Karag1Nikolas Karagiaouris is a baritone with a rich repertoire and multiple collaborations with some of Greece’s most important artists and institutions, such as the Greek National Opera. Born in Patras, he studied violin and piano at the Municipal Conservatory of Patras, and completed his Vocal Music and Drama studies at the Athens Conservatory.

Karagiaouris has won prizes in opera competitions in Athens and Thessaloniki, and earned a scholarship from the Greek Wagner Association to participate in the Bayreuth fellowship programme (2012). His repertoire includes major roles in operas such as The Magic Flute, Carmen, The Elixir of Love, La Bohème, etc., as well as in religious music works by Handel, Rossini, Bach and Fore, while he has also appeared in roles in Greek operettas and contemporary Greek operas.

Greek News Agenda spoke* to Nikolas Karagiaouris on the history of Greek opera, as well as his thoughts on the genre’s future.

You have starred (in 2014 and again in 2016) in The Murderess, an important contemporary Greek opera, by composer Giorgos Koumendakis, who has also been the artistic director of the Greek National Opera (GNO) since 2016. What were the particularities of such a performance, taking into consideration the unique character of an opera with a Greek libretto and musical influences from Greek folk tradition?

The Murderess has been one of my happiest experiences on stage. Contemporary Greek opera is a rare and precious thing that has been thankfully met with well-deserved enthusiasm in recent years.

When a classical singer performs in his native language, he inevitably brings with him the resonance, the lived experience and emotions of an entire musical tradition, which is, in my opinion, what has set Greek opera apart for the last 150 years and made it so charged. Let's not forget that the first Greek opera was The Parliamentary Candidate by Spyridon Xyndas from Corfu, in 1867. Other composers followed later, mainly of the Ionian School.

The GNO has since commissioned and staged more Greek language productions, often of an equally experimental character, with remarkable success. Do you think that Greek opera has a big future ahead of it?

Greek opera may not draw on a long tradition compared to French, Italian or German works, yet it has given us true gems. Our country is full of extremely talented composers who have freed themselves from pointless comparison and have found a voice of their own, drawing inspiration from the richness of Greek history, including Modern Greek history, as is the case of Pavlos Carrer with his works Marco Bozzari, Despo, Frosini etc. I am very optimistic about the future of Greek opera.

karag2Long before the current momentum enjoyed by Greek opera, Greek musical theatre was associated with operetta, an extremely popular genre at the beginning of the 20th century that had gradually lost its appeal in the age of television. Lately however it appears to be making a comeback – a recent example being the production The princess of Sazan (1915) by Spyridon-Filiskos Samaras, in which you also starred, last June. Do you think there is really a re-appreciation of this genre? Has the audience’s interest in such works revived?

In its heyday, the Greek operetta was the most popular type of music. It’s no coincidence that it stood the test of time, as many tunes coming from there have been embedded in our collective memory and are still hummed by younger generations today. It deals with familiar themes and emotions, so for me its revival was just a matter of time.

Do younger viewers show interest in such works? Having significant experience with Greek operettas, what would you say are their defining features?

As spectators, when we listen to musical themes that we can memorise, and when these conform to the vocal standards of the opera, we are usually impressed and flattered. This combination is in my opinion the catalyst that gives operettas their unique character and makes them so popular.

Do modern productions usually try to remain faithful to the spirit of the epoch, or do they introduce innovative elements?

I feel that the only loyalty owed by any creator is to the lyrics and music; in short, to the composition, the music notation. I believe it’s almost impossible to remain faithful to the spirit of a bygone time alone. Each staging becomes interesting when it is imbued with the particular perception, spirit, aesthetics and philosophy of its contributors.

You have also starred in more popular productions, from children's operas to musicals by N. Karvelas, next to Anna Vissi, as well as a TV show. Do you believe that a wide range in repertoire is an added quality as opposed to the strict observance of what is often associated with the practice of high art, which perhaps leads to elitism?

I have the utmost admiration for my colleagues who remain committed exclusively to the opera. They are an inspiration to me and I consider them blessed. But for me personally, what weighs more is the notion of change and adventure.

In every music genre I was lucky to have worked with people who love and honour their art. In this light, I am proud of all my collaborations so far; I have learnt a lot from them, forged my technique and expanded my range of experience.

After all, talking about quality and commercialism, lowbrow and highbrow can lead to an endless and, in my opinion, pointless discussion. What counts for me is doing one’s work with passion and devotion.

Karag3You have stated in an earlier interview that every time you take up a part it becomes your favourite and you find it difficult to choose between them. Having played so many parts, do you not you feel like maybe one of them has proved particularly defining?

I suspect that the reason I have difficulty answering this question and picking out one part is perhaps this: in my consciousness and memory, it’s not so much the part itself that I keep, but rather the music, the essence of my collaborations and the extent of my transformation.

*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi (All photos ©Irene Smaili Photography)

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Vassilis Karamitsanis "The Greek National Opera has decisively entered a digital path"; Composer Minas Borboudakis on his work in 21st-century classical music; Vangelis Hatziyannidis: "Writing for an opera was like a puzzle I really enjoyed"

Contemporary Chinese poet, essayist, literary critic, novelist, editor, photographer, documentary filmmaker, and university professor, Yu Jian (1954— ) was born and raised in Kunming, Yunnan Province. Arguably the most prolific Chinese language poet of our time, he is widely recognized as one of the foremost poets of his generation. His numerous publications, which span more than three decades and various literary genres, include the landmark five-volume Collected Yu Jian (Yunnan People’s Publishing, 2004), the four-volume Selected Essays of Yu Jian (Shaanxi Normal University Press, 2010), and more recently Who Is He: Poems 2007-2011 (Chongqing University Press, 2013).

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Yu Jian’s writings have been translated into fourteen languages, including English as well as major European and Asian languages. Among his documentaries are Hometown (2009) and Jade Green Station (in collaboration with anthropologist Zhu Xiaoyang, 2003), both of which constitute a cinematic expression that allows Yu Jian to extend his poetic, humanistic vision to his ongoing ecological, socio-political, and cultural concerns about life in Yunnan. A regular guest at major poetry festivals, Yu Jian has held lectures and readings at leading universities and literary venues worldwide. He has lived his whole life in his native city, Kunming.

On the occasion of the 1st International Crete Poetry Festival, Yu Jian spoke to Reading Greece about his multi-faceted literary work, noting that his poems “are all about the theme of how I live and and how I am present in my own time” and that “each era has its own language, which is a kind of miracle made by humans that could transcend time and be present all the time”.

Asked about contemporary Chinese poetry, he comments that “it is very active” and that “there are many poetic propositions such as avant-garde, colloquialism, intellectual writing, postmodern poetry, language poetry and so on”. As for the political nature of poetry, he explains that “if art originates from shaman, then politics is one of the characteristics of art, or art is a kind of supervision or modification of politics”, and concludes that “poetry represents the highest requirement for language”, “it allows us to sustain a transcendence through language…the transcendence of definite reality”.

An author, an essayist, a literary critic, an editor, a photographer, a documentary filmmaker, a university professor. Where do all these attributes meet?

There is no clear classification for different types of writing in Chinese culture. Authors are all called "literati". "To write", as a verb, represents the highest relationship between a certain language and the world. It is used to illuminate, or summon the unknown, whereas "writing", as a noun, refers to essays, containing poetry, prose and art etc. in a narrow sense. Fusing the identities of poets, shamans, sophists, priest and writers, the literati are a bit like the Brahman in Hinduism, enjoying a high social status in the ancient China. They compose everything. A classical Chinese literatus could be simultaneously a poet, a prose writer, a painter, a calligrapher, a musician, an artist, etc., which was very common. For instance, Li Po was a calligrapher and a prose writer as well as a great poet. However, this tradition of literati has declined in China since the 19th century. My writing attempts to reconstruct this tradition and return to literati in a kind of modern writing.

"While Yu Jian's spare language and brevity may evoke the Chinese classical heritage, and the frequent topicality of his work draws attention to China's contemporary challenges, his strongest poems are stripped of national context". Which are the main themes your poetry touch upon? What role does language serve in your writings?

My poems are all about the theme of how I live and how I am present in my own time. I have never wanted to avoid the time that I am in. Writing is language writing. Language exists in time. Each era has its own language, which is a kind of miracle made by humans that could transcend time and be present all the time.

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It is possible to see eternity—to see everything—in a teacup or a sweet wrapper. Everything in the world is poetry”. Tell us more.

In classical Chinese thought, the world itself is an eternal poem created by the Creator. Laotse said: "the law of the Dao is its being what it is," nature is the enlightenment of the way of life. Confucius has also told us to "learn with a constant perseverance and application." Existence itself is poetry, and the only proper reaction to it is modest learning. As the old saying goes, "the operations of Heaven and Earth proceed in the most admirable way, but they say nothing about them." Human beings are but a language. All is poetic, transcendental, and language simply speaks it out.

It has been argued that since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, Chinese poetry has been struggling to rid itself of an over-inflated grandeur, laying emphasis on the recognition of individual human worth and self-expression. Tell us a few things about how things stand as contemporary Chinese poetry is concerned.

During the cultural revolution, the literati experienced the darkest period in the history of Chinese civilization. The Chinese language was devastated. It has been 40 years since the revival of modern Chinese poetry after the cultural revolution. Classical poetry has become a thing of the past, and modern Chinese has opened up vast possibilities for poetry. Chinese contemporary poetry is very active and there are many poets writing. In a way, poetry is not lonelier than it used to be. There are many different poetic propositions in contemporary Chinese poetry, such as avant-garde, colloquialism, intellectual writing, postmodern poetry, language poetry and so on. Poets are usually allowed to publish their own collections, which usually run to around 3,000 copies. Poets also held parties to read their works. Nowadays, most poets also publish their works on the Internet.

 What does it mean for art to be political or apolitical, especially in times of crisis?

If art originates from shaman, then politics is one of the characteristics of art, or art is a kind of supervision or modification of politics. Good politics is art, but bad politics uses art. Qu Yuan, one of China's greatest poets, referred to "the beautiful government" in his long poem. "The penetrating power of the principles and the good character of the measures of government, will exert an enriching influence on the character of the people." At the level of Dao, politics and poetry lead to the same destination. When Confucius prescribed poetry, he implied the natural relationship between poetry and politics. Poetry is not just a special kind of sentence --- making activity of warlocks. In Chinese, as a kind of language sacrifice, poetry requires "innocence". Innocence is not meaning, but the uncertainty of meaning. Poetry is a different kind of politics

Chinese civilization usually provides meaning, interpretation, perspective and position to the world not through religion but through poetry. Poetry stands for the freedom of meaning, while politics governs it. In this way, poetry, the special politics, always invokes worries and hatred of the secular one. However, the boundary of it would never be controlled by that. Lao Tzu says that existence and non-existence give birth to the idea of each other, and poetry is the keeping of non-existence and uncertainty in form of language. Vulgarity and apolitism mean that poetry is seen as a linguistic game that has indeed saved the lives of many mediocre poets, and thus lost its respect. The politics of poetry does not mean some simple power relationship, it is a language relationship, but it is not preaching or propaganda. Poetry is like a kind of church on paper, a heavy vessel, naming, correcting, seducing, communicating with the nonexistent.

Rhetoric made its sincerity. This sincerity means a kind of movement of summoning the truth with uncertainty, which is not arriving, but keeping this impulse for truth without depravity. This persistence makes all attempts at certainty think twice. Through poetry we can maintain our relationship with gods, truth, etc. For poets, the gods were not just Zeus, but also Nuwa, Jingwei, Houyi,... and so on. They are political forces. They are also poetic forces.

After all, what is the relationship of art, in its various genres, to the world it inhabits?  Could it be used to imagine what could be radically different realities?

At the heart of this relationship is poetry. This goes to why humans need poetry. Language is people. Confucius said: "without learning poetry, you will not be fit to converse with." Poetry represents the highest requirement for language. In Chinese, language itself is a kind of fundamental imagination. Any imagination that ignores language only leads to frivolity. Poetry is not reality, it allows us to sustain a transcendence through language. This transcendence is the transcendence of definite reality.

teltzidis2As the 42th edition of the Short Film Festival in Drama is due to begin on September 15, Greek News Agenda interviews* Yorgos Teltzidis, writer, director, award winner and Jury member of the Festival. Born in Thessaloniki, Teltzidis has studied film and European Culture and written and directed a number of short films, documentaries, and commercials. He has also participated at the Berlin and theSarajevo Talent Campus and Zurich Film Festival Master Class. Six of his scripts have been funded by the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) and the Greek Film Centre.

In 2012 he received the best documentary award at the Drama International Short Film Festival for his film “Pure radio”, concerning a radio station where young addicts workas part of their therapy. In 2013, at the same festival, he won the Pan-Hellenic Film Critics’ Association award for his script for “Generator”, where a heavily indebted shop owner accepts defeat in a society set ablaze by the economic crisis in Greece. “Generator” was directed by Nikoleta Leousi.

His next short film “Dye” (2015), about a family which sees an opportunity for a slight improvement in their dire economic situation by selling an apartment that they have rented to an immigrant, was nominated for the Hellenic Film Academy award. In 2016 “Dye” won the best short film award at the Hellas Berlin Filmbox festival. His latest short film, “Dam” (Fragma) (2017), about a young woman who doesn’t know what will become of her dog as her family is forced to leave their home due to the construction of a dam, won the Best Southeastern European Film award at the International Short Film Festival in Drama and was nominated for the Hellenic Film Academy award.

Teltzidis likes to tell stories about people in free fall. Whether his broken characters are situated in miserable interiors or under the beautifully shot open sky, their common ground is their inability to find comfort and understanding. In his interview with Greek News Agenda Teltzidis explains what attracts him to his dark stories, how he feels about Greek short films. He also highlights his interest in issues of identity, loneliness, the fragmentation of the middle class, the morality of the petty bourgeoisie and violence in all its forms and why he uses his characters as a canvas to depict and exorcise his fears, fears that may be shared by other people too.

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 Manolis Mavromatakis in "Generator" (2013), dir. Nikoleta Leoussi

Political commentary underlines your films, especially “Generator” and “Dye”. Do you feel you were a product of the crisis?

It’s true that political commentary underlines my films, but for me it serves only as a starting point. I use the socioeconomic background to build a narrative structure about the archetypal conflict of the individual against fate and not in order to point out a specific political standing. When cinema becomes a political manifesto, it loses its charm of suggestiveness. Anyway, filmmaking in a country dominated by low brow culture and cheap esthetics is, in itself, a profound political act. Issues of identity, alienation and loneliness, the fragmentation of the middle class, the morality of petty bourgeoisie and violence in all its forms are concepts that existed before the economic crisis, concepts that I always go back to. This means that even if I had begun making films before the crisis, I would make the same stories and I would be fascinated by the same characters.

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Nikos Hatzopoulos, Panos Gousis in "Dye" (2015), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis

In your film «Dye” you study how people of a marginal social milieu can be led to racist behaviour. Would you like to elaborate?

Coming out of the economic prosperity bubble, the middle and lower middle class lost their political ground and the first victim in its recovery efforts was the foreigner, “the other”. Thus deep-rooted racist perceptions became the field where casual fascism was cultivated as a response and as potential violent action against the other, in the form of coercion and expulsion of the helpless. This is what I was interested to explore in “Dye”, i.e., how a fascist behaviour is engendered in a typical petty bourgeois Athenian apartment. I wanted to avoid the clichés that you would probably expect to see in a short film of this kind, such as muscled men with shaved heads and tattoos. I started at the core and the breeding ground that generates them, which are the people next door.

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Nikos Hatzopoulos in "Dye" (2015), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis

There is a socioeconomic dimension evident in most of your films. Your protagonist in “The Dam” is a tomboy; her father is angry and resigned, and most of your scripts are about middle aged men in dead-end situations. How does harsh reality influence gender identity in your work?

The setting of the “Dam” is the cinematically unexplored Greek countryside and its codes, where patriarchy is still strong and evident in the lives of people, resulting in the entrapment for both sexes and erecting limits and barriers to free self determination that are difficult to overcome. The female protagonist is trapped in such a situation and is forced in a sense to lose her identity, while she is driven towards a violent and blurred coming of age. The socio-economic aspect lies in the construction of the huge dam, which, as a symbol/transmitter of coercion and violence of the strongest to the weakest, in the name of development, forces the inhabitants to abandon their home. It's true that I like writing stories about middle-aged men whose lives have reached a kind of stalemate, but after the “Dam” I began to explore younger characters and their passage into the adult world.

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Stamatia Papathanasi, Dimitris Abatzis in "Fragma" (Dam), (2017), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis

There is a prevailing sense of loneliness and alienation in your works and neither family, nor friends or romantic relationships seem able to offer any answers or comfort to your characters. Are they incapable of connecting or are they crushed by circumstances?

The characters in the stories I write are in a sense alienated, unable to communicate effectively, but still with every move they desperately ask for human contact. They are victims of an inescapable past that remains forever present. I am deeply influenced by the work of writers such as Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver, John Cheever and Breece D’J Pancake. The latter especially has played a catalytic role in shaping the emotional mechanism of my characters. I was influenced by his detached narration, aimed at a calmer observation of human despair which, as it remains untreated, turns into cruelty and inability to communicate.

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Nikos Hatzopoulos in "Dye" (2015), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis

How do you incorporate your fears in your stories and how do you work on their visualization?

As I like to say, we are probably writing about what we fear we are or will become, and writing is a healing process in our attempt to exorcise these fears.

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Stamatia Papathanasi in "Fragma" (Dam), (2017), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis

You have served as a member of the jury of the Drama Short film Festival. How do you feel about contemporary short film production?

Last year I was Member of the Jury of the 41st National Short Film Festival in Drama and this year I took part in its pre-selection committee that chose the film lineup that we will see in Drama this September. Having a good idea of domestic short film production in recent years, their number exceeds 200 per year, andI can say with confidence that the biggest problems lie with scripts and acting, with some notable exceptions. The technical aspect of filming has improved greatly. I believe that a great number of cinematographers and sound technicians can easily stand up to demanding international productions.

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Stamatia Papathanasi in "Fragma" (Dam), (2017), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis

What are your future plans?

I’m currently in the pre production process of my new short film “Felix”, which is funded by the Microfilm programme of the National Broadcaster (ERT) and I have already set sail for my first feature film, whose treatment has been selected by the Mediterreanen Film Institute and is in the development process.

At the same time, the Long Shot Films Production Company, of which I am a co-founder, has just completed its first short film titled "Vouta" (Dive), scripted by me, directed by Dimitris Zahos and funded by ERT’s Microfilm programme; and two more Long Shot films are in the preproduction process after having secured funding from the Greek Film Centre and ERT.

 

Dam|Φράγμα from George Teltzidis on Vimeo.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Gerhard Falkner, born in 1951, is one of the most important German poets of our time. He has published several volumes of poems, amongst them Hölderlin Reparatur (2008), awarded with the Peter-Huchel-Prize, and Ignatien (2014). In his 2019 volume of poems Schorfheide. Gedichte en plein air he has restored nature poetry. After scholarships at Villa Massimo/Casa Baldi, Rome and the Academy at Solitude castle, Stuttgart, he was in 2013 the first fellow of the Academy Tarabya, Istanbul and in 2014 fellow of Villa Aurora, Los Angeles. His novels Apollokalypse (2016) and Romeo oder Julia (2017), acclaimed by the literary critics, were nominated for the most prestigious prize of the German literary world, Deutscher Buchpreis. Gerhard Falkner lives in Berlin and in Bavaria.

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On the occasion of the 1st Crete International Poetry Festival, Gerhard Falkner spoke to Reading Greece about what has changed and what has remained the same in his poetry almost 40 years after his first poetry collection, noting that a recurrent point of reference is his "pushing the language to the edges and limits", his attempt to shape "the beauty of language itself". He notes that "the social networks are part of the infantilisation of the world", adding that this is the reason why his poetry "embraces complexity as part of the beauty", and concludes that "art could of course generate new images and radical changing realities".

Almost 40 years after your first poetry collection, what has changed and what has remained the same in your poetry? Would you say that there are recurrent points of reference in your writings?

Since my first volume of poems lots of things have changed, in society and in literature. What has remained the same in my writing is, first of all, my pushing the lanquage to the edges and limits; this sometimes makes my poetry difficult. The best example is my second last poetry book Ignatien in which what I tried to shape is the beauty of language itself.

"[Falkner]combines formal discipline with an opulent and direct sense of th present, thus preparing the ground, as one of the first of his generation, for a poetry alive with richness and sensuality as well as melancholy and pain, as it then began to gaine acceptance form the middle of the 1980s". How does lyric sensuality blend with modernist restraint in your poems? What role does language play in your multi-faceted work?

In order to succeed in this attempt I follow several layers of different languages, coming quite close to the German romantic theories by Friedrich Schlegel expressed in the famous "Athenäum fragments", where he demands to accept, next to the poetic language, the language of the sciences, or philosophy, or any kinds of contemporary discourses.

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"...forgotten will our poems / be, – what will stay only / the headache / of those who did not keep them". How is the enstrangement of the poet, the disappearance of the writer in the background of the text and of history dealt with in your writings?

The assertion or thesis of the disappearance of the author has always annoyed me. I cannot confirm it.

You have been trying out novel ways of presenting your work and your collaboration with artists, filmmakers, graphic and sound designers seem to reflect your curiosity towards new shapes and dimensions of poetry. Is the combination of phonetics, dramaturgy and narrative a way to bridge the gap between the writer and the reader?

Yes, it has been quite important for me to work with visual artists, filmmakers, soundperformers etc. It is not only a bridge to the young readers but also a big inspiration in itself.

You have argued that "in systems like Facebook, there is a tightening of language, contrasting poetry,” and “people are in permanent standby positions.” How has modern forms of communication transformed the way that literature, and art in general, is both performed and perceived?

The social networks are part of the infantilisation of the world. The worst part is the reduction of complexity. This is the reason why my poetry embraces complexity as part of the beauty.

What is the relation of poetry to the world it inhabits? Could poetry, and art in general, offer new ways to imagine what could be radically different realities?

Poetry, as an attitude, can have an enormous power. We have in Germany a new message: "Poetisiert euch!!" "poetize yourselves!" and art itself could of course generate new images and radical changing realities, it has so often proved that!!

Konstantinos Kosmas IntroKonstantinos Kosmas was born in 1971 in Athens. He studied Greek Philology at the University of Athens and Comperative Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he received his Ph.D. on Modern Greek Literature in 2002. He worked at the Hellenic Foundation for Culture in Berlin for a number of years and taught Modern Greek literature and translation at the Freie Universität Berlin. He has also translated from German novels by Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Christoph Hein, Daniel Kehlmann και Herta Müller, among others. He lives in Berlin and works at the Freie Universität Berlin as a coordinator of the Center for Modern Greece (Centrum Modernes Griechenland, CeMoG) and project manager of the Edition Romiosini publishing program.

Konstantinos Kosmas spoke to Reading Greece* about the goals and activities of the Center for Modern Greece and more specifically the Edition Romiosini publishing program, noting that "we are mainly working on the basis of cooperations and synergies with other German and Greek cultural and scientific institutions, laying emphasis on networking and information exchange", with the aim, among others, "to create organic infrastructures".

Asked about whether culture constitutes the most effective way of communication and understanding among European countries, he comments that "this is the role cultural exchanges pursued by university institutions and implemented by literary translations are called to play; that is to serve as travel agents that foster communication and cultural exchange as the necessary prerequisites to avoid crises and bridge misunderstandings". He concludes that "the essence of a cultural policy lies in the funding of literature, arts etc., and the necessary financial support that enables the export of the cultural product", and adds that "the role of every new 'generation' of writers is to move beyond the horizon of expectation set by the previous ones and to delineate their own".

Can you offer us an insight into the Center for Modern Greece goals and activities, and more specifically the Edition Romiosini publishing program?

The Center for Modern Greece (Centrum Modernes Griechenland/ CeMoG) has diverse goals: it aims of course to promote the Modern Greek culture to the German audience. Yet we are mainly working on the basis of cooperations and synergies with other German and Greek cultural and scientific institutions, laying emphasis on networking and information exchange. And this is done for a number of reasons, such as our aim to create organic infrastructures. This bridging of knowledge is our primary goal and herein lies the essence of both the Compendium on German-Greek Entanglements, which will constitute a multi-faceted and extensive work of reference, as well as the Edition Romiosini digital library, a publishing program which offers open access for reading and research. The about seventy scholarly, literary and scientific editions that our program comprises constitute a well-documented database on modern Greece.

How easily understandable would you say is Greek culture to a German-speaking audience. What is it that German publishers ask from Greek literature? And, in turn, what do German readers opt for?

Whether the various aspects of a culture become familiar or not depends on the choices you make and the way you present them. In case you opt for folkfore with a pint of exoticism, you may satisfy the needs of a specific audience who asks for prefabricated differences, so as to put the world in specific molds. Yet, when you choose to offer the adventures of the illegal immigrant Andreas Kordopatis in the USA through the writing of Thanassis Valtinos or Achilles' Fiancee, Eleni, through the work of Alki Zei, then Greek migration or the Greek civil war, which are so prone to stereotyping, become situations you can identify with, making Greek history much more familiar and accessible for an non-Greek audience, which is not familiar with Greek history. The same goes for the lifes of those that survived the Holocaust by Rika Benveniste or the Greek political history afther the dictatorship by Yiannis Voulgaris, and not through sketchy, often ill-intentioned, texts. After all, this is what the average reader asks for: not the extravaganza of exoticism and folklore but the acquaintance with a culture which is very close to the German.

Most scholars reckon that the content of a book cannot be separated from the particularities of the language that gave it shape. In this context, where does the role and responsibility of the translator lie? How challenging has it been for you to translate works by Daniel Kehlmann and Hans Enzensberger?

Once again it depends on the translator, who does nothing different from the work implemented by our publishing program or the Center for Modern Greece: to trasfer a cultural product from one geographical/linguistic area to the other in a way that embraces diversity and at the same time does not fake exoticism or foreignness. When, for instance, Kehlmann writes about the Thirty Years' War in German, the translator should of course try to use the Greek that best convey this rather doric German expression, the underlying humor and the diversity of the historical moment. Yet, if the tranlator is unable to convince that the war that took place in northern and central Europe directly relates as a historical event to the Greek reader in that it could easily have taken place in southern Europe as well triggering the same feelings, without reproducing ethnocentric stereotypes of cultural and historical exclusivity, if, in other words, the translator cannot place the work outside the particularities of the linguistic and cultural environment that gave it shape, then he has certainly failed.

LibraryPhilologische Bibliothek (c) Freie Universität Berlin, David Ausserhofer

Would you say that, in times of crisis, culture constitutes the most effective way of communication and understanding among European countries, and especially between the countries of the South and the countries of the North?

It's not just in times of crisis. Τhe current so-called "easyjet generation" constitutes, in my opinion, save the environmental burden and the tampering with the cities' character and the geographical distribution of their citizens due to the massive influx of tourists, together of course with the "Erasmus generation", the best European investment: travellers and visitors of other universities get acquainted with the civilization of other countries and thus facilitate mutual understanding and communication among the countries of Europe. That's the role cultural exchanges pursued by university institutions and implemented by literary translations are called to play; that is to serve as travel agents that foster communication and cultural exchange as the necessary prerequisites to avoid crises and bridge misunderstandings. It's better to talk with the Other, rather than about the Other and that's exactly the purpose that scientific and cultural exchanges serve.

To use Michaela Prinzinger's words, “what actually continues to restrict Greek literature, despite efforts to become known in Europe and the world, is the legacy of the “Zorbas syndrome”; that folkloristic image continues to exert influence”. How can modern Greek literature be perceived as good literature, without the need for teasers, such as pictures, motifs and folklore arguments?

Let's put it differenty: Without a teaser, a message could be imperceptible. Annoying though it may sound, the stereotype of Zorbas or that of "ancient Greece", whatever the term comprises, constitutes a brand that makes a product recognizable - name a merchant who wouldn't want to have such an asset at his disposal. After all, a stereotype is not a lie but rather part of the various elements that make up an individual or collective subject, and certainly not an exclusivity. In other words, the bet is not to delist Zorbas, but to complement it. Let's have a look at what Amazon does: well, since you are interested in Zorbas and Acropolis (and you have every reason to do so), then you may also well be interested in the Greek poetry of the 21th century collected by Maria Topali, the Jewish Thessaloniki as depicted by Rena Molho or Greece in relation to the state socialism of Eastern Germany, as presented in our two-day conference and recorded in the volume with the conference's papers!

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It has been argued that Greek writers who live in Greece play no role in the so-called “world republic of letters”, noting that no Greek author or trend is included in textbooks and surveys of, say, Romanticism or the Avant-Garde, feminism or post colonialism, the ballad or the short story. Yet a promising development is that in recent years Greek poets and novelists have been circulating all over the world. Is there a way for the challenges of integrating Greek literature in the international field to be met?

If we exclude post colonialism from the list, I would agree with this argument: indeed the western European canon does not include Greek writers (but the same goes for Czech Republic, Albania, Bulgaria or Tunisia), that is regional linguistic environments outside the canon of Anglo-Saxon and Roman languages; and this selection does not always have to do with quality. Yet, we are also witnessing a trend towards decentralization, outside commercial constraints, an increased interest in what goes on in the periphery; and we owe this to post-colonial word, which, together with the facilitation of information transfer and exchange, have rekindled the interest for Greek writers and scholars. This interest should of course be further strengthened by Greece: The essence of a cultural policy lies in the funding of literature, arts etc., and the necessary financial support that enables the export of the cultural product!

What about the potential and prospects of the new generation of Greek writers? Would it be possible for them to debunk stereotypes and create a new narrative about Greece?

I reckon that herein lies the role of every new "generation"of writers, that is to move beyond the horizon of expectation set by the previous ones and to delineate their own. Violence, either as a nightmare or harsh reality, amorality, crime, the often frantic search for collectivities, save that of family that is identified with failure, and an overall gloomy mood, constitute common traits in the last ten to fifteen years. Yet, trying to tersely define the new narrative about Greece as depicted in the writings of new authors entails the risk of oversimplification and may be unfair for certain writers and literary movements.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Read also: Reading Greece: Michaela Prinzinger on German-Greek Encounters; Reading Greece: Thanasis Valtinos, a Highlander at the Academy of AthensReading Greece: Maria Topali on Poetry as a Means to Imagine Radically Different Realities; Rethinking Greece: Miltos Pechlivanos on Gree-German cultural exchanges and the need to re-conceptualize Modern Greece; Rethinking Greece: Henriette-Rika Benveniste on the history of Greek Jewish communities and the rise of the extreme right in Europe

Despotiko1Despotiko, a small island in the Cyclades, has drawn the attention of archaeology enthusiasts in recent years, after excavations uncovered a religious site of major significance, dating from the Archaic Period. The site encompasses a large temple dedicated to the Greek god Apollo along with other ceremonial buildings, and is now considered to have been of equal, if not greater, importance to the famous sanctuary of Delos. The excavation project is headed by Yannos Kourayos, a Greek archaeologist with vast experience and rich knowledge of the area.

Yannos Kourayos obtained his first degree in archaeology from the University of Florence in 1976, and a second degree in maintenance of antiquities from the Academy "Lo Sprone" in 1982. Partaking, whilst still a student, in numerous excavations in Italy and Cyclades, he now has thirty-two years of work experience on the island of Paros alone. He has been an archaeologist for the islands of Paros and Despotiko at the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades from 1986 until now. From 2006 to 2010 he worked at the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in Voula and Vouliagmeni and he also holds the position of curator at the Archaeological Museum of Paros. He has also published four books on archaeology, among which is Paros - Antiparos - Despotiko, from Prehistory to Modern Times.

Kourayos began his excavation at Despotiko in the summer of 1997 but before him, the first exploration was led by archaeologist Christos Tsountas in the 19th century and another one was conducted by Nikos Zafeiropoulosin 1959. Kourayos discovered in 1997 an extensive archaic shrine devoted to Apollo, thitherto unknown from any written ancient source until then. These excavations in Mandra (Despotiko) have brought to light a vast religious complex devoted to Apollo which was completed in the Late Archaic Period. Religious activities are believed to have been taking place at the same site since the Geometric Period.

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Despotiko is one of the three islets situated west of the island of Antiparos and is mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Strabo as Prepesinthos. It is in fact situated almost exactly at the centre of the Cyclades. The only way to visit the islet is by boat from Agios Georgios in Antiparos and it sits at just 700m off the coast, which makes it perfect for a quick visit during your stay in Cyclades. This islet has been uninhabited since ancient times, but current excavations indicate that there was possibly an isthmus that may have linked Despotiko and the other two islets with Antiparos until at least the Hellenistic period.

In the Archaic period, the people of Paros built a sanctuary in Despotiko devoted to the cult of Apollo, as well as his sister Artemis and the goddess Hestia. The reason behind the choice of this specific location for the religious complex probably lied in the effort to establish their dominance in the Aegean, especially as part of their rivalry with the island of Naxos. In the Classical period, the Athenian Miltiades, under the pretext that the people of Paros had supported the Persians during the Persian invasion of Greece, led an unsuccessful Athenian campaign against the island of Paros (which also encompassed Antiparos and Despotiko) which had been conquered by the Persians. The islet was also partially burnt down by French pirates in the17th century.

According to the archaeologists working on the site, the islet of Despotiko will be gradually turned into an open-air museum, as is the case with Delos, and it will become accessible to the public. Greek News Agenda interviewed* the head of the excavation, Yannos Kourayos, on the importance of the site as well as the challenges posed by this demanding task.

Despotiko3You seem to have a connection with the islands of Paros and Antiparos for over thirty years now; how did this start? What was it that first made you say "I want to start from there"?

I started 33 years ago when I had just finished my military service and was working at my brother’s jewelry store when a friend informed me I could apply for an archeologist’s position funded by the European Union. This is how it began and I remained with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades, where I have worked very hard, on several different islands such as Naxos, Delos, Paros, Ikaria, Rineia and elsewhere, both on excavations and at local museums. On account of tourist growth, we carried out several excavations on the island of Paros during the 1990’s that were of course very productive.

Do you consider the excavations in Despotiko to be your life’s work? (If yes then) How do you connect personally with it? Surely anyone who has worked on a project for more than twenty years would feel attached to it.

The Despotiko project is certainly my life’s passion and purpose, as it would be for any conscientious archaeologist. An archaeologist must excavate, protect as wells as shape an archaeological site. Despotiko has of course rewarded me with new edifices being discovered every year, but the most important task is the restoration of the temple of Apollo and the ceremonial hestiatoreion.   

You’ve discovered a ceremonial hestiatoreion (banqueting hall), which is placed next to the Apollo Sanctuary and is considered to be three thousand years old. Did you expect to make this kind of discoveries when you first started on this journey? Do these findings affect our perception of the site’s history? And in what ways?

Obviously, the discovery of this temple has altered our perception of Cyclades’ archaeological landscape, due to its sheer size and multiple innovative elements, such as the ceremonial hestiatoreion, the semicircular shrine on front of the temple, the various auxiliary buildings and the bath that was used for purification.

Recently, after the latest archaeological discoveries, Despotiko’s historical importance has been weighed against that of Delos. Is there any point in such comparisons? What are the main differences between the two sites?

We now know that this is a temple of the Archaic Period larger than the one in Archaic Delos. Delos was under the influence of Naxos and later Athens, although there also offerings - i.e., sculptures - from Paros. Although we have discovered many offerings, meaning sculptures, from Paros. After all, what we now see in Delos is a Hellenistic and Roman town; so in the Archaic times Despotiko’s temple must have been more important and probably attracted more worshippers from the surrounding islands and Asia Minor, compared to the one on Delos.

Despotiko4You’ve mentioned before that in order to continue the excavation you are in need of financing. How do you usually gather the funds? Are there private sponsors and, if yes, are they predominantly foreign or Greek citizens? Do tourists who visit the sanctuary offer exposure, therefore attracting potential investors?

Most sponsors are Greek; there are some foreigners too, but not tourists. We do receive funding from several institutions, including the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation, the non-profit cultural organisation Aegeas, the Paul & Alexandra Canellopoulos Foundation, Alpha Bank and others.

How difficult was it to attract sponsors for this restoration, taking into consideration the multitude of important archaeological sites that are also in need of restoration?

Not that difficult really, as people who contribute financially have realised that this is something that needs to be done to restore an important archaeological site, as well as something that will increase the already existing benefits to the local population.

What about the Despotiko field school? Is it addressed exclusively to students from the USA?

No, the field school is not exclusively addressed to students from the USA. We have students from all over the world, including Brazil, Argentina and European countries. Also, the non-profit educational institution CYA - College Year in Athens brings a lot of American students to Despotiko.

You have ensured the inclusion in your team of the best marble crafters (same of which have also worked at the Acropolis) for the restoration of the site. Do you feel that the restoration of Despotiko is your biggest bet right now?

I believe that this is an extremely complex restoration process with many difficulties, including challenges posed by the fact that it is an uninhabited island with no transportation services etc, which make it a truly colossal task.

*Interview by Markella Chatzilamprou

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Antony Gormley installation on the island of Delos; Professor Michael Scott: By studying the ancient Greeks we learn more about ourselves; Four shipwrecks to become underwater museums; Discover Cape Sounion

Vasiliki Petsa was born in 1983. She studied Media Culture and Society at the University of Birmingham and European Literature at the University of Oxford, UK. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Peloponnese. She has published a novella Thymamai (I Remember, 2011), two collections of short stories Ola ta chamena (All Things Lost, 2012) and Mono to arni (Only the Lamb, 2015), a novel To dentro tis ipakois (Tree of obedience, 2018) and a study based on her Ph.D. thesis Otan grafei to molyvi (Political Violence and Memory in Greek and Italian Literatures, 2016), all from POLIS Publishers.

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Vasiliki Petsa spoke to Reading Greece* about her latest novel Tree of Obedience noting that among its themes and motifs are "the relentless pursuit of utopia, the tenacity of religious faith, the resistance to change, the fear and the lure of the unknown". She explains that "it's primarily by instinct" that she approaches writing, in the sense of "the reserve stock of knowledge or the acquired taste, configured through ardous consumption of several literary and other cultural texts", and adds that "creativeness concerns not only the process of writing, but also of reading".

She comments that the "professionalization of literature certainly entails unequivocal benefits for the author, but it would also incur serious risks" given that one would have to "handle both the iron laws of the (capitalist) market or the personal and financial cost of artistic failure". She concludes that "global interconnectedness has been intensified in the last few decades", and that "whether this will lead to greater cultural diversity or to defensive introversion is the million-dollar question - not just in terms of literary production".

Your latest writing venture Τree of Obedience received quite favorable reviews upon publication. Tell us a few things about the book.

I would have to state, first of all, that for the Tree of Obedience to be crystallized into an adequately coherent and yet curiously disconnected composite and intricately meaningful structure in my mind, at least one year was required, to the effect that it would be nearly impossible for me to provide an all-inclusive summary of the plot – in the opposite case, it would also mean that I have failed in my venture of inconclusive answers and parallel strings. Themes and motifs is, fortunately, all I could provide: the relentless pursuit of utopia, the tenacity of religious faith, the resistance to change, the fear and the lure of the unknown. The latter also applies to the authorial circumstance, having had to tackle the exigencies of a novel and abandon the safety of the short stories, to which I was previously accustomed.

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When you write, you have to define your own distinct writing style […] The structure should of course be solid and functional, but it should also be beautiful”. What role does language play in your writings?

Without being able to define the particularities of literary discourse −several criteria have, of course, been set throughout the years, but they pertain to the critical and analytical functions, i.e., they are applied, not without being contested, to the end-product of writing−, I would maintain that it is primarily by instinct that I approach writing; in other words, this is how I chose my words. With the term ‘ instinct’, mind you, I don’t purpose to invoke any kind of metaphysical talent, no – rather, I refer to the reserve stock of knowledge or to the acquired taste, configured through arduous consumption of several literary and other cultural texts, as well as everyday language, which is automatically activated when one puts oneself down to writing, while also keeping in mind the specificities of the

Giorgos Perantonakis argues that “in recent years, many Greek novels, following a similar trend in Europe and the USA, are modular, fragmented and multi-dimensional” and that it’s up to the reader “to follow and connect all those incongruous elements”. Would you like to comment?

I would be at least hesitant to comment on this particular argument, as, by doing so, I would need to imply that I am thoroughly familiar with the totality of Greek, British and US literary productions (which I am certainly not). If such authorial strategy can indeed be identified as a visible trend, I would be more than honored to be included in it, whether intentionally or not. It would mean that, irrespective of how we approach literature itself, authors address readers as (almost) equals, patronizing them as little as possible and acknowledging that creativeness concerns not only the process of writing, but also of reading.

It has been noted that Greek writers have a preference for short form and that short story collections have outweighed novels and longer narratives. How would you comment on this?

Again, one would need to be aware of specific figures pertaining to the Greek publishing industry if they were not to reiterate conventional wisdom and half-baked truth. The question whether major novels can be written in Greece, given all sorts of different historical, social and cultural factors, leaves me rather unconvinced, both in principle and in practice, as in my all-time favorite novels’ list figure prominently many Greek ones. However, leaving personal taste aside, I have the impression – and this is just an impression – that short stories are more convenient −although not at all easier− to write if you cannot make a living out of writing literature, which, sadly or not, is the case for the majority of Greek writers, which also leads us on to your next question.

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For the majority of Greek writers, writing is not a main profession but rather a leisure time activity. Would you agree that in a country stricken by the crisis, earning a living through writing is the exception rather than the rule? Could things be otherwise?

It certainly is and if I am not terribly mistaken it has always been so, crisis or not (we cannot blame everything on the crisis, as if it were some kind of Boogeyman, whose sudden appearance overturned blissful normality). In my previous answer, I added the phrase “sadly or not”: the professionalization of literature (and by this I do not intend to imply that writing literature “as a leisure time activity” means that it is taken lightly by default) certainly entails unequivocal benefits for the author, but it would also incur serious risks: I, for one, could not, and would not be willing to, handle both the iron laws of the (capitalist) market or the personal and financial cost of artistic failure. 

It has been argued that the new generation of Greek writers is multicultural, multiethnic and multigenerational. How do they relate to world literature? How does the local/national interweave with the global?

In a sense, Greek literature has always been, to varying degrees, multicultural, multiethnic and multigenerational, either we focus strictly on the literary field, and take into account translations and first-hand language access to original works, or if we refer to the socio-cultural context within which Greek literature had been produced. It certainly is the case, though, that global interconnectedness has been intensified in the last few decades: whether this will lead to greater cultural diversity or to defensive introversion is the million-dollar question – not just in terms of literary production.

* Interview by Athina Rossoglou

lafi edThere is no deus ex machina for the characters in Maria Lafi’s film “Holy Boom”. In fact there is no God at all in this dark drama where multiple storylines interweave to bear witness to the eternal race between human cruelty and kindness as the protagonists fight to survive during orthodox Easter. The lives of four strangers, who live in the same neighborhood in the currently downgraded area of Patisia, change dramatically when, on Palm Sunday, the neighborhood’s postbox is blasted just for laughs by Filipino teenager Ige. Documents of vital importance to all of them have been destroyed: Lena and Manou’s LSD stickers, a letter to Thalia from her abandoned child and Adia’s birth certificate. The consequences are relentless: Lena and Manou are chased by the drug dealer who wants his money back. Adia, an illegal immigrant, is now alone with her newborn child, forbidden to even identify the corpse of her husband, who has just died in a car accident. Ige tries in vain to be accepted by the local community and Thalia, who is watching everyone in the neighborhood, has lost her only chance of finding happiness.

Writer and director Maria Lafi was born in Athens, Greece. She studied Photography and Audiovisual Arts at Technological Educational Institute of Athens, Film Direction at Hellenic Cinema and Television School of STAVRAKOS in Athens and holds a MA in Video Production, Audiovisual Media and Motion Graphics at West Attica University. She has worked in film, theatre and TV. She has directed four short films: “For Eternity” (2014, Special Mention in 37th Drama Short Film Festival, Greece), “Circo de la Vida” (2006, Special Mention in Las Palmas Short Film Festival 2007, Spain), “Lou & Lena” (2003, Platinum Remi in the 37th WorldFest-Houston U.S.A.), “Love to Meat You” (2001, Silver Remi in the 35th WorldFest-Houston U.S.A.). “Holy Boom” (2018), her first feature film is touring International Film Festivals winning awards, such as Best Director Award & Special Mention for Acting to Luli Bitri at 4th Calella Film Festival in Spain (June 2019) and Best Balkan Film at Tirana International Film Festival (TIFF) in Albania (November 2018).

Maria Lafi talks to Greek News Agenda* about how she combined the "Holy Boom" photography and soundtrack to underline the protagonists’ strive for survival, character building inspired by real life incidents and the perils of finding co production from Greece, Albania and Cyprus.

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Samuel Akinola, "Holy Boom" (2018)

While Greece has been at the center of the storm because of the refugee crisis, you return to the issue of economic immigrants’ integration in Greek society. Do you feel the situation in Greece is as gloomy as in your film?

There have been economic immigrants in Greece since the 60’s, but Greeks also immigrated from time to time. People move around the world in search of a better life, this is a game that is not always won and there are collateral damages in everyone’s plan. The thing is that I live in the same neighborhood the film was shot. I can understand these characters; I see them, hear them. They somehow chose to immigrate or their parents did and they ended up in this city. There are second generation kids born in Greece that don’t have an identity card or other documents and that have also lost their cultural identity since it’s too difficult to keep their own customs and language. The situation is not gloomy only for immigrants. I feel that soon half of the planet, probably we too, will have to move away, because of the climate change.    

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Spyros Balesteros and Iphigeneia Tzola, "Holy Boom" (2018)

In “Holy Boom” your characters are experiencing an Easter with no Resurrection. There is a strong feeling of tragic irony enhanced by music and photography. Would you elaborate?

I always wanted to make a film about Easter time. I consider this period as a childhood memory that stayed with me. The truth is that religion is not my cup of tea but I find the visualization of these customs attractive. The story takes place during Holy Week and this gives me the opportunity to make a comment of how hypocritical religion and religious people can be. On the other hand, Easter somehow marks the new life the spring gives birth to.

The idea about the soundtrack came up from the very beginning. Writing the first scenes of the screenplay I was thinking: what if we used an adaptation of Easter hymns? I consider rock music as war music and I liked the idea of a warlike adaptation of a Christian hymn! The film characters are in the middle of their own war for survival, so this kind of music can underline their goals and needs. Our composer, Lakis Halkiopoulos, is very open minded and immediately understood what I was looking for. I wanted the film photography in the same direction: Dirty, dark and always unsteady as our heroes’ war and world. I was lucky because we were on the same page with my collaborators on the visualization of this film.

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Maria Lafi on "Holy Boom" set with DoP Ilias Adamis GSC

In your film you create a psychological space for the viewers to inhabit, letting them feel the characters’ distress. What were the means you used to that end?

The realistic photography of the film makes the audience feel the danger. The stories are based on true facts that I used to build my story, starting from a teenage boy from Afghanistan who got blasted from a stray bomb he accidentally found in a garbage bin, looking for food, (this incident took place on Palm Sunday of 2010), to mothers who have no one to look after their kids while they are at work and end up giving them sleeping pills or whatever… These are true stories. No matter how extreme they may sound, since they’ve happened in real life, they have the power to be on the big screen.

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Anastasia Rafaela Konidi, "Holy Boom" (2018)

How did you work on building realistic film characters?

By observing people. As I said, I live in this multi-cultural area the film takes place. I always wonder how my neighbors make ends meet. I suppose I’m a little bit like Thalia, I see and hear people without talking about them. And I’m always making up stories for everyone… It’s a kind of a mind game for me.

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Nena Menti, Samuel Akinola and Anastasia Rafaela Konidi, "Holy Boom" (2018)

Is the film story related to the controversies of life in Greece or could it take place anywhere else?

I think that such stories happen all over the world. Greece is not the only country hosting immigrants. If you remove Easter from the story, which is a subplot anyway, you can find similarities with a lot of Western countries. The fact that people from all over the world that I meet in the festivals tell me that they see similar situations in their own countries, shows that this story is global and the problems of the people are the same, no matter where they’re coming from or where they’re heading.

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Luli Bitri, Vaso Kavalieratou, "Holy Boom" (2018)

“Holy Bloom” was your first feature. Could you tell us about its coproduction adventure?

From the beginning we had in our mind that this is a film that could find a coproduction in several countries. The film characters offered certain flexibility in the sense that we could choose their origin. We had discussed about it with the producer, Lillete Botassi from the very beginning. We were also lucky because co producers Bujar Alimani and Tefta Bejko liked the script and we also knew each other, since Bujar and I have met in festivals in which we participated with our short films. Also Christina Georgiou from Cyprus took a liking to the project from the very beginning. We’ve met in some Script Workshop, working on different projects. That time I was working on “Holy Boom” screenplay and Christina almost immediately said that she wanted to be part of this production. I know that it may sound easy, but, believe me, it’s not. In order to manage to have such kind of coproduction you must fill dozens of papers and bureaucracy is enormous. Also for small countries like Greece, where the money you can find is not enough, getting in some kind of coproduction, is a solution.

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Maria Lafi on "Holy Boom" set with actress Luli Bitri

What are your next plans?

I’m writing a new script with Christina Georgiou. We hope that somehow this new story will become a film. It’s a difficult and peculiar story too. But still, if you don’t have an interesting story, what is the purpose of getting in this huge adventure of making a film after all?

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

 Read also: Chicago Reader Film Review

Aristea Papalexandrou was born in Hamburg in 1970. She has published five books of poetry: Dio onira prin (Two Dreams Ago, 2000), Allote allou (Once, Elsewhere, 2004), Odika ptina (Songbirds, 2008), Ypogeios (Underground, 2012), Mas propserna (It's Overtaking Us, 2015). She has studied music and Medieval and Modern Greek Literature. She works as an editor. For her last book, It’s Overtaking Us, she was honored by the Academy of Athens, in December 2017.

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Aristea Papalexandrou spoke to Reading Greece* about what has changed and what has remained the same since her first poetry collection in 2000, noting that she has, "during all those years, continued to write what is basically a single poem", adding that her poetry will continue to be "in a state of prolonged 'suspension'", just as her life is. As for the role language plays in her poetry, she explains that "during the writing process there are elusive incidents and inexplicable coincidences and that in the end there is no formula for the creative act of poetry".

Asked about the extraordinary burgeoning of poetry in recent years, she comments that "there has been an intense need for expression in all ages and periods. What's happening now is more than likely a reaction to the difficult times we live in". She concludes that "every period has its difficulties which can in a variety of ways produce a vital and even ground-breaking new poetic generation", noting that "we all remain bewildered by the mystery of art".

From Two Dreams Ago in 2000 to It’s Overtaking Us in 2015. what has changed and what has remained the same in your poetry? Are there recurrent points of reference in your writings?

I would say that I have, during all those years, continued to write what is basically a single poem. But while writing it I am myself changing…as we are all obliged to change…so there is no way that I can escape making changes to that poem…writing it is an evolving act all its own. Naturally enough, no one wants to end up copying himself… so in the final analysis, and with the passage of time, there is an ongoing narration incorporating the many views woven into the work… still incomplete and as such reach new tentative conclusions each time the “site” is revisited. Speaking for myself, the only thing I can say with any certainty is that my poetry will continue to be in a state of prolonged…”suspension”…just as my life is, and will remain, in a similar state…

In her review of your latest poetry collection, Maria Stasinopoulou comments on your elaborate poetic language. What purpose does language serve in your poetry?

If the Maria Stasinopoulou's observation was not specifically concerned with my poetic language, I would maintain that it is ground-breaking critique, combining as it does instruction and intuition. However as her observation is directly related to me, I must admit I feel somewhat confused and must confess that though I feel honored by her opinion, I also feel I am deluding myself. All that I can say with any certainty, regarding my language, is that everything I write starts in my maternal language. (Unfortunately Beckett’s masterpieces in two languages are unique and there seems to be no other. And even my answer here has been translated by an American (and naturalized Greek) Philip Ramp who also did the English translation of It’s Overtaking Us which will soon appear from Fomite Press in Vermont USA).

So just how does language specifically contribute to my poetry…I won’t try to be ingenious by saying my poetry is an art that presupposes one knows not only how to write but knows even better how to erase. I would say that during the writing process there are elusive incidents and inexplicable coincidences and that in the end there is no formula for the creative act of poetry…or if there is such a formula or even formulas…I for one have remained ignorant of them. The only sure thing I know is that what even the best writers do not necessarily make a great poem every time. In a word it needs to be put in a… DRAWER. As Borges has so aptly put it: The meaning of any definitive text has to do in the end depend solely on religion or fatigue…

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“Papalexandrou’s poetry doesn’t want to just be flattering, but rather to put us in front of a big mirror, leaving no way out of reality”. What then is the relationship of poetry to the world it inhabits?

Your question brings to mind the tumultuous and inspired Operetta by Gombrowicz which I saw staged at the Greek National Theater: The corsets of existence are tight…I would just like to add that indeed they get even tighter when we are speaking of a creator who has to work to live and tighter yet when we are speaking of the Greek crisis… and even tighter still when our work…and no matter what we write, when it frequently depends on the criticism of others who know as much about poetry as I do about astrophysics... And so it goes...and goes…and goes…till we drown in it…Or, perhaps, leads us on to other poems which for some reason we never know in going their way find themselves on ours as well…

In recent years there has been an extraordinary burgeoning of poetry in every form: graffiti, blogs, literary magazines, readings in public squares…just to mention a few, How is this strong public awareness to be explained?

There has been an intense need for expression in all ages and periods. What’s happening now is more than likely a reaction to the difficult times we live in. Everyone has a right to express himself. How would he not! But that does not automatically make him a poet. All I’m trying to say is that this turning outward does not of necessity mean that poetry is doing well, because not all those taking part in such manifestations does not mean of and in itself that poetry is doing well…nor does it mean that the participants are good poets or even poets at all for that matter. I think that every poet, if he is really a poet, has something special about him. Poetry, just as all the other forms of artistic creation. is first and foremost a manner of expressing.

How would you comment on current literary production in Greece? Could poetry offer new ways to imagine what could be radically different realities?

At the very least I think that poetry in Greece was, is and will be always something very good. Down through the generations we have had many fine poets and we can be proud of that. Of course in speaking of the singular ways poetry opens the world for us one could say a great deal. Oh!...the real world! There are times one would like to erase the whole thing. And there are many ways of doing it. One of which is creating another present/past. Another is to “write” it into being, not “erase” it; and by writing it regain all the lost time…and in this way one can open up a superb parallel world in front of one’s eyes…

Could a multi-faceted, socio-economic phenomenon, like the current socio-economic crisis, trigger a poetic “cosmogony” and possibly a “new generation” in poetry? If so, based on which poetic and aesthetic criteria?

Look, every period has its difficulties which can in a variety of ways produce a vital and even ground-breaking new poetic generation. As I have stressed it’s the way in which each presumptive poetic generation makes use of the various dead ends that exist. There are no known formulas for this. We all remain bewildered by the mystery of art… Paraphrasing Hamlet’s lengthy monologue in Act II, Scene II... (and based on the ingenious translation of the work by Giorgos Cheimonas into modern Greek) he says:

“…because art is not for the many

nor Is it for the few…but is always

for one person and him alone…”

 

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Maria Martzoukou was born in Corfu. She studied Ancient Greek and Finnish Philology at the University of Helsinki as well as Modern Greek Philology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Her translations and essays have been published in literary magazines, mainly the Corfiot literary magazine 'Porfyras'. For her translation of the Finnish epic Kalevala she received an honorary distinction by the Hellenic Society of Translators of Literature (1994).

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She also received the 'Order of the White Rose of Finland' by the Finnish state for her contribution to the dissemination of Finnish letters (1996). She is a member of the Finnish Literature Society and the Kalevala Society. In 2011 she was awarded with the Finnish State Translation Award for foreign translators. She has been working at the Finnish Institute of Athens since 1985.

Maria Martzoukou spoke to Reading Greece* about what drove her to the Finnish language and the translation of Finnish literature, as well as on the main challenges she was faced with while translating Kalevala, one of the major epic works of Finnish literature, noting that her intention was “to lay emphasis on its poetic dimension so as to bring forward the common myths that unite peoples around the world”.

She also comments on the peculiarities of translating literature from Finnish to Greek, explaining that given that “Finnish is a concise language”, “attention should be paid to avoid unnecessary rambling”. She concludes that “literature constitutes an anatomy into the body of language”, adding that “the question is whether foreign readers actually want to realize that in Greece there aren’t just Zorbas”. “While I was in Finland and I had the chance to teach the Greek language, I tried to make them understand that the Greeks are a people which strives to survive, just as the other peoples, and that the sun and the sea don’t constitute the ultimate good”.

What drove you to the Finnish language and more specifically to the translation of Finnish literature?

Everything happened by chance. While I was studying in Finland, I attended a Finnish language and culture curriculum, which also included literature courses. Trying to make sense of some texts, I translated them in Greek. It never crossed my mind that these translations were of some literary value. At some point, I showed them to a friend of mine, who, in turn, showed them to a member of the editorial board of the literary magazine “Porfyras”, the late poet Dimitris Sourvinos. “Porfyras” played a major role not only in my career as a translator but in my personal life as well.

You have translated Kalevala, one of the major epic works of Finnish literature, in Greek. Which were the main challenges you were faced with?

I have translated part of the epic, that is 20 out of the 50 songs. I am waiting till my retirement to continue! I hope Ι’ll make it in time! Kalevala is based on the oral folklore collected by Elias Lönnrot. It is a poem and should be translated as such. Yet, in which meter? The trochaic tetrameter, as in the original? Or better yet a meter the Greek reader is more familiar with?

My intention was not to deal with the saga as if it were a museum token or an archival material, but to lay emphasis on its poetic dimension so as to bring forward the common myths that unite peoples around the world. That’s why I opted for the iambic fifteen-syllable verse, which we use in our demotic poetry. This working hypothesis is not unique. Several other translators have opted not for the trochaic tetrameter of the original but for their own folklore poetry’s meter in order to translate Kalevala in their language. If translation is not just, as we believe, a bare act of imitation but rather a free and equal conciliation between two languages or texts, then such ‘arbitrary’ choices are perfectly justified.

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Most scholars reckon that the content of a book cannot be separated from the particularities of the language that gave it shape. In this context, what are the peculiarities of translating literature from Finnish to Greek?

The translator is called to find out the suitable matches to the particularities of his/her own language. Finnish is a concise language, full of impersonal passives and participles, it has no articles nor prepositions – which are expressed through cases. Attention should thus be paid to avoid unnecessary rambling.

Ιt has been argued that when translating from a so-called “minor” language or literature, translators do sometimes hold remarkable power, including the power to produce what will in many cases become the only interpretation of a work of literature available in a given language. In this context, where does the role and responsibility of the translator lie?

Translators of minor languages constitute the ambassadors of literature and thus they bear enormous responsibility.

Within the framework of “The Nordic Narrative in Athens”, there took place an exhibition titled “Greece through the eyes of the travelers from the North” (19.2-31.5.2019). Tell us a few things about this initiative.

In 2006 there was published in Finland a book titled Kadonnut Kreikka - suomalaisten matkakuvauksia ennen massaturismia [The lost Greece. Travelling impressions of Finns prior to massive tourism] edited by Björn Forsén και Erkki Sironen. This book was quite enlightening for me so I started to delve into Finnish travellers, who are in fact quite numerous.

In Greece, there preceded the publication of a book in Greek, which we prepared together with Vassilis Letsios, assistant professor at the Ionian Univesity, titled Ένα καράβι αχνοφαίνεται στον ορίζοντα. Ο Φινλανδός περιηγητής Όσκαρ Έμιλ Τουντέερ στην Ελλάδα και το Χισαρλίκ (1881-1882) by Assini Editions.  So when it was asked  from the Nordic countries to participate in the festivities of “Athens, World Book Capital”, we thought that the theme of travellers perfectly suited the occasion. We also organized an event on the Nordic crime novel, which is very popular in Greece.

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There is undoubtedly a stereotyped perception of Greeks abroad. Could literature be used to shake off these stereotypes and help form a new narrative about the country?

Literature constitutes an anatomy into the body of society and, in this respect, provides the opportunity to make sense of the society it describes. Yet, the question is whether foreign readers actually want to realize that in Greece there aren’t just Zorbas? While I was in Finland and I had the chance to teach the Greek language, I tried to make them understand that the Greeks are a people which strives to survive, just as the other peoples, and that the sun and the sea don’t constitute the ultimate good.

* Interview by Athina Rossoglou