Author: Theodore Christou
Trade Paperback: 146 pages
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Byzantium was the polyglot, culturally Hellenic Roman world, which strattled continents and worldviews. byzantium uses multiple voices and dialects, trespassing generations, exploring the heritage and memory of a single mind.
To be Byzantine is to be necessarily complex and potentially incomprehensible, as we might characterize the administration of public service or the themes of an unfinished Franz Kafka novel. The legacy of Byzantium is seemingly tangled. It was Rome, except it was not centred on the city of Rome. It was Christian, but Orthodox rather than Catholic. It was Greek, but multi-ethnic. It spanned Europe, the Middle East, Anatolia, North Africa, and the Balkans, yet it shrunk and it expanded incessantly over 11 centuries. This collection of poetry tells the story of Byzantium and recounts the history of a solitary poet simultaneously. It reaches into the particular history of Cyprus, which was also Byzantine and not-Byzantine, especially during the decades preceding and following its independence from Great Britain in 1960, using the stories of fathers and grandfathers to tell the story of Byzantium and the story of self that is made composite by immigration, transposition, and colonization.
byzantine proceeds through shallow breaths and heavy swells. Individual poems change their tenor, their voice, their perspective, and their concerns even as the collection builds a continuity of experiences and reflections on various contexts, historical and contemporary, and perspectives or voices. The collection oversees at least three generations: poet, father, grandfather. It moves from Canada to Cyprus. It heaves through academic prose and notes and it flits through soft reflections. This book is Greek and English. Historical and modern. Coy, sad, and ideological. The collection merits reading from front to back. It is something like a novel, deconstructed with respect to character, setting, and plot. Yet the title reveals a great deal about its content. Byzantium is an enigma, as characterized popularly, when it is regarded at all. Put simply, it was the continuation of the Roman Empire post its move to Constantinople from Rome and post its Christianization in the fourth century. Intricate court life. Mystical hierarchies and structures. Decline and fall. Byzantium is a space remember largely through negative connotation in the western world and through mythologizing and memory in the eastern world. Byzantium is a space of historical lore, spiritual exercise and patience, and intellectual efflorescence. The poet standing at his window could very well be overlooking the Bosphorus in contemporary Istanbul. He looks at the world around him, the world past, and the world he could only imagine through stories, and weaves his tale accordingly.
Reviews from Previous Books:
Theodore Christou’s lucid, experimental poetry collection an overbearing eye offers a mind thinking and feeling in language and a voice of distinctive tonal vulnerability and self-irony. Love, war, emotional pain, mythology, the burden of history, the solace of “sweet cyprus” (“napalm/ blasts.”), “christ / pantokrator” (“which the observed, / and which the doting eyes”–titles continue to surprise and sometimes shock), the classics, the sea, childhood, metamorphosis and metaphor are some of Christou’s topics in a journey (“i imagine that i am an explorer,” he writes in “a white expense of place and time”) whose most spectacular successes are poems about poetry and language since love making and the making of all kinds of things, verbal and real, “is the business of poetry” (“fear eating”).
Demetres Tryphonopoulos, PhD
Professor and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies
University of New Brunswick
An overbearing eye, is a book of verse forged from the heaviness of life Christou senses, bears and then distils, or at times wrestles to the ground, but always tempers with the love he has for his subjects, for language and for getting it right.
Jennifer Pazienza, PhD
Professor, Faculty of Education