Do you find that too many poets are fixated on themselves and their hang-ups even as the world seems to be falling apart? Or worse, continue to conform to the dead end of postmodernism that treats poetry as a kind of impenetrable word salad? Do you look to poets to share insights about the world we all share instead of droning on and on about themselves? Are you interested in poems that create a compelling character and tell a gripping story?
If so, then my new book may be just what you’re looking for. It’s taken me more than ten years to get there, but I’m proud to finally announce the launch of Dead Crow & the Spirit Engine, a linked series of narrative poems that seeks to revive the epic tradition of poetry but with a distinctly 21st century twist.
Dead Crow and the Spirit Engine answers the call for a “new mythology” by making use of Crow archetypes found the world over to create a unique new character, Dead Crow. In humanity’s oldest known epic poem, the Epic of Gilgamesh, a raven, not a dove, is sent out from the ark during the Great Flood in search of dry land. Raven or Crow has since become an iconic figure in world literature, occurring in nearly all cultures. It’s appropriate that Dead Crow would appear now, during a pandemic. Dead Crow feeds off both the culture and the collective consciousness to seek meaning wherever it may be found.
Dead Crow is an exile, sent to Earth early in prehistory as a Watcher to report back to The Makers, a mysterious godlike race. Exile is the price he must pay for misusing his powers in his own realm. Having a virtually unlimited lifespan, Dead Crow also gets the long view of human history, and this is his memoir. If the problem with people is that they forget their history and have to learn the same lessons over and over again, Dead Crow has no such handicap.
A dozen or so of the 30 poems have been published in various literary journals, and I am particularly indebted to Ernest Hekkanen, editor of the New Orphic Review, for publishing so many of them. (Sadly, the New Orphic was retired in 2018.) He was among the few editors of literary magazines who seemed to understand immediately what I was trying to do with these poems.
In addition, I created a touring road show of the Prologue to the poems, employing techniques of theater to deliver a gripping live performance. To get a taste of both studio and live performances visit my author website at: https://www.seanarthurjoyce.ca/media There are plans to produce videos of individual poems from the sequence.
Here are some excerpts from the Introduction to the book, Crow Catechism, that further illuminate my purpose in creating the poems:
The genesis for the Dead Crow character was sparked by a brief passage from Medicine Cards: “There is a medicine story that tells of Crow’s fascination with his own shadow. He kept looking at it, scratching it, pecking at it, until his shadow woke up and became alive. Then Crow’s shadow ate him. Crow is Dead Crow now.” (Jamie Sams & David Carson, Medicine Cards, Bear & Co., Santa Fe, NM, 1988.) I’d been interested in crow mythology since the early 1990s, when I wrote my first Crow poem. Even earlier than that, I’d been introduced to Crow as a poetic talisman by Canadian poet Timothy Shay, an early mentor of mine. My goal was to synthesize a lifetime’s worth of study in world mythology into a unique and original character of my own.
Further, I wanted to bring forward forgotten elements of the great myths, starting from our oldest extant hero tale, the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2400 BC). In the epic’s Great Flood tale—which predates the Old Testament by a millennium—it’s a raven, not a dove, that is sent out from the ark to find dry land. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he tells the story of ‘The Raven and the Crow,’ in which, “The raven once had been a silvery bird, / With snow-white wings, pure as the spotless doves.” But Raven/Crow causes his own undoing by revealing the infidelity of the maiden Coronis to the god Phoebus, her lover: “His ruin was his tongue; his chattering tongue / Turned that white colour to its opposite.” I wanted to create a character who was equal parts Raven Trickster-Creator, Celtic Morrigan goddess (a shapeshifter who haunts battlefields) and a jaded Philip Marlowe with a laconic drawl. And I wanted to revive the epic long poem format to tell his tale. He’s a loner, a Watcher, a changeling with a bad attitude, and this is his memoir.
For a hundred years now literary critics have told us that the narrative poem is dead. But with a new century upon us, Canadian poet Gary Geddes argues it’s now the lyric poem that has had its day. “After awhile the mature poet longs for a larger canvas, for which he needn’t have recourse to prose or drama. This ought to come as a breath of fresh air to poets and readers who feel that poetry has become too minimal, or that critics are waxing more and more eloquent about less and less.” Storytelling on the big screen now takes the place in popular culture that was once held by the epic narrative poem. So long poems can now branch out, delve deeply, and move in a less linear, more elliptical fashion. “(Poetry’s) existence in the life of our society,” writes Geddes, depends on “its ability to absorb and assimilate new materials (linguistic and otherwise), to take upon itself the widest possible range of information, idea, event, theme.”
Oh, and here’s a bonus for you regarding the poetic technique I used to write the poems. Although free verse has been the dominant poetic form during the past century, I chose to use the formal verse structure known as the tercet, using not only the three-line verses typical of that form but adding my own “reprise” or concluding line at the end. I haven’t strictly held to any particular meter for the tercets, as I wanted the flexibility to alternate between long, loping lines and short, punchy ones. My choice of three as the denominator for the verses is also based on ancient Celtic numerology, which strongly featured the triad. In fact, the sexigesimal numeric system is even more ancient than that, going all the way back to ancient Sumer. We still use that system today in the way we structure time using units of 60, divisible into units of 30 for each of the months of the year. And it remains the system with which we divide the compass.
Dead Crow and the Spirit Engine is published by Chameleonfire Editions in a beautifully designed large format edition (8”X10”), lavishly illustrated with original photographic art by the author and printed on high-quality coated paper stock. $20 plus $5 shipping in Canada. For more information or to pre-order one from the first limited edition of 100 copies, visit my author website: https://www.seanarthurjoyce.ca/dead-crow-and-the-spirit-engine
 Ovid, Metamorphoses, a new translation by A.D. Melville, Oxford World’s Classics, 1987/2008, p. 40.
 Ovid, Metamorphoses, a new translation by A.D. Melville, ibid., p. 40.
 Gary Geddes, Out of the Ordinary: Politics, Poetry and Narrative, Kalamalka Press, 2009, p. 39.
 Gary Geddes, Out of the Ordinary: Politics, Poetry and Narrative, ibid., p. 38.