Interview: Greek Poet Yannis Livadas – ‘The instrument of poetry is not the poem; it is the poet. In truth, poems are the parasites of this consummation.’

Yannis Livadas is a contemporary Greek poet, born in 1969. Both in his poems and essays, Livadas constitutes the idea of experimentalism based on organic antimetathesis- the scaling indeterminacy of meaning, of syntactic comparisons and structural contradistinction. He is also an editor, translator, and independent scholar with specialization on modernism, postmodernism and haiku. He is also a columnist and freelancer contributor to various literary magazines, both in Greece and other countries. His poems and essays have been translated into eight languages. His first book of poems in the United Kingdom is under publication by Ragged Lion Press. He lives in Paris, France.

This month, Yannis took time out of his schedule to discuss not only poetry, but the current cultural context. We live in a time of immense change, underpinned by new racial tensions and the upsurge of technology which brings new discovery and societal recession in alarmingly equal measure. Yannis’ beloved art form, jazz, twists into new, but commercially driven forms and as a poet who deals in experimentalism and comparison, it’s interesting to see how he views various schisms in literature and wider culture. In many ways poetry mirrors our reality, changing with time but also recording its behaviour. Poetry is unaltered but our interpretation of it changes with time. But as Yannis suggests, like time and the human experience, poetry is unpredictable too.

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Which period in literary history have you taken the most influence from and why?
Romanticism, Symbolism, early Modernism and early Postmodernism. I think that they have played a crucial role concerning the substructure of my identity as a poet. Yet their influence completed, reached to an end, at least a decade ago. This is the role of such influences, after all. Present and future are taking form, obtain substance through the risks that you take, regardless of any previous influence or advice.

You have frequently cited jazz as one of your favourite art forms. What is the most wonderful thing about jazz for you?
Freedom in terms of creativity and style and in terms of individualism; in other words, uniqueness. Yet, although in the past, I accepted the term ‘jazz poet’ for myself. I no longer use it or am attached to it since most of the people get a notion of something completely opposite from what actually happens. What mattered, at least what mattered for me, was the inheritance of this tradition, or at least, of some elements who define its nature.

‘Poetry is neither part of the decoration of the human world nor a priestess for the redemption of its wounds’

Jazz is having a resurgence in mainstream circles currently. The likes of Kasami Washington and Kendrick Lamar are taking jazz in new, interesting directions. You said in an interview with Empty Mirror that jazz offered you ‘faith in permanent innovation in poetry.’ Do you think artists like these are fulfilling that notion of innovation?
No, I certainly do not believe that. New directions can be found in the work of Anthony Braxton, Peter Brotzmann, Alexander Von Schlippenbach, and others. The kind of ‘music’ of these two you mentioned means nothing to me and certainly have no organic connection with the spirit of jazz. This is commercial baloney.

When it comes to the meaning of poetry, do you feel that is constructed by the reader due to their own interpretation, or that the meaning is set by the poet and they are simply waiting for the reader to decipher it?
The reader is a volitional receiver, the poet is a creator. One creates one receives. If the conditions allow this transfer, what others call ‘communication’, to happen. Beyond that; all interpretations are nothing more than innumerous substantiations of the fact that poetry is limitless- if there are readers and poets.  Poetry is neither part of the decoration of the human world nor a priestess for the redemption of its wounds. It is the ultimate and continuous simulation of its destruction and creation. Every differentiation of this phenomenon is just another layer of the undifferentiated. This is the work of the poet, that is, his destiny. On the other hand, the work of the reader is something else, which, in any case, has no similarities with the poet’s.

‘Poetry is that cohesive force of the poet’s spirit and body, which comes to pass every time it is written on paper’

Do you think that poetry provided an antithesis to reality or our perceptions of it?
In poetry, what is apical is what is thoroughly unpredictable and which emerges from the intentional ridding of poetic speech from its evident balance and its apparent strategy. Antithesis and synthesis constitute the light and shadow of the art of poetry.

You have mentioned your interest in jazz and postmodern literature. Does the construction of these types of texts and the ideas they put forward affect how you approach the writing of your own poetry? Or is your writing style freer with no attachment to any ideals or Methodism?
The only attachment is that of the void between life and death. This is, by the way, the place and time of poetry. The poet manages to not submit to humanity by taking on the weight of its collective fall. He is the human being who experiences reality in full, certainly not a homunculus who belittles existence, who oscillates between self-definition and social appearances. I say all these because in there lies the way of poetry, it’s possible or impossible methods.  Poetry is that cohesive force of the poet’s spirit and body, which comes to pass every time it is written on paper. The instrument of poetry is not the poem; it is the poet. In truth, poems are the parasites of this consummation. Once poetry enters circulation in form, it is dead. The poem is from now on a death announcement; despite that, it says a lot. The reader and the aspiring poet ought to raise their own potential for poetry out of this announcement, taking in consideration both the fact of its being publicly posted and what is written on the paper.

‘Logic is one among the endangered species’

What about Paris draws you back every time? Does it provide a rich breeding ground for your poetry?
I live permanently here; I don’t return; this is my base. And it’s nothing more than a big chance to escape from my devastated and regressive country, which is Greece. It has nothing to do with poetry or ‘poetic life’. Paris is a famous and beautiful city but it’s not a city for poets and artists, since there are no cities of that sort. The ‘artistic atmosphere’ is a huge lie and is connected with the general fakeness and pretense which dominate this city and all the cities and countries of the world.

The advent of technology and the internet is changing human interaction and behaviour. Do you think poetry is reacting in accordance?
Internet and high technology in general are an extension of a spoon and a plate. What matters is the way we use it; logic is one among the endangered species. Imagine the connection between logic and poetry.

How do you see poetry progressing and manifesting itself in culture in the years to come?
The hope of communication will always be the pretext, but authenticity remains the most serious irreverence in the interests of humanity. The pen pushers will be drowned in the laurels they duly exchange among themselves, in honor of their exceptional works and following that, no remorseful restitution will take place in the form of acknowledging the true poets but, on the contrary, they will start a pogrom, a genocide of true poets. If it has not already begun.

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