There are lines, stanzas, voices from Theodoros Chiotis’ newly published anthology FUTURES, Poetry of the Greek Crisis (Penned in the Margins, 2015) that will trip you up, scramble linearity, impoverish the predictable, and upset expectations. Out of the harrowing there is also an(other) sense of the world.
“It is this absurdity that tears apart the insides. All this outside invading the inside of the house and then the inside of Mr. Krak. The wires brought it in, the telephones, the voices, the screens. And then Mister Krak so full on the outside becomes transparent and no one on the street recognizes him.” Thomas Tsalapatis, from “Transparent”.
This from Emily Critchley’s “Through an Internal Externalized/Spill/It Bumps Around the World/Tries Not to be Stupid’ (Catherine Wagner):
“I’m learning about people & how to be political not emotional./I’m learning nothing really loving – I see that – everything abstract.//I’m learning to hold onto people,…”
And from Universal Jenny’s “Now I Will Write Using Words of the Left”: “First lesson/Insurrection, four stares, transmit/Collective memory, don’t talk to me about work, don’t/The Afghan died, ..// Second lesson/Overflowing, state of precarity, I offer my help…”
I’m not sure how these lines stood out as I sat to write about Chiotis’ anthology, but they share a sensibility of invasion, of something “outside” (Tsalapatis) disrupting the consciousness of the speaker; a syntax of integrity, or syntax and integrity, are somehow reconfigured. These are poems that voice what has been broken up by “apostasy’s ripping the feathers/from underneath” (Critchley), “the paraffin grit of Molotovs” (Philipou), a “glistening/in the tufts of the teargas/disseminated by the innards of rallying cries” (Mainas).
Collected in four sections, the section titles – ADJUSTMENT, IMPLEMENTATION, SINGULARITY and ACCELERATION – reflect the vocabulary of a supposedly bloodless fiscal war; at the level of what Chiotis calls “Bankspeak”, the terms resonant with “an eroding agent in how we think of ourselves and how we think about language.” Yet Chiotis’ juxtapositions of such terminology with the poems, their “nervous and psychic energies” of “exhaustion and fatigue” but also of new scales of meaning, show how “These poems investigate not only the blind spots and cognitive bias we all have in a time of crisis; but also incite and excavate the voices that were previously silenced.”
There is another consequence to this organization of the poems, that includes, also, several graffiti images – the breaking up of the textual with the visual and the splitting up of some titles reenacts the shock of precariousness when the familiar is no longer an expectation — we’re forced to pay attention. It makes for more active reading. It also makes for an engagement with the texture of upheaval. As Tryfon Tolides writes in “On Suffering” – “You are less distinctly connected to the other and more to all/ others. Like chaos, which isn’t separated from love… The day goes, a winged statue with head and one wing missing.”
The variety of poems in Chiotis’ anthology, from prose vignettes to formal verse, from acclaimed voices to those who have published very little or hardly at all, effects both “strangeness and difference” to use Chiotis description of his work of translating some of the Greek poems into English. Strangeness and difference is also a way to describe an experience of assault. Violence will break apart and ruin, but within this context there is a world of the lived and engaged that provokes a multivalence of consequences. These years of austerity and what they did, and continue to do to a small country, known, from antiquity, for its resilience and extremities maps now “the vertigo/of the unknown/” which Katerina Iliopoulou writes in “South” is what “lets the journey happen”. Strangely too, a title like “Futures” for these poems that bear witness in so many different voices, to the crisis in Greece, is slyly hopeful in its irony.
There will be a poetry reading, and discussion of FUTURES, Poetry of the Greek Crisis, Wednesday, 2/12 @ Deree College (Faculty Lounge, 17:30). Alexandra Halkias (Sociology Dept. Panteion University) will be introducing and curating the event. Ask at the gates for directions to the Faculty Lounge in the main Deree College building.