Yannis Livadas: Poetry today, Austerity Measures and the reign of verisimilitude.
To be included in an anthology does not make you a better poet than someone who has been excluded – and, in either case, it does not make you a poet.
Many of those who are included in anthologies are not poets. They are considered poets only in terms of social appearance via words. The art of writing is absent. As is now obvious, at least more obvious than it has been during the last twenty or so years, reasons, causes, and expressive simulacra not related to poetry appear as such because the preservation of intellectual homogeneity, of common belief, is more intrusive and more useful than engagement with poetry is. Another aspect is that of publishing commerce and public consultation.
When Karen Van Dyck first asked me to participate in a smaller anthology of contemporary Greek poets, which was finally published in a British literary review, I told her I thought the concept was very restrictive, totally ideologized (Left), and that the criteria excluded important aspects of contemporary Greece poetry. So I politely refused.
Almost a year or so later, I received a second call, this time for the “Austerity Measures” anthology, from the person in charge of the modern poetry series of Penguin publications. I agreed to be included on the condition that the rationale had changed, and I received an explanatory text that assured me this was the case. I said yes, and I received a reply in which it was noted, among other things, that the poems I had sent to them were “quite unlike anything else in the anthology, and I think also indispensable ...”
To my surprise, in both British and American editions that followed, in the compilation of poets and the introductory notes of the two books, I did not notice, in general, anything other than the so called “left” aesthetics and ideology. There was very little poetry, or at least very little good poetry – compared to the styles and the concerns which characterize contemporary Greek poetry which have nothing to do with the present financial, or any other “crisis”. Someone forgot that for a poet, humanity is always in crisis; society is always run by money-makers, moralizers, institutional or extra-institutional sciolists (sciolistˈsʌɪəlɪst/ plural noun: sciolists: a person who pretends to be knowledgeable and well informed) even within the domains of arts and poetry – or, especially within the domains of arts and poetry.
I was stunned and for quite a few days I wondered why I was included. One possible answer might have been that my appearance there was some kind of a proof that this anthology was actually created to represent something more than mere socio-ideological and aesthetic speculations. Yet, if that was the case, I would have found some other poets like myself – and I didn’t.
Of course, one may say that it is not possible for any anthology to cover satisfactorily the whole breadth of the poetic scene of a country, even as small as Greece. However, would exclude such an accumulation of endless facetiousness and glibness that, in any case does not define or represent contemporary Greek poetry.
In any case, the point is not how many poets are missing, but how many non-poets, or minor or unimportant poets, are anthologized.
Certainly, this is not the first time that a goal is achieved based on presumptions and deficient study, and one can surely enjoy a sum of texts which may rejoice his soul; if he still has one, but not by reading necessarily contemporary Greek poetry. Or simply, poetry.
I was also surprised to find that in the Greek edition of the anthology my bio-bibliography note was ridiculously re-transcribed, mitigating my thesis and views as a poet. Not only that, the six of my poems which appeared in the two previous publications had been reduced to two, in order to add poems for someone else, a “poet” who’s texts are pure examples of the politico-aesthetical correctness of what now calls itself the Left. The editor’s effort to justify this act was pitiful.
I hope that something similar has not happened to anyone else. I mention this as an indication of what happens when responsibility and ethics are gone with the wind of ideological or stylistic moralization.
The point, if there is one, is that everyone included in “Austerity Measures”, if they have any sense of ethics, ought to speak publicly about whether this anthology, as well as every previous one, is indeed representative, fair, and proportionate to what is happening today to both sides of the political horizon of contemporary Greek poetry. If they want to call themselves poets, or to become poets someday, this is crucial, I think.
Free speech is nothing without free thinking. There is a need for a thorough, fair and quantitatively stricter presentation. The uprising of every occasional idealism, recaptured to restore its former values, will always remain the same; a consecutive re-orchestration of conservatism, of insularity, mantled with the cloak of a convenient euphemism. Fake modernism or alleged postmodernism.
In poetry, and not only in poetry, in real life, in real intellection, reality should never be confused with efficiency. The poem should never be mistaken for an explanatory statement or for pseudo-resistance, even for letting off steam by producing vainglorious texts. In poetry, man is not perceived as humanity, man is perceived as man and humanity as humanity. Otherwise, poetry becomes a form of senseless politics. Correspondingly, reality just like poetry, is a question of supervision; continually stated through an ongoing reprioritization.
This is a brief and rather casual memo, let’s say the introduction to a possible debate. In poetry the definition of authenticity is ambiguous, since it is not merely expressed by what it claims, but, mainly, by what it’s imbued with.
And everyone who will hasten to counter these statements might want to figure how much contrivance his words can support. What sort of verification can’t his efficiency offer.
Poetry is nowadays treated as an extremely narrow communicative awareness, rather than as the creative epiphenomenon which it really is. Poetry is a particular engagement with life, with things, a state of total exposure to otherness, to impossibility, not a sociopolitical or physiological advertisement. A ‘poetry’ of possibility, as it has been widely disseminated within the last three or so decades.
The essential fact is that society instead of trying to break out of its fetters by becoming a society of emancipated people; it seems that it is trying blindly to become a ‘society of poets’. The misconception is dramatic.
The Muse is bound on the rock of Prometheus. I refer to the darkest cruelty human conscience can integrate. The poet is pitted against a draconian demand: that of living language which converses with synchronicity and with disintegration. Poetry is that which haunts death, disdains hope and lives with the never ending torment. Even if this is the minimum prefiguration of a New Being that is the inexpediency the future will be under obligation to deal with.
Poetry is neither part of the decoration of the human world nor a priestess for the redemption of its wounds. It is rather an ultimate simulation of its total destruction and recreation.
Timidity is a fundamental obstacle to achieving this simulation. I mean the spirit’s timidity to venture past the word formulation in order for the poem to actually be poetry, rather than merely the aesthetic arrangement of a ‘declaration’, in order to be Art. Because a mere ‘declaration of independence’ on the part of the poet, or even a ‘declaration of social dispute’ is not poetry.
I believe that after such a line-up of ‘militancy’ and sappiness, one has the right to re-declare that poetry stands to the antipodes of politics and conformity (especially conformity that recycles itself by repeating an obsolete confrontation with authority) being what conformity and politics will never be.
According to the systemic criticism, its philological criteria and evidence, it appears that a gesture now suffices, by attachment to some variety of the psychopathology of camouflaged inadequacy, to be counted as poetry; smugness and monkeying before a microphone is counted as poetry.
I do understand, of course, which is why I have referred to all the above, the easily acquired taste for makeshift solutions, for singing the praises of weakness and stagnation, of the existential plague. Some may like to think that they clean the slate by revamping those as finesse, crucifixion, or truth; by promoting them as fodder in the publishing market; by publicizing them as a cutting-edge drama.
In any case, everyone will get publicized, everyone will get their collected works, and everyone will be published across the whole wide world and, henceforth, everyone will have their names inscribed on the shiny plaque of the ‘Illustrious’ since that is what our time requires. Though our time is but a passing catch in the throat of eternity.
Poets are called upon today to be the same as everyone, to convene with everyone, to partake of the poultice of social and political (whether Left or Right) solace that is intended for all, so as to bring to completion this frenzied endeavor to assimilate and homogenize speech, lives, demands. ‘Society’ for that is finally the target, not poetry, needs to be saved exclusively and jointly, by those (poets) who ‘want at all costs to save it’, guided by the wealth of interpretations produced by the excitation of unbridled anthropophobia.
Most of the penmen have entered ultimate fetishism. In such manner, language is present as a promise which will make the primum principium, the starting point of the imagination, somewhat tolerable for them.
The Right as well as the Left are wholly self-cancelled, hence they are both sterile, thoroughly inappropriate in continuing to concern themselves with the world’s present or future. And by Right and Left, I am not just referring to political wings but, in actual fact, to the two main reservoirs for drawing moral and aesthetical fodder.
In poetry, every ideologisation (with the sentimental and psycho-social presence included) which attempts to identify with an aesthetics, or, even worse, every already ideologized aesthetics, is by definition, a zilch – not only because it attempts to force aesthetics into a reference system that has nothing to do with the art of poiesis but because it is opposed to poetry’s fecundity.
A hallucinatory departure from life, time, mind, in order to protect consciousness from the raptures and challenges of truth; that is, impossibility. Refined representations of a commonly accepted nullity, which ultimately holds everything locked in their steadfast meaning.
The nature of humans, of the individual, is not limited to his/her capacity as part of a whole – s/he also has the capacity to be the total manifestation of a whole, of a world - that is, to overcome partial capacity, to seek freedom, truth.
The mind, the intellect, exists not only to perceive and to yield according to beliefs and perceptions, but also has the ability to overcome the situation that the beliefs and the perceptions and the expression of these two manifest and create. Poetry is focused on these two extremities.
The Right and the Left at a moral-intellectual level, that is, at the level of thrust towards the ability to create poetry, stubbornly refuse to admit that humanity is a fragment which nevertheless carries the qualities of the one from which it is fragmented and if there is any purpose, it is that of the return of each of the fragments, not the creation of another subsystem where the fragments will eternally make vain attempts to be conclusively coordinated.
This is the aesthetic dynamics of poetry, and from this, not from approved political views, content is inexorably born.
As specified above, not a small percentage of the claimed contemporary poetry, proceeds over-valuating concepts and targets trying to steer clear of content. Never before such grand words have been voiced, never before have such ludicrousness been expressed, only to be seriously taken.
Paris, December 2017