Poetry Shelf Classic Poem: Helen Heath picks Vana Manasiadis’s ‘Talking Tectonics’

 

Talking Tectonics

 

You know, even if I hadn’t come on the plane, on a bus, in a taxi,

I’d get here at some point – cos that clever tektonos, that shifty carpenter,

poet, boat-builder in the sky, he’s been scheming all the while; been doing

a bit of backyard DIY, a bit of God-honest labouring and jack-hammering

on the boundary – right under that picket fence between the plates,

between the kanuka and manuka.

 

There’s a paratekstosyni afoot, a volcanic and magnanimous change,

a winching and an earthmoving: those alpine ridges, those glaciers,

plains and Hutt Valleys, they’re slap-hugging the rest of the North Island

goodbye – Ya old mudpool, ya long drawn out beach, ya tall and flashy

neighbour, I’m off to the Arctic Ocean – I hear you’re off to the Pontos –

never heard of it.

 

And all this in broad daylight, Yiayia – can you believe it?

 

This is what I know: Oceanus gave birth to Styx, the Arcadian spring into which Achilles

was dipped; from which Alexander got sick; whose water Iris drew and took to the Gods

so that it might witness oaths. Or, Styx was the river mortals crossed.

 

Or, the ocean is what I’m standing in – one tiptoe on the Pacific rim

and one not.

 

Vana Manasiadis from Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima, Seraph Press, 2009

 

 

From Helen Heath:

One of the things that draws me to Vana’s work is our shared Greek heritage. I feel a deep affinity to this part of my genetic make-up; my ancestors’ homeland, the island of Ithaca in Greece, plays a big role in my debut collection, Graft.

However, I feel awkward claiming Greek heritage because I am only 1/8th Greek and my family wasn’t close to the Wellington Greek community when I was young. I barely know any Greek language and the Greek alphabet does my head in. I suffer from imposter syndrome, although I’m frequently told I look very Greek.

Vana, on the other hand, has more Greek heritage, she speaks Greek and has lived in Greece. In my mind, she far more authentically Greek than me. However, because she is pale skinned and strawberry blonde, she experienced prejudice from members of the Wellington Greek community. As Vana says. “The criteria of inclusion were missing: we didn’t look stereotypically Greek.”

Vana’s collection: Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima (Seraph Press, SSS), which this poem appears in, weaves her Greek heritage with her New Zealand experience. In it, I feel her working towards a different understanding – moving between worlds and time frames, inclusion and exclusion, reinvention and fragmentation. There is uncertainty and otherness, but also, she gives me hope for a new kind of belonging.

Vana’s new collection, The Grief Almanac A Sequel, was launched in May. by Seraph Press.

μπράβο – Bravo Vana!

 

 

Helen Heath is a poet and essayist from the Kapiti Coast, Wellington. Her debut collection of poetry Graft (VUP) won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry award in 2013 and was the first book of fiction or poetry to ever be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize. Her latest collection of poems – Are Friends Electric?  (VUP) – is about people, animals and technology, and won Best Poetry Book at the 2019 Ockham Book Awards.

Vana Manasiadis is a New Zealand Greek writer, editor and translator who spent many years in Greece and Europe, and is now based back in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau. She is the author of acclaimed collection  and her writing has appeared in a many outlets including 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry (Vintage, 2010) and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (Random NZ, 2014). As co-editor of the Seraph Press Translation Series, she has co-edited Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation (2018) and edited and translated from the Greek for Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια: Shipwrecks/Shelters: Six Contemporary Greek Poets (2016). The Grief Almanac: A Sequel was published May,  2019 (Seraph Press).

 

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