Somerville Bagel Bard Tino Villanueva has a new poetry collection out “So Spoke Penelope.” This book was published by Somerville resident Ifeanyi Menkiti, the founder of the Grolier Poetry Press, and the owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge. Here is a review by Michael T. Steffen.
then until the brightness of the morning shone again
to keep on weaving, to get it right. And there it is
folded up across the bed in color and in cloth.
when the golden cloth of dawn rose out of the sea (p.13)The wind blows,
and I can hear the leaves of orchards breathing (p. 23)Still and all, Odysseus,
grief-giver of a husband, destroyer of hearts,
let me not die aching in one place (p. 35)While the maids on their knees
kept grinding and sifting wheat and barley grain,
(six-hundred someone said)
measured into baskets big (p. 58)
I also admired the patience of the book, which imparted a slight anguish, which is the anguish of Penelope herself in suffering the long passage of time and its frequently felt futility.
How many women, I wonder, have waited like me,
like me by the sea, with a racing caring heart,
women who waited, stood waiting,
lay waiting like me? (p. 16)Here on Ithaca, alas, we had no favoring rain today,
And I, who am Penelope, living mother of a living son,
neither got Odysseus back,
husband whose love I miss on awakening,
nor chose to take a suitor as my man. (p. 34)
What’s more and must be said in this battlefield of love:
time and time again I love you,
then I go the other way
and love you not. (p. 35)
The book works its spell of another time and another place on you by maintaining its foothold in Homer’s mythic world, which may chafe some readers in our generation-hab world who may crave to recognize more familiar language and elements. This yet poses the question of how a poet may discipline and mind her craft to be a builder of bridges. That is from the terminology of Ifeanyi Menkiti, whose introduction to this book is so generously informative with details of the poet’s biography and bibliography, and eloquent in his argument for an ecumenical mission for poetry. The bridge the poet builds spans across the differences of the cultural barriers of time and space, so that she is not a mere “tribalist” chronicler of the historical moment. Is poetry what gets lost in translation, as Robert Frost famously coined the definition? Or is it found in the consideration to survive translation? Who will the readers of the year 2053, 2113… be able to appreciate? It’s a staggering yet pertinent question.
the heart’s low-ebb, but wise about men set before me,
and gods disguised. Now the man long-awaited
had washed ashore into my room: I opened my eyes
and saw, past the ceiling, an expanse of sky
and Odysseus sailing steadily above me. (pp. 59-60).