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Melissa’s interview with Eleni Sikelianos in a previous issue.

Melissa's chapbook, Arc in a previous issue.

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Photo of Melissa Buckheit by Rebecca Seiferle

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Contributor Notes




Six Poems from, Wish For Odysseas


Ioulita Iliopoulou

Ioulita Iliopoulou







Melissa Buckheit

Translated by Melissa Buckheit

 

 

 

 

Translator's Note

 

 

I first began translating the poetry of Ioulita Iliopoulou (ΙΟΥΛΙΤΑ ΗΛΙΟΠΟΥΛΟΥ) from her book, ΕΥΧΗΝ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙ, of which these translations are a selection, in 1999 when I was an undergraduate, under the study of Olga Broumas at Brandeis University. There, I was introduced to ΕΥΧΗΝ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙ, translated as Wish or Prayer Toward Odysseas, which was written by Iliopoulou and published in 1997, after the death of her lover and companion, the Greek Nobel Laureate and poet, Odysseas Elytis. I had previously studied Latin, much more extensively French, and very briefly, Ancient Greek. Independent Studies and later a Fellowship, while I was at Brandeis, allowed me to learn Modern Greek through immersion in poetry translation, perhaps a very different method than most, which favor pure language study or an immersion method. I chose translation, supplemented my study with grammar textbooks, and I benefited most by working closely and often, collaboratively, with Olga Broumas, a native Greek from Syros and the lumescent translator of the late Nobel Laureate, Odysseas Elytis, and now, Kiki Dimoula.

 

I found learning and speaking Modern Greek this way akin to suddenly being thrown into a body of water—the music now familiar, now a surprise, the imagery lifted from the Greek landscape, Greek history, culture, national identity, sensibility; my brain filled with the sounds of words and their sensibilities I was only beginning to comprehend. In Iliopoulou’s dense and embedded, powerfully emotional yet controlled, and intimately visionary poetry, I felt a kinship with my own writing, especially in her use of syntax, how etymology echoed in associations with other words and toward other languages. When I first began translating, and her poems began to appear on the page in English, in the early versions which soon lead to a final poem, her voice—its fierceness, presence, boldness, subtlety, sensuality and depth—floored me. The music of her Greek is gorgeous and the greatest challenge has always been to bring that music along with meaning, as well as the density of her use of language, which is compounded by the density and efficiency of Greek grammar, as compared to English, in my opinion.

 

As is necessary to translate a writer from one language across to another, you must enter into that writer’s language and world in the sense of being a shadow beside their poems. As a result, you feel they are your poems, these translations, when you are done—but of course they are not. The humility of that reality is a welcome relief from the experience of writing one’s own work, which can often become fraught with the presence of the troublesome self at every step. In this sense, translation is a lovely occupation, allowing a sense of play with language, meaning, music and inadvertent collaboration, whether across oceans, great lengths of time or beyond the grave.

 

In this brief selection of six poems by Iliopoulou, from Wish For Odysseas, you will receive a slight impression as to the arc of her book, its movement forward and backward through time, beginning with “Angel” which is placed after Elytis’ death, to poems placed in the midst of their relationship far before that event, which emerge in the Greek landscape, recur with specific imagery and are imbued with eros, complexity and a sense of their own history. In the last poem, “Nouni” you’ll see this vital reality merge with the reality of Elytis’ passing. Always, imagery, music and syntax communicate meaning first, as Iliopoulou rarely just makes statements. Poems avoid cliché, the triteness of black and white depictions, to arrive instead at a true complexity of emotional, spiritual and physical realities, where nothing is ever completely known or can be completely expressed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* * * * * * * *

                                                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANGEL

 

 

 

Like light orbit of bird

And then the sky’s sand leading you

The slight air that passes

Under the sole

In the arch with small drops of cyan

Secretly the summer will be resumed

They were saying.  The lips of shells, more thin

Dripping the thick juice

Take it

Into your tongue’s

Incomprehensible consonance

With me

            not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VOID

 

 

 

Slowly slips

From the summer

The ship

As of the few words

The resin

In one landscape pliable

Void

You fold day and night into

The bougainvilleas

The young air

Your hands on your chest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fragile – from the eyes that have passed now

Grass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEA

 

 

 

Cobalt which here they call wave

And rise from it naked to bow in worship

To the Virgin’s stone

At dawn the deepest sleep in the bedrooms

With the bitter orange-trees mid-chest the wind

Of which other earth tears off your skin

With meaning raising small saplings of the sky

Which feed a boundless future to the birds and

Seeds of wheat to the future.  It will come

Again from the pebbles during those noons where you saw

The sea move across you a deepest cut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EROS

 

 

 

Let eros make you as the bees make spring

Citizen of an unseen world

Let you not know how to measure intervals of light

Intervals of music

In a fall hopeless as an entreaty

I’m known by all I’ve never known and even

Now people sign on but events betray them

On the page you were writing – pooling inside you moon –

Which you can also call mountain – before an emigration

Thin branches drag the earth

Wide and opening the other palms

Louder more loud the lullaby lights

How beautifully how beautifully you take me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOUNI

 

 

 

Nouni the name of the stars in the rains

The sun fits in a lemon’s seed

And the nomad eroses bloom themselves up

Here where you are

                               not 

Winds crosses boats open close

The futures in their one small palm

And the nostalgia of blue in the mouth shhh slow slowly

Gesturing weightless evening which goes

to leave.  As if the little blades of grass were cold and

Dawn shies in the iris of your eyes  tha-

Natos!