“HARSH OUT OF TENDERNESS: The Greek Poet & Urban Folklorist Elias Petropoulos”
By John Taylor
Paperback. 306 pp.
With B/W illustrations.
Cycladic Press (2020)
Elias Petropoulos was the most controversial Greek writer of the twentieth century. Imprisoned three times during the Junta (1967-1974) and persecuted by Greek judges as late as the 1980s, this poet and “urban folklorist” produced a vast and groundbreaking oeuvre that continues to provoke extreme reactions from readers.
Wielding his precise and provocative style on subject matter ranging from prison life, rebetika music, gay slang, traditional food and public hygiene, to the sociology of brothels, newspaper stands, moustaches, canes and gravestones, Petropoulos aggressively and rigorously challenged the narrow ways in which Greek culture was perceived.
After arriving in Paris from the island of Samos in 1977, the American writer, critic and translator John Taylor tacked up a want ad in a Greek bookshop because he was seeking a collaborator for a translation project. Petropoulos, who emigrated to France in 1975, answered the want ad, and thus began a close working relationship that lasted until the author’s death in 2003.
This insider’s portrait features translated excerpts of Petropoulos’s writings, and discusses his ideas and methodology, woven together with touching reminiscences and observations about the man behind the sulphurous reputation.
It is the first book to appear in English that deals so thoroughly and poetically with this enfant terrible of Modern Greek letters.
John Taylor (b. 1952) is an American writer, critic, and translator who lives in France. He is one of the main bridges between contemporary European literature and English-speaking countries. His essays on European poets have been collected in his books Into the Heart of European Poetry (2008) and A Little Tour through European Poetry (2015). He has translated many French, Italian, and Modern Greek poets, and is the author of eleven volumes of short prose and poetry.