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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

The Throne of Labdacus

Gjertrud Schnackenberg

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To purchase The Throne of Labdacus

Title: The Throne of Labdacus
Author: Gjertrud Schnackenberg
Genre: Poetry
Written: 2000
Length: 100 pages
Availability: The Throne of Labdacus
in Supernatural Love: Poems 1976-2000 - UK
  • Note: The Throne of Labdacus is included in the British edition of Supernatural Love (see our review), but not in the American edition

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective poetic re-telling of the Oedipus myth

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Antioch Review A Summer/2001 Carol Moldaw
The New Criterion . 12/2000 William Logan
The New Republic . 12/11/2001 Glyn Maxwell
The NY Rev. of Books . 29/3/2001 Daniel Mendelsohn
The NY Times Book Rev. . 29/10/2000 Adam Kirsch
Poetry . 11/2001 Christian Wiman
TLS A+ 8/2/2002 Ruth Fainlight
Yale Review . 4/2001 Rachel Hadas

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus

  From the Reviews:
  • "In her new book-length poem, The Throne of Labdacus, Schnackenberg maintains her complexity of vision while writing her most austere, and arguably most beautiful, work to date." - Carol Moldaw, Antioch Review

  • "The poem, often frustratingly indirect, enacts what it pretends to study -- the use of the past to comment on the present, on whatever is most mysterious, and most obdurate, in men and women. (...) The beauty of the images canít quite excuse the weary labyrinth of narrative. (...) (T)his poem has her depths without her passion. It has been conceived in a museum and executed in a library." - William Logan, The New Criterion

  • "Those hoping for a return to the jaunty elegance of the younger Schnackenberg will not find it in The Throne of Labdacus, in which her style is pared down to a flinty austerity of foreshortened rhymeless couplets, stalling and reiterating. Cold air is blowing in. (...) Experiment with form is one method of curbing one's habits and developing new ones, but a more important method here is narrational: Schnackenberg's sense of how a god, existing outside of time, would experience chronology. (...) This aspect of the poem explains its repetitions and its uncanny sense of being motionless." - Glyn Maxwell, The New Republic

  • "(A) numb book-length poem focused on the nameless slave who saved Oedipus (I don't know if I would have even figured this out without the book jacket information)" - Christian Wiman, Poetry

  • "(A)ll the strengths of the earlier books have been absorbed into its loosely structured blank verse couplets. (...) From the first lines of The Throne of Labdacus I recognized that thrill of excitement and inevitability which signals a master work." - Ruth Fainlight, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Throne of Labdacus is a single poem-sequece, a re-telling of the Oedipus-myth. (Labdacus was Laius' father -- and thus Oedipus' grandfather; the volume includes endnotes providing this and other useful information.)
       This is not a dense poem. Written in couplets, divided into ten chapters, this is a generously spaced collection. Schnackenberg's style is a compact one, but not too dense or involuted. It is learned, but does not try to intimidate with its erudition.
       The Throne of Labdacus is a poem that contrasts gods and mortals, where destiny is inescapable. Schnackenberg offers:

Simply a making known --
Making known what is.
       Words are central to the story -- much of it is about finding the ability to tell this (or any story). Writing is brought to an end, for example:
The story was locked up in silence,
The image of Oedipus expunged,
       But it can't be stopped: even so "The story floated forward." Fate is inescapable.
       Later there is a whole section, "The Alphabet Enters Greece", that again makes for change. And the story will out:
Still, it is impossible, even for the god of music,
To create a silence that cannot be broken.
       Schnackenberg does not simply re-tell the Oedipus story. The story is well-known; the spin and the art here are in the telling. She revisits it again and again, the inevitability of it all, the choices that are made (and yet could not not be made). "Laius, don't have a child" is shown as the almost pointless refrain it is, for example.
       There are some beautiful touches, such as a "gift-bringer from Necessity's palace" who brings:
Fresh, still-wet tablets, with the Oedipus tale.

The god touched the tablets like a blind man,
Then wiped with his palm

The tale of Oedipus into a smear
       But the tale can't be undone, the other blind man can not not save the helpless child.

       A worthwhile take on the Oedipus-myth, quite nicely done.

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The Throne of Labdacus: Reviews: Other books by Gjertrud Schnackenberg under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       American poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in 1953. She has won many awards, fellowships, and grants.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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