Greece: Poets and “Intellectuals”

For the last two years in "The Global Edition of the New York Times", the "International Herald Tribune" [IHT], historically one of the most important papers of the world, in its first page on the upper right side almost daily there has been an article about Greece. The topic, as expected, has been the economy. 

Now, today, in the Saturday-Sunday issue (Jan. 5-6, 2013) of the IHT, once more, there is an article about Greece, covering a big part of the first page. Its title: "Greek poet's dark vision". 

Greece since the end of World War Two has been considered a "Gateway to the oil of the Middle East". Also, a rational person has to take into account the fact that the people at Langley and their Israeli cohorts, who are in the business of owning the world, inevitably are obliged to have some "influence" on a "Global" newspaper, as the IHT of the New York Times. So, it is reasonable to surmise that this rather curious frequency of articles about Greece, even about poets, is "followed" closely by the people at Langley. We should not forget that the island of Crete, a very important part of Greece, is a stone's throw from Egypt, the most important field of world history today.  

The poet mentioned in the article, as described in the legend beneath the rather big-sized photo of the poet: "Kiki Dimoula, 81, is the first living female poet to be included in the poetry series of the prestigious French publisher Gallimard". 

Rachel Donatio, the author of the IHT article writes: "One of her Greek writer contemporaries, Nikos Dimou, has called Ms. Dimoula 'the best Greek woman poet since Sappho.'" 

Before commenting on Kiki Dimoula, it seems fitting to dwell a bit on the theme of poetry and poets.  


Poetry and Poets 

Is poetry a profession? That is, can one make a living by writing poetry? 

To write poetry no effort, menial or other, is necessary. All that is needed is a flash in the brain, while awake or asleep, that lasts for milliseconds. The same holds for math. Only, for math you have to spend a "lifetime" to absorb the "flashes" of others through the millennia. Also, no sacrifice is needed to write poetry. If the poet is poor and hungry it is his choice, as he shuns work, menial or other. Historically poets have been people who were born in wealthy families. Take Sappho, the Greek woman poet that the above Nikos Dimou mentioned. She was born in a wealthy family, about 6 centuries before the birth of Christ. Therefore, the answer to the question, if poetry can be a profession, is: No. A conclusion, which agrees with the basic pareconish morality. 

To a probable argument that a poet spends a lifetime to acquire the mental "infrastructure" to be able to express artistically, in a poem, the human condition, one can counter that all humans acquire, normally, that "infrastructure" since the age of 5, in the street, with no "extra" effort.  

So, a talented person who is not born in wealth cannot become a poet? Of course he can. The honest thing to do is, besides working to make a living, he or she can write poetry. 

Is poetry important for humans? Does it satisfy some inner need? It is better to try to answer through some examples: 

1.  Almost four decades ago, close to Syntagma Square, famous by now as the place for expressing the anger and the misery of the Greeks, I met L.M. a civil engineering colleague, whom I had not seen for years. L.M. was one of the most brilliant minds that ever lived in Greece. After we surveyed the then existing situation, politically and professionally, he said to me: "As the poet had written, 'we chose our life wrongly' ". L.M, died not very long after that. He was not more than 43. There were only five words in the poem, but they were printed indelibly in my mind. The poet, George Seferis, was born in a well-to-do family, worked all his life as a diplomat, and in 1963 was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. How come both L.M. and I knew the words of Seferis' poem, by heart? Both of us had heard the song composed by Mikis Theodorakis on Seferis' poem. 

2.  Crete is a very interesting place. Cretans talk as if that is a joyful experience. Give them a few seconds and most of them create what they call "mantiniathes"; melodic, rhyming couplets. These couplets are mostly humorous. On the other side of life, the dark one, Cretans sing poems as this one: 

"As the iron weighs down, weigh down black cloths". 

A lament of a person that has lost a loved one, especially his or her comrade-in-life. The poem is dressed with the appropriate Cretan folk music. Needless to say, that the "sophisticated" Athenians, poets or others, will not "touch" such vulgar art with a 10-foot pole. This is the "natural" result of the inundation, during the early 20th century, of the Greek intellectual elites with the surreal, the hyperreal, and other French po-mo shit.  

3. "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" ["O ye millions, I embrace ye!", as translated from the German by Natalia Macfarren.]  

All that Beethoven needed for his 9th symphony was one word: millionen. A word found in a poem by Schiller. In our time it is "99%", but it is less euphonic. 

4. "All we are saying, is give peace a chance" 

Notice the difference between the millionen and the Beatles' verse. Why the Hell, shall we beg Nixon, Clinton, W. Bush, Obama and the rest of the criminals to "give peace a chance"? We, the millionen, have only one way to deal with them for their wars: a continuous line of Nurembergs, in the squares, the arenas, and the stadiums of the world. Besides, in the present war it is not only the drones they are using, this very minute, it is also hunger, no help for the sick, depression to the point of suicide for young and old, and so on. 

So, we can say, at least I can say, that this kind of poetry, as presented in the above examples, is "worthy" poetry. 

However, there is a "modern" kind of poetry as the following example shows: 

"Worthy is the wooden table" 

 Odysseas Elytis, the Greek poet who wrote this, got the Nobel prize for literature in 1979. Elytis was born in a wealthy family. 

 Is this kind of poetry "worthy"? Very little of it, could be. 

In Handel's "Messiah" we hear: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." This brutal and idiotic sentence was written by a rather psychotic man, named John, on the Greek Island of Patmos 95 or 96 years after the death of Christ, in a text bearing the title "The Revelation" [Revelations 5:12, King James' Version]. Handel out of this sentence created a masterpiece with a sequence of 'thunderous" series of sounds for "power", "riches", "and wisdom", etc. 

The Greek word for "worthy" is "axion" [hence the word "axiom", something that is "worthy" to be considered as true]. So the expression "Worthy is" in Greek is rendered as "Axion esti". "Esti" being the verb "is". Elytis, used the biblical "Axion esti" ["Worthy is", in our case the … sacrificial lamb] to create a long poem. Mikis Theodorakis, composed an oratorio, "Axion esti", on the poem of Elytis. This oratorio, "Axion esti" of Mikis, is part of   the culture not only of Europe but of the culture of the world and is admired and loved by millions, especially by the Germans of Merkel.  Of course, the Germans do not understand the Greek words of the oratorio, but they "understand" the music.  

Elytis was a "conservative". Mikis was and is a leftist. Mikis like Handel proved that music can make a poem, almost any poem, into an eternal work of art. Poetry was "born" to be "married" to music. Also, one cannot ignore that Seferis and Elytis have become household names because of the music of Mikis, and arguably got the Nobel because of that. 

So much about poetry and poets.


Back to the IHT 

One's profession, inevitably, adds some habits peculiar to that profession. In a branch of my profession, soil mechanics, one of the first things we learn is the classification of soils. So, were I to classify the most important factors in life I would start with air, water, food, and (possibly) … history.  

Kiki Dimoula, was born in 1931, in Athens. I was born in 1930, in Athens. She lived on Pythias street. I lived on Anafis street. The distance between the two streets is about 400 meters (about 440 yards).  She lived on Pythias street for 30 years, maybe more. I lived on Anafis street for 30 years. The first two decades of our lives were the 1930s and 1940s, in a Nazi dominated Europe.  So we, both, have lived through the same "history" of our neighborhood, Kypseli, and of our country, Greece. 

Pythia was the lady that was in the business of futurology, whose priestly associates killed Aesop in a tourist place called Delphi (see my ZNet Commentary "An Aesopian Mythos", of Feb. 12, 2011). 

Anafi, is a tiny Greek island in the middle of the Aegean, close to Santorini, which during the last 3,000 years has been inhabited by around 500 to 1,000 hardy humans. Anafi has been a place for exile, especially for leftists.  

Kiki Dimoula, married Athos Dimoulas, who was born in 1921, lived on Pythias street, studied civil engineering at the Athens Polytechnic and as an engineer he specialized in railroads and steel structures. Athos Dimoulas was also a poet, much admired by his wife. He died in 1985. I graduated as a civil engineer from the Athens Polytechnic about 10 years after Athos Dimoulas. My first book deals with a very important social matter, transportation and the use of a steel wheel on a steel rail; the railroad, the light rail, and the streetcar. 

Although our lives have been quite proximate, I never met Kiki Dimoula or Athos Dimoulas. 

 Kiki Dimoula appears to be a very serious person who through her poetry has been trying to understand the human nature in a Chomskyan sense; a Sisyphean task. She is not a "professional' poet. For decades, she worked as an employee at the Bank of Greece, the Greek central bank, in a "prison" according to her words in the IHT, but she also was composing her poems. To me, her poetry seems strong but sad. 

The IHT article on Kiki Dimoula chose to offer us the opinion of Nikos Dimou about the poetry of Kiki Dimoula, a choice which we respect wholeheartedly. So, besides the above mentioned remark by Dimou about Sappho , etc, he writes: "The main subject of Dimoula's poetry is 'nothingness'." In another article, in Greek, Dimou writes: "The poetry of [Kiki Dimoula] has no subject – since its subject is the zero…. (what can one write about zero) … " The words in the parenthesis belong to Dimou. 

As another Greek, I could suggest to Dimou to read what a non-Greek could and wrote about zero: 

"This is a spectacular application of the Greek insight that the world afar can be grasped by analogy to the world at hand. But it is made much more spectacular when you realize that Archimedes hadn't our convenient notation for powers of ten, all built on the use of the zero." The words belong to Robert Kaplan, of Harvard, in his excellent book "The Nothing That Is: The Natural History of Zero. [Allen Lane, 1999, page 31] 

[Parenthesis: Leaving aside the powers of ten, the Archimedean number of particles in the Universe, or universes, etc, and going back to the above mentioned "nature of man", we can say that one way to solve that "universal" problem (of the nature of man) is to grasp the information "at hand"; ourselves. That is what Kiki Dimoula has been doing all her life. Also, as Kaplan writes, the Greeks missed the idea of zero, which had already been discovered in Iraq, almost 3,500 years before the Greece of Pericles. A great disappointment for the patriotic Nazis in the Athens of 2013.] 

Nikos Dimou is an interesting case. His philosophical attitude in life has its roots in the manure-enriched soil of Madison Avenue. His "theological" belief is that an essential part for the existence of the human race is advertising, "as it fulfills the preexisting needs" of men, women and children. After that earthshaking discovery, Dimou decided that he is an "intellectual", and, as expected, persuaded the upper middle-class Greeks that he indeed is an intellectual. 

I met Dimou twice, by chance. About 20 years ago as I went to the parking space of a supermarket to get my car, I noticed that the car adjacent to mine had the driver's window open. I decided to stay by the open window as protection, just in case. After a while the owner of the car appears and I explain to him about the window. The man passes by me with his head proudly up and his glance towards the infinite, says nothing, and drives away. The man, a genuine "intellectual", Nikos Dimou. Obviously, I did not know that the car belonged to Dimou, however, I knew his theories about the "needs" of humans. 

Then, about 3 or 4 years ago I was invited by J. Michas, the author of a new book on Noam Chomsky, to attend the presentation of his book. As I was approaching the building, where the presentation was to take place, I noticed that Dimou was heading for the same place. I did not pay any more attention, and I do not know even where he was seated in the room. Anyway, more interesting things than Dimou's presence happened in the presentation. 

There were 5 or 6 persons in the presentation panel. Among them a Minister of Commerce (or something) in the then Greek Government, whose name I did not know. Although it sounds unbelievable, the people in the panel, especially the Minister, were struggling to prove that Noam was and is a … neoliberal. Then, rather reluctantly, the panel moderator announced a Q and A period. So, I addressed the Minister, a mild-mannered and polite person, whose name I did not know, but who was wearing a pink shirt. Thus, I identified him as "the gentleman wearing a pink shirt", and, rather angrily, I asked him if he knew that Noam was an anarchist. It seems that the Minister had never read a word written by Chomsky. Anyway, the author of the book being presented, addressing me by my name informed the audience that I was right. After a little while the gentleman in the pink shirt left the room. Later, I learned that the name of the gentleman in the pink shirt was and is Kostis Chatzidakis. 

[Note written in great anger: At some point while writing this article, I stopped for a little to have lunch. In the kitchen opposite me on the TV screen there was the same "pink shirted" polite and mild-mannered gentleman who today is the Minister for "Development" in the Greek government. He was proudly extolling his work to make Greece a prosperous country. At his side Samaras, the prime minister of Greece. As I watched them I realized that the callousness of these individuals is not only bottomless, but entirely criminal. 

 Five years ago, a Greek family had to spend about US $ 600 for heating oil. Today, they have to pay about US $ 3,000, for the same quantity of heating oil. So, most families in Greece started burning wood. There are about 4 million people in Athens. That is, one million families. Almost, 70% of the families burn wood to stay warm. The result: thousands of the very young and the very old will die, of lung damage. Already, in Salonica the solid particles of burned wood in the air covered the city with a layer of smog that one could almost grasp with his hand. It was not Merkel that ordered them to do this, they decided that taxing heating oil exorbitantly was the …  solution to the economic problems of Greece.] 

Once more, I owe an explanation about why, while living in the misery of the Athens of January 2013, I choose to comment on …  movies (my last ZNet article) or on poetry. As a 13 or 14-year-old during the Nazi occupation, 1941 to 1945, I used to observe the window of a bookstore not very far from Pythias street, Kiki Dimoula's home street. My thoughts at the time: How come there are still books on poetry, literature, and even philosophy at the bookstore window, while around us there is hunger and death by the Nazis? The answer: Hope. What is really disturbing is that today for most people in Athens there is a feeling that there is less hope than during the Nazi occupation. So, the need for us to remain normal people and read books is more imperative. 


The Latest from Athens 

Here is a brief account of the latest events from Athens:

By now, it is quite obvious that the powers that be have a provocation plan against the Greek Left. 

1.  In Athens there are a few buildings that were occupied by Greek Anarchists for more than two decades. Then, all of a sudden, a couple of days ago, the police invaded the buildings, arrested about 100 anarchists, the Nazis celebrated the event, and the Greek courts released the Anarchists. Necessary information: The judges and the rest of the judicial personnel had their salaries curtailed lately, otherwise …. 

2.  The Anarchists reacted by attacking various governmental and political targets. 

3. The government reacted by accusing SYRIZA, the leftist party, as a "protector" of the Anarchists. 

4. The Greek health system is heading towards a humanitarian catastrophe. They, the rightist government of fervent Christians and protectors of "country, religion, family", among other criminal acts, they are shutting intensive care units. 

5. The provocation plan includes unbelievably cruel attacks on African and Asian migrants, through beatings, stabbings, even killings. The attackers: Nazi goon squads, under the protection of the police, most of whom are also Nazis. Of course the foreign originators of the provocation plan expect a, for them welcome, blowback against the Greeks, by the hundreds of thousands of African and Asian migrants after they return to their countries. Already, they start thinking of the Greeks as extreme racists.  

6. The attack of US-European Union, against the land and other assets of Greece has become more blatant and shameless. 

7. The Nazis seem to have second thoughts, as some of them have been beaten up by ordinary Greeks. 

To close this article: Let this be an appeal not only to the world Left but to all honest people of the world to show solidarity with the Greek people. Especially, the people of Norway, Sweden, Germany, Russia and Turkey. The Turks have already done that in 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Athens, through "Kurtulus", the ship that brought food to the starving people of Athens. I am one of the survivors. 

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