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     Volume 5 Issue 114 | September 29, 2006 |

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Poems to Remember

Ovid: The Poems of Exile
Peter Green (Translator)
University of California Press; January 2005

In the year A.D. 8, Emperor Augustus sentenced the elegant, brilliant, and sophisticated Roman poet Ovid to exile--permanently, as it turned out--at Tomis, modern Constantza, on the Romanian coast of the Black Sea. The real reason for the emperor's action has never come to light, and all of Ovid's subsequent efforts to secure either a reprieve or, at the very least, a transfer to a less dangerous place of exile failed. Two millennia later, the agonized, witty, vivid, nostalgic, and often slyly malicious poems he wrote at Tomis remain as fresh as the day they were written, a testament for exiles everywhere, in all ages. The two books of the Poems of Exile, the Lamentations (Tristia) and the Black Sea Letters (Epistulae ex Ponto), chronicle Ovid's impressions of Tomis--its appalling winters, bleak terrain, and sporadic raids by barbarous nomads--as well as his aching memories and ongoing appeals to his friends and his patient wife to intercede on his behalf. While pretending to have lost his old literary skills and even to be forgetting his Latin, in the Poems of Exile Ovid in fact displays all his virtuoso poetic talent, now concentrated on one objective: ending the exile. But his rhetorical message falls on obdurately deaf ears, and his appeals slowly lose hope. A superb literary artist to the end, Ovid offers an authentic, unforgettable panorama of the death-in-life he endured at Tomis.

Why Did You Leave the Horse?
Mahmoud Darwish
Jeffrey Sacks (Translator)
Archipelago Books; February 2006

At once an intimate autobiography and a collective memory of the Palestinian people, Mahmoud Darwish's interlinked poems are collective cries, songs, and glimpses of the human condition. The collection-widely considered his chef d'oeuvre is a poetry of myth and history, of exile and suspended time, of an identity bound to the Arabic language and his displaced people. Darwish's poems-specific and symbolic, simple and profound-are historical glimpses, existential queries, chants of pain and injustice of a people separated from its land.

Scar Tissue
Charles Wright
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; July 2006

A restless spirituality haunts this latest outing from Pulitzer Prize winner Wright (Black Zodiac), a collection of meditations that question "the Heracletian backwash" of memory, the relative significance (if any) of human presence in the universe, and our Romantic nostalgia for the sunlit and moonlit landscapes that "ignite us into a false love for the physical world." It's not the world itself, Wright hints, but our imaginative recasting of it, in language or in art that inspires us. Though his poems evoke an aura of Zen calm, a fascination with paradox and ambiguity suggesting a perspective poised just outside of time, they are Western at the core, proactive, willing to be distracted, unsatisfied with their own open-ended conclusions. If the spirit "is looking for somewhere to dissipate," its search may well be ceaseless. A "God-fearing agnostic," Wright recognizes our "desperation for unknown things, a thirst/ For endlessness that snakes through our bones...." Though Wright's longtime readers will find familiar territory here, they may also detect a sharper tone, as the poet, now 70, confronts mortality with renewed urgency.




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