Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Radical translation of Antigone a lively work
CANADIAN-BORN Anne Carson presents a radical translation of the classical Greek play Antigone, by Sophocles, in Antigonick (McClelland & Stewart, 180 pages, $30).
Carson, who teaches ancient Greek, has published other unconventional translations of classical works. Her text appears in handwritten block letters, interspersed with tangential illustrations by Bianca Stone, and the characters of the play comment on various interpretations of the Antigone offered by later writers such as Bertolt Brecht and G.W.F. Hegel. Carson also adds an unspeaking character, the titular Nick, who is "always onstage" and "measures things."
One of Carson's liveliest works, Antigonick strikes strange balances. Kreon enters to announce his "verbs for today" and the chorus laments "Zeus you win you always win / the whole oxygen of power / belongs to you." Teiresias the seer warns that "you know my technologies you know the failing of the sign is in itself a sign."
Sophocles' famous line, now a cliché, that man is the greatest of wonders appears as "many terribly quiet customers exist but none more / terribly quiet than man." Carson's transmutations, at their best, revitalize the play's poetic force.
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Montreal's Oana Avasilichioaei, in We, Beasts (Wolsak & Wynn, 148 pages, $19), winds a series of poetic sequences around a core of Grimm-esque fable. At times she seems to remark on this leafy structure: "on the tree branches time unbolting / the green skeletons of words."
Her incantatory "songs" and the insertion of a chapbook of "spelles" give a feel of ancient power to the often medieval imagery.
When Avasilichioaei writes of "a stone house / from another wolftury, in a valley of foreigned bats" and that "between me and you only creatured seconds exist," she displays her unnerving facility to press words into uncommon functions.
In We, Beasts, "Every language is responsible for its ogres" and in the book's dark core "the muse, stuck in a bone, is gnawing her way out."
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"You might say that / there is a quick and sure-fire way to find out / why they are called killer whales" states Tim Conley, of St. Catharines, Ont. He's right, of course; such kernels of wisdom abound in One False Move (Quattro, 76 pages, $15), where "One monkey's potassium is / another monkey's dream."
Conley grasps our modern horrors with the economy of a standup comic: "Money is really tight, soup / isn't what it used to be, and you / is a pronoun in trouble." Here, there is "no ink wasted on Octopussy / jokes" and since "we must avoid the word stupid, / ... it doesn't anywhere appear in this poem."
Beneath the cleverness lies a sharp poetic vision, also able to determine that "By the light of their embrace we see / that the truest lover of wood is fire."
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In Divide and Rule (Coach House, 72 pages, $18), by Toronto's Walid Bitar, "If the obvious isn't made obvious, / there's no telling what it may become." Bitar delights in slippages, where meaning complicates from line to line: "I loved him once -- may he rest assured / in a crypt I spent the morning sealing."
In this way, Bitar makes biting political points -- "How many of their number must we kill / before they evolve into semblances of us" -- without staking a clear claim: "If there weren't persons inside me I'm not, / who'd suffer terror I'm busy enjoying?" How else to critique a world where violence strengthens its targets through granting an antagonism against which to define/defend? "Laugh at it -- it becomes the laughter."
Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball's forthcoming book, The Politics of Knives, will be published in October by Coach House Press. Follow him @jonathanballcom.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2012 J9
Updated on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 10:31 AM CDT: Removes irrelevant photo.
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