In this debut book, Tripoulas gives readers poetry from the land of the wine-dark sea.
It’s likely difficult for any contemporary Greek poet to avoid the shadow of C.P. Cavafy, the greatest writer the archipelago nation has produced in the past 150 years. Writing of Cavafy in the introduction to his collected works, W.H. Auden praises the author as “exceptionally honest. He neither bowdlerizes nor glamorizes nor giggles.” Greek poet Tripoulas has definitely inherited some of this honesty from his countryman, and a deeply laudable sincerity infuses many of his works. Thus, when the author pays tribute to Cavafy in “The Poet,” he draws him not as the lion of European verse but as an ill-placed bureaucrat sipping spirits with a new friend in his apartment above a brothel: “Ah, but if he liked you...he would sit in the shadows / next to the candles burning low / speaking unkindly of his rival: / ‘No, no that’s Palamas whiskey, / for you I have something better.' ” In this book, it feels as if Tripoulas, too, is bringing out “something better.” The slim volume is the result of 10 years of painstaking work scrubbing and polishing 60-odd poems until they are clean, bright, and sharp. Many of the works discuss the landscape of the author’s homeland, and more than a few reveal Greece as a palimpsest in which the recent past sits lightly on layers and layers of history, spooling back into ancient years. In “Aigaleo Metro Station,” the author reminds readers that the Athens subway runs “alongside / the ancient road that starts / at the Keramikos Gate / and leads to the site of the Eleusinian mysteries.” Such history becomes a rich resource for Tripoulas—and one that he does not squander. He finds Greek myth similarly valuable; in another poem, the author offers a tongue-in-cheek tour of the island of Ikaria by reminding readers of its namesake, Icarus: “Grandma slips / hoedowning at the feast / and splits her head like a ripe melon. / People are falling / all over the island. / On the island of Ikaros / they honor his name.”
Canny, candid poems about ancient and modern-day Greece that soar.