HQ offers mix of music and poetry

Music forms the centerpiece of Hellenic Quarterly’s latest, double edition (No. 24-25, January-June 2006), which offers up a cocktail of poems, lyrics, reviews and short essays covering musical themes. Cocktails, shaken or stirred, can give a throbbing head in the heat of summer, and while this offering is hardly the stuff of migraines, its focus can occasionally lose discipline, despite a generally game editorial effort to put context and boundaries to what is almost by definition a centrifugal subject. Guest editor Giorgos Kouroupos, a composer and pianist, was in charge of this effort in what he calls, in his cheekily titled «Instead of Editorial,» «the fascinating and eternal adventure of music,» an ancient form of expression «which seeks its ideal partner in poetry to be forever joined with it,» highlighting the song form in particular. Yet these two fields of poetry and music, amorphous as they are independently, do not yield an easy combination, especially in translated form. Manos Hadjidakis’s opening essay clearly indicates the problems of trying to pin it all down: «I want to chatter, but constructively – an arbitrary discourse, if you like, of thoughts and conclusions, whereby the words I’ll use will talk about the words I daren’t utter, and which, at length, will not round off a subject or a text capable of enlightening whoever reads me more than those who won’t read me.» The challenge for an unsuspecting reader is thus laid bare early on. What a translation effort this must have been, especially as many of the essayists here are not writers by profession but musicians. Other articles also tend to stray, yet there is plenty of focused, technical discussion here too, as in Michalis Grigoriou’s long essay, «Music and Poetry.» Mikis Theodorakis’s short essay argues that the song «remains the culmination of the perfect union of sound and word.» T.S. Eliot then adds a distinguished literary touch on how poetry need not always meet the test of musicality. Musical history also makes welcome appearances, along with reflections on meaning in poetry. Efforts to farm out translations have improved matters, along with evidently greater attention to editing this time around (extended even to a last-minute use of corrective whiteout). Much thought went into planning and executing it all, though whether this combined edition heralds a biannual rather than quarterly publishing cycle from now on remains to be seen. Someone dedicated to finding out more about the musical roots of Greece, or indeed the Greek roots of music, will find much here, but the digging isn’t easy.