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Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Homeland: Eighteen Bitter Songs. A New Title from David Harsent

Homeland:Eighteen Bitter Songs

Versions of Yannis Ritsos 

by David Harsent

Date of Publication : 4 March 2021.

Available now to pre-order

Yannis Ritsos was born in Monemvasia in the Greek Peloponnese in 1909. As a young man he became a communist and his long career was marked by the travails of the Greek Left: proscription, imprisonment, internal exile. He was one of Greece’s most prolific twentieth- century writers, publishing extensive collections of poetry alongside novels and plays.  He wrote Homeland: Eighteen Bitter Songs in 1968-70, during the time of the Greek junta. Ritsos received the Greek First State Prize for Poetry in 1957 and the Lenin Peace Prize in 1977. He died in 1990 and is buried in the place of his birth.

David Harsent has published thirteen volumes of poetry. Legion won the Forward Prize for best collection; Night was triple short-listed in the UK and won the Griffin International Poetry Prize. Fire Songs won the T.S.Eliot Prize.  A new collection, Loss, appeared in January 2020.  In Secret, Harsent’s versions of Yannis Ritsos, published in 2012, was a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation.

‘In the tradition of Robert Lowell’s “Imitations”, these are versions of Ritsos by a major English poet. Yannis Ritsos, one of the most celebrated Greek poets of the 20th century, has at last found a “companion translator” who is up to the task.’
The Times Literary Supplement

‘[These poems] record, at times celebrate, the enigmatic, the irrational, the mysterious and invisible qualities of experience.’
New York Times Book Review

John Kittmer has a PhD in modern Greek literature and is working on the poetry of Yannis Ritsos.

Critical praise for Homeland:-

The poetics of an ongoing and bitter revolution needs to be compressed and tough while offering hope. The Greek poet Yannis Ritsos’s Eighteen Bitter Songs, set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, were written in hardship under the rule of the Colonels in 1968. They make a set of eighteen double couplets focusing on the tribulations and consolations of struggle in a natural landscape. David Harsent renders them with a clarity, precision and austere passion that is perfect for our times.

George Szirtes

These exquisite and beautifully chiselled poems themselves become, in Ritsos’s words as translated by Harsent, “a door that opens onto Greece”: conjuring Greek landscape, Greek poetry and Greek heartache.

Ruth Padel

The sober, elegant design of Homeland: Eighteen Bitter Songs commends itself to the hand and the eye, and is perfectly suited to the grave music of David Harsent’s versions of Yannis Ritsos.

Sean O’Brien

David Harsent’s new versions of that abundant poet Yannis Ritsos’ tersest poems are timely: it is as if Greek tenacity, now in the testing times of economic calamity, needed to be honoured anew. They are shrewd and often surprising recreations of poems whose reticence is a form of resistance.

David Ricks, Professor Emeritus of Modern Greek and Comparative Literature, King’s College, London

Ritsos’s curt and sometimes cryptic verses are like the ‘Bitter Songs’ that a person in political danger might sing, sotto voce, to sustain his or her spirit of resistance. Harsent finds and holds just the right pitch to convey to the English reader their urgency and quiet power.

Christopher Reid


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