- The Poetics of Diaspora:Greek US Voices
Anthropologists and historians, especially of seafaring nations of the postcolonial condition such as the Caribbean, have shown how diasporic movement and transatlantic mobilities are anything but marginal in the constitution of the modernist imagination. On the contrary, movements across the Atlantic and the resulting diasporas have played a fundamental role in the making of the -isms that have colonized our ways of thinking, including capitalism (Mintz 1985) and racism (Gilroy 1987).
Greeks have moved across the big water into the Americas and back in several moments of the modern period, forming a vibrant, if dispersed and increasingly more diversified, United States-Hellenic or grecophone diaspora. The twentieth century, especially until the 1970s, saw major Greek exoduses, as people sought employment, higher income, and a better life outside the [End Page 161] boundaries of a country that faced different degrees of economic stagnation and political unrest.
Yet back home in the language’s metropolis, diasporic poetry was left aside for decades in favor of the Athens-centered generation of the thirties, at least as far as the modernist imagination is concerned. A much-discussed process of centering the linguistic creative stake by anchoring it to Athens took place. This taxonomy resonates with the way in which poetry is taught at schools and perceived by the public at large. Poets were the most prominent advocates of this group, which aimed at a nation-building process based on the aesthetic category of ελληνικότητα (ellinikótita, Greekness) thoroughly linked to the country’s geography and selective, idealized view of Greek history.
The legacy of those modernist poets—who were exclusively men, overwhelmingly bourgeois, and who influenced Greece more than any other group of writers—has come under scrutiny as of late. The debate has been ongoing since the 1980s, though some interesting new contributions, such as Tziovas’s (2011), seem to only raise a reluctant yet acute critique of the nation-building aims and successes of the 1930s group. Diaspora and movement had little place in this generation’s scheme of things. This might have been partly because of this group’s exponents’ own migratory routes to the capital: from islands, the Peloponnese, and Smyrna, they flocked into Athens to consolidate a literature of the young, dynamic Greece on the rise. Critically reviewing the 1930s legacy implied reconsidering Greek poetry as an Athens-based phenomenon—although later generations, and most prominently that of the 1970s, have been even more Athens-centered in the scope and problematics of their poetic concerns.
The process of revision has by now been fully reversed. First, it has properly established Cavafy at the forefront of Greek modern poetics—a poet who only visited the nation-state of Greece once in his life. Second, it has re-appreciated early nation-building poetic voices such as Andreas Kalvos and Dionysios Solomos. As the famous George Seferis quote goes, referring to Kalvos, Solomos, and Cavafy, these were “[o]ur three great dead poets who did not speak Greek.” Seferis would endow this ideology with a sense of uniqueness, as well: “In no other literature do I find a similar example” (1974, 63; see also his Kalvos essay in Seferis 1999, 64–76).
Recent criticism has favored other voices, too, that stem from outside of the sheer geographical bounds of the modern Greek state. Thus, the readership has rediscovered authors as different and fascinating as Nikos Kavvadias and Nikos Kachtitsis, who lived their lives mostly abroad or in constant wondering. The array can be expanded to prose writers who delved for a long time on foreign shores, from cosmopolitan Lilika Nakou to...