Saturday, August 27, 2005


Out of bed & onto the porch early this morning—nursing a slight headache, the residual effects of having had too much gin several hours earlier—I skim absent-mindedly through Dorn’s Gunslinger, coming across the following passage:

here — we were in Smyrna
together, now called Izmir
when they burned the place
Down, we were
Very young then

Smyrna. Xtian city invaded and razed by Moslem Turks in 1922. The U.S. silently watched on, reluctant to intervene and threaten the delicate international relationships upon which so many American economic interests (especially those surrounding oil) depended.

Three thousand years earlier, appx 1000 BCE, “the Aeolians lost Smyrna.” Robin Waterfield’s translation of Herodotus, I.150:

They [the Aeolians] took in some men from Colophon who had come off worst in a political dispute and had been banished from their homeland. These Colophonian exiles waited until the Smyrnans were involved in a festival to Dionysus outside the town walls, and then closed the gates and took control of the town.

& a couple of lines from Theognis, translated by Gregory Nagy:

hubris ruined the Magnesians, and Colophon
and Smyrna; and it will assuredly ruin you too, Kyrnos!

This coming around, of course, to Kent Johnson’s poem “The Mission,” included in Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz. An early incarnation of the same poem appears in The Miseries of Poetry, Johnson’s translations of the Greek with Alexandra Papaditsas. The poem, within the framework of Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, appears in many ways to set a chilling tone which unlocks the thematically cohesive collection. That the poem, written “after Archilochus,” is informed by and speaks to present political issues with such sophistication and subtlety is clearly a testament to Johnson’s remarkable skill & ability as a poet:

We decamped from Pylos, barbarian town smack in a boulder field
and set oar to lovely Asia, making fair Kolophon our base. We gathered
our strength for a fortnight, writing poems and sharpening our swords
by the sea.


Aided by the gods, we stormed Smyrna, and burned its profane temples to the ground.