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Journal of Modern Greek Studies 18.1 (2000) 223-224
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Modern Poetry in Translation n.s. no. 13 Greece
David Ricks, editor, Modern Poetry in Translation n.s. no. 13 (Greece). Kings College, London. 1999. Pp. 82. £8.95.
David Ricks' special edition of the periodical Modern Poetry in Translation is a personal, not a thematic anthology. It covers one hundred years of Greek poetry from C.P. Cavafy (born 1863) to Alexis Stamatis (born 1960). It is a collection which indicates the tendencies of Greek poets towards the end of the twentieth century. Poetry, "the natural language of all worship," subjects itself to certain visions, and although, for most people, poets appear to be hoodlums and delinquents, the poets selected for this issue do not ring any socialist, surreal or subversive bells.
The 53 pages of this special issue of Modern Poetry in Translation contain 54 poems by 24 Greek poets translated into English by 14 different translators. What methods the editor or translators used to select the poets remains a mystery. Was it is simply a grab-bag? Of the 23 poets, Rhea Galanaki, who is better known as a novelist and has published only three volumes of poems, is the only woman. Another surprising choice is Yiorgos Ioannou, a superb short story writer from Thessaloniki, who is not considered a poet in Greek literary circles.
David Ricks presents English readers with a relatively small sampling of Greece's twentieth century poetry. The 23 poets chosen represent only a tiny fraction of the entire output of Greece. There are at least three hundred poets whose work is of just as high quality and who are equally worthy of translation. (During the last 30 years, almost two new volumes of poetry have been published every day of the year in Greece.)
Twelve of the poets are dead. Let us begin with them. Much has already been said about the particular voice and language of C.P. Cavafy. The Greek poet from Alexandria who brought modernity to Greek poetry and a new aura to international poetry stands by himself on Mt. Parnassos. He is flanked by Angelos Sikelianos, the lyrical poet who lauded the anthropocentric ideal of Delphi, and by Kostas Karyotakis, the spare, pessimistic voice of Preveza, whose name is synonymous with despair. The two Nobel laureates, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, are represented in the collection as well as Nicholas Calas and Andreas Embirikos, both of whom revolutionized the forms and style of Greek poetry by peeling away the familiar, thus daring to expose unknown elements of the language. Nikos Gatsos, known for the lyrics he wrote for composers such as Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, and Stavros Xarhakos influenced many Greek poets, while Nikos Karouzos was a language poet who was frequently [End Page 223] mistaken for a surrealist. Also included is Nikos-Alexis Aslanoglu, a poet from Thessaloniki whose melancholy and erotic poems are reminiscent of the great Spanish poet Louis Cernouda. Last comes Andreas Angelakis, whose prosaic yet erotic style delineates a world of beauty and decay. So much for the Dead Poets' Society.
And now for the living. First, we have the political poetry of Manolis Anagnostakis, who speaks for the generation of defeat and whose poem "Are You For or Against," written in 1967, inspired many Greeks during the period of the military Junta. Then there is Nikos Phokas, whose poetry is rife with anguish and anxiety. Titos Patrikios, who follows in the footsteps of Manolis Anagnostakis, is a political poet concerned with the past and with the refraction of history upon the present. In the somewhat surreal poems of Yiannis Kontos, wry images provide a counterweight to a self-deceiving world. One of the most accomplished poets of his generation, Mihalis Ganas's poetry is deeply rooted in the history of Epirus, and traces the internal landscape of exile. Nasos Vayenas views the world with irony and a fine sense of humor. His poems chronicle the daily life of his characters, accomplishing interesting results. Finally, in the poems...