Anthology of Queer Greek Poetry
Author of the Week: Greece
Ανθολογία Ελληνικής Κουήρ Ποίησης is the first queer anthology published in Greece and has arrived at a crucial time. LGBTQ+ poetry is more present in the country than ever before: there are LGBTQ+ festivals as well as intersectional feminist festivals that host LGBTQ+ panels, independent publishing initiatives nurture contemporary and classic queer literature both by Greek and international writers, while mainstream publishing houses, journals and podcasts have started to join them (for instance, the publishing houses Γαβριηλίδης, Πόλις, Εστία and Θράκα, the journal Φρέαρ, the podcasts of Lifo). What is more, a new generation of literary critics, for the most part educated abroad in the fields of comparative literature, cultural studies and gender studies, are rediscovering queer poets of the past or queering literary works of the canon, highlighting the ways the canon has been constructed by and benefitted cis heterosexual male writers, while erasing other literary traditions. On the other hand, hate speech and hate crimes on the basis of gender identity and/or expression and sexuality are on the rise with mainstream media either trivialising or ignoring them altogether and the governments refusing to take serious action out of fear of upsetting the Church and the voters gathered around it. The global financial crisis that has significantly impacted Greece as well, the rise of the alt-right worldwide and the way the immigration crisis and of the Covid pandemic have been handled often make the lives of deprivileged queer people in the country unlivable. Heteronormative representations of LGBTQ+ individuals are for the most part humiliating, while the reception of queer literature is still being negotiated. On the one hand, contemporary critics, who, for the most part, come from cis heterosexual male academia, privileging either left-wing male poets or neo-formalist aesthetics, are constructing queer poetry as apolitical or not universal enough/gay propaganda. The tensions inside the LGBTQ+ community are reflected in the reception of LGBTQ+ literature within it. Queer poets, who, for the most part, belong to generation Z, often find identity politics, and writing, restrictive, oppressive and outdated, insisting instead on fluidity and performativity and experimenting with language and form (see Simati Annie, Οι Νταλίκες και τα Γυναικάκια τους. Θηλυκοί Ανδρισμοί και Πολιτικές της Γυναικείας Ομοερωτικής Επιθυμίας, Futura 2022). They often accuse lesbian and gay poets of fetishising trauma and express the need for brighter representations and a more tender language that would embrace and encapsulate vulnerability. Those who identify as lesbian and gay poets, in turn, who are for the most part millennials or belong to previous generations, accuse them of lacking class consciousness, being too obsessed with language that they end up censoring works and cancelling allies, as well as of psychologising/depoliticising violence, glamourising and weaponising mental illness. With the former accusing the latter of homonormativity and the latter accusing them back of queer normativity, and with both often failing to acknowledge each other’s work, LGBTQ+ literature has to fight on multiple fronts.
This anthology has been formed out of the need to create a safe space for emerging poets whose work has not been featured before, for more established poets who have so far not had the opportunity to address their queerness in their work out of fear of being marginalized, as well as for openly queer poets who wanted to contribute to this volume. We have chosen to frame it as queer, instead of homoerotic, because our perception of queerness extends far beyond sexuality, although historically queerness has been closely tied with it. As far as we are concerned, queer involves what has been, and still is, stigmatised as sick and weird, demonised as immoral and infectious – generally speaking, whatever has been considered transgressive in an offensive manner and treated with hatred, fear and disgust. To (be) queer is to unpack and challenge what is considered healthy and normal, moral and respectable, to dig deep to the supposedly ahistorical, yet deeply political, notion of human nature that reproduces certain power relations and privileges certain people at the expense of others, to question the prerequisites of citizenship and to fight back instead of trying to be a good citizen, even if it just means to radically allow yourself to be(come). Queer, then, refers not only to gender identity/expression and sexuality, but involves everything that defies patriarchy, white supremacy, ableism, ageism, classism or, according to Sedgwick, ‘the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality’ (and other categories) ‘aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically’. That being said, queer is far from being apolitical; on the contrary, it is first and foremost relational – its radical diversity and inclusivity and its constant challenging of hierarchies, binaries and norms opens up space for radical subjectivities to arise and relations to be formed.
Following an open call, we selected 76 poems (50 poets) which cover a wide range of queer voices and perspectives that contribute to a deeper understanding of queer experiences. Some of the new themes that are featured here are: gender non-conforming (Chatziprokopiou, Keramefs), transgender (Goulianos) and disabled (Mavromatis) embodiment. Hypocrisy, class privilege, gatekeeping (Diafas, Dousos, Kitsikidis, Sakerpoulous) and escapism (Koutsodontis) within the community, as well as violence in queer relationships (Mazi, Zachopoulou), are also relatively new themes that contemporary poets have begun to touch on, to challenge the idealised notions of community and LGBTQ+ affairs. Apart from these, certain common LGBTQ+ themes are also included in the anthology: self-discovery/coming of age narratives (Tsolakis) and queer adolescence (Kozi), queer love and desire in adulthood (Askalidis, Glyniadaki, Kougioumtzou), loneliness/disillusionment/impossibility of love (Daflos, Karabinis, Tsoumbos), craving fluidity and absence of labels when it comes to sexual practices and love (Botsis, Mikelakis), the closet and the internalisation of patriarchal shame and homophobia (Bertos, Kolaiti, Kourasis, Vaso M.), especially in the provinces (Birbilli), alienation from the family (Alogoskoufi, Diakou, Chairetis, Kyriakopoulos), rejection of patriarchal gender roles and struggle to reclaim one’s identity/desire (Demertzis, Konstantopoulos, Moulos) as well as the formation of queer kinship (Mitsikakos).
The tone of the poems is diverse, ranging from sensual, melancholic and introspective to playful, celebratory and fierce. The anthology touches upon not only sadness and shame, but also instances of resistance (Bouras, Lazar, Melitas) and harsh criticism of the state (Evripiotis, Fotia sto Herenhoff) and its nationalist/patriarchal institutions (Makridis), the politics of space (Bazanis, Kanellopoulou, Tzirtzilaki, Zograffou), language (Benettos) and the bourgeois aesthetics of contemporary poetry (Papadopoulos). Criminalisation (Oikonomou), pathologisation (Fotopoulou), hate speech from the Greek Orthodox Church that calls for the humiliation of queer people (Kitsios) and hate crimes on the basis of gender identity/expression/sexual orientation (Taf Zita) are also addressed as the poets use strong, assertive rhythms and harsh sounds to express their anger and defiance.
The language of the poems is vibrant (Birbili), ranging from lyrical (Mikelakis) and figurative that uses a series of literary devices to create vivid and expressive imagery (Zograffou, Kanellopoulou, Kougioumtzou), to literal, dry even (Karabinis), or a combination of both (Tzirtzilaki, Tsoumbos) to make an impact. Devices such as autobiographical writing (Bertos, Kyriakopoulos), theatricality (Chatziprokopiou, Diakou), the use of cinematographic techniques and/or music (Taf Zita) and sensory language (Botsis, Koutsodontis) and directly addressing the reader in the first person plural (Kitsikidis, Fotia sto Herenhoff) or the second person (Alogoskoufi, Diafas, Dousos, Melitas, Papadopoulos) create an electric atmosphere. Experimentation with several forms, such as performance (Moulos, Sackerpoulous), concrete (Tsolakis) and found poetry (Kolaiti) are used to amplify queer voices. Wordplay and double meanings lead to thought-provoking readings that unpack ideological patterns in language (Benettos), while meaningful breaks of the lyrics subvert pronouns subtly and challenge traditional gender binaries (Demertzis).
Various symbols recur in the anthology creating a queer vocabulary: water as a symbol of fluidity and queer life (Askalidis), birds as symbols of breaking free from societal constraints and embracing one’s own desires (Diakou), natural metaphors that used to draw parallels between the natural world and queer experiences, portraying queer love and identity as natural and valid (Kanellopoulou, Mikelakis), masks that stand for the various roles queer people adopt to navigate different social contexts, cope with societal expectations and protect themselves (Kitsikidis), and fire and war that represent passion and the transformative power of queer love (Kozi, Lazar). Religious metaphors are also common among the poets who recontextualise and use them to symbolise the torture queer people face at the hands of religious people and institutions (Alogoskoufi, Goulianos, Kitsios, Tzirtzilaki), as are divine blessings and acceptance of queer individuals, asserting that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity does not conflict with spiritual worth (Mikelakis, Taf Zita).
This anthology includes adaptations/renditions/queering of canonical literary works(Diakou), in particular, of classic heterosexual love poems with which the poets attempt to lend visibility to queer love or highlight the inequality between queer and heterosexual relationships. Kourasis, for instance, uses the end of Yorgos Seferis’s poem Helen, where the poet criticises the futility of the wars using Euripides’s Helen as a symbol of deceit to refer to the actual dangers outed gay men face only because they exist. Glyniadaki appropriates the tone of Odysseas Elytis’s Monogram, one of the most famous heterosexual love poems in Greece, in which the poet mourns the loss of his lover who committed suicide, writes an ode to her lover, and all lesbian lovers, following the public outcry their love faced. The poem, even though it makes the reader recall the ways lesbian love is also chaste, focuses on the pleasures of lesbian sex and the materiality of lesbian body. Away from the male gaze which objectifies or dematerialises the female body, either reducing it to the vagina or using bizarre metaphors to describe it out of awkwardness/disgust over its physicality (odours, fluids etc.), the lover in this poem sweats, moans and satisfies her needs unapologetically without losing her agency or respectability. This is important, since lesbian love has not been represented in Greek literature for quite some time, at least by female poets, despite the rich history of both feminist and LGBTQ+- activism in the country. When female poets wrote lesbian poetry, they did so implicitly either adopting the male persona or avoiding grammatical gender when they addressed their love, a trend that, to some extent, continued until now. And even when their poems were explicitly lesbian, they were either ignored or desexualised by the critics and scholars in the departments of modern Greek literature. The same has been the case for gay poets as well, but to a lesser extent.
Repetition is a common technique that is used in many of these poems. This does not simply set the rhythm (Oikonomou) but also serves as a means to highlight queer resilience. Three of these poems are love poems that are structured around the repetition of the phrase ‘I want’ at the beginning of each verse, highlighting the poets’ attempt to give voice to their desires that have been previously deemed perverted and silenced (Askalidis, Kitsios, Mazi). Evripiotis builds one of his poems using synonyms of the word ‘gay’ in each line to describe the way he performs his everyday habits (getting dressed as a nancy boy, eating as a faggot, paying his bills as a sissy, doing errands as a pansy) to proudly reclaim his body and its mannerisms that have been deemed less masculine. Likewise, Bouras starts each line with a synonym of the word ‘chased’ to name the forms of violence queer people have been and still are facing. The poem ends with the poet refusing to internalise homophobia and condemning his perpetrators instead. Konstantopoulos starts each stanza with his definition of freedom (‘freedom is’) to show the battles a queer person has to fight to live on his own terms. It is a rough road to a life of one’s own, and the journey includes the loss of certain privileges, namely financial security and the exemption from the domestic work at the parental house. The poem ends with a refreshing image of the poet finally putting his lipstick on. In other instances, repetition illuminates queer people’s experience of time and space. Keramefs builds his poem on the repetition of the destinations he visits every day, highlighting the borders of his world, imitating the pendulum, without ruling out the possibility of escaping. Kozi repeats the phrase ‘we danced’ to recall her year-long return to her girlfriend’s attic where they used to dance and hide. Zachopoulou repeats the line ‘every time you get mad’ at the beginning of each stanza to address the patterns of never-ending violence that lingers in queer relationships. Repetition highlights what living at an impasse (Bazanis, Lazar, Vaso M.) or in a state of uncertainty (Mitsikakos) feels like and stresses the urgency of taking action.
Queer people experience time and space differently to the non-queer. In contrast to the latter, who experience time in a linear and progressive manner, hitting normative developmental milestones (like secure employment, marriage and childbearing, retirement), queer people often challenge heteronormative ideals (productivity, autonomy, maturity, reproductive futurism) and often lead lives that others find messy, backwards or failed – or, due to systematic discrimination, stigma, lack of privilege and representation, they often find themselves falling behind or getting stuck. The return to the past in this anthology allows the poets to question childhood as a shared – supposedly carefree and innocent – human experience, depict the challenges and vulnerabilities faced by queer children and address the impact of heteronormative culture on their understanding of their own identities. The focus on the present, which is what the majority of the poets in this anthology do, allows them to resist historical erasure, address oppression queer people are still facing and, generally, ensure that their lives remain visible. References to the future are rare and they serve as a call to action (Evripiotis), a vision of change (Mavrommatis), a desire for open possibilities (Goulianos) or a symbol of resistance (Fotia sto Herenhoff).
Contrary to non-queer people who move unobstructed between the public and private space which they experience as safe, queer people often find themselves trying to get out of the closet and being pushed back again. The office of the psychiatrist (Chairetis, Fotopoulou), the military camp (Makridis), inaccessible lifts (Mavrommatis), exploitative workplaces (Karabinis), alt-right and religious families (Goulianos, Bertos), mouthy neighbours (Birbili), hook-ups in the dark (Keramefs) and digital ejaculations (Daflos) highlight the suffocating pressures queer people face: society is trying to cure them, make them docile, opress and exclude them, their families do not see them and lovers are asking them to hide. Nevertheless, queer people rise.
Honest, deeply moving and historically relevant, this anthology honours the complexity of queer life. Empowering in its vulnerability, it gives a platform to queer poets, reframes the work of poets that have not necessarily been read as queer and creates a more inclusive literary landscape.
 The anthology has been published by Θράκα, thanks to the support and enthusiasm of Thanos Gogos and Marija Dejanović, and has been sponsored by the Greek chapter of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The editors of the anthology are the poets Nikos Koutsodontis and Vasileia Oikonomou, Barbara Roussou, tutor in the Department of Theory and History of Art (Athens School of Fine Arts) and Dr Haris Otabasis, a scholar of Modern Greek Literature (Democritus University of Thrace). I had the honour to participate in the selection of the poems. The anthology can be found online here.
 The few LGBTQ+-related anthologies that have been published in the past have featured either translated gay poets (see Aggelakis Andreas (ed.), Αμερικάνικη Ομοφυλόφιλη Ποίηση, Athens: Οδυσσέας 1982 and Angelakis Andreas (ed.), Ποιητική Ανθολογία Αποκλίνοντος Ερωτισμού, Athens: Γνώση, 1988) or both translated and Greek gay and lesbian poets in a single volume (See Koupas Riga (ed.), Έλξη των Ομωνύμων, Athens: Οδυσσέας 2005). This awkward choice, that reflects the lack of research, until recently, in the field of LGBTQ+ literature in the country, becomes even more awkward in the case of lesbian poets. It is worth mentioning that there has been only one lesbian anthology in the country so far (See Karavasilis Yorgos (ed.), Σαπφούς Σάπφειροι, Athens: Γαβριηλίδης 2001). This has been framed as sapphic, reducing lesbian sexuality to a mere literary motif, a myth of the past almost. What is more, it includes not only Greek and international lesbian poets from various generations but also some gay and heterosexual male poets whose construction of lesbianism is at best outdated. The only anthology that features queer poetry (see AUtors (eds.), Α’ Πανελλήνιος Διαγωνισμός Φεμινιστικής και Κουήρ Λογοτεχνίας, Thessaloniki, 2021) is not exclusively queer and it features other literary genres, namely drama and novel, as well as translations. This anthology was created following a contest that was organised for this purpose, but the question whether the very logic of contest and prizes adds up to the logic of queer, remains open.
 For example, the lesbian festival that was organised by the feminist collective Λεσβίες στα Πρόθυρα [Lesbians on the Edge] and the first intersectional feminist literary festival by the feminist collective Μωβ Μέδουσες [Purple Medusas] earlier in 2023.
 See, for instance, the publishing houses Πολύχρωμος Πλανήτης, Queer Ink and Μπαταρία, the literary journal Τεφλόν and the poet, novelist and performer Sam Albatros’s blog queerpoetsingreek.
 Lesbian sexuality, when is actually acknowledged as such and does not get desexualised, is still perceived as a result of feminist propaganda or trauma (bad parenting or sexual trauma), while lesbians are still seen as mentally unstable, envious of the penis, mannish or closeted trans men. Butches, in particular, are often seen as man-haters and evil manipulators of the femmes and are portrayed as ugly. Femmes, on the other hand, are treated as male fantasies, with men feeling entitled to pursue or save them. All these stereotypes can be traced back to lesbian literature from the period between 1910 and 1930 written by heterosexual male writers, and are present in a contemporary novel, titled Lesbian, that was praised by heterosexual critics. In the case of gay men, the prevalent stereotype is that they are feminine which involves both their gender expression and sexual practices (for the construction of homosexuality in Greek TV series see Kyriakos Konstantinos, Ελληνική Τηλεόραση και Ομοερωτισμός. Οι Σειρές Μυθοπλασίας (1975–2019), Athens: Αιγόκερως 2019). Bisexuals are not really represented, and when they are, they are rarely seen as such; on the contrary, they are mainly constructed as closeted homosexuals who lead a double life, while selfishly benefitting from patriarchy. Likewise, asexuals are not seen as such, and are rather deemed prudish and backwards; conversely, the disabled, the old, the disfigured and the mentally ill are desexualised. Non-binary, gender-queer individuals and intersex and transgender people are also absent from mainstream representations. In the dominant discourse, however, they are facing misgendering and moral panic, with the biological/evolutionary discourse being used to invalidate them. By appropriating the stories of the LGBTQ+ people, making them into caricatures, while allowing the audience to peep through the keyhole, heterosexual male writers have been easing patriarchal fears and re-establishing heteropatriarchy.
 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick: Tendencies. Duke University Press, 1993.
 For instance, Chatzivogiatzi refers to the lesbian desire that is expressed in the poems ‘Thelo’ (I Want) by Antoniadi and ‘Intermedium’ by Sfakianaki as fantasies, that were externalised due to the rise of the feminist movement in the country during that time, failing to frame them openly as lesbian. However, the complex relationship between the feminist movement and lesbian communities in Greece needs to be explored further.
Vagia Kalfa (them/they) has published two poetic collections, Απλά Πράγματα (Γαβριηλίδης, 2012) and Ληθόστρωτο (Εκάτη, 2013). For their first collection they have been awarded Y. Varveris Award by the Society of Greek Authors and Y. Athanas Award by the Academy of Athens. The collection was short-listed for the National Award for the Best Emerging Poet by the Ministry of Culture, as well as for the awards of the literary journals Αναγνώστης and Μανδραγόρας. Their new poetic collection Μακάρι Να Το Είχα Κάνει Νωρίτερα has been published by Θράκα in 2023. Poems of theirs have been included in various anthologies and have been translated in English, German and Lithuanian. They keep a column in the literary journals Θράκα and Poeticanet where they write essays and literary reviews.
Photo by Aliki Vezyrtzi