Saturday, August 27, 2016

George Kalogeris to read at The Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading presented by the Hastings Room

George Kalogeris

George Kalogeris to read at
The Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading
presented by the Hastings Room
Wednesday 14 September 2016
At First Church Congregationalist
11 Garden Street near Harvard Square at 7pm

write-up by Michael Steffen

Last week, in our first announcement of this year’s Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading, I talked a little about David Blair and his new book. David will be one of the readers honoring Heaney at the reading in the Hastings Room on September 14th.

This week I wanted to say a few words about another of our readers, George Kalogeris. He
is the author of a book of paired poems in translation, Dialogos (Antilever, 2012), and of a book of poems based on the notebooks of Albert Camus, Camus: Carnets (Pressed Wafer, 2006). His poems and translations were anthologized in Joining Music with Reason, edited by Christopher Ricks (Oxford, 2010).
George studied under Derek Walcott, who familiarized his students with “the kind of serious, meticulous attention to craft” the young Kalogeris had been seeking.

George is listed by the Poetry Foundation, in particular for his recovery of a lost Holderlin poem titled “In Lovely Blue,” which appeared in the April 2009 translation edition of Poetry magazine.
Dialogos includes translations from poets of a stunning diversity of languages, classical and modern, Pindar, Sappho, Theocritus, Juvenal, Holderlin, Radnoti, Pessoa, René Char… This anthologism supports Kalogeris’ professorship in translation of the Classics, and as an adept, not of a poet or class of poets from the past, but of the art of translation itself. In praise of Dialogos, the prestigious translator/poet David Ferry speaks for the humanity of generosity in George’s work, and his ability to render these texts into English as seamlessly as though they were original English poems.

George teaches English Literature and Classics in Translation at Suffolk University. 

The first Heaney Memorial Reading was held in August 2014, and I remember George being there and making his compliments afterwards. I was later to learn of his particular admiration for Heaney, which has recently been made manifest by a wonderful elegy to Heaney, “Seeking Clearance,” in the online journal Berfois. I’ve provided the link to the journal and most of the first four tercets of the poem for our readers.

Snow was falling fast and the poet was late
For his class in Emerson Hall, where I sat on a bench,
Without a Harvard ID or a poem to my name,

But as wildly anxious as those swirling flurries
Were holding him back—Oh fast as the falling snow
Was trying to let me know, if I caught its frantic,

Counter-clockwise drift, that poetry always
Came slow. Slow as the snowflakes melting fast
Into Seamus Heaney’s smarting, congenial eyes,

Three decades ago. So long for what I saw
To thaw into seeing things as they were at the start,
In winter light.

                                    From ‘Seeking Clearances’ by George Kalogeris

In a recent email to me, George gave me this for what he was planning for our reading on September 14th:
I’d like to read these Heaney poems: “Alphabets,” the fourth section of Clearances (“Fear of affectation made her affect…”), and “The Haw Lantern.” I’ll talk about Heaney’s language in relation to his childhood memory, his elegiac restraint, and the way his political poems spring from the “right there” world around him. I’ll try to read some poems of my own that connect with these.

In the diversity his own meditations, Heaney himself was “adept and dialect,” to quote from a piece in Station Island, “Making Strange,” a poem that addresses the overcoming of divisions between different classes of people. Himself rustic by birth and a man of letters by intellectual inclination, Heaney inherited a great ambidexterity in middle ground. He was good at finding and forging vivid images that captured the not-so-visible yet powerful trends of the times, of history.

During the Troubles he looked to the Vikings’ double heritage as primitive barbarians with pre-empyrean restlessness and reach to call out the brutality of the approaches of both the domestically unsettled Irish Nationalists and the occupying British provocation. When Heaney calls out the ancient Norsemen as—

            neighborly, scoretaking,
            killers, haggers
            and hagglers, gombeen men,
            hoarders of grudges and gain

—which one as a correlative does the contemporary reader identify? The passage reminds us there are a lot of people not given to violence and sectarianism who are caught in between, always.
     In her published monograph on Heaney, A Singing Contest, Meg Tyler (the feature reader for this year’s Heaney reading), has observed that “Heaney’s impulse is toward unity and regeneration. [His] poetry represents a structure allowing imaginative mediation of conflicts that appear irreconcilable in the social, political and historical realms.”

     The poem “Viking Dublin, Trial Pieces” in fact has a curious power of equating, like an algebra solution, both sides of the conflict, in their own character of “scoretaking,” grudges and violence. By looking to the past, the poem takes an unusual distance to speak in broad, general terms to a spirit of divisiveness in general. It could as easily address the many instances of conflict and unwillingness to negotiate differences we see in our world today, from what’s happening in Syria to our own Congress.
     If Heaney was adept at speaking for external conflicts, he often examined the same subtle powers of vision about his own—or any individual’s—internal uncertainties.

     The book The Haw Lantern concludes with an ingenious conceit titled “The Riddle,” with its double meaning for the tool of a mesh used to sift or separate liquid or finer materials like sand or powder from conglomerate matter or clods. Domestically we use strainers in both senses, to purify tea leaves from tea, or pasta from the water it’s boiled in. In the first instance it’s the liquid that runs through which we are after, in the latter the spaghetti that sticks to the mesh that’s important. The utensil itself, acting indifferently, becomes physically the device of curiosity that verbal riddles—a genre common to poetry—represent to us in the metaphysical aspect of insoluble questions.

The Riddle

You never saw it used but still can hear
The sift and fall of stuff hopped on the mesh,

Clods and buds in a little dust-up,
The dribbled pile accruing under it.

Which would be better, what sticks or what falls through?
Or does the choice itself create the value?

Legs apart, deft-handed, start a mime
To sift the sense of things from what’s imagined

And work out what was happening in that story
Of the man who carried water in a riddle.

Was it culpable ignorance, or was it rather
A via negativa through drops and let-downs?

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