Travel Writing button by Kate Hazell

Gilgamesh Retold, 2018

Gilgamesh Retold (Carcanet Classics, 2018), also available as an e-book (Kindle) and an Audiobook. 

‘Gilgamesh Retold by Jenny Lewis (Carcanet Classics) reworks the ancient epic and impressed me deeply – it’s innovative, graceful, erudite and utterly unputdownable!’ Gavin Francis, New Statesman (Books of the Year, 2018) 

‘Our Book of the Week is Jenny Lewis’s marvellous new version of Gilgamesh, just out from Carcanet.’ London Review of Books (Book of the Week, October 2018)

‘My own recommendation would be…Gilgamesh Retold (2018), by the Anglo-Welsh poet Jenny Lewis, who teaches poetry at Oxford University. Lewis’s version is very musical, with rhymes and chimes and shifting meters. It can be blunt. Its account of the murder of Humbaba is the nastiest I know. Yet her translation is also the most tender, the most tragic—the one, I think, that might be recommended by feminist scholars. Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

 ‘I discovered this book by chance and bought it more or less on a whim, and wow! What a find…a rich tapestry of wonder and excitement…her description of the Sky Bull, for instance, which is sent by the goddess Inanna to destroy Gilgamesh for rejecting her advances is absolutely something to marvel at…exceptionally beautiful poetry [that] makes these ancient worlds a little more accessible for a modern reader.’ Canonball Read Review No.35

‘A vivid, even cinematic translation… Lewis’s approach to her translation – an intuitive interpretation – gives her license to make room for the feminine… Lewis recalls those matriarchal goddesses of early religions who are now so frequently forgotten – or redacted. Gilgamesh Retold recognises the power of stories…to save, as well as destroy lives.’ Hetta Howes, TLS  

 ‘… a daring and deliberate approach to formal experimentation…Through the innovations described above, Lewis seems to claim the epic for our shared cultural consciousness, locating it in a fresh imaginative space between what we know today as separate mythic traditions.’ Theophilus Kwek, The North 

‘An impressionistic soundscape for various voices, it is analogous, perhaps, to some of the passages in Logue’s adaptations of Homer, but has an affinity also with the magic forests of medieval romance and the encounters with ogres which so frequently take place there. By any standard, Jenny Lewis’s Gilgamesh Retold is essential reading, not only for her magisterial synthesis of ancient myth, but for her impressive variety of metrical forms which in itself mirrors the evolution of literary traditions from the Dark Ages to the post-modern.’ David Cooke, London Grip 

‘These innovative tales are full of cosmic creation, dramatic battles, gods and grief. Lewis’ evocative and exhilarating poems bring Gilgamesh to life for a whole new generation, discovering the resonance of ancient Mesopotamian myths in recent Middle Eastern conflicts and its enduring relevance today.’ Poetry Book Society Winter Bulletin, 2018

‘The first ever translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh by a practicing female poet. Jenny Lewis is also the first translator to deploy a variety of forms, using metre, rhyme and free verse as well as experimental forms to bring the poem alive. Sanmin Literary Review

‘[Gilgamesh Retold is] flowing, lucid and involving…a journey to the deep past. ’ Stride Magazine

‘Gilgamesh Retold is terrific – and very beautiful. It is the fullest version I have ever read, and the richest. It has the immediacy of dream. I’ve never felt from other versions just how precious the life is which Gilgamesh longs to keep.‘ Alison Brackenbury

‘Jenny Lewis’s Gilgamesh Retold is not simply a retelling of the ancient epic; it is the spirited ‘response’ of a contemporary poet to the original legend. Using a variety of lively metrical forms and expanding the material where appropriate – notably regarding the goddess Inanna – Gilgamesh Retold is a vivacious reanimation of a timeless narrative for today’s readers.’ Theodore Ziolkowski, author of Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic

‘Gilgamesh Retold by Jenny Lewis rings with the strength of the original texts and sings with its own poetic originality.’ Fran Hazelton, author of Stories from Ancient Iraq (2010) and Three Kings of Warka, Myths from Mesopotamia (2012)

‘While bringing back to life Gilgamesh and the immense cultural heritage of Mesopotamia-Iraq, Jenny Lewis also proves to us that poetry is, as it always has been, the best way to rekindle the past while capturing the essence of the times we live in.’ Adnan al-Sayegh

Read Jenny’s blog for Carcanet about recording the audiobook

Taking Mesopotamia, 2014

Claire Williamson reviews Taking Mesoptamia on Good Reads 2016

Jenny Lewis: Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet, March 2014)

“Jenny Lewis’ Taking Mesopotamia is a brilliantly conceived and executed, very moving book…This is a modernist route – we will see more poetry collections built on these lines.” Dilys Wood, Artemis

“A complex, humane, painful, intelligent book that works on many levels at once…it feels as though Lewis is doing with time what the earliest cubist paintings did with space, folding multiple perspectives and chronologies… The overall effect is less a comparison between different time periods than a sense of multiple timescales coexisting at once…” Gareth Prior, Folding Time

“Pride of place for this summer’s reading is Jenny Lewis’s Taking Mesopotamia (Carcanet)…A wonderfully layered collection, diverse in focus and technique but unified by the theme of Mesopotamia/Iraq. An inspiration.” The Poetry Society

“Jenny’s own poems…sit and shine in their woven clasp of photographs and written forms…[Taking Mesopotamia] brings into focus both the cluster of men stepping out of their uniforms by the Tigris in 1916 and the dilemmas of our continuing military deployments. For all our sophistication and sophistry, we are, essentially, naked by the flowing waters.” Tony Curtis, Poetry Wales

“[Taking Mesopotamia] is a lyrical collection of poetry, witness statements, interviews, diary entries and reports that have been meticulously researched…Lewis will take many on the search with her, such is the overwhelming poignancy of the work, which is testimony that there is a place for poetry in politics.” Jane Fraser, New Welsh Review

“The reach of this collection is impressive. Ostensibly a search for her lost father, and using diary extracts, interviews, witness statements, poems and photographs to create poetic reportage, Lewis has moved beyond the personal. Through this multi-layered narrative she entwines her father’s experience in the Mesopotamian campaign of World War 1, the recent wars in Iraq and the Epic of Gilgamesh to reflect on the futility of war, and the moral bankruptcy of Empire… The potency of this collection lies in its combined effects.  Starting from a very personal “recovery” of her father, Lewis demands our engagement with loss, love, and the power of myth.”  Jane Baston, DURA

Taking Mesopotamia is a truly memorable piece of work. Lewis is an acutely attentive observer, but this is more than a poetic documentary – it lives as much in the ear as in the imagination, so well acoustically arranged that we cannot forget any of the voices in it.”  Jane Draycott

Taking Mesopotamia offers the depth of an epic with the tight curation and lyricism of the best contemporary poetry. A topic this ambitious in scope necessitates an original execution. The storytelling Lewis undertakes pays tribute to this tradition in its complexity, reminding us that poetry was at the heart of ancient Mesopotamia and remains a part of Iraq’s culture.” Maya Popa, PN Review

“There is both richness in the language and restraint. The syntax is wonderfully supple and shows an intense and informed love of language. [The] diction is both scintillating and plain – congratulations on an original and achieved conception.” Mimi Khalvati on “Lunette” from Taking Mesopotamia.

“While bringing back to life this immense cultural heritage, Jenny Lewis also shares with us the tribulations of wars and exile …proving to us that poetry, in this day and age is, as it always has been, capable of creating change.”  Adnan Al-Sayegh, Iraqi Poet, winner of the Hellman – Hammet International Poetry Award (New York 1996), the Rotterdam International Poetry Award (1997) and the Swedish Writers Association Award (2005).

Taking Mesopotamia is a stunning collection, one that sticks to you like a burr after you’ve read it. It is as if in writing it, Jenny Lewis has stumbled across one of the marvels contained within the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of its groves of jewels – and laid it out across the page for us to look at.” Laura Scott, The North

“First, Jenny Lewis’s wonderful Taking Mesopotamia (Carcanet), which in one slim volume mines a rich seam from the Epic of Gilgamesh via Welsh mining communities and the First World War to the most recent Iraq wars. Powerful, moving and musical.” David Attwooll, The Poetry Society (What to read this summer.)

“Having just traced my Great Uncle Edward C Baker PTE to joining up at 17 in 1914 and dying here in 1916 I was very moved by this book. The Great War in Mesopotamia was an absolute nightmare for the British, especially the Dorsetshire Regiment, with few if any returning after being taken prisoners of war. So sad that today Iraq is still the same war zone and Amara war cemetery is still a no go area.” Paula Sheppard, Amazon Customer Review *****

“An insightful collection of poetry and prose. Poignant memories, echoes from the past – resonating in the present. With only 94 pages this ‘little book, with emotive clout’ can be read in one sitting – however can only be truly digested/embraced through re-visitation.” Gloria, Amazon Customer Review *****

“This is a wonderful, thought-provoking, sensitive book of prose, poetry, interviews and pictures. Jenny’s loving search for her late father during his time serving in WW1 Mesopotamia and the contextualisation of modern day war in Iraq make this an evocative and timeless account of the helpless stupidity of conflict. Beautifully crafted and evoked.” Douglas Adamson, Goodreads****

“[In Taking Mesopotamia] The poet has taken a fierce stand against abuse, violence, aggression, oppression and, very simply, against War…because at heart she is a humanist.  To quote Adnan al-Sayegh’s statement: ‘Freedom is always more beautiful’.” Eddy Bonte, Radio 68

After Gilgamesh, 2011

Jenny Lewis: After Gilgamesh, 64 pages, Mulfran Press, £7.00
With notes on writing and devising for Youth Theatre and photos of the production process.

“The UK-published text [of After Gilgamesh] is a pointer to the possibilities
of poetry in the digital age, notably in the intersection and dissemination of
poetry and performance art. The published text’s amalgam of poetry and Iraq War subject matter also has the potential to be used as a teaching aid for high school students, in both poetry/English courses and contemporary and ancient history classes. … the slang, farce and satire add vitality. The almost vaudevillian aura evoked by the boisterous market-place Ancient World scenes – and the inclusion of black and white photos of the crew and young cast in rehearsal – gives you a sense of what the play might have been like on the stage” Roberta Lowing, Mascara Literary Review

“I was left in a state of awe…All in all, this piece was masterfully written, performed and directed; the projection of the actors, the tightness of the vocals and the stunning choreography really made this piece work and demonstrated the triumphant talent of Pegasus Theatre’s Youth Companies. Bravo to Pegasus.”Oxford Daily Info

“Jenny Lewis writes with an elegance that is seamless, subtly cadenced, and full of understated lyricism. Additionally, her expert use of formal structures and deft dialogue makes her a writer of extraordinary intelligence.” Sudeep Sen Atlas Arts

After Gilgamesh is an unusual new play by Jenny Lewis that maps the ancient story of Gilgamesh – the God-King of Uruk who lived around 2700 BC – onto the modern story of an Iraq war soldier who lies wounded in hospital in 2005. The author links these very different lives by forcing both characters to confront the loss of a close friend. The gutsy teens of The Pegasus Youth Theatre rose to the challenge of Jenny Lewis’s demanding and unusual play to create a provocative production that is by turns funny and heartbreaking, and stunning in its energy and professionalism.”” Amy Jenkins Daily Information

“The language operates at many levels, as verse must today. There are the strophic, Eliotine choruses and the quick, colloquial banter of terrible Gods. Yet back at the Modern level, the diction modulates to parody war-gaming vocabulary and TV reality games, an ambitious rhetoric that comes near to the achievement of Dennis Potter… In a world whose mise en scene is set by the Post-Modern disillusionment, it is promising to hear the conditional optimism of the closing moments of the play… After Gilgamesh is an issue-oriented piece of writing. Like Joan Lingard’s Across the Barricades, its audience is the young adult.” Duncan McGibbon

Fathom, 2007

Fathom, by Jenny Lewis, Oxford Poets/ Carcanet 2007.

“Her poems employ many of the techniques of painting, drawing readers
in through the gleam of colours so intense and appealing as to be almost
edible: ‘dark plum and liquorice’, ‘rose and burnt caramel’, ‘sunlight in
squares as shiny as toffee’” Sarah Crown, The Guardian

“[Of Fathom] One of the most moving aspects of her voice is the fingertip delicacy of her curiosity about the ways in which our physical world and selves are pulled
continually toward dissolution and diffusion.” Jane Draycott

“[Of Fathom] In this haunted and haunting collection, intuition leads cognition in a pas de deux of great power and beauty.” Jon Stallworthy, Oxford Times

When I Became an Amazon, 1996

By Jenny Lewis: When I Became an Amazon, Iron Press, 1996, £5.99 (inc. p&p]

“An authentic voice for women.” Chapman’s Review

“[When I Became an Amazon] is an extraordinary piece, raw, moving and
powerful.” Katie Mitchell, Royal Shakespeare Company