Review of Vassiliki Rapti. Transitorium.
Boston: Somerset Hall Press, 2015.
by Thrassos Calligas and Jodie Cohen-Tanugi, Cambridge, MA
Vassiliki Rapti's latest poetry collection, Transitorium, combines influences from classical and modern Greek masters with Rapti's unique and sensuous style. The Greek originals sometimes touch on surrealism, with ingenious word play that invites looking into deeper layers of meaning. One could say that Rapti cannot resist an alliteration or a play with homonyms, but the result is an often delightful and whimsical. There are surprising twists in her poetry. Take “The Trills of Light,” in which the evolution of the brief poem goes from sensation, to personal to sudden, stark insight:
The trills of light I gazed
while unlocking my body
I leaned closer to light
and I saw the dark.
Or, “Cardiac Facilities,” in which the poet examines the inherent risks in closeness and coming together:
Carefully/ they placed/ The hearts/ Abreast/ A tiny one/ Next to/ A large one/ The one red/ The other unusually pale/ The one multifariously wiry/ the other strangely over-veined/ the major operation- a mutual transfusion/ Would be attempted/ A great Procrustean/ Risk was/ At stake.
In “The Gourds of Seferis,” she explores memory and longing, encourages exploration of the past with freedom and meticulousness (and disobedience) and ends with a nod to Seferis's “King of Asine.”
In “Two Salamanders,” she creates sensuous images of light and change, as the two reptiles shed their skins and merge with each other in a representation of the past.
“Epithalamion” has echoes of Elytis and even Sappho:
When you kiss, breathe or utter words,/ thousands of birds released in joy/ fly to the sky in sunlit dancing/..../.../
if it were possible for you
to bid them an easy "goodbye"
when dawn breaks
and you sleep alone
in a bed for two
not yet ready.
The translations, sometimes jointly elaborated by her peers and students, present the eternal problem of how to capture the original intent and feeling without rendering them awkward in translation and without creating an independent poem. The challenge is heightened with Rapti’s poetry, in which the sound and music is so essential. For readers with some knowledge of Greek, the dual text format is well-suited for these original, evocative, and sensuous poems.
Jodie Cohen-Tanugi and Thrassos Calligas are members of the Advanced Training in Greek Poetry Translation and Performance Workshop.