Mar 1, 2013


                                                                                                                                C.P. Cavafy (Cavafy archive)

Randall Couch interviews Murat Nemet-Nejat and George Economou on Cavafy's poetry and poetics for JACKET2. Economou has completed a Cavafy Collected Plus due out from Shearsman this spring.

Couch: Cavafy spent seven years, from age nine to sixteen, in England, wrote his first verses in English and reportedly spoke Greek with an English accent until he died. He had a substantial familiarity with the English poetic tradition. He was employed most of his adult life in the Anglo-Egyptian bureaucracy of the Ministry of Public Works. Apart from (or including, if you like) the thematics of imperialism, colonialism, and exile in many of the poems, do you have any thoughts on the effect of linguistic and cultural “double vision” on his poetry? Might it have an effect on the translatability of the poems into English?

Nemet-Nejat: In relation to this issue I think the most revealing writer to compare Cavafy to is Jabès. Jabès, who is also basically a Levantine writer/poet, chose to identify himself with the centrality of the French culture, leaving behind, essentially erasing, the Arabic culture in which he lived for forty years. Cavafy identified himself with his Levantine world (writing in Greek) and, what is crucial, took a confrontational stance (that of a “minor poet”) in relation to the cultural center. My essay "Questions of Accent," first published in The Exquisite Corpse in 1993, starts with a critique of Jabès as a Jewish Levantine writer. When first published, it caused a great deal of controversy.

The center of Cavafy's poetry, at least to me, is an erotically infused psychic isolation, the almost ecstatic melancholy of itinerant aloneness. Modern Turkish poetry also registers the victim’s, the outsider’s point of view though, because of its more directly Sufi connections, the ecstatic side of this melancholy—an ecstasy achieved through tears and suffering—has a more prominent place. (Gayness also, its gradual coming to the surface—is key to the reading of modern Turkish poetry.) MORE HERE!!!!!!

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