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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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Serendipoetry

Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?

-- Siegfried Sassoon
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)

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