The poet, as a hunter: Anthony Dracopoulos launches ‘Divertente and other poems’ by Yannis Rentzos

Divertente and other poems by Yannis Rentzos, Flying Island books 2022, was launched by Anthony Dracopoulos, at the Shop Gallery, Glebe on 4 February 2023

First of all I want to thank Yannis and Flying Island books for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on Yannis’ poems. I have to confess that, as an academic, I prefer to talk and write about dead poets – if you know their bibliography, you cannot go wrong. And a dead poet, as opposed to a living one, is not there to refute your claims.

The second confession is that, with the exception of reading a couple of Yannis’ poems in a rush a few years ago, I did not know much about him as a poet, although admittedly I had enjoyed and benefited from his thoughts, his readings, his somber and yet ironic stance toward current social and political issues, during our frequent long walks in Blackwattle Bay.

So, I knew a little bit of Yannis as an individual, but I did not know much about his poetic persona. This is why I was both intrigued and pleasantly surprised by this short collection of poems. As I discovered, the two personas are not so different. The same humor, self-reflection and subtle ironic outlook is common to both the individual and the writer persona of his poetry.


The collection Divertente and other poems consists of 12 poems of various length, including one entitled ‘Walk in Waverly’ which combines images and narrative. Despite its size, it covers a surprisingly large number of themes.

Whether these poems refer to historical events, social issues, the difficulty in negotiating the demands of everyday life, loneliness and isolation, selfhood in adverse social conditions, death and beauty, or even poetry itself, they seem to emanate from the same center: a distinct outlook in life and a distinct way of looking at reality. This brings to mind an expression coined together by E. M. Forster: the writer stands “at a slight angle to the universe.”

A striking example of this is when Yiannis ponders how one should consider reading poetry. “Reading from the end to the beginning of a poetry book”, he writes, “which means first you look at the cost”, that is, at the personal price a poet has or had to pay for writing poetry and “then ask what was the ambitious plan”.

What also seems to be central in these poems – beyond the overwhelming presence of existential angst – or perhaps because of this angst – is the poet’s quest to extract the poetic from the banality of everyday experience, the poetry with which reality is impregnated, something more real than reality, more fulfilling and more whole than the fragmented contemporary experience.

The poet, as a hunter – to use one of Yiannis’ metaphors – stalks his prey in his attempt to locate the uniqueness of specific mundane experiences – to draw it out of the commonplace and to turn it into poetic discourse. His purpose is not simply to save it from oblivion, but to give it credibility. In other words, he paradoxically attempts to transcend everyday experience and at the same time to grant it unexpected validation.

And to achieve this, he can’t avoid going against the grain, by employing linguistic twists and turns, disruptions in the narrative, unexpected sequencing of images and a type of irony that makes a mockery of earnestness. In short, he has to be transgressive.

This is the type of writing that does not simply aim at producing a good poem – a poem that plays according to the rules, or the poem that demonstrates craftsmanship – but the engaging poem, that is, the poem that is not well behaved, that makes the reader uncomfortable, that presents itself as a challenge, that offers ironic allusions, the unexpected word play, the enchanting ambivalence and finally the intensity of the writer’s passion for language.

 This aspect of Yiannis’ work is congruent with another important theme that often pops up in his writing: the poet as an outcast. From the first poem in the collection – in a manner that reminds us of the ‘Poètes Maudits’he offers us an indication of the poets’ awkward position.

These neighborhoods do not produce poets, he said
Hiding the brandy in his drawer

Let’s not fool ourselves: the poet has always been an outcast. Since the moment Plato excluded the poet from his polis, declaring him persona non grata, the poet has remained largely an outcast. But this is precisely his/her strength. By being left out, by being Other, the poet is in a position to see things “at a slight angle to the universe”, as an appealing oddity or to create unanticipated combinations of images and syllogisms.

Regardless of the success of these poems (especially when it comes to rendering them from Greek into English – a translation is always a translation) this is honest poetry. Honest, because it tries to capture the intensity of experience and to express this intensity in words. It reminds us: a poem is a poem when it knows how to do the same, differently. What Yiannis offers us is a cool down under ironic perspective on life, but in Greek.

Thanks once again to Yanni and to Flying Island books. Yanni, I wish you all the best with the book and I hope you continue to be transgressive!

 – Anthony Dracopoulos


Anthony Dracopoulos is Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, where he teaches Modern Greek and Comparative literature. He has published extensively on Greek modernism and criticism, G. Seferis, C.P. Cavafy. M. Sachtouris and N. Karouzos. He is the author of G. Seferis and Criticism. The reception of Seferis’ Work (1931-1971), 2002 and C.P. Cavafy. The Open Work, Athens, 2013.

.Divertente and other poems is available from 


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