Herbert Read, the English literary critic, poet, and anarchist (1893-1968), said the modernist poet “has no essential alliance with regular schemes of any sort. He/she reserves the right to adapt rhythm to mood, to modulate meter as the poem progresses.” Andy Warhol, some might say, reduced that equation to its lowest common denominator: art is whatever you can get away with.
The poetry of Livaditis fits Read’s open description. His poems can be lyrical, significant, and opaque; most are spare and refreshingly free of obscure literary references. He can be impressionistic, surreal, confessional, maudlin, challenging, and very funny. Some of his poems ramble, freeform, spilling on to several pages; others, pithy, consist of a single sentence or two, what these days is sometimes referred to as napkin poetry or tombstone verses. “Don’t fall asleep, it’s dangerous,” says one. “Don’t wake up, you’ll regret it.” The poems read as hallucinations, dreams, drunken epiphanies. “I met Christopher Columbus one night when I was walking, drunk, the roads of old Europe.” Or as delusions, ravings, Ginsbergian howls. Some share the biblical cadence of Whitman, and some are cryptic: “I saw the teary old man sitting on his wet mattress, asking for his doll.” His poems are set in the ancient world, in heaven, alongside the gods, in the future, thousands of years ago. He writes often of rain-slicked streets; in damp, coal- heated rooms. He’s drawn to “cheap hotels…with dirty sinks into which future, unsuspected murderers or suicidal men leaned and cried.” Elsewhere he writes, “I lived in rented rooms with their dark stairways that led nowhere.” He visits asylums. People hang themselves. It rains a lot in these poems. Cheerful, he isn’t.
Yet Livaditis can also be humorous: “And when they approached me with pointed guns, I smiled in disdain, and raising my arms…I started to gather the annual apple crop.” Surprisingly, but possibly not to those who speak the language and can better detect nuance, they are not overtly political. Populating these pages are ghosts, murderers, the poet’s parents, a dying brother, an amorous aunt. There are beggars and thieves and soldiers, birds and babies, dead comrades. All are exposed under his critical scrutiny.
No matter the era, the genre, or the gender, poets are inspired by love and sex, and Livaditis is no exception to this randy proclivity. “The earth,” he writes. “is ready, ploughed like a woman.” In “Inevitable,” he says of a lover’s departure, “…the bed was left sunken and empty like a grave seeking its dead.” But the bed, as he reminds in “Children’s Defence,” is not a requirement for loving. “…in the immense autumn loneliness, we found ourselves naked on the ground.” Prostitutes present a particular fascination for Livaditis, like “the whore hanging from the arm of an American sailor,” and “the old whore who raised her skirt for a yogurt.” She reappears in the collection “Violin for the One-Arm Man” as “this ugly woman who raises her skirt to show me the upcoming evening.” Skirt Lady may have been on his mind again in “Last Card Game,” this time as “an old prostitute stands with her raised skirt showing the sadness of creation.” And there’s “the fat, ugly woman” who “revealed her big breasts over the balcony.” Who was this Maria? we wonder, she who was “sitting naked with her vulva plundered by the occupying forces”? Or the inspiration from Symphony #1? “…and when she threw her last garment on the chair, oh, god, how beautiful she was, like a decorated tree.” In another entry the poet “found myself between her legs.” Presumably the Livaditis family had money, because he admires the “lacy white panties” of the servant girls as they bend over.
The value of such career collections as this tome is the opportunity to view a poet’s work in aggregate, as the author ages. With Livaditis, time serves as a kind of marinate after “those black years that tyrannized me.” His thoughts turn from more hormone-induced subject matter to introspection and rumination. The questions he asks represent an existential retrospective, the poet as sage, “the silent, serene rain, wrapping the world in a gray, ragged fabric,” and “the merciless indifference of the void.” The self-interrogation continues in “Ambush”: “To whom should I confess?” he cries. In the poem “History,” he writes, “My mother died/ my beloved left/my comrades betrayed me/my years passed.” Even his poetry endures re-examination: “Now I sit in vigil during the night and think that I can finally write a true verse.”
Resignation and despair are palpable. “At night my friends look for me in the cafes, when they find a glass of brandy emptying on its own.” This after mourning the “memorable mistake that was my life.” One imagines a man in his middle years adrift in regretful contemplation: “I sing of you, my brothers sitting on top of a pile of sacks in the harbour showing my rotten teeth to the foreign ships.” It’s a familiar theme with writers from around the world, lamenting, as does Livaditis, “the endless mayday signals I sent and no one has ever answered.” And finally, in the aptly titled “Dusk,” he removes, at last, the final veil: “Who was I? A prince of nothing, a fool for revolutions and other lost things.”
~ Don McLellan
Author of ‘The Brunch with the Jackals’
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.