A poem by Theoni Kotini


Theoni Kotini

Putative landscape in acceleration

Twigs entwined, steps of vines
sow sun all the way uphill
a bell rings, pours an echo
the cypress shakes its fruit
a dovecote fans out white
whitewash pounces on the yard
the sun-glare bites the wall
a frog burps in the stream
and wakes up the cicada who begins
to clack and clip the air
a flock rests by the oak
up close, river of sheep
from far away, small caterpillar train
three p.m. strikes
elves step out in the woods
you stare, they steal your voice
and hide you in the groves
in green time
ever more

— translated by Panayotis Ioannidis


August — the summit of the Greek summer — begs for a summer poem. And if “the Greek summer” inevitably brings to mind images of nature, can good nature poems still be written today?

The case of Theoni Kotini (born 1967 in the Peloponnese) allows us to answer in the affirmative, since she cultivates that rare and almost lost breed: the unabashed lyric — both in style and in subject matter, often resulting in nothing short of a modern-day pastoral. That she often pulls this off is in itself something to wonder at, and must be credited to her talent and daring. In her most successful poems (as in the one above, from her 2010 book, God or love, published by Gavriilidis), her stunning word-craft (coupled to a fine musical ear) and inventive image-making, sometimes incorporating non-pastoral (urban or even industrial) images or unexpected and glaringly untraditional twists, legitimise the end-result as a contemporary piece. She has published four more books to date: Micrograph (Planodion, 1999), Innocent at night (Planodion, 2003), Ignorant again (Pkanodion, 2006; awarded the “Diavazo” journal Poetry Prize), Like a garden (Garviilidis, 2014). Nature and other established themes of lyrical poetry — love, God, human pain — dominate her work.

T.K. studied philology and dramaturgy. She lives in Athens, where she teaches literature in secondary education. She also writes literary criticism, and has edited a selection of poems by her illustrious predecessor, pioneering woman poet Zoe Karelli (Thessaloniki, 1901-1998). She is a member of the Poets' Circle.

Pictured: A work by Manolis Babousis, part of the exhibition Ammophila Vol.1 Birth, taking place this weekend on the island of Elafonisos.