Well-Versed

Published November 14, 2013

ABOVE: DAVID HOCKNEY’S PORTRAIT CAVAFY IN ALEXANDRIA. FROM ILLUSTRATIONS FOR FOURTEEN POEMS FROM C.P. CAVFY.

“That’s the trick of Cavafy,” says PEN American Center director Lázló Jakab Orsós, of the work of Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy. “If you read just one Cavafy poem, you don’t understand. But go back to it in 15 minutes and read it slower, it cracks open.” In celebration of what would have been Cavafy’s 150th birthday, the PEN American Center will hold an event on November 18 at New York City’s Town Hall. Building on a traditional reading, the evening will feature a spectrum of intellectual and artistic performances, including discussions, dances, and musical numbersâ??all original commissions. “We wanted to do a variety show,” says Orsós. Cavafy is particularly suited for such multifaceted enactments, especially considering that his poems were composed under singular circumstances: A gay man who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, his often homoerotic poems are chiefly set in antiquity. His work wasn’t translated into English until midcentury; aptly, Cavafy translators Daniel Mendelsohn and Edmund Keeley will hold “live translations” in which they explain their choices and invite the audience to make suggestions. The event will also showcase David Hockney‘s 1960s illustrations based on Cavafy’s poems.