Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Graffiti at bookstore 'Poems and Crimes'

Interesting is the contrast between graffiti and poetry as made readily available at the bookstore 'Poems and Crimes' and surrounding area. While out front of the store the walls are tagged, there can be seen at the back a display of graffiti which qualifies as something which has to be seen.


     Tagged walls of bookshop 'poems and crimes'                   @hf  Nov. 2012

The contrast is made even sharper once inside the bookstore. A modern interior architecture made out of steel and other materials greet one, while beautiful printed books of poetry are on display in the book shelves. The bookstore has its own printing machines on the second floor while an elegant bar at the back underlines the fact here is not merely a book shop but equally a cafe.


     Book counter

This contrast between inner and outer space is certainly a topic worthwhile to explore further. It seems while a lot of creative energy has been spend as of late on remodelling shops and interiors, and thereby has brought about a huge change in aesthetics over the past twenty or thirty years, with ever new generations attempting to leave behind tradition, the same cannot be said about the exterior. The saying goes few know how to make use of space, never mind public space or the space to be shared by all. Here the contradictions and even egoistic or arbitrary forms of assertions manifest themselves as if power is needed to claim a degree of success over what otherwises seems to threaten always to overpower the weaker part of the self. A kind of urban drama is being played out in these manifestations most of which are neither aesthetical or with their typical sign language anything but repetitive. The latter is due to use of spray which allows for only a typical signature. Still, some locations provoke a different level of sophistication when it comes to leaving a mark on the wall.


   Detail of graffiti at the back of 'poems and crimes' shop  Nov. 2012

To attempt to interpret the graffiti at the back of 'poems and crimes' is to risk something for it may be misleading to attach too much meaning to one detail while forgetting or neglecting the rest. Definitely it is not clear if done by one artist or several, and if all were doing it within one space of time or things were added, painted over or rather displaced as time evolved within that space. It may or may not reflect the way people use the back of the store since a wooden platform allowing for an extension of the cafe.


     Cafe at the back of 'poems and crimes'   Nov. 2013


     Backside of cafe - layout

Naturally the mild weather in Athens allows for a lot of time to be spend outdoors and especially in the evenings it is pleasant to be sitting outside even as late as in the month of November. Therefore any association to this unusual name 'poems and crimes' may be misleading, but it reminds of the Bauhaus architects who professed every architect is a criminal. Whether or not the same applies to poets, that is another, very serious matter. Definitely in times of crisis a play on words may suggest the politicians are the ones who commit crime while those seeking reality in poetic images may be as far as possible from such a wrong-doing.  

Yet poets work differently with images than scholars, said John Dillon when speaking about "Seamus Heaney and the Heritage of Greece" at an event commerating the poet on 29th of November 2013. To underline this, he quoted several of Heaney's poems to show what interlinkage there is with Greek mythology. One sticks out in particular because it may differ from mythology insofar as it reflects more precisely the current situation of people who feel themselves to be cut off from reality even if of their own doing.




Heroes. Victims. Gods and human beings.

All throwing shapes, every one of them

Convinced he's in the right, all of them glad

To repeat themselves and their every last mistake.

No matter what.

                                 People so deep into

Their own self-pity buoys them up.

People so staunch and true, they're fixated,

Shining with self-regard the polished stones,

And their whole life spent admiring themselves

For their own long-suffering.


                                Licking their wounds

And flashing them around like decorations

I hate it. I always hated it, and I am

A part of it myself.


                                  And a part of you.

For my part is the chorus, and the chorus

Is more or less a borderline between

The you and the me and the it of it.



The gods' and human beings' sense of things.


And that's the borderline that poetry

Operates on too, always in between.

What you will like to happen and what will -

Whether you like it or not.


                                    Seamus Heaney

As for one interpretation that differs from poetry as being something in between, it can be noticed that one part of the graffiti at the back of "poems and crimes" displays a yellow head appearing like a pear and which wears sunglasses. Now the latter may evoke images of dictators depicted wearing always sunglasses, but in a southern climate it allows for associations of evidence as to the existence of strong sunlight and against which the eyes need protection. One could extend this to think of who else wears sun glasses, if not movie stars and other famous people who pretend to be shy whenever the camera is focused upon them. They may wear them however due to being constantly exposed to bright lights when being filmed in studios and even outdoors. That is a side aspect of this profession but an important one. From stardom to weird images of creatures not from earth but from outer space it is not far even though they can remind equally of Hieronymous Bosch. The images depict as well something reminding of expressions of 'insanity'.

Michel Foucault gave a lot of his attention to insanity. He showed in 'l'histoire de la folie' that the nineteenth century thinking was based on a schism with reason on the one side and insanity on the other. Typical for those times was a symmetrical relationship described by Foucault as the father no longer talking with the son, but delegating the son to the representative of reason, namely the psychiatrist. This resulting in a wish to silence insanity. The latter can be considered as an imagination turned wild and without a chance to root itself in real life. That is why the unemployed who images merely solutions for himself and the world can easily turn to such insane world.

Worse was in the 19th century everything which did not agree with reason was silenced. This schism was reproduced by the necessity to become reasonable. Only a person who gives up strong wishes for a just society and 'resigns' to what is possible can be considered as having become 'reasonable' by measures of that reason which is imposed upon everyone. Once the person has adapted to this demand, society shall treat this person as being no longer on the outside, and be left without work. That would leave the person merely subject to insanity, and therefore be without language. Once imprisoned in the silent universe of the imagination, muted further by words which suggest everything attempted no longer matters, an indifference is shoved like an invisible wall between person and society. In an attempt to break into the present, that person will run only against that invisible wall.

Insanity makes the person shudder to think of such a reality near the abyss when without work. Such an existence can be grasped at best as an utmost wish to reach the other. As if the distant shore grows in distance when the swimmer tries in vain to reach it, while the waves and current carries him still further out, the more frantic he gets. Close to drowning a death fear grips him and energizes the last struggle. And the more the body struggles and panic replaces fear, an infinite fatigue sets. Today this is called the chronic fatigue syndrom. 

In a city and in a society in crisis, the scream of the person fearing to drown shall be drowned out by a mixture of overt noise and silence. No one seems to pick up the desparate signal. As the scream gets louder with each desparate stroke, so the muted sounds of a swimmer about to drown in the ocean of images flooding the city shall confront what is visible but not audible any more.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 18.12.2013

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