Demosthenes Agrafiotis

Greek Poetry Between 1975 and 2010

(An Updated Introduction to ANTHOLOGIE DE LA POÉSIE GRECQUE (1975-2005)
editors: Kostas Nassikas & Demosthenes Agrafiotis
Editions L'Harmattan; Paris, 2012)

Greek society, from the end of WWII to today, has followed a singular trajectory: from that war's destruction, to the tragedy of civil war, economic development, the wretchedness of the military regime, the drama of Cyprus, on-credit socialism, and finally the vortex of the international crisis. A reasonable question would be whether, in the final analysis, the determinism of poetic shifts goes in step with the determinism of socio-political shifts, and whether they overlap, or whether they remain incompatible. Of course a single case (the Greek one) in a specific phase and an anthology are not enough to prove or disprove the connection of the two determinisms—existing or allegedly existing. However, the problematics of the complex interaction between socio-political evolution and poetic search functions as a point of departure for thoughts and questions both in the field of poetics and in the domain of collective life.

The previous question can be asked in the following (more concrete way): In the period 1950-2012, what has been the typology (if a version of it can be given form) of the Greek poetic production? What is its relationship to other European productions? Does it have any repercussions or impact on what happens in Greek society? What expressions of contemporary Greek activity has it impacted and to what degree has it influenced the choices and the thinking of Greek poets? If the fast pace of socio-political changes is taken into consideration, is it possible to pinpoint the nature of interplay between poetic production and Greek society—taking into consideration the globalization of the world? What is important is not necessarily to have these questions and their satellite sub-questions answered but to present the canvas on which the ocean of poetry of the period was navigated. The material in this anthology constitutes an historical record and also the beginning for a multi-disciplinary approach to the poetry produced during this period of Greek cultural change.

Finally (or to start with) there remains the interconnection of the poetic act and the events of the political change, if we accept this name for the brief historical phase 1950-2012. With the completion of over sixty years, there have been numerous evaluations and they have pointed out all the conquests and the losses, the gains and the damages, the lost opportunities, the glorious moments and the black spots. Would such an account (of a socio-political nature) be able to explain or to allow an understanding of the verses in this book? Did the men and women poets function, in reference to and as a result of the circumstances, as would be expected from a socio-political analysis or from a purely art-related/poetic analysis? How did the more general changes of Greek society influence the specific course of the men/women poets of this anthology? It might be too early to posit this kind of questions and certainly a good number of monographs will be necessary before the first answers can be documented. Also, to what degree events in our globalized planet have determined the choices of poetic writing? With what poetic currents within Greece have the men/women poets tried to communicate and with what result? Extremely valuable would be at this point the contribution of researchers of the Greek Diaspora, as well as that of research-educational institutions with an interest in contemporary literature and poetry. May this anthology be considered as one of the sparks for a critical (re)positioning of contemporary poetry on Greek and international field of research.

The wandering in the archipelago of verses and stanzas of this book gives an opportunity for expressing the first suppositions or questions for a more detailed study and analysis in the near future. An example of questions/impressions would be the following:

Continuity tends to be prevalent in poetic activity, even though the attempts of experimentation and the search for radical innovation have multiplied, they still stay at a secondary level. But what do we mean by “continuity”? In the Greek case, it means that subjects and modes of writing of the period of the 1950’s and 1960’s survive and are adapted for use beyond 1975. It is possible to say, with a certain simplification, that in the post-WWII and post-civil war era the field of poetry is dominated by a) the current of the so-called “symbolic existentialism”, b) by the current of the so-called “defeated” generation and c) by a rise of neo-modernist current. For the first two currents it can be said that they belong to a kind of “romanticism” (which was not channeled as in other countries to a movement of poetic modernity) or that they cultivate a confessional lyricism where the grammatical “I” and the “I” of the poet are fused with a simultaneous acceptance of a poetic purity (almost psychological) as it relates to “a life path” or the political circumstances and the decision-making in the realm of the left (communist or not) or the invasion of the consumer ideals or the contradictions between economic development and the institutional/political frozen rigidity after 1950. As for the much smaller in numbers “modernist” stream, its poets were answering a dramatic dilemma: how artistic modernity (if we include surrealism) was spread differently out of the countries that shaped it (e.g. Northern Europe), how the acceptance of modernity in Greece, Brazil, China or Japan is alike but also different, since the importation happened under different conditions and situations.

Finally all three currents are interrelated with the re-alignments and the restless quests before WWII, both in the national and international level; of a economic/political character but also of a poetic one, under the shadow of Kavafy and Seferis. Those ideals and that “tradition” continued after 1975 with certain adaptations. For example, the “national reconciliation” of 1975 took away also symbolically the “wounds” of the civil war and the consequences of the “defeat”, although the younger generations of artists never had the actual experience of the violence of war, but only that of the cold war, until the end of the ‘80s, with final result that the current of the “defeat” was withdrawn from the poetic horizon. But also the current of the inward gaze or introversion and the elegiac charge differentiated from its practices to the extent of re-turning to classic times or classic poetic forms (e.g. sonnets) and to hues that relate to irony, cynicism, self-sarcasm and mainly the problems of constructing an identity or subjectivity boundary-setting, facing now toward joining the European Union (which were to change all the co-ordinates of individual and collective life of the Greeks.) As Greek society acquired a hybrid character where socio-cultural ideals coexisted; those from the Ottoman era (widespread corruption) with those from a traditional society (church presence), an industrial society (industrialization and de-industrialization of different areas), a society of abundance (consumption without ecological conscience), information society (explosive spread of cell phones with limited accessibility to information systems), a society of knowledge (with a non-correspondence in the production of knowledge and research) and a “post-modern” confusion (with the supposed loss of meaning by a society that had never been “modern”) the subject of poetry can be nothing but complex.

The strong presence of the “introvert” poetry in the horizon of Greek society is ambivalent; on the one hand it can be seen as the last stand against the imported models of life or art and on the other as a symptom of the incapability of the Greeks to re-orient themselves and to open up to a more general exchange of models and practices with the rest of the world and especially with the economically and politically stronger countries (with the meaning of cultural industry and communication technology). A possible measure of that dominance is the following fact. In most societies of abundance poetry has been called to face creatively the strong pressure of literary and poetic theory and poetic writing has explored its boundaries (very systematically). That activity is not distinctly present in the Greek poetic map of the period. That is, the poetic current of existential atonement had the privilege of keeping that theme as something central without having to face the systematic and cohesive approach by the social sciences (sociology, anthropology), psychological (psychoanalysis), philosophical (phenomenology), as those cognitive procedures have not gained the presence and range in our country as in the countries of really existent scientific approach. In other countries poetic writing came to a competition not only with the theories of poetics but also with the theories of research for every facet of individual and collective life. That privilege is perhaps also an obstacle for Greek poetry and perhaps it has functioned indeed as a pseudo-protection. That same measurement could explain also the collapse of the market for the poetry book in Greece after 1990, and the relative withdrawal of the poets from the fickle horizon of the so-called mass communication media into an even more stringent inward gaze.

From all the preceding it is evident that the dominant (and for some the real) poetic school of “neo-romantico-sentimentalism” is characterized by continuity with variations, adjustments and interior realignments. The questions is about the evolution at the camp of the modernist experimentations of those who discern in poetry a dimension of undermining, overthrowing and “perversion” of the dominant cultural rules and practices.

One of the elements of modern/contemporary poetry used to be the intensity of the dialog between poetry and the other art practices (painting and music for example) and the opening to action-poetry and performance. The attempts in that area are limited.

After the decade of the ‘60s the issue of gender as a concept, as a beginning for a work of poetry, as a condition for the poetic gesture, caused (in industrial societies) turmoil, and re-assessments in the poetry scene. The same degree of emergence of the feminist project is not observed in Greece—an indication of the weakening of the feminist movement in Greece in general or the particular situation of the Greek women poets?

As research and technology become the pacesetters of contemporary changes, poetry can’t ignore the “good” and “bad” that coexist in scientific/technological knowledge. That contest is almost absent from poetic projects. Even the use of the internet as a documentation tool (not of course as a field of poetic experimentation) emerges only after 2000.

If a poet is not only one who writes/forms lines and poems, but also one who promotes the poetic work and supports the poetry initiatives of his/her colleagues—with the organization of seminars, festivals, events and the realization of special publishing projects (small press, parallel editions, use of other media like video, etc), then the Greek poets do not have a great volume of production or any intense activity to show.

Undoubtedly the translation of foreign poets takes place in a more organized manner since there are more organized study programs for translators, there are more opportunities to try the methods—even collective translation, the so-called Royaumont’s method, which was used at the end of 1980s, and the poets have traveled to many countries and have taken part in many seminars, meetings and festivals—an opening of Greek poetry to many influences and exchanges. In this new state of affairs, one can’t easily see a cohesive and long-term trend. Also, as the influences are many and from many countries, a “cacophony” is finally produced; at least at this time, there is no discernible major influence as regards the international poetry scene.

Finally come the questions: what is the substance of a poet? And what will be his/her poetry lab? The home? The place of work? The coffee shop? The social group? The reception-meeting room? The university lab? The library? The publishing house? Or how are poets “produced?”—are they self-taught or they must study in Fine Arts Schools (or in “Creative Writing Seminars”?) The American answer differs from the French, as Universities there play an important role in the acceptance, support and promotion of poetic innovative projects, while the French approach is focusing on the publishing initiative of poets. In Greece it is difficult to give an answer to all the above questions and there is a suspicion that those questions do not get any care and attention. (As an example, how many poets who are not in Academia, either of the school of “subjectivism” or of the artificial “modernist stream”, are approached by the Institutions of Higher Education with a scholarship, or as key-note speakers in seminars, or as visiting poets from the Greek Universities?)

In a concluding sentence, one can say that whatever trends there are in this period by the name of “experimental, or the “avant-garde” or of the “new poetry” (technological, electronic, stochastic, hip-hop, acoustic…) they emerge as micro-topological explosions or claims without all of them together shedding a different light on the poetic universe of contemporary Greek poetry. The issue is not only one of quantity but also of quality and certainly of a socio-cultural nature, as these initiatives don’t find the necessary conditions and procedures that would help them give a significant mark of position.

The previous words, the previous thoughts and expressions have emerged from engagement with the material of this book and a simplified overview of the Greek poetic landscape between 1950-2012. Are they the only expression of that engagement? The answer is definitely negative. They are a starting point for thought and analysis, not final conclusions. The readers can ignore them of test them with the material of the book or any other similar material or they can refute every sentence and every claim. It was simply an opportunity to show the fecundity of the material by posing questions about the generative process of poetry and the cultural fate of the modern Greeks. Besides, any anthology, any mapping includes elements of creative arbitrariness, because it presupposes on the part of the anthologist an ability to absorb and to oversee an immense field, the coexistence of a “virgin glance” and of a strong theoretical overview. Finally the anthology as an object tries to package the entire poetic production of a certain time (in our case the last seven years) in the pages—the space—of the book; it becomes an extremely peculiar performer of space and time. Furthermore, it condenses and identifies disparate elements and attempts to show a whole—perhaps misleading and perhaps dangerous for the (future) poetic production itself—a kind of entrenchment of the past. It is enough to mention that it places in the same space of the book poets who had never been in the same social space before or whose mutual presence in this inclusion is impossible or incompatible.

A door of inclusion opens then, an entrance door for the contemporary Greek poetry (perhaps we should be opening the “windows” too) for the English speaking public with the belief that this poetry has value and meaning also for this public, for these readers, because even in the worst case it can function as a mirror or a window for an approach to American poetry through the similarities and perhaps mainly through the differences.

French poet and linguist Henri Meschonnic advises that the use of the word “poetry” should be avoided, and, instead, emphasis placed on the poets and their poems. In that spirit one can possibly say that the Greek poetic arena from 1900 to 2000 has welcomed the stature of poets such as:
The poet of continuity trough time (Kavafy)
The poet of vision (Sikelianos)
The poet of nostalgia (Seferis)
The poet of excitement (Embirikos)
The poet of the opening (Karouzos)
But in view of the new millennium what figures are preparing to emerge? The poet of consolation? The poet-cultural symptom? The poet diagnosis-expert of political crises? The poet pathfinder of future events? The poet of globalization? The poet of loneliness? The poet of isolation?

(Translated by Angelos Sakkis)

Demosthenes Agrafiotis (b. 1946) is the author of dozens of books in over 5 languages including Bêtises (Fidel Anthelme X, 2011), +-graphies (Veer Books, 2011), Maribor (The Post-Apollo Press, 2009: 2011 NCBA Northern California Book Award, Poetry translation), monogatari, ii (EL, EN, JPN, 2017), The broken equilibrium. On crisiology (Bibliotheque, Athens, 2018: essays, in Greek) and Sauver Venise (L’ Harmattan, Paris, 2019: photos and text, in FR and GR).
previous page     contents     next page


Post a Comment

<< Home