CULTURE

Pantelis Boukalas

«The ‘new’ Ritsos does not negate the ‘old.’ But it does intensify the thoughts about an inward, undeclared, self-censoring poet that were prompted by the book ‘Arga, poly arga mesa stin nychta’ (Slowly, Slowly, Late into the Night) which came out in 1991, a year after his death, with material from 1987-1989. It reveals, more clearly than the work published during his lifetime, the paths his voice took that had nothing to do with anything that might be expected or hoped for ideologically, the paths of melancholy and disappointment, both literary and political. «The paradoxical chronology (we read the poems of 1987 before those of 1977) may be considered evidence of the poet’s problematic desire to publish, a desire connected with, if not dependent on, party political minutiae: Ritsos restrained or self-restrained. «The following verses, written December 9, 1977, explain a lot: «’Great difficulty/ making/ positive heroes -/ when they lay down/ the banners/ they no longer know/ what to do with their hands/ nor do we – better then/ for it not to happen at all/ the unveiling of this statue/ and of this poem.’ «If we understand ‘unveiling of this poem’ to mean its publication, we must assume that Ritsos is postponing the publication of certain of his poems so as to avoid being bothered by those who expected unvarnished hagiography from him and were ready to condemn any divergence or heresy, any hint of melancholy, doubt or dissent. A few years later after the publication of his novel ‘It Might Have been Like That’ (1984), Ritsos suffered a savage attack by the social-realist publication Politistiki, whose editors lambasted the ‘populist’ prose work by Ritsos, saying that ‘it bore no relation to Marxist-Leninist philosophy.’ «With such in mind, Ritsos wrote on December 19, 1977: ‘He erased/ up to the last word/ of the poem -/ it is ready now/ it can be published.’ Writing as self-erasure. «One can only guess the extent to which Ritsos’s poetry was harmed by his procrastination in publishing poems and professing feelings. ‘The greatest obstacle to thinking through to the end is glory,’ he himself said. In this latest book, he returns to that: ‘Glory devastation, glory concealer.’ ‘And now, what are you doing/ with that gap/ and with a fake scepter.’ ‘They put big wings on him/ he can’t walk any more/ or fly/ and worst of all/ he can’t even close his eyes.’ «It’s as if he’s writing verse with his right hand to reproach the scepter-holding left hand. This poetry is like a speech that condemns self-censorship but is also strictly for himself, private and thus self-censored.»