The defiant poetry of Yannis Ritsos serves as a beacon to anyone who values freedom, integrity, and solidarity. Ritsos is a poet who is not testifying from somewhere above his audience, but rather from among them, or even from inside them. Ritsos with his many voices speaks through historical personas using various times and places to communicate about the present. He articulates his authenticity with simple language accessible to everyone. Consequently, it is his humanity that is so uplifting, his sympathy that is so moving, his tenacity that is so inspiring, his wisdom that is simply electrifying. Here is a man who throughout his vast literary oeuvre never stopped risking everything to express his vision with a lifelong commitment to the proposition that the poet’s role was not merely a solitary whining about heartbreak and fame, but rather a communal act that unequivocally cherishes decency, justice, and love. As he so eloquently states: “When you don’t bow / you exist / you, we / you, history.”
—Bill Wolak, Poet, Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing, William Paterson University (retired)
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, poet