When you look from the office window of I.A. Nikolaidis, you can see the sun setting down across entire Thessaloniki and immediately you realize why this city is the inspiration for his poetry and other writing. And then there is the huge bookcase filled with all kinds of literature and poetry, his other great love. Mr. Nikolaidis has combined poetry with his work as a scholar and has managed to attain the degree of ”Inspector of Secondary Education”, and he is a prominent member of the ”National Association of Greek Writers”, the ”Greek Association of Christian Writing” and the ”Company of Macedonian Studies.” His poems have been translated into French, English and Dutch. With the occasion of the Book Festival’s homage to the writers and poets of Thessaloniki of the 20th century, Greekreporter.com talks to him about his new book, the educational system and, of course, what makes Thessaloniki the birthplace of so many important people.
Mr. Nikolaidis, poetry or literature?
Literature is a wider concept, poetry is one part of it. Consequently, they are not two opposing concepts but two cοmplementary ones or coordinating ones, if you wish. In either case, literature starts with the poetry. The first writer is Homer. So, the love to the poetry of every writer, even he who deals with prose, is undoubtable.
Nevertheless, your last book is a collection of essays.
Yes, that’s true. Essays are a completely special art form; they have a concept of a philosophical search of many subjects. I have written other kinds of prose too, stories, sketches, so I have dealt with prose but I personally believe that my real talent is poetry. I have published six poetry collections, which I have finally compiled into one volume. The title of this last poetry collection is ” Skeui Kerameos”. They were warmly welcomed by the public, with reviews of every part of Greece, something that it is very comforting. I imagine, and this is the hope of every writer, especially of a poet, that something will remain, if that happens, there will be some of my verses and not so much my prose.
In your last book, you mention personalities whose work is not so well known for example Veritis, Hondropoulos, saint John of Damascus.What is that touched you in those writers?
Veritis is one personality that it is attached with our youth, my youth, the first half of the 20th centuary. Veritis had his very own, personal style in poetry. He had also the advantage of composing his poems many times. Of course, after the 50’s in the Greek territory many other poets’ work was composed, like Drosini’s ”Amygdalia” or the work of Polemi’s etc. But in the case of Veritis this happened for the majority of his work. The reason was that he expreseed the feelings of a particular era, with some religious concept, particulary of the young people. Living in that era, of course our ages don’t match as he was born in 1915 and i was born in 1930, i had many times the feeling that his poems were expressing myself completely. Hondropoulos, is basically a writer of prose. As I’m writing in my last book, ”Essays of Study and Thought,” he started with the collection ”Kainourgia Gi.” I was in the first year of the School of Philosophy and when I read those stories, I was deeply touched. His books had wide circulation, now he is almost forgotten, and inside them I found ideas, ideals and thoughts that appealed to our youth in that era, the generation of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. John of Damascus is one of the biggest personalities of church poetry. He is the creator of a special kind of hymn called the ”canon,” especially, the Canon of the Resurrection Ceremony, it is an extremely long masterpiece full of light. And that is what I wanted to express.
In the center of your work is Thessaloniki. What is that inspires you to that city?
I’m in love with Thessaloniki. I was born here, I was educated here. I believe that Thessaloniki is one of the prettiest cities in the world. I did many travels in the world and, maybe is just a prejudice or my weakness, but I believe that Thessaloniki especially with its beach is something unique. Such a wide beach, I don’t know if exists in many other cities. Also there is the amphitheater, which is very beautiful. All this of the point of view. It is the homeland of many important personalities and it is the only Greek city that has a history of being a big city for more than 2500 years.
Does writing express some inner ”need” of yours?
Raine Maria Rilke wrote a book with instructions to a young poet, ”Letters to a Young Poet.” In this book, he says among other things that ”if you don’t feel poetry as a great need of yours, the mood to express yourself as your great need, you should not write.” This is true more or less for all the genuine poets and, as a point, covers also myself, even though I can’t say that I’m THE genuine poet.
From your experience with young people as a professor, do you believe that they are interested in reading?
In my opinion, there are many young people who read mainly literature and less poetry. Poetry has become a little out of reach, but they read literature. I know many of them, who go to the book stores, to the Book Festival that it is held annually to our city, buy books and read them.
In what is going to help them?
With reading you can participate in the thoughts of another person, and we are talking about young people, who carry on their shoulders a rich experience. So, by reading books you can take a lot of elements of these experienced people. Also, you will have an open mind. You cultivate your imagination. Without literature, imagination can’t work. For young people imagination is an element of survival.
Is the approach of the current educational system to literature correct?
In recent years, literature is not taught in the right way in our schools, neither primary nor high. At the university level it is something different. There is the element of search or the personal likes of the professor. In older times, the collections of Greek literature are far richer. In addition, they had quality. Today, because as a former professor I have dealt with that, I believe that the majority of them is unfortunately rubbish.
What should be changed about that?
It is not something easy to change. These are mainly political decisions. And the political decisions most of the time go together with ideologies. In the past several years, and I mean the last 40 years, the ideologies that run rampant at the Ministry of Education didn’t help the election of the Greek literature. We reached a trivialization. Specially the primary school books are completely ridiculous. In any case it is a matter of politics, of the Minister of Education but also his coworkers like the Educational Institute, the committees of education etc. I wish this situation inside the Ministry to change and to hope for better books of literature to all levels of the education.