Poetry for the ‘true romantic’

“Temperament, twenty-four love poems, one in each key” by Timoshenko Aslanides, 29pp, published by Hybrid.
To purchase, copies are available in the ANU Coop Bookshop and the NLA bookshop
Reviewed by Judith Crispin

TIMOSHENKO Aslanides’ new collection of poems “Temperament, twenty-four love poems, one in each key,” published by Hybrid, consists of studies after the keys of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier.

Timoshenko Aslanides portrait by Judi Power Thomson

Timoshenko Aslanides portrait by Judi Power Thomson

Each study is presented as six quatrains of elegiac couplets, each meditating on a theme of love and transcendence.

In a preface to the work Aslanides explains how he couldn’t afford to retune his piano to well temperament, in order to play Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart with tuning intended by the composers. “My hopes” he says “of hearing, on my own piano, the sumptuous resonance and characteristic colour of the keys composed in by the classical and romantic greats were then quietly abandoned”. Aslanides notes that the emotional quality of each key is deepened in well-tempered tuning—and his own collection of poems, each named after specific a key, evokes those same intensities.

Aslanides’ musical metaphor doesn’t stop at the surface of titles, but is woven into the body of each poem. His “Study C Sharp minor” begins “Compare the sums: these seven octaves, these twelve perfect fifths. / A difference exists, and has a name: / the Pythagorean Comma, symbol of all symbols, / and the imperfections in universal laws.” Aslanides refers to Pythagorean tuning, built on the ratio of 3:2—the perfect fifth. No number of perfect fifths will fit exactly into an octave. After twelve ascending fifths one arrives at a note that is almost, but not exactly, seven octaves above the start. In other words twelve fifths are not exactly the same as seven octaves – the difference is a tiny fraction of a note (23.46 cents) called the Pythagorean comma.

What does this mean in the context of Aslanides’ poetry? Pythagoras’ comma is the basis of ancient Greek mysticism. Where our modern circle of fifths is an actual circle – each octave a simple doubling – the Pythagorean circle is a spiral, it reaches just a little further than contemporary tuning can.

This reaching past what we imagine to be impossible is a recurrent theme of Aslanides’ poems. His “Study in D Major,” for example, advises someone trapped in a depressing job to imagine being an Australian magpie “… quite unaware/ that anyone could envy you your lack of envy,/ your lack of need for more than boundless present,/ randomly arranged in the grass and yellow daisies/ that always grow in the vicinity of hope.”

timoshenko“Temperament” is a poetry book for the true romantic. Disarmingly simple in language and form, Aslanides’ work is layered with unpretentious mysticism, genuine revelation of spirit and, overall, a courageous exploration of personal vulnerability.

Note: Meantime, “Citynews” has been told that local portrait painter Judi Power Thomson, who specialises in painting musicians, has recently finished a portrait (pictured) of Aslanides, who is a musician as well as a writer. The artist tell us she has constructed the background from crinkled tissue paper representing the many drafts that are written, screwed up and thrown away during the writing process. The hands, in watercolour, are those of the subject writing with his gold fountain pen, while the head and shoulders are in acrylic. “This painting portrays an educated gentleman who is a published writer, a left hander and married. He has a soft face showing a passionate man, demonstrated in his many touching works,” she told us.

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