- Guernica: What keeps drawing you back to the ode?
- Barbara Hamby: It’s a part of that choosing to be positive and choosing joy. I love Keats’s odes, and I love Neruda’s odes. I always think of my odes as being a combo of the two. Meditations on ordinary objects, but with the music of Keats. Or attempting those things because I could never say that I even come close to those two masters. After I started writing them, I got interested in the form. I tried to find a book about the ode form. I’m trying to write one myself. It’s going slowly, but right now I’m really concentrating on Pindar, the ancient Greek poet and his odes that are dedicated to the Olympic champions. They’re really beautiful and very different. Of course there are Horace’s odes in Rome, then the Romantics and Walt Whitman. “Song of Myself” is an ode.
- One of my questions really is, why has the form lasted for all of these thousands of years? For 2,500 years, people have been writing odes. Why? I think that there’s something innately human in wanting to praise the world even though it’s disappointing in so many ways. There’s always that tension. We were talking about the role of woman, wanting to be free and wanting to be cherished, and in the world, there’s a tension. It’s so beautiful and it’s so terrible at the same time. It’s like Milan. It was bombed to smithereens and it’s still beautiful. There’s always that tension between the sublime and the terrible. The ode really speaks to that, wanting to praise the world, and yet part of that is the horror and the pain, too.
- And it’s not really a form, is it? It was in ancient Greece and Rome, but now, people are writing free-verse odes. One of my favorites is Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Ode to the Maggot.” Its gorgeous last line, something like, “No one gets to heaven except through you.” I don’t have it exactly, but every time I read it, I get chills.
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