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Review of Stathis Grivas book of poems- Different ways
essay [ ]

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by [kksrivastava ]

2011-12-05  |     | 

Zacharoula Gaitanaki, lives in Greece, is a poet of distinction and translator parexcellence. This year she sent me three books of poets from Greece. Gaitanaki, apart from being a poet has also written articles, short stories, novels and essays. Her poems have been translated into English, French, Italian, Albanian, Bengali, Chinese and Korean and she is hugely anthologized. She was recently awarded Honorary Doctor of Literature from World Congress of Poets. Her vita is included in the Encyclopedia of Modern Greek literature of Charis Patsis( Vol 10).

One of the books she sent me is Different Ways by Stathis Grivas. This book is published by Center Of The European Editions of Charis Patsis in 2008. Stathis Grivas was born in Greece in 1926. He studied Economics in the University of Economics & Business Centre. A member of “Greek Literary Society”, he was also Honorary Academician of the Academy of Fiorino (Italy). Referred to in the American “Who’s Who” in the “International Biography of Cambridge”, he also finds a mention in “Who is Who” of “Metron” (Greece, Balkan, Europe). He has produced fifteen poetry collections; to name a few—First heartbeats (1987), A List of Crimes (1991), Life’s Colours (1996), Shaving of Dreams (2000) and It is getting dark (2008). Different ways happens to be his last one. He left the world a few months back.

Before I proceed to epitomize my views on this book, I add; it is a high honour for me to write something about such an extraordinary poet with whom I share the same educational background: that of Economics. Different ways, a bilingual book, has two long poems namely-Ecce Homo, and Pigeons and Falcons. All through his poems, Stathis grapples with the consequences of wars and pitfalls of basic tenets of developmental economics that, despite the rigours of mathematical sophistication involving differential calculus and simultaneous equations that go into making of growth models, have failed to impact standard of life of millions of children world over- an issue Gaitanaki raises in her brief introduction to the book, “The disproportionately distributed wealth has created disaffected sections of society……..there are the rich and the poor, famished and satiated children. So we must fight against inequality.”

Stathis book reminds me of a novel. I am not sure if Sissy Jupe was a naughty girl but she was very gifted. She knew what deprivation was all about. And also of prosperity. Otherwise who would have given Miss Louisa the reply Sissy gave? Then, at least, none of the practitioners of modern theories of economic growth and welfare economics. It was a classroom setting, that Miss Louisa equated to a big Nation and proceeded to cheer the students saying there were fifty millions of money in the class; students present were expected to perceive as their Nation. “Isn’t this a prosperous nation.” averred Miss Louisa. And all hell broke loose. Tears flooded Sissy’ eyes and started raining down her cheeks and amidst those tears came the reply,” Miss Louisa, I said I did not know. I thought I couldn’t know whether it was a prosperous nation or not, and whether I was a in a thriving state or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and whether any of it was mine. But that had nothing to do with it, it was not in the figures at all”. And then as is the fate of all the tears, she wiped these out. (Tears are meant to be wiped out. Only after that one smiles. Think of economic aid coming to poor countries). The story does not end there. Miss Louisa reprimanded Sissy,” That was a great mistake of yours.” .

The above underscores the centrality of Stathis book-Different ways though he brings war and manipulators behind these into picture. I don’t know whether Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times influenced Stathis penning his book but the traumas that Dickens so vividly portrayed through his character Sissy Jupes haunt so many children even now when many countries have progressed stupendously. Facts, only facts, hard facts-. as one of the characters demands from students in Hard Times, are the facts that Stathis gives to his readers. The title symbolically raises larger questions-insightful and foundational.

Different ways is a book for the children, for their welfare, future and for those policy makers whose responsibility it is to create avenues to meet the unmet needs of children. For Stathis, this world as he perceives in Ecce Homo is

“an endless canvas
and we are small needles
that embroider it….”

Having defined human relations and intricacies of these relations, he talks of the “motif with the colourful threads” that are imprinted on it i.e

“love, hope, joy, pain, fear, poverty, lie and truth.”

And then is pained by the presence of ‘manipulators’ of “the past and nowadays” with “the same purpose but arranged with different ways.”

“We war with the same anger
and the same passion
but from different ramparts
We have affection
and we take fantastic
photographs of children
that are dying of hunger.
Children that should never die
without knowing
how much we loved them.”

Ramparts, as I can see it, are being used to connote economic summits where important economic decisions are taken. Economic inequality, promotion of the children’s well-being and inequality of opportunities are concerns that nag Stathis: “You did not want toys; you did not want ornaments, only a handful of rice.” Lamenting the failure of growth strategies, he reconciles children to their fate—“You didn’t have even trash….” He questions the unconcern of utilitarianism towards distributive injustice particularly the primary goods which include food.
Realizing that “kindness and love are voyagers of an inner impulse”, he proclaims, “they appear like anniversaries of historical events.” Adding further-

“we bolt our hearts
with the key of indifference,
kindness and love are voyagers
they appear like anniversaries
of historical events…….”

Being skeptical about poets’ strength and power, he knows his verses are meaningless and will be of no avail to powers that be and thus admits self-defeatingly:

“My sad children,
I know,
My poor verses will give nothing.
Absolutely nothing……..”

Pigeons and Falcons is another long poem. Here too he analyses modern war techniques and their impact on children and asking the society “What do you want from us the Napoleons and Alexander the great?” He maps the absurdity and ungovernability of wars in modern times succinctly while mixing language, sounds and cadences.

“ When ambition
unites the history,
with the combed hair,
give birth to falcons
with hats and uniforms
that kill pigeons….”

Traces of optimism sway him away though rarely.

“ but, my dear poet,
millions of people dream with you
love and humanity will bring, one day,
On our earth the singing days.”

He conceives of a world which is without arms and bombs and where children, women and old man are not what he calls, “expendable material.”

Stathis concerns are not his concerns alone. In his league are placed economists of the stature of Prof Amartya Sen, (1998 Noble Prize winner Indian Economist) who, coincidentally, refused to see eye to eye with another poet, the Scottish poet, Hugh MacDiarmid in whose poetic vision economic development all over has created a world where as he (MacDiarmid) writes in his book- Lament for Great Music:

“The struggle for material existence is over. It has been won.
The need for repressions and disciplines have passed.
The struggle for truth and that indescrtable necessity,
Beauty, begins now, hampered by none of the lower needs.
No one now needs live less or be less than his utmost.”

by reminding MacDiarmid that,” For a large part of this population of this globe there is no escape from the need to “live less or be less”-a great deal less------than their’ utmost.” Globe still has huge patches of poverty.

Stathis’ slim volume is a mixture of poetry and atrocity. He is daring, provocative, cutting-edge and correct. The dark and dying are his theme and he-the poet with all his weapons tries to cover the world’s enormous sadness of children in his poetry. His book can withstand and reward the most intense, close scrutiny with both formally and informally demanding criteria for poetry of the highest order. He reminds us of the fact that human life is not merely “a set of commercial relations” and human beings not the steam engines of Coketown. A human being carries with himself/herself an ‘unfathomable mystery’ which helps him/her understand the niceties of Sissy’s problems. Human beings understand that not everything is “in the figures.” Stathis while turning universal experiences into conceptual necessities recommends not an unintelligible concept but rational acceptability of crisis and need for it’s solution. Children are most vulnerable in this debate. Their tears are pearls that humanity must treasure, for therein lies the humanity of the future whose eyes will be aglow. A very touching and moving book of poetry.

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