Jack Ross, ed.: Poetry NZ Yearbook 2017 (March 2017)
Antonios Papaspiropoulos. Poems from the George Wilder Cottage: A Poetry Cycle. Southbank, VIC: St Antoni Publishing, 2015. RRP AU$35. 72 pp.
Antonios Papaspiropoulos: Poems from the George Wilder Cottage (2015)
Antonios Papaspiropoulos is also interested in sharing the story of his life: though not in anything like the same direct way as Williamson (or Wordsworth, for that matter). If one had to choose a Romantic poet to set alongside him, I suspect Lord Byron would be a somewhat better fit.
His collection, Poems from the George Wilder Cottage, seems at first to lack any particular ordering principle beyond a fascination with the Ned Kelly-like figure of George Wilder, Kiwi prison-breaker and inspired thief and runaway. It isn’t a political vision, mind you: there’s little here of Pablo Neruda’s Splendor and Death of Joaquín Murieta. For Papaspiropoulos, Wilder is simply an Outsider, a figure of generalised, existential protest against confinement generally.
He comments in his foreword to the book:
I was between jobs and looking for a new direction after more than a decade ‘working for the man’ abroad . . . Sometimes you just forget what the point is. At least I did. This place at the end of the world offered simplicity, serenity and large doses of reprieve. (p. 16)It’s hard to see much of that in the Wilder oral history anecdotes scattered throughout the narrative, but the poems that intersperse them begin to add up to a kind of stocktaking, an often disquieting backward look:
Each night my lifePapaspiropoulos’s writing lacks the jewelled polish of Williamson’s: many of the poems are undercooked, and his layouts tend (at least at times) to encourage prolixity. As a whole, though, this ensemble of poems succeeds in conveying the converging currents of a complex life lived largely (hitherto) in an imperfectly examined manner.
Patterned wallpaper. (p. 32)
The whole book hinges on the success (or failure) of its last section, ‘Victorialand’, I would say. At first sight this seems like a departure from the simplicity of the Wilder/Papaspiropoulos double-act which has dominated it hitherto. On rereading, though, it seems to me more and more like the culmination of what has gone before — and, in a larger sense, its justification.
Love poetry is a notoriously hard genre to carry off, and there are, to be sure, moments of mawkishness in Papaspiropoulos’s evocation of his passion for his partner, Victoria: ‘I’d recognise that / delectable / derriere / anywhere’ (p. 62).
There are quite a lot of poems included here, though, and — once again — they do succeed in giving a sense of the give-and-take of life in the cottage with Victoria and their three children.
In the end, what redeems Papaspiropoulos’s book is his strong sense of humour. Ending with a naked photo of himself playing the double-bass shows, at the very least, someone sufficiently brave and unselfconscious to present himself (and Victoria, too, in earlier photos) to the reader’s scrutiny.
George Wilder, it seems, is greatly opposed to publicity, and has refused permission in the past for the use of his story in at least one feature film. It’s hard to know just what he would make of Poems from the George Wilder Cottage, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling — for this reader, at least — that Antonios Papaspiropoulos has made a real success of his Dr Zhivago-like sojourn at his own mini Varykino.
Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017. ISBN 978-0-9941363-5-0 (March 2017): 296-97.
Poetry NZ Yearbook 2017