Thursday, July 28, 2011

EYES OF SOUL – Poetry from Greece by Potis Katrakis

Eyes of Soul (Lexitipon Editions, 2010) is Potis Katrakis’s new poetry collection which comprises 85 poems, translated in English by Zacharoula Gaitanaki.


Katrakis opens his collection with As the evening is drawing on where he contrasts the darkness of the night with the flames of inspiration and poetry. Light and darkness are again contrasted in Everything and nothing, where the poet deals with wisdom as against forgetfulness, and man as being everything and nothing at the same time.

The poet as an environmentalist and conscience to mankind is seen in Overpopulation and development: Katrakis deals with the pollution of waters and the lack of pure and natural fountains. Even Predictions deals with “natural phenomenon… pollution… overpopulation”, and also with “atomic arms… terrorism”. All these put our future in danger. On the other hand, in The silence of nature one reads that the poet and nature are bound together. Katrakis observes that nature’s silence is more eloquent than man’s “voice or his pen”: that’s why the poet “spend[s] many times/ reading its silence”.

Poetry itself is frequently a theme in itself. When imagination is in love is about the conception and birth of poetry. This is very beautiful and lyrical verse: white paper on which poetry is written is compared to a “ploughed plain”. Three pillars on which poetry is built are memory, fantasy and judgement (Building poetry). In Poet of visible and of invisible Katrakis asks who the poet is. For him the poet is he who praises all things, visible and invisible. In The extent of a poem he writes that:

“The extent of a poem

does not depend on the number of pages

and its verses

but on the quantity

and the power of light

that it radiates.”

Poetry is light and thus a healing element against “the darkness of soul” (The light of poetry). Poetry is understood as words (or theory) which can be transformed in actions (or practice). Again we read of poetry as light in Theory and practice, which is the poem that concludes this collection. In Mature consideration Katrakis writes about poetry which can be comprehended and poetry that is unintelligible. Such knowledge comes when one is mature. And this knowledge makes the reader understand that there is magic, life and colour behind the poet’s verses (When they become a song). Poets are equalled to gods in Poets are not resigned to, and cannot be bribed or subdued. Behind the figure of the poet there is also the idea of the passion of Christ. Here Katrakis writes thus: “Poets mark/ the stars with their blood”, and later on, “The destiny of the real poets/ is to climb up a Calvary.” This links directly with Why, God almighty?: Katrakis writes that the poet suffers because he sees around him “pain, sorrow, disappointment”, and faced with all this he turns towards God.

There is also the social element in Katrakis’s poetry. In The money he protests against “the executive,/ the legislature, the judiciary,/ the religious power” (all symbols of power), saying that all these are corrupted through money and blessed by the rest of the people. Even in The political cost Katrakis is adamant against corrupted politicians and politics that puts at stake economic development. Politics is again the subject of Violence and corruption: politics is based on these two elements, and ironically this situation is permitted by the people. Again, we read about politics in Satire and politics: according to the poet, both have big audiences. In Enemies Katrakis writes that mankind is a long way from peace because we have both “inside and outside enemies”. Even If they envy you is about enemies: the poet admits that those who have enemies are those who combat injustice. Katrakis also knows that progress and victories come through mistakes, losses and inner conflicts (The result carries weight).

Poverty is seen by the poet as a snake and a “timeless enemy of man/ that poisons/ and swallows his soul” (The snake of poverty). Only unity between mankind can subdue it. This idea is seen also in America and Europe where Katrakis expresses himself in favour of fraternity between the continent states. Regarding poverty Katrakis inspires himself by the simplest of human beings: in The beggars he writes:

“My kindness ordered me

to have pity on the beggar

who stretched out his arms

at the end of the road.”

However, the poet also knows that there are people who transformed begging into a “profitable occupation”. Thus in today’s world there is also some kind of conflicting interest even where begging is concerned.

Acquired rights can be better understood in the light of today’s problems striking Greek economy. This may be linked to Something bad is in the making: the poet is again understood as the conscience of society as he notes that man regresses because moral values have loosened and he has grown selfish. Thus through his poetry Katrakis offers a set of moral and social guidelines in order to live a better life and make a better world. In Rules he writes:

“Rules are the tracks

that runs the train of our life

in order not to derail.”

However Katrakis as a poet is also conscious of the fact that:

“The conquering generals and not the philosophers

conquer the world,

they produce the law

and give solutions.” (There where nature speaks)

On the other hand, You, women is a plea in favour of emancipation of women who are still suffering in countries of the third world, “under the whip of inequality,/ of slavery, of humiliation”. Katrakis also reminds us that we are human beings and thus have to act accordingly. Many are described as “blood thirsty animals” in a society where profit, materialism and power reign (The great honour).

In The unknown world Katrakis writes about past, present and future. He asks how much does man knows now that he has made many technical and scientific discoveries. The poet knows that in spite of all this man still knows very little about his existence. The unknown is dealt with also in To the unknown future: Katrakis as man and poet knows the good and evil of mankind. Mankind is full of contrasts and whatever good or evil he does man is moving towards the “unknown future”. In An honours degree Katrakis asks if real knowledge depends on how many academic degrees one obtains. Knowledge seems to be a key element in Katrakis’s poetry. In Historic route he deals with knowledge and the absurdity of war on the one hand, and knowledge and “the Art of the absurdity to charm” people on the other. Man has his intellect, but who guides it exactly, he or some other force external to him? (Every genius). It remains to find the madman is about Chernobyl and the nuclear holocaust; it is also a plea to be watchful against the “madman”. Katrakis adds more to this in The negatives of progress: science has to be prudent and we must assure ourselves that its target is positive, not negative.

Katrakis writes about spiritual issues too: in My soul the latter is understood as “God’s gift,/ queen of creation”. He also asks where will it go after the death of the body. Religion is seen as a means to law, order and safety (Carats of religion). The poet is understood as a prophet too: he is a foreseer of what is happening and what will happen. The new flood is that which drowns our souls through “corruption… fraud… hypocrisy”, and the only salvation is through “human and divine wisdom”. In To know God Katrakis asks if God is also found inside us human beings. This question seems to be answered in There is no need to pray: God is both inside and outside us, and alone, man is weak and incomplete.

Another poem in praise of God is As far the sun will exist where light dominates through references made to the sun, the intellect and God himself. Gives birth to hope is a poem-prayer: prayer is food for the soul and changes sorrow into a song.

There are also poems dedicated to love in Eyes of soul. In Of famous lovers Katrakis knows that being beautiful and loyal at the same time is rare. Love is seen as a way to generate life on Earth in You are a sucker. Love can only be if there is justice and equality in the world (And some justice). The flame thrower presents love as an “eternal flame thrower”. About beauty he also writes that it is something which is inside us not outside (The beauty). Two tears of emotion is against materialism and in favour of what makes us real human beings. Katrakis also writes about taking things for granted in The habit: “The habit/ kills the charm/ of the new and of the unknown.” In Eyes of soul, the poem from which the whole collection gets its name, Katrakis suggests that the world must be seen through the soul and thus understood as being a miracle. Being alive is therefore a blessing. Life has its beautiful moments too. It is a gift from God and also a way of showing himself to us (It is good as a whole).


The majority of Potis Katrakis’s poems are composed of a few lines. Concision is the key word. Through concision Katrakis manages to stay in touch with everyday joys and pains. His are short thoughts or reflections about different aspects of life, such as physical health, belief in God, manual labour, laughter, experience, old age, genius, dictatorships, life and death. Katrakis may be seen also as a philosopher. In their concision Katrakis’s poems need time to seep deep inside the reader’s mind and soul. They are only the tip of the iceberg since one can stay reflecting for long on each and every of his poems.

His is also poetry for discussion. This may be linked to the vast empty spaces left on every page: are they there for the reader to reflect, write feedback, a kind of continuation to Katrakis’s verse? Katrakis’s poetry is also didactic.

At times Katrakis uses also prosaic vocabulary such as “rights”, “recession” and “economies” (Acquired rights).

Zacharoula Gaitanaki as the translator, remains very faithful to the original syntax and lexical constructions. The translations in English have to be read more than once in order to appreciate the true meaning conveyed by Katrakis. But this is surely not a disadvantage: all poetry has to be read more than once in order to be well appreciated and understood.


Eyes of soul has an Introduction written by Dr. Jasvinder Singh of New Delhi. This poetry collection is an invitation to reflect on humankind in general. Poems are to be read bit by bit and are daily food to ponder about for the reader. They are also a way to enrich ourselves as social, spiritual and human beings.

Potis Katrakis was born in Demonia of Laconia. He is an honourable vice-President of the Bar Association of Piraeus, a life member of WAAC/ World Congress of Poets, a member of the Academy Ferdinandea (Italy), of IWA, WPS and of the National Company of Greek Writers. His poetry has been translated in several foreign languages and has appeared in both national and foreign publications. He also writes and has published short stories, theatrical pieces, essays, a travel book about the Soviet Union, and novels.

Patrick Sammut

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

PICTURES OF LIFE – Poems from Greece by Eleni I. Grivas

Eleni I. Grivas was born in Kato Tithorea Lokridas and lives in her birthplace with her brother and poet, Stathis Grivas. She is a member of the International Society of Greek Poets and of the World Poets Society. Pictures of Life (2010) is Eleni I. Grivas’s first poetry collection which comprises 38 short poems in both Modern Greek and English (translated by Zacharoula Gaitanaki). Her poetry comes deep from the heart and as a result of experience, faith and love towards nature and mankind.


Eleni Grivas is the observer of the simplest of everyday things and thus knows that life is made up of strong contrasts. Thus poetry here is a means to reflect about humankind (with its good and evil) and life. She writes about the love and affection of children on the one hand, and about the destruction and cold-heartedness of the adult world on the other. Grivas thus upholds positive values (love, friendship, happiness, having a “good heart”) against today’s materialistic world (wealth, greed, money, power), which is worthless when death hits. Happiness is enjoying the things which have no price and are thus beautiful and unreachable (Health and safety). Where there is no love there is tyranny, poverty and distress (Poverty). Obstinacy is no direct way to knowledge, and the latter neither can be bought (The headstrongness). Bitter words are worse than wounds and sores. All this – including passion and mistakes - may create pain which is kept secret or is hid behind a laugh (The pain, Mistakes). Moreover, pleasure is the result of peace of mind and serenity of the soul (The peace of mind). Grivas advices her reader to think before talking: that’s how one is fair with others in life (Thought). In another short poem Grivas writes about education which she deems as the solution to drugs, theft, murder and rape.

A recurrent element is Grivas’s voice in favour of the “needy people” and in protest against “unscrupulous men” (A total catastrophe). Such a disaster comes when mankind is spoilt through money and materialism which lead to the suffering of many (Disaster).

Grivas also writes environmental verse: in Pollution she contrasts the clean air of the mountains (there is where the real life is) to pollution of the city (man has to escape all this). The mountains are a space where the poet is happy (Spring), and spring is life and happiness through its sounds and colours. In The road of disaster Grivas writes about animal extinction, burning forests, pollution, and ozone problems. Even here we see the poet as the pulse of what’s happening in today’s world.

At times Grivas writes about reminiscences of times past, when things were simpler, more beautiful and better (My village). In The Mother the poet writes about the eternal daughter-mother bond.

There are also poem-prayers where Grivas expresses her thanks to Christ (Christ), especially in today’s “hard times” where He remains the only hope (Hopelessness). In To the Virgin Mary Grivas, again, sees religion as the only hope for those who are suffering and unfortunate. What cannot be cured in society can be healed through Christ (The Faith). In Love one another! Christ is seen as a model and love as a remedy to all suffering. During times of sorrow and grief Christ is the only protection for the poet too:

“Sorrows, grief and sighs

surrounded me

and protection from Christ

I ask to save me.” (Protection).

Death is understood only as a transition and instead there’s the strong belief that beyond it men become “angels” (There, high up). Death is no end, but a way to meet again the ones we love (Expectation).


What strikes first is the concision in which Eleni Grivas writes. Her poems are short but profound, as if they were thoughts or short prayers too. Simplicity is another key element in her verse, in both language and thoughts. Poetry is also a play on words which speaks the truth: ours today is a materialistic society. Irony can be felt between such lines as:

“The experience of man

is worth very much

because the inexperience

is expensive in our society.” (The experience)

As is clear throughout this collection Eleni Grivas’s are short poems but their effect keeps echoing in one’s mind and soul for long.

At times Grivas’s verse reminds us of the Japanese classical nature haiku:

“Grey and dark clouds

the sky fills

and the rain suddenly

the world inundates.” (The rain);


“Sky is on the high,

sea is on the ground,

if you look them both

they have the same colour.” (The blue colour)

Other times Grivas inspires herself by classical tales or fables (The cicada and the ant).


Eleni I. Grivas’s poetry is surely not hermetic but straightforward, clear, lyrical, and beautiful in its simplicity. It is an ideal gift to those who love short poems which help them reflect on everyday life. Pictures of Life is a collection which is best read gradually, on a daily basis, so that the reader has the necessary time to digest and think on Eleni Grivas’s wise verse. A big thanks goes also to Zacharoula Gaitanaki (also a poet and writer) who through her translations has made it possible for non-Modern Greek readers to appreciate Eleni Grivas’s poetry. Gaitanaki has also written the Introduction to Pictures of Life.

Patrick Sammut