Q&A with contemporary Greek poet Yannis Livadas - his poems and essays have been translated into twelve languages

"Inspiration comes from life, from all its aspects. I don’t have mentors; Once I had only a poetic grandfather, Blaise Cendrars."

Yannis Livadas:

I was a musician; I played the trumpet poetry. 

Yannis Livadas is a contemporary Greek poet, born in 1969. In 1993 he invented the «fusion-sonnet». In 2008 he came up with the idea of «organic antimetathesis», the transpositional synthesis of poetry based on the scaling indeterminacy of meaning, of syntactic comparisons, and structural contradistinction. He works as an editor, translator, and independent scholar with a specialization in modernism, postmodernism, and haiku. He is also a columnist and freelance contributor to various literary magazines. His poems and essays have been translated into twelve languages. He refuses any participation in festivals, literary events, or associations related to poetry, on an international scale. He lives in Paris, France.

(Yannis Livadas, Paris France / Photo by Yannis Tsigiannis)

Yannis says: "Jazz itself showed me the way out of it. Jazz led me beyond jazz; to the territories of no music. Hearing my breath, or a gust of wind, or the hiss of something passing towards somewhere, is too much, is more than enough. New territories provide possibilities of new endeavors, new engagements or no endeavors, and no engagements at all. Poetry is also there, as the continuous note of a dissonant truth. I am not sure there’s any socio-cultural situation. Maybe deep into the remains of some forgotten jungle." 

Interview by Michael Limnios 

This interview took place in 2011 but it was updated on the 4th of September 2021.

In what way have you improved as a poet since you first started? What has remained the same about the process of poetry?

I feel strangely justified if I repeat a note I wrote eleven years ago: I am no more the man who wrote these poems; I am not the man I was last night. I reject everything. Today is another century. Tomorrow’s just a notion. Progression is vainly unlimited.

How important was/is music in your life? How does music affect your inspiration but also poetry and the socio-cultural situation?

Jazz itself showed me the way out of it. Jazz led me beyond jazz; to the territories of no music. Hearing my breath, or a gust of wind, or the hiss of something passing towards somewhere, is too much, is more than enough. New territories provide possibilities of new endeavors, new engagements or no endeavors, and no engagements at all. Poetry is also there, as the continuous note of a dissonant truth. I am not sure there’s any socio-cultural situation. Maybe deep into the remains of some forgotten jungle. 

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experiences in life?

There are more than a few idlers around the world who spend their lives scoffing at the distress of others, at the achievements of others as well. I am afraid that I have only negative comments to offer, concerning almost anything, except a part of science and the fact that we are all going to die someday. There’s no reason to point out the harshness of people’s unreason since everything around is an indifferent and mundane mistake. That is what I call real humor.

The situations, the facts that may influence or afflict man are countless. If there is anything important into this life, that is the degree of acceptance of reality, I mean, the degree of intellect; and that only for the sake of this everyday martyrdom which is full of mocking surprises. Pure beauty.

"My words are delivered from a state of supervision, that is; the whole system of my existence contributes in the highest level that is possible, every time I sit down to write something."

(Yannis Livadas works as an editor, translator, and independent scholar with a specialization in modernism, postmodernism, and haiku. / Photo by Yannis Tsigiannis, Paris France)

What is the most needed revolution today, if there is one?

The convergence between man and absence.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

All the periods of my life are almost equally interesting, that is, I usually experience quite big changes every two or three years. My life is full of surprises and confirmations.

From who have you learned the most secrets about the blues & jazz?

It was an absolutely unexpected fact that I learned about blues and jazz, mostly jazz, from the books I read in my youth; it was Kerouac and Corso who introduced me to that incredible music.

How you would spend a day with Gregory Corso?

By drinking and smoking cigars.

What would you say to Allen Ginsberg?

“Dear Allen the ship is sunk”.

What advice would you give to William S. Burroughs?

“You missed the point but you found the needle”

What would you like to ask Charles Bukowski?

Absolutely nothing; He has already answered all questions.

Which memory from Jack Kerouac’s books makes you smile?

An episode when he was lost and in terrible tremens during night walking alone; I think that is from “Big Sur”.

What is your most favorite Zen Koan?

Zen itself.

Which musician would you rather be?

I was a musician; I played the trumpet poetry.

"I feel strangely justified if I repeat a note I wrote eleven years ago: I am no more the man who wrote these poems; I am not the man I was last night. I reject everything. Today is another century. Tomorrow’s just a notion. Progression is vainly unlimited." (Photo: Yannis Livadas' books)

Do you think that your words come from the heart, the mind or the soul?

My words are delivered from a state of supervision, that is; the whole system of my existence contributes in the highest level that is possible, every time I sit down to write something.

How do you get inspiration for your writing & who are your mentors in writing?

Inspiration comes from life, from all its aspects. I don’t have mentors; Once I had only a poetic grandfather, Blaise Cendrars.

How is your relationship with the Greek jazz bands?

I am not quite fond of them. The greek jazz scene is still sucking milk; that’s what I believe. As far as I know there are only a very few musicians that were able to make some difference.

Exactly the same happens in other arts, poetry, painting etc.

What musicians have influenced you most as a writer?

Basically, Coltrane, Braxton and Brotzmann; above all the others whose contribution expanded somehow quickly or almost immediately.

Do you believe that there will be the turning point of our civilization?

Yes, of course, sometime during eternity.                                 (Photo: Yannis Livadas' books)

"The standard of poetry is that it is written by people who are not poets. Therefore, the originality and the effect are quite schematic features. Poetry is, above all, authentic, unique and catalytic. Needless to say; timeless. Humanity is going through a period where the schematic, the veneer has gained ground more than ever. The role of my poetry is that of the total disturbance of mind and senses. All the rest of my writing is a newborn child of the combination of the opposites: heart and spirit." 

What does the Blues mean to you & what has Jazz offered you?

I think blues is a deeper feeling of impermanence before death; blues accompanies mankind since ever and is characteristically expressed in many forms and ways in human history. Blues music was the basis of Jazz and I am still enjoying listening records of that area, but Blues after the early sixties leave me completely indifferent; there’s too much pose and no essence. On the contrary Jazz was, and still remains absolutely experimental and renovating; Jazz is the only music that accompanies the highest fulfillments and accomplishments of man. Jazz offered me a faith in permanent innovation in poetry.

The poetry that is written today, do you believe that it corresponds to the needs of our times?

Poetry around the world has gradually become a timid correspondence to what humanity really needs. Sometimes it seems that we have come to an end. But there are poets who are really aware of the poetic condition and the poetic value; that is a direct communication with the whole phenomenon of existence. There are poets capable to write in a well-balanced way in order to expose the deepest canons of suffering, the highest toils of the turmoil of existence. In other words; after the end you can gaze upon the beginning.

The arts and poetry in particular, are now deployed to various aesthetic directions. However, the need for an innovative and influential poetry remains more necessary than ever. Why do you think it happens? What’s the role of your poetry?

The standard of poetry is that it is written by people who are not poets. Therefore, the originality and the effect are quite schematic features. Poetry is, above all, authentic, unique and catalytic. Needless to say; timeless. Humanity is going through a period where the schematic, the veneer has gained ground more than ever. The role of my poetry is that of the total disturbance of mind and senses. All the rest of my writing is a newborn child of the combination of the opposites: heart and spirit.

"All the periods of my life are almost equally interesting, that is, I usually experience quite big changes every two or three years. My life is full of surprises and confirmations."

Is there a space for politics in poetry?

Not in mine; politics is against poetry. Poetry is totally indifferent to politics.

Who do you think is the role of the poet in contemporary society?

To embrace all and die honoring life in extremis.

Is there a part of some of your poetry books that you like most?

Yes, all the seconds in front of the blank page before I start writing the next poem.

What experiences in your life made you a fine poet; how do you want to be remembered?

As I mentioned above; my whole life is a miracle, everything I have experienced until now is a real treasure and every single moment has its value; I live my life in a full blast, I honor the life and life supports me with its propulsions. I’d like to be remembered as a man whose sins were more innocent than his good deeds.

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