The Pallikari of Nesmine Rifat

By Bert Almon

A review of The Pallikari Of Nesmine Rifat by David Solway

Published on October 1, 2005

The Pallikari Of Nesmine Rifat
David Solway

Goose Lane Editions
$17.95
paper
76pp
0-86492-424-0

David Solway’s book is definitely eccentric, and elegant in its own way. For five years he has been creating hoaxes that don’t take anybody in. He began in 2000 with Saracen Island, purported translations of a non-existent Greek poet, Andreas Karavis. He extended the joke with An Andreas Karavis Companion, a volume of pseudo-scholarship about the pseudo-Karavis, replete with invented letters, interviews, commentary, and more alleged translations. One brief article in the Andreas Karavis Companion mentions a dissident Turkish poet, Nesmine Rifat, as a possible lover of the Greek poet.

Solway has now published a whole volume of supposed translations in which Rifat describes her failed affair with Karavis (her pallikari, “young man or warrior”) – in impeccable poetic forms. The affair is described in a style evoking the 18th century erotic classic, Fanny Hill: intimate details are given florid euphemisms, as when Rifat, seeking revenge on Karavis through a lesbian tryst, says that her tongue “millimetres my kisses toward her little flower pot.” Such strategies go as far back as the Alexandrian poets of the third century B.C., who had hundreds of tropes for body parts. Dainty obscenity is carried very far in “Fear,” a poem in which the speaker remembers her lover standing over her bathtub like a colossus and showering her with gold, though not the sort of gold that Zeus heaped on Danaë! The best poem in the book is surely the anachronistic “Blue Mountain.com.” Rifat speaks of a Trojan horse parked at her gate, from which her lovers descend bearing e-mail greeting cards from Blue Mountain.com that transmit the Backdoor virus, a metaphor with some obvious innuendos. Will this be the last hoax collection? Or will Solway discover that Karavis and Rifat had a love child who also writes poetry? (The best imaginary poet in Canadian literature is still Paul Hiebert’s hilarious Sarah Binks, “the Sweet Songstress of Saskatchewan,” who got the crypto-scholarly treatment in 1947.) mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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