A poem by Eirini Vakalopoulou


Eirini Vakalopoulou

[the natural eyes know...]

the natural eyes know
and desire to get closer
to the ebony membrane

then comes repulsion
from the true from the exact

sometimes an indeterminate walk
finds them again
a threadlike line of light
penetrates the mouth of two large leaves

and the white legs
the slow legs
hover in that delicate day
which fills with voices
with that uncannily unendurable

— translated by Panayotis Ioannidis

Eyes — repulsion — light between leaves — a day unendurably filling with sun. Is this a summer day? If it is, it doesn't exactly sound like a desirable one. (So maybe this isn't an ideal June poem?) Such poetically fertile indeterminacy — a linguistic equivalent of abstract painting, perhaps — invests Eirini Vakalopoulou's most potent work. Her more recent, fourth poetry book, The fertile parts (Ekati, Athens, 2020), from which this month's poem is taken, opens with a poem of five stanzas; here are the first two: “a sun / at the world's first dawn / the woman with her wheat-stalk fingers / grasped its fresh light // she nailed it on her head / so that it wouldn't tilt and fall / and lose its straight as arrows rays”. Dawn (the same one? The exact repetition of the line would have us think so) appears again in the book's ante-penultimate poem, which reads in its entirety: “sometime late / at the world's first dawn / imperceptible anticipation will become visible // and the hand I hold / become the kindest one / the most comprehensible”. Indeed, natural elements of all sorts interweave with humans interacting with, and reflecting those elements, throughout the book's 18 untitled poems — as, elsewhere: “courage and faith / have become gold / a plant descends rapidly / rich / and silences the world's noise”.

Eirini Vakalopoulou was born in Thessaloniki in 1982. She studied International Relations and Creative Advertising. She then worked as a copy-writer in advertising in Athens, before returning to Thessaloniki in 2009. It was there that, while working at the city's University, in its Department of Economics, she started writing. Her first publication was a novella; there followed three poetry books before her more recent one: Unadulthood (2014), She's in parties (2016), The visit (2018). She now lives in Athens where, in 2016, she took part in “documenta 14”, with a long poem about freedom.

Pictured: A small sculpture (An anagram system for something that does not belong to anyone, "Listen-Silent", 2021) by Euripides Papadopetrakis, part of the exhibition ANEW, curated by Faidra Vasileiadou at Koren project space. Read more here.