Thursday, August 1, 2019

A lyric story in verse from Estonia

Ares and AgapeAres and Agape by Ksenia Sein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars /// In truth, I am not an avid poetry reader and I am shamefully unaware of current trends in that genre, but having recently made the long-distance acquaintance of a young Estonian poet, I decided to allow myself an opportunity to re-explore that territory by reading her latest book, Agape & Ares.

I've had a long-term affinity for Estonian music (as in composers Eduard Tubin and Avro Part) and the story in verse I'm reviewing is as musical and pleasing to the ear as a Baltic chamber work could be. It's brief, it's tuneful, and it stirs emotion without creating unpleasant dissonance. I re-discovered something I understood long ago, but managed to lose sight of somewhere in the passage of time--poetry is read with the ears as much as it is with the eyes. This book helped me reconnect with that.

Agape & Ares is a lyric story in verse, beautifully illustrated by the author with simple line drawings, relating romantic incidents that unfold over the course of a few days on the Greek Island of Santorini--a brief love affair between a native Greek, Ares (Greek for the God of War)--a man with an unfortunate past--and the vacationing Estonian woman, Agape (Greek for the Goddess of Love) who is considerably more enlightened. So here we do not have The Iliad or The Odyssey, nor the Delphic Oracle, nor a cryptic Sphynx with a terrible riddle--but we have, instead, the subtly Dionysian confronted by the subtly Apollonian in a brief romantic encounter. A crossing of paths with consequences, and with a measure of enlightenment for the wayfarers.

It seems disproportionate to write a long review, bulging at the seams, when the poem under consideration is so compact and sparing. And too, it's not about a surfeit of plot, nor a Greek chorus of commentators, but rather an economy of poetic utterance, a purity striven for and achieved. Also, it must be mentioned, English is not the poet’s first language. That she accomplishes, in a secondary tongue, a work of this clarity and preciseness is a little miracle.

I could best describe the story of Agape & Ares as one that might easily be painted around the circumference of a Grecian urn in a mixture of cool Estonian and hot Mediterranean colors. And in the urn? Clear water, as evidenced by the following passage, which I underlined while reading to savor later: "...Still, you can create light grey from black By pouring patiently into the bowl of life more white...."

Recommended to its discerning audience without hesitation.


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