Monday, April 9, 2012

Affirmation (Selected Poems 1986–2006) - Haris Vlavianos


The Poem of another Poetics
After Wallace Stevens


Crystal-clear water in a glistening vase.
Yellow and Red roses.
White light in the room, like snow.
Fresh snow (it’s the end of winter)
softly falling on the invented place.
The afternoons are returning without sounds,
without secrets, without impatient faces
Round vase.
Porcelain painted with roses.
Yellow and red.
The water – unruffled emptiness.


And still the water,
the snow,
once were enough to compose
a new whiteness --
more necessary than the meaning of flowers
blooming inside the cool memory of happiness.
(Your ecstatic gaze
confirms that imagination
can lay bare the memory again and again).


The mind seeks to escape.
This thought
(the possibility of the specific metaphor)
has been exhausted.
The roses, the vase, did not exist.
They do not exist.
The words however
keep falling –
snowflakes of a real life
in the margins of the poem.

In the foreword to this collection, Michael Longley discusses a recurring antithesis between presence and absence, that this collection “generates an obsessive imagery of whiteness and silence: the moon, snow, unmarked paper, bed sheets,” lines such as “ a white paradise / of all possibilities”  and “white like snow in the room”. It is in this absence that the poet declares that “loves absence always wears the same face”, whether this refers to a lover, a beautiful women, the muse or poetry itself is not clear. Repeatedly, presence implies absence and vice versa.

Also, within these poems we are constantly aware of the surface of things/objects and, like in Sartre’s Nausea,  there’s an existential angst, as  he probes the difficulty in describing  and explaining them. There is also a repeated reference to reality,  based on the dedication, this  refers to Wallace Stevens (Adagia) that “ The ultimate  value is reality?” or as is stated by Simon Critchley in his book on Wallace Stevens - Things merely are (Philosophy in the poetry of Wallace Stevens) “poetry evokes the "mereness" of things. It is this experience that provokes the mood of calm and releases the imaginative insight we need to press back against the pressure of reality”. Through the lines we find that objects are transubstantiated by the poets inspiration to become possessions of the mind, added to this is an ambience that seems to pervade the poems with an erotic charge, lines such as “ Come let us lower the blinds/ let us lie on the white starched sheets”  with the muse/lover either as a presence in the room or their absence creating the dilemma.

New Realism
The perfume burned his eyes, holding tightly to her thighs
and something flickered for a minute and then it vanished and was gone.

Lou Reed, “Romeo and Juliette”
He tried to remember the poem
that he’d begun to write in silence
on the hotel’s verandah with a view to the Aegean.
In vain.
The words had vanished
and along with them had gone
a specific sense of that summer morning.
That morning was as if it had never existed.
It had not existed.

All the previous days
he had been reading Herodotus’ Clio
copying excerpts and lines
in the leather-bound notebook given to him
the day they were leaving from Piraeus.
Under the dedication,
in tiny letters,
he had noted the phrase:

“Truth is something frightening.
We should not ask for
more than we can handle.
We should not reveal our own truth,
should not force one to accept it,
should not make one want to know things
that transcend human power”.

He wished to tell her that the world always is
at the mercy of the mightiest truth,
whether this might defends wisdom
or insanity,
that in the long run truth does not matter,
that everyone has specific limits of sensitivity,
beyond which exists neither the true nor the false.
that when
Nerval  wrote
Je suis l’ inconsolé
Le prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie”
wished to
He said nothing.
An imaginative dialogue
is not interesting at all anyway.
He opened the notebook
and on the last page
(where he had just thought of writing a letter)
he painted an olive grove with a cypress in the middle

—the poem of desire
in the poem of the real:

the chora of a new realism.

Haris Vlavianos was born in Rome in 1957 and grew up in Athens.  He studied Economics and Philosophy at the University of Bristol (B.SC) and Politics, History and International Relations (M.Phil, D.Phil) at the University of Oxford (Trinity College). His doctoral thesis entitled, Greece 1941-1949: From Resistance to Civil War, was published by Macmillan (1992) and was awarded the “Fafalios Foundation” Prize. He has published nine  collections of poetry, including The Angel of History (1999),which was short-listed for the State Poetry Prize, as was After the End of Beauty (2003) Vacation in Reality(2009),  won the prestigious “Diavazo” Poetry Prize and was short-listed for the National Poetry Prize in 2011. He has also published a collection of thoughts and aphorisms on poetry and poetics entitled The Other Place(1994). He has translated the works of many well-known writers including Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, Michael Longley, Wallace Stevens, William Blake, e. e. Cummings, John Ashbury, Eugenio Montale, Zbigniew Herbert and Fernando Pessoa. He is the editor of the influential literary journal POETRY and of the Greek domain of the Poetry International website. His collection of poems Adieu (1996) has been translated into English by David Connolly and published in the U.K. by Birmingham University Press (1998), and volumes of his Selected Poems have been published in German, Dutch, Catalan and Italian
Haris Vlavianos (Wiki)
Mediterranean Poetry (Haris. V)

Michael Longley was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and subsequently read Classics at Trinity College, Dublin, where he edited Icarus. He was Professor of Poetry for Ireland from 2007 to 2010, a cross-border academic post set up in 1998, previously held by John Montague, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Paul Durcan. He was succeeded in 2010 by Harry Clifton. In North America, Michael Longley is published by Wake Forest University Press. His wife Edna Longley is also an influential critic on modern Irish and British poetry.

The translator, Mina Karavanta was born in Athens in 1970, she studied English literature at the University of Athens and at  the State University of New York (SUNI) at Binghampton, from which she obtained her PH.D in comparative Literature. She teaches critical theory and English and American literature at the University Of Athens.
npm2012_poster_540"With this poet emotional and aesthetic answers can be glimpsed only out of the corner of the eye, in the margins. In Minima Poetica Vlavianos writes that 'Even the most complete poem is nothing but a fragment.' The length and intensity of his obsession with language has produced "fragments" which work like tesserae in a mosaic. Somehow they marry and merge, and the picture is realised: 'The leaf of reality. / The exquisite poem of the genuine." Michael Longley
 *I'm inconsolable The Prince of Aquitaine in the tower eliminated

5 comments: said...

I'm going to have to use this line.."poetry is the mereness of things." It's officially stolen. :-) I really enjoyed the poems and the information. Thanks for sharing and always enlightening.

Anonymous said...

it is a very interesting and informative article. I think I will add your site to my favorites.

Chad Hull said...

I can't believe I haven't come across the term " existential angst" before. I absolutely love it!

stujallen said...

love the first poem Gary ,all the best stu

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Lena, glad you liked the line, it comes from, Wallace Stevens - Things merely are (Philosophy in the poetry of Wallace Stevens)by Simon Critchley.

Hi Chad, glad you like " existential angst" did you check the link?

Hi Stu, glad you like it,check out the book or go on Poetry International for more of his stuff.