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Introduction, translation, by  Sarah Thilykou

I met Gabriel Rosenstock on the day of his arrival in Thessaloniki as a guest of the International Poetry Festival that I had been asked by Iossif Ventura particularly to help with. On Thursday, May 8, 2014, Yiorgos Chouliaras and I picked Gabriel from Makedonia Palace Hotel. We all walked in the sunny afternoon along the old water-front to Café Dore where we sat down to have late lunch. The persistent presence of the Roma children begging must have made an impression on the Irish poet even if we were used to this occurrence. When Yiorgos’ mobile rang for a live interview on Thessaloniki City Radio there was a moment of silence during which I saw Gabriel, full of thoughts, gazing at the sea. The poetic idea and the first haiku had just been born:

Thessaloniki Bay
has turned silver –
I give it all to the Roma

During the next few days Gabriel added to this social dimension considerations regarding language as a vehicle par excellence for poetry as well as reflections on our common-use English, which he brought up at a Saturday morning panel discussion on poetry. That same evening during a festival farewell dinner offered by the Hellenic Authors Society in a restaurant on Nikis Avenue, Gabriel unfolded lyrically the enchantment exercised by the dark visage of the old waterfront:

Thessaloniki Bay –
the moon is ashamed
to show her face tonight

without failing to recall the historical memory of Irish soldiers who had participated in the World War I imperial Gallipoli campaign:

Thessaloniki Bay –
do you remember?
foolish Irish soldiers

or ignoring, I would dare say, political connotations:

Thessaloniki Bay
has turned black –
we await what dawn?

I asked to translate them when, after the festival was over, Gabriel asked Yiorgos Chouliaras, and he in turn asked me, what might have happened to those haiku, which I had saved. At the same time I asked both for their help and I am grateful for their generosity. Gabriel Rosenstock is considered a haiku master internationally. This fact compounds the intrinsic difficulty of translating haiku from English to Greek. For metrical reasons, in my versions Thessaloniki Bay, has been replaced by Thessaloniki which is just as familiar to Greek readers. I have also placed the haiku into a sequence from “the beginning” to a “farewell”.

The meeting of a major poet’s sensitivity with the sheer silence of a perpetually co-reigning city capable of inspiring him appears as self-evident in the eyes of a woman born in Thessaloniki who feels homeless as she must live in Athens. It is also one of those miraculous incidents which confirm my naïve (un)certainty that some things just happen so as to allow such a meeting of persons, ideas, things… Poetry is indeed a meeting place as it rather involves such a loving interweaving in time as well as a way for us to realize how fascinating life could be despite uncertainties; a perpetual reconsideration of the fascinating fact of our own existence. Let us surrender ourselves, imperfect and uncertain, as translators and readers, to this meeting through the mutual assumption of our fundamental weakness that can only deepen, I think, our mutual understanding and communication.

Sarah Thilykou

Athens, June 14, 2014


1. Thessaloniki Bay –
    are you the end or the beginning?                                                  
    – answer!

2. Thessaloniki Bay –
    why have the seagulls                       
    all turned black?                                

3. Thessaloniki Bay –
    you have seen comets                       
    streaking across the heavens                         

4. Thessaloniki Bay …                      
    the clouds, uncounted,                      
    that have embraced you                   

5. Thessaloniki Bay –
    the fireflies of poetry                            
    are coming alive                                 

6. Thessaloniki Bay –                        
    the silences swoop and dive               
    like seagulls                                         

7. Thessaloniki Bay                          
    how far, far, far                                    
    away you are                                        

8. Thessaloniki Bay –
    let us sing each others praises             
    in despair                                              

9. Thessaloniki Bay –
    you have forged these words, 

10. Thessaloniki Bay –
      thank you!
      (from my extraterrestrial heart)

11. Thessaloniki Bay –
      long have I asked –
      do you exist?

12. Thessaloniki Bay –
      we find each other
      in night flickers

13. Thessaloniki Bay –
      you have brightened
      and blackened my soul, forever

14. Thessaloniki Bay –
      all my Byzantine secrets
      are surfacing!

15. Thessaloniki Bay –
      who first entered you?
      as I do

16. Thessaloniki Bay
      has turned silver –
      I give it all to the Roma  

17. Thessaloniki Bay –
      the moon is ashamed
      to show her face tonight

18. Thessaloniki Bay –
      do you remember?
      foolish Irish soldiers

19. Thessaloniki Bay –
      a ship of fools went by
      without me

20. Thessaloniki Bay –
      deeper than thought
      deeper than words

21. Thessaloniki Bay –
      your dark waters
      embrace these words

22. Thessaloniki Bay –
      a whisper in the old tongue –
      horizons vanish

23. Thessaloniki Bay
      has turned black –
      we await what dawn?

24. Thessaloniki Bay –
      how can I say



1. Θεσσαλονίκη –
αρχή είσαι ή τέλος;                
    - απάντησέ μου!                                            

2. Θεσσαλονίκη –
    γιατί γλάροι στα νερά            
    έγιναν μαύροι;                                      

3. Θεσσαλονίκη –
    πόσους κομήτες είδες                  
    ουρά ουρανού                                   

4. Θεσσαλονίκη …                          
    σύννεφα, αμέτρητα        
    να σ’ αγκαλιάζουν                              

5. Θεσσαλονίκη –
    της ποίησης έρχονται          

6. Θεσσαλονίκη –
    βουτάνε στα νερά σου                     
    γλάροι της σιωπής                  

7. Θεσσαλονίκη,                             
    πόσο μακριά, πολύ               
    μακριά μου είσαι                        

8. Θεσσαλονίκη –
    όλοι μαζί ας πιούμε                       

9. Θεσσαλονίκη –
    σφυρηλατείς τις λέξεις,
10. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      ουράνια η καρδιά μου
      σε ευχαριστεί!

11. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      πολύ αναρωτιέμαι –
      άραγε υπάρχεις;

12. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      βρισκόμαστε στης νύχτας
      τις αναλαμπές

13. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      για πάντα την ψυχή μου
      μαύρισες στο φως

14. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      βυζαντινά μου όλα
      μυστικά στο φως!

15. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      ποιον δέχτηκες απόψε
      πριν από μένα;

16. Θεσσαλονίκη
      ασήμι στα νερά σου –
      όλα στους Ρομά

17. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      κρύβεται απόψε
      αιδήμων η σελήνη

18. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      θυμάσαι ανόητους
      φαντάρους Ιρλανδούς;

19. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      περνά τρελό το πλοίο
      χωρίς εμένα

20. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      απ’ τη σκέψη πιο βαθιά
      από τις λέξεις

21. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      τις σκέψεις αγκαλιάζουν
      νερά σου μαύρα

22. Θεσσαλονίκη –
      ψίθυρος παλιός –
      οι ορίζοντες σβήνουν

23. Θεσσαλονίκη
      μαύρα τα νερά –
      ποια αυγή μας περιμένει;

24. Θεσσαλονίκη
      πώς να μπορέσω
      το αντίο να σου πω;