In the Spotlight: Kalliope Constantaras

NEW YORK – Kalliope Constantaras is an employee of the New York City Board of Education, as a teacher in the lower elementary grades, working with about 150 students a day. Although she enjoys teaching, her true passion is poetry; her most recent book, *#8220;STILLNESS*#8221; is sold at Barnes *amp; Noble*#8217;s, and she is expecting to release her second book of poetry and a children*#8217;s book in the near future.


TNH: How did you get to where you are today?
KC: I was born in Manhattan. I loved writing ever since I was a little girl. My first language was Greek. I was an only child with two working parents.*nbsp; My grandmothers took care of me, mostly my mother*#8217;s mother Kalliope. I consider life with my parents and both grandmothers, my greatest school.
My father studied and worked as a mechanical engineer. Since my parents were quite young we did fun things together like go to different zoos, museums, Broadway shows because they too wanted to learn and grow. It was my father who bought English books for me to read and I in turn would read them to my mother underneath the ironing board while she was ironing or washing dishes. My mother was born elegant. I admire her a lot. I do not know how she worked, prepared dinner and managed a very neat household. While they worked, I would line up my dolls and stuffed animals and read to them. Afterwards, I would tell them stories. I wrote little stories and I had a love for writing with short line breaks. Till this day there is always some pencil, writing pad or small bits of paper found in my bed.
I loved words. Words had a magical affect on me. The feeling of transforming from the everyday was very exciting. I would ebb and flow within a word*#8217;s cadence and daydream magical kingdoms.
My grandmother, Kalliope, who came from Constantinople, would recite so many childhood stories. My father*#8217;s mother would also recite stories of when she was in Alexandria and Leros during the war. Loneliness and the lack of children playing with me were not really felt at all.
I went on to getting my Masters in Fine Arts in poetry because all I wanted to be was a poet. However, I needed to make a living and so I took educational courses and science courses and became a teacher.
TNH: What is the most challenging aspect of your career?
KC: Working for the Board of Education. I do not share their theories of teaching for the standardized tests. I believe that all subjects should be taught and the children should obtain this *#8220;EUREKA,*#8221; feeling towards learning. Knowledge must be imparted in a way that is fun and relevant to every child*#8217;s reality. Students are spending way too many wasted hours on homework and the system is not sensitive to conveying knowledge that will enhance the *#8216;gestalt*#8217; of each particular child. I also find challenging that more and more children are not entering with a lot of prior knowledge.
TNH: Do you have role models?
KC: Lots. My parents, both grandmothers. Nelson Mandela. I like to read the lives of the Saints and the Desert Fathers of the church. I have read about Saint Nicholas, Saint Barbara, Anthony the Great and others. I also think that Jesus Christ is my role model. I also enjoy listening to everyday working people who are ethical and have worked hard in their life and have acquired the wisdom of life. I am a poet first and foremost and so my writing material does not come from the educated with diplomas; it comes from observing everyday people doing everyday things. My students (past and present) – children are my role models! They are my hope for the quest of my art―their undying creativity and pure honesty!
TNH: Share with us some words of wisdom.
KC: I love the ancient Greek philosophers. I would have to say that everything in moderation is always the best approach to life. I have gone on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem through Alexandria and as a matter of fact a lot of my poetic images are taken from that experience. I want to share what a monk taught me. This monk was a very old man and humble and as I was talking to him about my achievements and future goals he took me to the church*#8217;s cemetery where I saw an open grave. I asked him why was this grave open and to whom it belonged. He told me that it belonged to him and that he visits his grave site everyday because it reminds him how futile everything we do is. That to be humble is the greatest gift of all, and accepting God*#8217;s will.
Writers*#8217; Wisdom: Never give up on following your dreams. Perseverance and determination no matter what obstacles and setbacks ensue. Also, be vigilant against complacency because it stunts growth.
TNH: Tells us about your most recent book and future projects.
KC: My poetry book *#8220;STILLNESS,*#8221; is painted with vibrant Aegean images. It is quite existentially and spiritually evocative. I was very influenced by Jean Paul Sartre and the French Surrealists and so there is always an existential element dominating my poems. I truly feel my womanhood and femininity, but I deal with a lot of ontological issues and quest of self. For example, how does self know self? How far can a being enter into the abyss of being and not get lost in a very real nihilistic way?
I have a website: antigoneliterature.com where I write all my recent readings and my own personal poetry essays. I would love for people to read my website and respond at:*nbsp; author@antigoneliterature.com. I will soon release my second poetry book and a children*#8217;s book.

Contact Eleni Kostopoulos at elenik@thenationalherald.com.