cover image Cicada


Phoebe Giannisi, trans. from the Greek by Brian Sneeden. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3023-0

The luminous seventh collection (and second to appear in English) by the Greek poet and architect Giannisi (Homerica) explores the rites and the passage of time “severing before from after.” The collection began as a multimedia installation called Tettix, the ancient Greek word for cicada. In its poetic iteration, Giannisi draws inspiration from the cicada’s role in ancient Greek mythology and literature: “as Socrates says/ cicadas/ attendants to the muses/ did nothing but sing/ ceaselessly.” She alternates between poems that are dense blocks of text without punctuation and airy, free verse that moves like a web down the page. The effect is arresting and often chant-like. In one poem, Giannisi dissects a line of ancient text, exploding all the possible permutations of meaning: “the fragment’s diverging interpretations/ arise for the rich tone and tinge.” These poems are dynamic in their visual and linguistic movement, “the agitation the ecstasy in life the ego that ricochets within the body the body within the world naked filled with emotions.” Giannisi turns the quotidian into the magical in poems that push against the shifting present moment. (Mar.)