„Poetry unites countries, nations, languages, people!”

Interview with Nestoras Poulakos

An interview with the publisher Nestoras Poulakos of Vakxikon.gr
Mr Poulakos, what role does poetry play in Greek literature?
Poetry has been an essential element of Greek literature since its inception. More precisely: Greek poetry has deep roots in tradition and is considered one of the most important and oldest in the world. The Greek language does not necessarily „help” poets gain international renown. Apart from the Nobel Prize winners Seferis and Elytis, almost nobody outside of Greece knows any Greek poets – even though this is of course unwarranted; but the creation of poetry continues to be prolific and diverse. In my opinion the role of poetry in Greece has not changed over time. It is, and remains, a symbol and expression of quality, even if only for a minority. Nonetheless, the public at large is familiar with it as a concept; even if it is naturally more appreciated by the educated classes.
How would you compare Greek poetry to poetry from other cultures?
As a matter of principle, I am not interested in comparing literatures – and most certainly not poetry. I don't think that’s the point of it. Nor do I believe in the concept of a ‘national poetry’, even if it is termed as such. Poetry is written in an international „language“ and is understood by all people independent of nations and continents.  In this sense, this is how we understand the motto of our project „Anthologies of Young Poets“: Poetry unites countries, nations, languages, people!
Are there important aspects of Greek poetry that connect it to the poetry of other countries?
Language connects the poetry of all cultures. This refers to the international language of poetry. Greek poetry, which has a long tradition yet lacks a popular sound, can be read everywhere and connected to all other literatures. Provided, of course, the reader not only is prepared to recognize it, but also has the right instinct for it. A poetic instinct.

Why does your publishing program focus on poetry?

There are several reasons for our focus on poetry. Our starting point was that poetry
has always been of special interest to us, first as a readers and later as writers. We
founded the literary magazine Vakxikon.gr, which from its inception was oriented on poetry. Of course this also has continued to be the focus of our publishing house. We publish
Greek poetry because we believe in it. What distinguishes us, however, if I may say so,
is our commitment to the transmission and dissemination of foreign poetry in the Greek language. We don’t just engage in this work occasionally, rather we are constantly and systematically committed to it. In doing so, we also consider classics and poets who have already been translated several times.
Who are your favorite poets - Greek and German - and why?

Nikos Karouzos and Paul Celan. Because they are hopeless, yet at the same time more human than those around them, who had condemned them because they had spoken and written in a unique language. And even though this language is difficult for many it is much more accessible than the „worldly“ one.
Why did you choose to focus on poets younger than forty in your series "Anthologies of Young Poets"?

We wanted to set up certain limits and criteria for the selection, because we didn’t want to present a generalized and undefined collection, that is we didn’t want something like “The
Best Poets.” We would like to present contemporary poetry, poems by younger artists who
have already achieved success. This is how age emerged as a singular criteria: In our opinion age forty in Europe often presents a kind of transition in art. When poets hit forty, they stop being “young.” He or she is then considered tried and tested, has exposed himself or herself to the public. And at some point, these experienced lyricists should – if they deserve it – then be considered an established poet.
How has the project “Anthologies of Young Poets” been received in Greece?

It is still too early to speak of a sustained response. We have only published six of the fifty-four books planned in the series. But so far we have received praise for the initiative. Of course, most of the positive feedback has come from abroad, from institutions, poets, publishers of anthologies and translators. Because our series gives them the opportunity to present their literature and their work in another country, in a difficult language.
What trends do you observe in contemporary Greek poetry?

The individual vision still plays a prominent role in Greek poetry. How could it be any different? In the last few years, the crisis has given birth to a different sound and another direction, a political and social dimension. The inner view of the poet, however, remains unchangeable.
What role do you think poetry will play in the future?
I believe that poetry is capable of changing the world.
What does poetry mean to you personally?

It is my refuge, my support, or, in other words, my oxygen. And for a few years now my work.
Nestoras Poulakos is President and Managing Director of Vakxikon.gr Media Group; journalist and moderator of the television show The Book in ERT2; Secretary to the Board of the Publishers' Association S.E.K.B.; Second Chairman of the Board and Editor in Chief of the Periodicals and Monographs of the Greek Film Critics Association (P.E.K.K.).
Translated by Zaia Alexander