Yannis Ritsos is a poet whose writing life is entwined with the contemporary history of his homeland. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this volume, which presents a series of three diaries in poetry that Ritsos wrote between 1948 and 1950, during and just after the Greek Civil War, while a political prisoner first on the island of Limnos and then at the infamous camp on Makronisos. Even in this darkest of times, Ritsos dedicated his days to poetry, trusting in writing and in art as collective endeavors capable of resisting oppression and bringing people together across distance and time. These poems offer glimpses into the daily routines of life in exile, the quiet violence Ritsos and his fellow prisoners endured, the fluctuations in the prisoners’ sense of solidarity, and their struggle to maintain humanity through language. This moving volume justifies Ritsos’s reputation as one of the truly important poets in Greece’s modern literary history.
October 27, 1948
There are so many thorns here –
brown thorns, yellow thorns all along the length of the day, even into sleep.
When the nights jump the barbed wire they leave tattered strips of skirt behind.
The words we once found beautiful faded like an old man’s vest in a trunk like a sunset darkened on the windowpanes.
Excerpted from Diaries of Exile by Yannis Ritsos. Copyright © 2012 by Yannis Ritsos. Excerpted by permission of Archipelago, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
There is no pity in the book, nor resignation, despite the circumstance. That clarity ... has to do with giving witness, with the idea of poetry as testimony. Ritsos records the smallest moments, as if were he to leave out a single detail of his incarceration, the whole experience might disappear. This is what poetry can do: preserve the moments that would otherwise be forgotten, and in so doing, recreate the world. —LA Times
Ritsos' breath raises a wind in which wafted and swirled flakes from the crust of our land, seeds of its vegetation and sparks of its sky. Without Ritsos' eloquence, Greeks would have forgotten how to name a major part of all those things that are there before their eyes and restoration of his work to its totality is an imperative duty to the Greek nation itself, which deserves to regain its unity after nearly forty years of strife. —Pantelis Prevelakis