One of my favorite people in the world is Arthur Glowka. He was my Arthurian Lit and History of the English Language professor in college. I interned with him for a quarter putting together a Georgia College publication, and especially when I worked at the Macon Telegraph I interviewed him a number of times for stories.
Over the past year Dr. Glowka has published three books, all available through Amazon.com.
Recently I asked him some questions and he answered them:
Q. Let’s talk about “The Texiad.” What prompted you to want to write an epic poem about the Texas Revolution?
I had two motives for working on such an ambitious project. One, I have been wanting to write an epic poem for some forty years, and I have kept up the practice of writing metrical poetry and doing weird things like talking to myself in blank verse while I drive. My previous book was a verse translation of a 12th-century Old French chronicle poem (“The French Book of Brutus: A Verse Translation of Wace’s ‘Roman de Brut’”), and in the ten years I worked on getting that book published, I imagined that I was in training for my next work, an epic poem.
Two, I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and have been fascinated with the Alamo and the Texas Revolution since early childhood. About 8 years ago, I got very homesick, took a trip to San Antonio, revisited the Alamo, bought a pile of books on the revolution, and then began writing one Sunday morning as I sat in my car, waiting for my children to get out of Sunday school.
I learned that the story about William Barrett Travis and the line drawn in the sand was probably fiction and not fact. I also learned that the Mexican gun powder was so bad that a man could get hit in the forehead with a musket ball and live—since it might just bounce off. The main injury in that case was the jokes made by comrades about the victim’s hard headedness.
Q. You mention in your acknowledgements that there are areas where you go astray of the historical record and I know you go into some disputed history with Zuber’s account of Louie Rose. And epics, historically, tend to exaggerate anyway. So in writing an epic poem about the Texas Revolution, how important was it to you that the history be accurate and how willing were you to stray from that?
I started off trying to be historically accurate, but the story did not take form or get much traction until I hit on the idea of having William P. Zuber as the narrator. That decision freed me to tell the story from the perspective of the man responsible for the account of Travis’s line in the sand. I could then elaborate on my own about Santa Anna’s love affair, throw in a talking, prophetic devil, and invent the details of a conversation between Santa Anna and Andrew Jackson. Epic creates and enshrines legendary history. The legends become myths that explain who we are and what we value in a form more exciting than that in an analytical historical account.
Q. I absolutely love that the narration in “The Texiad” comes from William Zuber. Honestly, I didn’t know all that much about him prior to reading “The Texiad,” but now I’m completely enthralled with the image of the last surviving veteran of the Texas Revolution wandering around lecturing kids about his war. Tell me about the idea to use Zuber in such a fashion – where did it come from?
Zuber’s account of the last days of the Alamo as told to his mother by family friend Louis Rose was controversial in his lifetime. In fact, he spent a great deal of energy defending the veracity of his account in print. When he was a very old man, he got a job as a tour guide at the Texas state capitol, and I could not imagine that this man with his passion for the Texas Revolution would not tell Rose’s story and others like it to visitors whenever he could. With him as a vehicle, I was not limited to documentary evidence, and I became free to invent details and scenes that inquiring minds simply want to know about.
Q. Writing in verse, to me, is about the most painful thing that I can imagine. I can’t imagine how hard it is to write an epic poem. Will you write another epic poem, and if so what topic?
I have practiced writing rhymed metrical verse for almost 50 years, but the use of the rhyme royal stanza slowed me down considerably. Sometimes I would spend up to an hour trying to place a rhyme word in a sentence without disturbing either the sense or the meter of what I was writing. If I write another epic, I will use blank verse. I have toyed with the idea of an epic about Jesus, King David, or Revelation.
Q. In addition to “The Texiad,” you’ve also written “The Seduction of Sir Gawain,” and you’ll soon have a Lancelot book published. Having taken your Arthurian Legend course and your History of the English Language course at Georgia College, in my mind I always associated you more with Le Morte d’Arthur than I did Le Morte de Travis. Is Arthurian legend more comfortable ground for you?
I am very much at home in Arthurian romance. I find the stories patently humorous, even when they are not intended to be humorous. The fall of Arthur’s kingdom, of course, is not humorous at all, but the individual romances strung together by Malory are very charming and leave much unsaid. I see great potential in developing the unsaid parts of the romances.
Q. Why prose for your Gawain book and not epic poem? Too many Arthurian epic poems already, or were you just simply unwilling to go toe-to-toe with Edmund Spenser for sales?
“The Seduction of Sir Gawain” is a retelling of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” an anonymous romance of the late 14th century. This romance is told in alliterative verse in a very difficult dialect. The verse translations of the poem I have read with students are not much easier to read than the original. So I thought that I would retell the story within the conventions of modern prose narrative and allow myself room to add to the story and change details to suit my own ends. So the story ends very differently: Sir Gawain wins a bride he doesn’t want (a detail from another story about Sir Gawain), and we get to hear his hilarious confession — after he gives into a temptation he resists in the original. The confession is my favorite part. I tried to impart some of the flavor of a Harlequin Blaze romance I read in preparation for writing the book.
Q. Which do you prefer to write, prose or verse?
I like both, but after spending some 18 years writing long works in verse, I thought it would be fun and liberating to try prose. I have at least two other prose works in planning. But I am still obsessed with the idea of writing some kind of Biblical epic.
Q. I don’t know if you know this, but when you published the Texiad that was sort of my inspiration to self publish. I remember you posted on Facebook that you felt like Caxton (William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England). I read all the time about big publishing houses having trouble. I read recently that there are something like 700,000 self-published authors now thanks to Smashwords and CreateSpace and similar publishing platforms. Do you think we’re in the beginning stages of something that will have as big an impact on the world as Caxton’s printing press did?
For well over a hundred years after Caxton opened up shop in England, poets still thought printing was beneath them and passed their poems around in manuscript. Friends published them, often without permission. Manuscript copying also continued for a long time, and early books were attempts to make printed text look like handwritten text. The contemporary publishing house with an editorial staff devoted to choosing and developing texts that it thinks will bring a financial return on the massive expenses of printing and distributing paper books will continue for a while, but I imagine that the traditional publishing house and the mass market bookstore may soon go the way of the medieval scriptorium and the late-20th-century video store.