“I write poems to create space in language for hope”: A Conversation with Danae Sioziou
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Adam Goldwyn: Many anglophone readers, myself included, first came across your work in the 2016 anthology Austerity Measures, which framed what the editor Karen Van Dyck called in the subtitle “the New Greek Poetry” around the economic crisis of 2008, when you were in your early twenties. How did coming of age during the economic crisis shape your poetry? How has your poetry changed as the economic crisis has become less acute?
(…) It’s a cliché that art thrives in times of crisis. Artists, for example, need money, and money is time out of your life. I have always felt that this cliché underestimates and dehumanizes artists. Sometimes certain works of art shape the grounds for critique and resistance to hegemonic power and foster alternative languages and radical artistic and social imaginaries. But a crisis can also destroy voices. In Greece, for example, there is almost no literature produced by second- or third-generation immigrants. This is a huge loss. Yes, we can call it a crisis, but that means it requires both critical thought and creative and sustained interventions, and what followed the crisis of 2008 was far away from that.
“Crisis” is more than a term; it is a gaze and a framing that enables certain narratives of the present while excluding others.
Goldwyn: One of the tensions that I find so engaging is that your poems are not explicitly political but still respond to the current political and economic moment. “Poem for My Birthday,” to me anyway, shows how even passing the time on your birthday is shaped by invisible political forces; the narrator is literally covered in bills and tax forms, fielding calls from debt collectors, despairing yet resilient. How do you, as a poet, balance writing in and about a specific cultural moment in a way that can still be understood by a global audience not familiar with the Greek economic crisis, or even future generations of Greek readers who will not have lived through it?
Sioziou: I write poems to create space in language for hope. In Probable Landscapes, I wanted to challenge the emphasis that liberal thought places on individualism. I focused on inner and outer landscapes, exploring the relation to land, to ancestors, to others, and to the world. This kind of relation allows for an extended sense of selfhood and belonging. It is an exploration of the art and craft of poetry in terms of creating your own inner map, voice, and mythology. It combines modern and traditional means and themes along with an understanding of poetic rhythm and a vivid narrative style. (…)
by Danae Sioziou
translated by Adam J. Goldwyn
Poem for My Birthday
When it’s my birthday, I want to sleep all day long
covered in bills, W2 forms, postcards,
and I want to cry, but since I am not a crybaby,
I simply say that I will faint and then go to sleep.
Because a birthday after thirty is
like when they surreptitiously open your mail
like when you try to park
and you have blocked traffic
it’s like getting a call from the debt collectors
whether you have a car, children, spouse, dog
or not, a birthday after thirty
is like you are waiting to shop the clearance sale
and you can’t find anything in your size
in general terms it’s not your fault
when it’s my birthday I’m an answering machine
without space for new messages,
someone who hitchhikes on the wrong side of the street,
when it’s my birthday I can’t remember
what’s the big deal
and I’m not at all afraid of metaphors
when it’s my birthday, I suddenly remember
that I want to live forever
and I ruin the party.
As I open the door to my house,
I think that poetry is a privilege
like the expensive toys of childhood
or listening to your favorite song for the hundredth time
under ideal listening conditions
like kissing the love of your life
like millions of sparkling ponies
like life on other planets
like honey that dissolves completely in tea
like herds of lightning in the distance
and I like writing poems
as I like lying in the grass
eating cream with apricots, petting dogs
and even if people don’t like to hear poems
I like their sound
the way you put the words in order
the way you open the door holding the keys
to an inviolable house
I like writing poems
like cats like licking themselves in the sun
and I want to get good at this work
I want to get good at this work.
My Best Friend Is in Love with You
My best friend is in love with you
and you must build her a house
because she’s my best friend
and she’s in love with you
she aligns herself to your thoughts
just like the magi to the North Star
her every step follows this thought
magnetically drawn toward your constellation
like a temple complex
like a mathematical sequence
like a symphony
like end credits
like two hundred and fifty flavors of ice cream
like a collection of short stories, poems, butterflies, coins
like any collection it too requires
a fanatic or someone lost
she’s my best friend and when she falls in love
her hair floats up toward the sky
it expands, grows long
and joy gets bigger like the moon
3.8 centimeters per year
you must build her a house
because she’s my best friend
And she’s in love with you.
Translation from the Greek
Translator’s note: From Probable Landscapes (Antipodes Editions, 2021).