Archive for the ‘Canadian greek Poet’ Category

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ΕΠΟΧΗ

 

Σελίδες από μια χαμένη επανάσταση που στα περιθώρια γράψαμε

κι εμείς τη ζωή μας —

ώ, μεγάλη ακατανόητη εποχή, που άξαφνα ο ένας καταλαβαίνει

τον άλλο.

 

 

 

SEASON

 

Pages from a lost revolution that in its margins we also wrote

our lives —

oh, great incomprehensible season when suddenly one understands

the other.

 

 

 

TASOS LIVADITIS-SELECTED POEMS, translated by Manolis Aligizakis, Libros Libertad, Vancouver, 2014

www.libroslibertad.com

www.manolisaligizakis.com

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.

 

 

 

 

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Παρουσιάζω ποίησή μου σε μέλη του διδακτορικού προσωπικού και φοιτητές του Πανεπιστημίου του Long Island (LIU) της Νέας Υόρκης, 12 Απριλίου.

Presenting my poetry to the faculty members and students of the University of Long Island, (LIU), New York, April the 12th.

My poetry book AUTUMN LEAVES translated in French by Károly Sándor Pallai, on the self of the Miskolc Library in Hungary.

 

Το βιβλίο μου ΦΥΛΛΑ ΦΘΙΝΟΠΩΡΟΥ σε μετάφραση στα γαλλικά από τον Károly Sándor Pallai διαθέσιμο στη βιβλιοθήκη Miskolc στην Ουγγαρία.

 

Des recueils en français de notre auteur gréco-canadien Manolis Aligizakis et de notre auteur hongrois de Slovaquie Károly Fellinger traduits par Károly Sándor Pallai dans une bibliothèque de Miskolc (Hongrie) !

 

Books in French of our author Greco-Canadian Manolis Aligizakis and our authorHungarian Slovakia Károly Fellinger translated by Károly Sándor Pallai in a library of miskolc (Hungary)

 

~Manolis Aligizakis//Μανώλης Αλυγιζάκης

 

 

CONSTANTINE  P. CAVAFY a discussion

 

Constantine P. Cavafy, along with a few other twentieth century Greek poets such as George Seferis, Odysseus Elytis, Yiannis Ritsos, Kostis Palamas and Andreas Kalvos, established the revival of Greek poetry both in Greece and abroad. They emerged as the new era of contemporary Greek poets at a time when the use of the Greek language was swept by the conflict between the old, “καθαρεύουσα—katharevoussa” traditional form of language and the more common “δημοτική—demotiki”, plebian or demotic as it was called.

Cavafy used both the traditional and the demotic modes although mostly the latter; he spent most of his life in Alexandria under the influence of the almighty Greek Orthodox Church and the day before his death he took communion as if to declare that he was ready; as if he was prepared for his transformation, from the modern poet, Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis of Greece to the Cavafy of the World. It is said that in the last minutes of his life he took pencil and paper and drew a big circle with a single dot in the middle.

It had only been twenty years since his death when one of the most famous bookstores in London advertised that: “We carry the best ever books: from Chaucer to Cavafy.” In 1919 Cavafy was introduced to the English reading public by E.M. Forster who helped establish his reputation in the Western World.

His poems combine the precision of a master craftsman with the sensitivity of Sappho as they are concise, yet intimate when their subject is  erotic love, mostly between men. Real characters as well as imaginary, historical events as well as fictional are his inspiration; the questionable future, the sensual pleasures, the wandering morality of the many, the psychology of the individual and that of the masses, homosexuality, certain atavistic beliefs and an existential nostalgia are some of his themes. Cavafy’s conscience projected his crystal clear belief in the immortal written word, which he bequeathed unto the four corners of the world.

On the 100th anniversary of his birthday and thirty years after his death, his complete works were published by “Ikaros” in 1963. This edition was prepared up to a point, we could say, by the poet himself who had kept all his poems in a concise and exact order; each poem on a page (which was pinned in exact chronological order on top of the proceeding page); his older poems were turned into booklet form which traditionally consisted of 16 pages although in this case the length is questionable. The sequence of the poems in these booklets was not chronological but thematic and depended on how he chose to emphasize their coherence. These booklets were mailed to anyone who asked for them. In the last years of his life he published two such booklets, one containing his poems written between the years 1905-1915 and the other with his poems of 1916-1918; every poem published during those fourteen years were included in these two booklets.

Cavafy was concise and accurate; so much so that he would work on each of his verses again and again making sure that it was in its final and perfect form before he would mail it to anyone; most of this of course is lost in the translation, as such an element in writing is impossible to replicate in another language. He drew most of his inspiration for the historical poems from the first and second centuries B.C. and the Hellinistic Era of Alexandria around and after the days of Alexander the Great. His love poems were entirely devoted to adult love between men; there is not a single mention of a woman as the subject of erotic love in his poems. The image of the kore, an erotic subject of other poets, is absent from his stanzas. Reference to women in Cavafy’s work is only about older, mature and gracious figures playing out their roles in the Hellinistic era or Byzantium’s golden age.

Cavafy wrote mostly in free verse although there were times when he used rhyme to emphasize irony; the number of syllables per verse varied from ten to seventeen.

Cavafy’s inspiration derives from many different subjects; in one of the well- known poems, Ithaka, he explores, like Odysseus on his return to his home island after the Trojan War, the pleasure and importance of the way to a goal rather than the goal itself, and shows that the process of achieving something is important because of all the experience it makes possible.

In the poem Waiting for the Barbarians we see the importance of the influence that people and events outside of the country may have in the lives of the inhabitants of a certain place and it can quite easily be related to today’s doctrine of “war on terror” after the attack of September, 2001 and the role that fear of the foreigner, or the enemy, plays in the decision making process of a nation. A parallel can be drawn between today’s “war on terror” and the final verses of the poem…

And what are we to become without the barbarians?

                 These people were some kind of a solution.” 

 

In the poem Thermopylae Cavafy explores the subject of duty, responsibility, and most importantly, the idea of paying the “debt”; he seems to believe in the philosophical principle of the Universal Balance which exists everywhere, and when that balance is disturbed by the actions of one man another person needs to reestablish it: in this case the poem refers to the treason by Ephialtes which disturbs that preexisting balance and  which the leader of the 300 Lacedaimonians, Leonidas, tries to counter—balance by his act of self sacrifice.  The crucifixion of Christ has the same philosophical base. Odusseus Elytis refers to the same subject in the Genesis of his Axion Esti (it is worthy) where he says that the Old Wise Creator prepared the four Great Voids on earth and in the body of man:

 

           “…the void of Death for the Upcoming Child

            the void of Killing for the Right Judgment

            the void of Sacrifice for the Equal Retribution

            the void of the Soul for the Responsibility of the Other…”

 

Isolation and the sense of enclosure unfolds in Cavafy’s poem “Walls” which is relevant to today as some countries tend to resort to it as  a means of defense against foreign influences coming from the outside and changing the thinking of the people, but also as a reason for becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant.

There are a lot of satirical connotations and humor in some poems and one such poem stands out: Nero’s Deadline where the poet laughs at the way a person perceives their time on earth. The same subject is referred to by the better known Greek saying: “You like to make God laugh, go and tell Him your plans…”

The extent to which a politician or a system may stretch truth in order to achieve a goal and the axiom “history repeats itself” are adamantly present in Cavafy’s poetry as we see the travesty of events when presented to the public from an official position:

“…the gigantic lie of the palace—Antony triumphed in Greece.”

The lies a government may throw at people in order to deceive. Today’s “…war on terror…” is such a travesty and it resembles an umbrella harboring under it various means and purposes of deluding the populace; at other times this is a means of camouflaging the inability of the governing party to conduct themselves in a fair and balanced way.

Cavafy’s work was at times caustic and irony was used frequently to emphasize a point. Vagenas writes: “Cavafy is the only poet who uses irony as the main mechanism of poetic creativity. His precise dramatic as well as tragic irony is the element that makes his use of the language produce a deep poetic emotion, rendering the verbal sensualism unnecessary.”

Cavafy expresses views of his era looked at through the eyes of the Greek immigrant, or the Greek of the Diaspora. The survival of and adherence to Greek values is what Cavafy cares to preserve and his poetry reflects this by doing justice to his great wish that the Greek language might spread to the far ends of the Bactrian Lands. The heroic stubbornness that proudly said ‘No’ to convention and settling down, the pursuit of true life which carries on ceaselessly, dragging along mud and diamonds, mixing the old with the new, joining the yes with the no, opening new horizons at any moment, birthing new hopes and views at any second is the life Cavafy wanted to spread all over the known world.

Most reviewers and analysts of Cavafy’s work have pronounced him a homosexual although that may be taken with a grain of salt. The western commentaries clearly and as a matter of fact have concluded that he was

homosexual whereas some of the Greek commentators are reluctant to openly agree with that notion; In our view the author can only be classified this or that based on documented data such as pictures, or direct associations of the commentator with the author, and in this case there are no such data available. Yet when a poet writes so many erotic poems having as his subject young men of twenty to twenty nine years old and with not a single woman ever being referred to as a subject of erotic love, it is easy and understandable to assume that the person under discussion is a homosexual; yet there is another angle one may take: the angle of the alter ego that a writer creates in his work to compliment or better yet to refine his image in his own eyes before the eyes of the reading public, as in the case of Cavafy; In some of his personal writings we read:

“I have to put an end to this myself, by the first of April otherwise I won’t be able to travel. I’ll get sick and how am I to enjoy my voyage when I’m sick?”

        “March 16th: Midnight. I succumbed again. Despair, despair, despair. There is no hope. Unless I end this by the 15th of April. God help me.”

In another note:

“I am tormented. I got up and I am writing now. What am I to do and

what is going to happen. What am I to do? Help. I am lost.”

In these personal notes of a despairing man who seeks help we see the distress of a person not because they react to their just concluded homosexual encounter but rather their despair in their self-consumed sexual satisfaction through masturbation and the guilt associated with it…Let us not forget that Cavafy grew up in an era of the Diaspora when the Greek Orthodox Church dominated the lives of the populace in such a strict way that any movement outside the dogmatic rules of Christian doctrine was considered a serious and unforgivable sin; I personally remember as a young lad reading the famous booklet “Holy Epistle” with its frightening images of brimstone and fire coming down from the heavens to sear the sinners who would commit any kind of sexual or other sin. It was quite purposefully given to me to read in my early teen years and it took decades before I came to the realization that I didn’t need this nonsense in my life. This was the world Cavafy grew up in and when he had his first chance of being on his own he made his best effort of rebellion against such suppressing doctrine in order to liberate himself from the pangs of church inflicted fear; when one looks at his life from this point of view one can simply see the reaction of a man expressed in a unique way directly opposed to the expected and well formatted way of the church.

Atanasio Cortato, Cavafy’s personal friend and confidant, writes:

“Cavafy’s homosexuality is questionable. One needs to apply a deep and objective study on his life and perhaps conclude that Cavafy was not homosexual. None ever came along with concrete evidence for this and no scandal of any kind is attributed to him.”

This declaration is of double importance because it is the declaration of Cavafy’s personal friend who knew the poet well and who would have known of any scandal should there have been one in which the poet was involved. Yet there was no such scandal documented or told.

Another view expressed by Stratis Tsirkas and J.M. Hatzifotis was that

Cavafy’s passion was not his homosexuality but rather his alcoholism and his tendency to masturbation. The poet was a very shy person by nature, and although when his mood struck him was a very stimulating and entertaining host, it was impossible for him to proceed into a homosexual relationship. Under this lens his erotic poetry is nothing but his fantasizing of the unrealized…

George Seferis referring to Cavafy as the deceptive old man of the Alexandrian Sea, Proteus, who always changes appearance, says: “For this reason we have to be careful, and exercise caution, not to be seduced by our own tendencies or by taking as given his words and dialectic inventions based on their superficial sense.”

A different aspect of his erotic poems can be found when one sees the time and place in which the poet lived as an adult and on his own. We make this last comment because it is known that Cavafy lived with his mother until her death in 1899 and after that he moved in with his brother John until 1906 when John left for Cairo. At that time Cavafy moved in with his brother Paul until he also moved away to Paris. Then the poet started living on his own. Having to work for a living in such a polyethnic city as Alexandria where the influences of three continents mingled and at times collided and always being under the watchful eye of the all- powerful Greek Orthodox Church with its dogmatism and stubbornness, Cavafy, like any other man of letters, questioned a lot of what was going on around him.

One can easily theorize that all the eroticism and rebelliousness expressed by the young lovers of his poems are nothing but the reactions of a person who lived almost all his adult life with family members and who, in his new found freedom, rebelled against established values and questioned well positioned dogmatism. One can easily theorize that Cavafy fantasized about things he wished for rather than recording things he had experienced. From that point of view the eroticism of his poems can be seen as an expression of suppressed feelings he had for years, yet feelings he never got the courage to act upon.

Cavafy lived in the polyethnic city of Alexandria; he moved and breathed around the Greek Community and a moral and law abiding way of life is clearly Greek in its essence. The law that applied to Greeks in Alexandria is that of France which is not much different than the Greek law yet different than the law applied to the locals. Therefore the homosexuality and lawlessness of some of his poetry has to do with the moral, communal and law abiding way of life of the Greek Community of Alexandrian society. Cavafy had a good knowledge of that and that knowledge guided him in such a way that his bolder and more daring poems which would have created an uproar in the established code of conduct of Alexandrian Greek Society were only released in 1920 when the poet had become very well-known and had carved a space in the creative society of his era. He was at that time established as a very successful poet and none dared dispute this or accuse him of anything.

 

~Manolis Aligizakis, Vancouver, BC

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ΑΝΑΠΑΝΤΗΤΑ

 

Ήρθαν μαντατοφόροι, φέραν μηνύματα,

κάνιστρα, γλάστρες, ανθοδέσμες, κιβώτια,

ένα τεράστιο ασημένιο κηροπήγιο. Ο άνεμος

έριχνε κάτω τα δέντρα της αυλής. Ο υπηρέτης

ψυχρός, παρελάμβανε τα δώρα, υποκλινόταν.

Η αίθουσα της υποδοχής ήταν κλειστή. Τίποτα

δεν ακουγόταν μες στο σπίτι — βήματα, τρίξιμο, ομιλία

ή χτύπος μαχαιριών και ποτηριών. Ωστόσο

είδα απ’ την τζαμαρία ξαπλωμένο τον Οικοδεσπότη

επάνω στο μαρμάρινο τραπέζι, κι ένα αγόρι

του χτένιζε ήσυχα τη μακριά, μαύρη γενειάδα.

 

 

 

UNANSWERED

 

Messengers came, they brought news,

baskets, flowerpots, bouquets, boxes,

a huge silver candle holder. The wind

pushed down the trees of the yard. The cool

servant accepted the gifts; he bowed.

The receiving hall was closed. Nothing

was heard inside the house – footsteps, creaking, talk

nor clink of knives and glasses. However

I saw through the glass the Host lying down

on the marble table and a boy was slowly

combing his long, black beard.

 

 

 

YANNIS RITSOS-SELECTED POEMS, translated by Manolis Aligizakis, Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, BC, 2013

 

www.libroslibertad.com

www.manolisaligizakis.com

 

merging dimensions cover

 

THE SECOND ADVENT OF ZEUS REVIEW

By João da Penha

 

 

POET, OF FACT.

 

 

Singing, everyone sings, but singers only about ten or twelve.

 

The boutade, they say, is by Frank Sinatra, whose remarkable vocal skills – it seems to me – have not been contested to this day.

To paraphrase the song of the great American singer, it can be said that there are not so many poets like this in the world – here and elsewhere, yesterday and today. I suspect that there will never be many poets, or at least many great poets. At least, I am convinced, not as many as the growing number of edited collections suggest, by marketing strategy arts, just under hyperbolic titles.

Many poetic exercise exercises it, or imagine exercising it. But to make great poetry is grace granted to a minority; to a caste of elect, therefore.

Schiller, by the way, has already warned that it is not enough to create good verses so that its author considers himself a poet. Now, to do verses, almost everyone, at some point in life, has already done. To make POETRY, however, is the road traveled by the minority referred to above. Only she, this chosen caste, has the map of the trail. Whoever holds it, who knows how to read it, interprets its coordinates, leads the others, that is, all of us, who have formed this majority, as creators, of the poetic territory, only by traveling, if sensitive to the Muses, as travelers. For the senseless, the tour of this territory will be nothing more than mere tourism.

Eric Ponty has the map of the trail. He is an authentic poet. Maturity is everything, the supreme bard in the “King Lear” told us. Poet, owner of his craft, poet who reached the full domain of poetic making.

His poetic virtuosity, Ponty has already shown and demonstrated in the magnificent “Retirement Boy Goes to the Circus in Brodowski” (Musa Publishing House, São Paulo, 2003.) In this book with its translation, our poet only makes it reaffirmed. For example when translating this stanza of Manolis’ poem Apollo, which reminds us of Paul Valéry’s Socratic prose in Eupalinos Lame et la Danse Dialogue De L arbre:

 

APOLLO

 

And I grew under Apollo’s sun

 

minutes of expressiveness

alone in darkness and

before I opened my eyes

I was accompanied

by the law of failure

born blind and

accused of heresy

a revolution in its making

even before I could utter

a groan or a begging cry

 

I gathered all my strength

to pick a date with death

hours before I appeared

in my mother’s arms

newborn festivity

error permitted

two legs just to walk

a heart as if

to feel emotion and

other human traces

of grandeur

 

 

 

APOLO

 

E eu cresci sob o sol de Apolo

 

Minutos de expressividade

Sozinho nas trevas e

Antes de abrir os meus olhos

Eu estava acompanhado

Pela lei da bobagem

 

Nasceu cega e

Acusada de heresia

Uma conflagração na sua fazendo

Mesmo antes que eu pudesse articular

Um suspiro ou um grito a mendigar

 

Eu ajuntei toda minha força

A seleção de uma data com a morte

Horas antes eu semelhava

Nos meus braços da minha mãe

Festa de um recém-nascido

Erro admitido

As duas pernas apenas a pé

Um coração como se

Sentisse à emoção e

Outros traços humanos

Da grandeza

 

This defense can be translated as the recognition that poets inhabit a province where logic does not bow down to the principles that govern the empirical world (nothing is more real than nothing, pre-Socratic Democritus preached). Poets know that. That’s why your particular logic. Particular, but not arbitrary. Particular because only they have the “kingdom key”.

Croce and Vossler, the memory comes to me now, they polemicized around the phrase: “The round table is square”. For the Italian thinker, the phrase would sum up to a total absence of meaning, illogical, while the German critic saw it as true, aesthetically and grammatically valid, caring little that logically impossible. Vossler, like so many others, before and after him, realized that the poet is the one who creates realities. Poets are creators of worlds. Therefore, in the poems translated by Eric Ponty, a musician, as well as a poet, he follows the Wagnerian advice that the poet does nothing but stimulate the understanding, leading the reader to make new combinations on the subject already known by means of sensory perception.

If, as Ponty tells us in one of the translated poems, “In My Mother’s Arms /newborn festivity / error permitted / two legs just to walk” it is equally true that we should listen to what poets have to say (few decipher the world better than poets, neighbors to philosophers). Eric Ponty, at the height of his creative force, has much to tell us through these translations as he did with Manolis-a Canadian Greek poet who’s credit is The Second Advent of Zeus a masterful piece.

 

“…for his sustained reflection, for a lyrical voice, and an invitation to see life not as a barren subject, but as a complex dynamic that has its own extraordinary design and imago of truth” as Ilya Tourtidis tells us, it is urgent that we listen to Manolis’ voice through the translation of the poet-translator Ponty, one of the most talented of his time.

 

 

 

João da Penha, a journalist and retired professor, collaborated in cultural publications such as Encounters with Brazilian Civilization, Cult and Tempo Brasileiro. Author, among other books, of What Is Existentialism (Brasiliense, 2011, 17. ed.) And Philosophical Periods (Ática 2000, 4. ed.), Translated for magazines and newspapers poems by Russians Sierguêi Iessiênin and Alieksandr Blok, and short stories By José María Argüedas, Júlio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez, published in The first short stories of ten masters of Latin American narrative (Paz e Terra, 1978). How to read Wittgenstein. São Paulo: Paulus, 2013.

 

 

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SENSUALITY IN MANOLIS’ POETRY COMPARED TO CAVAFY AND YANNIS RITSOS

 

As history teaches us, the contrast between life and art has made it easy to think of Cavafy in the abstract, as an artist whose work exists free from tradition and attachment to a specific moment in time. This trend has been prompted by the two elements of his poetry for which he is most famous: his surprisingly contemporary theme (one of his themes, at least), and his attractive and direct style.

Certainly there have always been many readers who appreciate the so-called historical poems, situated in magical places of the Mediterranean during times that have been long dead and acrimonious with sociable irony and a certain tired stoicism. (“Ithaca gave you the beautiful journey, / without her you would not have put in the passage. / But now she has nothing to give you,” he writes in what may be the most famous evocation of ancient Greek culture: the journey is always more important than the fatefully disappointing destination.) This can be seen in the poem:

Thermopylae

Honor to all of those who in their lives

have settled on, and guard, a Thermopylae.

Never stirring from their obligations;

just and equitable in all of their affairs,

but full of pity, nonetheless, and of compassion;

generous whenever they’re rich, and again

when they’re poor, generous in small things,

and helping out, again, as much as they are able;

always speaking nothing but the truth,

yet without any hatred for those who lie.

And more honor still is due to them

when they foresee (and many do foresee)

that Ephialtes will make his appearance in the end,

and that the Medes will eventually break through

 

But it is probably fair to say that the popular reputation of Cavafy rests almost entirely on the remarkably preexisting way in which his other “sensual” poems, often not considered as this poet’s gift, deal with the ever-fascinating and pertinent themes of erotic desire, realization and loss.

The way, too, when memory preserves what desire so often cannot sustain. That desire and longing only makes it appear more contemporary, closer to our own times. Perhaps this is the case with Manolis’ poem:

Lamppost

 

After leaving our marks

on the sole lamppost

we parted

she to the west

I to the east

with a promise

to meet again

by this lamppost

and trace our marks

though we never thought of the Sirens

the Cyclops and the angry Poseidon

though we never thought of the pricey

ferryman

 

No one but Cavafy, who studied history not only eagerly but with a studious respect and meticulous attention to detail, would have recognized the dangers of abstracting people from their historical contexts; and nowhere is this abstraction more dangerous than in the case of Cavafy himself.

 

THE CITY

 

You said: “I’ll go to another land, to another sea;
I’ll find another city better than this one.
Every effort I make is ill-fated, doomed;
and my heart —like a dead thing—lies buried.
How long will my mind continue to wither like this?
Everywhere I turn my eyes, wherever they happen to fall
I see the black ruins of my life, here
where I’ve squandered, wasted and ruined so many years.”
New lands you will not find, you will not find other seas.
The city will follow you. You will return to the same streets.
You will age in the same neighborhoods; and in these
same houses you will turn gray. You will always
arrive in the same city. Don’t even hope to escape it,
there is no ship for you, no road out of town.
As you have wasted your life here, in this small corner
you’ve wasted it in the whole world.

 

Surely his work is as good as great poetry can be and at the same time timeless in the way we like to think that great literature can be alchemizing details of the poet’s life, times and obsessions into something relevant to a large audience over the years and even centuries.

But the tendency to see Cavafy as one of us, as one in our own time, speaking to us with a voice that is transparent and admittedly ours about things whose meaning is self-evident, threatens to take away a specific detail one that, if we give it back to him, makes him look larger than life and more a poet of the future, as it was once described, rather than the time he lived in. This detail also pertains to the biography of Manolis who refers to mythical passages of his home-country and unfolds scenes of sensuality, abandonment and loss.

Cavafy’s style, to begin with, is far less prosaic, much richer although not musical, and rooted deeply in the nineteenth century in which he lived for more than half of its life. Some readers will be surprised to learn that many of Cavafy’s poems, even when he was almost forty, were cast as sonnets or other prepared forms of verse.

Manolis was born in Kolibari a small village west of Chania on the Greek island of Crete in 1947. At an early age his family took him first to Thessaloniki and then to Athens where he was educated, earning a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the Panteion University of Athens.

The subject in some of Cavafy which tend to be overlooked by readers as difficult are the poems deliberately placed in the dark, geographical and temporal margins of the Greek past: poems which seem not to have much to do with today’s concerns and are often passed in favor of works with more contemporary appeal.

Perhaps this is the case with Manolis who draws from the same Greek sources as Cavafy does making historical references to Greece, the cradle where his soul was born, when he creates the Greek myths interacted in his contemporary poetry. Even far from his motherland Greece where he resides now he still retains in his poetic memory, images and themes he channels through verve in this book and others.

 

Can Manolis channel the beauty as easily as he describes in his verse? “An ancient time leader / as an anointed and pious / a musical instrument of candor flowing free / ready to speak with words that relieve pain and free the soul?” Yes its main tool is its firsthand experience of the power of Eros. His psychological makeup attracts and conveys authenticity and happiness based on his worship and being adored by sensual and provocative female figures exposing him in an ecstatic transcendence through his bodies of lust and his deep love and dedicated understanding. It is obvious that he finds his purpose in falling in love passionately for his beloved.

He does not hide that before he emerged he wanted to become “a festival / movement song of a bird / a vesper / a simple sigh / that will heal the lips of his beloved.” If he feels impotent in the face of inconceivable and unlimited Destiny, he declares that a woman’s embrace beckons him and he likes to give in to his passion: “dark and vague circle / forever indeterminable / and this, the command / and this, the Obedience / This, the orgasm / and this, the Eros / and this is you.” He feels being favored by Eros he diffuses his burning passion with light that fills his erotic verses. As a gallant defender of lust and sensuality and the true emotions of love, he delivers the joy and joy to the soul.

 

Both idealism and pragmatism, messianism, but also the tradition in the languor of the senses, the subjects of love dedicated to ephemeral satisfaction and erotic drunkenness make up the changes of its vast poetic content. Having the maturity of an accomplished poet and the ability to create evocative images in a personal way, the poet introduces us to what constitutes the most brilliant expression of his most intimate thoughts and beliefs in front of the world of his time and age.

The way, too, where memory preserves what desire so often can’t sustain. That desire and longing were for other men only makes it appear more contemporary, closer in our own times as we see in this opening poem of Golden Kiss, which poem may seem obscene and prosaic created by a minor poet, but when creating by a poet as Manolis locks up the erotic aura of a Moravia.

 

like a bird stilled by camera lens

her scandalous vulva visits his mind

from days of that August

on the scorched island

in low tone siesta

in muffled moaning

lest the mirror would crack from tension

 

 

In the 1880s and 1890s, Constantine Cavafy was a young man with modest literary ambitions, writing verses and contributing articles, critiques and essays, mostly in Greek but in English (A language in which he was perfectly at home as a result of spending a few of his adolescence years in England), on a number of idiosyncratic subjects, Alexandria and Athenian newspapers. This similarity in biographies binds Cavafy with Manolis who lives in Vancouver and writes poems in Greek and English referring to both countries.

 

Yannis Ritsos was born in Monemvasia, Greece, on May 1, 1909, in a family of landowners. He did his early schooling and finished high school in Gythion, Monemvasia and after graduating in 1925, he moved to Athens where he began working on typing and copying legal documents. A year later, he returned to his home town where he spent his time writing and painting, another form of art that he devoted himself which along with his writing he kept for the rest of his life, perhaps the painting has given him elements of his sensual poems:

 

WOMEN

Our women are distant, their sheets smell of goodnight.

They put bread on the table as a token of themselves.

It’s then that we finally see we were at fault; we jump up saying,

‘Look, you’ve done too much, take it easy, I’ll light the lamp.

’She turns away with the striking of the match,

walking towards the kitchen, her face in shadow,

her back bent under the weight of so many dead –

those you both loved, those she loved, those

you alone loved . . . yes . . . and your death also

 

Listen: the bare boards creaking where she goes.

Listen: the dishes weeping in the dishrack.

Listen: the train taking soldiers to the front.

 

 

Sometimes the poems are invested with the fractured logic of the dream with images of dream events or they’re placed in a landscape of dreams that grows, as one reads more, more and more recognizable, less strange, always attractive. At the same time, their locations and quotations are redemptive of a completely recognizable Greece: the balconies, the geraniums, the statuary, women in their black attires and, in a lasting way, the sea. His touch is light, but its effect is profound. Much depends on the image that causes the narrative movement. Some poems are so small, so distilled, that the fragments of history given to us – the kids’ psychodramas – have an irresistible power. “The less I get the bigger it gets,” said Alberto Giacometti and the same powerful reticence is a feature in Ritsos’ shorter poems.

 

The content of Yannis Ritsos also deserves renewed attention – both the specific themes of the individual poems, which in fact keep the historical and the erotic in a single focus.

Eroticism is one of the appearances of man’s inner life. In this one deludes himself because one is seeking his fixed object of desire. But this object of desire responds to the internal desire. The choice of an object always depends on the individual’s personal tastes: even if it falls on the woman most would have selected, what comes into play is often an unspeakable aspect, not an objective characteristic of this woman unless she has touched the inner being of man she creates the force to choose her.

The notion of disorientation (similar, perhaps, to the effect of a mild virus), when heightened emotion puts us at odds with the world, when the aromas become sour, when a view of the garden becomes desolate, when household objects shed their purpose, is perfectly evoked in these ten lines. There is an immediate recognition of a precarious ontological state tied to a story until, a moment later, we realize that we can see that street, see that window, see through that door:

 

 

ALMOST

 

It was just luck: I open the door, the two women

side by side on the sofa

 

in his black handkerchief,

mother and daughter, perhaps,

 

staying immobile, unpronounceable, a mouthful of bread

on the table, a cat sleeping on the couch.

 

Looking away and the sun at the top of the waves, cicadas

the swallows attractions in blue. They look back.

 

I almost had it, I almost had it in one of them.

Then Mother got up and closed the door.

 

This poem by Yannis Ritsos refers us to another poem by Manolis but more sensual and right:

 

Nothing to hold onto

but ourselves in lust

and the cenotaph with

names engraved in marble

yet in this near futile void

a sudden speck of light

gleams on Suzanne’s breast

as a lightning flash like

when her eyes demanded

a deeper meaning to this: are we

to search for it during this dark night

with our two bodies as the only absolution?

 

The sensuality of the Mediterranean world may be in the Greek soul of the poets to a greater or lesser degree, as we have seen over the years and centuries, referring to the idea that the Greek gods though dead are alive in the souls of the Greeks: Eros and Dionysus are alive from the bygone days of yesteryears to today and even more so in the case of Manolis who lives in Vancouver but has not forgotten his Cretan roots, and he writes in both Greek and English and shows with his simple poem Golden Kiss the sensual and erotic connection between his poetry and that of Cavafy and Yannis Ritsos.

 

~Eric Ponty, poet, translator, Sao Paolo, Brazil, 2016

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ΣΑΝΤΟΡΙΝΗ  (απόσπασμα)

 

 

Σκύψε αν μπορείςστη θάλασσα τη σκοτεινή ξεχνώντας

τον ήχο της φλογέρας πάνω σε πόδια γυμνά

που πάτησαν τον ύπνο σου στην άλλη ζωή τη βυθισμένη

 

Γράψε αν μπορείς στο τελευταίο όστρακο

τη μέρα τ’ όνομα τον τόπο

και ρίξε το στη θάλασσα για να βουλιάξει

 

Βρεθήκαμε γυμνοί πάνω στην αλαφρόπετρα

κοιτάζοντας τ’αναδυόμενα νησιά

κοιτάζοντας τα κόκκινα νησιά να βυθίζουν

στον ύπνο τους, στον ύπνο μας.

Εδώ βρεθήκαμε γυμνοί κρατώντας

τη ζυγαριά που βάρενε κατά το μέρος

της αδικίας

 

 

SANTORINI (excerpt)

 

 

Bend if you can to the dark sea forgetting

the flute’s sound on naked feet

that stepped on your sleep in the other, the sunken life.

 

Write if you can on your last ostracon

the day the name the place

and throw it in the sea so that is sinks.

 

We were naked on the pumice stone

watching the rising islands

watching the red islands sink

into their sleep into our sleep.

Here we were naked holding

the scale that tilted to the side

of injustice.

 

 

 

GEORGE SEFERIS-COLLECTED POEMS, translated by Manolis Aligizakis, Libros Libertad, Vancouver, 2012

 

 

Medusa

 

ΧΙΟΝΙΑΣ

 

Το χιόνι σκέπασε το πεζοδρόμιο, ασημένιες ευχές για την πρώιμη άνοιξη κι άνοιξα τα μάτια μέσα στην απουσία σου, θετικό έλαβα το μήνυμα για το αναμενόμενο εγγονάκι

 

—Βγάλε το σκουπιδοντενεκέ στο δρόμο. Άφησε της ανακύκλωσης για την επόμενη εβδομάδα

 

Τ’ αποτελέσματα της αιματολογικής βγήκαν θετικά η ασθένεια κοντρολάρεται με τα χάπια και τη γυμναστική. Θα μπορούσαμε να πάμε στο ταξίδι που σχεδιάζαμε τις σκοτεινές μέρες του χειμώνα, προτού σε πάρει ο άκαρδος Χάρος, αγαπημένη μου

 

—Φέρε μου τον καφέ, δυο κουταλιές ζάχαρη σε παρακαλώ, μα τί σου λέω τώρα; Καλά με γνωρίζεις πια

 

Τα μάτια της κουκουβάγιας διαπερνούν το σκοτάδι σα να τραγουδούν

“Δώσε μου όραση και δως μου φως: σκοτάδι νικημένο απ’ την αχτίδα”Κι εγώ με το Χάρο διαπληκτίζομαι για το δικαίωμά του να σε πάρει, αγαπημένη μου. Περιπαίζει την αφέλεια μου και λέει σχεδόν τραγουδιστά

 

—Αν μέχρι τώρα δεν μ’ έχεις καταλάβει, είμαστε κι οι δυο χαμένοι 

 

 

SNOWSTORM

 

Snow has whitened the sidewalk-silver wishes for an early spring and I open my eyes in your absence to the messenger who brings happy news of another grandchild

 

Take the trash can to the curb leave the recycling bin for next week

 

Test results came back clean the disease is managed by medication and exercise we could go to the trip we’ve planned during the dark days of winter, my beloved, before the heartless Hades took you away

 

Bring the coffee, two spoons of sugar please, but why do I say this? You know me so well by now

 

Eyes of the owl pierce the night as if crying out loud: give me light and give me sight: darkness defeated by a flash

 

And I debate with Hades his right to take you, my beloved, but He scorns my idiocy and sings

 

—If you don’t know me by now, we’re both lost