Narrative poetry readers well know that many of the true 'classics' of this literary form have not only been written hundreds of years ago, but appear only rarely, compared to other poetic and literary styles. Indeed, the epic narrative poem has largely gone by the wayside in modern times, with the exception of Christopher Hassett's The Boundary Stone, a production some ten years in the making.
The Boundary Stone eventually grew to embrace 300 poems, then was edited back to the structure seen here: 70 poems carefully woven together to form an epic saga about a nomad wandering through the aftermath of an apocalypse.
The narrator stumbles through this smoky world with only a bone lit from its fires for illumination when he comes upon a glass-fused hole in the desert and throws himself down it in despair, presenting shades of "Ozymandias" and Danté in a vivid description that will shake readers to their poetic roots.
Each piece of this vivid collection holds multiple meanings - the flame of the narrator's heart is love, but the flame of his discovery lies in a torched bone reminiscent of humanity itself - both illuminating his path through past, present, and future options.
Descriptions of this blasted landscape are vividly wrought: "The trails through arroyos and those in the hills become/deadpaths of bone and darked plainswood, skeletal saguaros/and sparceoak,/and the peaks above and the towering basalts, where tree/stone and sun and calendar steps, scripted piers, altars of let,/stairglyphs told to temple mouths,/all in the ashfall stood spectral." Through this example (just one tiny segment of a greater whole), readers can gain a sense of just what can be done with the epic narrative poem, which cannot be similarly achieved using a different structure with roots in either other poetry or fiction.
One might anticipate, through this example, that The Boundary Stone will be a complex and challenging read; and that it is - but with the added note that it is accessible, stimulating, and vivid even to those unfamiliar with this style. The caveat here is that The Boundary Stone is not a collection to be read quickly, but a thought-provoking series of images and philosophical reflections best digested a little at a time.
In this ever-faster modern world where "high speed" and "high octane action" are revered, this requirement for reflective, slow, thoughtful reading could prove a challenge for some, but especially in an era where the epic narrative has all but vanished, The Boundary Stone stands out as a rarity in the poetry world.
But, soft! As one descends with the protagonist into the pits of Hell and hope and back up again, a transformation happens. The complex, the challenging, and the thought-provoking become compelling and visionary, while any preconceived obstacles to understanding fall away.
In the end, what is left is a saga of enrichment, discovery, and a new process of "becoming" something different in this strange new world. And what, exactly, is that?
Pursue The Boundary Stone in all its nuances to find out. Fans of the epic poetry narrative and newcomers to the form are in for a real treat, here: but be prepared to descend with the observer in the story into the depths of destruction to arrive at the heart of resurrection.