I’ve just heard about a new project, the journal Eala, which will publish compositions in Old English and other medieval Germanic languages. The founding editor and editor-in-chief of Word Hoard Press, Richard Littauer, plans to publish the journal online and include original compositions in Old English, Old Norse, and the like, as well as translations.
I can’t help thinking that Tolkien would be pleased to see this kind of venture, as he was a proponent of writing in the alliterative verse styles of Old English and Old Norse, either in the original languages or in modern English. As readers of his recently published Beowulf know, Tolkien was adept at composing in Old English – see his prose story “Sellic Spell” in that volume as an example. Tom Shippey has written about the difficulties of counting just how many poems and fragments Tolkien wrote in alliterative meter in both modern and Old English; in his essay “Tolkien as a Writer of Alliterative Poetry” in the book Tolkien’s Poetry, Shippey counts 22 compositions in modern English alliterative meter plus “The Homecoming”; another nine complete poems and five fragments in Old English, and that’s not including modern English poems imitating Old Norse alliterative style. In other words, Tolkien wrote a lot of alliterative verse.
Although Tolkien did write in other verse forms besides alliterative meter, he believed that alliterative verse was a natural form for English speakers and advocated its use – but who was listening? Lately, though, I’ve seen signs of interest in bringing medieval poetry more in contact with modern writers. Jane Chance, for example, is hosting an “Original Medievalistic Poetry Reading and Open Mic” at next year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ll have to check it out next May in the hopes of hearing some alliterative compositions. And here’s another sign of interest from a couple of years ago: Modern Poets on Viking Poetry: A Cultural Translation Project resulted in the publication of poems in modern English, which can be downloaded here.
These last two are projects that highlight the influence of medieval poetry on modern writers, but to write “correct” alliterative verse in a medieval language like Old English is another matter entirely. I’m looking forward to seeing what shows up in Eala.