Maria Topali CHRISTMAS to Love
When we were children, time would stall.
It curved and towered.
By end of autumn it had become a mountain,
and on its top, unreachable
Now the trousers' belt,
curled up like a snake, suns itself on the piano.
Its metal ends are shining.
Time is panting, and
suddenly stepping on the break
unloads us onto Christmas,
as from a slide.
– translated by Panayotis Ioannidis
A Christmas poem for December may sound like a ridiculously tired cliché—but the poem “Christmas” clearly steers away from seasonal clichés. Indeed, playing with, and subverting clichés is one of Maria Topali's poetic virtues. Her carefully chiselled style, usually spare, but with sudden jets of unsparingly scalding, concentrated lyricism, was already there in her first book, Tea set, from which this poem is taken. Ranging from the deeply personal to the overtly (and sometimes satirically) political; the refashioning of myths to the topical; the sudden illumination to the probing analysis; her poems are close observations unfolding at a slow, considered pace.
Maria Topali was born in Thessaloniki in 1964. She studied law in Athens and obtained her PhD in Frankfurt. Her first volume of poetry, the aforementioned Tea Set, was published in 1999 (by Nefeli Editions); her second, London and other poems, in 2006 (also by Nefeli) was short-listed for the poetry award of the literary magazine “Diavazo”. There followed the masterful book-length poem Vermion Descent (2010)—a complex requiem for, and dissection of family roots and relationships, whose structure and diction are stamped by an original musicality— and, in 2018, We all sang along (both by Patakis Editions). In between, she published two theatre musicals, The Dance of the Middle Class (Okto Editions, 2012) and Requiem ( “ , 2017), as well as—in collaboration with Konstantine Matsoukas—a book of short prose pieces entitled For four hands (Gavriilidis Editions, 2013). Her Open Letter to Rilke was published by Edition Romiosini (Berlin) in 2018 in a bilingual edition (German translation by Dennis Püllmann).
She has been writing poetry reviews systematically since 1996: for the journal “Poiisi” [Poetry]; its successor “Poiitiki” [Poetics], of whose editorial board she is a member; as well as for “Kathimerini” newspaper. Eventually, in 2018, she edited a German anthology of contemporary Greek poetry, Poetry with a bite (translated from the Greek by Torsten Israel; Edition Romiosini, Berlin).
She translates German prose and poetry, including selected poems by Brecht, Huchel, Lasker-Schüler, as well as Rilke's Duino Elegies (published by Patakis, 2011). Her own poems have been translated into English, German, Italian and Slovenian. From 2006 to 2008, she taught poetry translation at EKEMEL (European Translation Centre of Literature and the Humanities) in Athens, and, during 2007-2008, a course on Poetics and Space at the Faculty of Architecture, the University of Thessaly (Volos, Greece).
More by M.T. in English online:
Pictured: Detail from the work Transformative Encounters by artist Eva Papamargariti, currently on view in the group exhibition It Moves and it Shouts at Haus N Athen. Read more about the exhibition here.