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Literature

Kiki Dimoula, the Poet of Our Unchartered Shores

Kiki Dimoula sleeps well, her memories are light. Fortunately, they are still available. She has not exiled them. They emerged calmly in an Athens-New York morning phone call like a letter stored carefully in a drawer. In love with word pairings, she uses them as agile travelers, who meet unexpectedly, impressing us by their feverish tour. From Kypseli, born in 1931, now 88 years old, with roots from Kalamata, Dimoula was raised very strictly in a comfortable home, finishing high school though her father forbade her to study. Later she worked at the Bank of Greece – from age 18 to 43 – working in the bank’s suffocating, for her, atmosphere, writing poems in order to keep her mind alive.

Dimoula has received many awards, among them, the First State Prize for Poetry, the Excellence of the Letters of the Academy of Athens, the European Literary Prize, and the Grand State Prize for Literature for her entire body of work.

In 2002, she was elected a full member of the Academy of Athens, only the third woman to have been honored by the highest intellectual institution in Greece, and in 2001 she was awarded the Gold Cross of the Order of Honor by the President of the Republic, Konstantinos Stephanopoulos. Dimoula is also the only woman included in the poetry collections of the French Publishing House Gallimard’s.

Of her work, she says in her biography that, “how many books were written, when were they published, how many translations into various foreign languages, and what acclamations they received, is like saying in the depths of winter there were some days with brilliant sunshine.”

Kiki Dimoula, one of the greatest poets of the post-war generation, does not shy away from feeling, she does not escape it, does not fear it. Her intention is against everything that dances around feeling, that imprisons it. She is captivated and impacted by this, causing our “hinterland” to listen to it.

Death causes her anxiety, even as she accumulates years behind her, “The years have passed and I cannot help it. There is mourning for the time that was lost, for the things that have happened and will not happen again. It’s a death. If you gave me a time extension, I would have very nice things to tell you.”

But her voice neutralizes time, for it gives meaning even to the trivial. Although it claims to be melancholy by nature, it has the capacity that few have: to capture the perceived world like ultra-sensitive film in a camera.

“Melancholy presents things as much more difficult and bad than they are…it spoils even the beautiful. Melancholy grows regardless of the quality of the experience. That is, there is no need for your life to be bad, to feel melancholy. In utter sadness, distrust and doubt about everything, I say, it cannot, something must be true, something must be beautiful.”

Many things were beautiful in the life of this fascinating woman, whom the writer Nikos Dimou heralded as the greatest Greek poet after Sappho:

“Now that I’m looking at my life from this age, I think I was thrice blessed. Then I was troubled by commitments, the severity of my parents, I wanted to live more freely. The environment I was working in at the bank was a very low position and the acceptance of women, for what was good they got out of it, was done with great distrust. I was new and well-groomed. My father was very strict. He would drop me off at the cinema, so I wouldn’t walk there alone. I could not do anything about this, but I would not want this not to exist so I would be free. I’m nostalgic for my parents!”

And the family, children, love, what role did they play in her life?

”Self-paranoid, I gave up to the role of mother and with tender bravery I heard myself called “grandmother.” I roll now with calmness and no aspirations for perpetuation in these new bypasses of my blood.”

And of the great love of her life, Athos Dimoulas, a civil engineer and poet?

“My higher education was my long life with the poet Athos Dimoulas. Without him, I’m sure I would have been satisfied with a meditative, ignorant laziness, to which, perhaps wisely, I still am inclined. He was not the generally accepted man. He was dry feeling, but he knew all poetry very well, and that helped me a lot at his side. He did not like the feeling poured out by many poems. He was an intelligent and well-read creature. Next to him, I wasn’t even on the map. I always wanted to walk in the street with him arm in arm. He did not. It was ridiculous. I was always complaining.”

Kiki Dimoula spends her mornings at the Academy of Athens, but in the last year she did not write poems. “My imagination seems to have faded. If it stops permanently, I will lose my universe.”

“And what can trigger the malady of poetry, Mrs. Dimoula?”

Thinking about the question, she laughs wisely and answers self-deprecatingly,

“A love affair could, but at 88? I wish it could happen. I would not be ashamed of falling in love, but with whom? With the air? I have every intention of resurrecting this feeling, but would the other have it? Where do we secure him? The problem has always been in the lives of all of us, especially women, the other, and the conflict with him. Love has the danger of driving you to despair. Love is not an angel. It is the instant transformation that gives you a sense of newness.”

How wonderfully she speaks to us!

“Shall I continue? I’m afraid you’ll get bored!”

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