CULTURE

Poems, lyrics and prose celebrate Corfu

«Corfu Blues» (Ars Interpres, 2006) is neither strictly about Corfu, though that lush Ionian island forms a central motif of this 200-page volume, nor particularly depressing, though it pitches plenty of nostalgia too. It does, however, gather four decades of diverse writings in verse, prose, and lyric form into a paean to most things Greek and Balkan. Jim Potts (OBE) is a peripatetic Brit who married into a Corfiot family and returns frequently. Over the decades, while making CDs, films and a career with the British Council, he has internalized vast knowledge of Greek culture and here offers a compact but varied expression of it all. Much has been broadcast, published, spoken or sung before, in locales from Sydney to Memphis to Stockholm, but as a compendium of often pained love for the country (what other kind is there?), he could do far worse. The first half consists of poems, most very brief but often fanciful, politically tinged (he first went to Corfu in 1967, the year of the Colonels) or wryly funny, as in «Paxiot Fisherman»: «Where’s he gone/ The man who ate lemons/ Stood on his head when not fishing?» «Stavrula’s Father,» about a Greek dying in exile, aches with poignancy, and though his themes can stray (some poems are on Sweden, his posting in 2000-04), elements of Mediterranean life always return: «When families quarrel…/ The bitterness lasts/ For generations:/ The feuds outlast roofs.» In others, others will see themselves; in «Guilt,» «I’m always the ‘Xenos’ – I’ll never belong/ When the blessing bread’s offered, I think I’ve done wrong.» In the title song, «They did their best to ruin the island, spoilt the view on hill and shore… I came back in spite of that, to find that Corfu blue… but I got the Corfu blues.» Frequent wordplay both leavens and lightens the content. Essays on philotimo (crudely, honor), old journal entries, a Seferis-Durrell reflection on Cyprus, an interview with filmmaker Michael Cacoyannis, musings on Greek music and the Greek love-hate syndrome in Byron bring up the rear. Black-and-white photos are interspersed. It is an entertaining and learned if choppy read for Greece addicts.