Resistance poems fight tyranny from behind bars

He poet Alekos Panagoulis died too young; Panagoulis the freedom fighter was sentenced to death – twice – tortured and beaten. He spent five years in isolation in Boyati Military Prison from 1968 for an assassination attempt on Giorgos Papadopoulos 16 months after the colonels had installed the junta in Greece (1967-1974). But the revolutionary was unrepentant, and the poet insuppressible. Initially on the cell walls and then on the only paper he had – cigarette papers – using his own blood for ink, he set down his outrage and railed against his tormentors. Now, «Alexandros Panagoulis: Collected Poems,» originally published in Greek in 1975, is available in English through the dedicated efforts of translator and editor Amy Mims and Papazissis Publishers. The poems speak of resistance, of pain, of stifled voices. They say not to give up hope. They defy the tyrants. Many are dedicated to fallen comrades. Panagoulis uses strong symbolic images – of darkness (but also of light), flesh, faith, wounds, chains; he conceives of himself as the bound Prometheus. And yet he writes not of loneliness or fear, but instead rallies himself to the cause with his poetry. His tenacity in such grim circumstances is unbelievable. In addition to Amy Mims’s introduction, there are two prefaces: by the director and revolutionary Pier Poalo Pasolini (reprinted from the Italian edition) and, secondly, excerpts from «Greece in the Dark: 1967-1974» by Kevin Andrews, who devoted an entire section in his history of the junta to Panagoulis. An epilogue to the book is provided by the stanzas of the poet Yiannis Ritsos, written upon learning of his death. Panagoulis wrote over 100 poems, giving some heartening titles, such as «Sacred Command,» «Immortality,» «Life Carries On,» «You Must Live» and «A Promise.» This last reads: «The tears you will see/ welling up in our eyes/ you must not believe/ to be signs of despair/ They are only a promise/ a promise for Struggle.» A testament to the triumph of will and defiance against all oppression, the poems serve as a reminder of the dark days of the Greek military dictatorship and those who fought for democracy. Alekos Panagoulis was released through a general amnesty and, after the return to democracy in 1974, elected to Parliament. On May Day, 1976, he was killed in a car accident.

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