Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yannis Livadas: The margins of a central man

Yannis Livadas was born in Kalamata, Greece in 1969. He has done dozens of different jobs and travelled extensively in India, Tunisia, Algeria, Italy, France, Morocco, Portugal and Spain. He has published seven poetry collections, the most recent being Ati: Scattered Poems 2001-2009. He has translated the work of authors such as Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and Charles Bukowski. He now lives secluded in the Greek countryside.

DH: I'm curious about your background. When did you start writing seriously?

YL:My background was the mess of the entity. Existence whirls and spirals unceasingly in its void; one must find ways to scan it on the wing. To lose self, to be a poet. I started writing poetry because I had a congenital tendency for writing, ink and paper. It was the only thing that was making me feel complete. I started writing seriously when I was sixteen or so, but I first published when I was thirty. It was really great to experience fortitude all this years. I had no reason to be in a hurry about it.

You were once a bookseller and a publisher. What was that period like?

Ahh, that was a period full of mishaps and troubles. But I had to do that; I really liked the idea of making books, selling books, but those four years were more than enough. I faced too much bureaucracy in this country. So instead of being fulfilled publishing books I just suffered at the hands of officialdom. But it was also fun and I made new friends.

At first glance, your poetry looks surrealist, but your main influences seem to be pre-surrealist authors such as Apollinaire, but particularly Blaise Cendrars. What is it about Cendrars' work that attracts you and how has his work influenced you?

Apollinaire? No way! Not even the surrealists! I have studied their work extensively and I still enjoy reading a poem or two of theirs; maybe I prefer them to most of the poets of our time, but that’s all. There are no influences from that kind of stuff. Surrealism lacks what I call, with regard to my own poetry, “awakened realism”. Cendrars, my grandfather, was the most pulsating of all modernists and, of course one of the first. Cendrars still remains a poetic capital. Cendrars is a perfect exception. I consider him the greatest poetic spirit of the twentieth century. His main influence on me was his idea that consciousness is the highest hallucination of all. As a poet I am interested only in the voice of the Muse. I have no other interests. That’s what the poem is all about. Poetry is art, not just writing, as it seems generally considered to be just about everywhere. The world is full of hobbyists, poets are so few. That’s a sign of our times. But this situation still provides a great opportunity to people with dignity to make a difference. Honor alit artes.

You have translated many of the Beat writers, particularly Kerouac, but also borderline Beat figures like Bukowski. What attracts you to the Beats? What relevance do they have in 2011?

Some of the Beats; like those you mention, were geniuses. They forced writing to exalted levels. They were true and serious and headed only straight ahead. A few days ago, my second volume about the Beats came out. It’s a volume of essays, various translations and original criticism. I am translating Kerouac, Bukowski, and many others of that period because readers and new scholars in my country must be aware of them in order to start something new. Which I hope will happen someday.

Right now I am translating Kerouac’s Vision Of Cody and afterwards there is a series of books waiting. But the Beats have not influenced my writing, as some idiots in my country think.

What about some of the modern Greek poets – such as Seferis, Elytis, Ritsos and Valaoritis – have they had much an influence on your work?

None at all. I am completely indifferent to their work. They are mediocre for my taste. I have studied a tremendous amount of Greek poetry but I choose to turn the other way. I had no time to waste. There were other Greek poets such as Karouzos, Papaditsas and Spanias who elevated Greek poetry in other, more eclectic approaches. Still, there is no influence from them either; I prefer more dangerous and dexterous ways. I gamble, and exalt the existence of man into its natural emptiness. I laugh while I am meditating on death; that’s my aesthetics.

Like many of the Beat poets, you are a jazz aficionado. You have written an as yet unpublished history of jazz. What attracts you to jazz?

Jazz is a whole culture; a way of life. Thus, it is a way of making art. I started to hear jazz and collect records in my late youth, at a time that I was mainly listening to other stuff. But jazz knocked me out. Really. Jazz is absolutely free and at the same time absolutely unequivocal. I wrote a book about jazz called Round About Jazz: The History of Jazz from the Age of Bebop to The Present. It took some years to find a publisher; now I am waiting to hear from him when the book will finally come out.

What is the literary and publishing scene like in Greece? I should imagine the financial crisis has had a huge effect on publishing? And the small publishing scene?

Greece was running in the wrong direction for many years. It still is. This country faces huge problems. A lack of political direction and, most of all, education and culture. Most of the creative publishers here are in trouble. Still, there are things happening. The future will provide the evidence. We’ll see.

You had two books of poetry published in English, Coltrane and 15 Poems for Jazz, and The Margins of a Central Man, which was published by Graffiti Kolkata. The Coltrane book was translated into English by the well-known US poet Jack Hirschman and Dimitri Charalambous. How did that come about?

I have been in contact with Jack Hirschman since about 2000. I was fortunate to have some of my poems translated by him with the assistance of Charalambous. The book is now out of print. Maybe it will come out again, I have no idea. The Margins Of A Central Man is a book of twenty or so poems of mine, translated by myself for my Indian friends who luckily speak English. It’s a great honour for me.

You have an unpublished prose work – what is it? Is it fiction?

I am not a prose writer, but I wrote that book. I find hard to describe its contents but I can tell you that is quite unique in its style and connectiveness. I keep it somewhat secret. I have not published even a section of it. Most publishers find it too non-mainstream. It’s not going to sell the way they would like. Publishers are in need of a bestseller, so they don’t bother. And that’s fair.

You have travelled quite a bit, mainly around Europe. You obviously like travelling. Do you find that it enriches and inspires you?

Yes, I have also travelled in India and in North Africa. But the matter is not the place, the destination of the journey; it’s all about the traveller. That’s why the journey itself is what matters. As we say: the journey is you, nothing else. But let us not become fakes of the sensibilities. If you have to travel, you travel. When I travel, I do it for a sense of seclusion. Believe it or not, I am in a state of joyous, creative seclusion when I travel. Lately, I find my everyday life to convulse the same way. I am more than lucky. I am in my forties now, and life provides all kinds of gifts with outrageous generosity. Life is itself a poem.

What projects are you busy with at the moment?

Life, as always.