Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry


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Αντιγράφω από την Guardian της 3/4/2016:

Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry - review
Kate Kellaway
The Guardian, Sunday 3 April 2016

According to Karen Van Dyck, a professor of modern Greek literature at Columbia and this book’s discerning editor, Greece has less of most things than it once did – except poetry. Since 2008 there has been an extraordinary burgeoning of poetry in every form: graffiti, blogs, literary magazines, readings in public squares. “In all of the misery and mess, new poetry is everywhere, too large and too various a body of writing to fit neatly on either side of any ideological rift.” She goes on to say that this anthology (mainly written after 2008) does more than witness hard lives being led in Greece now – it does what “poetry does best: offer new ways to imagine what can be radically different realities”.
Greece's economic crisis goes on, like an odyssey without end
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Nonetheless, I launched into it diffidently because translated poems are so often muffled – like playing Chinese (or Greek) whispers. But it was no more than two or three poems in before I started to sense the book’s atmosphere, to see it as an uncommon chance to share Greek experience beyond the headlines – in a way that is fascinating, revelatory and only possible through poetry. Most poems here do not overtly address the crisis. But the collective spirit is new-minted, unmediated and bracing (the quality of translation high). The work is inevitably uneven but the anthology excites partly because (in refreshing contrast to much of what one reads in English) so many of these poems needed to be written.

Yannis Stiggas comes up with the playful line: “Memory doesn’t know how to use its scissors” – remembering humble as haberdashery. But elsewhere a cutting of cloth is necessary – austerity dictates. In many poems, there is collective thrift, a forceful frugality – words are not wasted. There are raw poems, desolate poems, symbolic poems and much inventive desperation. The props are often elemental. “Stone”, “angels”, “words” make many appearances. There are poems about metamorphosis (as you might expect from Greek writers) in which the body becomes a suffering landscape (I counted two human precipices).

Sometimes one feels one is looking through a window into Greece. Sometimes, a poet looks back, as in Eftychia Panayiotou’s sympathetic The Outside of My Mind. She struggles with disobedient shutters and an angry sunrise and hits upon a biblical line: “Let there be light…” The poems tend to the confrontational and the first to accost me was Thomas Tsalapatis’s The Box. Each poet is illuminatingly introduced by Van Dyck and Tsalapatis is described as having a “restless take on the crisis”. He possesses, he says, a “small box” inside which “they’re always slaughtering someone”. It is a cumulative performance about a burden of knowledge. He stirs up unease about denial, about the slamming on of lids. He wraps his box in paper and ribbon – tempting to think of it as a tiny coffin – and passes it on: “Sitting in my mailbox, it’s waiting to reach my friend. The friend I keep just to give presents to.”

He passes the box to us too – appropriately in a collection that is all about reach. The anthology includes non-Greek poets writing in Greek, such as Jazra Khaleed, a Chechen living in Greece, part of an “anti-fascist Greek rap scene”. His Words is posed and poised. It has a conversational quirkiness that keeps things real. The sheltering Ikea cartons are especially striking. And the amusingly lame interruption, “Ah, what arrogance! OK, I’ll be off”, is a return of an ordinary speaking voice that allows a breathing space so that the final lines, promising the dawn of a new poetry, are earned.

by Jazra Khaleed
translated by Peter Constantine

I have no fatherland
I live within words
That are shrouded in black
And held hostage
Mustapha Khayati, can you hear me?
The seat of power is in language
Where the police patrol
No more poetry circles!
No more poet laureates!
In my neighbourhood virgin poets are sacrificed
Rappers with dust-blown eyes and baggy pants
push rhymes on kids sniffing words
Fall and get back up again: the art of the poet
Jean Genet, can you hear me?
My words are homeless
They sleep on the benches of Klafthmonos Square
covered in IKEA cartons
My words do not speak on the news
They’re out hustling every night
My words are proletarian, slaves like me
They work in sweatshops night and day
I want no more dirges
I want no more verbs belonging to the non-combatants
I need a new language, not pimping
I’m waiting for a revolution to invent me
Hungering for the language of class war
A language that has tasted insurgency
I shall create it!
Ah, what arrogance!
OK, I’ll be off
But take a look: in my face the dawn of a new poetry is breaking
No word will be left behind, held hostage,
I’m seeking a new passage.

Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry is published by Penguin (£10.99).

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