Eminent modern Greek poet Titos Patrikios (1928) has a significant reception in Serbian literature. Selections of his poems were published in magazines and he is represented in the bilingual anthology Eight Greek Poets (Οκτώ έλληνες ποιητές – Osam grčkih pesnika), made by Ksenija Maricki Gadjanski and Ivan Gadjanski (Belgrade – Banja Luka, 1996, second edition 1997). A separate book of his poems was published under the title The Promised Sea (Obećano more) (Vršac, KOV, 1996, 89 p.: Series “The European Award”). As a guest of the city of Belgrade in 1989 he gave several interviews to media and delivered many literary readings in different cities and towns throughout Serbia.
As an author with a dramatic biography and as a sociologist, as well, he puts together in his poetry radical satire of the bitter poet Kostas Karyotakis and lucidity and precision of an emotional verse. Stressed eroticism and love for nature of this unique and wise author attracted the Serbian reading audience to that extent that he received in 1994 the respected European award, given by a sophisticated publisher out of Belgrade, the Literary Commune Vršac (KOV), which was founded by the great Serbian poet Vasko Popa, an old friend of Patrikios and mine. The jury for this award was composed of the great names of Serbian literature.
These are the formal, so to say external, elements of the Titos Patrikios’ reception. The other, “internal” and more significant ones, are, of course, those which show the life and contact of his poems among the Serbian readers.
And not only readers, because his poetry in Serbian translation, was broadcasted firstly on the Third program of Radio Belgrade. It was a huge “project” as they call it today: In February and March 1977, in 9 broadcasts with duration ofalmost 4 hours, Ksenija Maricki Gadjanski and Ellie Skopetea, with my assistance, of course, prepared a “panorama” of Modern Greek poetry, including 26 poets: Aris Alexandrou, Manolis Anagnostakis, Katherina Anghelaki-Rooke, Kiki Dimoulá, Dimitris Doukaris, Nikos Fokas, Dinos Christianopoulos, Giorgos Joannou, Michalis Katsaros, Nikos Karouzos, Klitos Kirou, Yannis Kontos, Maria Laina, Tasos Leivaditis, Prodromos Markoglou, Marios Meskos, Dimitris Papaditsas, Yannis Patilis, Titos Patrikios, Lefteris Poulios, Miltos Sachtouris, Takis Sinopoulos, Vasilis Steriyadis, Panos Tassitis, Elleni Vakalo, Christos Valavanidis.
I use the word “panorama” and not anthology, because in those days, almost thirty years ago, it was almost impossible to have better knowledge of modern Greek poetry, especially of young authors1 There were no Greek books in our libraries (as a matter of fact, the selection of such editions is still very poor), we privately tried to collect what we needed. It was very difficult to recognize the best poets, since, for instance, in the Anthology of Modern Greek Poetry, published in Athens in 1971 and prepared by Dimitris Papadimitriou, there were 414 names included! They were published in an alphabetical order, so it was quite impossible to determine poetical “streams” or orientations of the poets. We understood however, that the author of this book by inclusion of so many poets, aimed to deny some official opinions in Greece which considered modern Greek poetry as “dry, unpoetical and disoriented”. Today, by the names represented only in our 1977 selection is obvious that such an accusation was not true. The next, corrected edition of the same Papadimitriou’s book, gives again the image of very vivid, extensive and different in a kind (somehow unique) contemporaneous poetical production in Greece. This is Angyras’ Anthology from 1974 with 216 names represented!
That is how we came in contact with the poetry of Titos Patrikios, without knowing him personally yet.
His special, impressive poetical voice, and his dramatic biography made a very strong impression not only on Ksenija Maricki Gadjanski, Ellie Skopetea and myself, but on Serbian young audience as well. A shortened selection of the mentioned Radio Program was published in their magazine, under the title Return to Poetry, which was the title of a Patrikios’ book (Επιστροφή στη ποίηση).
It is not always easy to predict the interest of the readers. So it was
the case with the “Greek” offprint of that magazine that was sold
separately also. There were, in Belgrade, many youth literary
periodicals, which were, so to say, competing in reviewing this booklet
with 26 Greek “new” poets. I do not have enough time to cite all of
their reviews, so I will mention just one written by a young, good poet
Bratislav Milanović in Književna reč entitled “Homo
politicus”. This is how he, and most others, understood the young
intellectual movement in Greece, of course having in mind the events
after the Polytechnics.
It was a Greek novelist, whom we met in Athens in 1977, who confirmed to us that such public mood existed among Greek youth in those days. That was Kostas Tachtsis, at that time of course almost quite unknown in Serbia, although his novel The Third Wedding was published by Penguin in English translation.2 In a lecture he gave in Iowa University, K. Tachtsis wrote: “Our youngest generation of boys and girls is politicized to such a degree to which we from the older generation, no matter what political inclinations or tendencies we had, never dared or even wished to reach”. And Kostas Tachtsis was born in 1927!
In that decade we all felt we should somehow support Greece, what very soon, in twenty years, arose to the changing of sides – we needed the support and help. And luckily we got it.
Of course, poetry played a significant role, since a poem by a good poet speaks louder than hundreds of other voices.
Visiting Athens once, we met Victor Ivanovic, whom we knew from a Synedrio in Kos in 1982. Victor took us to visit Patrikios at his home in Spirou Merkouri street in Athens, and it was the beginning of a beautiful poetic friendship between Titos and Rena, and Ksenija and myself. I drove Titos once to his lecture and poetry reading he had in Livadia, and it was a splendid opportunity to see how Greek audience in a rather small town listened carefully and devotedly to his words.
The same happened later 1989 in Serbia, although, at that time, there still used to be Yugoslavia. The best sign that the Serbian people had no intention in resolving their country Yugoslavia ever, is that in 1989, when Titos visited Belgrade for a customary literary meeting, we could not even dream that catastrophe we experienced later, could ever happen.
The poetic success of Titos’ reading was tremendous. Vasko Popa was still alive, and it was an event of international significance to see these two great poets and friends together.
Ksenija and I began to prepare Titos’ book of poetry in Serbian. Titos consented to our selection, which was partially financially supported by the Greek Ministry of Culture. We had a special reason to do this because before that Patrikios received a respected literary award in Serbia which I already mentioned in the beginning. The name of the prize was “European award”, and before him as the seventh winner, the other winners were the following poets: Justo Horche Padron, Vjačeslav Kuprianov, Julian Kornhauser, Stefan Augustin Dojnaš, Thomas Transtremer and Charles Simic. The Book Series with the same name was established, so the book we prepared under the title Obećano more (Η θάλασσα επαγγελίας) was the seventh book in that series, published in 1996. It is necessary to give the names of the jury, since today they mostly make the peak of the Serbian culture. Milorad Pavić, Miodrag Pavlović, Jovica Aćin, Raša Livada, Petru Cąrdu (as editor).
This book found not only a very good reception among readers, since Serbia (Yugoslavia at that time) had always very devoted literary audience, but also a thorough critical presentation.
example of that, I can quote passages from a long review written by a
noted Serbian lady poet and critic, Tanja Kragujević.3
Ms. Kragujević first stresses that the poet Titos Patrikios lives both in Athens and in his poetry: in his difficult life, with death condemnation with 16 years of age, poetry was for him sensu proprio a new kind of existence. She continues that his poetic adventure, including camp and prison experience, shows in his poems as a “dense expressionistic palette” rapidly developing an authentic figurativeness.
After a long description of his early poems, she finds the way to his new poetics, what she calls “the poetic of a notebook”. The next phase is his inversion towards the meditative lyrics as we know it from the European poetry (e. g. Saint John Perse).
Stopping for the moment, I remind the readers of Patrikios’ answer to a question about the Greek or foreign influences on his poetry: “Είναι παιδιά πολλών ανθρώπων τά λόγια μας, είχε πεί ο Σεφέρης”.4 “If you stop receiving influences, it does not mean you got mature. It means that you got old”, he explaines.
I find this to be very significant for this ever young and fresh poet.
Ms. Kragujević further analyzes what she calls Patrikios’ “poetics of experience”, especially in his booklet from 1974 Προαιρετική στάση. She loves all the poems from that book,5 but special weight she gives to a poem of “simple dramatics of verses”, under the title Προσωρινή διαμονή:
Άλλο ένα σπίτι φιλικό, άλλο ένα σπίτι ξένο
Άλλη μιά μέρα μ’ανοιχτούς αρμούς
These “open joints” made her to give title to her essay.
The introduction Ksenija Maricki Gadjanski wrote for our book of Patrikios’ translated poetry had the title “The poetical dialogue of Titos Patrikios”. There she insists that Titos Patrikios is in an uninterrupted dialogue with the world, with poetry, with literary and social theories. He is reexamining his values in poetry as well as in his personal experience and sacrifice. Although privately he does not speak a lot about these difficult days, nor looks upon his life as sacrifice, one can tell from his literature, as well as from his eyes, the bitter taste of the time gone. He says something which other poets rarely admit, that very significant experience and motive for writing poetry is also reading poetry. “Every new poem… continues all poetry that existed before it, and at the same time, due to new life experiences which it expresses, it transforms it”, says Titos Patrikios. That is why Ksenija Maricki Gadjanski calls his poetry “an uninterrupted dialogue”.
It is well known that this poet
said that his poems are fed with his life experience to the point one
would deny the existence of imagination in it at all.
In spite of such modesty, our readers very much appreciated his poetic imagination and suggestivity. We got convinced in this reading his poetry on different occasion to large audience, for instance in Budva, a beautiful city at the sea-side in Montenegro (June 30, 1992), in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Sremski Karlovci, Vršac etc. on many literary evenings.
But there is one interesting detail I want to describe shortly. A lady writer, Mara Knežević Kern, wrote a whole novel, The Love Story6 moved by Patrikios poems, as she cites in her beautiful book.
Her novel begins with Patrikios lines
“Τότε μάς λέγανε:
“Γιά σάς είναι τά χρόνια πού θά ’ρθουν
τέλειωσαν πιά οι πόλεμοι.”7
The lines from the poem Monologue8 were the personal introduction for this novelist for her love, and war (of course), story:
“Ξεριζώνω τίς λέξεις μία-μία
απ’ το λαρύγγι μου
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Όμως δέ φτάνει πιά η σιωπή
δε φτάνουν πιά τά λόγια”
One might say that it is not right to read poetry so literally. But for Ms. Knežević this was kind of her personal life and experience, the same that was so dramatically incorporated into Patrikios’ poems. What is more, she read the poems in our Serbian translation, what made us really proud for making successfully Patrikios a Serbian poet.9
I spoke to Ms. Knežević only after she published her next novel Voyage to the South.10 She continued to write novels with basic foundation and inspiration in poetry, in the first novel Greek, in the second Serbian also. She used some of my poems for the titles of the chapters in the novel, for instance Balkan Street - A Novel of an Unfinished Poem11 and Balkan Destiny12
That is why she wanted to show me how she understood Patrikios’ and my poetry somehow connected with the dramatic events in our country, events which were difficult not only to understand, but to live through. She quotes Patrikios:
Θέλεσε νά λυσει τά αινίγματα
νά φωτίσει τό σκοτάδι
πού μέσα του βολεύονται όλοι
όσο κι άν τούς βαραίνει.
From my second mentioned poem she quoted the following lines:
“e i gatti corrono qua e là
finché non si accorgono di essere soltanto affamati
infreddoliti e per la verità inutili…”13
I took just a few examples from these unusual books to show how it is still possible to read and understand poetry as wisdom and thought, and not only as some post-modernistic game or charade. Yes, that it may very well be obsolete, but maybe people still need the old patterns of poetic joy, emotion and enthusiasm. Whatever we may think and believe, it is obvious that man has not essentially changed in last five thousands years. Or more.
In a way this is victory of poetry, as Patrikios said recently14 in an interview with Giorgos K. Myaris. Mr. Myaris quoted to Titos his lines from Apprentices:
“γιατί κανένας στίχος σήμερα δεν ανατρέπει καθεστώτα
κανένας στίχος δεν κινητοποιεί τις μάζες…”
K. Myaris asked him further whether after all these “reclassifications” (ανακατατάξεις) on planetary ground, ideological, social, political, whether we have reached from the “poetry of defeat” (ποίηση της ήττας) to the “defeat of poetry” (ήττα της ποίηση). Patrikios answered: “No, we reached the victory of poetry… The role of poetry is to give pleasure to the weak and to awake at the same time conscience… These consciences produced by poetry, directly can influence the events”.
The lines quoted by the interviewer were written half a century ago,
concluded poet, and I would repeat them, as many others, today also,
“Να ξαναβρούμε την ατομικότηματα μας, χωρίς να χαθούμε στην άβυσσο μιας ατομικής μοναξιάς”.
This human and noble spirit of the persistent fighter found a very fertile soil among Serbian readers. It is time we renew the edition of his poems in Serbian translation, adding new poems he wrote at the turnover of the millennia.
The last presentation of Patrikios’ poetry in Serbian we made in a bilingual book Οκτώ έλληνες ποητές / Osam grčkih pesnika – Greek-Serbian, published in two subsequent editions in 1996 and 1998 by a publisher from Banja Luka/Belgrade (329 p.). The selection includes Konstantinos Kavafy, Giorgos Seferis, Nikos Engonopoulos, Giannis Ritsos, Miltos Sachtouris, Odyseas Elytis, Manolis Anagnostakis and Titos Patrikios. In those terribly difficult times for the Serbian people the voice of this “Greek poetical octet” was a kind of consolation and support, what always has been the quality of good poetry. Symbolically, this book ended with Patrikios’ poem Λέω νά τελειώνω εδώ ... with the final line «Μές απ’ τή στάχτη τής φωνής μου ξαναρχίζω».
This “new beginning” was a promise for the readers of the book in the historical turmoil, an argument for not understanding poetry as a plain game. Umberto Ecco wrote once “The language of Europe is translation”. Serbian translation of Titos Patrikiοs’ poetry brought also the language of modern Europe into Serbia.
1 Ksenija Maricki Gadjanski in her Berlin 1998 paper showed the reception of major Greek poets in Serbian: The Reception of Major Modern Greek Poets in Srbian Literature in the 20th Century in: Ο Ελληνικός Κόσμος ανάμεσα στην Ανατολή και Δύση 1453-1981, Πρακτικά του Α’ Ευρωπαϊκού Συνεδρίου Νεοελληνικών Σπουδών, Βερολίνο, 2-4 Οκτωβρίου 1998, 503-512.
2 Later this Tachtsis’ novel was published in Serbian. It is interesting to note that, quite independently from his book, a famous Serbian novelist Dragoslav Mihailović published a novel Petrijin venac, speaking through the voice of a woman, in dialect, quite comparable to Tachtsis’. Even the title is the same: The Wedding of Petrija.
3 Published in periodical Tokovi (Streams) 1996, under the title “Words of open joints” (Reči otvorenih zglobova).
4 Α. Φωστιέρης - Θ. Νιάρχος, Σε δεύτερο πρόσωπο, Athens, 1990, 247.
5 So did we, because we included in our translation 23 poems, all but three as they exist in the original.
6 Mara Knežević Kern, Ljubavna priča, editor Mašić, Belgrade, 1998.
7 Ο ελαιώνας, Σημειωματάριο ΙΙΙ, Ασκήσεις.
8 Έτσι έμαθα from Χρόνια της πέτρας.
9 Next to Patrikios verses, Ms. Knežević was inspired in her novel by some Kavafy's and Seferis' lines, but here is not the place to discuss that also.
10 Mara Knežević Kern, Putovanje na jug, Belgrade, Mašić, 2004
11 Ivan Gadjanski, Balkanskom ulicom – Roman o nedovršenoj pesmi (Balkan Street – A Novel of an Unfinished Poem), Belgrade, Narodna knjiga, 1988; Belgrade, Rad, 1994.
12 Ivan Gadjanski, Sudbina Balkana, Balkan Destiny, Schicksal des Balkans, Μοίρα των Βαλκανίων, Il destino dei Balkani, Belgrade, Rad, 1997. In six languages: Serbian, English, Greek, German, Italian and Chinese, a Bibliophilic Edition with original graphics of Živojin Turinski and Momčilo Antonović, noted Serbian painters.
13 Balkan Destiny, p. 12, 41: “and cats circle back across well worn tracks / until they wake up to the fact of their hunger / and the cold and indeed their own uselessness…”.
14 Ανευ, Leucosia, t.19, Winter 2006, 47.