Thursday, December 31, 2009
Recently received: A great New Year’s gift lovingly sent and signed by my old friend and author, John Levy. Half a dozen new prose poems in a three-color foldout from Bob Arnold’s excellent Longhouse. Reminiscent of Michaux at times but without the French writer’s pervading sense of terror, these pieces are Levy at his unpredictable, whimsical best. Highly recommended. Available in both signed ($15) and unsigned editions ($7.95).
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
In the Museum garden
the statues have returned
to the other museum.
--George Seferis, from “Sixteen Haiku”
Four days on a guided tour of Cyprus during the Christmas holiday (courtesy of the Greek Agricultural Pension Fund) were not enough to fully appreciate this beautiful and still tragically divided island, nor am I well-enough informed to know what really happened there so many years ago; still, the sight of a huge crescent and the flag of the illegal Turkish pseudo-state of "Northern Cyprus" provocatively carved on the mountainside overlooking Nicosia and the barricades dividing the city make me wonder if there will ever be a viable solution to the Cyprus problem. For those interested, you can read what the island has gone through here. Sadly, another tragic story that time is slowly but inexorably erasing.
As for the photo of the gigantic (10m!) statue of Archibishop Makarios situated about 500 meters from his grave, it’s a shame that such a beautiful spot high up in the rugged Troodos mountain range should be defaced by such a monument to bad taste. How the plastic chair found its way up here is anybody’s guess but it makes a fitting complement to the kitsch atmosphere pervading the scene.
NB: George Seferis wrote a great number of poems while on his first visit to Cyprus in 1953; published in 1955, they were included in his Collected Poems 1924-1955 as Logbook III.
NBB: Seferis' haiku should look like this:
In the Museum garden
the statues have returned
to the other museum.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
In this instance, my sister-in-law’s long-departed grandmother. Photo taken in the early 70s outside the back entrance to our old house. Judging from the three or four layers of clothes she’s wearing and the fact that she’s huddled in the southwest corner taking in all the sunshine she can get, it must have been a sunny winter's day. Apart from that, this picture also reminds me of how large her hands were and how effortlessly they worked at unraveling the ball of yarn and twisting it onto the spindle until she came upon a knot and had to stop to untangle it. Utterly engrossed in what she was doing, she never realized I was three feet in front of her, never once looked up, never heard the shutter click, never even saw the picture afterwards before her fate called her away.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Recently received from the author: Hassle number 8, featuring David Miller, Hassle Press: 27 Treverbyn Rd, St. Ives, Cornwall TR26 1EZ UK, firstname.lastname@example.org
Poet, editor, art/lit critic, and accomplished clarinetist, see The Mind Shop, this is Series 5, #5 of Miller’s Spiritual Letters. A short biography, plus information about David’s many publications and some succinct appraisals of his highly demanding but always satisfying work can be found here. My thanks to David for sending me this “Spiritual Letter” under the guise of a plain black-and-white pamphlet. Much appreciated!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
sounds each particle in relation to parts of a great story
he knows will never be completed.”
--Robert Duncan, Bending the Bow
The Sung, tangible as
The word sounds.
In this instance, poet,
A small round
Reddish-orange object plucked
From a mandarin’s bough.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
One crow cawing in the luminous
Never so ominous
As one groping in desperation
For the next one waiting
To hand him over
(Thanks to Annie Wyndham, whose blog post here inspired the above.)
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
Tottering from within—
That what will not be
Breached, though treacherous
Enemies have sworn
They will try to
Bring it to rubble whenever
Promise gathers the anointed
Rabble before the gates.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Dear Mr. Zambaras:
ServesUright.com regrets to inform you that your application to register the name Saffilis Zaengmac as your lawful nom de plume cannot be accepted due to the fact that said aforementioned name was duly registered by one Goask Elgart on June 20, 1972.
Saffilis Zaengmac, Jr.
PS. Serves you right for not writing your name in block letters instead of signing off with just your signature, BLOCKHEAD.
Friday, November 27, 2009
the carobs and pines.
Needles. The beckoning stone
hut sunk in whitewash, inside
the heart lines creasing
now, the close lie
of the gulf
for a thousand miles
the hard truth hurting,
(First published in a somewhat different version in Sentences, 1976)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Sunday morning after church, 40 years ago: My mother's brother's coffeehouse in my home village of Remmatia--one refrigerator, one sink, one tiny butane cooker for the preparation of Greek coffee, three small round metal tables, a few wooden chairs, a hard-packed dirt floor, and the village's only telephone.
From left to right: My first cousin on my father's side of the family, my father, the village priest, my uncle, my cousin John on my mother's side--the only person still alive--all captured in a room inundated with incredible, bright late morning light.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
the mountain. No wells, no streams, a taste of cisterns on
the widow's lips who had brought him food--white cheese,
hard gray bread, black olives. She watched him eat and
told him to stay for the cool hours of evening and the
morning that would come alive like the light moving along
her lips now.
(From Sentences, 1976)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
For the past
three years, she's been at it,
nagging as I descend
the steps into the garden, bent
over, bringing the sky with me:
Elias, where's the sun? You forgot
the sun again. You know how
we depend on you.
Hag. How she stumbles
in her garden, blistering her knees
against the rocks, while I sit here,
idle, and think about it:
"You know how we depend on you..."
I should have been an owl in daylight
or a marble face dumb in the night.
It would have been easier then,
(From Sentences, 1976)
NB: Today is the 36th anniversary of the fall of the repressive, brutal and despicable Greek junta which seized power on April 21, 1967; true to form, the US was one of the first countries--perhaps the first--to recognize the dictators.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Two plus two never making four,
He put a rifle up his sinuses—
Nothing made sense anymore.
Recently Linked: My thanks to Elisabeth Hanscombe, who has just signed on as a follower. Elisabeth hails from Victoria, Australia and is a writer and psychologist who can be found writing on her blog , Sixth In Line.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Whoever said that
Writing could change
Conditions of human existence
Should have thought twice
Before writing it.
(Written after learning of Claude Lévi-Strauss' death on
Ron Silliman's blog.)
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Of Ancient Messene
And below the lone village restaurant,
There is a haggard dog chained
To a large, earthenware jar.
His view of this once-rich
City is indeed magnificent, truly
Uplifting to the spirit, but
As he knows it by heart,
He prefers to sit on his haunches
And turn his back on it,
Looking up instead for any sign
Of the bones he prays the gods
Might find it in their hearts
To throw down to him.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Don't throw a fit, egghead
If the hammer doesn’t fit,
Take everything down
And fit it all on the head
Of a roiling pinhead.
(My thanks to Joseph Hutchison for providing the initial impetus here.)
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Tiny Tortoise was found on its back close to death near the formidable walls of Ancient Messene last Sunday afternoon. I had stopped for "nature call" (#1) and while doing so, I spied what looked like a curious-looking, green-and-white checkered pebble to my left. Upon picking it up, I saw that it was a miniscule tortoise that seemed lifeless but I just couldn't tell. Remembering something I had read in one of Kazantzakis' books, I decided to find out. Quickly cupping it in my hands, I started to warm it with my breath; soon its little legs were moving and its head slowly emerging from its shell. I put it in the trunk of the car and took it to Meligalas, where it is now free to roam our spacious, weed-infested garden to eat whatever its little heart desires. Knowing that I might never see Tiny again, I first put him/her next to Silver Knight (all of 10cm tall) and took this picture to remind me how brave this spunky little critter really is.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Marking the spot of a motoring accident, road icons continue to be found in ever-increasing numbers all over the highways and roads of Greece, but most of them at dangerous points where either the driving conditions and/or the recklessness of drivers have been responsible; if the victim is fortunate enough to survive, he/she thanks their lucky stars, i.e. God, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, by promptly planting one at the scene to commemorate the occasion. If the accident is fatal, relatives of the deceased take on the responsibility of the upkeep, also making sure to light the icon’s candle as often as they can. Not very often it seems, as the great majority of these sobering, seemingly inexhaustible little reminders of man’s motoring carelessness during his brief sojourn on Earth are falling apart from neglect—notice the missing fourth leg of this one.
NB: Photograph taken about ten years ago. Sadly, this crippled road icon is no longer standing, having long since fallen by the wayside—a victim of someone’s carelessness or of the passage of time. Sic transit gloria mundi? Of course, but in Greece you can be sure there’s always another one up around the bend.
NBB: I still come across people who ask me why I have never put a road icon up on the Mavrozoumena Bridge!
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Recently received: Hellenic Hits, Volume Two: Classic Greek Love Songs 1920s-1940s, from The Zambaras Family Record Collection (cd included) $20.
If I remember correctly, Eleni and I first met the musician Tom (Diz) Carroll in Tacoma, Washington in the summer of 1993; at that time he had just finished a stint as an elementary school music teacher in the University Place School District and was also an acquaintance of my brother Chris’s wife Kalitsa, who was working as a cook in the school’s cafeteria. He was and still is an avid fan and proponent of traditional music from the Balkans, especially of demotic and rebetika songs from Greece, so when we first met, we had a lot in common to talk about. My brother was the custodian of our family’s collection of vintage 78 rpm records which were stored in the attic of his house; unfortunately, quite a few of these rare discs (recorded in the US circa 1905-1940) never lived long enough to be preserved on celluloid, having been discovered and turned into flying saucers by my nephew in his high-spirited youth. The ones that had survived the blitzkrieg were lovingly recorded on twelve 90-minute tapes by Diz and given to Eleni and me as a present. After returning to Greece, we started a correspondence with Diz and since then, he has tried to visit us every two years—usually around Easter—which is The Time to visit Greece! After having re-mastered all the tapes onto 12 CDs and giving us two copies of each, he suggested we collaborate with him and produce a series of songbooks based on our family’s collection; the first volume, Hellenic Hits: Songs of Exile, came out in 2007. More information on these songbooks and on Diz’s group, The Makedonians, can be found here—ohpa, manges!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The man had been posted, for the usual obscure reasons,
to a small fishing village in the remote south. The prefect,
stepping out of a closet full of women's shoes, greeted him
with the customary formalities. We are all in this together,
the prefect said, as he removed the man's genitals and
tossed them gently to the others who had gathered below
in the square, and were howling.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
This man smiles at the coming of autumn,
The silence of cicadas makes him laugh;
even the wind-scatter of leaves pleases him.
Tired of digging in, he is digging out
from under the ruins of his measured words,
while his ancestors, having escaped him,
turn round and smile at the distance between.
(from Sentences, 1976)
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Toady one, do not prattle--
Go wash your hands clean
In this, my blessed hollow
Oak tree trunk filled with holy
Heavenly piddle and pray you
Do not return to tattle.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
You never knew Jean Genet had a twin brother, did you? Well, here he is, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a genuine Madras shirt underneath a handmade Milk and Honey sweater knitted in 1964. I forget what brand of cigarettes he was smoking at that time (Luckies?) but I do remember reading somewhere in Genet's memoirs how cool his brother said his head felt. That was before Vietnam toasted a lot of his buddies, while he was lucky enough to sweat out most of his two-year hitch playing the role of Kool Kompany Klerk in Sandia Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
don't you see
it's about time
this thingamajig was
moving in on you better
watch out now watch it,
what you call it calls
(A rewrite of a poem that first appeared in Sentences (1976) under the title "William Carlos Williams".)
Friday, August 28, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
--T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
Our most enlightening eviction,
We had every right
To squat here
Oblivious to light.
This gift, this blinding
Edifice of beauty
We took for granted, we lost sight,
Though our instructions were simple—
Before you lose it forever,
Take it down
In glorious black and white.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Location: Vromoneri (Stinky Water), Messinias, overlooking the Ionian Sea--7 km south of Marathopolis-- this is where the two inmates were incarcerated for two days and forced every morning to descend some 75 steep, harrowing steps to a pebble beach and swim in the incredibly clear waters until exhausted, then made to climb back up in the early afternoon for a meager lunch consisting of a Greek village salad, wine, and fresh smelt caught by the warden a few hours earlier. Afterwards, a siesta, two hours of reading and/or writing and back down the steps again for another swim. In the evening, reading and/or writing, a light supper, and interrogation carried out by the warden under the light of an incredibly large August moon--pure torture, I tell you; honestly, I don't know how they survived the ordeal. Next time, the warden should definitely consider prolonging the period of confinement.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I prepare myself, mangas* friend, for the ceremony.
I shop for tobacco ends and a piece of hashish,
And set out, mangas friend, for the village of Holy Mama.
I go into the church, into the round rooms,
And start puffing as if I were lighting candles.
And the archangel suddenly appears--
He's got high from all the smoke.
He says, "Listen Christian, it's not a sin
To come into the church for your little ceremony."
But suddenly a monk speaks to me, "Get out of here!
It's my turn to have a drag," he says.
Zeϊbekiko, Vassilis Tsitsanis, 1938?
(From Gail Holst's excellent pioneering book, Road to Rembetika: music of a Greek sub-culture, songs of love, sorrow & hashish, Denise Harvey & Company, Athens, 1975. From the same book: "The manges (singular mangas*--the pronunciation of the 'g' is hard in both plural and singular) were men who formed a sub-culture on the fringe of society. Many of them were actually in the underworld. The nearest equivalents in English are probably 'spivs', 'wide-boys' or 'hep-cats'.")
This is the classic rembetiko heard on the video of my previous post; one of the many rembetika that were banned for years, it was finally recorded by Tsitsanis in 1983!
Monday, July 20, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Robert Creeley and the Bridge over the Mavrozoumena River
I know a man
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking - John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.
The Peloponnese—“Pelops’s Island”—begins where the Corinth Canal severs it from mainland Greece and culminates at mainland Europe’s most southerly point—Cape Matapan (Tenaeron in Greek) in the Mani. Besides being a region of outstanding natural beauty, it is also full of classical archaeological sites such as Olympia, Mycenae, Ancient Messene, and Epidaurus; medieval ruins and old Venetian castles like those in Nafplion, Methoni and Koroni; Byzantine cities such as Mystras and Monemvasia. Not into ruins? No problem—the Peloponnese is also a perfect destination for those who want to get “off the beaten track” and explore all the other magic it has to offer: craggy, massive mountains and expanses of fragrant citrus; lush vineyards and silver-green olive groves; beautiful sandy beaches; hundreds of villages tucked away in valleys and hanging from mountainsides. If you get this far south of Athens and remember to look out where you’re going, you will be amply rewarded in more ways than one.
One of the reasons for going through Meligalas—besides stopping to visit the Zambaras family—is to see the impressive ruins of
Ancient Messene a few kilometers to the west behind Mount Ithome. On your way you first have to go over the historic, three-pronged, multi-arched, stone bridge over the Mavrozoumena River (see photograph above) on your way to Neochori (the birthplace of Maria Callas’s father). Mentioned by Pausanias in his Travels, this narrow bridge is believed to be the only one in Europe built over the confluence of two streams, and is surely the only one with a hairpin turn right in the middle.
I must have driven back and forth over this bridge hundreds of times, as it is on the way to my home village of Revmatia, but on the 11th of November, 1978, I found myself driving off it with a friend and into the shallow, muddy waters of the Mavrozoumena River ten distant meters below. There were no safety railings at that time, we were traveling at about 90 km-per-hour in a brand-new Ford Fiesta I had driven across Europe from Belgium one month earlier and were just returning from a leisurely 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ouzo-drinking bout with two other friends in Neochori’s main square, one ouzo led to another and another and another until we lost track of just how many. . . .and then, sure enough, there we were, falling over the right side of the bridge.
Luckily, the span was flanked by some thick plane trees which miraculously broke the vehicle’s momentum. However, I was dumped out the open door of the now upside-down car and ahead of it down through the branches into the murky waters (my friend remained trapped in the falling car) only to have the Fiesta land right on top of me. There was enough mud to cushion the car’s fall and my head was still above the mud, though I couldn’t move my legs because they were under the car and I thought they were crushed until the villagers raced from the main square and pulled me out of the muck and my friend from the car. I was so drunk and in shock that I got back into the newly and violently transmogrified amphibian and tried to start it.
[NB: In this 1964 photo of the Mavrozoumena Bridge, as you travel left to right and focus in half-way between the man behind the donkey and the man in the horse-driven cart, you can pinpoint the exact place where I should have remembered Creeley’s best-known poem and stopped. By the way, my friend's name was George.]
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
On the corner
Of First and Duryea,
He’d gone off
Some foul-mouthed runaway
Kid named Cid took the bacon
Cross the tracks past Commercial
And ran he did,
Brought the taste of it all
Back home to us
Nickel-and-dime bastards I swear
Saturday, July 11, 2009
“If you haven’t built a house, dug a well, and married off a son or daughter, you haven’t lived.”--Greek proverb
As part of her dowry, Eleni was given about a hundred olive trees in a grove in the middle of nowhere about 9 kilometers due west of Meligalas; the only way you could get there in 1981 was to park your car a kilometer away and go on foot uphill for about 20 minutes. Every winter, my mother-in-law and her late husband would walk down from Revmatia to this olive grove during olive harvesting time (a two-and-a-half- hour walk) with a donkey ladened with provisions, all six children, the goats and anywhere from 15 to 20 sheep. Once there, they would stay in a tiny 3x3 sq.m stone hut for as long as it took them to harvest the olives-- usually a week, but longer if it was a good year. In 1981, Eleni and I decided to tear down the hut, together with the nearby sheep enclosure and use the stones to have a new house built in the grove, but first we had to find enough cornerstones for its construction; using our Fiat 127, we immediately set out rummaging through the countless heaps of dumped stones and piles of rubble scattered all over Messenias to find the pieces we needed.
For this small 4 x 6 sq.m house, we only required about 50 cornerstones and fortunately for us but not for traditional Greek village architecture, at this time people were still demolishing traditional stone houses in fits of modernist frenzy and building new monstrosities out of reinforced concrete and brick and calling it “progress,” so it was fairly easy finding cornerstones. And that’s just what Eleni and I did in the ten years between the building of the little house in the grove and the construction in 1991 of the much, much larger two-storey stone residence our family now lives in. By then we had amassed approximately 1,200 cornerstones—more than enough for the house and the stone wall in front—and were known throughout Upper Messenias as that “somewhat batty couple in a battered Fiat 127 who were gathering, of all things, cornerstones.” [NB: It might interest readers to know that cornerstones from old demolished houses are now selling at 30 € a piece and up.]
But back to the grove. During Fall, Winter and Spring and when the two children were still too young for school, we would leave Meligalas every other Friday night after I had finished with my English lessons, drive the car (filled with enough food and other provisions to last us until Monday morning) to where the dirt road morphed into a rut, and then haul the kids and provisions up to the house—no electricity, no phone, no running water, no other people, owls hooting, jackals crying at night, millions of stars—for a weekend in Paradise. As strange as it might seem, when we came back down to idyllic Meligalas on Monday, it felt as if we were returning to Hell aka Civilization.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Though wide-eyed urchins throw
Sheep shit at the poet transfixed
Before the babbling brook,
There is no sin
In their misdoings,
(First published in NO/ON #7: journal of the short poem, Spring 2009)
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
An Henri Michaux Anthology, 1927-1984, selected, translated, and presented by David Ball, University of California Press, 1997, 340 pp.
From the Introduction: "Henri Michaux died in 1984 at the age of eighty-five. He was the author of more than thirty books of poems, prose poems, narratives, essays, journals, and drawings; his writings were translated into more than half a dozen languages, his paintings amply displayed in the major art centers of Europe and the United States. His place in world literature and art was secure, but difficult to define. Michaux stood alone.
When people who know his work try to relate Michaux to some movement or tradition, they don't come up with schools of poets, but with a range of great individual figures in literature and art: Kafka, Hieronymous Bosch, Goya, Swift, Paul Klee, Rabalais....His strangeness has occasionally led him to be classified with the Surrealists (some critics feel they have to put him somewhere), but he never used their techniques: no cadavre exquis, no free associations, no abstractly formulated attempt to destroy tradition and logic. A sentence like Breton's 'The color of fabulous salvations darkens even the slightest death-rattle: a calm of relative sighs' could never have been written by Michaux, who tries to render his dangerous, magical world as clearly and concretely as possible. Whether in poetry, prose, India ink, or paint, his weird visions are not the result of some theory about the nature of art: they are messages from his inner space. In a sense he inhabits the realm the Surrealists merely longed for.
No group, no label for him. John Ashbery defined him as 'hardly a painter, hardly even a writer, but a conscience--the most sensitive substance yet discovered for registering the fluctuating anguish of day-to-day, minute-to-minute living.' Wild and druggy enough to be venerated in the sixties by a poet like Allen Ginsberg (he called Michaux "master" and "genius"), and by the French rap star M.C. Solaar in the nineties, an inventor of fictions brilliant enough to be admired by Jorge Luis Borges ("his work is without equal in the literature of our time"), who was Henri Michaux?"
This fascinating anthology is the perfect place to start looking for an answer.
NB: George Seferis also admired Michaux; in a 1970 Paris Review interview, in answer to Edmund Keeley's question about lack of a sufficient audience for his poetry, Seferis had this to say: . . . ."this situation of not having a very large audience has something good in it, too. I mean, that it educates you in a certain way: not to consider that great audiences are the most important reward on this earth. I consider that even if I have three people who read me, I mean really read me, it is enough. That reminds me of a conversation I had once upon a time during the only glimpse I ever had of Henri Michaux. It was when he had a stopover in Athens, coming from Egypt, I think. He came ashore while his ship was in Piraeus, just in order to have a look at the Acropolis. And he told me on that occasion: 'You know, my dear, a man who has only one reader is not a writer. A man who has two readers is not a writer, either. But a man who has three readers'--and he pronounced "three readers" as though they were three million--'that man is really a writer'."
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
NB: This post was originally saved as a draft on June 15th but owing to an enormous Blogger anomaly, it could not be posted until today (June 20th).
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
When I first came back to Greece in 1959, there were far more donkeys in residence than there were people who could speak English; that is no longer the case, since the number of donkeys has alarmingly fallen to the point where some children wouldn’t recognize one even if it came up to them and brayed, “I am an ass! What are you?” On the other hand, the number of Greek children now able to speak and understand English has risen dramatically—thanks to the countless number of private language schools (frontistiria) scattered throughout Greece.
When I returned to Greece again in 1972, there were certainly many fewer such schools than there are today, but the measure of any school’s success was and continues to be its track record vis-à-vis how many students manage to pass either the Cambridge First Certificate (“The Lower”) or the Michigan ECCE examinations held twice a year in various venues throughout Greece.
Students usually sit for these examinations after six years of studying English as a Foreign Language, and the certificate issued after successful completion of the Cambridge test is usually referred to as “The Lower”—as it used to be called up until the early 90s—but which term the vast majority of Greeks still use when referring to this particular (cough) “diploma.”
Back in the late 90s, there was a spirited national discussion carried on within the private foreign language teaching community as to who is better qualified to teach English: those with university degrees in English, or those with so-called “Proficiency in the language,” i.e., those who lack a university education but who have successfully passed either the Cambridge or Michigan Proficiency Examinations—usually taken after eight years of study at an English Language School.
This question of who is better qualified remains controversial; what is beyond questioning is the unsettling fact that more and more parents are relinquishing their responsibility to find the best language school for their children’s foreign language education. Looking back on my 30 years of teaching English in the Greek boondocks, I have to conclude that though there are parents out here who are truly concerned with the caliber, qualifications and experience of English teachers, and who do make their selection of schools accordingly, there is an ever-increasing and thus unsettling number of parents who just don’t give a damn one way or the other.
Decisions about where to send children are often reached at the hairdresser’s and/or as a result of door-to-door campaigns carried out by industrious language school owners who also enlist the help of relatives, politically affiliated cronies, hoi polloi, you name it—and all the while thinking up every conceivable wile to drum up business, including free lessons for kids in kindergarten, free school bags, free notebooks, etc.
Peer pressure also plays its part and lets many a parent off the hook—the children assume the responsibility of selecting their own school—which means the more lemmings, the merrier; and if it’s also the cheapest place in town, so much the better. Get the picture? If not, let me tell you the following true story. It illustrates what many conscientious English teachers are up against when it comes to dealing with the great majority of Greek parents.
When Lower Is Higher
Quite a few years ago, in the late 70s, Eleni was working in one of Meligalas’s two tailor shops as an apprentice to a man who had spent 19 years in various concentration camps after the Greek Civil War. He had been a member of the Greek Underground and his period of imprisonment was his reward for fighting against the Germans during their brutal Occupation of Greece. It could have been much worse for the tailor—hundreds of his compatriots were either murdered by roving bands of Rightist thugs after the Occupation, or put on trial and executed by a series of US-supported Rightwing governments up until the early 50s.
In the late 70s, I was heavily involved in party politics as a founding member and local secretary of the
PASOK organization. Back then (how times change!), PASOK was considered by many of my area’s residents as more Leftist, more radical and perhaps more dangerous than even the Greek Communist Party! Zounds! To understand the region’s fear and loathing of Communism and its cousin, Socialism, we have to go back to September 1944, when Meligalas was the scene of a fierce three-day battle between Greek partisans and the
Security Battalions set up by the retreating Germans to protect their rear as they were leaving the country.
The Security Battalions lost, summary people’s trials were held, and those found guilty of collaboration were taken to a site just outside the village of Neochori, shot and thrown down a well. Estimates vary, but there were at least 1,400 men, women and children executed. The battle and resultant executions left an indelible mark on the area’s residents and makes it easier to understand why Meligalas is today such a bastion of conservatism. It does not satisfactorily explain why so many Messenians and locals swore an oath to Hitler, donned German uniforms and fought against the partisans as members of the Security Battalions.
So, it was in this former partisan’s shop that I would drop by one or two times a week to spend a pleasant half hour or more talking with both the tailor and, of course, Eleni. One morning, a client of mine dropped by the shop while I was being measured for one of the two suits I eventually had made as an excuse for stopping by the shop to see Eleni. Never wore them but they were well worth their price in more ways than one! Anyway, after dispensing with the usual social amenities, my client asked me about his son’s progress in English. After telling him his son was unfortunately not progressing, the following exchange of vast pedagogical import took place.
“Ah, I see. Thank you, Vassilaki; that is interesting. Now that I think of it, just where was it you learned your English?”
“Well, Mr. Banias, thank you for asking! You know, I’ve been teaching for ten years and you’re the first parent who’s asked me that—most of them just want to know how much I charge. Let me see. My parents took me to the US when I was four; I went to elementary school for six years; then another six years of junior/senior high. After that, I went to university for four years, got my BA in English, and then did two more years of graduate school for my MA, also in English. After returning to Greece, I taught for two years in Athens before opening my school here. That’s about it.”
Mr. Banias hesitated, but only for a moment.
“Well, all that’s fine and well, Vassilaki, but can you tell me please, HAVE YOU THE LOWER?”
NB: Written two years ago as a part of the Messenias supplement to
Elizabeth Boleman-Herring's excellent website on Greece; unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond Elizabeth's control, the supplement was never published.