The Sampo

Peter O’Leary. The Cultural Society, $18 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-9887192-8-6
O’Leary (The Phosphorescence of Thought) brings a surprising immediacy to these four long poems based on the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland and Karelia. He draws from the source material to craft a narrative of the creation, theft, and destruction of the eponymous magical metal instrument, which can provide its owner with money and other vital resources. The poems are spare in their language and continuous in their movement, and feature heroes and villains worthy of the epic: Väinämöinen, the mage who can utter a spell of “subtle persuasive droning” to undo metal gates from their hinges; Ilmarinen, the ropy-muscled smith who flexes “his fist on the shaft of his hammer”; Louhi, the “Gap-toothed hag” of the “Witch infested” north country, who turns into a taloned war bird when her possessions are threatened; and the Sampo itself, mysterious and alive, growing fungal roots “like a pyromantic morel.” O’Leary employs the trochaic tetrameter for which the source epic is known, though only irregularly, but his persistent use of gerunds keeps the poems in constant forward motion and gives them an incantatory quality. The material may be of ancient provenance, but O’Leary retains the vital message in these interconnected poems: that someone who wields speech and song can shift anything in the world. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 12/05/2016
Release date: 04/01/2016
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