Monday, October 12, 2009

Poetry Reading in Iraklion, Crete

This is kind of interesting, but possibly to only me. I wrote this when I was in Greece fifteen months ago and it was buried in the drafts folder on my blog. So, a year and change later, here it is...

Jack in Crete. July, 2008.

We stumbled into a Greek poetry bookstore today. We chatted with the owner, and I picked out a handful of books (being constitutionally unable to walk out of a bookstore empty-handed) I was surprised to see translated into English. Nikos Migiakis is the world-wise,and amiable proproietor of the Poetry Bookstore in Heraklion, on the island of Crete. We warmed up to each other and started asking questions back and forth. Keelin and I asked him where we would find some of those incredible honey doughtnuts/frittters we had on our last visit here. Guess what? They are just as illusory as the formerly ubiquitous barelled restsina, which he also confessed was now very hard to find. In fact on this trip to Greece, I never saw Retsina dispensed from a wooden barrel. Every single restaurant and bar served it in the bottle.

We kept chatting, and I would point to a book and we would both make these unlikely name drops of people we mutually loved. The owner looked up some of my poetry on the internet and then hauled out a big jug of home-made wine. He wanted to talk poetry. After a glass of wine, he rolled a cigarette and handed me two books of translations of Kazanstakis and Odysseus Elytis. He wanted me to read two long poems in English. He had never heard the poems in English. We both had a great time hearing them. The Elytis was a shorter poem, and later Del told me he thought it was a great poem. It is a very good one, I decided later when I read it. I couldn't tell while I was reading it in the bookstore, alond. Tourists stumbled in to buy the guidebooks he sold to fund his poetry enterprise.

Next, I read the long Sequel to the Odyssey. By now, we'd had two or three glasses of that fruity but crackling crisp home-made Cretan wine. People were smoking cigarettes. The owner, paused every few minutes to roll another.

Here we were, in the middle of the day, laughing in the store, drinking wine, and whenever a tourist came in to buy a book, he was glad to see them, but he didn't really want to get overly involved with their purchase of a Greek history book or a Lonely Planet guide. But alas, friendos, you don't think he makes a living selling Greek versions of Leonard Cohen or Garcia Lorca, do you? No. Thank God, he is across the street from the magnificent Heraklion Museum, and he has art books, tour books, books on Greece in general, in racks out front of his store. But none of those books seemed to enter the inner sanctum. . .the poetry bookstore proper.

Nikos had an amazing selection of Greek translations of modern poets...He also had me make a list of ten more people he should have. Of course, his mainstay was Greek poets in Greek, with a huge section of translations into Greek. His selections of the classics, and the beat and beat descendants was good, except he did not have Phillip Whalen, or Gregory Corso. Ginsberg, Kerouac, Leonard Cohen, Ferlinghetti, even Denise Levertov and Charles Bukowski and Bob Dylan were represented. I urged him to find John Berryman, Emily Dickinson, James Wright, William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Hara, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas,
William Wordsworth--most of them he knew, but was often unable to secure them in translation into Greek.

I was limbered up by now, and although I hadn't read the Sequel for twenty-five years, I was totally swept up in the fantastic moment. . .me in this temple of down home culture, barely able to read the Greek letters this time around, and now jumping on the reading. Reading cold can so often be extremely harrowing. But in this reading, somehow I was filled with the spirit of Greece, and I channeled Kaz' and I felt Odysseus running through every single line. I kept almost stumbling, but the poem was so perfect for this wonderful moment, that I somehow pulled it off. What a great, random find and event. I have now had my first European poetry reading, and made a friend in the poetry world of Greece.

[1] Hi! This is a satellite data-cluster that is tangentially related to the subject in the article, but interesting on its own.

The homonym for Cretan is, unfortunately, cretin--which describes a person with severely stunted physical and mental growth , but, like such words as spastic, idiot, and lunatic, also is a word of less enlightened times (and believe me, I often have a hard time thinking of us as enlightened in the least). buse. Cretin became a medical term in the 18th century, from an Alpine French dialect prevalent in a region where persons with such a condition were especially common (see below); it saw wide medical use in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and then spread more widely in popular English as a markedly derogatory term for a person who behaves stupidly. Because of its pejorative connotations in popular speech, health-care workers have mostly abandoned cretin.

Cretinism is a condition of due to untreated congenital deficiency of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) or from prolonged nutritional deficiency of iodine.

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