Greek Poetry and the Revolution in the 2000s

In the early 21st century, for the first time in its modern history, Greek poetry lost its faith in the Revolution.

Not just individual poets but the collective poetic project abandoned political messianism. The “generation of the crisis” (poets born around 1980), the generation maturing in the 2000s, did not express any positive literary interest in the gradual rise of the Left to power. When the victory appeared imminent, even those poets who voted for Syriza did not record in their work any anticipation for the historic development. As they had announced already in 2011, their leftist commitments had been radically refocused on a “new political consciousness.’

In the current British election campaign, 21 poets who support a particular candidate for Labour Leader have contributed to an ebook with the self-explanatory title 21 Poems, 21 Reasons for Choosing Jeremy Corbyn.  Can anybody imagine a similar poetry collection offering reasons for choosing Alexis Tsipras in the current Greek election campaign?

The rise of the Left did not engage the new poets, who had already experienced history as betrayal and prospect as doom, both expressed in 2011 by Thomas Tsalapatis (1984) in a concise “topography of the younger poetic generation:”   Ζούμε σε έναν κόσμο από καταρρέοντα νεόκτιστα, σε μια διαδρομή φρέσκων ερειπίων. Στην Ελλάδα της κρίσης και των επιβεβλημένων επιπτώσεών της, βιώνουμε ένα κενό πολλαπλό. Ένα κενό πολιτικό, ηθικό, πολιτισμικό. Αν κάποιος χτυπιέται περισσότερο από το κενό αυτό, αυτή είναι η νεότερη γενιά. Μια γενιά ηλικιακά αμέτοχη στην δημιουργία του προβλήματος, καλείται να πληρώσει στο ρευστό παρόν, τις αμαρτίες ενός ξένου παρελθόντος, υποθηκεύοντας έτσι το αβέβαιο μέλλον της. Η ιστορία βιώνεται ως προδοσία, η προοπτική ως καταδίκη.

Ideals of struggle for liberty and equality have found no place in the verses of this generation, political hopes have inspired no emancipatory visions. The 18th century bandits traditionally identified with the revolutionary song (κλέφτικο) are now “selling shit at Propylaia, waiting for revolution” (Κλέφτικο, p. 19, English in the original). Writing in 2011 about a suspended present
Φευγάδα, δεν πάω πουθενά -πουθενά -πουθενά/εδώ… θα φύγω (p. 24)
poet George Prevedourakis (1977) is alluding not to the 4th line (να φεύγωμ’ απ’ τον κόσμο, για την πικρή σκλαβιά) of the rousing Thourios/battle-hymn (1797) by Rhigas Pheraios (1757-98) but to a popular 1992 song (Δεν πάω πουθενά, πουθενά, πουθενά/εδώ θα μείνω) performed by Vassilis Karras.

As the internal collapse of the governing Left grew obvious and painful, certain commentators began to suggest that the “poetry of defeat,” the poetry of the 1st and 2nd post-WWII generation (from Manolis Anagnostakis to Gerasimos Lykiardopoulos), had acquired a certain urgency. Not really. That corrosive poetry was timely to those of us who read it during the years of the anti-junta resistance, and in 1971 started fearing about the long-term future of that movement which eventually triumphed and self-destructed in 2015. This year the Revolution was not defeated, it imploded. It did not go bankrupt, it defaulted on its principles. Today’s unique dilemmas are dramatized by the “generation of the crisis” which has ushered a new literary landscape and language, the “poetry of left melancholy.”

(On a personal note, it resonates with the melancholy, mixed with rage, that Pantelis Polychronidis, my έτερος εαυτός, and I always felt when following the “events” of indignation and occupation in public squares and highways around the world. It feels like a long time ago…)

August 28, 2015

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