Graffiti for June 3, 2010–Yannis Simonides and C.P. Cavafy
“I am from Constantinople by descent, but I was born in Alexandria—at a house on Seriph Street; I left very young, and spent much of my childhood in England. Subsequently I visited this country as an adult, but for a short period of time. I have also lived in France. During my adolescence I lived over two years in Constantinople. It has been many years since I last visited Greece. My last employment was as a clerk at a government office under the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt. I know English, French, and a little Italian.”
C.P. Cavafy used these words to describe himself. What he left out was that he also knew about the hearts and minds of men and was “employed” in writing some of the most beautiful and important poetry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the May 17th edit of this blog I wrote how Walt Whitman was the first poet to open my eyes to the joy of poetry. It was Cavafy’s work, twenty years after that awakening, that rekindled that interest. In the early days of “Graffiti” someone suggested I call the author and poet, Eleni Paidoussi. They described her an expert on Greek poetry, especially C.P. Cavafy. I had no idea who Cavafy was but was smart enough not to ask, “Who is Cavafy?”. Instead I went to the library and found the Sherrard and Keeley translation of his poetry and was blown away. Normally this would be the place where I’d say something like…”and the rest, as they say, is history.” In this case that isn’t quite true.
Back in the early ‘90‘s when I first started doing “Graffiti” I knew nothing. Trust me, I really knew nothing. Nothing about radio, about doing interviews and less than nothing about Greek poets. Whenever there was a break for music I’d tell her how little I knew. I explained how I was a storyteller and not a poet. I probably even told her the last poetry I liked was Whitman and that had been 20 years earlier. Eleni was very kind and we had fun doing the program. Back then we had the full hour and sometimes I’d write short vignettes to end the show. On that day I wrote something called “A Circle and a Dot”. It was a short dramatic piece about Cavafy’s death on the day of his 70th birthday and how shortly before he died he signaled for a pen and a piece of paper.
About a year ago I looked for that piece and couldn’t find it so I wrote it again, as best I could, from memory.
A Dot and a Circle
At the end he had no voice
His throat ripped out to save him
From the cancer that now kills him.
On his birthday,
His last day–
The same day.
He waves his hand–
Wanting pen and paper.
Wanting to put pen to paper.
His last words?
The last words of the great poet?
The Dark Lady arrives seen by none but him.
“Are you here for me?”
Nodding her head she smiles.
Leaving he looks back.
A hand drops.
A ball of paper rolls to the floor.
A cry goes up.
He speeds his step to stay with the Dark Lady.
Forgotten, left behind, stepped on, kicked aside
Days later, the piece of paper is picked up.
The man with no words left in his throat,
Left with no words on the paper.
A dot in a circle.
Granted I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, and it’s far from being a great (or, for that matter, even a GOOD) poem, but this, written some 15 years later, bears the gist of what I read that day. What I do remember from that day was how Eleni looked at me for a long moment after I finished it then said, “I thought you said you didn’t know anything about poetry.” She was being kind but that comment carried a lot of meaning for me and still does.
Tonight my old friend, Yannis Simonides, will be visiting “Graffiti”. He’ll come on and talk about his presentation of a work in progress entitled: Cavafy: Passions and Ancient Days. This is a solo performance based on the life and work of Alexandrine poet Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933). This Major Benefit Event for the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society that he’ll be performing this Saturday, June 6, 2010. The performance will be held at the Bellport Middle School Auditorium at 4 pm. The school is located at located at 35 Kreamer Street, Bellport, NY. For more information about ticket availability please contact Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society at 631-776-7640 or visit their website. After the performance, Benefit-Subscribers are invited to meet the performer at a cocktail party to be held in the Society’s Brown Building at 12 Bell Street.
You might remember Yannis from his days of doing a program here at HPR. If you don’t you will remember his voice–THE VOICE–once you hear it. I’ve often been told I have a great voice for the radio but when it comes to voices I’m in the minor leagues when compared to him.
Here’s some biographical material about Yannis.
Born in Constantinople and raised in Athens, YANNIS SIMONIDES is a Yale Drama School trained actor/writer and an Emmy-winning documentary producer. He has served as professor and chair of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Drama Department, as executive producer of GOTelecom, and as executive director of Hellenic Public Radio in New York. He is the founder and director of the Greek Theater of New York.
His performance work includes plays by Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Brecht, Korrés, Kazantzakis and others, along with solo and ensemble pieces based on the writings of Aristotle, Cavafy, Theodorakis and Gogol. He has received the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Greek Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs, the Onassis, Kostopoulos, Niarchos, Tsakos and Leventis Foundations, IBM, Time Warner and the Mobil Foundation. He has narrated the PBS specials “Visions of Greece” and “Return to the Homeland”; he recently wrote and directed SMYRNA, a docudrama on the post World War II Asia Minor genocides, which will be touring North America and Europe in 2011. He has performed the Apology of Socrates, in Greek, English and Spanish, at theaters, festivals, schools and universities in the USA, England, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Canada, Luxembourg, the United Emirates and Uruguay, and is scheduled to take it on tour in Egypt, Spain, Germany, France, Poland, Russia, Argentina, Mexico and Australia through 2012. As a directing member of The Readers of Homer, he has helped stage marathon audience-participation Readings-Celebrations of the Iliad and Odyssey on the island of Chios in Greece, at the Library of Alexandria, the Dahesh Museum in New York, and in Troy, Delos, Pylos, Malta, Sicily, Napoli, Ithaca and Montevideo, in Greek, Arabic, English, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Dutch, Russian and Japanese, and with his colleagues he is bringing the Readers of Homer to the Dodecanese, Los Angeles, Sydney, and again to Alexandria and New York.
The GREEK THEATRE OF NEW YORK was founded in 1979, and it has since served Greek and English speaking audiences with acclaimed productions, nationally and internationally. The company has sought to approach the classical, medieval and contemporary Hellenic repertory with discipline, delight and occasional irreverence.
GTNY has always been mindful of nurturing young talent in all fields of the performing arts. Over the years it has become known for its new plays, its solo and ensemble performances, its children theatre tours and its imaginative staging of Greek oratorios. Ellen Stewart of LaMama has praised it as one of her brightest children, and Melina Mercouri supported it as one of the most accomplished theaters of the Greek Diaspora.
In case you miss it I’ll post tonight’s program in a week or so.