A poem by Haris Garouniatis


Haris Garouniatis

Tea and star signs

As you know, your mother does not budge from home
therefore invites me quite often to tea and conversation
an invitation I accept always with joy.
Each time, as she drowns the teabags in the cups
she asks about my sign and, fingering the stars
tries to determine whether you and I would match.
So, if you can, then tell me: now, with few teacups left
am I wrong to wonder where she finds the mood to chat and joke
what alien spring raises her up from bed, whenever once again
the cruellest caller’s finger is on the doorbell?
Will you please answer me, daughter of your mother, you who look at us
like tumours under the microscope, up on the constellation of cancer?

– translated by Panayotis Ioannidis

“Born in July, under the sign of Cancer”; there would be at least two inaccuracies in this statement, were it to refer to this year’s July poem. Which doesn’t rhyme, nor does it have a steady meter. And yet the look of it, two stately stanzas of six verses each, has a formal appearance that, together with its lovingly placed hints, its subtle ironies, work to emotionally control the painful story it tries simultaneously to veil and to reveal.

The years from 2010 onwards have been blessed with several noteworthy poetic debuts in Greek – and Haris Garouniatis’ Rossignol (Antipodes, Athens, 2019) is one of the most substantial: in the breadth of its concerns, coupled to the assurance of their poetic handling. Its subject matter is indeed impressively wide-ranging: personal incidents, mythological and historical figures and stories, references to film, the visual arts, poetry. But this would be of no consequence, were it not for the artful rendering and its inventive devices: we find prose poems and seemingly old-fashioned traditional forms; ‘theorems’ and ‘theories’, a ‘translation’ (plus a true translation), a ‘song’, an ‘oratorio’, a “Synopsis”, a “Tourist Guide”, a letter and a ‘message on an answering machine’; narratives and meditations, short and long, sometimes intertwined, and culminating in the five-page long poem that gives the book its title: “Rossignol” – meaning, of course, “nightingale” in French. This is cunningly preceded by a poem about hawks; it, in turn, being preceded by five poems on feline predators, dismemberment and destruction: this short sequencing gives one an idea of the careful attention that has gone into the book’s plan and scheme. (Incidentally, the book’s first verse is: “your art pleases me”; its last: “If all translation is impossible, all poetry is impossible”.) But it is indeed flight and its element, air, that seem to form the book’s running thread: birds, singing, voices, the air (including vanishings into thin air, the ether of the cosmic spheres, meteorological phenomena, seasonal changes), flights of fancy – and their foes: catastrophes of all sorts.

Haris Garouniatis was born in Athens in 1987. His poems and translations have been published in various journals, as well as on his Greek-language blog, harisgarouniatis.wordpress.com.

Pictured: Sofia Stevi's Bodily Form (2018), currently on view in her solo exhibition at ALMA ZEVI Venice. Read more about the exhibition here.