Haris Vlavianos was born in Rome in 1957. He studied Economics and Philosophy at the University of Bristol (B.Sc) and Politics, History and International Relations (M.Phil, D.Phil) at the University of Oxford (Trinity College). His doctoral thesis entitled, Greece 1941-1949: From Resistance to Civil War, was published by Macmillan (1992) and was awarded the “Fafalios Foundation” Prize.
He is Professor of History and Politics at the American College of Greece (Deree). He has published numerous articles relating to issues of Modern Greek History and Culture [the “Metaxas Dictatorship”, the “Greek Resistance”, the “Fall of the Junta”, “Modern and Postmodern Currents in Greek Culture”, etc]. He is currently preparing a book on the question of justice with references to the works of Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx and Rawls.
He has published nine collections of poetry, including Vacation in Reality (2009), which won this year prestigious “Diavazo” Poetry Prize and has been short-listed for this year National Poetry Prize to be announced in 2011. This collection was translated into Swedish by Ingemar Rhedin (the translator of the Nobel Prize winner Odysseus Elytis) and published by “Axion Publications” in Stockholm. He has also published a collection of thoughts and aphorisms on poetry and poetics entitled, The Other Place (1994). He has translated in book form the works of well-known writers such as: Walt Whitman (Selected Poems, 1986), Ezra Pound (Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, 1987; Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX-CXX, 1991), Michael Longley (Selected Poems, 1992), Wallace Stevens (Adagia, 1993), John Ashbery (Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1995), Carlo Goldoni (The Venetian Twins, 1996 — a play staged by the Karolos Koun Art Theatre in 1996-97), William Blake (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1997—short listed for the State Translation Prize), Zbigniew Herbert (The Soul of Mr. Cogito and other Poems, 2001), Fernando Pessoa (Herostrato: The Quest for Immortality, 2002, Marginalia, 2005) and E. E. Cummings (33 x 3 x 33: Poems, Essays, Fragments, 2004—short listed for the State Translation Prize). He is the editor of the influential literary journal “POETICS”.
His collection of poems Adieu (1996) has been translated into English by David Connolly and published in the U.K. by Birmingham University Press (1998). A Selected Poems volume of his translated into German by Dadi Sideri Speck, into Dutch by Hero Hokwerda and into Italian by Nicola Crocetti, has been published by “Romiosini Press” (2001), “Rotterdam Poetry International” (2000) and “Crocetti” (forthcoming), respectively. (A new volume in Dutch just came out in March 2007, also translated by Hero Hokwerda). A selection of his poetry has been translated into Catalan by Joaquim Jesti and just published in Barcelona by the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes. A new “Selected Poems” volume of his, translated into German by Torsten Israel, was published in February 2007 by “Hanser Verlag” in Munich, with an introduction by the well-known German poet, Joachim Sartorius. “Hanser” launched Vlavianos’ volume together with the latest poetry collection of the Nobel-Prize winner poet Derek Walcott as part of a new international poetry series. In addition, “Dedalus” (Ireland) has just published a similar volume, translated into English by Mina Karavanta, with an introduction by the award-winning poet Michael Longley. His poetry has also been translated into French, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Bulgarian and Albanian and has appeared in numerous European and American journals and anthologies. In April 2007 he published a book of essays, entitled Does Poetry Matter? Thoughts on a Useless Art, to great critical acclaim. Last year his translations of the poetry of Wallace Stevens and Michael Longley were also published in bilingual volumes. His essay on Dante (“The Divine Comedy as Poetic Autobiography”) has just appeared as an introduction to the Greek translation of Boccaccio’s biography of Dante. He has just published a new translation of Ezra Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and a book of essays entitled, The Double Dream of Language. His translation of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets will appear in the Spring of 2011. He teaches Translation Theory at the European Centre for Translation (EKEMEL). His latest book of poetry Sonnets of Despair has just been published.
For his contribution in promoting Italian literature and culture in Greece, the President of the Italian Republic bestowed upon him in February 2005 the title of “Cavaliere”.
If a man in his forties
is still drawing seas and dovecotes,
if in his thought is reflected
a sun more transparent,
more lucid than the sun of reality,
if the word “Amorgos” is not just
the mask of a fleeting, adolescent memory,
then between the poem of desire
and the poem of necessity
real loss is throbbing.
Prologues have been consumed.
They cannot always substitute the topic.
He must decide whether he can
hold on to this absolute idea
even if he has ceased to believe in its power.
Successive metamorphoses of paradise.
The eye tries to interpret the enigma of beauty
while Delos is slowly emerging in the horizon.
Summer feels like an eternity.
The poem begins to invent itself
the moment he turns his face to the light.
(The moment the imagination,
freed from the sensation of the blazing white,
vertically rises in the sky.)
Not one sail in the horizon
tearing the canvas apart.
The image of a tree
with its wind-swept boughs scavenging the ground
is not a part of the scenery today.
Yet, the old lady creeping uphill on her knees
tightly holding Her icon is.
The man is walking on the beach alone.
He is still touched by the melodious whisper of the waves,
the way the water is persistently lulling the rock to sleep.
Nature around him
(cedars, rotten fishing boats, shingles)
has a melancholic, unaffected brightness.
If he were to die at this moment,
he would want to be here,
in this place, where he has been before.
Even for a while.
© Translation by Mina Karavanta
Following a lead by Stevens
When the last leaves have fallen,
we shall return at last to our familiar, intimate place,
to this cherished sanctuary
that our fatigued body has left unfulfilled
for the necessities of inevitable knowledge.
It is difficult, almost impossible,
to choose even the adjective
that would lend some meaning
to this bare coldness,
this causeless grief
that spreads gradually, steadily,
eroding your life’s most inner recesses.
A simple, natural gesture
might be the first step,
the beginning of a new attempt.
If not now, not today,
tomorrow without fail.
Lack of imagination?
That too will have to be invented, naturally;
and the stage will be set
as the instructions on the paper demand.
The stone house must be kept erect.
The arch in the front room
(your precious, priceless past), especially this.
And the old lintel with the mermaid.
And the fig tree in the garden, and the oleanders,
and the dry stonewall, all must remain.
That the ruin, the rift, the absence may be revealed.
That the strife, the fall, the work may be appraised.
The autumnal wind
that gave these words their body,
fiercely effacing their metaphysical gleam,
knows all too well the secret they conceal.
As do you
who stoop to get a dry leaf from your doorstep.
The leaf of reality.
The exquisite poem of the genuine.
© Translation by Mina Karavanta
Esthétique de la Beauté
For Vaso Kindi
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
Charles Baudelaire, “La Beauté”
At the trattoria across the Palazzo Ducale,
he is now sitting alone
at the very same table (where so many years ago),
having his lunch with a glass of Brunello (her choice),
taking the same route, inversely.
Pain is certainly human.
Yet beneath the present ‘no’
lurks a passion for a ‘yes’ that has never been quenched.
The book he is holding in his hands
(an old edition of Cavalcanti’s sonnets)
confirms this: the paradise of that forsaken faith
(“e gli occhi pien d’ amor”) still exists.
He is casting his indifferent glance
upon the tourists with the cameras crowding
the central piazza’s fountain
for the predictable, banal adieu.
Taking out the card with Castiglione’s portrait
he neatly notes Vassari’s phrase:
“So kind and merciful he was
that even the animals loved him”.
He would have liked to tell her about him,
to picture for her every detail of his reserved,
reserved in its own anguish, gaze,
as he felt it
the moment it crossed his own.
The painting was hung in the room
that ends into a little retreat
—“il prezioco gioiello”—
there, where Federico, just before his eyes were shut,
was studying On the Sublime.
He hadn’t noticed him the previous time,
as his lust had driven him elsewhere,
to places less lighted, more sensual.
He wanted to,
but he knew that he couldn’t.
And, strangely so, his feebleness
to imprint on the paper
all that he saw on that portrait
(the intelligence especially of his despair)
filled him with joy.
That feebleness was part of the Sublime.
Just like the sun vertically rising in the sky.
© Translation by Mina Karavanta
The perfume burned his eyes, holding tightly to her thighs
and something flickered for a minute and then it vanished and was gone.
Lou Reed, “Romeo and Juliette”
He tried to remember the poem
that he’d begun to write in silence
on the hotel’s verandah with a view to the Aegean.
The words had vanished
and along with them had gone
a specific sense of that summer morning.
That morning was as if it had never existed.
It had not existed.
All the previous days
he had been reading Herodotus’ Clio
copying excerpts and lines
in the leather-bound notebook given to him
the day they were leaving from Piraeus.
Under the dedication,
in tiny letters,
he had noted the phrase:
“Truth is something frightening.
We should not ask for
more than we can handle.
We should not reveal our own truth,
should not force one to accept it,
should not make one want to know things
that transcend human power”.
He wished to tell her that the world always is
at the mercy of the mightiest truth,
whether this might defends wisdom
that in the long run truth does not matter,
that everyone has specific limits of sensitivity,
beyond which exists neither the true nor the false.
that when Nerval wrote “Je suis l’ inconsolé
Le prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie”
He said nothing.
An imaginative dialogue
is not interesting at all anyway.
He opened the notebook
and on the last page
(where he had just thought of writing a letter)
he painted an olive grove with a cypress in the middle
—the poem of desire
in the poem of the real:
the chora of a new realism.
© Translation by Mina Karavanta
From: Affirmation: Selected Poems 1986-2006
by Haris Vlavianos,
Dedalus Press, 2007
Published with the permission of Haris Vlavianos