The Shelf Life


Poetry Lovers Alert!

posted on July 25, 2014 at 8:00 am by Brad Craft
From The Adventures of Constantine Cavafy, photographs of C.P. Cavafy by Duane Michals

From The Adventures of Constantine Cavafy, photographs of C.P. Cavafy by Duane Michals

Think you don’t like poetry? I don’t much, either. But I make exceptions. And I say the name of C. P. CAVAFY with the deepest respect, because for me this Greek man is possibly the greatest gay poet who ever lived. Here, try one of his poems:



 Can’t be more than twenty-two years old.

And yet I’m sure that, just about the same

Number of years ago, I enjoyed that very body.

 It’s not at all a flaring of desire.

And I only came to the casino a little while ago;

I haven’t even had time to drink a lot.

This very body: I enjoyed it.

 And if I don’t remember where – one slip doesn’t signify.

 Ah there, sitting at the next table now:

I recognize each movement – and beneath the clothes

I see once more the naked limbs I loved.


Does that maybe speak to you a little? I hope so! For the month of August, read some Cavafy poems. With the precision of a surgeon, he can describe the heart of a quiet, older gay man better than anyone ever. I’m plowing through the only biography of him right now called CAVAFY by Robert Liddell – it might be in libraries – because I want to know more. But his poems are what we’re reading. There are a number of translations of his COMPLETE POEMS and COLLECTED POEMS: the Rae Dalven original in English, the Barnstone, and then the new awesome Daniel Mendelsohn. The Dalven is the one that made him famous. But they all work. If this guy hits you in the heart, believe me, you will want to buy the $35 Mendelsohn translation with its glorious footnotes and notes. You should be able to find used copies of the Dalven in many places, since it was reprinted and the only version for years. BUT AUGUST IS FREE. You don’t need to buy a thing. Go online to the Official Website for C. P. Cavafy. It’s amazing! His poems are all there. But if you grow to love him like I do, you’ll want a portable collection to carry with you.

cav4The poem that changed my life is called “The City.” When I first read it, the poem spoke to me and altered my way of thinking. It’s still super powerful. Watch out. Many of his poems are taken from mythology or history – BUT the ones you will go crazy over are the gay ones – they are meticulous, word precise, so hot and filled with longing and desire the pages practically steam.

Cavafy was HUGE for E. M. Forster, Lawrence Durrell, and W.H. Auden, to name but a few. Find a poem by Cavafy that speaks to you. Come to a meeting and read it and tell us why. Easy! That’s all we’re going to do for August at the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club. We’re going to share knowledge of this private, private man who opened up his secret longings to the world. Let’s understand his poems in light of his life. The more we share and know, the better. Haven’t been to a meeting for a while? Perfect time to come back. No homework necessary. Read a Cavafy poem or two before you come. How easy is that? Let’s celebrate this wise older gay man who makes exquisite word choices to express his heart. Cavafy is one of the true giants in the gay canon. If you’ve never read his poems before, prepare to learn what poetry can do.

— Nick