Thodoris Rakopoulos photograph
When she goes
all she leaves behind is just a single photograph, full-body usually, or torso,
or with the head inclined to one side.
Hair falling on the face,
in an exaggerated profile
or faceless like representations of Muhammad
on woven kilims
so that duration widens by the thought of having lived together
changing features at will
ascribing timeless ages to probabilities
and even putting on a body
to faces in a children's jigsaw puzzle
uncertain noon impressions beneath a summer window
invincible evening thoughts about deity
and then the parallel, the better life
of how it might have been – had
the pic had some potential, some continuity,
a somewhat more convincing combination of memories.
—translated by Panayotis Ioannidis
Thodoris Rakopoulos' first book (that received the State Literary Award for a 2010 Debut and whose second poem is published here) is called Faiyum (Mandragoras, 2010; Nefeli, 2019). Faiyum is of course the area of Egypt where Roman-period funerary portraits were discovered on mummies, painted in a style at once realistic but also deeply 'poetic', due to the intensity of the eyes of the dead and the calm of their facial expression. Realistic and 'poetic' gazing (let's simply add that Faiyum's opening poem is entitled “You always tend to look over your shoulder”) is indeed a chief concern for the majority of the book's poems: gazing remembered; seen in a photograph or a painting—but also the gaze that all visual records (this all too familiar form of 'death') return to, and demand from us: the gaze of memory and thought, painful or otherwise.
There followed a second book of poems, Mineral forest (Nefeli, 2013), where prose poems made their first appearance in T.R.'s published work. This is in two sections, “Corals” and “Ammunition”; gazing and narration are now elaborated on by a ruminative voice. This approach is given a further twist in T.R.'s third book of poems, The gunpowder conspiracy (Nefeli, 2014), consisting entirely of prose poems purporting to comment on “the neighbour's intercepted correspondence”, “Jules Verne's animal kingdom” and “Chiliasts”, by employing a satirical—though firmly poetic—cocktail of (mock-)confessional, (mock-)scientific, and (mock-)journalistic tones. His fourth poetry book, You know the end (Antipodes, 2017), is co-authored with two other poets, Stergios Mitas (featured on und. Poetry in November 2019) and Antonis Psaltis; an intricate poetic 'relay' toying with various 'ends'. He has also published a book of short stories, Bat in the pocket (Nefeli, 2015), and been variously nominated for the State Literary Awards and the “Diavazo” Awards.
T.R. was born in 1981 in Amyntaio (Western Macedonia) and has worked for years in the U.K., Italy, South Africa and Cyprus. He is currently Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, Norway. His poems have also appeared in English, French, Spanish, German and Polish translation.
An interview with T.R. in English online:
Pictured: An image from the series Dark Matter(s) by Alexis Vasilikos, one of the artists now showing at the group exhibition Nyctophilia II at CAN Christina Androulidaki Gallery in Athens. Read more here. Image courtesy of the artist and CAN Christina Androulidaki Gallery.