Macabre and mundane musings

Musings: An Anthology of Greek-Canadian Literature

By Elizabeth Johnston

A review of Musings: An Anthology Of Greek-canadian Literature by Edited By Tess Fragoulis

Published on April 1, 2004

Musings: An Anthology Of Greek-canadian Literature
Edited By Tess Fragoulis

Vehicule Press
$18
paper
160pp
1-55-65-186-2

See that hand emerging from the olive branches? It beckons you along the many roads that lead to an Athens of the imagination in this collection edited by Greek-Montrealer Tess Fragoulis. Before you begin your journey, though, be prepared for morbid sensuality, communion with deathly figures, and a pig suckling at an old woman’s breast.

A highlight of Musings is Margaret Christakos’s “Charisma,” in which the main character, Cameo, passes through her days on Danforth in Toronto’s Greek east end in a fluid frisson of sensory experience. Because she is pregnant, she sees everything from the perspective of blending and merging.

 

Cameo grins back, swayed by a familiar arc of longing in her tongue’s nerves to trace the gleaming tissue of Mae’s bottom lip … When she stops to look through the plate glass [of the butcher shop] she finds her own face grafted on the plate glass looking back at herself, soft into the desiring hook of her eye … Yes, part of going out into the world each afternoon is to catch herself in it, raw and available.

 

The ease with which Christakos maintains this sensual interior commentary, with its blend of the macabre and the mundane, is breathtaking.

A tone of dark urgency is further set by the raw sensual energy found in Una McDonnell’s opening poems, where death and desire converge and blur.

 

If there is an edge to this, I want to run
my palm along its steel sharpness, let blood
pool and gather until I can float –
an embryo with no cord but my own.

 

Being completely on one’s own is something that Antonios Maltezos explores in his short story, “The Naked Companion.” From this elegy for aloneness springs mad old Sophia, the only one of her family left on a pig farm in Greece. A mythic woman, she suckles a piglet left on her doorstep in mockery of her spinsterhood.

Like Sophia, many of the pieces in Musings spring from the realm of Greek mythology, familiar terrain for many Westerners. But as she explains in her introduction, Fragoulis wants to go beyond the known to find a sensibility that speaks uniquely of Greek-Canadians. For all her ability to connect with universal themes in regional Canadian literature, Fragoulis says, she has seldom enjoyed the luxury of immediate recognition and identification that someone native to Southwestern Ontario or Northern Alberta might experience reading about characters living within that specific landscape and cultural reality. “There is, I’ve discovered, a certain level of comfort derived from this recognition and identification which adds another layer to the reading experience.”

In an interesting contrapuntal dance of self and other, Fragoulis gains a comfort level while non-Greek Canadians may not, due to the marked difference between some of the pieces in Musings. Jostling amongst the book’s stories and poems of profound emotional viscera are more prosaic ones like Helen Tsirotakis’s “Mr. Frederick and Nancy Drew: The Case of the Vacuum Cleaner Salesman,” and Pan Bouyoucas’s “Anna and Sotiris.” While they are no doubt true to quotidian Greek experience, they do not resonate universally in the way that much of the other work does, and remain somewhat inaccessible.

Cleverly, though, this inaccessibility is foreshadowed in another of McDonnell’s opening poems, “Agape.” While the poem holds within it the ubiquitous subject of inappropriate desire, the openness of its title is belied in its first lines: “For you I will become the stoneless olive, pulled warm/ from leaves, slyly entered and perfectly left intact.”

Though Fragoulis sets out to open a portal onto a little known territory of the imagination, it’s a landscape that refuses entry on some level. Perhaps that’s as it should be because the things we cannot know rub shoulders with what we do. And it just may be that the unknown in each of us is what makes us worth knowing. mRb

Elizabeth Johnston is the author of "No Small Potatoes," and teaches writing at Concordia University.

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