New York.- By Vicki J. Yiannias
From the point of view of author and poet Christopher Bakken, winner of the 2001 T.S. Eliot Prize for Literature for his book, After Greece (documenting his love affair with Greece), and Associate Professor of English at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, it was “almost shocking” that although the work of Greek poet Titos Patrikios (1928 – ) is well known and widely translated in Europe, no truly representative, expansive collection in English translation had been published.
To remedy that situation Bakken collaborated with translator Roula Konsolaki to produce The Lions’ Gate: Selected Poems of Titos Patrikios, new from Truman State University Press, New Odyssey Series, a volume of poems that he considered to be representative of Patrikiosʼs poetic output, selected from fifteen volumes of Titos Patrikiosʼs work over a period of 54 years. Patrikios, a member of the intellectual left in post-war Greece, was the recipient of Greeceʼs National Prize for Literature in 1994.
In an interview with The Greek News, Bakken described the selection as “featuring the crucial work from every phase of Patrikiosʼ career, beginning with the poems of detention, through the period of exile, and continuing into the most recent phase of his publication.” In this way, he said, the book aims to offer readers a full sense of this poetʼs achievement; it is organized chronologically to give readers a sense of how his poetry has evolved, and a sense of how Patrikios has had to re-invent himself over the years.
Bakken and Roula Konsolaki have been friends with Titos Patrikios since he, Ms. Konsolaki, and Patrikios shared a residency at the International Writers’ and Translators’ Center on the island of Rhodes several years ago. “Much of The Lions’ Gate was translated there, in between strolls through the old city.”
The monumental lions (possibly lionesses) rearing up on their haunches on the Lionʼs Gate at Mycenae, on the cover of the dark green, gold-lettered volume, is photographed in such a way that it opens up, like the end of tunnel, to the clear bright light of Greece beyond. Perhaps this corroborates what scholar Rachel Hadas writes in her review of the book, saying that it is remarkable that “his poetry, utterly free of sentimentality or self-pity, with an edge honed by many difficult years of exile. How remarkable, then, that the predominant impression left by The Lionsʼ Gate is of joy — a joy no less radiant for being hard-won.”
The reader will decide for himself. Perhaps, if one refers to the poem,The Lionʼs Gate, which opens the book, the gate on the cover is not a joyful image. Patrikios, recalling the use of the image of lions in Greeceʼs ancient wars, writes, “Our past is forever full, terrible,/just as the story of what happened is terrible,/carved as it is now, written on the lintel/of the gate we pass through every day.”
We asked the eloquent Christopher Bakken why he chose to translate the work of Patrikios and what he feels is the significance of Patrikiosʼs work today. The poetry of Titos Patrikios is remarkable on several levels, he said.
“First, Patrikios is a poet of witness and engagement, a survivor of imprisonment, hard labor, protest and exile. His biography, in short, is the biography of the intellectual left in post-War Greece. He narrowly escaped death by firing squad, once had to bury his poems to keep them from discovery by the authorities, and endured years abroad, utterly displaced from his family and literary community.”
Patrikiosʼs style bears the remnants of that psychic pressure and of his persistent need to pursue what might suffice in spite of his predicament, and in these ways his work resembles that of two other twentieth century poets, Czeslaw Milosz and Nazim Hikmet. “Like these other poets, there is a note of defiant celebration in Patrikiosʼ poems; his ethos is utterly humanistic and his impulses are toward praise as often as they are toward dispraise. His poems are historically important, thus, but also poignantly significant in this new age of terror, censorship and conservatism.”
Second, said Bakken, Patrikios, has clearly come into his “moment” in Greek letters, with recent celebrations of his work throughout Greece, and the publication in 2005 of a monumental critical study of Patrikiosʼ oeuvre by leading Greek literary critic, D.M. Maronitis. “American readers are most familiar with the work of the earlier generation of Greek poets (thanks to excellent collections of their work in translation), especially Elytis, Seferis, and Ritsos….rather cosmopolitan poets whose work was cresting during the period that Patrikiosʼ was just beginning to gather force.”
Patrikiosʼs work represents the next phase of Greek poetry, one that is virtually unknown in the United States, he said. “Patrikiosʼs name is part of the short list of “elder” living (or recently dead) Greek poets, including Miltos Sahtouris, Manolis Anagnostakis, Kiki Dimoula, and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke. “Like the earlier generation of poets, all these poets (Patrikios included) are decidedly Greek, steeped in the myths and iconoraphy of their ancient culture; but this new generation has needed to write their way toward the end of the millennium and has had to find a way to represent a modern Greece now absorbed into a more homogenized European and world “community.” My volume of translations attempts to situate Patrikiosʼ work within this historical context and might help to “fill in” one of the significant blank spaces in Greek and European literature available to readers in English.”
“Ms. Konsolaki and I have a great working relationship”, Bakken says. “It is her job to make sure the poems are as faithful as possible to the original Greek and it is my job to try to make them work as poems in English.”
His first book, After Greece, documenting his “love affair with Greece”, has been translated into Greek by Roula Konsolaki and published by Lagoudera Press. Goat Funeral: Poems by Christopher Bakken, also new from Truman State University Press, New Odyssey Series, contains a number of poems set in Greece.
Roula Konsolakiʼs translations have been published in Modern Poetry in Translation, Two Lines, Seneca review, Literary Imagination, The Tampa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review and elsewhere. She lives in Crete.