Nikos Kavvadias (11 January 1910 – 10 February 1975) was a Greek poet, prose writer, translator and sailor.
Nikos Kavvadias was born on 11 January 1910 in Nikolsk-Ussuriysky, a provincial town in the Vladivostok region of Russia, to Kefalonian parents, Charilaos Kavvadias and Dorothea Angelatos of the well-known Kefalonian shipowner family. His siblings Genia (Eugenia) and Mitias (Dimitris) were born in the same city. Kavadias” father kept a general trading office, handling large quantities of goods with the Tsarist army as his main client.
In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, the family came to Greece and settled in Argostoli, while the father returned to his business in Russia, where he was financially ruined. In 1917, during the October Revolution, he was imprisoned. He returns to Greece again in 1921, broken and unable to adapt to Greek reality.
After Argostoli, the family settled in Piraeus. Kavvadias goes to primary school and is a classmate of Yannis Tsarouchis and Papa-Giorgis Pyrounakis. He reads Jules Verne and various adventure books. In high school he meets the author and Navy doctor Pavlos Nirvana. At the age of eighteen, he begins publishing poems in the magazine of the Great Greek Encyclopedia under the pseudonym Petros Valhalas and publishes the satirical pamphlet School Satyr himself, writing poems for his classmates. His first poem is published in the newspaper Flag, entitled “The Death of the Child”. According to D. Nikoretzos (in his work “Nikos Kavvadias, the last sinner”), his first poem was another (“The Desire”) in the magazine of the Great Greek Encyclopedia.
After finishing high school, he takes exams at the Medical School. But at the same time his father dies (October 1929) and he is forced to work in a naval office. But he continues to work with various literary magazines, such as The Intellectual. In November 1928, Kavvadias produced a nautical pamphlet and the following year he sailed as a “nautopian” on the freighter “Agios Nikolaos”, together with his younger brother Argyris, who had been born in Greece in 1915. In 1931 the magazine Nautical Hellas published N. Kavvadias” work, “Traugoudia”. The following year, the poet began to publish his travel impressions in the newspaper Piraikon Vima, along with his novel (in serial form) The Incredible Adventure of Lostromos Nakahanamoko, but the newspaper ceased publication and his work remained unfinished.
In 1933, the family moved from Piraeus to Athens. The house becomes a gathering place for writers, painters and poets. Kavvadias at that time is described as a taciturn simple man, untidy, charming, cordial, with an inexhaustible sense of humour, beloved by everyone. In June 1933, his first collection of poems entitled Marabou (published by Cyclus in 245 copies) was released, giving him the nickname that would accompany him until the end of his life. It was received (his poetry collection) with very favourable reviews, the most characteristic of which was that of Fotos Politis in the newspaper Proia. In 1938, ”Nea Estia” published his poems, while he enlisted and served in Xanthi as a semi-negro. In 1939 he received his diploma of radio telegraphist of lower class. In the 1940s he leaves for Albania, where he first serves as a semi-nomadic corpsman and later, because of his speciality as a radio operator, he is used in the interception station of the III Division. He published his prose novel In My Horse in the magazine Lonchis. With the capitulation of the Greek army, he returns on foot to Athens.
During the Occupation, Kavvadias crossed the ranks of the National Resistance and became a member of the EAM. At the same time he became a member of the KKE. He also joined the Society of Greek Writers, despite the fact that he had printed only one book, Marabou, at the time, whereas the limit was three books. But he was active in literature, writing poems, some of them resistance poems, most notably the poem In the Tomb of the EPONite and Athens 1943, under the pseudonym A. Tapeinos, in the magazine “Vanguards”. In 1944 he translated, together with Vassilis Nikolopoulos, the work of Eugene Oenil “The Journey of the Return”. At the beginning of 1945, he becomes the head of the EAM of Writers-Poets, a position he gives up on 6 October of the same year to Nikiforos Vrettakos, because of his departure from Greece on the ship “Corinthia”. Security gave him permission, as he was considered an inactive communist. The magazine Elefthera Grahmata published his poems ”Resistance” and ”Federico Garcia Lorca”, and a translation of the American poet Ford Maddox”s work entitled The Old Houses of Flanders. In January 1947, Th. Karavia publishes N. Kavvadias” second collection of poems, entitled Poussi, and Marabou is also republished.
From 1954 until 1974, he traveled constantly with very short breaks. During this period, the most important events in the poet”s life were the death of his younger brother, Argyris, in 1957, the publication of the Bardia in French in 1959, the republication of Marabou and Pussy in 1961 by Galaxy Publications, the death of his mother in 1965 and the birth of Philip in 1966, the son of his niece Elga.
During his travels, and specifically in 1954, the following incident occurred:While the poet was working on a “postali” (a short-distance passenger ship), George Seferis travelled on his boat. Both during the formal reception of the travellers and during the journey, Seferis did not even bother to greet Kavvadias. This fact was particularly bitter for Kavadias, who felt that the literary generation of the 1930s, to which he belonged, was underestimating him.
In 1975, in Athens, at the clinic “Agioi Apostoli”, he breathes his last breath after a stroke. He was buried in the A Cemetery of Athens, in the presence of many people of letters and art.
The great recognition of N. Kavvadias” work came after his death. His poems were set to music by Yannis Spanos, Mariza Koch, Thanos Mikroutsikos, the Katsimichas brothers, Dem.
The poem “Resistance”, dedicated by the poet to Melpo Axiotis, was first published in the magazine Elefthera Grahmata (issue 14 – 10 August 1945), and was included in the anthology “Songs of Resistance” edited by Foula Hatzidakis and published in October 1951 by the New Greece Publishing House. It can be found in the book MELPO AXIOTIS, POEMS (2001, KEDROS).
The short prose Lee was made into a film in 1995 entitled Between the devil and the deep blue sea. Nikos Kavvadias” short story The War, which recounts the hospitality of a Greek soldier by an Arvanite during the Greek-Italian War, was made into a film and directed by Christos Paligiannopoulos.
M.A. Sofokleous, Melbourne and Limassol.Two Ports of Nikos Kavvadias, Afis Publications, Limassol, 2016.