Saturday, July 10, 2010

Poetry Review: Tiresias’s Confession by András Gerevich

Tiresias’s Confession
András Gerevich

Published by Corvina Books

Reviewed by Colin Herd

'Tiresias's Confession', published by Corvina, provides the first full-length opportunity for an Anglophone readership to enjoy the poetry of András Gerevich, though Chroma readers may remember the title poem from its appearance in issue 5. As the title might suggest, many of Gerevich's poems are characterized by intimacy. Invariably lyrics written in the first person singular, they describe and disclose intimate scenarios, often to do with longing and desire. In 'The New Garbage Boy', the speaking subject watches the ‘muscular, suntanned arms’ of the ‘garbage boy’, until the boy meets his eyes with a ‘blur of shame mixed with pride’. In ‘Cage’, a teenager enters a church secretly in love with his best friend and finds himself unable to articulate a prayer in the ‘grating’, ‘noiseless’ suddenly John Cagean soundscape. Some of the most effective poems in the volume are when this film of intimacy clings tightest around the body, when disclosure is pushed inventively towards the erotic; for example, ‘Marmaris’ is a series of haiku, the first of which reads:

‘In a racing car
the buzz of a wasp:
your body beneath clothes’.

Part of the attraction of these erotic lines and poems is that it is here that Gerevich cuts through and interrogates what at other times feels like an uncomfortably high investment in a stable subject position and lyric voice. In ‘Marmaris’, the focus is squarely on the lover-figure and the Turkish Port City. It becomes difficult to tell which way the metaphors are working. Is Marmaris like a lover or his lover like Marmaris in these images?

‘Date clusters dangling,
bustle on the shore:
your hairy chest.’

In ‘Mediterranean’, which feels like a companion piece, sexual union undoes individuality and cannibalizes self-hood: ‘Our bed is rocking like the sea beneath a ship’; ‘The cells of my body are shoals of excited fish’; ‘The gulls are ripping the kraken to shreds: it chews and digests its own body’. I love the indulgently erotic language play here: the cells/shoals/gulls half-rhyme and the sibilance of ‘sh’.

One of the quirks of this book is that there are five different translators, credited below each poem. I half-wondered whether this might result in five different András Gerevichs but in fact that isn’t, that I’ve been able to tell, the case. Of all five, perhaps George Szirtes’s translations are the most linguistically rich and playful, less stark, though this could be reflected in the original Hungarian. One of Szirtes’s translations is the title poem. Last in the volume, together with three others that also take Greek mythological figures as their rudder: 'Odysseus', 'Patroclus' and 'Tiresias's Prophecy', they form a kind of suite and take a side-step away from the unguardedly autobiographical content of much of the book. The two Tiresias poems bring that referential touchstone into focus. Tiresias is re-imagined in a contemporary half-reality, half-dreamscape, caught in-between, on a bench in one poem and on a bus in the other. Tiresias is caught in what might clumsily be termed a crisis of gender identity. Gerevich’s intimate and confessional style are perfectly suited to evoke his character’s real-life gender uncertainty and then even more touchingly his dream-life gender identification: ‘I have no idea what I am,/ old or young, boy or girl’; ‘in my dreams I am always a woman,/ wild and desirable, and wholly out of reach,/ adored and admired by men.’ It’s a testament to Geverich’s skill that he’s able to re-cast and humanize well-trodden Tiresias in a way that feels like a good fit, but unexpected at the same time, like putting on a sweater that should be way too large but it feels just snug.

Poems from New England, Provincetown, the Med, Hungary and London suggest that Gerevich is enviably well traveled and on the evidence of this book, I’ll be willing to follow him wherever his poems go next.

Colin Herd is a poet based in Edinburgh whose work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3:AM, Dogmatika, Gutter, Shampoo, Velvet Mafia and Mirage #4/Period(ical).



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