Friday 15 January 2010

Introduction: Welcome

The Eridanos flowing through the Kerameikos in Athens,
with the Akropolis behind

Photo: © David Gill
(click photo to enlarge)

'Brekekekex koax koax...'

['Croak, croak']

the refrain of the frog chorus in The Frogs,
the comedy by Aristophanes, performed at the Lenaia festival in Athens in 405 B.C.

my blog of poetry in all its forms.

Those who wander along the lush banks of the River Eridanos in the Κεραμεικός region of Athens will experience for themselves something of the marshy setting that Aristophanes evoked so wonderfully in his comedy, The Frogs.

It is as well to remember that there has been much debate over the actual location in the poet's mind. We may be tempted to associate the marsh with a real place; but the setting for some of the play at least is the Underworld rather than Athens, and the procession may represent the walk to Eleusis as part of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Kerameikos was also where the Iera Odos or Sacred Way to Eleusis began.

The ancient cemetery in Athens exists today, and is alive with tortoises (Testudo marginata and Testudo hermanni) and
the frog-like Green Toads. There have been no contemporary sightings of frogs. Vibrant orange flag-like Canna lily flowers adorn the banks of the river, which is itself a visual reminder of the Greek 'Key' or 'Meander' pattern of Greek art. Sadly the invasive Canna lilies are not a native species.

We are all familiar with the concept of a 'meandering' stream. The word finds its source in the river known in the days of Classical Greece as Maiandros or Maeander (Μαίανδρος). The actual Meander River runs through present-day Turkey, flowing south of Izmir in an easterly direction towards the Turkish town of Milet, once the ancient town of Miletus.

Strabo noted in connection with the river that...

'... its course is so exceedingly winding that everything winding is called meandering.'

'Meander' patterns began to appear on Geometric Greek vases in the tenth century B.C., alongside triangular and rectangular shapes. Much later on, we find the Greek 'Key' or 'Meander' pattern surfacing in the pebble mosaics at the palace in Vergina. The fragmented ivory shield (4th century BC), discovered in the Vergina tomb of Philip II of Macedon, includes a version of the pattern in its design.

As I think of the word, 'meander', I like the paradoxical connotations on the one hand of the free-flow of stream-like form; and on the other, of the tight, repetitious rhythm of the Greek 'Meander' (or 'Key') Pattern. I plan to explore both these poetic strands in this blog, and I hope to discover some intertwining cross-over forms in the process.

The Kerameikos lies within the ancient Attic 'deme' of Kerameon in the city of Athens. The word, Kerameikos, comes from the classical Greek for 'pottery' as in our word, 'ceramics' (although Pausanias claims that the name was a derivative of Keramos of Kerameon). The area was inhabited by potters and by those who decorated their wares. The potters found a ready source of clay deposits in the river bed. The words for 'poet' and 'potter' share the same root, for in the ancient world the potters and painters were both considered 'makers' - a word that resonates today with the Scottish 'makar'.

The River Eridanos (and here) sometimes appears to be little more than a small stream. You can see how a section of its course today has been straitjacketed into a canal. Long before the Eridanos was 'tamed' and channelled, the river changed course on several occasions. It was prone to flooding in antiquity; so the area straddling its banks was converted into a cemetery. The earliest extant burials date from the Early Bronze Age, and later burials took place during the Sub-Mycenaean age through to the end of the Early Christian period in the 6th century A.D. Some of the bodies were placed inside tumuli while others burials were marked with funerary monuments. The Dipylon Oinochoe was found in the Kermeikos tombs: it bears the earliest extant inscription in the Greek alphabet.

The frogs of Aristophanes' comedy may not have jumped along the banks of the Eridanos; but we find a mention in ancient literature of some other frogs who lived there, along with Prince Puffy Cheeks, in the 'Battle of Frogs and Mice', the parody of an ancient poem.

Feel free to join me on my personal quest as I wander along the metaphorical stretches of the Eridanos. I am keeping my eyes and ears open to unusual possibilities, and am hoping to encounter and experiment with a range of poetry forms. This blog began life as a private resource; but having reached a certain stage, it seems sense to 'go live'.

Brekekekex references
  • The River Eridanos of Ancient Athens (Gen. Editor: Evangelia Kypraioy), Hellenic Ministry of Culture 2004


Professor Lewis Turco's work, 'The Book of Forms: a Handbook of Poetics' (
ISBN-10: 1584650222 AND ISBN-13: 978-1584650225) has been a constant source of inspiration for many years.

You may be interested to know about one new work and two works-in-progress, relating to 'form' in poetry:

  • Alan J. Carter and Bernard M. Jackson's book, 'Covered in Rhyme (Poetry: its Forms & Terms)' (QQ Press in two parts, UK, £6 incl. of p&p. Rest of world postage on request). Part 1, by Bernard, covers 37 forms. Part 2, by Alan, is a glossary of literary and poetic terms.
May 2010: Two of my poems appear in Professor Lewis Turco's draft manuscript. 'Thalatta! Thalatta!' represents the Folded Mirror Poetry form, created by Dr Marc Latham. 'Echo on the Nile' represents Echo Verse.

May 2010: Two of my poems have been selected for inclusion in Dr H. Tulsi's book, authored by Bernard Jackson (from the UK), 'Muse & Metre'. The volume will be a handbook for those who wish to write in poetic forms. My poems will demonstrate the Kyrielle and the Virelai. The volume is due to be published in July/August 2010 in Visakhapatnam in India. Dr H. Tulsi is the editor of the poetry journal, 'Metverse Muse'.

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