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Bookstories 29: Zoe Savina’s The Enchantresses

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It was springtime when I had just cut off a rose protruding from an adjacent garden iron gate and pinned it onto my chest after inhaling a generous whiff of its fragrance. Whenever I come across with flowers, I feel relieved from any trouble I go through since I am closely tied with them and they live in my eyes. Some words came to my mind immediately. I took off a notepad and a pencil I always carry with me—and if I have not got it or/and my pencil at times, I take down my notes on a paper tissue by use of my makeup pencil at any rate—out of my bag and wrote:

Put a rose
onto your chest and,
lo, the garden.

“However, what I read, hidden in it, is music,” I thought. A line, alone and unregretful but self-contained, had resulted and I was at a loss to know what I should do with it since it could take, more or less, nothing else in it, leaving it unaltered as it had come up until I returned home, where I laid it to sleep in a notepad. Other such small lines-cum-thoughts also came to my mind, starting to grow in numbers and filling the notepad. “What should I do with these small, clean-cut, independent, charming excerpts?” I wondered. My thoughts would spawn also more small and perfect epigrammatic phrases in a compact silence while saying to myself words like “Write it and leave it!” or “When you hunt the past or remote future, you miss now”:

When you hunt
the past or remote future,
you miss now

until I grasped something that could touch the contemplation mood of the Zen path: “I’ll call them stigmas; yes, that’s how I’m going to call them!” Ι reckoned. In the end, I left them in a remote existence with other poems of mine until I forgot them.

I was writing my first poetry book (1979) on an evening when my husband and I were expecting our dear friends Sarantos Caravouzis, an excellent painter who has honoured Greece abroad, and his wife Yulica Lakeridou, who is also a paintress, to arrive from Paris, where they live permanently at our home-cum-sculpture studio. I like Caravouzis’s work, clarity of images and lyrical as well as somewhat transcendental austerity employed in his paintings, which bear elements derived from the art of Georgio de Chirico, the emphatic master as well as enigmatic painter and sculptor, who was of Italian origin, born in the Greek city of Volos, where he lived for a few years, and exercised subsequently a strong influence on the artistic streams, such as that of Hyperrealism and New Objectivity, of the 20th Century.

Our dear friends arrived and, after the exchange of kisses and hugs exchanged among us, they gave as George Seferis’ (the renowned Greek poet and Nobelist) Selected Poems as a precious gift. It was the following day that I caught glimpse of the cloth-bound, perfectly-elaborated, large dimensional, ivory-coloured volume George Caravouzis had offered me the previous evening. Many of G. Seferis’s well-known poems may have perched in the pages of that book, but my attention was caught by a unit titled “Sixteen Haikais,” contained in his Exercises Notebook (1928-1937), and I was taken aback by their charm.

However, what does the term haikai mean?, I wondered and something started tickling me since this term was vague in my mind, which gave me the impetus to start seeking after that tiny but extremely poetic genre. I looked the term haikai up in the Papyrus-Larousse Encyclopaedia and read all the details referring to this genre from there.

The idea phrased as “Fancy that my poems I call stigmas may be related to this genre!” crossed my mind like a flash and, of course, it was finally ascertained that they were. I had literally fallen, in terms of the style and metrics of haikai, into this poetic genre, the only difference between them and the Seferian haikai being that I had written them in one line instead of three, as I saw them arrayed in that book, which I have never been able to understand ever since then, that is, how it was possible that I had such a strange transplantation within me. A poetess (one of the best we have in Greece) of my friend, Yolanda Pegli, said to me, “My dear Savina it had been built up within you!” “All right! But how did it happen?” I said. I have been wondering about it until this day.

So, I started counting my stigmas. Yes, I did write haikai—in the way I saw them referred to—and not haiku poems, as I make clear further herein in an unplanned manner without knowing it and being a Japanese poet after all.

Therefore, my beliefs were corroborated by the fact that a substantial, internal human being has got no boundaries or homeland. My own blooming from its “previously inexistent root,” its expansion throughout the universe and the harmony emanating from this poem prove people’s miraculous conversion. Being Greeks, we know, of course, about epigrams, which may lack metrics and be of a different style, but pride a purity counting above all things.

Finally, few of my stored poems did need one syllable more or less as if something had defined both my soul and mind magically. “Enchantment! This is it! Welcome my ‘enchantresses’ of thoughts!” I said aloud and it was this word exactly that came to stay as a title.

So, the previously-mentioned procedure was a magical one!

I read these poems to friends along with other poems of mine, recorded them in order to listen to them as if they had been written by another person and tried them time and time again. . .

I was fascinated when a prominent microsurgeon friend of mine asked my permission to present some of the poets he had heard during a meeting between us at a programmed medical conference that was to take place at that time. As he said to me later, poetry through science and vice versa was deemed a novelty by the participants in that medical conference.

In Sacramento, USA, a friend of mine disclosed to me that he would recite my poems to his wife, who stared at him enchanted, as if they were his. How funny it is for me to imagine that I had given them my very first haiku book as a gift!

Four books of poetry through which I infused haiku units came to light until 1985, when I had my Enchantresses published. I tried them and they tried me. I sent them to prose and poetry magazines and recited them to groups of people to observe their reactions. I recited these poems in Greek from the stage of a theatre through an interpreter, Ms Matilda Contino, into Italian in the context of a symposium on the Mediterranean poetry in a region called Magna Grecia (Great Greece) in south Italy. It came as a great surprise to me that, during the intermission of the event, I was encircled by smiling Italian poets who were reciting some of my poems I had recited to the audience and they had memorised. This event meant a great success for my poems, showing that they prided the proper flow, immediacy, grace and meanings. It was there were I also met the important French poet Eugene Guillevic, who said to me, laughing, that he wrote smaller poems than mine. In a poet of his, he wrote, “If you see a stone smiling at you, what will you say to it?”

When we visited the ancient Greek temple of Selinunte, which was one of the most important of the ancient Greek colonies in Sicily, I picked up a small, well-shaped stone from the ground, wrapped it in two or three tender paper tissues, tied it to a fine twig of osier and gave it to him, saying, “Eugene, behold, this stone smiled at me.” His eyes flashed, he stood up and almost shouted at me, “This stone smiled at Zoe!” and I replied to him, saying:

Can you hear
the sperm of life
in a stone?

I did not stop being informed about the course of this poetic genre until I learned about tanka, which I liked because the opening of its thirty one syllables let me speak more extensively.

Many meetings and events occurred during the same period, having their impacts on me. I remember that Stratis Tsirkas, an important Greek author, and Erich Fromm departed from this world as well as the spacecraft Voyager I reached Cronus then.

Have the tip of the tip,
the beginning and the end
any termination?

is it what the Voyager left us as a gift.

At the advent of the new year (1979), Greece became officially a member of the then-European Economic Community, which was considered a favourable but difficult issue to be dealt with.

Poets friends of mine and I often went to the Herod Atticus Odeon, the Roman open theatre of Athens situated beneath the Acropolis, to attend ballet performances in one of which Rudolf Nureyev danced and I was there to admire him.

I missed no dance performance in the past. As dance events always take place in September, an autumnal rain broke out during a ballet performance on the evening of a sublime dance performance. The spectators were leaving the theatre in disappointment and so were the poets of my friends. I was one of the last people to leave in sorrow when, lo, what I saw an unexpected sight on the exit gate marbles: a frog was dancing in the rain. The perfect dancer had come to reward me and mitigate my sadness.

It rains tonight
and a frog dances
to his song”

I did know then Bashō’s similar poem, which I read later on. In the end, everything can reward us.

When several stigmas-haiku poems were gathered, I took the decision to publish them. I prepared my collages, parted them into units, gave them the title Enchantresses and the book came out in 1985. It was my first haiku-tanka book.

The Enchantresses was awarded in 1985 by the Society of Greek Litterateurs, which is one of the two best literary societies in Greece after opting out of the National Society of Greek Authors, whose member I am, founded in 1948. Famous Greek authors and poets, such as Stratis Myrivilis, Elias Venezis, Tasos Athanasiades, Anghelos Doxas, Alkis Thrylos, Jane Boukouvals-Anagnostou, J.M. Panayotopoulos, Anghelos Terzakis, Peter Charis etc, were among its founding members.

The second edition of my Enchantresses came out by the publishing company Grafic Olimpia di Milano under the direction of painter Petros, who is a prominent Greek living permanently in Milan and having elaborated important editions of works done by famous pictorial artists like Picasso, Braque, Dali etc and, lately, by Greek poets Yannis (John) Ritsos and Odysseus Elytis, whom he presented at the Benaki Museum through paintings of theirs depicted on cards of real size and their poems magnified. These editions are very worthwhile and collection items. Both of the most important Greek poets were present at the inauguration event.

Nota Bene: The poetic genre of haikai (and not haiku) was called so by George Seferis as well as other Greek poets in the beginning of the haiku invasion in Greece (1904) because they may have not known or studied that haikai or renga was a form of live poetry resembling a cooperation in the context of which they are connected the one to the other, one person reciting an another replying to it.

For example: I was sitting by the sea of Epidaurus, invited to dinner along with some Japanese officials who had been there for the fraternisation of Epidaurus with their own birth town and for signing the relevant documents enabling them to take and carry to as well as place in Japan a statue of Asclepius, the ancient Greek god of Medicine, made by the prominent Greek sculptor Evanghelos Moustakas. All of a sudden, a gust of wind started blowing, taking the papers away. At this, they started chasing them while I said, looking at them, “Oh butterflies / the wind does not know / how to read them.” An interpreter immediately interpreted my words to the Japanese gentlemen, who surrounded me the one after the other and quoted incomprehensible—to me of course—haiku in Japanese: the haikai no renga, as such poetry is called, epoch had commenced.

English Translation: Constantine Fourakis

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