An Interview with Anderas Karavis by Anna Zoumi
Excerpted from Books In Canada, October 1999
A.Z. Let me begin by thanking you for consenting to this interview. It is a rare pleasure.
A.K. The pleasure is mine because it is rare.
A.Z. You are known affectionately as the hermit of Greek poetry, a dedicated cultivator of solitude. Do you not at times feel lonely and marginalized? I might add that it seems most appropriate to be speaking with you on your caique. It is the symbol of your isolation, is it not?
A.K. Not at all. In fact, I feel blessed with a rich companionship. Wherever I am the Greek poets are with me and I hear their voices constantly. I am involved in a perpetual conversation with them. And I do not avoid the common people whom I meet almost daily in the marketplace, the kafeneion, the harbour, the taverna, when I am, as the famous people like to say, "in residence."
A.Z. Still, you are very difficult to track down.
A.K. I wish to choose the terms of my engagement with others. I have nothing against conviviality, but I cannot abide the constant company of others, the demands of sociability, the evasions of a fabricated discourse. I have two refuges: my caique and my poetry. Possibly they are the same. In any case you are now familiar with both.
A.Z. You say "evasions." Could you elaborate?
A.K. You have read my poetry with attention and sympathy, so you understand my lifelong conviction that what we once called the "self," the centre of genuine, personal and reflective response to the grandeur and complexity of existence, is the greatest casualty of the age we live in. It has practically ceased to exist in any significant way. The self has been infiltrated by a politi-cal and economic and neoscholastic language that is dangerously abstract. We think in terms of slogans, generalities, clichés, words bound up like rice in vine leaves and deposited in cans for popular consumption. And we seek distraction to avoid recognizing the loss we have suffered. Even war has become a way of avoiding issuesthe ultimate form of entertainment. I decided as a young man living on Seriphos that my task was to rediscover the single and unified core of our sense of being in this world, the pit at the centre of the cherry, through an honest and rigorously purged language that is our own. And by trying to revive the miraculous awareness of the sheer, almost aggres-sive beauty of things: the wind, the sea, the chorus of voices we hear in the wine, the elemental force of a woman's loveliness. To be spare and lavish at the same time, strong enough to resist evaporation and despair but also strong enough to live abundantly. My Canadian translator, David Solway, says that my project is to restore the cycladic self to its place of eminence in a flat and newly impoverished world. Perhaps he is right.
A.Z. For someone whose reticence has become legendary, you are more than forthcoming.
A.K. I have agreed to this interview. To shirk my responsibility would put me in bad faith, would it not?
A.Z. Let me change the subject for a moment. Lili Zographou. There has been much speculation about your relationship with this formidable woman and writer. Would you care to comment?
A.Z. Now you are less than forthcoming.
A.K. Not that I wish to be, but this subject is taboo. I have a responsibility here as well.
A.Z. I understand. But you are surely aware that your readers are interested in your thoughts about the poetic muse, your poem on Hecate, the dedication of The Dream Masters to your mother, the female presence in On Karpathos, and so on. So the question would be, if I may rephrase it, is Lili an allegorical figure for you, a fusion of Hecate and Eleni, the muse at once both dark and light, stormy and calming, destructive and floral?
A.K. That is a very cunning way to reformulate the question. Lili Zographou was an extraordinary woman, all things to all men and no one thing to any. That is all I am permitted to say.
A.Z. There is also a rumor that you were briefly involved with the Turkish poet, Nesmine Rifat, known in her country as much for her beauty as for her writings. And that your sonnet, Elegy: The Garden, was composed for her. Is there any truth to this?
A.K. You seem most interested in my supposedly romantic involvements. I am not a movie star, so why should your readers care? You should remember that I was and still am a member of the Symparenekromeni, the fellowship of buried lives.
A.Z. Even so, you must realize that you are now a celebrity. And people do like to know these things. Besides, given the tension between Greece and Turkey, such a liaison may be regarded either as treasonable or as a preview of future harmony. There is a dimension here that transcends the personal.
A.K. Nothing transcends the personal. My relationships, such as they are, have always been nonpolitical. Do you think it would make any difference to me if my cat Argos boasted of Turkish or even American ancestry? And he is a far more important person than the present Prime Minister of Greece, or the previous one, for that matter. With me everything is personal: the political, the romantic, the so-called collective, the divine, the demonic. Everything. I will say no more about this.
A.Z. Melina Mercouri?
A.K. Who is Melina Mercouri?
A.Z. Fair enough. I will drop the subject. Who are the dream masters?
A.K. Fair enough. They define the rules of the game and so necessarily escape definition, since definition is by definition rule-bound. Sometimes I think of them as fallen and displaced gods who revenge their refugee status by the practice of indifference. More often, I regard them as the corrupt archontic powers who govern the actual dream of life and whom most of us try to escape only in dreamsdreams as the only way out of the dream, you see. But flight is always temporary. So there is nothing left for us to do but to stay residually awake while remaining snared in the coils of the dream. You are certainly aware of that paradoxical condition of knowing you are dreaming while continuing to suffer the delusion which the dream represents. Of being awake in the middle of your sleep, the experience of nocturnal consciousness. It is what the ancients called the nekyia, the visit to the underworld, and what I understand as the sense of being haunted by the real, for which we must learn the difficult art of, let's say, reflexive hospitality. This is where poetry comes in. It is the only defense against the gnostic overlord. Poetry is the centre of consciousness in the dream from which we cannot awaken.
Anna Zoumi is the assistant editor of the Greek literary quarterly, Elladas. An unexpurgated version of this interview can be found in An Andreas Karavis Companion.