Poetry Greece focuses on Angelos Sikelianos

High in quality, low in funding; it is a sad yet common duality in the world of literary publishing, and especially of poetry, which is never anyone’s idea of commercially viable material, even for the best-known or most prolific of poets. This reality – which hits one immediately upon eying the fifth edition (autumn 2001) of Poetry Greece, a biannual publication devoted to the poetry of modern Greece, published in Corfu – can also have a physical manifestation, as the current edition comes in spiral-bound form. It is, of course, the content that counts; the brief but wide-ranging editorial makes it clear that the form reflects economic realities. Happily, though, within the covers both form and content are being maintained at high standards, as the submissions retain their clarity and thought-provoking essence. As with the previous editions (the fourth was reviewed in Kathimerini English Edition on May 31, 2001), this issue packs into its 40-plus pages a wealth of variety – not just poetry itself from an array of authors (some original writing, some in translation from the Greek) but also essays (including one on Angelos Sikelianos, who is this issue’s featured poet, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death) by Sarah Ekdawi of Oxford University, discussing his oeuvre and the influences of the natural and ancient worlds on it. There is also a refreshingly frank interview with the poet’s great-granddaughter, Eleni, also a prominent poet, who lives in the USA and who discusses the complexities of being a writer from an eminent literary family who has developed her own distinctive voice. Other features of the magazine include a review section and a short but fascinating Translation Feature, which offers an ongoing dialogue about the unique problems faced by poetry translators. In this edition, Sikelianos’s Letter IV is given first in Greek, then twice in translation, the first by the longtime duo of Keeley and Sherrard, and the second by Ekdawi, to wit: Hold my hand firmly if You really long to mount with me beyond man’s bitter limits and reach Rhythm’s highest peak, the peak of danger too, the pass of Death itself… Hold my hand tightly, if you share my urge to step outside the measures of the world; to scale the heights of rhythm, and to brave even the chilly hand of Death itself… The former reference to Death as a geographically insurmountable barrier and the latter’s chilly hand is illustrative of how differently even experts can render a central concept of a challengingly abstract passage. The edition also includes two different award-winning poems. One prize was for the Poetry Greece Open Poetry Competition (won by Gail Holst-Warhaft for Three Landscapes), which with expressive economy says: And here’s a field of poppies and marguerites,/ spots of blood, sun on bare bones/ of a landscape so scythed, so densely worked/ it has exhausted itself. But what a riot/ Spring makes on its salt-licked skeleton! A longer and very different offering is from Mary Thanassa, whose translation of the surrealist poet Nikos Engonopoulos’s A Hymn to Glory to the Women We Love won the recent Keeley-Sherrard Translation Award, partly thanks to such lines: The women we love are of divine essence/ and when in our arms/ we hold them tight/ we too are akin to gods/ we stand erect like frightful castles/ then nothing can shake us… Then there are the spirit-of-place kinds of depictions, like Zoe d’Ay’s Delphic 13th July 2000: The Oracle whispers in the hush of the half light,/ from the Tholos. As the sun touches the peaks of Parnassus I hear again/ Her truth/ the truth that can be found in dreams/ the truth of things past present and to come. And as Greece seems, as ever, to attract the anomalous, the far-flung and the adventurous of spirit, it seems somehow natural to see a selection from a Canadian, clearly of Italian origin (Giovanni Malito) living in Ireland and teaching chemistry of all subjects, here placing a nicely done, myth-based piece on the night sky (The Hunter). And Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, as ever, produces the kind of memorable lines that one expects, in this case in All Souls’ Night, which evokes the memories of three male influences on her youth, including that of Nikos Kazantzakis, her godfather and who, we learn, baptized me the day/ the Italians sank the Elli… And another Nikos, Karouzos, grieving/ in constant orgy with his black destiny/ with the coffees of abandonment/ the cigarettes of post-hope… Perhaps, as Anghelaki-Rooke says, poetry really is a wound that will fester until it is given a chance to heal. Carole Satyamurti might well agree with this view, with her poignant portrait of a troubled mother-daughter relationship in The Dressing Room, or Mary Ann Larkin in Death of a Friend. This edition, as with the prior ones, combines thoughtful editorial choices, a nice variety of selections, and often exceptionally good translations, though the odd typesetting error slips through the net. Far from least in evidence is the obvious care that Wendy Holborow and the other editors have put into producing a quality publication that should have a wider international and Greek readership than it does. For any admirer of quality penmanship and the cadences and sheer diversity of modern poetry of and about Greece, one can only wish this budding publication all the best. Keeley-Sherrard poetry translation award The Keeley-Sherrard translation award for poetry 2001-02 is for translations of the poetry of Angelos Sikelianos, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death. A prize of $500 will be awarded for the best entry. The judges are noted translator Stavros Deligiorgis and the editors of Poetry Greece. The closing date is April 30, 2002.

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