A Hospital Odyssey
A Hospital Odyssey is an outrageously imaginative voyage through illness and healing. Drawing on the most recent biomedical research into stem cells and cancer, the poem is a journey through the body's inner space and the strange habitats created by disease, including the chimeras people see when they're unwell.
Maris, whose husband, Hardy, has been diagnosed with cancer, is separated from him. Her mythical journey leads though a surreal landscape, peopled by true and false physicians, god-celebrities, rabid statues, diseases hunting healthy bodies and a microbes holding their annual ball. The Otherworld is located in the hospital's basement. In her desperate search Maris meets and converses with Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS.
Immensely readable, A Hospital Odyssey is a modern epic: Dr Who meets Paradise Lost. The poem asks: what is health? And what does it mean to care for someone who's ill?
'True stars in poetry like Gwyneth Lewis always match brilliance with warmth. She is the one to bet on' - Les Murray
'Felicitous, urbane, heartbreaking, the poems of Gwyneth Lewis form a universe whose planets use language for oxygen and thus are inhabitable' - Joseph Brodsky
'Gwyneth Lewis has so many of the gifts required for good poetry: command of form, with improvisation enlivening tradition; supple rhythm; originality of subject-matter and the right eye to pin down detail; humour, both sardonic and direct; and, above all, commitment to human feeling' - Peter Porter
'Her descriptive eye and innate formal intelligence merge in places to create truly magical poems, full of metaphysical mystery and spirit' - Aingeal Clare
Praise for A Hospital Odyssey
'a hugely inventive epic'
'an extraordinary world in which matrons and consultants turn into creatures, diseases are personified, and microbes hold a manic ball.'
'There is satire and burlesque, as well as extremes of feeling in this complex and ambitious story. The whole, written in five line[sic] stanzas, is an extraordinary achievement and a wonderful illustration of how trauma can be transformed into a work of art which universalizes it.'
I love the verve of this collection, its acerbic wit, its form, and its light coat of learning. A Hospital Odyssey is comic, lucid, full of lithe rhythms, a bravura switchback from the prosaic to the lyrical. It's a comtemporary classic and must-read that I could quote forever. I'll settle for this, one of my favourite lines from the Microbes ball when 'C. difficile/ strode down the catwalk in eau-de nil.'
Gwyneth Lewis's previous collection A Hospital Odyssey was received well by critics, and this latest collection should be no different. Sparrow Tree presents poetry ostensibly about the huge variety of birds native to both the UK and America, but on delving deeper into the natural imagery the reader is presented with the wilds of the human mind as habitat for these birds, and the birds themselves as mouthpieces for human emotion... Wales's erstwhile National Poet has much to offer - as Elaine Feinstein puts it in the Guardian: "Such exuberant invention... The range of reference is so wide, we are intoxicated by it."
'This is an exciting work... written in the tradition of Dante but it is also very contemporary. Lewis makes imaginative use of research into cancer including areas such as stem cells and makes references to issues such as cleanliness in hospital and unnecessary administration... The language is both racy and poetic and every now and then the poet steps outside the story to address the reader directly. The poem is lit with humour, satire and burlesque. At the same time it is very humane. It is a brilliantly inventive piece of work."
Selected as a 2010 Times Book of the Year
"Gwyneth Lewis's astonishing book-length poem... Lewis's unfettered imagination transforms weighty subject matter into a heady mix of dream vision, ripping yarn and love story. The hospital becomes a version of Dante's Inferno, where Maris witnesses the Microbes' Ball ('Imagine a disco painted by Bosch") and meets, among others, Helen of Troy and Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS. Along the way there are also hard-won insights: "When love's so weary it hopes for nothing/ It's at its strongest, though it feels no power."
"This is a performance that more than confirms Gwyneth Lewis's reputation as one of the most exhilaratingly gifted poets of her generation."
"An epic for our time... What contemporary poet would dare take on the challenge of such an august and demanding form? As Lewis makes clear, in a work that constantly reflects on its own processes and proceeding, writing a (female) epic was for her not a result of choice but of sheer necessity, its creation a matter of life and death..."
"Adventitious rhyming, such as this supple verse form allows, is the natural ally of Lewis's remarkably resourceful wit and her gift for metamorphic imagination."
"This... is virtuoso writing whose end mercifully, is not self-display but the healthful mobilization of the will."
M Wynn Thomas, The Guardian
"Lewis' epic offers up a dash of Beowulf, Dante, the Crucifixion, the bees in the Book of Judges, even 'Orfeo ed Euridice' and 'The Magic Flute'... The narrator... teases us in a literary hide-and-seek, Onegin-like, from behind the mask of her protagonist. What remains is a voice vibrant, lively and clear as a bell - not looking inward so much as in wonder at the world around her. And, pressed from her lines, a rare vintage of wisdom."
Cynthia L. Haven, San Francisco Chronicle
"This is a fascinating, beautifully written poem that describes the epic journey of the soul through the support of one's spouse through cancer treatment. It is a journey of imagination and a highly recommended read."
Professor Sir Martin Evans, Nobel Laureate 2008
"Like all the best tales, this one ends happily. With her vivid medical, mythological and painterly imagery, absorbing ruminations on language and poetry, touching evocation of the power of a marriage - and with Helen's gift of an opal and black diamond ring glinting on her finger - Gwyneth Lewis has surpassed herself."
Ruth Fainlight, Poetry Review
"As a quite extraordinary piece of machinery, which all great poems must surely be, it is more than the sum of its parts that turn and fire in an elaborate harmony; it's an engine well-adjusted to its environment and is as lean-burn as any engine can get; the torque is tightened, that is to say, to maximize performance."
"A Hospital Odyssey marks new ground. In 2010, when our corporate sensibility continues to be brutalized by the destructive reality we inhabit, collections of occasional poems that strike wearyingly conventional targets have an increasing sense of their own solipsistic irrelevance. The job of poetry, implies this book, is never to be cursory; it must travel, as this poem does, from ring to inner ring of experiential truth. Any oeuvre of value tends to lead a poet in seriousness towards epic intention. Gwyneth Lewis has arrived in that place and produced her best book to date."
Tim Liardet, New Welsh Review
"Only poetry could hope to handle fantasy of this order... What is most remarkable in a book of such exuberant invention is that the reader continues to believe in Maris's intense longing for her sick husband."
Elaine Feinstein, The Independent
"A Hospital Odyssey proves vividly original, engaging in its contemporary concerns, unpredictability and wit."
Carrie Etter, Poetry Wales
"Odyssey indeed...This funny-serious 'treatment' of illness, bolstered by a specially-garnered knowledge is one way of dealing with the possibility of a loss otherwise unspeakable."
Nigel Jarrett, Acumen
"An immensely readable modern epic, Gwyneth Lewis's poem is distinctive and compelling."
Poetry Book Society