Tinos International Literary Festival of 2016 came to an end recently. However, thanks to its artistic director, Dinos Siotis, people can still communicate and reflect upon the past, present, future. As this is an "inspiring way to remind ourselves that art and literature create an answer"; even more, according to Dinos Siotis, Tinos is an inspiring location, an open invitation. So, how about "meeting" Kate Newmann (Ireland) and Dimitris Athinakis (Greece) on the occasion of this flexible dialogue about poetry and life participation, whereas I was not with them but at the same time was trying to get some words out of them? They are so different but they both coincide in Cavafy.
Well, in an imaginary reversible situation, Tinos is my son IT, who sends invitation emails to poets and then I just have to do the rest; so simple, so essential. The same as poetry.
How did the 5th Tinos International Literary festival incite you to go on writing?
Kate Newmann: We were hosted in the most beautiful place, allowed to settle like doves in a pigeon-cote, and nourished in every sense. Ready to take flight again.
Dimitris Athinakis: As a person that rarely writes but intensively reads and hunting experiences as well as creates stories in their head in order to survive everyday life, Tinos Festival will stay as a literary cargo that will find its way to poetic port when it feels like it. But it will for sure.
Why are festivals important in our days?
K.N.: In an age of crass capitalism, literature is an antidote to the shallow and manic communications with which we are perpetually bombarded. And it is more important than ever, while the world is sundering so violently, that writers from different places come together to speak; to affirm empathy and thoughtfulness, and reinforce the worth of writing, of being human. This festival was exceptionally well-run and successful. I met some very interesting people, with whom I will keep communicating, and I was given Tinos Island, which I might never have visited on my own volition.
D.A.:I think, festivals are important anyways. Not only do they “force” you to meet with new words but they also work as an apocalypse of a whole new world of people that bear the same cargo as I mentioned before. As for the audience, festivals meet or don’t meet the expectations of people that genuinely long to listen to the inner and outer writers’ voices.
Which was the moment of the festival that you are not going to forget and why?
K.N.:The reading in Tripotamos, our voices into the dark, and the poems coming back to us in Greek.
D.A.: Getting to know literary figures and works from Greece and abroad is one thing, but human contact is another. In other words, letting alone those I knew and admired, colleagues from around the globe filled my luggage with courage.
Would you like to write a short poetical comment about the island of Tinos?
K.N.:It is beautiful and it is strange, and it holds its histories in the stones and in the air, and the light is unforgettable.
D.A.:As I said before, I rarely write poetry, especially “on demand.” However, I strongly suggest people to visit the next Tinos Literary Festival in order to experience how the wind, the starry sky and the poetic voices whirl and whistle in their hearts and minds.
If you could invite a significant figure of the past to Tinos, who would you choose and why?
K.N.:I would choose Cavafy because he would be great fun, and he was such an important element in my becoming a Greekophile. We would drink local asyrtiko wine and eat the hard salty Tinos cheese, olives and marzipan….
D.A.:I take it for granted that you are talking about someone not alive. Having said that, I think festivals are designed to depict the temporary literary work. Hence, I believe that no one from the past would ever accept my invitation to participate in Tinos Literary Festival.
Which poet of your own country and then of the whole literary family do you distinguish?
K.N.:Oh so many. Of my own country, the person who would most have understood Tinos, was Seamus Heaney who died three years ago, and was our Nobel Prize winner.
From the whole literary family – perhaps Mary Oliver, the American poet, who would have strode out to find the birds, and written them with such love.
D.A.:I believe in poems not in poets. However, I’m not a party pooper! I distinguish Cavafy of the whole literary family of the world.
To me the aura of “The charcoal burners of Melidoni, Crete” and its beginning “Their days porous and smudged/ the charcoal burners never leave/ the piles of ancient olive wood/ stacked in ritual mounds” recall Seamus Heaney and his adorable poems. Do you feel also any connectivity?
K.N.:We knew Seamus in person, and I had the great pleasure of introducing him and reading with him. His cadences have entered us all.
D.A.:Although it’s none of my business to “connect” Kate Newmann with Seamus Heaney, I think that my adorable half-Irish-half-something (her words!) poetess walks and paves a way that I want to follow. Wherever it leads.
To me the beginning of “Direction”, “I am kneeling, alone, with words” potentially directs itself to a metaphysical even existential level, where the core is the name of “alone”. Is the poet then someone who explores the limits of loneliness and what for?
K.N.:I had the joy of being on stage with the poet Dimitris Athinakis, and reading these powerful lines in the English translation. A gift like that is not given often.
The freedom and the burden of being a poet is that you can explore everything – and must.
D.A.:Let me answer with a set of questions: What does it take to explore the limits of loneliness? Being alone? Just knowing what it is to be alone? Well, I would say that a poet is someone who explores. Period.
When does your poem end for you?
K.N.:When it runs out of breath.
D.A.:When my editor shouts: C’mon, don’t be such a flibbertigibbet!
What are your next plans in relation to poetry?
K.N.:I am aiming to have my next collection out by the end of the year. But I am interrupted by a prose commission I accepted – interviewing survivors of the Arctic Convoys in the Second World War. The sea around Tinos was full of images. And I sat in the temple of Poseidon and gave thanks for the fact that many years ago, I was saved from drowning in Sicily.
D.A.:Keep reading, and reading, and reading!
Which book is for you the eternal companion in those strange days of remoteness and thoughtfulness?
K.N.:There are so many – an empty notebook is a good start.
D.A.: The two books that keep me company, though not eternal, are two French books in their Greek translation: Jacques Jillard’s “Les gauches françaises: Histoire, politique et imaginaire, 1762-2012,” and François Dosse’s “Castoriadis: Une vie.”
*Thank you so much, both of you. Many thanks also to Dinos Siotis for the motivation.