Iossif Ventura’s poetry has a wholesale structural element discernible at once, and as per poetry written in recent years.  The majority of people who have read it confined themselves to its morphology, its abstract or symbolic genre.  And this, because even as ordinary literary readers, in the last decades we have undergone a severe twist vis-à-vis our opinion concerning whatever is sacred beyond politics. We have raised politics (i.e., their current practicality) to sacredness, thus eliminating and/or barring what emanates from a thousand sides in poems such as these, and which resembles an inexhaustible effluence, trying to stop its flow being pointless.  For me, what emanates is a feeling of everyday sacredness, the sacredness of life, transcendent revelation.  Mind you, not sacredness in the ritual sense, resulting from a ceremonial development of a dogmatic religious manner as imposed by the hierarchy  for instance, Judaism or Christianity or Islam  but more as ceremonial development of a temporal sorrow, guilt or pain, issuing from what a man becomes conscious of when he feels lacking morally and banished from the action of hieratic history; from its dogmatic irrationality which, beyond a certain point, the difference between political and religious sacredness cannot be distinguished, as is the case nowadays.

           When we resort to such notions, correlating them with modern Greek poetry and dipping into the especially sensitive nature of sacredness, we don’t think of the few poets who wrote at great length on religious themes and created in the shadow of the overall Greek poetic canon, such as Joseph Eliya, G. Veritis, et al. As though coincident, our thought goes to Odysseus Elytis, Nikos Gatsos, D. Papaditsas, Nikos Engonopoulos, not to mention left-wing lyric poets: in particular Yannis Ritsos and Tassos Livaditis or, as expected, Nikiforos Vrettakos.  True enough, only little has been written, if not on the fringe, regarding the function of the transcendent element in modern poetry; and this because the mechanistic inflexibility of education withholds permission  an education that for decades has been moving with unrealistic slowness between the legacy of Voltaireian enlightenment and that of socialist virtue. However, the transcendent element, the expectation of incarnation through someone dear to us or through the state of the future, is manifest, whether we like it or not, in a series of 20th century Greek poets, such as Yorgos Vafopoulos, Takis Varvitsiotis, Nikos Karouzos, and not least Ektor Kaknavatos, Lefteris Poulios, and other descendants.  Relatively speaking, of course, I find that transcendent revelation traverses the poetry of Iossif Ventura, but with this emphatic difference that I note here: sacredness and the feeling of sacredness in a number of poets of Hebrew descent do not rise to an abstraction, to an idea of boundlessness and inconceivability, but are impressed on fact, on the historicity of mass experience, on passions and myths that compose the safety net of poetic conscience against the prevailing decadence of the age we live in.

            Ventura’s latest book, Cyclone, begins with an address or invocation to a figure that symbolizes this diachronic Jewish refugee, Yoseph ben Malkah, exiled from the sea/the desert in his mouth/ who /mourned for a wellspring/his word a wound/and his wound a word […] And his voice was the crack of centuries.  Indeed, in this book’s prefatory verses, as well as in other poems from Ventura’s earlier collections, he employs a number of symbolic words and phrases of biblical content;   only now, in his poetic narration, he includes horrific stories of Jews who survived after being held in German concentration camps.  Which means that the sacre of the Bible icons, the diachronic sacre, is embodied in the sacredness of concentration camp suffering, thus grounding it to the human condition: Meadow gone to rack and ruin/The moon’s blood on the steppe/Your wounded feet Samuel/Your frozen feet Vita/Memorials that lengthened/the night with bitter almonds. Bitter almond refers to the smell of cyclone gas used to exterminate captive Jews during the few months of the Holocaust.

            This retrogressive movement between the sense of traditional sacredness and the conscience of the sacre of the historical moment extends throughout Ventura’s poetry, besides giving it a certain rhythm, a musical movement interwoven with biblical rhetoric.  I take the opportunity of noting here that the rhythm of said poetic language was not so overt at the outset of his poetry.  Rhythmic-wise, Ventura was influenced by the poetry of the Occitan troubadours, the ballads of François Villon and Bertrand de Born.  In Moist Circle (1997), his first collection, whereas his speech is solemn, already drawing on meanings-cum-symbols from the Hebrew tradition (_sword, ark, land of Nod), abstraction was more acute, thus creating a feeling of metaphysical levitation: The sacred horn trumpets forth/the secret egg that begets me/like a frightful bell/like an aqueous sphere.  In his next book, Arithmetic memory (1998), the poetic scene changes, though not morphologic-wise.  The poems continue being expressively profuse, a lyrical nostalgia, but dubitable if nostalgia of an erotic reminiscence or nostalgia of a reminiscence that through the characters comes to draw out of the sanctum of conscience pictures of a diachronic genealogical calamity: Leaning on the table’s swing/with snowy bodies and fork stuck into our cheek, they annunciated us “bread for eating”. So here, as everywhere in this poetry, arises biblical language with its lovely lightning metaphors.  But if we view Ventura’s successive poetry books: Tanais (2001), Comments in Black (2006), and the latest Cyclone, if we view them as a unity of lyrical passion, we’ll realize that they constitute points of entry and exit onto a dramatic culmination: the Holocaust.  In this drama converge personal and collective fates, and where the genocide story is repeated via its diachrony.  Jewish tradition, the Old Testament, is tightly knit, like ivy, around such legends which nonetheless comprise small and large holocausts.  And in this sense, the ode that glorifies, praises, and at the same time mourns the blood that was shed, I’d say that the solemn oration in Tanais and Cyclone, whether or not the poet knows it, is not that far from the solemn dithyrambs of Andreas Kalvos’ Odes.

            Of the ethics that govern Ventura’s entire poetic universe, here too language maintains its elegiac and ritual trend, as in the 19th century romantic hierophant poet: Andreas Kalvos.  But in suchlike writing, the audible voice is all the more stripped of its personal pomposity and becomes a plural voice: the I remembers names, places, and scenes of a life at a certain period in time.  However, in their poetic metaphor, all those pieces of personal genealogy acquire another dimension and cease belonging to I.  They are inscribed on a universal headstone, or become new branches of a tree whose roots are lost in time.  And what is really wondrous is that in the end time ceases in poetry:

And if those times are buried in oblivion
their final breath will salute us
And if the ashes-cum-silences sink
you’ll be the selfsame pedlar


Alexis Ziras
Essayist Writer

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