Translations from Shoestring Press

Journal of Modern Greek Studies, John Hopkins University Press

Published: Oct 2001
Location: Maryland USA
Reviewed by: Robert Zaller
Review of book: THE FIRST DEATH

The Journal of Modern Greek Studies,
Volume 19, 2001/ John Hopkins University Press.
Robert Zaller - Recent Translations from Shoestring Press.
Tassos Denegris, Dimitris Lyacos, Dionysios Solomos.

[…]Dimitris Lyacos’s The First Death is the latest installment of a narrative sequence entitled Poena Damni. Its two predecessors depict the Odysseus-like wanderings of a figure who, in postmodern style, labors to create the world he explores. In the First Death, the result of his voyaging is that he himself is on the verge of dissolution, a castaway who is also in abortion, dying before he has ever achieved birth:Sea of iron. Moon silent as pain in the depth of the mind. A body swept here and there on the rock like seaweed or a lifeless tentacle, fruit of a womb ship-wrecked by the winds, ensanguined and flesh-filled mire. The left arm cut short, the right to the end of the forearm, a rotted stick raving amid the water’s lungs. Of the ravaged mouth theree remained only a wound which closed slowly. From the eyes a blurred light. The eyes without lids. The legs down to the ankles – no feet. Spasms.This section – the first of fourteen that alternate prose poetry with enjambed verse – suggests a Beckett-like reduction in which the attempt to create a world is stymied by the incomplete creation of the self, as in both tasks must proceed simultaneously in a kind of cosmic chasing of one’s tail. At the same time, however, there is a sense of unquenchable vitality in the project, an inexhaustible fecundity of imagery in the midst of denial and despair. Lyacos brings to bear a formidable culture in which fragments of ancient Greek are embedded in a supple modern idiom, and a variety of classical and biblical references are seamlessly integrated into the text. (‘Nothing in this book is original,’ Lyacos says slyly, ‘except perhaps by mistake’ – a remark that is itself a quotation.) Among its immediate precursors, the Mythistorema of Seferis has pride of place, and if you would grasp the essense of Lyacos’s style in nuce, imagine Seferis dipped in a bath of Lautreamont. This could well suggest decadence, even preciosity, but the violence and intensity of Lyacos’s vision and the headlong energy of his verse – he is only thirty-five – compels attention. As in Beckett, one is not finally sure whether one has encountered a wretched stump of humanity or a proudly self-mutilated god. ‘All men have drowned within you,’ Lyacos tells his protagonist, or has him say to us. That is perhaps creation theory enough.[…]

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