und.poetry: 3 years / 36 contemporary greek poems

Und.Poetry's 3-year trajectory of contemporary Greek poetry is now concluded: with thanks to all 36 poets, translators, and Und.Athens founding editor Kiriakos Spirou. 
You can read all 36 poems, together with my brief commentaries, by following this link: http://und-athens.com/journal/und-poetry-2021  


risk _ a poets' agora 2017


(Taksim Square, Istanbul, 2013)

Dark cypress-green velvet
with wide black canvas hem
billows unfurled as he turns and turns arms open
to the sky and earth
in the standing crowd
clapping its hands
on the bitumen-laid
wound of the square

But on his face – But the face
is neither saint’s nor man’s

The face is a mask:
a monstrous duck Eyes capped
the beak sewed up sealed tight
–against the tear-gas– White hospital rubber –gazeless, breathless– over the swelling cypress foliage

your clapping
Seize him
Save him
In his white diving mask the air will soon be spent He’ll sink to the ground and won’t spring up

[transl.: by P.Ι.]


On December 1, 2017, 
Theodoros Chiotis, Kyoko Kishida, and myself -kindly invited by "A Poets' Agora" originators and curators, Karine Ancellin and Angela Lyras, in the beautiful, early 19th c., Koutzalexis House (re-decorated by Yannis Tsarouchis in the late 1960's)- read (in Greek, with English commentary) three poems each, including one commissioned especially for the occasion. These poems is available to read online (mine: https://apoetsagora.com/panayotis-ioannidis/ - as well as above).

But also the entire beautifully produced (by 
G Design Studio) booklet (in English and Greek) is now available to download: https://apoetsagora.files.wordpress.com/…/a-poets-agora-ris… - and the readings can be heard here: [mine starts at:]https://youtu.be/SOx7_y-PVl4?t=9m2s [and ends at 21'].

(The picture is a photograph by Panos Kokkinias of a detail from the house's gorgeous ceiling decorations.)


pastiche: a mock-kleftic refrain

It must be something of an unusual –and quite thrilling– pleasure, I imagine (it certainly was for me), to be asked to contribute verses to be included in a 'thriller'.
In my case, it was for a novel relating the adventures of a “reluctant spy” in mid-18th century Venice. In The Four Horsemen (Polygon Books, 2017), the novel’s author (who is also Associate Professor of American Literature at Università Ca' Foscari Venezia, Venice), Gregory Dowling, has his previous novel’s, Ascension (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), protagonist, Alvise Marangon, meet Komnenos, a Phanariot Greek who, among other things, recites pseudo-kleftic songs.
My ‘assignment’ (a challenge kindly relayed by Alicia E Stallings) was therefore for “a couple of lines in Greek, which would be the refrain, something along the lines "We must keep our knives sharp for we will need them soon"”. To concoct such a pastiche of 18th c. patriotic, mock-folksong in Greek, I turned for inspiration to the style used, for example, by Rigas Ferraios (1757-1798). And, after spending a fascinating time double-checking some words and grammatical forms with poems of, and dictionaries for that period, I proposed the lines:
Αδέλφια, το μαχαίρι βαστάτε κοπτερόν,
Ναν' έτοιμο να κόψη τυράννου τον λαιμόν.
Thus, the novel’s narrator, on p. 121, has the following dialogue with Komnenos – subtly condensing not a little historical and philological knowledge:
”So you recite poems about bandits”, I said.
“Songs composed by bandits but rearranged by me into more formal poetry for a more sophisticated audience. […] Here I am, clearly a man from an educated background, who has worked for the Ottomans, pretending to be a wild rebel ready to cut their throats.”
“Is that what was happening in your poem?”
“The refrain said ‘Adelfia to maheri vastate kopteron / Nan’ etimo na kopsi tyrannou ton lemon’, which is to say, ‘Brothers, keep your knife sharp, so that it may be ready to cut the tyrant’s throat.”
– hardly a spoiler; and there are another 181 pages in this historical mystery!


five poems

As my third book of poems in Greek, Poland, has just been shortlisted for the "Anagnostis" award for poetry books published in 2016, I thought I'd share here four poems translated, and one originally written, in English, and published in "Hotel Amerika" and "Poetry London". 

The first poem, "Jan III" belongs to the aforementioned Poland; "Cadenza" and "Burning candle" are from my first book, The lifesaver (2008); "Honey, meaning of" is as yet unpublished in Greek; while "Chinese movie" comes from my second book, Uncovered (2013).



this love of Jan Sobieski
for his enemy’s beauty

Every day for twenty years
he’d write to his wife
half in Polish and half in French
And about the Turkish spoils after victory
des fort jolies choses et fort riches
mais fort riches

Among all of Hussein Pasha’s treasures
he fell in love with a silk embroidery
with two thousand rubies and emeralds
He loved it so
he draped it over his horse
on his coronation day

Indebted to the Grand Duke of Tuscany
he parted with it
The Duke had it taken down
in the register and stored –
Una cosa del barbaro lusso

Note: Sobieski (1629-1696) is principally known to the rest of the world because, as king of Poland and Commander of the joint Polish, Austrian and German armies, he stopped the Ottoman army's advance outside Vienna in 1683. But he had vanquished the same army before, at the battle of Hocim in 1673. It was this victory that led to him being elected King a year later. “Des fort jolies choses et fort riches / mais fort riches” (Fr.): most pretty things and most rich / but most rich.“Una cosa del barbaro lusso” (Ital.): An object of barbaric luxury.

[Translated by Panayotis Ioannidis and first published in “Hotel Amerika” 13 (2015). Later included, in this translation, in T. Chiotis (ed.) Futures – Poetry of the Greek crisis (Penned in the margins, 2015), and, in the original Greek, in Polonia [Poland] (Kastaniotis, 2016)]



Just before lowering his bow
the violinist sees his mother
straightening his collar before the parade
His fingers hurt
like they did after practice
but quickly they break free and warm –
they know no other body

Now he doesn’t hear
the audience’s cough
gradually stopping – doesn’t see
my neighbour’s programme gently
gliding to the floor – the eyelids
lifting up, the eyes
that hurt on
the shiny surface of the violin
while he sees off
the final phrase

His eyes hurt
as his mother’s hand
pushes him gently
onto the glare of the wet
flag-decorated street

[Translated by Panayotis Ioannidis and Stefanos Basigkal and published in “Hotel Amerika” 13 (2015). The Greek original has been published in To sossivio [The lifesaver] (Kastaniotis, 2008).]



First time this spring I held two candles
at Good Friday’s Epitaph procession
I not quite a believer

Still, since three years ago
I always light two candles
in the tiniest chapels

Since we say the soul falters
I light them up tenaciously naive
and with the expectation of the faithful

Then we say – gone
But I will not ever forget
how your face lit up austere

one night when seeing me
blow out a candle flame
You take its soul away. Never

blow it out. Always
with wetted fingers touch the wick
– inside your palm

gather the flame
don’t scatter it away
Since then I’m always careful

without explaining even though I’m teased
for such an odd attention. It is worth
wetting the fingers

tenderly holding the flame
it is worth the effort
the slight risk that your hand

cowardly, hesitant, may get burnt
that a soul may burn you
as it –temporarily– retreats

But before dozing yesterday I forgot
blew out the flame – the wall
got splashed above the second pillow

with melted candle wax
Nothing then could comfort me – as if
it were a human being – and I were to blame

[Translated by Panayotis Ioannidis and Stefanos Basigkal and published in “Poetry London” 82 (2015). The Greek original has been published in To sossivio [The lifesaver] (Kastaniotis, 2008).]


HONEY, meaning of
[entry updated July 2013]


Jean Paucton, stagehand of the Palais Garnier, started keeping bees on its rooftop in 1981. Their honey proved exquisite. At least, Parisian opera-lovers seemed to think so: the jars –with their handwritten, numbered and signed labels– would rapidly sell out from the establishment’s boutique. “Letting a seventy seven-year-old man climb on the roof was becoming problematic”, an official was quoted as saying upon M. Paucton’s retirement in the spring of 2013. It is rumoured that new bees will be installed, care of a private company, “to better frame the activity”. Nobody knows what next season’s honey will taste like.


It comes from the Germanic “hunangam” – perhaps, ultimately, from the Indo-European “keneko”, for “golden” or “yellow”. But there is another Indo-European word: “melit” –meaning, precisely, “honey”– from which both the Greek “meli” and the Irish “mil” derive. Unrelated, unfortunately, to both “melody” and the muse “Melpomene”.


Honey makes the difference between truth and falsity. Gorged on the “Gods' blond sweet food”, the three mantic, virgin bee-sisters will dance what is, what was, and what will be. (They taught Apollo divination; he gave them to his brother Hermes as a gift.) Deprived of it, however, they become unruly; their utterances unreliable.


I was very fond of it, my ‘test’ poster: two black and white photographs by Richard Avedon. On the left, “Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris”: the fashion model of the 1950’s standing lithe in her long black dress, sash trailing on the circus tent’s straw, between the two heavy gray beasts. On the right, “Ronald Fischer, Beekeeper, Davis, California, May 9, 1981”: a hairless albino, bees swarming on his naked torso and head (including nipples and ears). A few of my friends were as fascinated as I by this coupling of sabotaged beauty and serene symbiosis. Most, though, would cringe at a hastily interpreted creepiness. The poster used to hang in my apartment's hallway. When H. moved in a year ago, we took it down to make room for his bookshelves.

[Originally written in English and published in “Hotel Amerika” 14, (2016).]



My friend brought me bread
that was homemade by his mother.
He told me about his trip
Most of all I enjoyed the airports

Then we went to watch
a Chinese movie: about a boy
who photographed people from behind
to show them all
what they couldn’t see on their own

As everyone got up to leave
we stayed put quietly in our seats
until the last line of the credits disappeared,
the music faded

[Translated by Moira Egan and first published in “Hotel Amerika” 13 (2015). The Greek original has been published in Akalyptos [Uncovered] (Kastaniotis, 2013).]


two poems in "austerity measures"

Two poems, "Mosquito" and "The poet in the hallway", from my second book in Greek, Akalyptos (Uncovered - or, in A.E. Stallings', the poems' translator's, rendition, Unsheltered; Kastaniotis, 2008) are included in Karen Van Dyck's anthology Austerity Measures - the new Greek poetry (Penguin, 2016; New York Review Books, 2017).




The squirrel kept sniffing in the wet grass
Its busy tail irritated the peacocks
that strutted around screeching
among the flower-beds, on the verandas
Their claws stabbed at the stone slabs

The last king, Poniatowski, slept uneasily
Ryx, his trusted companion, lay awake next door
A humble barber from Flanders
personal guard, manager, at last a nobleman
his coat of arms, a Ring

The little Water Palace unsuspecting
bridged the lake
A few years hence the country would be torn in three
half a century a later, swiftly and soundlessly
arisen from their barracks at the Park's other end
the select young men of Archduke Konstantin, the Russian
would cross the pavements
Disguised as a woman, he fled

One more uprising got drowned in blood
and thirty three years later
the Kingdom of Poland
was erased

In black, the women sold
hid their jewels
They put on
iron chains

[This poem, translated from the Greek (in Polonia, Kastaniotis Editions, 2016) by Panayotis Ioannidis, was anthologised in Th. Chiotis' [ed.] Futures – Poetry of the Greek Crisis (Penned in the Margins, 2015). Photo by P.I., Łazienki, iv.2004]


towards aristodikos


After quarrying, if the marble is not to be worked on immediately, it is buried back into the earth: so that it may stay fresh, retain its juices.


In the foundations of the house where, years ago, we used to spend our holidays, an ancient road had been found, with traces of a vehicle on the rock. And, next to it, a funerary stele. A block away, the archaeologists never so much as complained when I slipped in amongst them while they worked. And after they abandoned the site, I would go and hide small treasures there among the ruins: a torchlight, a square battery, a box of matches, a couple of toy cars. In case of emergency.

I was born opposite the Archaeological Museum. Ever since I was little, every time I went in, I would turn left and keep my head up, looking for the smile of the Kouroi.

Were these funerary statues a debt to the dead dictated by a higher order of things?

How did art give form to such desires?

Almost simultaneously, statues appeared in the temples of the gods as well as on graves. The funerary statue is both a form of the objective debt to the dead and a fulfilment of the spiritual need of the living to have before them the dead person's likeness.

On my way out, I would slide down the inclined marbles to the left and right of the forecourt's wide steps. The marble, slightly concave in the middle, worn smooth from wear, was almost soft – and invariably warm.


Aristodikos, the last Kouros, isn't smiling.

The eyes of Aristodikos are shadowed –not just literally, due to their sockets' curvature– but also metaphorically, as if by the shadow of memory.

At the Museum, we indeed come across him last in the sequence of Kouroi. Christos Karouzos –Director from 1942 to 1964, formidable archaeologist, unrivaled writer, lover of poetry– who loved and studied him, estimates that he died at the age of twenty five, around 500BC. On precious marble from Paros –the best for moulding the body–, his family asked for his form to be carved in full relief. They set it by the grave next to the road –as was the custom– at the edge of their estate in Mesogeia, in the locality of “Phinikia”. But twenty years later, they also laid the statue down to rest over the buried body, and covered it with soil. To save it from the Persians, about to burn down Attica from end to end, up to the Parthenon.

Almost intact, protected from the sun and rain, the statue then returned to earth.

It rose again 25 centuries later.

In 1944, the property owner sends over labourers to till his field. The plough hits on stone. Again and again. They get hold of hoes to dig it out, they unbury a body, whole.

Only the hands are missing. And the feet break off at the delicate ankles.

It would be ungrateful to complain about the degree of its preservation. Only the hands are entirely missing. Of the lesser wounds, the most annoying is the disfigurement of the eyes, lips and especially the nose, most probably caused by the frequent passing over of the plough.

For years the plough passed
over the face

Over and over the plough passed
on the face

They load the statue on a carriage, cover it with straw, take it to the Museum in secret. To the empty Museum: all the statues are already asleep, buried in the soil, under the floor of the halls, since the eve of the German invasion. (Months of secret toil, under Semni Karouzou's supervision.)

The monuments that were saved are “fortune's children”.


I still strive to see
what the hands held

bottle, cup
weapon or bridle

Or nothing –
Open palms
full of arrival

They might have held
fair opposites
Except they 're missing

Back to the earth
whence they emerged
idle they have returned
As prescribed
by the order of time

Now equidistant
they balance


The statue does not unfold its world outwards but has gathered its strength in, as if meditating on some inner stirring.

Karouzos, in his study on Aristodikos, includes a long list of attic sculptures from 550-480 BC. There, twice he refers to Rilke:

Stele of two siblings in New York and Berlin – incontestable seems the kinship of the girl's head with the “Rilke” head in the Louvre.
Male head Louvre 695 – which, according to Haussmann, may be the subject of Rilke's sonnet “Fruehe Apollo”

As sometimes between the yet leafless branches
a morning looks through that is already
radiant with spring: so nothing of his head
could prevent the splendour of all poems

from striking us with almost lethal force;
for there is yet no shadow in his gaze,
his temples are yet too cool for the laurel crown,
and only later from his eyebrows' arches

will the rose garden lift up on tall stems,
from which petals, loosened, one by one
will drift down on the trembling of his mouth,

which now is yet quiet, never-used, and gleaming
and only drinking something with its smile
as though its song were being instilled in him.

Rilke wrote this poem in Paris, on July 11, 1906. Although in May of that year his term as Rodin's secretary had ended following a rupture between the two men, his New Poems –the First Book (1907) of which opens with this sonnet– are written under the influence of the great sculptor who seems to have shown him anew how to see and how to reflect.

Three years earlier, near the end of his essay, Auguste Rodin, Rilke had said about his sculptures: “a great gesture seems to live and to force space to participate in its movement.”


Upon the pedestal, rises the youthful form of Aristodikos, slender in its deeper conception. With difficulty might it be said that he is standing. We would be closer to this image of a man imperceptibly moving, were we to say that he witholds movement. Nor is it possible to speak of a state arrived at but, rather, of a force in action.


Funerary statues stop, so far as we can see today, a little after 500BC, for sixty years or so. Archaeological research has almost unanimously conceded Milchhoefer's conjecture that a law that came out in Athens according to Cicero, “a fair while” after Solon, against the lavishness of funerary monuments, must indeed belong to this late archaic period, and possibly to Kleisthenes, as Hirschfeld subsequently hypothesized. Cicero's source is known to be Demetrius Phalereus and this vir eruditissimus in turn draws information and suggestions for his own radical restrictions on grave monuments from Plato and the preceding attic legislation. An attractive hypothesis, though no more, is that this law is contemporaneous and not unrelated to the law of ostracism.

I might almost not have existed


ARISTODIKO: the name of the dead in the genitive, on the statue's pedestal.

The mere name of a man is tantamount to anonymity.

The pedestal is preserved, and the name, and the plinth of the statue. But –a strange thing, unexpected for a work such as this– there is no funerary epigram to be found.

that does not reach out from the stone
speak up

Whose face?
Distance touches it
as pain returns
to its black owner

The eyes no longer
the most beautiful thing
from life renounced

Each morning
there survives a song
From dreams

Which one has dripped
on his half-parted lips
so he now sings, upright and whole?

Threshold of song
of a lost youth

breath of statues
silence of images

Space of the heart
suddenly so large

Note: This text (translated by Konstantine Matsoukas) is a fragment of a work in progress, re-contextualised for publication in NICE! Is return possible?, ed.: Salon de Vortex (Y. Grigoriadis & Y. Isidorou), 2016, together with the three pairs of my photographs that, in addition to my photograph of the statue, appear here. In italics, phrases from Ch. I. Carouzos's monograph, Aristodikos (1961). The translation of Rilke's poem is by Dylan Schenker [http://earlyapollo.blogspot.gr/2007/09/critical-analysis.html]; that of his essay, Auguste Rodin, by Jessie Lemont and Hans Trausil (1919).