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A night of poetry with Sylvia Mouzourou and Nicholas Samaras with emphasis on the poetry of Nobel Laureate: ODYSSEUS ELYTIS. July 14, 2011

July 14, 2011

I cried.

It’s a long trip from Heraklion to Agia Ioannis by bus. You start on the northern coast, go up over the spine of Crete, then work your way down winding roads to the sea. Agia Ioannis, or St. John’s, rests right on the Mediterranean on the southern shore of the island. Get on a boat and head south and less than three hundred miles away you land in Libya.

The light was fading as I boarded the bus in Heraklion to go back to my hotel in Agia Ioannis. So was I. It had been a long day of sun and walking so figured it wouldn’t be too long before I’d be asleep. I was right. When I woke up darkness filled the sky and the bus. It was also about that time when the driver popped open the cassette player and dropped in a tape; after listening for about ten minutes…I started to cry. For the next hour or so the most beautiful, soulful, haunting and tearful music filled the bus…and I prayed that it wouldn’t end. If it ended before I got to my destination I wasn’t sure how I’d find out what it was. Luckily it was still playing when we reached Agia Ioannis. As the door opened and I made my way to the front of the bus to get off I stopped at the driver and pointed at the cassette player, “Ti”? “What?”, I asked. At first he didn’t understand: did I want to know what a cassette player was? Then I pointed to my ears then back down to the player, “Ti?” This time he knew what I meant though I don’t think it was my linguistic skills that made it clear but the tears rolling down my face. He knew. He knew. “Ah! Ne! Ne! Ne!” He said as he pulled the tape from the player and handed it to me. “Axion Esti!”

That wasn’t the first time I’d “met” Odysseus Elytis and it certainly wasn’t the last time either, but it might have been my most memorable re-introduction to a poet’s work.
Ninety-five years ago the Hell Gate Bridge, connecting Astoria in the NYC borough of Queens to both Randall’s and Wards Islands, opened for use. Lots has changed since then. For one–Ward and Randall’s islands are now all one island.
This November Odysseus Elytis would have celebrated his one hundredth birthday. We will have to celebrate it without him…but I’m sure he would approve. In fact, I’m sure he would approve that we will begin the celebration early. Tomorrow night, July 15, Bowery Arts + Science, City Lore, and the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York will present SING IN ME, O MUSE!: Greek-American Poetry in Astoria.
Featured poets include: Dean Kostos, Penelope Karageorge, Nicholas Samaras, and Sylvia Mouzourou. Music will be provided by the Greek Folk Ensemble; dance by the Greek-American Folklore Society. And here’s something I find extremely interesting…the poems of Sappho, Cavafy, Ritsos, and Elytis will be, according to the Queens Council on the Arts website: projected from the roof of the POEMobile, a hand-painted truck and traveling cinema of words, onto the exterior of the Federation’s headquarters in Astoria and the Hell Gate Bridge. They are described as being “building-sized projections of text”. How cool is that?
Well the only thing cooler is that tonight on “Graffiti” I’ll be joined by two of the featured poets: Nicholas Samaras and Sylvia Mouzourou.

Bowery Arts + Science, City Lore, and the
Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York
present

SING IN ME, O MUSE!
GREEK-AMERICAN POETRY IN ASTORIA

Featuring poetry performances in Greek and English by
Dean Kostos, Penelope Karageorge, Nicholas Samaras, and Sylvia Mouzourou;
music by the Greek Folk Ensemble;
dance by the Greek-American Folklore Society;
and projections of the poems of Sappho, Cavafy, Ritsos, and Elytis.

July 15, 2011, 8pm
The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York
Stathakion Center
22-51 29th Street, Astoria, NY 11105

N, Q to Astoria-Ditmars Blvd.
Admission: Free, RSVP required.
Call 212-529-1955 x 308 for reservations.

Odysseus Elytis
THEY CAME
From Axion esti
THEY CAME
dressed up as “friends,”
   came countless times, my enemies,
trampling the primeval soil.
   And the soil never blended with their heel.
They brought
   The Wise One, the Founder, and the Geometer,
Bibles of letters and numbers,
   every kind of Submission and Power,
to sway over the primeval light.
   And the light never blended with their roof.
Not even a bee was fooled into beginning the golden game,
   not even a Zephyr into swelling the white aprons.
On the peaks, in the valleys, in the ports
   they raised and founded
mighty towers and villas,
   floating timbers and other vessels;
and the Laws decreeing the pursuit of profit
   they applied to the primeval measure.
And the measure never blended with their thinking.
   Not even a footpring of a god left a man on their soul,
not even a fairy’s glance tried to rob them of their speech.
   They came
dressed as “friends,”
   came countless times, my enemies,
bearing the primeval gifts.
   And their gifts were nothing else
but iron and fire only.
   To the open expecting fingers
only weapons and iron and fire.
   Only weapons and iron and fire.
© Translation: Edmund Keeley and George Savidis


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