When one thinks of things associated with the politically unstable Balkans region, modern poetry isn't exactly at the top of the list, although the region has been blessed with many notable poets since the days of Euripides. At "Poetry from the Edge of Europe" this Friday, Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen is joined by local translators to share works from their favorite poets from Turkey, Greece and Slovenia.
One thing that can be said of the violent conflict between Greece and Turkey, which erupted in four different wars between 1897 and 1922, is that it's made for some good reading. The most well-known poet from the area, George Seferis, once wrote, "For poetry there exists neither large countries nor small. Its domain is in the heart of all men." Seferis' own life validates the statement—the Greek poet was from what is now Turkish Izmir—as does the life of Turkish poet Nazin Hikmet. Hikmet was born at the start of the 20th century in what is now the Greek city of Thessaloniki and is the source of inspiration for Paulann Petersen's book of poems Blood Silk.
Across the Aegean, Hikmet's Greek contemporary Yannis Ritsos contributed invaluably to the canon of modern Greek poetry—often unjustly overshadowed by the country's classical renaissance. Paul Merchant, director of the William Stafford Archives at Lewis & Clark College, has published two books of Ritsos translations, from which he will read on Friday.
Kelly Lenox will steer the conversation Northwest to Slovenia with her Maja Vidmar translations. There have been a total of four Slovene poets published in the States and Vidmar's name will someday rank among them if Lenox has anything to do with it.
Through centuries of imperial rule, Slovenia formed its national identity around the poets who valued the language in times of foreign domination. Twenty years after Slovenia's independence, poetry remains an institution, with the statue of a poet in the main square of the capital. "I came across a claim by the Slovenian government that they had more poets per capita than any other country," notes Lenox. "Whether or not that's true, it's fascinating they're proud of it. I can't see that happening in this country, where saying you're a poet is a good way to kill a conversation. When we read literature from other places we form a connection to that little pocket of humanity. It's like world peace through translations."
The international literary circuit often sidesteps Portland. At this event, Portlanders get the chance to hear from a handful of local poets working tirelessly to present their international counterparts to American readers.
GO: Poetry from the Edge of Europe at Powell's at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, 228-4651. 7 pm Friday, Feb. 25. Free.