Arc Poetry Magazine Review

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: Matzourani’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.

 

 

Yannis Ritsos/translated by Manolis Aligizakis

 

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ΜΙΑ ΑΛΛΗ ΝΥΧΤΑ

 

Αυτός με την κιθάρα, εκείνος με το ακορντεόν. Ώρα προχωρημένη.

Η μουσική τα δικά της. Και πώς να γδυθείς; Έκανε κρύο.

Ξύλινη σκάλα, λίγα λαμπιόνια, η άσπρη λεκάνη.

Μες στο κλεισμένο εστιατόριο, το βιολί πάνω στην καρέκλα.

Στο δεύτερο όροφο πατήματα των χορευτών με γυμνά πόδια,

μπερδεύοντας μπουκάλια, κόκκινες κορδέλες, μαύρα καπέλα.

Είδαμε τότε πως καλύπτει τα μάτια της η δόξα με το `να φτερό της.

 

 

 

A DIFFERENT NIGHT

 

This one with the guitar; that one with the accordion. Late hour.

Music by itself. And how to undress? It was cold.

Wooden staircase, some small lamps, the white basin.

Inside the closed restaurant the violin on the chair.

On the second floor footsteps of barefoot dancers,

mixing up bottles, red ribbons, black hats.

Then we saw how glory covers its eyes with one of its feathers.

 

 

 

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

 

www.libroslibertad.com

www.manolisaligizakis.com

 

Tasos Livaditis/Translated by Manolis Aligizakis

cover

 

ΠΑΡΑΛΕΙΠΟΜΕΝΑ ΜΙΑΣ ΕΠΟΧΗΣ

 

Έτσι από όνειρο σε όνειρο έφτασα κάποτε στη ζωή μου.

Κουβαλούσα τα χειρόγραφα μιας μεγάλης εποχής, πήγαινα να

τα θάψω στον Ειρηνικό.

Τώρα με μια παλιά ρομβία πρσπαθώ να ξαναφέρω πίσω τα χρόνια

αλλά δυσκολεύομαι και προσθέτω και λίγο αλκοόλ,

μια γυναίκα θηλάζει το μωρό της μες στο γαλάζιο απόβραδο —

κάποτε θα σκοτωθώ και θ’ ακουστεί ο θείος λόγος.

 

 

 

SEASON’S LEFTOVERS

 

Thus from dream to dream at some time I got caught up

with my life. I carried hand written documents of a great

season I was to throw them into the Pacific Ocean.

Now with an old street organ I try to bring back the years but

it’s hard to do so and I add some alcohol

a woman nurses her baby in the light-blue evening —

someday I’ll be killed and the divine word will be heard.

 

 

TASOS LIVADITIS, translated by Manolis Aligizakis, Libros Libertad, Vancouver, 2014

www.libroslibertad.com

www.manolisaligizakis.com

George Seferis-Collected Poems, translated by Manolis Aligizakis

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ΜΥΚΗΝΕΣ  (απόσπασμα)

 

Δώσ’ μου τα χέρια σου, δώσ’ μου τα χέρια σου

δώσ’ μου τα χέρια σου

 

Είδα μέσα στη νύχτα

τη μυτερή κορυφή του βουνού

είδα τον κάμπο πέρα πλημμυρισμένο

με το φως ενός αφανέρωτου φεγγαριού

είδα, γυρίζοντας το κεφάλι

τις μαύρες πέτρες συσπειρωμένες

και τη ζωή μου τεντωμένη σα χορδή

αρχή και τέλος

η τελευταία στιγμή

τα χέρια μου.

 

Βουλιάζει όποιος σηκώνει τις μεγάλες πέτρες

τούτες τις πέτρες τις εσήκωσα όσο βάσταξα

τούτες τις πέτρες τις εσήκωσα όσο βάσταξα

τούτες τις πέτρες τις αγάπησα όσο βάσταξα

τούτες τις πέτρες, τη μοίρα μου.

Πληγωμένος από το δικό μου χώμα

τυραννισμένος από το δικό μου πουκάμισο

καταδικασμένος από τους δικούς μου θεούς

τούτες τις πέτρες

 

 

MYCENAE  (excerpt)

 

 

Give me your hands, give me your hands

give me your hands.

I have seen in the night

the pointing peak of the mountain

I have seen the far side of the plain flooded

with the light of the hiding moon

I have seen, turning my head

the black stones rounded up

and my life like a taut chord

beginning and end

the ultimate moment:

my hands.

 

Whoever carries the heavy rocks sinks

I have carried these rocks as long as I endured

I have loved these rocks as long as I endured

these rocks, my fate.

Wounded by my own soil

tortured by my own shirt

condemned by my own gods

these rocks.

 

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

 

Karyotakis – Polydouri/the Tragic Love Story

 

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ΚΥΡΙΑΚΗ

Ο ήλιος ψηλότερα θ’ ανέβει
σήμερα πού `ναι Κυριακή.
Φυσάει το αγέρι και σαλεύει
μια θημωνιὰ στο λόφο εκεῖ.

Τα γιορτινὰ θα βάλουν, κι όλοι
θα ῾χουν ανάλαφρη καρδιά:
κοίτα στο δρόμο τα παιδιά,
κοίταξε τ᾿ άνθη στο περβόλι.

Τώρα καμπάνες που χτυπάνε
είναι ο θεὸς αληθινός.
Πέρα τα σύννεφα σκορπάνε
και μεγαλώνει ο ουρανός.

Άσε τον κόσμο στη χαρά του
κι έλα, ψυχή μου, να σου πω,
σαν τραγουδάκι χαρωπό,
ένα τραγούδι του θανάτου

 

 

SUNDAY

 

The sun will climb higher

today, since it’s Sunday.

The breeze flows and the stack

of the shrub stirs over that hill.

 

They’ll all dress festive cloths

and shall keep a light heart

look at the children in the street

look at the flowers in the orchard.

 

Now that the bells are chiming

god must be true

the clouds are blown far away

the sky becomes immense.

 

Oh leave the world in its joy

and come close to me, my soul,

a joyous song I shall sing

for you: the song of death.

 

 

 

KARYOTAKIS-POLYDOURI//THE TRAGIC LOVE STORY, translated by Manolis Aligizakis, Libros Libertad, 2016

 

Yannis Ritsos//translated by Manolis Aligizakis

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ΕΓΚΑΤΑΛΕΙΨΗ

 

Νυκτόβια έντομα νεκρά στο πάτωμα. Περνάς

στις δυο κρεβατοκάμαρες: το ίδιο. Οι άλλοι

ανηφορίσανε στ’ ασβεστοκάμινα, ανάψαν φωτιές,

εμείς τους περιμέναμε τρεις νύχτες. Έγειρε το φεγγάρι,

ύστερα η πολιτεία ερήμωσε, σβήσαν τα φώτα,

έμειναν τ’ άδεια καταστήματα κι οι ξαβαμμένοι κλόουν.

 

~Αθήνα, 7-1-79

 

 

ABANDONMENT

 

Dead night-flies on the floor. You go

to the two bedrooms: same thing. The others

went up the hill to the lime kilns, they started fires;

for three nights we waited for them. The moon leaned;

then the city was deserted, the lights went out,

the empty stores remained and the discolored clowns.

 

~Athens, 7-1-79

 

 

 

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

 

www.libroslibertad.com

www.manolisaligizakis.com

 

Yannis Ritsos/translated by Manolis Aligizakis

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ΥΠΟΝΟΟΥΜΕΝΑ

 

Σκόρπιες βαλίτσες στο πάτωμα. Άδειες.

Θυμάμαι τους ανθρακωρύχους. Σάββατο βράδυ

ψηλά ποτήρια μπίρας, καπνοί, βλαστήμιες.

Οι δυο ξεχτένιστες γυναίκες φώναζαν στην πόρτα.

Το παιδί πέθανε. Κάηκε ο γλόμπος της εισόδου.

Τραίνα περνάνε φορτωμένα ποταμίσια ψάρια.

Τα μαλλιά σου γεμάτα καρβουνίδι. Ο Γιώργης

μπήκε στ’ άλλο δωμάτιο. Φορούσε ένα πουκάμισο

ολότελα κίτρινο σα βουτηγμένο στο φεγγάρι,

Κι όλα ήταν λυπημένα, πιο πολύ το κρεββάτι.

 

~Αθήνα, 2-1-79

 

 

 

INSINUATIONS

 

Suitcases thrown on the floor. Empty.

I remember the coal miners. Saturday night

tall beer glasses, smoke, cursing.

By the door, with uncombed hair, two women yelled.

The child died. The light bulb of the entrance burned out.

Trains go by, loaded with river fishes.

Your hair is full of charcoal-dust. George

entered the other room. He wore a shirt

completely yellow as though dipped in the moon;

and everything was sad; even more so the bed.

 

~Athens, 2-1-79

 

 

Γιάννη Ρίτσου-Ποιήματα/Μετάφραση Μανώλη Αλυγιζάκη

Yannis Ritsos-Poems/Translated by Manolis Aligizakis

www.libroslibertad.com

www.manolisaligizakis.com

Tasos Livaditis/translated by Manolis Aligizakis

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ΒΡΑΔΙΝΕΣ ΣΚΕΨΕΙΣ

 

Έπρεπε ν’ ανακαλύψω γρήγορα το μυστικό — ήταν μια υπόθεση

σκοτεινή, μια συνωμοσία θα `λεγα, για την οποία όλοι απέφευγαν

να μιλήσουν, ακόμα κι ο ίδιος ο πατέρας μου μετά το δείπνο άναβε

τσιγάρο κι έμενε σιωπηλός, εγώ ονειρευόμουν ένα λεοφωρείο μια

νύχτα φθινοπωρινή, μια εκδρομή με παλιούς φίλους στο χαμένο μας

όνειρο ή άφηνα τις μύγες πάνω στο πρόσωπό μου διότι λησμόνησα

να σας πω ότι είχα πεθάνει από καιρό, μόνο που έπρεπε να το

κρύβω, γιατί τί άλλο πιο επαίσχυντο από συντρόφους που λιποτα-

κτούν ή ακόμα χειρότερο που επιμένουν να ονειροπολούνε.

Κι ίσως, σκέφτομαι, η Κόλαση είναι ένα παιγνίδι

που κερδίζεις.

 

 

 

 

EVENING THOUGHTS

 

I had to discover that secret fast — it was a dark case, a conspiracy

I would say, of which everyone avoided talking even my own father

after dinner he would light a cigarette and he would remain silent while

I dreamed of a bus on an autumn night, an outing with old friends into

our lost dream or I would leave flies on my face because I forgot

to tell you I had been dead for a long time though I had to keep it secret

because what else is more shameful but friends who desert or even

worst who insist to daydream.

And perhaps, I think, Hell is just a game

you win.

 

 

 

TASOS LIVADITIS, translated by Manolis Aligizakis, Libros Libertad, Vancouver, 2014

www.libroslibertad.com

www.manolisaligizakis.com

Tasos Livaditis-translated by Manolis Aligizakis

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ΚΑΘΩΣ ΠΕΦΤΕΙ ΤΟ ΒΡΑΔΥ

 

 

Στο βάθος υπάρχει πάντα μια μικρή παρόρμηση, ανεξιχνίαστη,

από παλιούς αποχαιρετισμούς, από μακριές σιωπές σε κρύα

δωμάτια, ενώ με το πέσιμο της νύχτας ξεσπάει πάλι ο πα-

νικός —

το κακό είναι αθεράπευτο, κι η στέγη του σπιτιού μια τρομερή

απειλή

για κείνους που ξεχνάνε.

 

 

 

AS NIGHT FALLS

 

 

In depth there is always a secret impulse, indescribable,

from ancient farewells, from far away silences in

cold rooms but as the night falls again the panic

returns —

evil is incurable and the roof of the house a horrible

threat

for the ones who forget.

 

 

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

 

www.libroslibertad.com

www.manolisaligizakis.com

 

Cloe and Alexandra, translated by Manolis Aligizakis

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Cloe Koutsoubelis’

ΙΕΡΗ ΠΕΤΡΑ

«Κι αν τώρα πέθαινα», είπε αυτός

δεν θάνιωθα ποτέ πιο ζωντανός».

Τα πόδια τους βαθιά στο Λιβυκό

αρχές χειμώνα καλοκαίρι

ήλιος με ξανθές βεντάλιες βλεφαρίδες

τους δρόσιζε στον ουρανό,

μια γριούλα τους φίλεψε ρακή,

η δική της είχε μέσα ροδόνερο και μέλι

«για να γλυκαθείς» της είπε

και γέλασε ένα γέλιο χωρίς δόντια.

 

Γιατί το τέλος

είναι πάντοτε κρυμμένο

στην ίδια του την τελειότητα.

 

 

HOLY ROCK

He said, ‘if I die right now

I would have never felt more alive’

Their feet deep in the Lybian Sea

beginning winter-summer

sun with blond fans of eyelids

freshened them up in the sky,

an old woman offered them raki

hers had some honey and rosewater

‘to sweeten you up’ he said

and laughed a toothless laugh.

 

Because the end

is always hidden

in its own perfection.

 

 

CLOE and ALEXANDRA, poetry translated by Manolis Aligizakis, Libros Libertad, 2013