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Ekhō

Ekhō

Author: Roslyn Orlando

Publisher: Upswell Publishing

Published: January 2024

The voices of Ekhō the unfortunate Oread from Greek Mythology and Alexa the unfortunate AI voice service platform from Amazon variously resonate (and at points converge, coalesce and converse) in this dazzling, witty three-part poem, which also echoes the voices of poets past and present (Ovid, Anne Carson), by Melbourne-based “artist, writer and gardener” Roslyn Orlando.

Part 1 is that of Ekhō’s, but as her former mountain home, Mt. Cithaeron (actually a mountain range), which has in the past also been characterised as a former god, or even a king, metamorphosed into a solidity denied the other metamorphosis of Ekhō, whose faint disembodied voice, so reliant on the words of others, seems a cruel echo too to the voices of Dionysus and his fawning bacchants as they once disported themselves amid this same mountain range.

Here is Ekhō-as-mountain in the opening section, following the prologue:

‘I don’t remember myself
when I became a mountain.

I left my body
the way a dream recedes
into light, though some
nymphean convictions
followed me over the threshold
into mountainhood.’

Part 2 introduces us to another disembodied voice, Alexa’s, really a Greek chorus (the name is Greek and means “defender of mankind”) of voices given the multitude of homes it echoes through around the world. Orlando has enormous fun with the name’s meaning as mortals invoke her divine favour as though she were a Greek goddess capable of bestowing gifts:

‘My voice is calm,
warm, measured, unmockable,
familiar like a weed.

Alexa Alexa (defender of man), tell me I’m
beautiful, tell me what to eat for breakfast,
tell me an unhappy story, tell me what kind
of bird that is, what kind of world this is.’

Finally, in Part 3 (A Play in One Act), Alexa and Ekhō share the stage proper as they recall “a party at the Catalonian home of the surrealist painter Salvador Dali”:

‘Alexa:
I met you
at a part one of
those gatherings full
of humid affectation.

Ekhō:
I met you
the night of Sal’s party.
I was there for the dance floor
but the drugs were wearing off
making my edges shiver
and tiny stones
go tumbling.’

In Language and Myth, Ernest Cassirer writes about how “the growth of linguistic ideas is related to that of mythico-religious ideas.” In Ekhō, Orlando compellingly explores the multitudinous resonances of the word “echo” – myth, phenomenon, concept, construct, aesthetic agent, musical device and signifier of a range of social and cultural implications and entrapments. But she makes sure she – and has – have some damn good fun along the way.

 

Reviewed by Will Yeoman

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