Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Launch - Margate Train

IP and the Train

Typical treacherous Hobart weather. Up with the rosy dawn clear and cloudless. The radar map showing a thin weak cold front moving across the state, west to east. The funny little book shop Freight Train Books on the Margate Train ran it's first event, a reading by three authors from Interactive Publications. David Rieter, Lyn Reeves & Anne Morgan.

David chats with local art lover

Each of the authors has recently published a book. David began the reading from his novel "Primary Instinct", a slice of life, fly on the wall series of satirical nuggets diarising and lampooning the educational system. With the problems of literacy in Australia and Tasmania in particular this is a timely nudging us into the serious debate which we desperately need. Not the periodic moral panic which masquerades as debate we usually have in this country. Rather a serious adult conversation on how this country (indeed all the Anglosphere) can reverse our current slide into irrational stupor. A debate as to how we can use education as an opportunity not just to create narrowly focused experts, but one in which children can be inoculated with the spirits of curiosity and imagination. Skills that will allow them to still be expanding their knowledge of themselves and the world well into their old age. The end of labour, to paraphrase Aristotle is to gain leisure and goal of education is to teach us how to best use our leisure.

And then from the third in his junior fiction series Project Earth-Mend. As if on cue wild wind and squalls raced down the mountains, horizontal across the wide brown-eyed cow paddock. And the site was lashed with a short sharp rain shower.

Ann Morgan reads from The Sky Dreamer

Glasses of wine on offer and local cheese and a score or so of children. Next Anne Morgan read "The Sky Dreamer", her moving children's story about the young boy Liam and his struggles after losing his big sister. Lovingly illustrated by Céline Eimann, and honestly written by Anne this little book should be in every school library and in as many houses with children as possible. Learning needs to be more than simply building a workforce as we move into a more technical economy. Education needs to be about how to deal with life and loss and sorrow. More than just school, more than the family. The social production of the individual. This aspect of education as something more than the three R's is behind Aristotle's statement that neglect of education does harm to the constitution.

Simple things sometimes move me, the simple sight of the young children listening to the author reading from her work, while the younger ones played game games as little ones will. I thought about all the tales and stories and life lessons spoken taught down the generations unrolling deep into the past in and around this small community. This tiny bay of meeting sea and land. Intermittent afternoon around and the mountains, darkened with mist with the rain clouds, hurl gloomy clouds and glaring winds. And I went a couple of days later, with the children, to the museum. And we stood silent, sad, scared in the exhibiting convict days gallery, and saw the displays of chains and whips and uniforms and all that went with the transportation times. I thought about the generations, about all the tales told in languages now lost. Then Anne reads her story and the children look and listen.

Lyn Reeves captivates the little ones.

Lyn Reeves tailored her reading from her recent work "designs on the body" for the large number of children around. And offered up her well moulded poems with rhythms like the squally afternoon, where the fast moving clouds race and the shadow retreats across the wide eyed cow paddock, flooding the wet grass with the energy and light of the sun, dancing and sparkling off countless raindrops on countless blades of swaying in the wind grass. Lyn read of dogs with funny names and of wing drying cormorants and of bathing her infant son. From "Primal Sense"

Vertebrae ripple
beneath my hands like birdsong.

For the hungry artists.

Books for children, and books about teachers and books by teachers and the opportunity to speak and talk, and for the children to be given the chance to grow and learn and listen. Both physical and mental there is very little more important than the education of children, so much so I can easily agree with Aristotle when he writes "Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well." Hopefully the parents will also be strong teachers for their children, this would of course be the best situation. And of course a time for chatting and for discussing the works presented. A glass of red and some art and cheese and fruit all on a squally typically treacherous Tasmanian Sunday.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hymn to Demeter

Hymn 13 - To Demeter

Flaxen haired goddess
Demeter majestic.
You I celebrate in song.
You and your daughter,
Persephoneia, beyond beauty.

Hail and Rejoice Goddess.
Preserve our city.
Attend my song.

Only three lines, this is basically a small section taken from a much longer hymn of Demeter, which hopefully I will be able to translate as I gain more experience and confidence. Only three lines, but it gave me lots of pause for thought. As people used to say about the Australian cricket, it was the best because of the short and sharp nature of the Sheffield Shield Competition. Each games was important, each innings, each over was important. So with this little three line poem, there is in fact no place to hide.

This translation is as much, if not more so, for me than it is for the general reader. So I go only beg your indulgence in my exercises.

hukomon - fair haired. This seemed a fair enough translation, but after looking deeper into the descriptions of Demeter it seemed best to go with flaxen-haired, as Demeter is a corn goddess.

koure - this means Demeter's daughter, more generally it means daughter. But it has overtones of the young daughter on the cusp of sexual life. A maiden is how we often see it defined in dictionaries from the early 1900's. I will leave it at daughter, but as I understand things, this word; like most words has deeper meanings.

perikallea - peri-kallea simply means very beautiful. Peri means about, around. This is what it means when used in the word peripatetic, where is describes Aristotle teaching his students, as they walk around the grounds of the Lyceum. This word is also defined as simply very, which is a fine word, but is one without much punch, so I decided to use another meaning of peri; beyond. And Koure (Demeter's young bride virgin daughter) is then described as beyond beauty. It seemed to be the correct intensifier.

The final word which I enjoyed was arkhe - this means simply to begin, to lead off. Further investigation gives meanings such as to govern, to lead, to command. After much thinking I went with attend, as this gives a dual meaning of leading, but also of paying attention. Maybe not the most correct translation, but for the poem it seemed the best word.

The image comes from here:

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Dawn the thin twilight
Naught as night, not yet day.
Transported by dreams
Shaken false awakening
Half awake half asleep.
Clouds half cover the sky
Torn gray smudges interact
With the new gathering blue.
Low air and thick and heavy
Water vapour mingles.
Quilt covered body parts
Warm, exposed is to chill.
Merge we two into one
Side by side.

And birds start to chorus
And the child sings
Made up songs in bed.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hymn to Herakles the Lion Hearted

Birth of Herakles

Jean Jacques Francois Le Barbier (1738-1826)

Homeric Hymn 15 - Herakles the Lion Hearted

Hear me sing of Herakles, divine son, the finest
And bravest of all born from this earthy compost.

In Thebes, of the spacious dancing gardens,
Alcmena mingled with the storm cloud covert
Son of Kronos. Carried and bore him.

Even the gods themselves could not
Conceive his wide roaming across earth and sea.

Bound to the arrogance of King Eurystheus.
Much wickedness he performed, much he endured.

And now fair he sits on snow capped Olympus
Dwelling in delight with Hebe of the well turned ankle.

Rejoice in the son of Lord Zeus
Exult and grant us happiness.


I have no right to inflict my attempts at translations upon the world. Nothing to justify but simple enthusiasm and passion for the ancients and for poetry in general. This I think will have to be sufficient. I understand my faults and weaknesses, mainly in that I can only do this translation like a lazy and ignorant school boy. Painstakingly fighting though lexicons and slowly identifying the inflections and parts of speech and then slopping it all together with a vague hope for inspiration.

I have not tried too hard at creating a word for word translation. I have not tried to capture the rhythms of the original. This is to me a pointless endeavour. The techniques used by the ancient oral song-stitchers are far too alien to fit into modern English poetry. All I have done is to render the Greek into a close approximation of how I understand the poem to flow. Unlike working in chemistry, there is no single right answer as to how a poem should be interpreted. I am banking on this simple fact to be my armour against any errors and flaws I may have planted. As this is not meant to be, as I said, a word for word translation, any errors can be seen as adding elements to the poem, maybe even pointing out new interpretations. Errors are, as Joyce has suggested, portals to discovery. While I gladly admit to not being expert in the nuance of Ancient Greek.,I do feel I am able to work my way through the poem and come up with some words and lines that capture something of the spirit of the original.

I was happy to fracture the standards of English poetry in an attempt to capture some of the strangeness of the distant past. I was more than happy to create lines that seemed to, to quote the often heard complaint raised by the professional academic poet, suffer of poeticism. This seemed to allow for the wide gap that exists between our modern Anglophones, and the world view of the ancients. The Greeks had a musical language and a poetry based on alterations of long and short vowel sounds. A Swinburne would be able to approximate these song lines, but I am not able to do so in a way that I find convincing. So I fell into a simple free verse outline to hang the translation. In the end I felt looseness of technique would be the most useful path to follow. I do not think we can understand fully what life for the ancients felt like, but I am sure that our present worship at the altar of crass stupidity and short term material gain was not in the Ancients program.

To be able to show something of the abyss that stands between us and the long ago past, I had to attempt to recall the dramatic elements from my all but forgotten Catholic teachings. Even with (or maybe because of) the playful sexuality of the work, and the hints of darks acts performed, the simple style of the Bible seemed to me a fitting structure for the work.

There were several words in particular which caught my attention, and seem worthy of brief mention.

leontothymon - leonto-thymon lion hearted - obvious in it's description of Herakles as having no fear, of having the heart of a lion. Also used to describe Achilles in several places, including book 7, 228 of the Iliad, in this instance the word has changed shape and is thymo-leonta, but the idea is the same.

kallikhoros - kalli-khoros. The Greeks liked to mash words up, and so here we have the word for beautiful combined with the word for dancing place, and in this we can see a similarity to our word chorus. This was a common epitaph to describe a wealthy city with wide open spaces. I envisioned this word as describing wide green parks, open spaces that allowed dance and theatre.

michtheisa - To mix or to mingle, properly of fluids. Extended to mean to join battle, as in hand to hand combat, or to have intercourse with. A well rounded patriarchal admixture of violence and sexuality. I liked the images of Zeus and Alcmena mingling to conceive Herakles. Light-bearing, rapacious Zeus concealed himself as a dark storm cloud, and impregnated Alcmena. Hera, the wife of Zeus, was jealous of the many children Zeus had spawned with mortal women. This is the source of the enmity Hera felt towards Herakles, and also explains his name of Hera-kles, glory of Hera. Either this name was given to further enrage Hera, or it describes the power and majesty Hera held over Herakles. Either makes sense, but I do get a certain amusement in the idea of the mortals teasing and enraging the Queen of the Heavens. In the end Hera was reconciled with Herakles, and after his death she adopted him. Herakles crawling out from between her legs in the ceremony of adoption which imitated childbirth.

athesphatos - a-theos-phatos - 'not to be said even by a god', unutterable. A very nice word indeed and one that stands for unutterable, awesome, ineffable, and such connotations. I used a wordy convoluted phrase, because it seemed to be more 'alien' and also because words such as awesome have lost mich of their mysterious qualities.

kallisphyron - kalli-sphyron - beautiful ankle. A common epitaph used to describe the beauty of a goddess. It can also be used to describe foothills, and even the furthermost part of a land. Unlike the Spartan women who wore dresses with a slit up the leg, earning the nickname Phainomerides - the thigh flashers.

My favourite word found in this poem was epichthonion. Epi-chthonion literally it means upon the earth, but in connotation it means something like the life on earth, and is also a phrase used to describe going under. I was quite intrigued with this word, as it expresses the complex and apparent contradiction of being the vegetative life giving force, as well a being the grave, the pit of the dead. This idea allowed me to bring in the word compost. The compost pile where I throw the scraps is alive with potatoes and pumpkins spreading out from the warm rotting mound. A rotting mound that brings forth new life seemed to be a good way to describe 'being upon the earth.'