“To Join the Lost” by Seth Steinzor – A Guided Tour through Hell

“To Join the Lost” by Seth Steinzor  (2010) – 209 pages

 “To Join the Lost” is an epic poem that is a modern version of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno from the early 1300s, that famous tour through Hell.  In this new version, the tour guide is Dante, and the follower is the author himself looking for his  lost love, Victoria.  Since he is still alive, he cannot touch the dead, only see them and hear them. 

 Dante’s Inferno is a religious allegory discussing sin, virtue, and theology.  It presents a vivid picture of those sinners inhabiting the various parts of Hell and the just punishments they must endure eternally.  I can certainly see why a writer would want to try a modern version of the Inferno, the danger being that it would be compared against the original by Dante.  Who wouldn’t want to populate their own Hell and choose the just punishments for those we put there? 

 Certainly Dante populated his Hell with the names of contemporaries who have long since been forgotten as well as people from ancient history and mythology, but their sins are so clearly described and their punishments so fitting, the result is still timeless.   In “To Join the Lost”, many of the specific names seem already outdated such as Robert Dornan, Anita Bryant, Ahmed Chalabi, and Robert McNamara.  However the actual sins and the resulting punishments do not come across at all as distinctly as they do in Dante.   “To Join the Lost” is more of a secular allegory rather than a religious allegory, and thus Hell here does not have its moral force.

    So now the nation cowers the way it was taught to.

    Fear is the heritage we share. The

    puritans’ god was a wrathful god, and in the

    land of spacious skies and amber

    waves of grain the anthem we sing before

    they throw the first pitch is not ‘Take

    Me Out to the Ballgame’ but a celebration

    of having endured bombs bursting in air.

    Slaves and slaveholders, natives and immigrants bound by

    Ropes of fear, whose children fling missiles

    into shelters full of fearful Baghdadis.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in the above passage from the poem and agree with most throughout.  I did sometimes want the ideas to be more original and surprising. 

I have no problem with free verse, don’t count syllables or stresses or rhymes.  It makes no difference if the poem is divided into the traditional fourteen line sonnets or twelve lines or ten lines as it is here.  However I do have one personal requirement.  However the lines are divided, at the end of a section, there should be a period so that the section represents a complete thought.  In ‘To Join the Lost’ there is no attempt to complete a thought in a section, and sentences frequently run on for several lines into the next section.   It is good discipline for a writer to work to find just the right words to fit into the structure chosen.  That is the advantage poetry has over prose.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for taking the time to read and review this one for the tour!


  2. […] Tuesday, November 22nd: Tony’s Book World […]


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