Cinderbiter: Celtic Poems

Versions by Martin Shaw and Tony Hoagland

Ahead is an island.
But that is no island.

The scaled-greasy-gray aquatic scalp of the serpent.

End-bringer
Terror-wakener
Black worm

Seven yawns the creature makes,
and then the tongue seeks flesh council,
darting the waves.
—from “Cinderbiter”

Cinderbiter collects tales and poems originally composed and performed centuries ago in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, when notions of history and authorship were indistinguishable from the oral traditions of myth and storytelling. In the spirit of recasting these legends and voices for new audiences, celebrated mythologist and storyteller Martin Shaw and award-winning poet Tony Hoagland have created extraordinary new versions of these bardic lyrics, folkloric sagas, and heroes’ journeys, as they have never been rendered before.

In long, shaggy tales of the unlikely ascensions of previously unknown heroes such as Cinderbiter, in the shrouded origin stories of figures such as Arthur and Merlin, and in anonymous flickering lyrics of elegy, praise, and heartbreak, these poems retain at once the rapturous, supernatural imagination of the deep past layered with an austere, devout allegiance to the Christian faith. Shaw and Hoagland’s collaboration summons the power within this storehouse of the Celtic mind to arrive at this rare book—distinctive, audacious, and tuned to our time and condition with a convincing resonance.

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Paperback. Graywolf Press. Available here.

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