Commentaries - March 2013

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project consists of 162 poems, the 154 “Collected” or “Published” poems, seven poems from the group known as the “Unpublished” poems, and one poem from the “Repudiated Poems,” i.e., early poems that Cavafy withheld from publication.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.

Thomas McEvilley (July 13, 1939 – March 2, 2013)

Dec, 15, 2011 at M/E/A/N/I/N/G launch. Photo © Lawrence Schwartzwald (No reproduction without express permission)

Outsider poems, a mini-anthology in progress (52): Essie Parish in New York

Transcription & reconstruction by George Quasha

It is a test you have to pass.
Then you can learn to heal
with the finger, said Essie
pointing over our heads:
I went thru every test on the way,
that's how come I'm a shaman.
Be careful on the journey, they said,
the journey to heaven. They warned me.
And so I went.
Thru the rolling hills
I walked and walked,
mountains and valleys, and rolling hills,
I walked and walked and walked –
you hear many things there
in those rolling hills and valleys,
and I walked and walked and walked
and walked and walked until
I came to a footbridge,

The poet's novel

Does it exist?

Proust, Woolf

The Poet’s Novel:  What is it?  Does it exist?

Let’s begin at the beginning, is there such a thing as a “Poet’s Novel”?  If so how would one begin to define the various forms this form takes?  In this commentary you’ll find a continuing exploration of this elusive form including: consideration of novels written by poets, conversations with poet’s who have written novels and with poets who are fascinated by particular novels by poets.  I will be asking questions such as: what are the qualities of prose which tend to be classified as those of a poet’s novel and why?  Why do poets turn to prose?  And within a body of any given writer’s work (one who writes both poetry and prose) what is the relationship between the two forms?  What purposes does prose fill which poetry perhaps does not?  Where do we distinguish a line between forms?  Does it matter? What of the verse novel? How does the poet arrive at the desire to write a novel and where to begin?

I began asking these questions when I noted long ago that various novels are indispensible to poets.