A poem by Ifigenia Doumi


Ifigenia Doumi


At the Faneromeni monastery in Salamina, the Virgin is so beautiful.
Her slightly joining eyebrows render her desirable.
Nobody seems to care about the serious-looking boy in her lap.
Everyone looks, bewildered, at her deeply promising gaze,
'til finally they press their lips on glass that separates them
and at the last moment reminds them they are sinning.
Along the narrow path to the monastery's exit, excitement dissipates.
A peacock on the right, roe deer, tulips.
At the far end, Sikelianos's bust
against the sea
and a flag tied in a knot around the throat.

– translated by Panayotis Ioannidis


Spring is pretty full of Greekness: the 25th of March is not only the hugely important religious feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin; it also celebrates the (nominal) beginning of the 1821 Uprising against the Ottoman Empire (to which the Byzantine Empire had fallen in 1453), which led, nine years later, to the formation of the modern Greek state. Greek Orthodox Easter also falls during Spring, of course: on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox — one of several reminders of just how much of paganism was subsumed (and used) by christianity.

This pagan approach to christianity is given an added twist in Ifigenia Doumi's poem — published here on this year's Spring Equinox and a few days away from the 200th celebration of the 1821 Uprising — which ups the ante in Greekness by including not only Salamina (the island at whose straits the Athenian fleet beat the Persian one in 480 B.C., signalling the second and final defeat of the Persian Empire's campaigns in mainland Greece), but also the great, prodigiously talented and quasi-national poet Angelos Sikelianos (1884-1951).

That this does not result in a dumb patriotic — let alone nationalistic — poem, is largely due to Doumi's daringly playful sensuality: one of her hallmarks, here involving the Virgin Mary, potential prey to devouring devotion. Another hallmark of her art is humour, rather rare in most Greek poetry from the 19th c. onwards, but making a most welcome comeback nowadays, principally through the voice of women poets, such as, for example, Olga Papakosta and Iana Bukova. (Is this a coincidence, or the result of work that doesn't sit comfortably within, or isn't particularly bothered about, a patriarchal poetic genealogy, and therefore feels free to shed a canonical solemnity?) Indeed, from its title onwards, I.D.'s first book, Love me tender (published by Sexpirikon, Thessaloniki, 2018), rejoices in (why mince one's words) having fun and being imaginatively sexy — whilst doing many other things besides. Its final poem, “Onomatopoeia” (in latin letters, like the first one, “Can't buy me love”), says it (almost) all: “My name reads do me. / Not dome, don't try to beautify – / don't shy away from me. / Just do me” (the last verse is in English). It's a densely populated book of 76 poems full of character and characters, including a firm-buttocked Kouros, a modern-day Agamemnon having tea with his daughter (the poet's namesake, Ifigenia), the poet herself as Tinkerbell, a slender girl enjoying a potentially fattening cheese-pie (including its crumbs falling on her and sticking to her lips), and a burglar delivering a dramatic monologue.

I.D. was born in 1982 Athens, where she lives. She studied English Literature, Literary Translation, and Acting. Love me tender is soon to appear in Spanish; some of its poems have already been included in the Swedish anthology Med Fingret Vidrör du Orden (trolltrumma, 2019). I.D. herself translates from the English and Spanish.

Pictured: Detail from a work-in-progress by Valia Papastamou, on view until 04 April at Snehta Residency in Athens. More information about the exhibition here.