Tag Archives: colossus of maroussi

The annotated Trigons: an update.

Given the interest in this project, I thought I’d provide a weekly (ish) summary of progress made. The first section of “Islands, inlands” has now been completed and we’ve agreed a working template for the navigation which might prove to last at least another few weeks.

I think we’re still exploring what can be done with the interweb and the possibilities beyond print. I think we both started with a concern not to either ‘explain’ nor to provide too much context. This has been ameliorated by realising the obvious – users don’t have to follow links if they don’t want to and therefore can control the extent of the context that they may need. I wouldn’t need to know about Miller or Durrell, for example, but would need some background on Seferis.

Of course, as well as writers, there’s the foreign names and words, the first section has “Karaghiosis” who is the main character of Greek shadow puppet theatre. I’ve provided a brief explanation, one relevant quote and am about to link to the most relevant and comprehensive site that I can find but I need JM to point me towards the relevant passage about raising the dead in “Prospero’s Cell”.

This also throws up the question of whose poem this is. I haven’t yet worked this out but I’ve come across material that seems to be a direct source but isn’t. There’s an interview with Seferis where he describes meeting Durrell and Miller and then goes on to recount Miller’s generosity in giving him his diary- the first draft of what was to be published as “The Colossus of Massouri” which is one of the poem’s main source text. This anecdote has no bearing on “Islands, inlands” and readers don’t need it to gain full understanding of the poem. I’m however of the view that it’s a lovely story and indiciative of the spirit of bohemian solidarity in thirties Europe that Seferis describes. So, the quote about the diary goes in on account of loveliness and the solidarity remark will only be gleaned by those that can be bothered to follow the link and read the interview in full. I think this underlines the ownership issue in a collaboration- I’ve put this in and John has approved its inclusion but it wasn’t in his head when he wrote the poem. I’ve also quoted Seferis on 20th century Hellenism because I think I’d like readers to draw the line that John alludes to when he says that:

The Old War in question is, of course, WW II, though it is not accidental that the first poem in the sequence deals with a Greek setting in that conflict:

I’ve decided that it would be inappropriate to overtly ‘develop’ that remark but am attempting to do this by stealth- as with the Kreipe kidnap problem discussed last week- providing quotes re Miller and Greece as a “continuous process” and linking to Seferis on the Colonels’ Junta:

Everyone has been taught and knows by now that in the case of dictatorial regimes the beginning may seem easy, but tragedy awaits, inevitably, in the end. The drama of this ending torments us, consciously or unconsciously — as in the immemorial choruses of Aeschylus. The longer the anomaly remains, the more the evil grows.

In terms of the interweb, the possibilities for adding breadth and depth are enormous especially as the quality of content is improving. Of course there are still the recurring anxieties about bias but I’ve been struck by the absence of balance in some of the well-established bastions: the Wikipedia article on Durrell seems much more judicious than the almost hagiographic DNB entry.

We now come to the link colour problem. Many, many years ago when I started building content pages on welfare benefits, there was an accepted way to ‘do’ links that everybody followed. This is no longer the case and I hve gone through a number of phases in either going with the flow towards greater variation or in maintaining blind adherence to the original on the grounds that It Still Works. The current arduity style sheet, for example is the product of extensive dithering undertaken last year on another project and is obviously in need of further dither. I may be wrong but I’d like not to disrupt the ‘flow’ of the line with too great a contrast in colour from black to blue to red and I’m thinking of getting rid of the roll-over, colour swap device that seemed cool when the Guardian did it but clearly isn’t. I did think of just using the underline to indicate a link and thus retain the consistency in colour but this would then confuse those parts of the text that are underlined in print with the links. So, before we go any further I think I need to have an extended play with the light blues and reds.

Then there’s the even thornier issue of link density, the first section is 16 lines and there are 9 links which is probably excessive but I’d rather put more rather than less in at this stage. I haven’t linked “the pornographer” but have relied on JM’s note which links to a fuller profile of Miller. I’ve done it this way because I reckon most readers will connect Miller to Paris and pornography (I did) and have been more direct on the Smyrna Consul because I originally thought that this may refer to Durrell. I thought about explaining that “The Tempest” refers to the play but instead hoped that most readers would gather this for themselves, I’ve used the Durrell profile to attribute this suggestion to him.

As a reader, I know I’ll interrupt my reading to check out words and names that aren’t familiar and this nealy always entails the interweb which can be both distracting and (sometimes) wrong. I’m therefore trying to provide anchored links to brief definitions at the bottom of the page which then link to more relevnt detail.

In terms of navigation, we now have a Trigons home page which gives a brief introduction and overview but I think I’m now of the view that we might need a separate home page for each of the poems- these could be built around John’s original notes. This might take to some time to agree- I’m finding that information architecture is quite difficult to do when the other person isn’t in the same room and there’s the fact that there are other components in the sequence.

On a personal note, John keeps on gently pushing me towards writers that I would otherwise ignore. This process started three years ago with David Jones and has now moved on to Seferis and Michael Ayrton whose “The Testament of Daedalus” I have now acquired and is awaiting some attention- the Collected Seferis is on it’s way. There’s also a bit of a debate under way as to how much detail we should give on Erik Lindegren…

John Matthias, annotation and collaboration

First of all, the three volumes of John Matthias’ Collected Poems have now been published by Shearsman and must be read by all those of us who value intelligent and exhilarating verse. What isn’t in these three volumes is the remarkable ‘Trigons‘ which John nevertheless regards as part of his collected work.

I’ve been writing about John’s work here and on arduity for the last three years primarily because he makes the technically difficult look effortless and because he provokes thoughts in quite a startling way. The great Guy Davenport said that John is “one of the best poets in the USA” and nobody with any sense could disagree with that.

John and I have corresponded over the last three years and I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude both for his support and for introducing me to the magnificent work of David Jones.

We’ve been talking about ‘Trigons’ for the last year or so and about the complex business of annotation. John has provided a set of notes on Trigons for a poetics seminar earlier this year and we’ve now agreed to collaborate on expanding these into an annotated on-line edition of the poem.

The purpose of this blog is to think aloud about what annotation/glozing might be about. I’m reasonably particular about what I feel that I need in that I’d rather references were over rather than under explained but I don’t need notes that state the bleeding obvious and ignore some of the obscurities that I need help with. I’m also aware that increased familiarity with the text leads to a proportionally increasing impatience with the notes. Having acknowledged this I then assumed that this particular poem would be relatively straightforward given the plethora of real people and events and that the only real difficulties would be the use of musicology and neuroscience.

I now have to report that I was wrong. I’ve only started on the first section of the first poem in the sequence and have hit a number of complications. The first relates to familiarity. The first part of Trigons I relates to Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller on Crete and Patrick Leigh Fermor on Corfu. Now, I assumed that most readers would be reasonably familiar with Miller and Durrell but might need some help with Leigh Fermor. My focus group tells me that this may not be the case: Miller gets confused with Arthur; Durrell gets confused with Gerald and nobody has even heard of Leigh Fermor. I’m prepared to accept that this particular focus group isn’t packed with poetry fans but they all read fiction, are intelligent yet only one can name works by Miller and Durrell- both of whom are best known as novelists.

What I didn’t know until I read John’s notes was that Durrell had written ‘Prospero’s’ Cell’, an account of his time on Corfu, and that Miller wrote ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’, an account of his time as a guest of Durrell’s. Delving a bit deeper I’ve come across a Paris Review interview with Miller where he says he considers ‘The Colossus’ to be his finest work because “the Colossus was written from some other level of my being. What I like about it is that it’s a joyous book, it expresses joy, it gives joy”. Needless to say I’ve now started to read this and have placed a pdf of it on arduity for download. In ‘Prospero’s Cell’ Durrell suggests that Corfu may have been the setting for ‘The Tempest’ – I can’t find a copy of this on the web but the advantage of working with the poet is that I can always ask him for the exact reference if we think it’s needed.

I’ve also acknowledged to myself that I don’t like Durrell as either a writer or as a man and that I need to keep this prejudice out of the note whilst tempering my enthusiasm for all things Miller.

The next problem is a little more difficult to resolve. In 1943 Leigh Fermor led a group of English and Cretan resistance fighters to kidnap the German General Kriepe, an event that John refers to in some detail. Now there are three views about this adventure:

  1. that it was a heroic act in the brave campaign against the German occupiers;
  2. that it was a foolish act that achieved nothing except the death of civilian victims of the ensuing German reprisals;
  3. that it had nothing to do with the Germans but was a less than subtle attempt to ensure that the reprisals were inflicted on villages controlled by the communists.

Although I wasn’t aware of the Kriepe kidnapping, I did know about the murky role of the British in both the Greek resistance and the postwar Greek civil war. I also knew that the Greek left have been particularly vituperative about this ever since. The poem goes on to make mention of the Colonel’s coup (1967-74) and the torture of dissidents that took place on an epic scale during those years. I therefore made the assumption that some reference was being made to the essentially tragic nature of Greek politics since 1945. This isn’t actually the case – which leads to this dilemma- how much of the above do you provide and how much do you leave out? The temptation is not to comment on anything other than the facts and link to a more detailed account but each of these accounts unsurprisingly takes one of the above lines and trashes the other two. I think we’ve agreed that I’m going to provide a factual note that mentions the three main theories but only observes that the SOE decided to ditch the communist resistance in the months prior to the kidnap. I think we’re both happy to leave any over-reading (resistance – civil war – coup -Euro fiasco – rise of the extreme right (again)) to the attentive reader.

With regard to collaboration, our current modus operandi seems to work because we’re both enjoying the process and I think it helps that we’re both exploring what can and can’t be done with the internet re glozing. I’m also incredibly grateful that I have the poet to keep my wilder fantasies in check.

This is the incomplete first part of our efforts, it’s very much in draft form but I’d be immensely grateful for feedback as things progress.

Pennsound’s Matthias page has the man himself reading from Trigons and other works.