George Economou

Translating Cavafy: eros, memory, and art

C.P. Cavafy
C.P. Cavafy (Cavafy archive)

“Just the place to bury a crock of gold,” said Sebastian. “I should like to bury something precious in every place where I've been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.”  — Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

I wanted to draw out George Economou on the task of translating Cavafy as he was finishing up an extended project to be released, by coincidence, in the poet’s sesquicentennial year. I began by asking him to describe that project. (To conserve space, many of my subsequent questions are elided; they are implicit in George’s discursive responses.)

Economou: My current project consists of 162 poems, the 154 “Collected” or “Published” poems, seven poems from the group known as the “Unpublished” poems, and one poem from the “Repudiated Poems,” i.e., early poems that Cavafy withheld from publication. The title is Complete Plus, The Poems of C. P. Cavafy in English, to be published by Shearsman in early 2013.

What survives translation

C.P. Cavafy
C.P. Cavafy (Cavafy archive)

In his 1961 introduction to Rae Dalven’s translations, W.H. Auden catalogued the poetic “conventions and devices” that Cavafy’s poetry fails to provide the English translator looking for equivalents: the imagery of metaphor and simile, a style or register of diction (English has “nothing comparable to the rivalry of demotic and purist” Greek, the mixture of which is the most characteristic aspect of Cavafy’s texture), ornament. Yet of the versions by several translators Auden had read, “every one of them was immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could have written it.” So what is it, he asks, that “survives translation and excites?” Auden’s answer was a tone of voice, one that “reveals a person with a unique perspective on the world.” Later, in his 2006 introduction to Aliki Barnstone’s translations, Gerald Stern amends this to a sensibility, a “tender humanism, a humanitas supreme.” Peter Bien had called it an attitude of “resignation,” understood not as despair but a kind of wisdom.

Murat Nemet-Nejat

From left to right: George Economou, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Bob Perelman. See this 2009 interview with Nemet-Nejat conducted by Kent Johnson, published in Jacket issue 37. And listen to Nemet-Nejat’s six-minute reading at a program on “new European poets” in 2008: MP3.

The Last Ancient Greek Poet

George Economou

George EconomouIn 2009, at the University of Michigan, George Economou delivered a performance under the appropriate title, "The Least Ancient Greek Poet." He reads from Ananios of Kleitor and then talks about the process of writing it. We at PennSound are making this recording available today for the first time. George was born in 1934 in Great Falls, Montana, the son of two Greek immigrants. He is know for his early affiliations with Deep Image poets, and, to be sure, for his 41 years of teaching at the Brooklyn center for Long Island University. He was a founding editor of The Chelsea Review (1957–60) and co-founding editor of Trobar and Trobar Books (1960–64) with Robert Kelly. It was through Kelly, I'm guessing, that he met Jerome Rothenberg. We at the Writers House glad that George and Rochelle Owens moved to Philly some few years ago and that we see them often. George called this session "the least" but I like pondering the idea of George himself as the last of the ancient Greeks. Long live George!

Romantic & Neo-Romantic Poems

New Audio Available

William Blake, Ancient of DaysAt left: William Blake, "The Ancient of Days," 1794.

On October 7, 2009, Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey Robinson, editors of the third volume of Poems for the Millenium, came to the Writers House, gathering some friends and colleagues - and we all put on a show: readings from the anthology of romantic and post- and neo-romantic poems. The readings ranged from Black to Heine to Whitman to Perelman.

Now we (thanks to the talented Anna Zalokostas) present a fully segmented set of recordings from this event.

Download some romantic poems to your iPod this holiday and listen while you shop or while you drop.

Here is a link to the PennSound page, and here, below, are the segments described:

Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffery Robinson reading "The Ancient Poets" and "The Voice of the Devil" from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; "Athenaeum Fragment 116" from Friedrich Karl Vilhelm von Schlegel; "To Richard Woodhouse, 27 October 1818" from John Keats; an excerpt from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, Fifth Book; and "An Archaic Torso of Apollo" from Rainer Maria Rilke (11:51)

Charles Bernstein reading a poem after Edward Lear's "The Old Man of Whitehaven"; CB tr. of an 1847 poem from Victor Hugo's Les Contemplations; "The Ballad of Burdens" from Algernon Charles Swinburne; CB tr. of Heinrich Heine's "Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht" followed by poem after "Der Tod" from Shadowtime; his own "The Introvert," after William Wordsworth's "The Hermit"; excerpt from Walt Whitman's "RESPONDEZ!"; CB tr. of Charles Baudelaire's "Enivrez-vous": "Be Drunken"; William Blake's "The Sick Rose" from Song of Experience (12:12)

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