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THE GREEK ANTHOLOGY, BOOK XVII:
Clíona Ní Ríordáin reviews Greg Delanty's newest poetry collection
Clíona Ní Ríordáin lives in Paris and teaches at the Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle. She is editor of Four Irish Poets / Quatre Poetes Irlandais (Dedalus, 2011); and of Femmes d'Irlande en poésie 1973-2013 (Editions Caractères, Paris) forthcoming in June 2013.
The Greek Anthology, Book XVII
(Carcanet Press, 2012)
ISBN: 978 1 906188 05 4
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I gave you the gift of a book
with a cover that you could judge
the inside by, a hand casting
a world conjured with ink magic. (GA, 111)
The image on the cover of the Greek Anthology Book XVII dates from 450 BC; it depicts two male figures talking. The reader opens it to discover a world conjured up by Greg Delanty, a poet and anthologist with an editorial bent for bringing together the rich range of tones that can be gathered in one volume. This impulse can be traced back to Delanty’s early work, at the beginning of the 1980s, as editor of Quarryman, the University College Cork student journal, and was echoed in Jumping off Shadows, an anthology that brought together the poetry of UCC poets. More recently, his anthologizing skills were displayed in The Word Exchange, a widely acclaimed bilingual volume of Middle-English poetry published by Norton in 2012, where the poems were translated by a team of award winning poets. Is this latest volume by Delanty another foray into the area of translation and anthology?
Well it is and it isn't. As classicists will appreciate, the Greek Anthology, a compendium of occasional poetry written and added to over the centuries, contains no volume XVII. The original volumes, made available to the general public at the beginning of the twentieth century, had a great influence on writers, notably Ezra Pound. Greg Delanty's enthusiasm for things Greek is also well documented. It can be found in the translation of the work of Kyriakos Charalambides he undertook as part of the 2005 Cork Translation Series, and in his versions of Aristophanes and Euripides. With the Greek Anthology Book XVII he goes one step further. Playfully acknowledging the existence of 16 books in the preface, he suggests that the other poems “came in”, sometimes with the author’s name “unclear”. He pursues the game by regretting the absence of a bilingual format for reasons of space (there is a single Greek text placed at the start of the volume). After these preliminaries, the poet is then free to slip into a variety of personae—Grigorographos, Gregory of Corkus, Gregor, Danichorus, to name but a few. In a 2007 Poetry Ireland interview with Paul McLoughlin, Delanty acknowledged that this approach was designed to enable him to enter zones within himself that he could not reach when writing out of his Greg Delanty self. The technique allows him to ventriloquize, to step outside his own poetic voice and comfort zone, to become multiple, magnified, other. The poet changes tone, adapting to the persona on view. The poems of the Dogus voice are mystical in tenor, echoing the ecological preoccupations of Delanty’s Green Party campaigning life. The Greek references, frequently present in the book, are offset by a juxtaposition with a more contemporary turn of phrase, the unexpected trio of Trauma, Thantos and Bigwig in 'Wonder of Wonders' (166) for instance. Familiar landmarks of the Greek classical heritage are also included, often reframed, as in 'The Caryatids in the Acropolis' voiced for Galia of Ithaki:
So when the ruling, puffed-up males
Boast this is Democracy’s birthplace,
Let them consider us, the silent stone females,
Faces erased, holding up the roof-beams of our race.
The Irish and Greek intertwine throughout, with Derrynane and Delphi coming together for example in a poem titled 'Concealment'. Voiced for Heanius, the identity of this persona is easily de-masked, any hesitation removed by the reference to “the gold bar of butter,/ rancid or no, left buried in the bog” (78). With this key, the reader understands that the personae also include identifiable characters like Heanius, or Montagus or indeed Geryon Morfi. As the illustration on the cover intimates, this book is also a conversation between the poet and friends, acquaintances, or mentors.
Greg Delanty’s Collected Poems 1986-2006 ended with the “crepuscular loneliness” of the final poem 'Aceldama'—a testament to the shimmering city where the poet’s father and mother were buried. Loss and grief are also to be found in the new volume but this book is characterised by a new song, a new endeavour. In The Greek Anthology Book XVII Delanty stakes out unexplored ground, experimenting boldly, trying out new voices in a collection where the formal constraints of the Greek avatar underline his considerable virtuosity.
©2013 Clíona Ní Ríordáin
Clíona Ní Ríordáin at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle
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