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Tradition and the individual talent: remarks on the poetry of Michalis Ganas

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2016

David Ricks*
King’s College London
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No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. (T.S. Eliot)

Michalis Ganas is both a highly individual talent and, as I hope to show here with respect to an inevitably small selection of key poems, a highly traditional one. He is, moreover, peculiarly self-conscious about the implications of such a view as Eliot’s for the responsibilities of the poet. The consciousness of tradition in Ganas’ work may be seen as taking three forms.

Copyright © The Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham 1997


1. Eliot, T.S., ‘Tradition and the individual talent’, The Sacred Wood (London 1976), 4759 Google Scholar; quotation from p. 49.

2. See Ganas, Michalis,Kapsalis, Dionysis, Koropoulis, Giorgos, Lagios, Ilias, (Athens 1993).Google Scholar

3. See the article on the New Formalism in the New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Princeton 1993), 834–5. Strictures against the New Formalists by (so to speak) an Old Believer are to be found in Gunn, Thom, Shelf Life (London 1993), 2278.Google Scholar

4. See Vayenas, Nasos (ed.), (Herakleion 1996) and my paper in that volume, 17585.Google Scholar

5. Ganas, however, is averse to both epigraphs and notes (for a significant example of the latter see n. 64 below). This distinguishes him from Seferis, let alone from his post-Seferian contemporary Kyriakos Charalambides; see especially the latter’s (Athens 1995).

6. On Ganas and the canon, see Pieris, Michalis, rev. of 39 (Dec. 1980-Jan. 1981), 6973.Google Scholar

7. See, on the question of Epirot localism, Savidis, G.P., rev. now in (Athens 1989), 2247.Google Scholar

8. The quotation comes from Demetrios Capetanakis: A Greek Poet in England (London 1947), 126. See further my article with the same title, Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 22.1 (1996), 61–75.

9. Ganas, , (Athens 1978), 8.Google Scholar

10. See also Ganas, , 33, and Poulios, Lefteris, 1969–1978 (Athens 1982), 579.Google Scholar

11. Seferis, Giorgos, (Athens 1982), 1967.Google Scholar

12. For a Sachtourian touch see Ganas, 18.

13. In giving biographical information, I confine myself to the collections’ dust-jackets. Two recent recordings show Ganas’ lyrics to advantage: Eleftheria Arvanitaki-Ara Dinkjian, (Polydor 527 059–2, 1994 and Mikis Theodorakis-Vasilis Lekkas, [sic] (Sony AKT 483867–2, 1996)

14. Ganas, 8.

15. Seferis, , 2456 Google Scholar. For the various guises of Charos, see Saunier, G., Adikia (Paris 1979).Google Scholar

16. Ganas, , 15. The poem’s first publication (Korfis, Tasos, ed., 58 Athens 1981, 23)Google Scholar capitalises .

17. Vaughan, Henry, ‘Ascension-Day’ and ‘Ascension-Hymn’, The Complete Poems (ed. Alan Rudrum, Harmondsworth 1976), 2436.Google Scholar

18. See Seferis, , 467, with my ‘Seferis and the classics: a note’, Classical and Modern Literature 9.4 (Summer 1989), 35962.Google Scholar This passage of Ganas’ poem also bears an affinity with Elytis, Odysseas, in (Athens 1977), 302.Google Scholar

19. Eliot, , ‘Lancelot Andrewes’ in For Lancelot Andrewes (London 1970), 1126 Google Scholar; quotation from p. 22.

20. Eliot, , Collected Poems 1909–1962 (London 1974), 10910.Google Scholar

21. If I am right in detecting a verbal echo from Seferis 196–7), then the notion that Ganas’ poem concerns itself with the nature of inspiration becomes persuasive:

22. Ganas, 21.

23. Piens, rev. 71; see Krystallis, [Kostas], (ed.Peranthis, Michalis, Athens 1952), 2918.Google Scholar

24. See Embiricos, Andreas, (Athens 1980), 324 Google Scholar; though one feels that the reference to Krystallis is merely brought in for the pun on earlier in the sentence (p. 33).

25. Ganas, 21.

26. Mastoraki, Jenny, (Athens 1983)Google Scholar, with discussion in Dyck, Karen Van, Kassandra and the Censors (Ithaca, NY 1997).Google Scholar

27. Granitsas, Stephanos, (Athens 1976)Google Scholar; see Pieris, rev. 70.

28. Hill, Geoffrey, Mercian Hymns (London 1971), VI Google Scholar. The possibility of influence on Ganas is small, but it is worth noting his translator John Stathatos’ publication, Geoffrey Hill’ , 2 (September 1982), 172–5.

29. Ganas, 37.

30. Skarimbas, Giannis, (Athens 1970), 534 Google Scholar. Another cult figure who had preserved the idea that a living poet could be writing formal verse was of course Nikos Kavvadias; a younger poet who was using traditional forms satirically, Christos Valavanidis.

31. Karyotakis, K.G., (ed. Savidis, G.P., Athens 1988), 113, and Savidis’ introduction to that volume, with my further remarks in The Shade of Homer (Cambridge 1989), 13940.Google Scholar

32. Cavafy, C.P., (ed. Savidis, G.P., Athens 1981), I, 106, 15 Google Scholar. Another allusion to is to be found in Ganas’, (Athens 1989), 18 Google Scholar; this poem’s last lines also echo Karyotakis’ 114.

33. Ganas, 39.

34. Karyotakis, 141–2.

35. Savidis, rev. discusses the question of Ganas’ Epirot roots and (if it exists) School; the issue of the extension of a national poetry’s geography is raised by Vendler, Helen in her introduction to The Faber Book of Contemporary American Verse (London 1987), 1415 Google Scholar. It might be rewarding to compare Ganas’ work with that of James Wright on his childhood in the depressed Appalachian town of Martins Ferry, Ohio. The deliberate pace of Wright’s short lines, his speaking for a family outside the world of letters, and his search for an ancestor in the neglected form of Sherwood Anderson, all present parallels to elements we have detected in Ganas’ work. See Above the River: The Complete Poems of James Wright (Newcastle 1992).

36. Sikelianos, Angelos, (Athens 1981), II, 90.Google Scholar

37. Mavilis, Lorentzos, (ed. Alisandratos, Georgios, Athens 1990), 68.Google Scholar

38. Ganas, 22.

39. The mill: 29. For the line of see Sikelianos, , (Athens 1981), 85 Google Scholar; also the poem , 143–7.

40. Politis, N.G., (Athens 1904), 21.Google Scholar

41. The most celebrated example of such an adynaton is to be found in the cf. Pernot, Hubert (ed.), Chansons populaires grecques (Paris 1931), 724.Google Scholar

42. So Pieris, rev. 69.

43. Ganas, 21. It is a feature of this colllection that all of the poems have dedications, listed in the Contents rather than above the poems; a few poems dedicated to the dead have a dedication as part of the text.

44. See Karyotakis, , 82. As so often, Palamas had got there first: see no. 13 of (Athens n.d.), 243.Google Scholar

45. Karyotakis, 27.

46. Karyotakis, 141–2. For a pun similar to the one here see 28: .

47. The notion of underlies Solomos’ and Seferis’ reflections on that poem in I, 263.

48. See Embiricos, 62–6; and compare Ganas’ 31, with its further echo of Karyotakis’ .

49. Ganas, 8.

50. For Seferian echoes, compare lines 3–5 with the end of and with : Seferis,87–9, 212–15. Solomos is quoted on p. 8: ; the title of Papadiamandis’ ‘To on p. 22; Sikelianos is quoted: see n. 60 below, but the sexual communion of p. 9 also has something in common with II, 110–11; for Karyotakis, see n. 48 above.

51. On this, see Garandoudis’, Evripidis review of 2 (Autumn 1993), 1558.Google Scholar

52. Cavafy, 91. On Cavafy’s iambics see Mackridge, Peter, ‘Versification and signification in Cavafy’, 2 (1990), 12543 Google Scholar. On the last page of his collection (35) Ganas actually says .

53. Garandoudis, rev. expresses reserve more temperately.

54. See Sachtouris, Miltos, 1941–1971 (Athens 1971)Google Scholar. For graphic examples of the use of folk poetry’s rhythms and motifs by Sachtouris see, e.g. the following poems from that volume: (109). See also Dallas, Giannis, (Athens 1989), 33856 Google Scholar. Ganas’ poem dedicated to Sachtouris (a reworking of one of the latter’s poems) appears in 28 (Nov.-Dec.1995), 101.

55. These metres are, of course, the dekapentasyllavos and the Maniat eight-syllable metre found on p. 12 of the collection, which recalls the Maniat version of the Dead Brother: see Ioannou, Giorgos (ed.), (Athens 1983), 413.Google Scholar Earlier palpable quotations from folk song in Ganas’ work include , 14–16.

56. I presume this is a real case.

57. See Karas, Simon, sleeve-note to 111) (Athens 1975).Google Scholar

58. Ganas, This is a Cavafian touch: see e.g. 69–70, 87.

59. Solomos, (ed. Alexiou, Stylianos, Athens 1994), 237.Google Scholar

60. Ganas, , 35; Sikelianos, , II, 689.Google Scholar

61. The atmosphere in the poem comes out of recollections of Seferis, , 25, 1857, 21729, 233).Google Scholar Notable is the introduction of ancient settings (even if Cassope is in Ganas’ native Epirus) and words not met with in Ganas’ earlier work. It would be arbitrary to see these as off limits for Ganas just because they are new here; yet they do not perhaps so naturally fit into what Cavafy would have called the of his poetry.

62. See my paper, ‘George Seferis and Theodore Roethke: two versions of Modernism’ in Tziovas, Dimitris (ed.), Greek Modernism and Beyond (Lanham, Md. 1997) 16779.Google Scholar

63. Ganas, 27.

64. For the ballad see Ioannou, (ed.), 3143 Google Scholar. Other poems for or on Bravos are in Sachtouris, , (Athens 1986), 1011 Google Scholar and Ganas, 8, 28. Ganas’ note on Bravos is on p. 36; for violins and the underworld see e.g. Politis, N.G. (ed.), (Athens 1979), 219 (no. 209).Google Scholar

65. Bergadis, [with (ed. Alexiou, Stylianos, Athens 1979), 31 (line 449)Google Scholar; see also Alexiou, Margaret, ‘Literature and popular tradition’ in Holton, David (ed.), Literature and Society in Renaissance Crete (Cambridge 1991), 23974 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Savidis, G.P., in a communication delivered in 1991 which Ganas may have known of, identifies the work as the starting point of Modern Greek literature: in Panayotakis, Nikolaos M. (ed.), Origini della letteratura neogreca (Venice 1993), I, 3741.Google Scholar

66. Anagnostakis, Manolis, (Athens 1992), 1289 Google Scholar. Also relevant is Sinopoulos’, Takis title poem from (Athens 1972)Google Scholar, with its truncated phrases; though the manner in which they are truncated is visually and rhythmically different. Traces of Sinopoulos’ manner are to be found in Ganas’ first collection, and Sinopoulos’ last book, (repr. Athens 1995) is not without affinities. Note in particular Sinopoulos’ poem, II (Athens 1980), 112: .

67. Karyotakis, 103.

68. Demographers, however, inform us that it will very soon cease to be true that the dead are the majority.

69. Eliot, , ‘Philip Massinger’, The Sacred Wood, 12343; quotation from p. 125.Google Scholar

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