Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. Melissa Ridley Elmes. (Dark Myth Publications, 2020) 120 pp. $5.99 paperback.

Review by Lisa Timpf

Assistant Professor of English and Medieval Literature Melissa Ridley Elmes is well positioned to write the poems in Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. She has, in her own words, been “reading, and thinking, and teaching, and writing about the Arthurian legends for the better part of my adult life.”

The majority of the 61 poems in Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems provide the perspective of everyday objects and creatures in the Arthurian world. Wishing wells, bed sheets, roses and rain, as well as living beings like cats, chickens, sheep, and spiders all get their turn in the spotlight.

In “A Cut Rose in Guinevere’s Chamber Meditates on Mortality” a flower compares itself to Guinevere, who also “had been harvested from her family / and felt her life essence draining as she rested in this room, / far from all she knew and held dear.” Many of the poems offer a slyly humorous take. In “The Wishing Well Wishes,” the well expresses its desire that visitors might come “just to see / a well-crafted well, instead of begging / for things we all know I can’t give.”

In some of the poems, the title objects offer insights into the human figures of the Arthurian legends. “The Wishing Well Dishes” conveys a nostalgic image from one particular knight’s past:

Gawain came once, and wished on a ha’penny
For a parrot that can talk, like the one he saw
Once long ago as a child, before knighthood
Stripped him of the ability to enjoy such wonders

“The Cat with her Basket of Kittens in the Scullery I” notes:

I am the only queen in Camelot ever to give birth.
You may decide for yourself whether
that’s grounds for
tragedy or mirth.

Some of the poems build humor by adding modern elements to the Arthurian myth. For example, the Questing Beast joins #MeToo, while flies and ants lobby for unionization. In “Excalibur Deals with Imposter Syndrome,” the famous sword confesses,

The truth is, there are
More important swords
In King Arthur’s life, but
I have a better publicist.

Not all of the poems deal with tangible items. “Arthur’s Choice” is both humorous and poignant, offering the lines,

I know what ought to happen,
I know what should be done,
But and I do it, I am undone.
It is so, that the king should cry “Treason!”
and have both their heads—
But his, I need in battle,
and hers, I need in bed.

Though the poems expressing the viewpoint of items in the Arthurian world are of interest, it is the sonnet cycle, which focuses on key individuals from the legends, that packs the most punch. This group of 14 poems, titled “Things Thought in Passing,” offer the perspectives of Kay, Tristan, Isolde, Merlin, Morgan le Fay, Galahad, Lancelot, and others. Each of the entries has a powerful summary couplet, as is the case in “Merlin”: “And this is how our fair Camelot falls— / Its king invites its end into its walls.”

The extensive author’s notes at the end of the collection are well worth reading, offering a deeper level of understanding of individual poems, medieval life, and the Arthurian myth. For example, the notes for “A Sheet’s Analysis of What Goes on Between the Sheets” point out that “the inspection of bedding following a wedding-night to ascertain whether or not the woman was a virgin” was a common practice in medieval times. The author notes that the “idea of a woman’s honor being tied to her virginity and that virginity, being essential in turn to a man’s honor and legitimacy, is fraught and problematic in medieval stories.”

As an added bonus, the book also provides a list of recommended resources for further reading about the Arthurian legend.


Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her speculative poetry has appeared in New Myths, Liminality, Apparition Lit, Polar Borealis, and other venues. Her reviews have appeared in Star*Line, The Miramichi Review, The Future Fire, and Aethlon. You can find out more about Lisa's writing at


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