April is National Poetry Month and what better way to celebrate the literary form than with Greek poetry. From ancient times to the present day, poetry is central to the Greek experience. From the epic poems of Homer to the modern, timeless works of the five great poets of the 20th century Constantine Cavafy, Kostas Karyotakis, Giorgos Seferis, Odysseus Elytis, and Yiannis Ritsos. The 21st century continues the remarkable poetic tradition in Greek with the works of Kiki Dimoula, Kyriakos Charlambides, Haris Vlavianos, Antonis Fostieris, and Alexis Stamatis.
Poetry collections featuring the work of Greece’s most famous writers are a wonderful way to celebrate National Poetry Month. A Greek Quintet: Poems by Cavafy, Sikelianos, Seferis, Elytis, and Gatsos, selected and translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, is a fine anthology highlighting the work of the famous Greek poets of the 20th century. Cross-Section: An Anthology of Contemporary Greek Poetry was published in English in 2015 by a team of translators including Dimitri Charalambous, Peter Constantine, Ismini Ioannou, Jack Hirschman, and contributing editor Dinos Siotis. This comprehensive collection includes 143 poets from the well-seasoned Nanos Valaoritis, born in 1921, to promising newcomer Alexandros Damoulianos, born in 1990.
Some poetry collections revolve around a theme, like the ongoing economic crisis. First published in 2015, Crisis: Greek Poets on the Current Crisis, edited by Dinos Siotis is a bilingual Greek/English volume exploring the economic crisis through the poetry of 34 contemporary poets, including Nanos Valaoritis, Kiki Dimoula, and Titos Patrikios. Inspired by the harsh realities of life, the poems in the collection are powerful and moving. Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry, edited by Karen Van Dyck, features English translations of contemporary Greek poets writing about the economic crisis, some appearing in translation for the first time. At 496 pages, this hefty edition published by Penguin will be available on April 7 in bookstores and online.
The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding is a bilingual Greek/English poetry collection featuring the work of three Greek women poets, The Cake by Rhea Galanaki, Tales of the Deep by Jenny Mastoraki, and Hers by Maria Laina. Translated into English by Karen Van Dyck, the poems reflect the unique experience of these talented women poets. Students at the University of Athens when the colonels seized control of the government in 1967, all three poets were influenced profoundly by the censorship imposed at the time. Written in the 1980’s, their poems reflect the continuing struggle against misunderstanding and misrepresentation for poets writing about gender and identity in the late 20th century.
For those interested in reading collections by individual poets, there are several fantastic options available in bookstores and online. Published in Greek in 2008, Poetry 1970-2005 by Antonis Fostieris is an anthology of the poet’s work over 35 years from his early effort To Megalo Taxidi (The Big Trip) to his most recent, award-winning Politimi Lithi (Precious Oblivion). Alexis Stamatis, perhaps best-known as a novelist, is also an accomplished poet. His most recent poetry collection, Pote den eimaste monoi, We Are Never Alone, was published in Greek in 2004 and in English translation in 2014.