, but what is immediately striking is just how differently they set about their often grisly and gory material.
I've written elsewhere what happened next: all of a sudden I heard a note being struck in my head and inside seconds I had the pen in my hand and had done a number of the opening lines. Purchase on a language, a confidence amounting almost to a carelessness, a found pitch - all arrived in a breath. "Not I, not I," I could have exclaimed, "but the wind that blows through me." What had got me going was not study of the text or of the criticism surrounding it, but the words and rhythms of another work entirely.
The tuning fork sounded when I remembered the opening lines of one of the most famous poems in the Irish language, Eíbhlin Dhubh Ní Chonaill's Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire/ Lament for Art O'Leary.
My love and my delight,
The day I saw you first
Beside the markethouse
I had eyes for nothing else
And love for none but you
This stricken, urgent keen for a murdered husband, beaten out in line after three-stressed line, gave me the note I needed for the anxious, cornered Antigone at the start of the play. The wife in desperation provided a register for the desperate sister. Inside a couple of minutes I had the first sample lines to show to the artistic director
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