Helen of Troy and Other Poems
UQP, $23.95 pb, 99 pp
Dimitris Tsaloumas is often thought of as a poet writing between two languages. In his English poetry, this emerges in the way that the everyday diction of Greek often functions as the learned register of English. ‘Nostalgia’, as a compound word, is a modern Western coining, but when Tsaloumas opens the volume with ‘Nostalgia: A Diptych’, he evokes the Greek components of the word, particularly nostos with its connotation of Homeric return.
The Greek-English overlay also comes in, curiously, when Latinate words are used. Unlike most poets writing in English, Tsaloumas does not inherently treat the Latinate as the higher diction, considering his native tongue one with respect to which even Latin, at one point, seemed vulgar. Thus a Latinate word such as ‘luminous’ is used more colloquially by Tsaloumas than it is by most other poets in English. ‘The Beautiful Lady of Merci’ strips away two-thirds of the original French phrase alluded to by the title, as if to the Greek-speaking poet it does not matter whether English or French words are used, as one language sounds no ‘higher’ than the other.