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Literature

The Poetry of the Late Greek Poet Kiki Dimoula

February 28, 2020

Kiki Dimoula, the internationally-acclaimed poet, passed away on February 22 at the age of 89. She was laid to rest on February 25 at the First Cemetery of Athens at public expense. Relatives, friends, and representatives of the cultural and political worlds of Greece attended the funeral. Dimoula was considered by many as one of the greatest poets of the post-war generation.

Born in Kypseli in 1931, 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. She was married to engineer and poet Athos Dimoulas with whom she had two children.

Dimoula 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 was also the first woman ever included in the poetry collections of the French Publishing House Gallimard’s.

Of her work, she wrote 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.”

The Brazen Plagiarist: Selected Poems by Kiki Dimoula, translated by Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser, is a wonderful volume for those interested in the late poet’s work. The bilingual edition features the Greek original text and the English translation side by side.

As noted in the book’s description, this first English translation of a wide selection of poems from across Dimoula’s oeuvre brings together some of her most beguiling, arresting, and moving work. The demands on her translators are considerable. Dimoula plays with the Greek language, melds its levels of diction, challenges its grammar and syntax, and bends its words, by twisting their very shape and meaning. Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser, Dimoula’s award-winning translators, have re-created her style’s uncanny effect of refraction: when plunged into the water of her poetry, all these bent words suddenly and astonishingly appear perfectly straight.

Dimoula’s work was also included in the poetry collection Crisis: Greek Poets on the Current Crisis, edited by Dinos Siotis. The bilingual Greek/English volume was first published in 2015 and explores the economic crisis through the poetry of 34 contemporary poets.

Drawing on themes of hopelessness, insecurity, absence, and oblivion, Dimoula’s work is powerful, moving, and inherently hopeful. Among her impressive writings, the poem British Museum Elgin Marbles, from her poetry collection Erebus (1956), is a masterpiece brimming with imagination, wit, and melancholy as Dimoula brings the marble statues to life.

The books mentioned above are available online.

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