The Perfect Order, Selected Poems 1974-2010, Nasos Vayenas,
edited by Richard Berengarten and Paschalis Nikolaou, various translators
(159pp, £12.95, Anvil)
The Sea Within,
Gonca Ozmen, translated by George Messo
Even this lead-in information, Edited by..., various
or one only, and then a quick look at the scope: the first has a Preface, an
Introduction, Notes to the poems, prose writings on poetry by Vayenas
himself, about 90 pages of poems, whereas the second book has fewer than 70
pages of poems and no apparatus at all, all this sets subjective responses
There's another difference: the first has no poems in the original Greek, the
second has original and translation on opposite pages, which halves the
number of poems in translation while offering something (the originals) the
first book notably lacks.
My bias (not after long consideration) is apparent and, while I question it,
I go along with it: list the Vayenas first, discuss it first.
The book does present itself as significant: the extras to the poems I've
mentioned, a dozen translators (with biographical notes), it places Nasos
Vayenas (born 1945) in a line of descent that names Cavafy and Seferis and
includes poems from ten collections, 1974 to 2010.
It is curious what happens to poems between the making and the scholarly
talk. Being new to Vayenas I have found David Ricks's Introduction helpful,
but what of this towards its end?
pleaded, against the card-carrying Post-Modernists,
're-enchantment of poetic discourse', but he does not
that the reproduction furniture of New Formalism.
I wonder whether Vayenas, who during 1972-1979 was in England, wrote the
words quoted, 're-enchantment of poetic discourse', in English or whether it
has been translated. The prose in this book is all translated by others. I'm
wondering what kind of phrase it is in Greek.
As to the poems themselves. Those translated by David Ricks achieve a flow
that is not always apparent elsewhere. A poem titled 'Stephanos Calcanes':
him off by a slip of the pen
forgetting that he
perspiring around the slippery
banks of Cocytus
along with several sufferers
and day calling in aid
sonnets and odes
and prizewinning compositions.
This contrasts with another honouring poem, 'C.P.Triantis' translated by
Prince of poets
king of prose).
But also the
searching under the surface
Above all, iconoclast.
He recited in
a subdued voice, as befits
occasion. Wise is now
the very earth
that covers him.
Not a good flow. There is a pattern to some of the poems, whereby a scene is
set and towards the end there is a turn, as a short story might do it. Others
are more like a painting: as close as a poem can get to seeing everything at
once. A poem called 'National Garden' has both scene and deflection, a
sanitised scene-setting were it not for
that man on the bench
his head in
woman vomitting two steps further on
it would be perfect
As a whole, for all its ways and means, the book hasn't taken hold of me.
Perhaps lost in translation, something to do with voice, place, tradition.
The prose notes, 'Poetry and Time, Poetry and Progress', and so on, might be
good for student discussion.
I have persuaded myself that Gonca Ozmen's The
is not well translated. It's not that I know Turkish nor that from the
Turkish here can I properly hear her voice. It is the awkwardness of much of
She was born in 1982 and has published two collections. 'The Sea Within' is
from both books, mostly from the second. The translator, George Messo, thanks
her and two other people for their help with the translation.
There is, incidentally, some uncertainty provoked by the total absence of
punctuation, and I don't see what is gained by it. The poems make themselves
clear but only at a second reading - or when line by line I take a quick look
on to see what is happening next, whether the line or couplet runs or whether
there is a new sentence coming.
As to the English here, the opening couplet of 'Stone', for example,
translates awkwardly as 'It was a moment ago / I bestowed coolness to
stones,' and a poem called 'In Bird-Sleep' there is this:
That was the
mystery of innocent waiting
- A knife in
the moon's heart -
I was having
which I want to write as
It was the
mystery of innocent waiting
- the moon's
heart knifed -
The translation spells out in blocks of English; the following is the opening
of the same poem:
Rust on iron
beginning to shudder
On my skin
deep whirlpools were talking
The arms of
twisting vines were growing longer
The poems proceed by making statements and perhaps this is true to the
Turkish originals. Here is the whole of 'Old Asperity,'
If I could
set rain beside morning
Put rain now
to your joyless neck
voices heard by rivers
abstractions through us
We saw our
pain is a curtain
We closed it
Now if I stop
and touch that loneliness
If only that
loneliness and rain would fit
If we flow to
the end of time
There is a hill,
a vanishing point
If we could
only climb it
... They place
before me an old asperity
And from that I
understood the birds
© David Hart 2011