A poem by Stamatis Polenakis


Stamatis Polenakis


What can I tell you that you don’t know
of the life after death?

Ted Hughes, "Birthday Letters"

Everything remains the same, frozen in time, nothing has changed since yesterday evening, the breakfast milk is still on the table, the children are sleeping in the upstairs bedroom, so dawn will break another day in another life in this sorrowful poem that continues to be written during your absence, once in another poem you had written that dying is an art like everything else, and now, of all the images of your life you choose to remember only one, many years ago: a late afternoon autumn stroll in the garden of the Belsize clinic and afterwards you describe in great detail to Miss Huey how the light fell perpendicular upon a broken tree trunk

(everything, even light, is shattered)

—translated by Richard Pierce


Sylvia Plath committed suicide on 11 February 1963 in London. Stamatis Polenakis was born in Athens seven years later. He studied cinema direction in Athens and Spanish literature in Madrid. He has published six poetry collections; the most recent one, The roses of Mercedes, was awarded the 2017 Greek National Prize for poetry ex aequo, as well as the 2017 “Anagnostis” Prize for poetry. His poems have been translated into English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Romanian—while he translates from the Spanish, mostly.

In his poetry, he has consistently cultivated the prose poem, sometimes verging on the interior monologue—it is certainly not coincidental that he has also written for the theatre, including, notably, the monologue Emily Dickinson's last dream (2007), staged several times, in Greece and abroad. His poems usually address, refer or more subtly allude to historical or literary figures and events, as well as locations significant for their connection to history and the arts. So do most of his collections' titles, e.g. Franz Marc's blue horses, Notre Dame (Odos Panos, Athens, 2008), Odessa's stairs (Mikri Arktos, Athens, 2012). Franz Marc's blue horses is his second book (published by Odos Panos, Athens, 2006), from whose second section, “Farewells”—to, among others, Chekhov, Chopin, Macbeth, Dostoyevsky but also Nastasya Filippovna, Diotima, and the waves of the Danube—this month's poem is taken.

His poetry merges the confessional—even if a persona is employed, and even if the poem is addressed in the second singular to its subject or to a comrade “you”—with the historical and even the political, usually in elegiac tones, manifest also in his handling of rhythm.

More by S.P. in English, online:

poems: http://www.greekpoetrynow.com/poet_poems_eng/polenakis_poems.html
an interview: https://www.greeknewsagenda.gr/index.php/interviews/reading-greece/6949-reading-greece-stamatis-polenakis-on-art-and-poetry-as-a-distant-memory-of-paradise-lost

Pictured: A video still from The man who wanted to look into the stone (2018), a work by Zisis Kotionis, currently on view at Collectanea, an exhibition curated by Christophoros Marinos at Deree - The American College of Greece. Read more about the exhibition here.