Nasos Vayenas was born in the northern Greek city of Drama, in 1945. Following studies in Greek and Italian literature at the universities of Athens and Rome respectively, he completed an MA in literary translation at the University of Essex before writing his Ph.D. thesis on George Seferis at Cambridge University (1974-1979). Upon its subsequent publication in Greek, The Poet and the Dancer was acclaimed as a key statement on the Nobel Laureate’s poetics.
In Vayenas’s first book of poems, Field of Mars (1974), rhythmical patterns of Greek conversation combine in staccato sentences and phrases to produce tightly controlled ‘free-form’ poems. Already evident here is a sharp ear for intonation, innuendo and irony, all of which mark Vayenas out as a leading member of the ‘Generation of the Seventies’. Terseness and irony remain constants throughout his oeuvre as he moves firstly to the ‘verset’ (in Biography, 1978) and then to forms more strongly marked by traditional rhythms and rhymes, including, for example, sonnets, in books such as Dark Ballades and Other Poems (2001) and his latest collection, In the Isle of the Blest (2010).
Concurrent with this direction, Vayenas’s critical writings plead for a ‘re-enchantment of poetic discourse’. Indeed, the incessant dialogue between Vayenas’s critical and lyrical voices permeates the work of a writer who is also Professor of Literary Theory and Criticism at the University of Athens. The simultaneous publication, in 1989, of the book of essays Poetry and Translation and a hybrid collection entitled Flyer’s Fall, in which original poems converse with translations of a number of Anglophone and other modernists is perhaps the clearest example of poetry, translation and criticism consistently engaging through the contact points of a rich ensemble of writers and traditions. Nor has dialogue stopped there. As editor, Vayenas’s Conversing with Cavafy (2000) has gathered an anthology of Cavafy-inspired poems from around the world. As translator, he has ‘returned’ Richard Berengarten’s Black Light: Poems in Memory of George Seferis (2005, reviewed in MPT 3/5) to the Greek language.
Given the poet’s characteristic inhabitation of multiple voices and modes, a key to the editing of his forthcoming The Perfect Order: Selected Poems 1974-2010, due from Anvil Press in 2010, has been inclusion of versions by twelve translators, often in collaboration, thus allowing for a multiplicity of interpretations, timbres, and accents.
– from the introduciton by Paschalis Nikolaou in MPT Series 3/14 Polyphony