CULTURE

A transatlantic and poetic take on modernity

Greece as a poetic theme is almost inexhaustible and essentially borderless, while the challenges of transatlantic living for Greek nationals have given rise to plenty of angst and feelings of dislocation even as new horizons open up. Both broad themes and the consequences arising from them are imaginatively explored in a new volume of original poems and prose by Dino Siotis (editor of the publication Mondo Greco), called Foreign Territory (Philos Press, 2001). This tightly crafted little book, Siotis’s 14th work of poetry or fiction, according to the author’s blurb, brings together about 20 short (one to two-page) poems and 15 or so prose fragments, a few presented with dates. Good poetry tends to emphasize quality over quantity, and that is certainly the operative principle in this selection, which is characterized by terseness and stylistic minimalism. The individual pieces relate life situations, anxieties, and dilemmas that can be easily, even compellingly, related to, expressing ideas at once worldly and world-weary. He pulls imagery out of daily circumstances, finds magic in the mundane, and uncovers paradoxes in the seemingly straightforward. In The Bachelor’s Fridge, for example, I am a bachelor / and I always eat out / but my fridge is full all the time. References to diverse places – San Diego, the American South, Galicia, his native Tinos – dropped casually but not ostentatiously, suggest a well-traveled soul who has distilled those experiences and places into a unique and mature take on life. Interesting twists appear; in Dreams of a Sleepless Night, for example, He passed the time / cutting his life into slices / which, transfixed, he later reassembled / of an afternoon, awake while all around him / slept the sleep of bygone days. And inspiration can have a dual source; About the Snow relates how his recent reading of a 12th-century Chinese poem about snow, combined with seeing the flakes descend on his adopted New England, inspired him to write a snow poem of his own. He is put off by social pretense. In The Party, he writes, We felt we were stranded in a Bunuel movie / But no, it was only ice-covered greed / And the vanity of people / With not much to say. Painful longing for the lost is evident in Duet for One, when The ship to take us never came / and now we face the remainder of our / existence. We had every reason / to sail with that ship. Every reason. Angst appears even more directly in Phobias, while the poignancy of an exile’s return to an old known place comes through in Stars to Share, where, once, time was slow and endless and everything had a sweet / taste, while in Epistrophy, Upon your return expect nothing… wrap your past in your arms. The prose pieces occasionally touch on the everyday, sometimes on the fanciful, and frequently intertwine the two. In the nicely titled How to Treat an Uneventful Afternoon, everyday folk, the paratroopers of oblivion, are fulfilling their dreams for a boring life, a life avoiding Ariadne… Keep wishing that some angelic cloud will land on your front porch… In this section, two Latin American writers, Juan and Jorge, meet – or perhaps they don’t? Debriefing the Desert is full of unsubtle political imagery, while Reading in the Dark pokes fun at members of his profession, as The author, whose name I don’t recall, said something I could not understand and I said to myself this must be writer’s talk. And in The Mango Tree, Siotis mythologizes a fruit-bearing tree he sees in a living room, which remains a point of reference that whispers seamless narratives of its lost past and I am afraid one morning I will wake up and the mango tree won’t be there. Prose fragments may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and dazzling but dense prose can make for a frustrating read), but his are intensely suggestive and often evocative. Minimalism is an apposite appellation in more than one sense, given the volume’s brevity. With approximately 50 pages of actual text, and many of those only partly filled, it is not certain that Foreign Territory reaches book-threshold at all, however engaging many of the pieces undoubtedly are. And given the many, glowing reviews on the back cover, one wonders if too much fulsome praise can almost work to a collection’s detriment, particularly one that otherwise, rightly and quite openly, is making a statement about less being more. It’s great that it’s so good; but the publishers might let us discover some of it for ourselves, and next time, please give us a little more for our $9.95. Until that time arrives, tomorrow is the deadline for the public to meet Lefkos, who will then return to base, its Cretan laboratory.