Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The art & the artist of self destruction - what difference Katerina Anghelaki Rooke makes (2009)

That is an important even though sad and tragic topic: artists and self destruction. For it reminds immediately of Pavese who killed himself after he realized he could no longer write? Something similar happened to Hemingway. 

But then there is the fate of a poetess like Ingeborg Bachman, or of Sylvia Path.

Sylvia Plath’s tragic has recently been followed by her son who also committed suicide. Of interest is here what has been conveyed in a letter written by a daughter who until 40 wished to commit suicide like her mother who did it like Sylvia. For it poses the question if such destruction is inherent and therefore inherited. Naturally in all of this we could widen the number of pages poets have written on with all to be scanned for clues where poets might have gone astray.

I walk out into the fields
No matter whether snow, rain or sun
Sadness descends like ravens
When time passes by
Without life causing a ripple
And everything appears in vain.

Sylvia Path

The topic of self destruction is not self evident. Rather it is most elusive. For how is possible that a creative self destroys itself in the process of what appears to be futile life, so that at one point the agony becomes unbearable? It can mean the realization not to be able to make it under such harsh terms as set by the demand for such a high level of creativity. Consequently there is involved as well the risk of over demanding the self. Rather than copting with failure, the self is being chastized for not performing so well.

Here Katerina Anghelaki Rooke offers a way out, best revealed in her poem which shows that a learning out of what is missing, or out of deficiency is a strong possibility to get on with your life. Naturally such a motivation to learn reflects misery when seeing oneself in the mirror as being anything but complete. By realizing there is a blessing in this, Katerina Anghelaki Rooke shows a humaness so often missing in a world filled with people who not only strive to make a career, but no questions to be asked on how they come to claim this to be a success. Usually the deep happiness is missing in all of this.

The blessing of deficiency

I am grateful to what I lack.

What I lack protects me

from what I'll lose;

all my abilities

that dried up in the abandoned field of life

protect me from movements into the void

useless, pointless.

What I lack teaches me;

what I have left

disorientates me

because it projects images from the past

as if they were promises for the future.

I can't, I don't dare

even a passing by angel

to imagine because I descend

on another planet, with no angels.

Love, from pure desire

became a good friend;

together we taste the sadness of Time.

Please deprive me – I beg the Unknown -

deprive me even more

so that I can survive.


Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke published this poem first in the poetry collection: “The Anorexia of existence”, Athens 2011. Translation into English has been done by the author herself.


What seems to drive people into even fake success stories, is the fear to lose face and not to be recognized by others. On the other hand, many artists, and not only they fear to lose something else when they give in to lucid demands just to earn some money. It is their inner ethical compass which allows them to be creative despite all uncertainties. Basically it amounts to a fear to make a compromise which leads many to a failure to earn the money they need to sustain the life. Hence youngsters with a passion for painting grow up, but never pursue the path of an artist. For they are reluctant to try and to earn a living through their art works. Something abhors them and thus they fear to compromise their art for the sake of money. Even Michel Angelo relieved himself from this pressure in the final stage of his life. He did two art works not for money but for his freedom of expression.

Modigliani was definitely one who did not compromise, but went down with drugs and alcohol and anger at the world. One day he did not succeed in selling one painting to a rich couple dining in a luxury restaurant. Modigliani was starved but he saw that couple was also starved but of something else, namely for simple expressions of life and beauty. When painting his 'Alice', Modigliani stayed on course with all his honesty but he could not sustain his life. Something similar and even more tragic happened to Vincent Van Gogh who died like many of the Impressionists very young.

By contrast, Katerina Anghelaki Rooke represents one of those artists who earns her living not through writing poetry, but by doing translations. She had also the family background, and eventually her property in Aegina with the Pestantien trees to sustain her life for a while. However, the latter equation did not fulfil itself. The harvest from the trees became irregular and did not bring in as much money as she once had thought, namely never to worry about money in her life. She thought well taken care of by her parents but that turned out to be an illusion. Still, in her late age she does have a decent pension which allows her to keep her dignity.

Interestingly enough self destruction begins with turning strength into weakness and in not accepting one's weakness as strength, as something to rely on. Often it is due to nerves from which the person having become desperate wishing to run away from. Human suffrage translates itself usually into a lack of human contact. Often these destructive tendencies end up in self isolation and then the grief is buried in a silence so often mistaken with loneliness. Katerina Anghelaki Rooke has an explanation how come such a confusion can become dangerous for the self, the soul, the psyche:

"We use language without knowing it: language as the matter we cannot touch, smell, see or taste but we do hear it whether we laugh or cry, but fore mostly we do listen once engulfed by our own silence."

We know different qualities of despair. Vincent Van Gogh painted it. Heart rendering.

In music such tunes which go astray, there is a reality of beauty to be merely sensed but not really captured by the composition. Beauty wants to stay always free and independent. That frustrated even Goethe.

Another kind of self destruction is described by Goethe in Faust. Since then many more have gone to sell something which cannot be sold: their souls.

To remind, artists should seek the poetry tree. [see t.k. splake, Poetry Dispatch #284 ] and not fear to bite into the forbidden fruit.

Poetry is not so much a search for knowledge, as much for truth. Katerina Anghelaki Rooke is in that sense a most amazing poetess. She expresses her search as if a very simple and natural philosophy, were it not for how she conveys through profound words unusual meanings, and all that with a booming voice. She is not afraid to address the other and even correct the other when using a wrong word or not pronouncing it correctly. But her corrections are gentle reminders all the time that there is a truth, often hidden, but still present. 

She works all the time with grace on her poems. She does so very often not alone but together with others. She encourages in particular younger poets. At the same time, she does not seek attention for her poetry but can wait. That is important. She waits until others invite her to read a poem or two. In that way she stays free and can claim that she is not asking for anything. What matters, is being snatched by silence even though in memory there can be discovered traces of the sound made by the stone when thrown into the water and before that stone sinks into the depth of silent waters.

Matter Alone (I Ili Moni)

I take hold of an object and change its place.
I don’t know why, maybe something bothers me.
Seconds later
The cloth, the paper
Produces a whisper, a cry
As matter changes position.
Does this imperceptible noise
Express discomfort
Or relief for this new relation
Of the inanimate world with infinity?
Or maybe the object misses
Its place of origin?
A tiny movement,
A glance, a spark of light
And an inner self springs up:
Look how it moves freely
In an abstract now.
Something like a lover’s murmur
Is heard then
Or like a hungry dog crying…
“That is how matter behaves when it is alone” I say
before I am snatched by another silence,
my own.

Katerina Anghelaki Rooke

Out of these circumstances called moments Katerina Anghelaki Rooke describes in her poems what remains fresh in the mind. It is a kind of recollection what has just happened in front of our eyes, in the present. In that constant flow of the tiem stream she sees how mankind locates as much dislocates itself. It is not a drama, but rather a matter of fact. It allows for a wandering off in the mind to where the world of objects does not need to disappear. Rather it allows for a discovery.

Katerina Angelaki Rooke describes this moment as to when we can imagine ourselves of becoming real human beings, that is alive. It is not as of yet the human voice becoming audible, something Ernst Bloch and Th.W. Adorno searched for. For something becomes important in the opinion of Katerina Anghelaki. What she thinks, feels and changes once you start write down in a poem the description of a moment, then she realizes a refutation is in the making. This refutation says there is no need to destroy first before we can create. For that would be but a misunderstanding of what holds life together.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 4.6.2009 (updated 29.7.2013) revised 14.2.2015

PS: Norb Blei added Editor’s Note: A forthcoming Poetry Dispatch will feature more of Katerina Anghelaki Rooke’s poetry. A most amazing poet.

At that time I wrote to Norb Blei (who died in April 2013):

I wish you well and hopefully you continue to amaze us with your enormous zeal to make poetry become known.

And as to your secretary or the woman beside you in one of those photos, it seems you do not have to starve in terms of beauty.

Take care, good man. (Thanks again for keeping poetry in tune. I liked also that you recently reminded us about Brendan Kennelly with his poem ‘her laugh’.)

This prism on "The Art & the Artists of Self Destruction" #5 was first published by Norb Blei in Poetry Dispatch No. 288 | June 17, 2009 HATTO FISCHER



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