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A Broken Man in Flower: versions of Yannis Ritsos by David Harsent

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Yannis Ritsos (1909–90) is generally considered to be – along with Cavafy, Seferis and Elytis – one of the most significant Greek poets of the last century.

His life was, to say the least, troubled. From an early age, he was dogged by the tuberculosis that killed his mother and brother. His father and sister suffered breakdowns and spent time in institutions.

His poem Epitaphios (1936), a lament for a young man shot dead by the police during a tobacco workers’ strike, was publicly burned by the Metaxas regime and his books banned. During the post-World War Two civil war – because he sided with the left – Ritsos was arrested and sent to prison camps. Then, in 1967, when the Papadopoulos military junta took control of the country, he was again arrested, again his books were banned, again he spent time in prison camps, before being confined to house arrest on the island of Samos.   

The violence and tyranny of dictatorship is often fractured by the surreal. In the poems collected here, written by Ritsos while in prison and under house arrest, that fracture in perception is a wound.

A Broken Man in Flower has an introduction by John Kittmer and includes the text of an illuminating and vivid letter sent by Ritsos to his publisher in 1969 while under house arrest on Samos describing his life – and the lives of Greeks – under the repressive rule of the Colonels.

David Harsent’s thirteen collections have won a number of awards, including the Forward Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Griffin International Prize. He is also a librettist: his collaborations with composers, chiefly with Harrison Birtwistle, have been performed at major venues worldwide.

Bloodaxe Books



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