A new exhibition that recounts the life and work of renowned poet Manolis Anagnostakis was inaugurated by the Hellenic Parliament Foundation on February 12, 2018 by the President of the Parliament Nikos Voutsis as part of UNESCO‘s Athens World Book Capital 2018 program.
The exhibition, organized in eleven sections, seeks to highlight the imprint of Manolis Anagnostakis mainly in the fields of poetry and culture. It also aims to explore his activities both politically and socially. Excerpts from poems, critical essays, articles, manuscripts, personal items, audiovisual material from the poet’s archives, but also from the collections of the Thessaloniki History Centre, the Benaki Museum Archives, the Contemporary Social History Archives (ASKI) and the ERT archives will be on display.
This tribute to the great Greek poet of the 20th century offers a journey to events that marked his life while forming his political personality and his poetry: it plunges us into political, social and ideological conflicts (1940-1974), as well as the upsetting period of the post-war period.
Manolis Anagnostakis: a brief biography
Anagnostakis is justly considered to be one of the most important poets to have emerged in Greece after the ‘famous’ modernist generation of Giorgos Seferis, Odysseas Elytis and Yannis Ritsos, “at the forefront of the Marxist and existentialist poetry movements arising during and after the Greek Civil War in the late 1940s”. Also a writer of prose and essays, Anagnostakis has won many awards for his poetry, which has been translated into numerous European languages.
Having studied medicine in Salonica and Vienna, Manolis Anagnostakis (Thessaloniki 1925 – Athens 2005) became a radiologist in Thessaloniki (from 1951 to 1978) and continued his work in Athens until his retirement from work.
Anagnostakis joined the student section of EPON (note: the resistant youth of the left, the United Panhellenic Organization of Youth) in Thessaloniki during the Second World War. He also adhered to the Greek Communist Party (KKE), and participated in the Resistance against the German occupation. In 1944, he collaborated with the magazine Xékinima and published his first poems in 1945 in Salonica under the title: Epoque. During the Greek Civil War (1946-1949), the poet was arrested on October 23, 1948 as a member of the underground KKE. He was sentenced to death the following year. Due to a call for mobilization in the literary world, he was not executed and was finally released in 1951.
From 1959 to 1961, he collaborated with the magazine Kritiki. In 1962, he published La suite and, in 1970, a collection called The Target. Anagnostakis was also a member of the editorial team of 18 texts (1970), against the junta Regime of the Colonels in Greece. After the fall of the dictatorship in July 1974, he joined the Communist Party and in 1986 he received the first national prize of Greek poetry. Four years later, he announced that he would stop writing because “the era no longer interests me”. In 2002 he received the Grand Prix of Literature. The poem “Μιλώ” (“I speak”) became known through the music of Mikis Theodorakis. Many of his poems have been translated into English, German, French, Italian. Manolis Anagnostakis was the brother of playwright Loula Anagnostaki (1931-2017).
About this period, he wrote: “If during the resistance, we young people acquired the consciousness of humanity, during the years that followed we were forced to drink the poison of inhumanity. Resistance is a multicolored painting where black is paradoxically in harmony with red, blue, all the colors. The color of the civil war is black.”
On victory and defeat, hope and resistance
As professor Lianna Theodoratou puts it, for Anagnostakis, poetry tells us that there is infinite hope, but only as long as we refuse to yield to what resists us, as long as we continue to stand and rebel against defeat – even, and perhaps especially when, it is every where around us. He urges us to rethink the meaning of defeat in terms of the ongoing struggle: with the war, with the repercussions of defeat, everything changes, including defeat. For Anagnostakis, defeat, true defeat, can only occur if we surrender to the usual meaning of defeat, if we choose to believe that there is a clear distinction detween winning and loosing…
I speak… (1956)
I speak of the last trumpet calls of the defeated soldiers
Of the rags from our holiday clothes
Of our children, selling cigarettes to passers-by
I speak of the flowers that have wilted on the graves and are rotting under the rain
Of the houses that gape, windowless, like toothless skulls
Of the girls begging, showing the wounds on their breasts
Of the barefoot mothers crawling in the debris
Of the flaming cities, the corpses piling in the streets
The pimp poets, trembling in thresholds at night
I speak of the endless nights when the light is lessened at dawn
Of the loaded tracks and the steps on wet cobblestone
I speak of the prison yards and the tears of those condemned to death.
But most of all I speak of the fishermen
Who left their nets and followed on His footsteps
And when He got tired, they did not seek rest
And when He betrayed them, they did not denounce
And when He was glorified, they averted their eyes
And their comrades spat on them and crucified them
And they, peaceful, take the road that has no end
Their gaze undarkened, unbent
Standing up and alone inside the terrible desert of the crowd
Sources: Manolis Anagnostakis | Le « poète de la défaite » au Parlement grec (Translation from French into English: Nicole Stellos); Manolis Anagnostakis: Poetry and Politics, Silence and Agency in Post-War Greece (Edited by Vangelis Calotychos); Manolis Anagnostakis: I speak