June: and allow me to predict before you have read the following introduction to this month’s “secret poem” from Nicole Callihan, on discovering Cavafy, that your thoughts too, perhaps mid-paragraph! will turn ineluctably to your own initial encounter with a certain someone – on the page: a meeting that would alter the course of your life. In a past Editor’s Note, I have retailed the account of my own serendipitous rendezvous with E. M. Cioran in the dank 70s hallways of the Louisville Public Library. I suppose I, as well, like Ms. Callihan, wanted to be an artist, although that epiphany was yet to come. There was no “we” I could imagine would take me into their confidence. For that moment, it was simply enough to be in the presence of his words, his magnificent and terrifying cynicism and erudition. But no matter. Read on. Whatever the nature of your epiphany, I expect you’ll nod along with our emcee as she makes particular in the most pleasurable fashion what surely must be a universal experience for – I can say it now – us poets.
I was nineteen when I first read Constantine Cavafy. I was a nineteen-year-old sorority girl at the University of Oklahoma who had just tried gin at a FIJI party and had recently developed what felt like an addiction to Taco Bueno burritos because they contained tater tots when I first read Cavafy. I didn’t read Cavafy in Greek, of course, though, yes, I had learned the Greek alphabet as part of my pledging, but what did I know beyond the kappa, the alpha, and the theta?
My beloved professor, George Economou, was a poet and translator. I had some sense of what it meant to be a poet, but I truly didn’t understand what it meant to be a translator. To introduce us to the concept of translation, George had given us an assignment to read a poem in a language we didn’t understand and to “translate” it. I think he said something about feeling the sound in our bones, though I can’t quote him here because, what if he reads this? (Hi, George. I miss you, George. You changed my life, George.)
But what did it even mean to translate? Wasn’t it just a tedious task of looking up words and plugging them in? Was “feeling the sound in my bones” somehow related to the banging of my Smith Corona with the eight fingers that weren’t holding my Marlboro Light?
And then, George brought us one of his own translations. It was printed on pale blue cardstock and his Magnolia Street address ran along the right-hand side. Printed in Greek was the title, and below, the most beautiful poem I had ever read, a poem which had traveled from Alexandria to Norman, from Greek to English, from Cavafy through George to our dusty classroom to me.
Half an Hour
By C.P. Cavafy
Translated by George Economou
Never made it with you and don’t expect
I will. Some talk, a slight move closer,
as in the bar yesterday, nothing more.
A pity, I won’t deny. But we artists
sometimes by pushing our minds
can—but only for a moment—create
a pleasure that seems almost physical.
That’s why in the bar yesterday—with the help
of alcohol’s high power—I had
a half hour that was completely erotic.
I think you knew it and
stayed on purpose a little longer.
That was really necessary. Because
with all my imagination and the spell of the drinks,
I just had to see your lips
had to have your body near.
Reading it now, I still feel the heat that rose in me as he read it aloud to us. That “never made”! The spell of the drinks! Those lips! My God. But more than anything it was the “we” that got me, the “we artists.” That’s what I wanted! I wanted to be a part of thatwe; I wanted to be an artist; I wanted to have half hours that were completely erotic, and I wanted to do it in language and across languages and with language, and I wanted to do it again and again, and to this day, I try.
Nicole Callihan’s latest book is Translucence, a dual-language, cross-culture collaboration with Palestinian poet Samar Abdel Jaber (Indolent Books 2018). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming inTin House, Sixth Finch, The American Poetry Review, and as a Poem-a-Day selection from the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Brooklyn and at www.nicolecallihan.com.
George Economou is the author of several books of poetry, including Century Dead Center (Left Hand Books, 1997), harmonies & fits (Point Riders Press, 1987), and Voluntaries (Corycian Press, 1984). Economou is also known for his translations, his most recent ones including Complete Plus: The Poems of C. P. Cavafy in English (Shearsman Books, 2013) and Half an Hour & Other Poems by C. P. Cavafy (Stop Press, 2008).
C.P. Cavafy is widely considered the most distinguished Greek poet of the twentieth century.
And – now onto other items.
First in order: in a Staff reshuffle, as we bid farewell to Steven Elder and Bryan Duffy, and welcome a new Editor at Large – the widely traveled and multi-talented poet Amy Beeder, whose biographical note and photo can be found on the Staff page. We are fortunate, indeed, to have her on board the little ship Plume. Amy will jump into the fray immediately, conducting an introductory interview for next month’s Featured Selection on new work from Angela Ball. Welcome!
Upcoming, we will schedule a number of readings in the spring and fall as we launch the print anthology, Plume Poetry 6. Dates/times announced in the not too distant. Many thanks, again, to Marc Vincenz for designing the cover and to Maurice Manning for his lovely introduction.
We still are hard at work on a from-the-roots website redesign; more to come, but a completion date is on the horizon: September/October. From the beta iterations I have seen, I think you’ll be pleased.
Our cover art this month comes from Kito Fujito, of whom Claire Voon writes, in HYPERALLERGIC, [t]he photographs…will make you wish you had grown up in Japan, which is evidently home to some of the world’s most enviable playgrounds. Since 2014, Fujito has been traveling around his country, documenting its old playground equipment that takes on massive, delightful forms, from slides shaped as giant animals to jungle gyms that resemble spiny monsters half-buried in the earth. These clever designs are unique but also ubiquitous: Fujito has published a series of five photo books on the subject, with the latest one released earlier this year.
All captured at night, the equipment appears as eerie structures, isolated and dramatically illuminated. Fujito lit each one as if in a studio, even setting up lights inside cavernous playhouses so they seem to beam with unseen life. No children are present, making for particularly melancholic scenes of sites designed for carefree recreation. In one image, a massive robot with shining eyes stretches its arms — one of which doubles as a slide — as if eagerly waiting for kids to pay it a visit.
The sense of abandonment that permeates each image is fitting: these are old, deteriorating playthings whose first visitors may now have offspring of their own. And many of them are slowly disappearing to make way for new architectural projects.
“I used to take pictures of Japanese rooftop amusement parks in the past, but in Japan, the city changes quickly,” Fujito told Hyperallergic. “The rooftop amusement park disappeared with the repair of old department stores.”
Playgrounds in Tokyo are particularly at risk, as urban planning for the forthcoming 2020 Olympics is reshaping much of the capital city. A magnificent red octopus Fujito documented in the western suburb of Chofu, for instance — whose tentacles curled to create pockets perfect for hiding — was destroyed last year. (Octopi, it turns out, are especially common sights in parks, apparently mass produced by the same company since the 1960s). Mostly made of cement, they’ve at least survived the passage of time well, only requiring the occasional layer of paint to look fresh again.
Finally, as is our habit of late – a few new books from our contributors