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Reviews Takis Papatsonis, Ursa Minor and Other Poems. Translated and with an Introduction by Kimon Friar and Kostas Myrsiades. Minneapolis : Nostos. 1988. Pp. xxxiii + 105. $25.00. The poetry of Takis Papatsonis (1895-1976), which falls into the bulging category of poetry written out of the usual mix of motives— passion, ambition, vision—but lacking much talent, might seem merely dispiriting. Yet paradoxically, to read poems that cry out for a process of tightening and polishing that would still leave them mostly secondrate , is a salutary reminder of how and why successful poetry works. To borrow a pair of adjectives from Kostas Myrsiades' ambitious Introduction, Papatsonis' poetry is "amorphous and expansive"—or might one say simply verbose? Myrsiades' and Friar's translation is accurate to a fault: Papatsonis seldom uses a word where a line will do. In one of the more winning (and shorter) poems here, "Invocation of Images," he adjures the "accumulation of superfluous material" to "add/a small clod of earth, a useful bit of mosaic" (p. 17). But it never seems to occur to this poet that his readers must constantly sift the work for such useful bits, or that countless passages conspire to discourage them from doing so. Turn to almost any poem and you find syntax bulging out of control, images desperately proliferating, metaphors flailing in a hectic effort at eloquence or precision. One example will have to suffice, from "the Bonfires of St. John": The night brings us these, and so many other things— it is impossible for man's song to contain them all. To some extent the vigilance of our sentry grasps them here or there and proclaims them, but for what purpose? We have not the power to deviate from what the cauldron destines for us in its flames, and once it writes them down, dear God, they cannot be effaced. Made of blood and fire, its incandescent slate pen sets its seal upon us while the tempest of our terrestrial piracy endures. Scarred with the stamp of fire, we burden ourselves Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 9, 1991. 123 124 Reviews with the sacrificial fumes of our scorched flesh, memories of our spitted pain that torments us insufferably, —of that pain which the other night was supposedly extinguished, as it sputtered, by the heatless act that revives it. To comb strands of meaning from this turgid tangle is not a hard task; the trouble is that it ought to be the poet's task, not the reader's. Straining for sublimity, Papatsonis' work strives to come to terms with all sides of his Greek heritage. Myrsiades and Friar expatiate on the poems' spirituality. The sense I get is of an ambitious system of abstractions hoisted onto a ramshackle foundation and swathed in many scarves of rhetoric. Verbosity is not the only problem here; too often (and at some of his better moments), Papatsonis sounds like contemporaries such as Cavafy (in "Outline of Error" or "To the Island"), Seferis (in "Reckoning"), or, especially—as in the title poemEly tis. Ursa Minor is not a total loss; something likable—beautiful brief passages, flashes of feeling—emanates from many of its pages. A poem such as "Self-Scrutiny," with its Poundian tribute to "the strong craftsman ," makes me suspect Papatsonis was aware of his own shortcomings in that department. That the translators, too, are aware of these shortcomings emerges from time to time: "something of the unpolished and loose structure of a highly educated amateur" (Friar, p. x); "general disinterest in formal and metrical schemes" (Myrsiades, p. xvii). But the most damning words are Papatsonis' own: What do I care if the image is anarchic, ugly, uncultivated. The faith and vision dominate me, because these are the qualities that make the poet. (p. xvii) Unfortunately, as Mallarmé had said in the previous century, poems are made of words. In religion, perhaps, faith and vision can transcend language and image, but not in poetry, and certainly not in the sprawling and orotund poems of Papatsonis. Rachel Hadas Rutgers University—Newark ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 123-124
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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