SELECTED BOOKS – VOLUME III
2nd of November
Today Mitsos received a letter from Skopelos.
Antigone writes “the island autumn
is full of small yellow lilies;
poor Mitsos, you don’t remember those
you never liked the botany class”
Mitsos wiped his glasses and read the letter again.
The discarded Introduction to Botany.
is laid next to him, on the rocks.
He smiled, took off his glasses, didn’t wipe them.
I want to write a poem about Mitsos
not with words
but with small yellow lilies.
One of them took two steps back
to point the guilty
the second put his hands
in his pockets
that he wouldn’t point at the guilty
the third closed his eyes
so he wouldn’t see.
They shot them all.
The grandmother was sitting on the stool, the mother
on the sofa, daughter on the chair. The grandson was
he broke the flower vase.
The grandmother cleaned up the broken glass one by one,
the mother cleaned the water, the daughter picked up
The grandson kicked the vase and went out to the sea.
The grandmother gathered the broken glasses, the mother
used the mop, the daughter took the flowers in her hands;
didn’t know where to put them; she got angry; water
from the stems dripped onto her shoes. The mirror,
opposite them, had them all together with the glasses,
the water; it smiled.
However should they had broken the mirror, all three
of them thought, and smiled.
After releasing two translation volumes of poems by this most prolific poet, Yannis Ritsos, and upon embarking on the quest of working on this third volume I surely felt an acute sense of de ja vu and certain undoubtable familiarity with the mood of his poems and way of their development. I had a strong affinity for his deepest thoughts and emotions while he wrote them, a sense of him being close to me, an indisputable emotional connection with the man who came and sat next to me and spontaneously opened his heart and revealed his innermost secrets to this translator. Indeed my work this time is overwhelmed by that acute connection with this amazing poet, the one and only in the world, the man who was born to a big and affluent family, who grew up and followed his heart’s desire, poetry, the man who spent many years of his life in exile, yet the man who never stopped writing, who never stopped believing in man, the man with his endless pursuit for excellence which resulted in the amazing number of poetry and prose books he wrote along with his innumerable translations.
Undoubtedly I felt a connection so alive and profane, so strong and clearly defined that I never stopped asking him, in my mind, about his way of perception, his way of understanding humanity, his way of seeing forward and truly his voice echoed inside of me so adamantly and eloquently describing his views about the human condition, human behavior, his sense of the senseless his acceptance of the unacceptable. Thus, closing my eyes, time transcends, and I find myself next to him in the island of his exile, Makronisos; we sit on a hillside, right on the moist morning soil, and we gaze at the expanse of summer dryness, the treeless landscape, the thorny bulrushes, the thyme slowly swaying at the light breeze, the odd oleander bush, the brightness of the morning sun, the endlessness of the horizon and of our thoughts.
Turning a bit towards him I asked could you have ever believed that there could be so much cruelty in the human soul, that a man could be so amazingly antithetic and cruel to another human being and all that because of fanaticism and narrowmindedness?
He looked at the soil, incised a line into it with the twig he held in his hand and looking at the furrow, as if gazing at the abysmal depth of human soul he uttered, fear, comrade, fear and fanaticism, the fear of what we represent, the fear we infuse in their hearts pushes them to become inhumane, to try and turn us into non-humans in two weeks of whipping and cursing, in two days of slandering and kicking; fear, their fear which you see in their glances when they curse us, their fear of what we can create which they can’t understand, that’s what fosters their actions.
Truly he left nothing unsaid with those few sentences, and I sensed my face gleamed at the echo of the word he used to address me: comrade.
However, he continued, the graciousness and spirituality of one always appears when one escapes the talons of fear and finds oneself. And even these guards who spit on us, curse us, kick us, whip us will one day discover themselves and that will be their moment of reckoning when they’ll recall all their actions here in Makronisos and tears will flow down their eyes, when their moment of escaping the animal and reaching their true self will arrive; because everyone on earth has that written on their tablet: that one day their time of reckoning will arrive, as if it will spring up from within and it will shake them off their comfort zone into which they’ve been all their lives and at that moment they’ll transcend the fleshy and reach the fleshless. Truly we’re victorious, comrade, now at this moment here in Makronisos and at that moment of the guard’s reckoning we’ll be victorious because we have sung for the better side of man, we have written about it, we have prayed for it, we have believed in it and will always believe in it. Comrade we shall be victorious on the pages of history, always remember of me.
The sun was up the length of a flag’s mast, the thorny bulrushes were still dripping dew and bees suddenly appeared among the thyme branches and flowers: time for foraging and like the bees we too had to get busy since we were on duty to clean the cookhouse before breakfast was served. A few minutes later we were wiping the counter, we had started the fire for the cook to boil our daily chai, we had cleaned all necessary utensils and took a deep breath of relief. The guards couldn’t find any reason to spit on us, nor to curse us, nor to unintentionally kick our butts. My eyes met his and deep in his irises I so ever clearly saw one single word: duty.
I opened my eyes. His stature was still standing in front of me. His eyes with the word duty in them. My duty to myself and to him, my duty to Yannis Ritsos. My task, on which I’ve been working for the last few years with these translations, still gleams in front of me. My duty to translate as much of his poetry as I can master. My duty. I’ve been explained, comrade.
~Manolis Aligizakis, Cretan, author, poet, translator
Ritsos III – Back Cover comment
‘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)
about the translator
Emmanuel Aligizakis, (Manolis) is a Cretan-Canadian poet and author. He’s the most prolific writer-poet of the Greek diaspora with οover 70 books published in more than a dozen different countries and in eleven different languages. At the age of eleven he transcribed the nearly 500 year old romantic poem Erotokritos, now released in a limited edition of 100 numbered copies and made available for collectors of such rare books at 5,000 dollars Canadian: the most expensive book of its kind to this day.
He was recently appointed an honorary instructor and fellow of the International Arts Academy, and awarded a Master’s for the Arts in Literature. He is recognized for his ability to convey images and thoughts in a rich and evocative way that tugs at something deep within the reader. Born in the village of Kolibari on the island of Crete in 1947, he moved with his family at a young age to Thessaloniki and then to Athens, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Sciences from the Panteion University of Athens.
After graduation, he served in the armed forces for two years and emigrated to Vancouver in 1973, where he worked as an iron worker, train labourer, taxi driver, and stock broker, and studied English Literature at Simon Fraser University. He has written three novels and numerous collections of poetry, which are steadily being released as published works.
His articles, poems and short stories in both Greek and English have appeared in various magazines and newspapers in Canada, United States, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Australia, Jordan, Serbia and Greece. His poetry has been translated in Romanian, Swedish, German, Hungarian, Ukrainian, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish, Serbian, Russian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, languages and has been published in book form or in magazines in various countries.
He has published over 80 books in more than a dozen countries around the world and in eleven different languages. He now lives in White Rock, where he spends his time writing, gardening, traveling, and heading Libros Libertad, an unorthodox and independent publishing company which he founded in 2006 with the mission of publishing literary books.
Following the steps of El Greco he finishes all his books with the phrase: Μανώλης Αλυγιζάκης, Κρης εποίει
His translation book “George Seferis-Collected Poems” was shortlisted for the Greek National Literary Awards the highest literary recognition of Greece. In September 2017 he was awarded the First Poetry Prize of the Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival, in Craiova, Romania.