“Meeting as the tall ships do, passing in the channel…”

When you update a blog only sporadically, you never know who’s reading, or if anyone’s reading—but to my amazement, people kept popping back here throughout 2011 to see what was new.

Whether you’re a new reader, an old-timer, or just looking for something to read during a slow week, here are the “Quid Plura?” highlights from the year that was.

We are starburst, we are golden: medieval poets get us back to the garden.

Ghosts, violence, family grudges: “All My Children” was a true Icelandic saga.

The August earthquake shook up thoughts on wobbly English cathedrals.

Meet Ralph Adams Cram, the architect who implored us to move into medieval towns.

Biiiiirds fly…or not: the medievalism of dead Arkansas blackbirds.

Poets who spit blood: Christopher Logue’s “War Music” on stage in New York.

Boys, barbarians, verse: Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, was one prolific poet.

Women loathe fantasyor so claimed the New York Times.

No, “everything” isn’t online: What we throw away when we rush to go all-digital.

In Virginia, you may glimpse “medieval” Richmond.

In Louisiana, explore the castle Mark Twain loathed…

…or chase saints and monsters in New Orleans…

…or tailgate at a Cajun ring-joust.

You’ll find medievalism squarely in Savannah, if you wander long enough.

Something in the water? Gargoyles stalk Princeton and Perth Amboy.

In 2011, reviews of Lloyd Alexander’s non-Prydain books rolled jauntily along…

And Let the Credit Go
The Drackenberg Adventure
The Jedera Adventure
The Xanadu Adventure
The Philadelphia Adventure

…while “Looking Up,” the series of poems about the National Cathedral gargoyles, continued:

A goat’s canticle for Walafrid.
The lullaby of a skeletal horse.
The mad song of Cerberus.
An unhappy insect sentinel.
A Rilke’d raccoon.
A hamster at the museum.
A snake with an Anglo-Saxon appetite for hare.
A Mardi gras gator.
A Good Friday memento mori.
An administrator, fooled by façades.
A tiger mother singing of Midsummer goblins.
A dog on the trail of a thief.
The Nordic boast of a bowing, beheaded bat.
A monster, desperate for silence.
A homesick Jersey devil.
Bunnies at odds over gratitude.
A dragon and bird, doomed to dance.

Thank you for reading, browsing, commenting, linking, and emailing me throughout 2011! I’ll be here in 2012; hope you’ll be as well.

“If you want to tell me something new, I might stick around…”

The Internet is an overwhelming source of wonderful reads—so much so that in the past year, you may have overlooked these articles and posts by bloggers, journalists, scholars, writers, and poets. In the relative peace between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, click a link or two; perhaps you’ll find something terrific you’d hate to have missed.

What did the Norse call Constantinople? The Ruminate expounded.

Jonathan Jarrett explored what it meant to call yourself a “Goth” in tenth-century Spain.

Lingwë wondered what Samwise Gamgee meant by “neekerbreekers” and looked at a Hogwarts professor’s curious name.

Cynthia Haven asked if visual clichés affect how we write and noted the “bland endeavor” of National Poetry Month.

Michael Livingston showed you what it’s like to edit a medieval text. (He continued his lesson in part two.)

The enigmatic Withywindle imagined Ernie Pyle remembering Clark Kent.

As a Linguist painted a portrait of a polyglot and remembered expat life in Istanbul.

Classical Bookworm discovered a forgotten Hungarian polyglot. Sixteen languages?

“But above all, One Who Walked Alone is brave.” The Silver Key reviewed Novalyne Price’s memoir about Robert E. Howard.

“Inside,” said Hats & Rabbits, “we are all great pipe organs waiting for the right wind to bring us alive. But it seems to me that, often, the delicate pipes go unused until they rust and fall into disrepair.” Chris later weighed the darkness without, rode a roller coaster arabesque, and overheard what kids say about their parents.

ZMKC recalled childhood loneliness.

Ruff Notes showed us what Washington National Cathedral almost looked like.

Dr. Beachcombing dug up the Zambian space program.

Anna Tambour charted a parrot confidence course.

Flavia asked why there isn’t more Protestantism on American television. She also contemplated grief, mourning, and the elusiveness of “closure.”

What do a Pakistani-American fourth-grader and Isaac Bashevis Singer have in common? Anecdotal Evidence explained.

“The literature of the Holocaust is so vast that newcomers to the subject are disheartened from beginning,” said D.G. Myers, who offered an annotated list.

Thinking about the lack of novels about work, Bibliographing revisited “Office Space.”

Jake Seliger pondered imaginative career paths and writing in terms of computer programming.

At Interpolations, a philosopher-in-training met an owl.

Dame Nora blogged “quince week” with some quince history, thoughts on quince marmalade, and a recipe.

Overthinking It explored the political economy of My Little Pony.

Kij Johnson penned a creepy fantasy tale about girldom: “Ponies.”

Debate time! James Gurney (whom I like) versus Frank Gehry (whom I don’t).

Prof Mondo read Gardner’s On Moral Fiction in light of young-adult lit.

Frank Wilson penned an earthquake poem.

First Known When Lost hailed the “Dance of the Macabre Mice.”

University Diaries led us through “Sublunary,” a poem by A.E. Stallings.

Michael Lista heard his heartbreak echoed in a villanelle.

Dylan composed a Christian triolet and wondered, “how would Smiths lyrics sound from the pen of Gerard Manley Hopkins?

If you haven’t yet read the first part of Adam Golaski’s funky new translation of “Sir Gawain,” what are you waiting for?

Paul Laurence Dunbar would have liked this recitation of “Sympathy.”

Edwin Arlington Robinson would have liked this recitation of “Miniver Cheevy.”

I liked this bluegrass cover of “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

“I can hear people singing, it must be Christmastime…”

Medievalism is intertwined with the history of the American South. In cities like Richmond and New Orleans, where magazines helped popularize Sir Walter Scott novels and promote chivalric virtues, Gothic revival architecture felt right—but Savannah, where I’m spending Christmas, went its own wonderful way. Here, in a city with countless monuments but surprisingly few statues, you’re more likely to find Georgian, Italian, Federal, and Colonial styles, intermingled but insistently American beneath layers of picturesque moss.

So when you’re the new guy in Savannah, exploring the city’s public squares on foot on Christmas Eve, the search for medievalism seems downright futile…

…but after all these years, I know when to heed the signs. They’re rarely as obvious as this one on Liberty Street.

And so we trudge from moss-bedecked square to moss-bedecked square, wondering as we wander…

Is a lamppost resembling a bishop’s crozier the most medievalism the streets of Savannah can offer?

“No,” says a monstrous sconce on Bay Street. “Look lower, fool!”

Any Jesuit will tell you this totally counts as a gargoyle…

…as does this Seussian goof on the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, though his architect spared him the spitting.

But what’s that in nearby Troup Square?

A neoclassical armillary sphere!? Isn’t there anyone in Savannah who knows what medievalism is all about?

“Sure, Charlie Brown,” says one of six bronze turtles in tiny Santa caps, “I can tell you what medievalism is all about.”

Yep, along this square is the Unitarian church where J.P. Morgan’s uncle served as minister when he published “Jingle Bells.” (Until today, it had never occurred to me that anyone had actually written “Jingle Bells,” or that controversy would attend upon its provenance.)

Amusingly, in the 1850s, Pierpont’s church wasn’t in this square, but a few blocks away. During a low point for Savannah Unitarians, the building was bought by African-American Episcopalians, who industriously rolled it away and set it down here.

So yes, it’s a cosmic treat to stumble around Savannah on Christmas Eve and find a neoclassical Christmas turtle that points you to the relocated church whose minister composed “Jingle Bells”—but what’s medieval-ish about an overplayed ode to the secular sleighing culture of 19th-century New England?

Aha! The composer’s church itself—castellated, Americanized neo-Gothic! Its discovery is hardly a miracle, but the sight of it is fitting end to a charming quest—and a fine way to wish “Quid Plura?” readers a merry (and hopeful, and gargoyle-rich) Christmas.

“…and eyes full of tinsel and fire.”

[I first posted this last year on December 21. It’s the second most popular poem in the series, and I offer it again in the spirit of the season.]


Come and grace our gleeful number;
Come and shake off snows unknown.
Bells will ring while wood-woes slumber;
Bells will ring for you alone.

Rave with uncles reeked in holly;
Reel with aunts who saw you born.
Whirl away your grear-tide folly;
Hearth-life dwindles ere the morn.

Haul the ash-bin ’round the byre;
Feel the pinelight breathe your name.
From the tongue of colder fire
Cracks and calls a hotter flame.

Run and chase your sweet-lipped singer;
Run and race your hope anon.
Bells will ring where’er ye linger;
Bells will ring when you are gone.

(For all the entries in this series, hit the “looking up” tab, or read the gargoyle FAQ.)

“Let us close our eyes; outside, their lives go on much faster…”

In modern cities, crowds and commerce and cars drown out the ring of mere bells—but this Friday, if you hear a faint pealing from an Episcopal church, know that it marks the feast-day for three medievalists. Two of them, English-born church architect Richard Upjohn and painter and stained-glass artisan John LaFarge, deserve to be remembered, but pause a bit longer to consider the third and most eccentric, architect Ralph Adams Cram, who clamored to rebuild the medieval world in a greener, more placid America.

Born in New Hampshire in 1863, Cram was the son of a Unitarian minister, but seeing the cathedrals of Europe at 23 drew the young man to Catholicism—almost. Enamored of medieval ritual at a time when becoming Roman Catholic would have been gauche, Cram instead embraced Anglo-Catholicism, a form of High Church Anglicanism, as did many Episcopalian intellectuals in the urban Northeast who adored Catholic aesthetics more than they loved the theology.

Cram looked at every skyline and imagined it dwarfed by spires. He was the architect who changed the style of St. John the Divine in New York City from Romanesque to Gothic; he worked for a time on Washington National Cathedral; he designed “collegiate Gothic” halls and other buildings with medievalist touches at Princeton, Wheaton, Richmond, Sweet Briar, and USC; and his firm built scores of churches that stand as neo-Gothic monuments from Pittsburgh to St. Paul. (In 1901, Cram literally wrote the book on church building.)

For Cram, medievalism was more than an aesthetic conceit. After World War I, he saw ruined societies doomed to one of two fates: a slide into a new Dark Age, or a return to ugly, worn-out modernism. Doubling down on his historical predilections, Cram offered, instead, a third way.

“It is in no sense a programme,” he insisted in 1919, with doubtful modesty,

it is still less an effort at establishing an ideal. Let us call it “a way out,” for it is no more than this; not “the” way, nor yet a way to anything approaching a perfect State, still less a perfect condition of life, but rather a possible issue out of a present impasse for some of those who, as I have said, peremptorily reject both of the intolerable alternatives now offered them.

Cram’s proposal? Americans should live, like medieval people, in walled towns.

Much of Walled Towns, Cram’s truly peculiar 1919 book, is a vision of Beaulieu, an imaginary burg situated “about forty miles from one of the largest cities of New England” in a spot that meets Cram’s criteria: arable land, a river, and “some elements of natural beauty.” We can drive to this happy outpost, but the gate house is our last chance to hail the outside world by telephone and telegraph. We’re required to garage our car—but we may, if we wish, pass through the gate on a rented horse. The walls of Beaulieu defend the reveries of an architectural fanatic: a gate that resembles Warwick Castle, a church like St. Cuthbert’s in Wells, a college that blends New College, Oxford with St. John’s, Cambridge, and a town hall inspired by the Hôtel de Ville.

In No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920, T.J. Jackson Lears notes that “[s]ince Cram’s death in 1942, historians have dismissed him as an elitist crank, a reactionary in art and politics,” which oversimplifies his life and work. What makes Cram so interesting today is how awkwardly his equal hatred of democracy, socialism, communism, and anarchism meets the political assumptions of the early 21st century.

Cram’s Walled Towns forbid usury, stock markets, production of goods for profit, and all forms of advertising. Walled Towns forbid steam power, but not water mills or, surprisingly, hydroelectricity. A Walled Town is self-sufficient:

That one town or district should be given over to to the weaving of cotton or the spinning of wool; that shoes should chiefly be produced in Lynn, furniture in Grand Rapids, glass in Pittsburgh, beer in Milwaukee, hams in Chicago; that from all over a vast district the raw material of manufacture should be transported for hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles, to various howling wildernesses of highly specialized factories, only to be shipped back again after fabrication to be used or consumed by many of the original producers, was and is one of the preposterous absurdities of an industrial system supported on some of the most appalling sophistry that ever issued out of the Adullamite caves of political economy.

In the Walled Towns all this is changed . . . As each town has its own special products, maintained always at the highest standard, the market never fails.

In a Walled Town, only landholders may vote, and daily life is ruled by guilds—not, Cram stresses, the folk sentimentalized by a wistful William Morris, but a true restoration of the medieval guild system, which Cram calls “the precise antithesis of collectivism, socialism and trades-unionism of whatever form.”

Everyone in a Walled Town shares the same religious convictions; if you’re an Episcopalian knocking at a Catholic gate, seek your coreligionists down the road. Here, knowledge of Latin and a grounding in reading, writing, music, and math are universal, but education, which isn’t apportioned equally, focuses on character. The local college is run by faculty and alumni, not by corrupt or neglectful trustees. Walled Towns have no museums, because old and beautiful objects, such as medieval altarpieces, have been restored to their original uses. Walled Towns have fine art theaters, but no movie houses or sensationalistic shows—because in a Walled Town, “all life is couched in terms of true drama and living beauty.”

Given Cram’s fervent pursuit of applied medievalism, he seems to have overlooked “walled towns” that had recently failed. By World War I, American Arts and Crafts communities had waned; New Clairvaux, a commune of Massachusetts farmers and craftsmen founded in 1902 according to medievalist principles, had flopped; Rose Valley, a Pennsylvania arts-and-crafts project based on the utopianism of William Morris, was suburbanized; and the Americans most likely to retreat into anti-modern self-sufficiency were communists and anarchists, like the founders of my failed hometown commune, Fellowship Farm. Did Cram really believe that a Walled Town could be “at the same time individualist, coöperative and aristocratic”?

Cram does leave himself an out, claiming that his proposal need not be taken literally:

“The phrase ‘Walled Towns’ is symbolical only; it does not imply the great ramparts of masonry with machicolated towers, moats, drawbridges and great city gates such as once guarded the beautiful cities of the Middle Ages. It might, of course; there is no reason why a city should not protect itself from the world without, if its fancy led in this pictorial direction…

For Cram, “pictorial direction” is all. Here’s what he sees in 1919: “ragged and grimy children,” “a surly labourer” who “scowled coarsely, and swore, with his cigar between his teeth”; “men in dirty shirt-sleeves”; “children and goats [that] crawled starvedly around or huddled in the hot shadow”; “the mob of scurrying, pushing men and women, a mob that swelled and scattered constantly in fretful confusion”; “dirt, meanness, ugliness everywhere—in the unhappy people no less than in their surroundings.”

By contrast, Cram’s medieval “way out” abounds with “a great lady on a gaily caparisoned palfrey, with an officious squire in attendance, or perhaps a knight in silver armour, crested wonderfully, his emblazoned shield hanging at his saddle-bow.” There is “the pleasant clamour of voices, the muffled chanting of cloistered nuns in some veiled chapel, the shrill cry of street vendors and children, and the multitudinous bells sounding for worship.” Cram may decry utopians from Plato to H.G. Wells, but his Walled Town is itself the trite utopia of an architectural sketch: happy, faceless people strolling through pristine shopping malls or public squares, doing only what their designer envisions, never misusing, abusing, or defacing their earnest surroundings, freed by architects alone from the ugliness of human nature.

A century after Cram built his mental Beaulieu, no one lives in neo-medieval towns, but Cram still left his mark. Countless Americans first encounter medieval forms in the churches and cathedrals he designed, and his neo-Gothic spires and arches adorn campuses where, in the 1920s, Americans began studying the Middle Ages with greater zeal.

Notice, though, how American medievalism has changed. These days, few academics, ecclesiasts, and architects want to live in the Middle Ages. They tend to look back with detachment, while medievalist nostalgia thrives in genre fiction, video games, and Renaissance Faires. Meanwhile, Cram’s odd brand of aristocratic idealism lives on, split into bits across the ideological spectrum.

When Ralph Adams Cram, fiery nemesis of the impersonal, the imperial, the commercial, the cacophonous, writes that “the only visible hope of recovery lay in a restoration of the unit of human scale, the passion for perfection, and a certain form of philosophy known as sacramentalism,” he makes himself easy to dismiss, even as he drapes precious new lights on humanity’s evergreen dreams. But if, in a slough of disillusionment, you’ve ever pined for agrarian simplicity, religious or political uniformity, stark self-sufficiency, aesthetic transcendence, or lasting peace, then you’ve been, however fleetingly, a pilgrim to one of Cram’s Walled Towns—although it’s been a church, a Ren Fest, a Tea Party, an Occupy rally, or a perfectionist corner inside your own mind where you visit your will on the world.

So on Friday, if you laugh at the impulse to build a Walled Town, be more charitable than you imagine he was, and let the bells ring for old Ralph Adams Cram. They’re always ringing somewhere.

“I was dreaming like a Texan girl…”

Oh ring, ring the yule log
   And sound the holly wreath!
Open up the missile, too,
   And trim your crispness treeth.

— Walt Kelly, The Stepmother Goose (1954)

Whether you’re itching from tinsel or scouring tree sap from your coat and gloves, here’s a set of glittering links to ornament the Douglas fir in the Rockefeller Center of your mind.

“Do ye nae see that great writing–prose or poetry–is not the shriek, but the shriek mediated by consciousness?” University Diaries shows why writing is a cool medium.

“But what struck me most on the personal tour is how William Nicholson’s play and subsequent film misrepresented a life that was not a passionless, solitary bachelorhood, but crowded with people and noise and human obligations.” Cynthia Haven visits the home of C.S. Lewis in Oxford.

“Amazing, isn’t it, the things you notice when you hold a map up to the light!” Jason at Lingwë teases Old Norse out of a Tolkien manuscript.

“I guess no translation will ever satisfy every reader; that’s why we should all translate the Edda for ourselves!” Old Norse News looks at two new published translations.

“Hodel’s last comment might be the finest expression of a grown child’s need to lead an independent life, and a parent’s need to let the child go, that I’ve ever seen.” Pete finds a nice passage in Sholom Aleichem.

“For the most part, it seemed, the faculty studying higher education were proceeding with their fairly narrow-gauged research as if Rome were not burning.” The enigmatic Fenster Moop attends a scholarly conference.

“Copper had its place in classical civilization, alloyed to make bronze, and as currency, but evidently one didn’t make pipes of it.” George plumbs the etymology of “plumber.”

“Despite her utter failure as an author, screenwriter, and publisher, she has the chutzpah to peddle a book that she’s written.” Lee Goldberg notes an inept scam publisher rising from the dead.

“The question Conrad asks and never answers is, can one person love both composers?” Tom Glenn reviews Verdi and/or Wagner.

“[P]art of the problem is that ‘plagiarist,’ like ‘racist,’ is a term that doesn’t allow for gradation or nuance, and no one believes he can be that thing.” Flavia reminds herself that plagiarists are people too.

“Sassoon speculates often on what death is like, and though he has several reuseable phrases at hand to euphemise it—’gone out patrolling in the dark’, ‘beyond the wire’, ‘gone West’—even these are poignant and not (yet?) cliché.” Bibliographing is reading the literature of World War I.

“Is this just luck or is the stuff disappearing invisibly, draining away somehow, like sand?” ZMCK wonders what becomes of the chunks of debris that fall off Eastern European buildings.

“Parents in my neighborhood banned their kids from playing at my house because they always came home with their pockets full of dirt.” James Gurney unearths the roots of Dinotopia.

“[A]s a lover of the idea of shaking hands with the past, I could think of no better way of doing so than by drinking a drink cherished by my predecessors.” Hats & Rabbits thirsts for the lost pages of an 18th-century magazine.

“Nkoloso was, in short, one of those wonderful eccentrics who usually only appear after three or four generations of middle class parliamentary democracy.” Dr. Beachcombing rediscovers the Zambian space program.

“And you know you cannot leave her, for you touched the distant sands…”

[Poet Christopher Logue died on Friday, December 2. The Guardian has a full obituary that nicely sums up his petulance and eccentricity, but it fails to capture the force of his actual work. Here’s a piece I wrote about a performance of Logue’s “War Music” in New York earlier this year.]

For half a century, autodidact and occasional actor Christopher Logue has rallied all the gimmicks of modern poetry to craft a loose, idiomatic version of Homer’s Iliad. “[I]t’s some of the best poetry being written in English today,” wrote Jim Lewis at Slate in 2003, “and it should be read widely and with great pleasure by anyone still interested in the art of verse.” For a few more days, New Yorkers have a rare chance to see Logue’s Homer come to life: With the poet’s approval, director Jim Milton has adapted the first 70 pages, “Kings,” for two actors on a mostly-bare stage. The production, at the Workshop Theater through April 3, is a wild, addictive hour that does remarkable justice to its source.

Literally irreverent, Logue frees himself from the tyranny of the Homeric text through one curious advantage: his ignorance of ancient Greek. Instead, he’s basing his still-unfinished poem on English translations published between 1720 and 1950. His Homer—currently collected in three separate volumes—includes scenes that aren’t in the Iliad; at one point, he cribs a passage from Paradise Lost. Sensitive to the distinction between scholarship and artistry, Logue calls what he’s doing an “account,” not a translation—and if that makes classicists cringe, they’re missing the point.

Known for his gleeful use of anachronism—like his description of Ajax, often cited by reviewers, as “[g]rim underneath his tan as Rommel after ‘Alamein”—Logue deploys evocative modern language to create quick, crisp snapshots. Here’s Agamemnon’s line-up of champions from All Day Permanent Red, a slim volume of battle poetry published in 2003 with a title nicked from a Revlon ad:

Nestor, his evening star.
Ajax, his silent fortress. Good—even on soft sand.
Odysseus (you know him), small but big.
Fourth—grizzled and hook-tap nosed—the king of Crete,
Idomeneo, who:
“Come on!”
Would sign a five-war-contract on the nod.

Logue’s Homer resounds with cries of war, but he also crafts domestic scenes with a deftness that other poets should envy. In “The Husbands,” an exchange between Zeus and a petulant Athena neatly reveals the condescension that defines their relationship:

The armies wait.

“Dearest Pa-pa, the oath said one should die.
The Trojan was about to die. He did not die.
Nobody died. Therefore the oath is dead.
Killed by a Trojan. Therefore Troy goes down.”

Drivers conducting underbody maintenance.

“Father, You must act.
Side with the Trojans, Greece will say,
Were we fools to believe in His thunder?
Why serve a God who will not serve His own?”

And giving her a kiss, He said:

“Child, I am God,
Please do not bother me with practicalities.”

When battle calls, Logue can craft a scene as thrilling as anything in 300, combining heroic deeds with colloquial diction while never undercutting the tone, as in this passage from “Patroclea”:

The air near Ajax was so thick with arrows, that,
As they came, their shanks tickered against each other;
And under them the Trojans swarmed so thick
Ajax outspread his arms, turned his spear flat,
And simply pushed. Yet they came clamouring back until
So many Trojans had a go at him
The iron chaps of Ajax’ helmet slapped his cheeks
To soft red pulp, and his head reached back and forth
Like a clapper inside a bell made out of sword blades.
Maybe, even with no breath left,
Big Ajax might have stood it yet; yet
Big and all as he was, Prince Hector meant to burn that ship:
And God was pleased to let him.

Now either you like this sort of thing or you don’t. I happen to love Logue’s knack for trotting out modern gimmickry not for its own sake, but in the service of narrative— and while Logue finds humor in his ancient source, he never treats Homer like a joke. Both Homer and Logue understand, from different angles, the maddening mindset of warriors. Jim Milton concedes its relevance, too; it’s why his adaptation of “Kings” is so good.

Milton is also lucky to have two nimble actors on his stage. Dana Watkins switches effortlessly between Zeus, Odysseus, Hector, and even a hammy Hephaestus, but he’s at his best as a furious, choked-up Achilles who’s never more than half a slight away from homicide. J. Eric Cook is funny as a shrill Hera and a rash, tipsy Thersites, but he’s also weirdly touching as Thetis, Achilles’ mother. His Agamemnon is unremarkable, but perhaps deliberately so, as Logue’s text renders him a slick politician before his homesick army:

“Thank you, Greece.
As is so often true,
Silence has won the argument.
Achilles speaks as if I found you on a vase.
So leave his stone-age values to the sky.”

Although Cook doesn’t look like a warrior king, he imbues the character with the smiling certainty of a psychopath. Logue’s text helps. As the Trojan Anchises later asks, “Indeed, what sort of king excepting theirs / Would slit his daughter’s throat to start a war?”

Seeing Logue’s Homer performed by two Americans makes clear that the text might be better declaimed by actors with droll British diction; once or twice, Cook and Watkins seemed too busy recalling Logue’s lines to give them their full weight. Still, both actors possess powerful, well-trained voices, and they and the director draw from a deep well of vocal tricks and physical gestures to make this production brilliantly audience-friendly. Before Thursday night’s performance, I heard a couple in front of me whisper that they had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into, but as soon as Watkins and Cook took the stage, they were beguiled. As Logue himself put it, “[i]t was so quiet in Heaven that you could hear / The north wind pluck a chicken in Australia.”

Unfortunately, “Kings” is tantalizingly brief. The show, which clocks in at 75 minutes, ends with howls of war just as the audience is dying to see (even though they know) how it all plays out. I hope the empty seats in the tiny Workshop Theater don’t dissuade director Jim Milton from further adapting Logue. Drearily, the Poetry Foundation can use its $185 million boon to build a $21 million headquarters and publish reams of mediocre verse, but a staging of Logue can’t fill 65 seats in midtown Manhattan. That says less about Logue than it does about the mannered insider-ism of the poetry scene, and Logue himself knows it.

“[N]one of my contemporaries seem to be interested in the things that interest me, such as fast, clear, several-stranded narrative, action, character, violence,” Logue told the Paris Review in 1993. His contemporaries are missing out. If you’re near New York, you have nine days to get to the Workshop Theater, see “Kings,” and hear how poetry sounds with a mouth full of blood.