Greek poet and playwright Dimitris Lyacos is someone you should know. From one poet about another, here’s why. Just in time for National Poetry Month!
By: Apollo Papafrangou
Dimitris Lyacos on his work
Greek poet and playwright Dimitris Lyacos described his writing process in a 2016 interview with the Bitter Oleander journal.
“You are responsible for it: when something breaks down or fails to work, you have to fix it from the inside, you have to substitute a rotten plank with another from a different part of the boat; you might find some driftwood if you get lucky, but in most cases you will work with what you already have.”
Thus, he likened his creative pursuits to captaining a ship. On the surface it seems a familiar comparison, this bridging of artistic craft and sea craft; many a poet finding commonality in the realm of words and that of the sea, expansive as they are in their own right. However, unlike many writers who might romanticize both elements, Lyacos references not the proud vessel sailing the open waters, but the rickety boat in need of repair. Rather than illuminate the glamorized, bohemian life of an artist, he lasers in on not only the trials of self-doubt and fatigue, but the resourceful craftiness and tireless determination that are all too often glossed over.
The Poena Damni Trilogy
It’s the same non-traditional approach Lyacos applies to his work, the vivid poetry and prose that has established him as one of modern Greece’s most widely read and cherished poets. Born in 1966 in Athens, Lyacos currently splits time between Greece and Germany. His most widely known work is the Poena Damni trilogy, consisting of the books Z213 Exit; With the People from the Bridge; The First Death—part poem, part dramatic piece—presented as a series of journal entries. The book was created over the course of thirty years and has been published in ten languages around the world — and two more are coming. With a keen, stream-of-consciousness style, Lyacos’ Poena Damni makes poignant observations about life and death, and the world we live in along with, perhaps more importantly, another distant existence that mirrors our own while offering glimpses of the absurd. The book was published in separate sections, out of sequence and in various forms, but not until the Greek release of Z213 EXIT in 2009 did the project begin to take its current shape. Though Lyacos writes in Greek, much of his work has been published in foreign translation—particularly English—prior to being released in his native tongue, which adds to the nomadic feel of his work and personal experience.
Inspired by Greece
Greece influences Lyacos’ writing, but unlike many of his contemporaries, it shapes his work not so much in respect to theme or content (he explores the relationships between the living and dead; vampires; relevancy, etc). Instead, the natural poetic flair and historical significance of the Greek language takes forefront. The vividness of Lyacos’ imagery recalls the cinematic quality of Homer’s epics.
From Z213: Exit:
Tell those who were waiting not to wait none of us will return. The sky is
leaving again, the newspapers soak in the corridor, the same trees pass again
darker before us, those who wrench the doors looking for a place, who are
coming in at the next stop.
The above passage evokes mourners grieving for the dead; the inescapable pain of loss that often feels circular in its course, the same feelings and thoughts passing like “trees again darker before us.” It also suggests a form of transit, another common theme in Lyacos’ work, as the vague “next stop” might be the underworld courtesy of a ferry ride from Charon.
Much of the Poena Damni utilizes multiple point-of-views, though it feels as though they belong to the same protagonist. Lyacos jumps from second to first person narrative, and back again; the “You” voice and “I” voice evokes a “we.” You and I as readers indentifying with the protagonist are being pursued by a mysterious entity or machine, and it many instances Lyacos utilizes suspenseful elements to build momentum.
Postmodern in its self-awareness and stylistic eccentricity, Lyacos’ poetry is rife with brilliant one-liners such as “ignition of a monastery propelled like razor” and “Moon silent as pain in the depth of the mind” (from The First Death). He’s the type of writer who makes others wish they had come up with such turns of phrase as his stanzas showcase a vibrant clarity to inspire in the reader’s mind both a literal and figurative vision.
An enigmatic wordsmith
In the first line of “First Death,” for example, one pictures both the moon in the night sky, and the familiar sorrow that casts its glow on all us from time to time; sadness like a lunar eclipse over the human condition. This speaks not only to Lyacos’ skill as a writer, but also to his overall sensitivity allowing him to hone so specifically into our universal experience.
Enigmatic in writing and speech; reading interviews with Lyacos, albeit translated into English, its easy to note his labyrinthine responses; answers winding in on themselves with a philosophic spin, especially when he further addresses his creative process and the conditions under which he most prefers to write. As quoted in the Bitter Orleander interview:
“Silence is fine, even though it does not really exist, and as I said, I don’t mind noise, I don’t mind anharmonicity, I don’t mind chaos. I don’t see silence under a positive light really – I mean real, literal silence.”
Perhaps Lyacos’ philosophical musings can be attributed to our ancestors, in any case his ability to transform even an interview answer into a form of poetry is admirable. Lyacos revealed that he’s working on two new projects.
“I am currently busy with two publications: The forthcoming box set of the trilogy next October and, also, the French “With the People from the Bridge” edition, also forthcoming in the same month (translator Michel Volkovitch). In fact in France there was a “from Homer to Lyacos overview of Greek poetry” about a month ago.”
We look forward to hearing his artistic voice once again.
Connect with Dimitris Lyacos: website
Dimitris Lyacos’ books are available at Amazon