Poet and University of Redlands Creative Writing Professor Joy Manesiotis tried very hard, but could not contain all she wanted to write about the 1922 Destruction of Smyrna in a poem.
The topic involved her mother’s family history and resonates through each generation to this day.
“Smyrna was an interesting place in the last part of the Ottoman Empire,” she explains. “The largest population was Greek, followed by Turks, then Jews and other Europeans. My mother’s family lived there for hundreds of years. It was a very cultured place.”
Yet after World War I, tension between the Greeks and Turks escalated and ultimately the Allies handed over Smyrna to the Greek government in return for helping win the war in Asia Minor, but the Turks didn’t recognize that agreement. The result was the genocide of the Greek Orthodox Ottoman subjects in Smyrna, known as The Destruction.
The Greek and Turkish governments agreed to a population exchange and moved all Muslims to Turkey and all Greek Orthodox to Greece. “ People identified with their religion and not their country,” Manesiotis says. “The fabric of the culture was ripped apart. It created a humanitarian nightmare, many people died, and 1.5 million refugees flooded Greece.”
Manesiotis says over eight years her poem became bigger and bigger until it became its own project, which she re-started twice. “It took many forms as I explored how to tell the story of the legacy of those events, how they get passed on, and how the trauma resonates through the generations.”
What Manesiotis ended up writing is A Short History of Anger, a work she describes as a hybrid manuscript. It is a book, as well as a staged reading of prose, poetry, essay and verse performed by a speaker accompanied by a Greek Chorus.
One of the ways she developed A Short History of Anger was to share parts of the developing piece with other creative practitioners at international symposiums and festivals, first in Sweden and later in England.
She debuted the final piece in Bathspa University in England. “The response was very engaged and positive,” she says. The work since has been performed at Plymouth University, and Vanderbilt University’s drama department is considering it for next year.
Manesiotis isn’t finished with the topic—she is working on a series of essays based on her interviews with survivors of the Destruction of Smyrna.
Still, the poet believes in her life’s work. “Poetry attempts to say the unsayable, to express what can’t be expressed in any other way, and it answers a deep human need,” Manesiotis says. “Especially in a time when we have come to believe that all information is accessible and matters are less complex and more knowable than they really are, the opportunity for students to experience the art form—whether they go on to be writers or not—is invaluable.”