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One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Friday 07 April 2006

More on Amorgos

Last week my Book of the Week was Sally Purcell's evocative translation of Nikos Gatsos's Amorgos, about which I thought I'd give you a bit more information.

In 1943, with Greece in the grip of a crippling famine and groaning under Nazi occupation, Gatsos published his major work, the epic poem Amorgos. Written in one night of intense, concentrated effort, Amorgos was a surrealist stream-of-consciousness, a profoundly mysterious and magnetic incantation, a paean of despair and hope, celebratory and bitter, whose seismic cultural influence reverberates to this day. Much admired by the Nobel laureates Odysseus Elytis and George Seferis (both published by Anvil), it reshaped the Greek poetic tradition but, amazingly, was Gatsos's only work.

Gatsos was born in the village of Asea in Arcadia, likely on December 8, 1911 (though some accounts hold 1914). He spoke several languages and studied at the School of Philosophy in Athens.

The legendary Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis adapted a portion of Amorgos in a rembetika song and Gatsos soon became the premier lyricist in Greek popular music. Working with friends like Hadjidakis, Nana Mouskouri, and Mikis Theodorakis (who adapted Odysseus Elytis’s Axion Esti), Gatsos spearheaded the renaissance of Greek popular music in the postwar era. Well versed in English, French and Spanish, he translated poetry and plays by Lorca, O’Neill, Strindberg, Lope de Vega, Genet and Tennessee Williams into Greek. He died in Kifissia in 1992.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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Omens, after Alexander Pushkin

I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.

I rode back: everything changed.
My soul in love was sad
and the moon on my left side
trailed me without hope.

To such endless impressions
we poets give ourselves absolutely,
making, in silence, omen of mere event,
until the world reflects the deepest needs of the soul.

-- Louise Gluck
Averno (Carcanet Press)

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