Saturday, October 1, 2022



NilavroNill Shoovro

Talking With Poet

Xanthi Hondrou-Hill


NILAVRONILL: Why do literature and poetry in particular interest you so much? Please give us some idea about your own perception of literature or poetry in general.

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: They are both parts of artistic expression and as such art themselves. Poetry in particular presents the feelings in a unique way. In ancient times, poetry used to be the highest form of expression. In some villages in Greece, they still speak in form of poems with 15 syllables, rhythm and rhyme. The poet was considered as close to God as someone could be, as he or she was dipping in creation itself in order to create. I am a perfectionist in matters of poetry. I want my poems to be able to stand on their own, without the need of me explaining them. The poet is his word! This is my perception of every poem written. We express in the poem the deepest feelings, the darkest secrets, the purest thoughts.

NILAVRONILL: How do you relate your own self-existence with your literary life in one hand, and the time around you, in the other?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: I always wrote poetry. From my early childhood, which I spent with my grandmother in Greece, I remember making up verses and little songs. She would encourage that by reading me every morning a little poem from the calendar. When I went to live with my parents, I was slow at the reading, as I learned two languages at the same time and that was very hard for me for a very long time. Trying to make sense of the world I started writing a diary in English in my early teenage years. The first poems came at the age of 15 when I was invited to contribute to the “HOUSE of Writers” in Stuttgart. My parents didn’t allow it, as they were very strict. Ten years later I met Johanes Poethen again in a life event and he invited me there and then to participate again. I took part in the poetic workshop, in readings and presentations and a year later one of my poems got published in the yearly anthology! Invitations to readings and interviews in big newspapers followed. As I changed countries at the age of 34 and went to live in Greece, things became quiet, as I had to adjust again to a country I knew just from childhood, and I had to learn again. Greek, my native language seemed different from what I knew... I spent the past 20 years with my children. I devoted my whole time to them, to help with the homework and with their needs in education. Now, that my son is an adult and my daughter doesn’t need my help, I have the time to turn again to my beloved poetry, which never really left me! My poems went around the world during pandemic, when I was looking to talk to other poets over the internet during lockdown.

NILAVRONILL: Do you believe creative souls flourish more in turmoil than in peace?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: It depends on what gives each person more inspiration. There are great writers who thrive in problems, as poetry tends to take away the pain of people, and there are others who love peaceful moments. The trend of what people like also changes in different times. There was a period when rhythm and rhyme were out, now I find that poets find a new way to work with these elements. Most peace poems are written in times of war! People always search for what they don’t have.

NILAVRONILL: Do you think in this age of information and technology the dimensions of literature have been largely extended beyond our preconceived ideas about literature in general?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: I do! Especially during COVID restrictions I felt that poets were looking for fellow souls to talk to. This is how I met most of my friends, which I have all around the world now. The exchange of opinions and the possibilities to connect beyond countries and time zones is just amazing! I think that digital meetings will still be a great option for internet poetry festivals, even after travel will be permitted again. It is great, because it could be also a kind of training ground for our own abilities and perspectives.


NILAVRONILL: Now, in this changing scenario we would like to know from your own life experiences as a poet, writer and a creative soul: How do you respond to this present time?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: I think that there was never so much exchange as in present days. For me that is a good signal, because despite the differences we can find common characteristics amongst ourselves, and we can inspire one another, in a peaceful way! I think that the poets of the world can contribute the most to    peace on this earth, with their understanding and insight, beyond political boundaries and borders or economic restrictions. I have contributed to anthologies around the world, which were digital and free of charge and read the work of so many great poets and writers which would not be possible under other circumstances. We communicate with digital means for free, which is such a blessing in these days. I remember just 20 years ago astronomical phone bills, which made calling even my parents from abroad difficult. This is why I find that this time exciting and full of great opportunities to get in touch with our dreams and pursue them.

NILAVRONILL: Do you believe that all writers are by and large the product of their nationality? And is this an incentive for or an obstacle against becoming a truly international writer?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: I have seen great poets in many nationalities! But, what makes an international poet in my opinion, is the insight to look beyond your own borders and limitations. The need to be understood in a simple way everywhere in the world. And the digital meetings and festivals did a wonderful job in achieving this. The next step would be to actually see who are the largest communities of languages and in which of them is poetry a key component. The English Language is here just a stepping stone into the world, as there are huge communities who love poetry in China, or in Spanish speaking countries.

NILAVRONILL: Now, if we try to understand the tradition and modernism, do you think literature can play a pivotal role in it?  If so, how? Again, how can an individual writer relate himself or herself to the tradition and to modernism?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: Greek literature has a huge history which starts with Homer, the Odyssey and the Illiade! There is over two millenia of good literature that you spend your whole life reading and not finish it. The individual writer usually has a central theme, which haunts him. If it would be me, I would read something around the theme I need to write about to get inspiration. Good poetry withstands the turns of time. This is why we can read poets from different time periods, which can still be modern today!

NILAVRONILL: Do you think literary criticism has much to do with the development of a poet and the true understanding of his or her poetry?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: Literary cristicism is an art of interpretation of the poetic work of a poet. It should bring forward the multiple levels that a poem could have, what it could mean for the individual, for the society, and, yes, for the true understanding of the poetry! The development of the poet is difficult to grasp, and actually needs the biography of the poet and the influences with which the poet got in touch with through his creative life. As some poets get in touch with beliefs, which come forward in their work at some point of creativity, but later on they change their mind and move away from that.

NILAVRONILL: Do you think society as a whole is the key factor in shaping you up as a poet, or your poetry altogether?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: I think that there are many factors which shape a poet. Society is just one of them. Family, education, occupation, travels, wealth or even health are probably equal components, too. There are villages in Crete which talk only in rhythm and rhyme! Only there you can say, that society is shaping them to be poets. But how good is their poetry to be worth remembering? Is is going beyond their own village? Will it withstand the test of time? Surely not, as none of them bothered with sharing their poems in a book to the public.

NILAVRONILL: Do you think people in general actually bother about literature?  Do you think this consumerist world is turning the average man away from serious literature?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: Most supermarkets have started to have books on their shelfs again. Online shops sell books with great success. I think the trend is back to the book. People read on the beach, or on the bus. There has to be some sort of entry way towards literature. If it is a supermarket book or a classic is the decision of the individual, but someone who starts reading will at some point get to a book he or she loves, and this is where the real journey starts into the serious literature!

NILAVRONILL: We would like to know the factors and the peoples who have influenced you immensely in the growing phase of your literary life.

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: The biggest influence regarding poetry was the social worker at my school. We talked every day about the important things in life and after a while he gave me, when I was 15 years old, the work of the Philhellene Johanes Poethen, which inspired me. I started writing my own poetry there and then. As the social worker was a good friend of mine, he showed my poems to Johanes Poethen himself! I was invited to join the House of Writers and Poets in Stuttgart, but my parents didn’t allow it. I met him again about 10 years later and we became friends. His way of writing inspired me, and I met many interesting poets at the House of Writers in Stuttgart. The various discussions with poets from around the world gave me great opportunity to develop my own style. The study of German Literature and Linguistics was another big influence for my style. I read mostly in German, even foreign authors. My thesis was about poetic elements in romantic letters and I did my work at the Schiller bibliothek, the library of Schiller, outside of Stuttgart. It was a quiet retreat to conduct my research. Just the location itself where everyone was studying was inspiring and beautiful. The classics like Goethe and Schiller, or the romantic writers like Brentano, who even in his private letters used many poetic elements have definitely shaped the way I write. I think that every poetry book we read stays with us, in one way or another! I also love the contempary Greek poets, the Nobel Prize Winners of last century, like Elytis, Seferis and Ritsos that are on the must reading list of every poet in Greece. The growing phase of a poet or poetess ends only with their death. Many great poets wrote their best work at the end of their life. Therefore, in my opinion we are always learning, every step of the way. I also must say, that every poem I write is written in three languages at the same time: English, Greek and German. Translations are a great tool for me to see where the weak points of the poem are and to improve my own style in poetry. As every language has its own way of expression it does help to fine tune each and every poem.

NILAVRONILL: How would you evaluate your contemporaries and what are your aspirations for or expectation from the younger generation?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: There are many great poets and poetesses out there and with many of them, I am really happy to say, that we are friends! In the first international poetry festival of Naoussa, which has just concluded we all had a great sense of togetherness, a sense of family and unity. And I think this is the true value of poetry when it comes from the heart: it brings people closer in a very short span of time and creates such harmony that I have never experienced before! The poetic meetings through ZOOM brought me closer to poets, when the pandemic hit everywhere. It didn’t matter where we were, we could see it was really difficult everywhere in the world, and somehow the meetings made it bearable. We were all looking forward to meet again as soon as possible. Now, that we are slowly opening up again, I was invited to schools on the International Day of Peace and actually met many teenagers who are writing poetry. At first of course they are shy. They don’t want to give away their most inner thoughts, but, when I talk about how I feel when a theme takes my hand and pulls me to the desk to get written, they come forward. I am honest and say, that some poems keep me up at night. And it struck a chord with them and they opened up. It doesn’t take time to write something with inspiration, as it can strike you anywhere. I am positive that the young generation will have many powerful voices to bring forward, because I have already met many. I hope that they will continue writing with enthusiasm!

NILAVRONILL: Humanity has suffered immensely in the past, and is still suffering around the world. We all know it well. But are you hopeful about our future?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: The signs of the time are portrayed as difficult by the media. We need to look for solutions and not just look towards the problems. There is a whole industry now that shows people how to focus on the positive side of life, and I am focusing on the positive, too. There are always two ways to look at something: the half-full glass of water, or the half-empty! Isn’t it better to look at it in the positive perspective? I wanted to do an international poetry festival since the time I came to Naoussa, 22 years ago. There was never an insightful mayor to approve this idea, till this year. And so we gathered the poets from around the world and a dream became reality! Everything just starts with a crazy idea, until someone comes up with a solution on how to make it happen.

NILAVRONILL: What role can literature in general play to bring a better day for every human being?

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: In some hospitals literature is used to help patients find their way back to health. Books are used to help children understand why they need treatment.  In psychiatric facilities they use art and music therapy to help people with memory loss. Literature changes each individual who is reading a book. In the pandemic we experienced that people started reading again.  Many young people turn to books again, as it engages their imagination and they create images in their mind. Literature brought major changes through the revolutions in the past centuries. With the ideas of liberty and equality many countries fought for their independence and succeeded! In Greece it was even inspired by poets from abroad like Lord Byron, who came from Britain to fight side-by-side with the Greeks. Therefore, I think that literature will find it’s true role again to liberate people from limiting beliefs. It is just a matter of time.

XANTHI HONDROU-HILL: Xanthi Hondrou-Hill has studied German and English Literature, Linguistics, Journalism and Public Relations Management in Germany. She has worked as Public Relations Manager at the Greek Consulate in Stuttgart, as teacher for German, Greek and English and is translating poetry from and to all three languages. She is an award-winning Greek poetess who gained international recognition. She is writing poetry since high school and her poems have been published in many international prestigious media and anthologies around the world. She has won in 2022 the first prize at the Gandhian Global Harmony Association and many awards in China, Ukraine, Philippines and Equator. She has been nominated as one of the 30 Stars worldwide in India. She is cultural Ambassador for OXYGEN PEN Sri Lanka, NAMASTE magazine in India and editor for poetry columns at in Greece and HUMANITY in Russia, as well as co-editor for the international poetry magazine in China. Selections of her poetry have been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Slavic as well as in two Languages of India: Hindi and Bengali.


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