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About the talk

Nostalgia for the Εast, specifically for the lost homelands of Asia Minor, is a commonplace in Greek literature, and not only among writers who were forcibly resettled during and after the catastrophe of 1922. There is a sense, in modern Greek poetry and music, that something of immense value has been lost, something that can never be replaced. This may be a sentiment common to the literature of exile in other languages, but there is a particular and aesthetically attractive character to the longing for Asia Minor in Greek culture, one that is linked to a sense of Greek identity more broadly. Through references to writers like Venezis, Politis, Kontoglou, Seferis, Kazantzakis, Sotiriou and Iordanidou, and to “laments for the lost city” and the so-called “Smyrneika” songs, especially the amanedes, Holst-Warhaft will characterize this not in terms of identity politics and the familiar Ellinismos/ Romiosini dualism described by Patrick Leigh Fermor and Michael Herzfeld, but in terms of what she will call the bitter-sweet poetics of loss that is such a familiar trope in Greek literature.

About the speaker

As well as being a poet, Gail Holst-Warhaft has been a journalist, broadcaster, prose-writer, academic, musician, and translator. She left Australia in 1965 and moved to Greece. During the Greek dictatorship of 1967-74, she moved back to Australia, studied harpsichord and became a journalist. In the 1970s she performed with Greece’s leading composers, including Mikis Theodorakis, Dionysis Savvopoulos, and Mariza Koch. Her first book, Road to Rembetika, was published in 1975, her second, Theodorakis: Myth and Politics in Modern Greek Music, in 1980. Moving to Ithaca, New York, she married, completed a Ph. D. in Comparative Literature and had a family. In the 1990s, Gail wrote two books on laments and grief ( Dangerous Voices: Women’s Laments and Greek Literature, and The Cue for Passion), translated Nikos Kavvadias and other Greek writers, and began publishing her own poetry. She founded a Mediterranean Studies Initiative at Cornell University and taught Greek literature. In 2009, she became concerned about the water crisis in the Mediterranean, working with faculty and students to address water scarcity on Santorini and Crete. Two recent publications are The Fall of Athens (poetry and memoir, 2016), and The House with the Scorpions (poetry of Mikis Theodorakis, 2020). Her latest books are Nisiotika: Music, Dances and Bitter-Sweet Songs of the Aegean Islands, (September 2021) and a children’s book in Greek (Ένα ταξίδι στα ρεμπέτικα για μικρούς και μεγάλους) about rembetika (Fagotto, 2022)