The balm of poetry


Now that hugs have become virtual, and meals with friends take place on Zoom, it’s an opportunity to rediscover the solace of poetry. Poetry can be an endless source of comfort and inspiration.



And I won’t be seduced by the thought of my native language, its milky call.

How can it matter in what tongue I am misunderstood by whoever I meet.

Marina Tsvetaevna 


Eugenia Ginsburg was imprisoned in Stalin’s Gulag for a horrendous 17 years. She was a teacher, and what helped her survive was reciting poetry—sometimes to herself, sometimes aloud, with other prisoners. Her favorites were Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaevna. Poetry speaks to the heart: how many displaced people wouldn’t identify with the lines above. 

Geometric shapes can be soothing, too. Watercolor and colored pencil on khadi paper



I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind?
Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers
And walk upon the beach
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each
I do not think that they will sing to me.

T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


I am of a generation who still had to learn poems by heart, and even though we all complained at the time, this has since been a source of endless pleasure.

I think educational methods have vastly improved since my time, with endless learning by rote, dusty lists of dates and translations from the Latin and Ancient Greek being replaced by more interactive systems, and more emphasis on thinking and creativity. However, I find it a pity that learning poetry by heart has mostly been discontinued.

A 12-year-old boy of my acquaintance whose English teacher at school made the class write poems produced some lovely stuff, something which he would never have thought of doing on his own. Poetry can be very modern, and fun for kids.



WE REAL COOL. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We 

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

—Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool”



As it happens, thousands of people still write poems, so this practice has not been discontinued at all. And I assume that those who write poetry, also enjoy reading it.

My favorite poet in my teens was T. S. Eliot, and he remains a favorite to this day, amongst many others. One I must mention today is Constantine Cavafy, the Alexandrian, Greek, poet-historian who was drawn to what was lost: forgotten Byzantine kingdoms, beautiful boys briefly glimpsed and never seen again. I think poetry is best read in the original, since a certain particular flavor or music is lost in translation; but the two poems below are quite close to the original.



Imagined voices, and beloved, too,
of those who died, or of those who are
lost unto us like the dead.

Sometimes in our dreams they speak to us;
sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them.

And with their sound for a moment there return
sounds from the first poetry of our life–
like music, in the night, far off, that fades away.



Voices, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn

*

This room, how well I know it. Now
they’re renting it, it and the one next door,
as offices. The whole house has been taken
over by agents, businessmen, concerns.

Ah but this one room, how familiar.

Here by the door was the couch. In front of that,
a Turkish carpet on the floor.
The shelf then, with two yellow vases. On the right―
no, opposite―a wardrobe with a mirror.
At the center the table where he wrote,
and the three big wicker chairs.
There by the window stood the bed
where we made love so many times.

Poor things, they must be somewhere to this day.

There by the window stood the bed: across it
the afternoon sun used to reach halfway.

…We’d said goodbye one afternoon at four,
for a week only. But alas,
that week was to go on forevermore.

The afternoon sun, translated by James Merrill



Most of us have the Oxford book of English poems or some other anthology lurking on our shelves, but most poetry nowadays can also be found on line. These days of confinement, dipping into them would make a change to bingeing on Netflix.

As for those stuck at home with children, kids love words that rhyme. I cannot count how many times I’ve read Room on the Broom, The Owl And the Pussycat, or Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. And for people who can’t be bothered with doing it themselves, there’s a site called poetrygeneration, where someone reads aloud a different poem every day. A great selection of poems, beautifully read. 




September Q&A – the poet

As you will see below, Sofia Kioroglou is not just a (twice award-winning) poet. However, since I love her poetry, I thought I would focus upon that facet of her multi-talented personality. She writes in several languages and, of all my subjects, she was the only one to submit her answers, perfectly written, within hours of receiving the questions. That is why, for the first time, the monthly interview is posted on the first day of the month!

Sofia is also a prolific blogger. You can visit her site here.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a writer, translator, lexicographer and painter born and bred in Athens, Greece. I am an avid reader and iconographer of saints and believe in human kindness and sacrifice. I would be a cave recluse in Raitho or Sinai had I not met my husband Peter in Jerusalem at the Holy Light Ceremony in 2012. I love the Holy Land and wish I had the chance to publish work revolving around the difficulties encountered by the Greek Orthodox monks and fathers guarding the Holy Monasteries in and beyond Jerusalem whom I respect and admire. My literary work has been included in many international literary journals such as Silverbirchpress, Lunaris Review, Verse-Virtual, Winamop, Halkyon Days, Ashvamegh, Poet’s Corner, The Galway Review as well as in many anthologies like the Poetry against Terror Anthology, the Spiritual Horizons Anthology, the Poetry Against Inequality Anthology , By Land and By Seas and the Universal Values Anthology, with my flash fiction “Cubicle Coma” forthcoming for publication in Books’ Journal and Planodion.

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

The loss of my father was the hardest. It just came out of left field! Paradoxically, his passing has been something of a blessing so to speak as I went into overdrive and started to pursue my passion for writing, undaunted by the grim prospects surrounding publishing.

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

My dad and my supporting hubby! I owe a lot to them.

 

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What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I have no long-term plans. I have learnt to anticipate nothing as life is so unpredictable. The only thing that bothers me is that there are people out there who can’t make ends meet, mothers who abandon their newborns in maternity clinics due to povert and people dying on the streets.

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

Despite the negative vibe sloshing around right now, I feel confident that we will ride out the storm. It is not wishful thinking! Greece has always survived worse rollercoasters than this current crisis.

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

Never has the idea of leaving my country crossed my mind. I love Greece, its history and the grit that typifies our nation. I reckon Greece will rise again out of its ashes like a phoenix!

If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?

I have not decided to leave but if I ever had to my mother’s pleas would be enough to make me stay.

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

Having a positive vibe and hoping for the best is the most efficient weapon to neutralize the prevailing negativity and defeatism.

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I see it totally disentangled from the mess its political leaders have thrown it into. A new era for Greece will emerge with more ethos and dignity, two qualities inextricably linked with the history of our nation.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life ?

When I have a problem or have to deal with an avalanche of frustrations, I share my distress with my husband. He is always the one who takes a dispassionate view of things and puts them in perspective.

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

The weather and the camaraderie of the people which gives this country and its people the chance to hope and dream for future generations. My recent trip to Methana was a real boon which lifted my spirits and made me forget all about the daily grind gnawing away at my innards.

 

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As well as reading about Sofia’s positive attitude, sense of humor and amazing husband, I thought you might like to experience a sample of her work. Here is one of her favorite poems:

“Hypochondria winking at grime”

As time goes by
the twain shall eventually meet
with scraps of kneejerk iconoclasm
starting to meekly recede

Years of being together
have mellowed my tetchiness
brimful ashtrays no longer call for
scathing versified onslaught

The caterwauling about dripping faucets
not affecting him too much
my hypochondria now winking at grime
in love’s dazzling and menacing world
our hearts melting in its immensity.