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It is quite telling that when I first started gathering the material for Futures: Poetry from the Greek Crisis I came across the following quote attributed to Greek poet C.P. Cavafy by E.M. Forster: ‘But there is one unfortunate difference between us, one little difference. We Greeks have lost our capital – and the results are what you see. Pray, my dear Forster, oh pray, that you never lose your capital.’ I found that Cavafy’s tone of despair really resonated with the current predicament in Greece. I was born and raised in Athens and went to university in the UK. I spent most of my twenties on British soil but now live and work in Athens. When I returned to Greece there was talk of an impending financial crash but no one really listened carefully to the doomsayers. We were living an age of seemingly unending financial growth. No one really expected the financial crisis to become this almost Lovecraftian many-tentacled horror that no one could control or predict what it would do next. The impact of the crisis over the past five or six years on the social and cultural makeup of Greece (and Europe) has been tremendous, and the changes have been far more reaching than anyone initially expected.
At this point in time, it felt important to put together a collection that investigated and documented the reaction of poets to the overarching crisis. Greece’s financial problems might have made headlines in 2010, but ever since the December 2008 riots in Athens the country has been experiencing a series of sharp shocks in increasingly rapid succession – and its aftermath seems to reverberate for longer than initially anticipated. The eventual accumulation of these shocks seems to have morphed into an atmosphere of extreme anxiety and listlessness. It was inevitable that phenomena such as the collapse of public sector systems, the shrinking of the financial market, the increase in homelessness – a phenomenon hitherto unknown in Greece – staff shortage in schools and hospitals would become recurring themes in works of art. Over the past six or seven years, several works of art in different media by Greek creators (like George Lanthimos’ Alps, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg in cinema or the ongoing Depression Era Project in visual arts) have appeared documenting the experience of the impact of the crisis on a personal and a collective level: the future once promised is now lying in tatters or has been effectively cancelled. The output of contemporary Greek writers has also tackled the effects of the financial crisis in a very direct fashion.
It was thus quite interesting to note how contemporary Greek poets approached the economic crisis. I need here to note that there are currently a significant number of magazines and journals devoted exclusively to poetry and surveying the output of contemporary Greek poets writing about the crisis. It is interesting to note there is not only an urgency to articulate an accurate discourse on the issue, but also an urgency to give voice to those who might be considered outcasts, to those who speak on the lower frequencies or to those different voices who agree in unison that something ominous is happening, that there is something in the air. Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis tries to do two things simultaneously: first, map out to a certain degree contemporary Greek and diasporic Greek poets who seem to never coalesce into a unified whole (i.e. a “generation”, so to speak) but rather seem to form a grid of different voices and discourses; and second, to capture a snapshot of the historical moment during which these very different poets appear. It feels important to document the vitality of the Greek poetry scene in a time of crisis and the energy permeating this grid of voices, many of which come from wildly varied backgrounds.
The poems in Futures might refer to the Greek crisis, but their scope is ultimately broader than that: this is poetry that is spurred on not so much by the conscious desire to speak about the trauma of living through the crisis itself. This is poetry that speaks to a global audience in its mission to investigate how it might approach history in a way that engenders new attitudes to politics and new ways of perceiving history, and in its relation to the human life. These poems examine and communicate the ever-proliferating emergencies of the commons and attempt to conceive of new strategies to connect, speak, assemble, love and survive.
Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis launches at Free Word on Friday 13 November 2015. Book your tickets here.
Theodoros Chiotis is a poet and literary theorist. He is the editor of Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis. His work has appeared in magazines and anthologies in Greece, the UK, the US, Sweden, Croatia and Australia. He is Project Manager at the Cavafy Archive (Onassis Foundation) and a DPhil candidate in the Department of Modern Greek at the University of Oxford. He lives in Athens.
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