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New York Times Profiles National Poet of Greece Kiki Dimoula

By Harriet Staff

kiki-dimoula

On Friday, The New York Times profiled Kiki Dimoula, the national poet of Greece. “S[he] said she follows the news and listens to the political speeches, especially those of the Socialist party leader, Evangelos Venizelos, famous for his oratory. ‘He’s very careful; he’s a speaker by nature,’ she said. ‘I’m examining the quality, not the authenticity’ of his speeches, she added. Asked if she believed a word he said, she shook her head vehemently. ‘No,’ she said.” More:

One of her Greek writer contemporaries, Nikos Dimou, has called Ms. Dimoula “the best Greek woman poet since Sappho,” and she is the first living female poet ever to be included in the prestigious French publisher Gallimard’s poetry series. But her work has rarely been translated into English.

Last fall, a new collection of her selected poems, “The Brazen Plagiarist,” appeared from Yale University Press, translated by Cecile I. Margellos and Rika Lesser, bringing her work into English for the first time in nearly two decades.

Ms. Dimoula does not speak English. “I was lazy,” she said apologetically, and is concerned that her Greek verbal acrobatics do not translate well. In the introduction to the new collection, she writes that she worries “whether the bridge from one language to another is sound enough.”

The bridge, as it happens, is plenty strong. As is the writer.

Reporter Rachel Donadio also wrote of the effects of the economic crisis on Dimoula:

…Today, with Greece dismantling its social protections amid a crushing debt crisis, she is concerned that things might get even more terrible. “I believe they can get even worse than the junta period,” she said. “The junta put under surveillance and limited the freedom of the leftists; now the whole country is being persecuted.”

Like all Greek retirees, Ms. Dimoula has seen her pension cut. “Because of 100 people that abused power, the whole country has been asked to pay,” she said angrily, drawing on another cigarette, referring to Greece’s many financial scandals.

[...]

“Half of the mail we get is from people who say, ‘I want to meet Kiki Dimoula,’ ” said Marilena Panourgia, a publisher at Ikaros, Ms. Dimoula’s publishing house, where she is in the illustrious company of Greece’s two Nobel laureates in literature, George Seferis and Odysseas Elytis.

Like so many small businesses in Greece, Ikaros is struggling to stay afloat. “In the good times, we didn’t buy houses and boats; we published more books that we knew no one would buy,” Katerina Karydi, whose father founded Ikaros in 1943, said with a sad smile.

As for the poetry:

“The main subject of Dimoula’s poetry is nothingness,” Nikos Dimou, the writer, said in a telephone interview. “It is the fact that our existence is not a real existence, it’s a precarious existence; it’s always undermined by the thought of death, by time, by decay.” Like Emily Dickinson or the great Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy, Ms. Dimoula “has her own very single, very specific, very individual voice,” Mr. Dimou added. “She cannot be mistaken for anything else.”

The poet said she was disappointed that her intricate prose was accessible to so many. “I feel offended,” she said. “Am I as understandable as that?”

She also plays down the fact that her poetry speaks to readers, especially in such dark times. “People say to me, ‘It’s a consolation,’ ” she said. “And I wonder how I can console them because I myself am inconsolable.”

Read the full profile here; and find a poem from The Brazen Plagiarist at the Boston Review.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, January 14th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.