Reviews: Z213: Exit by Dimitris Lyacos

The art of translation is a gift and we, as English speakers and readers, have Shorsha Sullivan to thank for bringing us the work of Greek poet Dimitris Lyacos. In Z213:Exit: Poena Dani, Lyacos’ middle collection in a series of three, we experience the world through the eyes of a prisoner as he escapes from jail and travels through a dark, surreal world. The blocked prose poems fly in the face of the conservative conventions of poetry here in America because these poems go beyond the debate between the narrative and the lyric poem, often being both simultaneously.

Dimitris Lyacos is not only a poet but also a playwright which is evident in how each poem is written like a scene in the prisoner’s life. The pacing of Z213:Exit also mimics a play, moving at times quickly through action and then slowing down for reflection. The mastery of Sullivan’s translation comes through in the punctuation and word choices she makes. The common reader may have no knowledge of how the syntax and meter work in the Greek language, but Sullivan’s translations make us unsuspecting students and we learn to follow the unfamiliar rhythms.

Repetition is also important to these poems and we see it used in several effective ways: to reiterate, to counter and often to characterize the prisoner in his disbelief, in his shock or as a reaction to what is happening to him. We see it here, when the prisoner, just escaped, comes upon a wounded soldier:

    …A soldier beside a niche
    in the wall laid on his side, eyes closed, a blanket over his
    feet, a pile of clothes beside him – uniforms – a kit-bag
    behind his back. I went, pulled out a pair of trousers and a
    jacket, eyes closed, a little blood under his nose, he raised
    his head gently, wiped it off with his sleeve. I returned
    to the toilets to change, came back left my clothes on
    the heap. Eyes closed, a drop of blood under his nose. I
    looked for a pair of boots from the kit-bag and put them
    on there, sat down beside him.

Midway through Z213:Exit, the strict prose form is broken and the reader is thrust into a wandering form of line breaks and white space. Up until this point we were in the head of the prisoner, experiencing his disorientation from his perspective and once the form changes, we feel disoriented as well. Lyacos even references the feeling in one of the broken forms, “…Line sets off and fades away…”

What is Z213:Exit? What will happen to the prisoner? What will he learn? And what will we learn with him? These are the questions that Sorsha Sullivan allow us to begin to answer with her translation of Dimitris Lyacos’s Z213:Exit: Poena Dani.

And one reading is not enough to do it justice.

Review by Monet. P. Thomas

Monet P. Thomas is a creative writing graduate student studying poetry at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington. She is a staff member of its literary magazine, Willow Springs, an intern for the Writers in the Community and she also contributes to the literary blog, Bark.

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