In Praise of Calliope

Invoking the Athenian Muse of Epic Poetry

By Molly Anderson | Posted 1/1/06 | 9/23/23

Who is Calliope? The Muse of epic poetry may have inspired Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey, but what has she done for us lately? Sadly, epic poetry has somewhat diminished in popularity since the days of Homer, but I am here today to inspire you to create your own epic poems. Not an epic poem in the style of ancient Greece, but a hot, new American-style epic poem.

You may want to begin by messing around with different rhyme schemes, to see what you like best. You can also write a free-verse epic poem if you wish, and forget about rhyming altogether. To begin, gather a candle, some good paper and a few pens. Find a safe comfortable place to work where you will not be disturbed.

Light the candle, to symbolize the fire of inspiration. Invite Calliope to join you today, and to help you create a poem. Then, let your mind wander and let your pen wander with it. Random words and images may enter your mind — try to capture them on the page quickly, for they are fleet-footed beasts and will not wait for you to catch up. Express yourself honestly — don't edit your work as you write, don't rip up the page and start over, and don't cross anything out. Simply allow the ink to flow over the page in a slow tide, capturing your first thoughts.

Ideas for a plot, setting, and characters may come to mind. Animals, spirits, gods, and monsters may all have a part to play in this work. The great thing about epic poetry is that, like a novel, it can be used to encompass and contain a wide variety of characters, settings, and plot twists. Your grandma's coffee-pot, a magical flying dog, and a wishing well can all find a place within the fanciful scope of an epic poem.

Work as long as you like, with Calliope nearby for encouragement and inspiration. I often lose track of time and emerge from the writing trance as if in a daze … it is hard to return to earth after wandering through the labyrinth of ideas and air that make up the writer's realm. When you have reached a stopping point — or your hand is tired — thank Calliope for her assistance today. Tell her she is welcome to return anytime. You may wish to keep a memento of your new relationship with this Muse in your studio or at your desk — a few sheets of blank stationery and a beautiful pen, fresh flowers, or a candle can be a good reminder of your time with Calliope, and will serve as an encouragement for you to return to your poem soon.

When you are ready, try it again! Don't be impatient — it will take a few sessions to really get started. You'll start to filter through your ideas, rejecting some and finding others to continue working with. You will surprise yourself a hundred times, and more. And eventually — remember, it took Homer years to complete his epics — you will create something beautiful and passionate and true.

Creating an epic poem is a deep dive into the unknown. You never know, when you begin, how it will all end … not for sure. Characters are slippery things, and hard to manage. They will twist away from your tight grip and run wild, if you let them. (And I strongly encourage you to let them!) Let them surprise you, thrill you, and lead you along strange lonely roads.

Next: Clio's Lessons

©2006 Molly Anderson. All rights reserved.