NEW YORK – The Athenians’ Society in New York inaugurated its new book club with a celebration of World Poetry Day in collaboration with the Greek Writer’s Guild of America and the Greek Press and Communication Office. The event featured the unveiling of the new book of poetry titled ΑΣΤΟRΙΑ by Nicos Alexiou, Chancellor’s Lecturer in Sociology at Queens College.
When the future of Hellenism in America is discussed, some people note the importance of promoting activities, not just events, exhibitions, books and the like. As important as the later are, adults and children will feel their Greek roots most strongly when the community provides them with things to do on a regular basis, be they cultural or philanthropic in nature.
That is the inspiration for the library and the book club that The Athenians’ Society has established for its members, who will gather to discuss books that they choose for everyone to read. They will be located at the Greek Press Office at 305 E 47Street in Manhattan, and people can park for free in the area after 6:45 PM.
The library has been begun with books by Fanny Pagoulatos and Dora Lagos, who have donated boxes of books. “I thanked them from the bottom of my heart,” Panos Adamopoulos, the president of the Athenians’ Society told TNH. They have also received many books from Pella Publishing – which has closed its doors unfortunately – donated by its founder Leandros Papathanasiou.
The bookshelves were provided by Adamopoulos and his wife Sylvia, and the Society is very grateful the support of Nick Papaconstantinou, the director of the press office.
The original plan was to gather once a month but it was concluded every other month is best, always the third Friday of the month, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.
Occasionally the Athenians’ Society plans to host other cultural events in that slot, in cooperation with other organizations, but the regular book club discussion will have priority.
At the World Poetry celebration Alexiou read the English translation – the poems in the book appear both in Greek an English – after others presented the poems in Greek.
The book is titled ΑΣΤΟRΙΑ: Exile, People, and Places. Somerset Press, which is owned by Dean Papademetriou, describes it as “A bilingual collection of poetry in Greek and English about Greeks in America, particularly in the Astoria section of New York.”
Alexiou picked Astoria as the theme because “although it is the symbol of Greek immigration to the States, it has not been studied much, and I thought it is about time.”
He lives in Astoria, and he chose to dedicate a book of poetry to those who immigrated there, and to the memories of their homeland. “The subtitle is Exile, People and Places, and although we have immigrated here, we have memories of Greece and our friends, places and families there…We have this nostos for Greece; we have two countries inside us,” he told TNH.
He has written poetry in the past, and he also picked that medium because, for Greeks, it is the traditional vehicle for such themes.
He added “and don’t forget that although Greece is a very small country, it has produced two Nobel laureate poets, Odysseus Elitis and George Seferis.
He paid homage to the great 20th century Greek writers, and to the Greek immigrant experience, by quoting C. Cavafy’s “Of Dimitrios Sotir” at the beginning of his book:
He was so young when he left his country…
But in his mind he’d always thought of it
As something sacred that you approach reverently.”
Alexiou introduces one of his poems by noting that “Exile is one of the saddest fates.”
The instant of exile
is a long and difficult night
It covers heavily
with black silences
furniture gestures voices
It shatters the light
who were loved
What secret flame
Will warm the blood
Alexiou emphasized the importance of documenting and celebrating the immigrant experience, which he facilitates as the director of the Oral History Project. It is creating an archive-collection with the stories of Greek immigrants who moved to New York.
After Alexiou’s presentation there was an open microphone session. People were invited to read from the book and other poetry, and a musical performance by Tasos Papaioannou. The guests especially enjoyed his performance of some poems of Nikos Cavadias that have been set to music. A reception followed.
Among the guests were Constantine Morfopoulos. He is looking forward to reading Alexiou’s poetry for the first time. “I heard him on the radio talking about one of Cavafy’s poems,” he said, adding that he is happy that Greek and Greek-American poets are getting more exposure, and is excited about the book club which will create opportunities for the community to deepen its understanding and appreciation of modern Greek literature.
The Society’s schedule of cultural events includes a special funraising concert of classical music at the Greek Consulate on May 2. Pianist Athena Adamopoulos, who has studied at the Julliard School and is now working on her doctorate at the New England Conservatory of Music, will perform music of several of the great composers, including Beethoven and Chopin.
Because the consulates exhibition area is limited – it is an intimate space to begin with but room space must be allocated for the Steinway concert grand piano – only 25 people will be invited.
The purpose of the concert, which will be presented in cooperation with the Consulate, will be to raise money for the Greek organization that assists children name “Mazi gia to Pedi – Together, for the Child.”
The organization does good work and “has tremendous needs,” Adamopoulos said. The Society can be contacted at (718) 721-1111.