The 1st Athens World Poetry Festival is a multilingual and multi-faceted week-long event which sets out to prove that, if anything, we do need poets in lean years. Inspired and determined to react in a time of crisis, Greece’s Poets Circle and a long list of eager participants decided to listen to their Muse and organise the 1st Athens World Poetry Festival. They aim to lyrically renew Greece’s portrait as a land of poets. From Homer to Seferis and from China’s Lan Lan to Germany’s Hölderlin — whose characteristic phrase ‘Who needs poets in lean years?’ becomes chillingly topical — the festival now seeks common ground and a poetic vision without borders. Events — poetic, musical, visual or otherwise — will spread from the Acropolis Museum and the central Koumoundourou Square to the Corydallos Women’s Prison (with no public access) and the historic site of Delphi, urging their audience to travel both physically and allegorically.
Contemporary Greek poets such as Yiorgos Chouliaras, a major player in the organisation of the event, Titos Patrikios and Nanos Valaoritis, will be joined by Poland’s Adam Zagajewski, Ireland’s Desmond Egan, Germany’s Gerhard Falkner, Spain’s Juan Carlos Mestre and USA’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti, beat poetry movement pioneer and founder of San Francisco’s cult City Lights bookstore, amongst others. The opening night, September 23rd, welcomes visitors free of charge at the spacious gardens of the Athens Concert Hall, joining a big party of poets — Egan, Mestre, Valaoritis and 14 more from Greece and beyond, who will respectively read their original works. Given the multilingual nature of the festival Greek and English will naturally be the predominant languages of most events, such as the colloquium Poetry without Borders (26/9, Stanley Hotel), as well as in the powerpoint translations, discussion panels and the collective festival book that you will find on sale with poems, poet bios and photographs. All in all, wherever you may come from, you will somewhere find a poem (or a poet) that speaks to you.
Seizing the opportunity for a warm-up discussion with the festival guests, Yiorgos Chouliaras asked a selected few to answer the burning question: What is the significance of poetry in today’s world? According to Falkner, in a day when ‘we are about to lose the ability to communicate with ourselves…poetry is almost the only independent language left. Poetic language is not only to detect and recognize the mind, it is also a remedy to build and enlarge the self, not as an ego, but as a potentially enormous inner space’. Egan quotes ‘Not on bread alone does man live’, adding that ‘…great art survives, indestructible as the poetry of Simonides or the drama of Sophokles. Its very survival suggests some kind of necessity and need’. For US poet Alicia Stallings, ‘…the opposite of the aesthetic isn’t the ugly, it is the anesthetic’ and poetic ‘wakefulness’ is the antidote to ‘electronic anesthesia’.
As for Adam Zagajewski, things are quite simple: ‘Poetry is like homeopathy. Small amounts; doctors are skeptical. And yet some people are cured by it…’. More ‘medication for the healthy’ is distributed generously at the festival by 65 more literary doctors, in rough and idyllic urban backdrops – starting tonight.