Elevate Difference

The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New & Selected Poems

The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems presents compositions drawn from Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke's extensive oeuvre and includes five new pieces. A native of Greece, Anghelaki-Rooke was the winner of the Greek National Prize for Poetry and the Greek Academy’s Poetry Prize. Her poetry is lusty; corporeal; and rooted in flesh, color and tactile sensation. Verse and prose both vibrate with descriptions of a lush and living Greece. At the same time, Anghelaki-Rooke's words reveal a preoccupation with the vacillating power dynamic between the tangible and the intangible. At one moment, the body is its own autonomous king reigning over the spirit, a mere prisoner within; the next, the soul reveals that it is the supreme animator of bone and blood.

Van Dyck has carefully chosen the translations in The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems, and acknowledges the fact that the author is “conjured” by a handful of different translators, providing the reader with a unique incarnation of the poet on nearly every page. The selected poetry spans Anghelaki-Rooke's career; the evolutionary cycles in her work create even more incarnations of the author. Van Dyck emphasizes a thread of voice that weaves itself through all of the poems, regardless of translation or time period. Anghelaki-Rooke's thoughtful, plush poems seem unharmed by their transition between languages. Whether this is due to the overwhelming voice of the author or the deft touch of the translators is arguable.

However, the real beauty lies in the differences between the poems. Case in point is the exploration of sex. Sex is grotesque and elicits feelings of squeamishness in the poem "Heat." Sex is transcendence in "When the Body" and annihilation in "My Plastic Thing." In fact, Van Dyck’s choice to use different translators (herself included) further emphasized with these contrasts. However, it would have been fascinating to see the same poem translated by an American living in Greece (Jane Assimakopoulos), a Greek living in America (Rae Dalven), a male scholar (Edmund Keeley) and a husband-and-wife team (Mary Keeley, wife to Edmund). It would have also been wise for Van Dyck to clearly note the date that Anghelaki-Rooke wrote each poem so that the readers could have appreciated the chronological differences in the compositions.

The weakest poems in the collection are those that invoke Penelope, wife of Odysseus, as a feminist figure. Despite the existence of works like The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems and Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, the famously faithful wife still seems a poor choice for a strong, independent heroine. Anghelaki-Rooke's strongest poems are those that deal with feminism in her own day-to-day life, not her re-imagining of Penelope’s long vigil.

As perhaps alluded to in the title of the collection, Anghelaki-Rooke's English-translated poems were previously scattered in small literature magazines and short runs. Here, they are united in a dynamic volume. Van Dyck's thoughtful compilation of her friend and colleague’s work is an enjoyable offering.

Written by: Jo Ristow, March 27th 2009

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