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Reviewed by:
  • Poems
  • George Syrimis
Dinos Christianopoulos , Poems. Translated and with an introduction by Nicholas Kostis. Athens: Odysseas Publications. 1995. Pp. 155.

Although little known in the English-speaking world, Dinos Christianopoulos's work has been well received in Greece since 1950 when his first collection of poems, Season of the Lean Cows, was published. Subsequent collections were printed as one volume called Poems, translated by Nicholas Kostis. This included, besides the first collection noted above, Strangers' Knees (1952–1957), Defenseless Longing (1955–1970), The Cross-Eyed (1949–1970), and The Body and the Wormwood (1960–1993). A volume of prose poems, Dead Piazza, and a selection of traditional songs, Eternal Grievance, are regrettably not translated here but are expected to be included in the next Greek edition of Poems. Christianopoulos's poetry, his well-known adoration of rebetika, and his poignant cynico-sentimental aphorisms on love have established him as a peculiarly Greek cult figure along with other gay artists like Hadjidakis and Tsarouchis.

The uninitiated English-speaking reader will benefit greatly from Kostis's brief introduction, which is both informative and analytical. The essay is a helpful guide that chronicles Christianopoulos's contribution to poetry, the essay, and song, noting his special relationship to his native Thessaloniki, a literary topos in both senses of the word, and elaborating on his affinity to and divergence from Cavafy, whose influence on Christianopoulos will be evident to even the most casual of readers. The notes that follow the translations attest to Kostis's editing care and shed ample light on the poet's literary sources, in particular on the Christian tradition, which is evoked in a number of poems.

Kostis's analysis focuses on the central concepts of the poetry, which range from remorseful confession to provocative and outspoken exhibitionism, from self-disgust and humiliation to self-acceptance and dignity, from self-denial to self-indulgence and self-knowledge. Irony and humor frequently comment on [End Page 152] the prevalent theme of an earthy eroticism, achieving "total nudity of expression by blending realism with lyricism" (xvii). It is perhaps their simplicity of both expression and emotion that saves these poems from sentimentality, as in the following example from The Body and the Wormwood:

The bruise that you left on my breastis ample evidencethat you also were desperately lonely.

Rising above the often moralizing, offended, and embarrassed critics who are not unprejudiced regarding sexual difference, Kostis notes that "at the heart of [such confessions] is a propensity for masochism imbued with religious penitence" (xvii). It is perhaps with more than a touch of coincidental patronymic irony that Christianopoulos may be regarded as the prodigal son of the Christian literary tradition, given his often provocatively scandalous appropriation of Scripture, as in this example from the Gospel of Matthew:

Woe to the manby whom the offence comethso says the Gospeland so say you

and if thine eye offend theepluck it outso says the Gospeland so say I

The poetry's refusal to turn a blind eye to offensive sexuality, its thematization of distorted vision, and its valorization of other points of view insist on a subversive re-reading of the tradition. The homoeroticization of literary history is central to the understanding of the significance of poets like Christianopoulos, whose revision of the canon paradoxically validates and perpetuates the canon's authority, implicating himself in the silencing of other voices while at the same time subverting it and making it deviate from the straight path. My only objection to Kostis's analysis is that he may be diffusing much of the disturbing force of Christianopoulos's poetry when he states that "the poet may be homoerotic, but he is first and foremost a man struggling to come to terms with himself while giving literary expression to the deepest recesses of his being" (xv). Kostis elevates the poetry to an expression of a universal and essential eroticism at the expense of a particular form of eroticism whose expression, including the kind of poetry written about it, is to a great extent determined by the social forces that persecute, oppress, tolerate, facilitate, foster, and/or exploit it. Christianopoulos's...