Reading Greece: Karen Van Dyck on ‘Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry’


Karen Van Dyck is Kimon A. Doukas Professor of Modern Greek Literature in the Classics Department at Columbia University where she created the Program in Hellenic Studies. Her books include Kassandra and the Censors: Greek Poetry since 1967(Cornell, 1998; Agra, 2002), The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding: Three Collections by Contemporary Greek Women Poets (Wesleyan, 1998), The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present (Norton, 2009), and The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke (Graywolf, 2009), a Lannan Translation Selection.

Her bilingual anthology Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry (Penguin, 2016; NYRB, 2017; Agra, 2017) was chosen by the New Statesmen as pick of the year, the Guardian as poetry book of the month as well as by Andrew Marr for his BBC Start the Week. Recent articles of hers on Cavafy – “Forms of Cosmopolitanism” and “Translating a Canonical Author,” have appeared in the LARB (2014) and Teaching Translation: Programs, Courses, Pedagogies (Routledge, 2016).

Karen Van Dyck spoke to Reading Greece* about Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry, noting that “the project was about mapping poetry scenes – a what’s where, rather than a who’s who”, focusing on “the most salient feature of this new poetry – its multiethnic, multilingual cosmopolitanism”. Asked about the role of poetry in times of crisis, she discusses that “given the recent resurgence of separatisms –Grexit, Brexit, Trump’s wall – the message is only more urgent now. We need poetry, and poetry in translation, to tell us things we can’t know otherwise, and if we don’t pay attention, it is at our own peril”.

As for translation, she comments that “the translator of contemporary poetry has to think beyond national boundaries in the same way the critic must work to undo the sense that literature is a national institution that obeys the rules of one language”, and concludes that “it is up to translators, but also the minor cultures themselves to get their literature out there through astute marketing that is informed by knowledge of the receiving cultures. Anticipating the impact of a translation in the receiving culture is a way to take responsibility for the translator’s work, something that translators as well as publishers need to do”.