Thursday, January 17, 2013
Inside a Greek Poet’s Work, a Reflection of Her Country’s Hard Times
Angelos Tzortzinis for The New York Times
KIKI DIMOULA, Greece’s feisty, 81-year-old national poet, was holding court on a recent afternoon, musing about her work and the fate of her country. Asked to describe the mood in Greece today, she did not mince words. “Darkness and chaos,” she said, drawing on a cigarette.
Ms. Dimoula may have a flair for the dramatic, but her words are always chosen carefully. Her poetry — spare, profound, unsentimental, effortlessly transforming the quotidian into the metaphysical, drawing on the powerful themes of time, fate and destiny, yet making them entirely her own — has earned her a near-cult following in Greece.
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 the first full volume of 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.
“My homeland is my language,” Ms. Dimoula said. She was seated on a dark velvet sofa in the elegant Athens sitting room of Ms. Margellos, a translator and literary critic who with her husband, the Greek investor Theodore Margellos, have endowed the Margellos Republic of Letters imprint at Yale University Press.