A Greek Soul Rises Above the Jungles of Indochina

NEW YORK. *#8211; Adrienne Kalfopoulou grew up on the other side of the world*#8212;many would say the *#8220;wrong side.*#8221; She spent most of her youth in war-torn Indochina, including Vietnam, during the turbulent 1960s. Yet, her short time in Greece was what inspired her poetry that has helped her win awards, including the 1999 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award and the 2000 EDDA Women*#8217;s Chapbook Contest.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Kalfopoulou*#8217;s just published book, Wild Greens (Red Hen Press, Oct. 2002), is also garnering praise from such prestigious literary journals as Crab Orchard Review and The Valparaiso Review.
This new collection of poems deals with many facets of her life including paternal grandparents and Greek relatives, but also with a *#8220;more contemporary landscape of coming-of-age, bi-culturally,*#8221; she said. *#8220;I think the whole idea of *#8216;greens*#8217; is sort of literal and metaphorical too…as in what nourishes from the past, and what doesnt…and that its found, like horta in those open spaces, growing *#8216;wild*#8217;…and in surprising unexpected ways.*#8221;
Born in Vietnam in 1958 to a Greek father and Italian-American mother, Dr. Kalfopoulou lived in the Asian country for the first eight years of her life.
*#8220;My father was involved with bioelectrical engineering and they were setting things up like radars,*#8221; she said.
While Vietnam was not exactly the safest place to raise a child, the experience gave Dr. Kalfopoulou a different perspective of the world, one that was galvanized during her many visits to her father*#8217;s native Greece during that time.
*#8220;It made Greece kind of a point of reference because we would go to Greece every summer,*#8221; she said. *#8220;We would go to Athens and stay with my grandparents, and that*#8217;s how they played such a big role in my upbringing. Since we were in Asia, we would end up going for three months, if not four months, every summer.*#8221;
Dr. Kalfopoulou*#8217;s grandparents gave her a greater perspective on the world around her.
*#8220;When I was growing up I would hear stories from my grandparents about their experiences in World War II,*#8221; she said. *#8220;As many Greek families of that generation did, they look back at it in very mediate ways. It was the way I was introduced to Greek culture and language.*#8221;
Dr. Kalfopoulou was affected by the little things and daily events that meant a lot to her grandparents. *#8220;It was interesting because it was always linked to food, which in some ways was obvious,*#8221; she said. *#8220;We*#8217;d be at the table and if we didn*#8217;t want to eat they would say *#8216;If you had been in the war, you wouldn*#8217;t be so picky about your food.*#8217; It was these daily mundane moments that were linked to lessons they had learned through hardship. These moments were woven into our day-to-day rituals.*#8221;
When the conflict in Vietnam escalated, the family stayed in Greece for a year and a half before eventually moving to Thailand. There were some close calls before they fled.
*#8220;I remember one time my father moving us all to the back room because he found bullet holes in the walls of the front room balcony,*#8221; Dr. Kalfopoulou noted.
She moved to the United States and received a B.A. from Brown University before working for publishing company E.P. Dutton in New York for two years. She then decided to move to Greece, where she worked for a magazine and taught English. She eventually finished a Ph. D. and is currently teaching at the University of LaVerne in Athens, Greece. She started writing seriously about 15 years ago.
She is mostly inspired to write during times of crisis, which *#8220;can be crisis of all types. Ironically it often happens when I don*#8217;t have words or when I*#8217;m at a loss for words,*#8221; Dr. Kalfopoulou noted. *#8220;It*#8217;s then that the poetic dimension or imagination kicks in to take over for what I can*#8217;t seem to express in other ways.*#8221;
Her favorite *#8220;crisis*#8221; is her daughter, Korina,
*#8220;She*#8217;s also part of the crisis,*#8221; Dr. Kalfopoulou stated. *#8220;Sometimes [the crisis] is expressing a complex emotional moment, which can be a positive moment. So she*#8217;s always a challenge. She*#8217;s an essential part of everything I do and much of the way I see the world is shaped by her.*#8221;
Dr. Kalfopoulou writes about her daughter in many of her poems, such as *#8220;My Daughter*#8217;s Eyes,*#8221; from Wild Greens (see below).
Dr. Kalfopoulou is a single mother, which presents challenges of its own.
*#8220;It*#8217;s a kind of combination of being difficult, yet rich, because it means that you experience things differently and you take things less for granted than somebody who comes out of a more conventional nuclear family situation,*#8221; she noted.
She also relishes teaching at the university, where her classes range from poetry to literature to creative writing.
*#8220;I enjoy it,*#8221; she said. *#8220;It keeps me in touch with literature. It*#8217;s always a challenge to teach literature, especially to kids who aren*#8217;t majoring in it.*#8221;
She has advice to students who want to write.
*#8220;Never give up and be generous to yourself in terms of giving yourself time and also in relation to allowing yourself to be open to the possibilities of expression,*#8221; she noted.
Currently, Dr. Kalfopoulou is on sabbatical touring U.S. college campuses and Hellenic societies such as the Greek Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is writing a prose memoir about her experience in Greece that she hopes to have finished early next year. She isn*#8217;t looking to stop writing anytime soon and hopes to continue writing and adapting her style for many years to come.
*#8220;I think the longer you write, the more you experiment with different possibilities,*#8221; she said. *#8220;You become challenged by levels and complexities of experience. You develop a voice and that voice you can pinpoint to a writer. The range of that voice has to do with how much a writer wants to encompass in terms of things he or she wants to write about.*#8221;
Wild Greens can be found at most major booksellers, including Barnes *amp; Noble and Amazon.com.

My Daughter*#8217;s Eyes

have all of Greece, all of Turkey
in their limpid darkness
lightening out of burnt shades of *nbsp;brown.
Wet and jeweled like Asian candy
they will scatter a color so rich
I see Bursa, the Anatoli,
deep Aegean velvets that lap the jagged shorelines
of so much discord, so much fevered history.
Her eyes resurrect ancient
possibilities, alive
the moment she will insist on truce,
the measured beauty of Platonic
*#8220;Why can*#8217;t you smile at Dad?*#8221;
she asks,
*#8220;why can*#8217;t you and he be friends?*#8221; She is trying
to cross an unknown Bosphorus,
to reach Agia Sofia*#8217;s gorgeous spires.
But the saints are buried under
plaster, their eyes
gouged out *#8211; her everlasting why
swims the turgid moment.
I am her other-
cultured American mother,
her short-tempered efficiency. Her
father is his father*#8217;s orphaned,
escape , a Smyrnian memory, the songs she sings
whose words stay foreign and full of
intent *#8211;
her longing could almost bridge the
amber depths,
her eyes ask for the world whole, and I can only translate so much.