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Yannis Ritsos – Poems Paperback – October 6, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


One can certainly appreciate Ritso's poetry in terms of the social and cultural referents that weave in and out of his work. But that I fear would display a shallow sense of the poetic landscape he occupied so fully in time and space, and would ultimately reduce the value of his work to one of compensation and mastery. Instead I would focus my attention on the imaginal exploration he conducted, and the poetic voice he adopted which predisposed him to transformative yearnings, and an almost promethean moral burden to rescue life from the regressive miasma thwarting its potential. I doubt very much if Ritsos believed even for an instant that the archaic struggle of man against the forces that subdue him would end in freedom from illusory attachments and entanglements. On the contrary, what he skillfully presents in his work are mediating symbols, incarnating out of the depths of his awareness diligently crafting a literary isthmus to the heart of his personal truth. Ritsos's life, wrought with imposed detentions, health limitations, and personal tragedies, bears witness to this attitude that paradoxically, is best understood as something yet to be experienced... a future homecoming of sorts. His is the poetry of waiting, and yearning, and finally projecting the heroic Eros of the Greek psyche: the dominant imperative of an unfettered existence at the zero point of man's subjectivity. Such an assertion I'm sure issued out of the odyssey of his life, a life sustained not only by the ancestral hiss of myth and political rationalism, but also by the differentiating activity of consciousness which works, collectively at least, in favour of the soul that still must survive its harness. Indeed, his poems lack the compliance of subjugation and the often wounded indulgence of a narcissistic persona. What they do exhibit however, is the very authentic human endeavour of striving, reaching... imagining, and somehow, against all odds, assimilating the dissonance of an encountered self in the midst of upheaval... and in what he had to intuit as a metaphoric fall from grace despite his religious denouncements. This desire for a unitary reality is the value I see, feel, and admire in his work. Ritsos was a poet who lived in chaotic but exciting times, and like Odysseus, was fated by the gods to take the scenic way home. I am awed by the integrating expanse of his gaze and by the process of his mind that was able to distinguish between reality and its representation... and also... also by the sense-memory in things he projected things lost but still things yet to be gained. He was a poet who survived the enchantment of rival impulses, as well as a poet who celebrated the sacred return of the imagination out of the deep ocean that contained him. --Ilya Tourtidis

In an age devoid of political radicalism in poetry, a White Rock translator takes a leap of fervour

Unsuccessfully nominated nine times for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Greek poet Yannis Ritsos (1909-1990) is little-known in North America.

Manolis Aligizakis of White Rock hopes to change that. From among Ritsos' 46 volumes of poetry, Cretan-born Manolis (his pen name excludes the surname Aligizakis) has translated fifteen of the poet's books for an unusually hefty volume, Yannis Ritsos–Poems (Libros Libertad $34), presenting a panorama of Ritsos' work from the mid 1930s to the 1980s.

Manolis first encountered Ritsos' inspiring words as a young man in Greece, in 1958, when composer Mikis Theodorakis–of Zorba the Greek fame–set to music some of Ritsos' verses from Epitaphios–a work that had been burned by Greece's right-wing government at the Acropolis in 1936. "I was moved in an unprecedented way by the songs," says Manolis. "They were like a soothing caress to my young and rebellious soul at a time when the Cold War was causing deep divisions in Greece and the recent civil war had seen our country reduced to ruins."

Yannis Ritsos was an ardent nationalist who most notably fought with the Greek resistance during the Second World War. His 117 books, poetry, novels and plays, are suffused with communist ideals. When Ritsos received the Lenin Peace Prize in 1975, he declared, "this prize is more important for me than the Nobel."

The early deaths of Ritsos' mother and his eldest brother from tuberculosis marked him deeply, as did his father's commitment to a mental asylum, which led to the economic ruin of his once wealthy family. Ritsos himself was in a sanitorium for tuberculosis from 1927 to 1931.

In 1936, Ritsos' Epitaphios was burned at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens on orders from the right-wing dictatorship of General Ioannis Metaxas. Epitaphios refers to the classic funeral oration for soldiers killed in war that was an integral part of the Athenian burial law, and calls for national unity in a time of crisis.

From 1947 to 1952, Ritsos was jailed for his political activities. Under the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, he was interned on the Greek islands of Yaros, Leros and Samos before being moved to Athens and placed under house arrest. Through it all he kept writing. And writing. It wasn't uncommon for Ritsos to write 15 or 20 poems in one sitting.

Manolis says he has tried to remain as close as possible to the original Greek text, in order to preserve the linguistic charm of Ritsos' style. Sentences are restructured only when it seemed that the reader would have difficulty grasping the poet's true meaning.

"In Greek, the writer has a lot more freedom in ordering a sentence than one would in English, where the sequence of words is somewhat more strict.

"The books in the anthology are included whole, not selected poems from each. We had only a certain number of his books available and I felt it would be awkward to separate them satisfactorily."

Most of the poems in Yannis Ritsos–Poems are appearing in English translation for the first time in North America.

"In choosing the materials, I noticed a transformation from his early days, when he was just the unknown defender of a cause, up to the period during his middle years, when he finds a variety of admirers from around the world."

--Alan Twigg (BC BookWorld)

Ritsos' later work, according to Manolis, reveals a mature poet, more laconic and precise, more careful with his words. "Then, near the end of Ritsos' creative life, the poems reveal his growing cynicism and utter disillusionment with the human condition, after his world had collapsed around him several times... the human pettiness that drives some human lives shadows him with a deep disappointment that he appears to take with him to his grave."

The majority of lives don't have happy endings. Ritsos' re-publication as a poet in Canadian English represents a rebirth of sorts.

The tradition of overtly political poetry has seemingly vanished in Canada. If only we cared enough about poetry in Canada to burn it.

--Alan Twigg (BC BookWorld)

About the Author

Yannis Ritsos was born in Monemvassia (Greece), on May 1st, 1909 as cadet of a noble family of landowners. His youth is marked by devastations in his family: economic ruin, precocious death of the mother and the eldest brother, internment of the father suffering of mental unrests. He spends four years (1927-1931) in a sanatorium to take care of his tuberculosis.

These tragic events mark him and obsess his œuvre. Readings decide him to become poet and revolutionary. Since 1931, he is close to the K.K.E., the Communist Party of Greece. He adheres to a working circle and publishes Tractor (1934), inspired of the futurism of Maïakovski, and Pyramids (1935), two works that achieve a balance still fragile between faith in the future, founded on the Communist ideal, and personal despair...

The poems of his last book, Late in the night (1987-1989), are filled with sadness and the conscience of losses, but the humbly poetic way by which Ritsos restores life and the world around him, preserves a gleam of hope in an ultimate start of creativeness.

However, the poet lives the reduction of his health and the downfall of his political ideals grievously. Internally broken, he dies in Athens, November 11, 1990.

Manolis was born in the small village Kolibari west of Chania on the Greek island of Crete in 1947. At a young age his family moved first to Thessaloniki and then to Athens where he was educated, achieving a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science at Panteion Supreme School of Athens. He served in the armed forces for two years, and emigrated to Vancouver in 1973, where he worked in several different jobs over the years.

He attended Simon Fraser University for a year, taking English Literature in a non-degree program. He has written three novels, a large number of collections of poetry, which are slowly appearing as published works, various articles and short stories in Greek as well as in English. After working as an iron worker, train labourer, taxi driver, and stock broker, he now lives in White Rock where he spends his time writing, gardening, and traveling.

Towards the end of 2006 he founded Libros Libertad, an unorthodox and independent publishing company in Surrey, BC, with the goal of publishing literary books.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 546 pages
  • Publisher: Libros Libertad (October 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1926763076
  • ISBN-13: 978-1926763071
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,189,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amy Henry TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
A careful hand is needed to translate the poems of Yannis Ritsos, and Manolis is the ideal poet to undertake such an enormous task. Born in Crete, Manolis's youth was intermingled with the poetry of Ritsos. Once a young man moved by the Theodorakis version of Epitaphios, he's now a successful poet in his own right who is still moved to tears hearing the refrains of those notes from half a century ago. His Greek heritage, with its knowledge of the terrain, people, history and cultural themes, makes his translation all the more true to what Ritsos intended. Having visited the very places of which Ritsos wrote, he knows how the light and sea shift, and how Ritsos imagined those changes as being a temperament and personality of the Greece itself.

The parallels in their lives are uncanny: when Ritsos was imprisoned, Manolis' father also was imprisoned on false charges. Both men dealt with the forces of dictators and censorship, and experienced the cruel and unreasoning forces of those times. In fact, they even lived for a time in the same neighborhood. In his foreword to Poems, Manolis relates that he viewed him as a comrade, one whose "work resonated with our intense passion for our motherland and also in our veracity and strong-willed quest to find justice for all Greeks."

In Poems, Manolis chose to honor Ritsos first by not just picking and choosing a few titles to translate, although that might have been far easier. Instead, he undertook the complex task of translating fifteen entire books of Ritsos work-an endeavor that took years of meticulous research and patience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Leola on November 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We discovered Ritsos while in Monemvasia Greece. What a stunning poet Ritsos is. Prior to reading him, Pablo Neruda was our uncontested favorite poet. Though Ritsos' work is not love poetry, it is brilliantly sensual and evocative. Neruda has met his equal in Ritsos.
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