Archive for the ‘AlsatianGerman’ Category

ARC POETRY MAGAZINE FEATURE REVIEW

 

Harold Rhenisch

 

Love and War and Oranges

Philip Resnick. Footsteps of the Past. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2015.

Nick Papaxanthos. Love Me Tender. Toronto: Mansfield Press, 2015.

Dimitris Lianinis. Hours of the Stars. Surrey, BC: Libros Libertad, 2015.

Tzoutzi Matzourani. Hear Me Out: Letters to My Ex-Lover. Surrey, BC: Libros Libertad, 2015

 

Classicism is the belief that adherence to past models recreates their successes. It’s why art students draw from the nude, formalists write sonnets, and Germany is structured on Goethe’s Faust. It’s also why Canadian poets write in a series of stances called, variously: self-actualization, emotional honesty, imagism, verse, activism, English and French, surrealism, glosas, villanelles, open fields, vers libre, academic deconstruction, and that juggling trick Leonard Cohen did with the oranges. Most commonly, classicism references the artistic works of ancient Greece—usually to foster humanist values. In this review I look at four Canadian poetry books that reference classical Greek modes.

 

Philip Resnick’s Footsteps of the Past is exquisite. Poems such as “West Coast Mythis-torema” and “Paris on a Sunday Afternoon” are tours de force of Greek metrics: mus­cular objects like Greek statues in marble: “limbs and flesh so dear / that words, you feel, are puffs of hollow air, / and images of love / Pygmalions carved in sandstone or in wax” (“Paris on a Sunday Afternoon”). Most of the other poems are satires. My work­ing model: back in the day, such jibes were sung by drunkards caught up in moonlit orgies in the Aegean hills; in civic life, satirical dramas stripped off the masks of power in dances of violence and forgiveness. Resnick’s are elegiac: “faces in a sullied looking glass / that must be digitalized / before they turn to dust” (“Cuarentena”). Often, they sound like pulpit work: “what is familiar becomes with time / a parasite in the intes­tinal flora” (“The Crown in Canada”). Resnick’s honoured dead aren’t the heroic dead of Homer and Alice Oswald, who fight in eternal battle on the scorched plains of the Middle East. They’re ghoulish. In Resnick’s reckoning, classical Greece was a wellspring of Western ideals; its citizens lived in common society, united with land and its spirits. In his Canada, this spirit lingers on in decaying fragments. The millions of people of his Vancouver, whose intellectual traditions honour Daphne and Apollo, have washed up on the shores of Raven’s sea. They have jettisoned classical unity in favour of the ability to live in tall glass rectangles. This is not courage. Reflecting the city’s ennui, many of Resnick’s poems fizzle away, as if a god has been filled with power but then, when fate hangs in the balance, slips down to the pub for a beer and to watch the Canucks lose the Stanley Cup. Classicism here grits its teeth to reveal a broad gap between realities and professed ideals, in beautiful but sad models of civic, occasional and funereal verse.

 

Nick Papaxanthos’ Love Me Tender draws on the oracular tradition of the priestesses of Apollo, who breathed sulfuric vapours to predict the future—in riddles that would ex­cite any neurolinguistic programmer today. His Love Me Tender is like a bomb of dada lobbed into an opposing trench in the Somme: “avocados fudge / blimps to raisins / the inning, lungs / in the fatso and / braids toothpaste.” It’s a bit blunt. Bombs are. Dada is. The sections “The Next Arrangement of Molecules” and “Chairlift to Hell,” though, are classic surrealist games. They just go by at warp speed, that’s all—like fanning a deck of tarot cards instead of laying them down one by one. Here’s one, to give you a taste: “the yo-yo panorama looks out gently / then returns, tinged with blood” (“At the Peak of Mt. Murder”). Fun, or what!? It’s language interrogating itself using a random­ness generator. No, wait: it’s René Char redux, differing only from the original in that Char learned his poetics in the 1940s Resistance, which certainly beat the heroism of running into machine gun fire or its contemporary equivalent, the randomness gener­ator. In Papaxanthos, the resistance continues—just faster than human sight, that’s all, and through the global universalism of surreal imagery. What was originally a group of exiles aggrandizing their verbal powerlessness during WWI by replacing art with nonsense (as the war had replaced civilization with destruction) is now Papaxanthos aggrandizing the hurlers of Molotov cocktails (rather than hurling them.) Have a look at one of his glorifications: “The Meadow of Dents // Light slams the flowers on its way out.” It’s clever stuff. Like the Dadaists, its topic is its own cleverness. It is display and a desire to disappear all at once. That can’t be healthy. For the Dadaists, a gesture like that was violent. Here the violence is turned inward. This is dangerous territory. Another example might help: “In the Atmosphere // of headlight beams and floral bedsheets, / voices trade hellos / from faces turning shyly away.” (Both examples are from “The Next Arrangement of Molecules.”) The text here has replaced “self” identity. Now the text is lobbing the IEDs. The self? The poor thing is embarrassed. Maybe that’s how a poet has to survive in Resnick’s anti-culture: a strong, victorious book is obscured to survive within the culture it tries to replace. That’s the necessary work of a clown. It’s sad that such a ruse is needed. These surreal sequences would be stronger if not vacuum-packed into a container of a size and shape better suited to hold the ashes of Bliss Carman. Such a nod to the norms of Canadian book editing dulls the revolution within these devices. It aestheticizes them. It makes them “safe,” just another turn within a potpourri of verbal gymnastics, compressed to fit. They aren’t the aesthetic objects the book shape—and the Canadian sensibility behind it—makes them to be, and they sure aren’t safe. They deserve their own launch vehicles.

 

Dimitris Liantinis’ Hours of the Stars draws on Greek culture from within. Where Papaxanthos manipulates Greek oracular tradition through secular surrealism, Liantinis uses similarly bizarre imagery within an unbroken connection with the Greek panthe­on. Where Papaxanthos’s Canadian postmodernism employs psychology and industrial identity severed from the earth to view its roots as flotsam left over after a tsunami, recombined into steam punk bangles such as “A sink washes the air’s hands / A detour around a candle darts” (“The Vaccinated Dawn”), Liantinis’ imagery is the oracle: “mem­oirs will be written only / on the edge of the sword / that cracks the cheekbones of the night like walnuts” (“Hercules”). Liantinis lacks Resnick’s and Papaxanthos’s sense of loss, tragedy, romance and bathos. His references to the gods fill the space their emp­tiness fills. In “Aquarius,” for example, an un-named god unearths “the viscera of the desert,” but then miracle—not a burning bush but “Suddenly water drops shone / on the weight of its tiredness and / filled the sun with passengers.” It is a warning against see­ing Greece as the root of the Western tradition, which shows the material faces of God and uses art to create archetype. After all, it’s also the source of Eastern tradition, which apprehends God as archetype and uses art to arrive at material presence. This is a book to set with Seferis, Cavafy and Ritsos. It’s the real deal.

 

Of course, classical tradition isn’t just a high testosterone phalanx of monks and sui­cide bombers battling to see who has the better bronze sword and who the best desert in which to watch the mind writing on silence. It also contains Sappho, writing of her lesbian lover so passionately that no love poem has surpassed hers in 2600 years. In Hear Me Out: Letters to My Ex-Lover, Tzoutzi Matzourani makes direct nods to her: “The agony, the heart ache, the pain in the guts, the longing the yearning each felt for the other, the match, the writhing, the complete surrender” (“The Road to Hell”). She discards many parts of classical tradition. She keeps precision: “What you loved of me, you killed” (“What You Loved”). She sidesteps Plato’s annoying questioning by directly addressing her beloved. She keeps elegy: “Because simply you can’t grasp onto anyone’s hand you can’t grasp onto anything” (“The Lost 1%”)—like Heraclitus and the river you can’t step into twice: “My dry lips still had the taste of watermelon we ate at lunch time, and now, evening already, my glance was glued high up in the sky” (“A Slice of Moon With the Scent of Watermelon Fragrance”). Classical metrics are eschewed for simple stanzas built around exquisite semantic rhythms and the ebbs and flows of prose. These are the sea’s tides, so present they need never be mentioned. Don’t be fooled, though: these letters gradually reveal themselves as notes to: Mantzourani’s ex-lovers, the things she has loved, and poetry’s passions and devotions. There is no oracle. This is a real woman, exploring the day-to-day triumphs and pains of love in all of its particulars, consciously aware that she is replacing an entire classical tradition of men jabbering about politics, sociology, religion, architecture, literature, philosophy, etc., with an alter­nate lens: love, and its devotions and attentions. Out of the four books here, all steeped in Greece, it’s hers that extends humanism, and with fused passion, wit and intellect. If an entire century were built on her model, we would do well.

 

        Hours of the Stars and Hear Me Out are poetic triumphs.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Edouard_Schuré_01

Eduard (Édouard) Schuré (January 21, 1841 in Strasbourg – April 7, 1929 in Paris) was a French philosopher, poet, playwright, novelist, music critic, and publicist of esoteric literature.
Biography

Schuré was the son of a doctor in the Alsatian town of Strasbourg, who died when Édouard was fourteen years old. Schuré mastered French as well as German, and was influenced by German and French culture in his formative years. He received his degree in law at the University of Strasbourg, but he never entered into practice. Schuré called the three most significant of his friendships those with Richard Wagner, Marguerita Albana Mignaty and Rudolf Steiner.[1]
Schuré’s interest and studies led to an extensive knowledge of German literature. The discovery of Wagner’s “music drama” Tristan and Isolde impressed him sufficiently to seek—and obtain—Wagner’s personal acquaintance.
In France, he published his first work Histoire du Lied—a history of the German folk song, which earned him some recognition in the country of his family. With the publication of the essay Richard Wagner et le Drame Musical, he established himself as a major French Wagner expert and advocate of the time.
When the Franco-German war of 1870-71 poisoned the German arts for many French, it would seem that Schuré was not immune from this influence. His nationalism is reflected in his remarks of this time—and later in his life—in a comparison of glorified Celtism (France) and a negatively viewed “Teutonism” (Germany).
On a trip to Italy during this time he met, twenty years his junior, a Greek girl, Marguerita Albana Mignaty, whom he subsequently described as his “muse”, although he himself was married.
After the tide of war had ebbed, Schuré reestablished his relationship with Wagner. In 1873, he met the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche; with frequent contact they shared enthusiasm for Wagner. The cultist veneration of Wagner, however, seeded Schuré’s alienation from the composer.
Schuré now turned increasingly to the esoteric and the occult; his major influence being the famous French occultist-scholar Fabre d’ Olivet. In 1884, he met the founder of the Theosophical Society Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Although unwelcome in the Theosophical Society, he nevertheless entered. In 1889, he published, after some smaller works on similar topics, his major work Les Grands Initiés (The Great Initiates).
In 1900, the actress Marie von Sivers came into contact with him because she intended to translate his works into German (The Great Initiates, The Sacred Drama of Eleusis and The Children of Lucifer). At the German Section of the Theosophical Society, he met the Austrian philosopher and later founder of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner. In 1906, Sivers brought about a meeting between Schuré and Steiner. Schuré was deeply impressed and thought of Steiner as an authentic ‘initiate’ in line with his The Great Initiates. After hearing Steiner lecture in Paris for the first time in 1906, Schuré in an ecstatic state ran home and wrote down the entirety of the lecture from memory. This first lecture, and the other lectures in the series (which Schuré wrote down) were published as Esoteric Cosmology.[2] Subsequently, Steiner and von Sivers staged Schuré’s esoteric dramas at the following Theosophical Congresses in Berlin and Munich. Schuré’s The Children of Lucifer, served as a precursor of Rudolf Steiner’s own esoteric dramas.
In 1908 Schuré brought out Le Mystère Chrétien et les Mystères Antiques,[3] a French translation of Steiner’s work Christianity as Mystical Fact and the Mysteries of Antiquity.[4] With the outbreak of World War I, Schuré’s relationship with Steiner and his wife became strained. Schuré threw in the two secret intentions about Germanic and Pan and stepped out of Steiner’s Anthroposophical Society. Four years after the war, Schuré re-consolidated his friendship with Steiner.
In subsequent years, Schuré published his autobiography.
Esoteric and literary meaning

Schuré’s The Great Initiates is described by some as a masterpiece. In it, he describes the path allegedly followed by some of the ancient philosophers in search of profound esoteric knowledge, often called the “initiation”, as describing the process of becoming a mystic master or spiritual healer.
Those familiar with Rama, Hermes Trismegistus, Socrates, Jesus, Orpheus will find frequent references in Schuré’s work. Schuré pursued the notion that a secret esoteric knowledge was known to them all, that this group were among the pillars of civilization and represented the founders of spiritual and philosophical ways of being as well as in some cases—though contrary to their message—religions. Schuré recognized that the path to a harmonious world was not to be found through a bigoted denial of the value found by other civilizations by their own sages. He wanted people to recognize the value of democracy in spiritual, philosophical, and religious ways. .
Schuré wrote a considerable number of books and plays. His plays enjoyed relative fame in his days in Europe, and some of them were put on stage by Steiner. He also influenced Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev.
~Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia