The Caper Press was at the Poetry Library yesterday for History and Futures – Greek Poetry And Writing A Crisis, organised by Penned in the Margins. You can check out some of our live tweeting here.
The event demonstrated the power of poems, poets and poetry to respond to our times. The chair (Tom Chivers) and the poets (George Ttoouli, Theodoros Chiotis, Natalie Katsou) came equipped with thoughtful questions and nuanced reflections on tradition and continuity in Greek poetry, life in Greece today and the meaning of the word ‘crisis’. There were also some wonderful poems. The whole made for a meaningful, considered and sometimes surprising exploration of where we are right now.
Unpacking the word ‘crisis’ really resonated for me. ‘Crisis’ has become a constant over the past few years and I realised that it is a long time since I reflected on what it means. As Natalie Katsous said, ‘crisis’ suggests the short term and holds the promise, or at least the hope, of resolution. She believes the economic situation in Greece can no longer be called a crisis; it has become the ‘environment’ that the Greeks inhabit. And what of the refugee crisis or consequences of Brexit, or terrorism? When does a crisis become normality?
Crisis also suggests, or causes, interruptions. The poets discussed how the economic crisis in Greece brought new interruptions into people’s daily lives. Someone might be on the way to work on an ordinary day before being thwarted by a riot or demonstration. George Ttoouli described island roads carpeted with rotting fruit when the EU stopped subsidies for oranges. It seemed that such interruptions have now become part of the day-to-day.
When will Brexit and its political repercussions go the same way, becoming a permanent interruption to the status quo? We are surely still in the first throes of the interruption phase. The poets drew parallels between the impact of Brexit and the Greek economic crisis. Natalie Katsous likened the question ‘How are things there, after Brexit?’ to the questions she was asked in the immediate aftermath of the Greek economic crisis. And she observed that the answer is the same: it is still far too early to tell.
We’ve heard about the racist comments and vandalism that followed the referendum. But I haven’t noticed any political graffiti of the kind the poets described seeing in Athens, which was characterised by Natalie as a ‘live Facebook page that people can’t scroll down’. We do not have the same graffiti culture, ‘street art’ is apparently a new thing in Greece, their graffiti is of a different sort.
As the poets said however, the poetic responses to the Greek crisis have taken longer to formulate than the political reactions scrawled on walls. It made me wonder what poetry is being written here to capture the uncertain state we’re in. Maybe we will see poems emerge in the coming months and years. I imagine Tom Chivers and Penned in the Margins will know when they do.
The audience questions too were thoughtful, and evidenced the importance of cross-cultural / cross-border evenings and publications like these to help us all see past doom-laden headlines. Though the poets weren’t particularly optimistic about Greece’s ‘futures’ even when one audience member asked ‘what are the positive aspects of this new normal?’
The enduring positive I will take away is the will of poets, publishers and readers to grasp for a deeper understanding of what we’re living through. As Theodoros Chiotis said ‘Poetry is always in crisis, that is the idea!’
Venue: The Poetry Library, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London
Poets: George Ttoouli, Theodoros Chiotis, Natalie Katsou
Chair: Tom Chivers, Penned in the Margins