Wheat Ears — Selected Poems


Contemporary Canadian poetry written by poets of diverse cultural backgrounds is becoming increasingly prismatic. Poems of Wheat Ears add a unique Mediterranean color to it. The book is a selection of poems from 15 works of Manolis Algizakis, a leading voice among the influential poets of Greek-Canadian diaspora.

Born in Kolymbari, a small village on Crete island of Greece, Manolis earned a degree in political science and served in the military for a few years before immigrating to Vancouver, Canada. Though he didn’t stay long in his village, the sights and smells of its crops never left his mind. Especially of wheat.

Wheat is more than a crop; it’s a language of earth. Widely spoken (grown), widely understood. When a Punjabi immigrant (Punjab is a wheat growing state of India) sees vast wheat farms in Canada he forgets he is in a foreign country or an immigrant. Wheat Ears evokes a similar poetic feeling even before the book is opened. I translated some of the Wheat Ears poems into Punjabi and published them on the Facebook. The response from the Punjabi readers was surprisingly appreciative, testifying that Manolis’ poems have a universal appeal.

Wheat fields, plants, grains have inspired numerous poets and songwriters around the globe. (“We are captives, even if our wheat grows over the fences/ and swallows rise from our broken chains” – Mahmoud Darwish). Manolis is one among them. His poems in Wheat Ears speak of his experiences in Crete, Greece and Canada. He has published more than 20 books of poetry, three novels, eleven major translation works, and several more books. His poems have been translated into several languages and he has been honored with many awards.

Poetry comes naturally to Manolis. He doesn’t have to wait for some kind of inspiration to write a poem. Any ordinary thing, normal happening, simple thought for him can become extraordinary, can expand to the limits of the universe or shrink to its atomic nucleus: a wheat ear tops the stem of its plant, the plant grows out of the earth, the earth is a planet of the solar system, and is also mother to all creatures – everything in the universe is connected. This experience of extraordinariness is obviously transitory but can become permanent when a poet like Manolis gives it a form. In the poem, Awareness, Manolis says,

“Nothing stays forever/Stains/absence/ last breath” (Nostos and Algos)

Greek mythology is a great treasure Manolis has inherited. Vast and fascinating, like that of India, the mythology has birthed some of the greatest epics and plays of world literature, and continues to influence new art and writing. It is often credited with shaping the Western culture. In poems selected from his book Second Advent of Zeus, Manolis acknowledges his debt to the mythology by attributing poems to great mythical characters like Zeus, Athena, Hera, Psyche, Eros, Apollo, Aphrodite and others. However, he doesn’t recreate the myths in a modern context or uses them directly in the poems. Rather, he looks up to them for inspiration as his poems show:

“And I showed Zeus my first verse”

“Athena smiled at me when I observed
that everything fitted in its position
nothing jutted out of place”

Immigration is an important feature of Canada’s flourishing society. The country often takes pride in showing the world how people from different cultures can complement each other and lead to a more creative coexistence. For Manolis, however, Immigration is not all celebration. Many poems in Nostos and Algos, his first book in the anthology, show the other side – agony of leaving one’s birth place, isolation in the new country, loneliness of the old parents left behind. The name Nostos and Algos eludes to the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey that describes the adventures and pains of the return journey by a Greek hero, Odysseus, at the end of the Trojan War. Today’s immigrant as they returns to their country of birth no longer faces, like Odysseus does, extreme dangers of the journey, or finds his wife warding off a bunch of new suiters. Instead they often find their old parents lonely, waiting for the end of their journey. As time passes, the initial impact of immigration dims but never disappears as Manolis’ poems show. In “Old Couple”, written in memory of his parents left behind in Crete, Manolis says:
“the sigh expertly camouflaged by his smile
as the lone cicada insists to disturb
monologue of their loneliness.”

While impacts of mythology and immigration figure prominently in Manolis’ poetry he doesn’t let his sensitivity dim on social and political injustices around him. Those who grow wheat, feed the world, often go hungry. Even after settling in a country like Canada the poet can’t forget poverty back in his country of birth, and around the globe.
“Because time and again
we asked ourselves why
we were born poor” (Autumn Leaves)
And here in Canada seeing a homeless man, Manolis writes:
“He often stopped
at the edge of the sidewalk
and talked to the leafless tree” (Images of Absence
Consumerism promoted by big business and upper classes is the root cause of many ills in the modern society. Manolis expresses his disgust on consumerism in several of his poems:
“The moto was to teach them
values of fast food
flashy commercials on tv
screens, beer and baseball” (Red and Black)
Those responsible for social and political injustices often end up in Manolis’ angry poems. He compares a US Secretary of State (female) – who unjustly ordered the bombing of a weaker African nation – to the Greek goddess Medusa. Anyone who dares look into Medusa’s eyes turns into a stone, says the myth.
“glance gleamed with satisfaction
reincarnated Medusa
petrified the infidels” (The Medusa Glance)

Manolis’ poems in Ubermench are inspired by German philosopher Nietzsche’s book, Thus Spake Zarathustra in which Nietzsche conceives of a new world with new values. In this philosophical fiction, Nietzsche declares: God is dead, and those preaching life in heaven or hell mislead humanity. Life belongs here, only on earth. Nietzsche then creates the concept of Ubermench or a superman who would emerge to set mankind on the right path without any god or his agents. Nietzsche’s book created a great stir and controversy; its influence still persists. Manolis also thinks the modern organized religions are irrelevant, and sees a need for an Ubermench in a world overwhelmed by wars and political chaos. He recreates Ubermench in his beautiful prose poems.
“And since the new reality was upon us we truly
accepted it: our God was dead. Buried him yesterday
afternoon with no songs, no paeans, nor lamentations
and we felt a lot lighter.”
evoe, oh, free elements, evoe
multiply and conquer the earth someone said and
it was good”

Most poems in Wheat Ears are titled with single words perhaps to enhance the simplicity of the poems. The one-word headings also seem to help connect the reader directly to the essence of the poem. And Manolis doesn’t over punctuate his poems; in fact, many look underpunctuated. A good poem is imbued with subtle music. To appreciate the music the reader must follow the poem’s rhythm over its punctuation. That is what poems in Wheat Ears suggest. A poem can be enjoyed even if it is not fully understood semantically. Its words, syntax, rhythm, pronunciation are enough to make a poem interesting and enjoyable – like a Sanskrit hymn that has a magical effect on its listeners without being understood by most. Music enhances the imagery a poem creates.   
“I dreamed of capturing
the echo of a raindrop
falling through fog
into the plaza fountain” (Images of Absence

“Place a frozen star
on my forehead” (Vortex)

Wheat ears have a unique cent a unique quiver a unique poetry like that captured in the pages of Wheat Ears. The reader is invited to leaf through the pages, feel their touch; or pause at a poem, wonder, meditate, be enchanted. Or turn the page.

–Ajmer Rode, poet, essayist, translator

Η γενναιότητα, οι θεοί, η Νίκη, στους Αγώνες των Ελλήνων


Xάλκινο κράνος, θώρακας, ασπίδα, βέλη. Εκθέματα στο Εθνικό Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο.

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