One of the pleasures of a literary friendship is exchanging poems. It serves as a means of dialogue, which all too often cannot take place given separations in time and distance, and neither letters nor social media quite fill that space a completed poem can occupy. Some time ago I sent out a chapbook of mine to friends, and marvellous to say, I received Dimitris Troaditis’ volume Tightrope Walking / Ακροβασíες in exchange.
As readers of Neos Kosmos would know, Dimitris Troaditis is something of a phenomenon. Born 1959 in Greece, he started writing poetry with serious intent almost 30 years ago and soon afterwards arrived in Australia, and has not stopped writing since. Two recent collections of his verse have been published in Athens, and he maintains a bilingual website To Koskino. He’s political, outspoken, and quite tough, though sometimes his politics can irritate me, as I am still a rather conservative Adelaidean Catholic. Even so, one respects the strength and beauty of each poet, regardless of their background, for poetry is our common ground. Then, as I am a βάρβαρος, having no Greek, with but a little Latin from school, I will only comment on some of the poems as they appear in translation.
The first thing to strike me is the set of dark images and references used to convey the swirl of sentiment, for example, the use of ‘grave’, ‘old drawings’, ‘stones’, ‘wretched prayers’ in the title poem Tightrope Walking, then more words emphasising the acrobat’s dilemma, ‘taut’, ‘bonds’, ‘calamity’ and so on, leading to the reader being prepared to consider the gravity of the real situation we face, ‘whether immortality / can release us / from the bonds of causality’.
Suddenly the poem is not about a particular acrobat, but about ourselves, whether we can achieve that ‘perfect / multi-levelled footstep’ needed to avoid ‘calamity’. Is he referring to death, oblivion, to being ‘buried alive’? If so, in what? The poem leaves me nervous, wondering what’s next in store.
In the sonnet My Secrets I encountered fantastic confession. The speaker becomes divine, almost maniacal, as he reveals his intent to ‘engrave’, ‘stamp’ and ‘draw’ himself on his lover’s body, but not out of the light like a Zeus to Danae, claiming however that he would ‘only travel on the feathers of nightingales’.
Then a remembered line from the English poet, Keats, led me to refer to this image, one I have never seen or heard, only to read of the tragic tale of Philomela, and remember a line from TS Eliot, that supreme symbolist. The second part then presents a series of water metaphors, ‘tears’, ‘mists’, ‘rains and hurricanes’, and as I am now reading the speaker as Tereus addressing his sister, all these images reflecting on a deep ‘grief’.
Perhaps I was reading too much into that poem, but if my student reading and years of classroom teaching are any guide, it is becoming clear that Troaditis is not just writing contemporary trifles, but continuously is digging deep into the remembered veins of Hellenic literature.
He gathers strength from that, and from his own political analysis of his life and surrounding circumstances, as demonstrated in poems such as Terror Australia and Of the Community. And, as his translator, Dean Kalimniou, points out in the introduction, Troaditis’ words ‘drench the page with the force of a torrent’, almost to the point of the reader being overwhelmed. Such a clearly articulated force is rare in Australian letters.
Tightrope Walking / Ακροβασíες is a strong collection, and a suitable companion to others in this series of poetry chapbooks, alongside those by Dimitris Tsaloumas, Zeny Giles et al.
* Edward Reilly is the founding editor of the literary journal Azuria published annually in Geelong.
Dimitris Troaditis, Tightrope Walking /Ακροβασíες, translated by D Kalimniou, Owl Publishing, Brighton, Vic, 2017.