The Greek Anthology Book XVII is Cork-born poet Greg Delanty's tenth collection, an impressive output of work that includes a substantial retrospective volume of Collected Poems 1986-2006. Delanty's poetry, steeped in the work of Vaughan, Herbert, and Traherne, has always been notable for its elegant and deep formal textures as well as for its wide thematic range. In general, the Delanty lyric is no longer than twenty lines though the subject matter is broad: poems about Cork, about his father's work as a compositor for Eagle Printing (The Hellbox, 1998), ecological poems that explore the landscapes and wildlife, bird life in particular, of Vermont and Kerry, poems of child birth and fatherhood (The Ship of Birth, 2003), poems of political engagement, a superb poem about baseball ("Tagging the Stealer" from The Blind Stitch, 2001), and a volume of immigrant poetry (American Wake, 1995) are among his subjects.
A feature of Delanty's technique is his incorporation of a complex and musical syntax, reminding readers of Hopkins' sprung rhythm, and his use of a wide register of diction, ranging from the elevated to the demotic. The diction and syntax of Delanty's work pay homage, I suspect, to Cork City's unique linguistic inheritance where many verbal shades remain in free play: Irish and English, modern and Elizabethan, as well as echoes of other languages that travelers have brought with them into the port, and which have subtly endured. Quick linguistic and tonal shifts, as well as a wide gallery of allusion, are other aspects of Delanty's work, producing a delightful tension:
We, a bunch of greencard Irish, vamp it under the cathedral arches of Brooklyn Bridge that's strung like a harp. ("We Will not Play the Harp Backward, No")
The original Greek anthology, which Delanty's volume responds to, comprises sixteen books of short poems, composed between the seventh century BC and the tenth century AD, that are attributed to a variety of authors who wrote on an array of subjects that included boats, kings, religious leaders, Gods, hair combs, and other poets. The poems are amatory, satirical, humorous, dedicatory, hortatory, sepulchral, and declamatory. Delanty's The Greek Anthology Book XVII is a fictional poetic work that adds to and updates the original anthology by situating it in a contemporary setting. Here, Delanty "translates" into English work by contemporary authors. An Irish literary counterpart to The Greek Anthology BookXVII is Brian Moore's novel The Great Victorian Collection (1975) in which Tony Maloney, a young assistant professor at McGill University, checks into the Sea Winds Motel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, dreams about a vast collection of Victoriana, and upon waking the next morning and looking out of his window finds this collection assembled in the motel's parking lot. Among other aspects of the novel, the collection is a vehicle for Moore's many-sided exploration of the forces and myths that guide contemporary life. It is likely that Delanty's highly imaginative creation, like Moore's, owes much to Borges, Cortazar, Garcia-Marquez, and Nabokov who have used similar approaches, inventions, tropes, glosses, and literary assemblages. It is interesting to note how many of these authors who departed from traditional form--Borges is an exception--have also been authors who have lived great portions of their lives as emigres. It is as if departure from one's homeland prefaces departure from traditional modes of composition. In "The Other Heaven," as Brian McHale has pointed out, Cortazar superimposed twentieth-century Buenos Aires on nineteenth-century Paris while Borges, in his fiction and poetry, was renowned for such inventiveness. In Delanty's new book, contemporary Ireland and America are superimposed on the classical world though one could argue that the reverse is equally true. In the original Greek Anthology, Roman writers wrote about their own world in Greek, a superior language to their own they thought, while retaining the Latin names. Even in the original, a certain superimposition was at play.
Readers of contemporary poetry will recognize many of "authors" whose work Delanty "translates" in The Greek Anthology BookXVIT. Longlius (Michael Longley), Montagus (John Montague), Billius the Laureate (Billy Collins), Terence of the North (Terence Brown), Kincellas Major (Thomas Kinsella), Adrienne (Adrienne Rich), Muldunus the Magister Grammaticorum (Paul Muldoon), Grennanus (Eamon Grennan), and Gregory of Corkus (Greg Delanty), among others. Two poems are "translations" from Heanius (Seamus Heaney) and it is notable that "Sweeney Out-Takes" from Heaney's Human Chain (2010) is dedicated to Gregory of Corkus. For the most part, Delanty's poems do not imitate the style of the poet to whom the work is attributed, although Heanius' "Concealment" might be an exception to this in how it connects to Heaney's "Punishment"; instead, Delanty, by including all of these poets and writers in his anthology, honors his contemporaries by "translating" their work.
Many of Delanty's favored themes are present here though they are given fresh life by how they are myriadly cast and de-contextualized from their Irish and American origins. The various authors' personae that have been chosen allow Delanty to take flight to great effect. Present throughout The Greek Anthology BookXVII axe poems of quiet celebration as exemplified by this short translation of a poem by Frankos Kavalaris:
We think too much of what people think, the shadows they cast that we see as our own, imagined or true. Horses galloping the beach aren' t bothered by their dark reflections on wet sand. They don't need shadow-blinds like high-strung thoroughbreds for fear their adumbrations will scare them. Let's forget the umbras cast by ourselves and others. Let's drop the shadow-blinds. ("Reflection")
There is a stripped-down quality to this poem that is most effective and which allows its wise depth to emerge. The Greek Anthology Book XVII is a book of experience whose wisdom has been earned from the business of living, the fruits of which are best expressed simply because they need to be revealed and not concealed. Simplicity and directness are also features of translated poetry and these aspects are accommodated and embraced by Delanty. Even when the poems reach for the sublime, they do so simply and effectively:
The ocean wraps its surf scarf round the shoulder of the shore. Everything's in touch with everything else: The sky with the sea, the wave susurrus ... ("Resort")
Classical literature is often concerned with warfare and Delanty makes good use of this source material in his exploration of the fallacies that led to the Iraq invasion:
Many declared the gods decreed this war to lighten Gaia's burden, the weight of ever-increasing humans. A nation played its part-converting a lie into truth. Blind shrewd Homer played his harp to that fabricated story. The phantom that launched a thousand missiles. ("The Bombshell")
A vibrant book of life, The Greek Anthology Book XVII includes explorations and examples of both the sacred and profane and everything in-between. Arguably the most hilarious poem is a translation of a poem by the generic Allofus entitled "The Most Neglected God of All," a celebration of masturbation:
Now let us praise the most neglected god of all, the god of the Hand Job, Hand Shandy, Master Spank the Monkey, Madame Frig. The god that everyone: housewives, presidents, gurus, Zen monks--so that's the One Hand Clap-rabbis, nuns have been possessed by, ever since it was handed down ...
The many voices employed in The Greek Anthology Book XVII allow Delanty to speak widely and variously. In the" English tradition, this approach is reminiscent of Robert Browning's use of monologue while, at the same time, calling to mind Fernando Pessoa's personae poems in the modernist tradition. The work throughout is uniformly strong and always engaging and in conception and execution it is convincing, successful, and often moving. A complete original, there is nothing like The Greek Anthology Book XVII in contemporary^ Irish poetry and it finds Greg Delanty reaching for and achieving new heights as a poet.
--University of Missouri-St. Louis
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|Title Annotation:||The Greek Anthology Book XVII|
|Publication:||Irish Literary Supplement|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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