Eternity & Oranges

Pitt Poetry Series, 2016

“We’d not slept in days, or else we were/ still sleeping—who could tell?” someone asks in the opening poem of Eternity & Oranges. The voices we encounter in this book speak on the verge of disappearance, from places marked by disintegration and terror. Christopher Bakken’s poems are acts of conjuring. They move from the real political landscapes of Greece, Italy, and Romania, into more surreal spaces where history comes alive and the summoned dead speak. In the formally diverse long poem, “Kouros/Kore,” but also in this book’s terse and harrowing dream songs, Bakken writes with devastating force, at every turn “Guilty of the crime of praise” while “begging for an antidote to beauty.”

“This is a beautiful collection of poems: half-cryptic, half-open; half based on ancient myths, half on actual life. There’s almost always Greece as the backdrop, olives and the sea but also a human drama. Christopher Bakken proves that what’s ancient is also modern and vice versa. We live between times; only poetry can make it palpable.”
—Adam Zagajewski

Eternity & Oranges is a beautifully crafted book of apprehensions, the apprehensions chiefly of death as furnished by sea, love, politics, and separation. It moves through Greece and the Balkans watching scenes darken and divide. The unsaid haunts the book with its degrees of saying. It is what the skin of poetry is for: to contain the flesh and nerves while bearing whatever life inflicts on it.”     
—George Szirtes

Read reviews of Eternity & Oranges at Pleiades: Literature in Context, The Literary Review, and American Microreviews.

Honey, Olives, Octopus:

Adventures at the Greek Table

University of California Press, 2013

Bulgarian edition

Мед, маслини, октопод

Prozorets, 2014

Polish edition

Smakujac Grecje 

Pascal, 2015


Combining the best of memoir, travel literature, and food writing, Christopher Bakken delves into one of the most underappreciated cuisines in Europe in this rollicking celebration of the Greek table. He explores the traditions and history behind eight elements of Greek cuisine—olives, bread, fish, cheese, beans, wine, meat, and honey—and journeys through the country searching for the best examples of each. He picks olives on Thasos, bakes bread on Crete, eats thyme honey from Kythira with one of Greece’s greatest poets, and learns why Naxos is the best place for cheese in the Cyclades. Working with local cooks and artisans, he offers an intimate look at traditional village life, while honoring the conversations, friendships, and leisurely ceremonies of dining around which Hellenic culture has revolved for thousands of years. A hymn to slow food and to seasonal and sustainable cuisine, Honey, Olives, Octopus is a lyrical celebration of Greece, where such concepts have always been a simple part of living and eating well.

“’Honey, Olives, Octopus’ is about the oldest kinds of work—how food is grown, caught or gathered; how it is prepared and eaten; how it tastes and what it reveals about a remarkable people. . . . The aesthetics of food, like the poetics of work, are among the things that lend life its character, that remove it from the daily grind and lift it toward reality like an imagined sphere. ‘Honey, Olives, Octopus’ is a book of life lessons, small moments and full flavors brought back to the other life. The one we call ordinary.”

—David Mason, Wall Street Journal

“A well-informed, sustained paean to the joys not only of the Greek table but also to the landscape of the country. . . . Clearly and evocatively written, informative, well-paced, vivid, hunger-inducing – as well as sometimes, as the dark undertow exerts its pull, very poignant.” —Rachel Hadas, The New Criterion

“Delightful . . . . Bakken’s culinary quest leads him deep into the heart of the countryside and of the country people. Along the way we meet an endearing cast of characters.”—Don George. National Geographic Traveler

“While other travel/food books make me go, ‘hmm, maybe I’ll make try to cook that one day,’ Honey, Olives, Octopus has me notating all the hotels and restaurants he mentions so I can go skedaddle over there as soon as possible for some chtipiti (mashed feta and hot peppers), grilled octopus drizzled with red vinegar, Cretan bread, and Naxian Graviera cheese. He will utterly convince you that not only is Greek food sublime and underappreciated, but that the terroir, history, and mythology of the place are so ingrained in the cuisine that you have to go there to understand it. I’m off to find my passport.” —Bookriot

“The title of this enjoyable book is somewhat modest in its claims as it does not hint at the breadth of knowledge and understanding of Greek culture, past and present, that Christopher Bakken brings to bear on his exploration of Greek food … there is much to commend in this engaging and enthusiastic discourse on all things Greek.” —Jane Stewart, Pleiades

“Christopher Bakken celebrates Greek food in the Greek style, sharing it with those he loves at joyous tables filled with overflowing trays of mezedes, carafes of wine, and cloudy glasses of ouzo. But he doesn’t just look at the way the food is prepared or harvested—or eaten—he also immerses himself in the process and introduces us to the friends he makes along the way. This is food writing that goes beyond the simple pleasure of eating—Honey, Olives, Octopus illuminates something about what it means to be alive.”—Natalie Bakopoulos, author of The Green Shore

“I have never been to Greece, or at least I hadn’t until I read Christopher Bakken’s poetic story of food and life on its islands. The book sings with Aegean beauty: the cobalt blue water, stoic olive groves, pine sap, and chicory I’d always dreamed I would find there. It is an absolute pleasure to take the journey with him in these pages.” —Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace

The Lions’ Gate: Selected Poems of Titos Patrikios

Translated by Christopher Bakken & Roula Konsolaki

Truman State University Press, 2007

Titos Patrikios is a poet of witness and engagement. A member of the intellectual left in post-war Greece, he survived imprisonment, hard labor, censorship, and exile. He narrowly escaped death by firing squad, and once had to bury his poems to keep them from discovery by the authorities. Patrikios endured years away from his home country, Greece, and was displaced from his family and literary community. His style bears the marks of that pressure and of his persistent need to pursue what might suffice in spite of such predicaments. At times reminiscent of Hikmet, Neruda, and Milosz, Patrikios’s poems sound a note of defiant celebration. This poet’s ethos is utterly humanistic and his impulses are toward praise as often as they are toward protest.

Titos Patrikios reads “The Lions’ Gate” on PBS Newshour

Review by Laura McDowell in Ekathimerini (Greece)

Titos Patrikios belongs in the twentieth-century pantheon with Yiannis Ritsos, Nazim Hikmet, and Pablo Neruda. He writes out of a deep and anguished humanity; his work is earthy, unremitting, noble. The Lions’ Gate brings a significant Greek poet into English with exemplary care and clarity. —Edward Hirsch

These fine translations, rendering a selection from some fifteen volumes of Titos Patrikios’s work over a period of 54 years, demonstrate why his voice has come to be recognized as one of the most compelling in Greek poetry since the Second World War. Heir to Seferis and Ritsos, he shares with these precursors the capacity to raise his personal vision and sensibility to a level that illuminates the tragic climate of his country in harsh years of civil war, dictatorship, exile, and disillusionment. During the course of his prolific career, the poet’s imagery blossoms from its surrealist roots into a brighter, simpler mode, an access to wisdom and human understanding that is without sentimentality but that offers the prospect of a certain resolution however contrary the times. That this development remains clear in this English version of Patrikios’s work is testimony to the persistent care and high quality of these translations. —Edmund Keeley

The elegant translators have given us a perfectly fluent and flawless version of the poems of Titos Patrikios, a poet who is a mirror of five decades of Greek history. I am drawn most to the meticulous snapshot poems that catch a moment of love, politics, Greek life. Whitman’s poignantly acute Civil War poems come to mind. Here is an amazing example of the poet and his translators: “Every morning the sun rises behind the guardhouses / wearing filthy hospital pajamas, / crossing slowly the courtyard of the sky. / After so many years / it too has taken up the habits of the detainees.” (“Habits of the Detainees”) Patrikios is a sun and star figure in modern Greek poetry. —Willis Barnstone

Utterly free of sentimentality or self-pity, Titos Patrikios’s poems have an edge honed by many difficult years of exile. How remarkable, then, that the predominant impression left by The Lions’ Gate is of joy—a joy no less radiant for being hard-won. “My flesh / always hurts when beaten, / always rejoices when caressed. / It hasn’t learned a thing.” (“Flesh”) Bakken and Konsolaki’s translations, poised and clear, do justice to the economy and force of the original Greek. This is a beautiful and heartening collection. —Rachel Hadas

Goat Funeral. Sheep Meadow Press, 2007.

“Whether writing of the Greek landscape, purgatory, Paul Celan, El Greco, or the late Bill Matthews, Christopher Bakken in sinewy, sculpted lines succeeds in embodying an unknown yet knowable world in all its textures and contours. If poetry is the being there of authentic existence, then the poems of Goat Funeral constitute a double triumph, both aesthetic and ontological. This is work of a very high order by one of our finest younger poets.”—B.H. Fairchild

Contours are Apollonian as in After Greece, but the poet knows now that vision, like flesh, is fleeting, even fled, and his assurance blurs, the amber clouds; hence “those moments / of clarifying emptiness / toward which we must steer, then swerve from.” Clearly Bakken has already embarked, with this subsequent (but not subaltern) inspection of his cherished Hellenic adequacies (“So many islands, so much blessed salt, / this feast we could not finish by ourselves”), on an ardent if sometimes arduous odyssey. In poetry of this order–so luminous, yet so willing to be lost: “each switchback leads us deeper in”–peregrination itself will be a march of triumph.” —Richard Howard

After Greece, 2001 T.S. Eliot Prize (Truman State University Press)

After Greece is a fruit not of tourism but of a loving quest for the substance of our culture; Christopher Bakken’s beautiful book inscribes itself into a dignified tradition of traveling to the countries of the richest past without giving up the sometimes skeptical lucidity of our present moment.

—Adam Zagajewski

The language is lucent, calm, introspective, and emphatic, never self-centered, and the questions about interpretation, history, the transitory nature of pleasure, and of the seeming self-sufficiency of objects I found important and compelling. —Lynne McMahon, 2001 T. S. Eliot Prize Judge

There is no “after Greece,” nothing subsequent: the dust and what is beneath it are present forever in the poet’s mouth. —Richard Howard


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