Yannis Ritsos-Poems, Selected Books, Volume II-Review

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YANNIS RITSOS-POEMS, SELECTED BOOKS, VOLUME II Review by John Wall Barger

Reviewed in the United States on August 18, 2020

This new translation of Yannis Ritsos (volume II) is another triumph for Manolis Aligizakis, the foremost Canadian translator of Greek poetry. He has undertaken an important project: unearthing the many poems of the wonderful Yannis Ritsos for a new audience. As Chryssa Nikolakis says in the introduction to this volume, “Ritsos’ poetry is purely humane and existential, but also deeply lyrical. It speaks boldly about the revolution, about the adventures of the social vision, about love and the beauty of life—about everything human—in an unparalleled, universal tongue.” Aligizakis is particularly deft in capturing the dense mythic language of Ritsos’ long poems, “Shape of Absence,” “Ismene,” “Phaedra,” and others. But my favorite part of this book might be the elegantly translated short poems from “Exercises.” Listen to this: “The wet hat of the sailor was tossed / in the waves / like rye bread thrown away / while men were hungry. // It was the war.” (“Brief Story”). And it’s a gorgeous book physically, with illustrations from classic painters, and introductions to help the reader unpack some of the more difficult contexts.

— John Wall Barger, lecturer, poet

 

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