Reading and Q & A with Adrianne Kalfopoulou and Rachel Hadas
In collaboration with Red Hen Press, Book Culture is very excited to be hosting Greece: Journey’s and Returns, a reading with the poet-scholars Adrianne Kalfopoulou and Rachel Hadas, on Monday, October 20th, at 7pm.
Kalfopoulou’s newly released Ruin: Essays in Exilic Living is a collection of linked personal essays that weave together meditations on teaching, friendship, motherhood, love, the financial meltdown in Greece, the shared language of politics and advertising, Occupy Wall Street, the Parthenon Marbles, and a host of other subjects into a blistering interrogation of identity and loss. The refugee, the immigrant, the fragmented ‘I’ charted in these essays–all are studies in exilic living, fugitives from history, pilgrims wandering the wreckage of late capitalism.
The Golden Road is classicist Rachel Hadas’ richly personal collection of poems whose central theme is the prolonged dementia of the poet’s husband. Using a range of forms as well as meticulous observation, Hadas’ new book sets the loneliness of progressive loss in the context of the continuities that sustain her: reading, writing, and memory; familiar places; and the rich texture of a life fully lived.
How did you come to write Ruin?
Adrianne Kalfopoulou: These were essays that came out of rather contested moments, politically and personally — times when I felt very existential, as if the speaking I, or my sense of being an integral subject, was being deconstructed by the circumstance I found myself in. These moments ranged from the more ordinary experience of the empty-nest when my daughter left for college to the economic dismantling of Athens when the financial debt crisis hit in 2009. I found myself exploring the interface between my more personal and emotional realities with the larger contexts of where I found myself. To quote Emerson in an entirely different historical moment, “The ruin or the blank, that we see when we look at nature, is in our own eye.”
How did you come to write The Golden Road?
Rachel Hadas: I write poems in response to most things that happen in my life. The Golden Road is a carefully arranged selection of some of my many poems written between about 2007 and 2009 (give or take), divided into four thematic sections: 1) travel (especially in Greece), which I’ll be reading from, mostly; 2) reading and writing, including two elegies for the poet Rachel Wetzsteon (1967-2009), who lived and died on 110th St., very near Book Culture; 3) my late husband’s illness (he died in 2011 but no poems referring to his death are included in The Golden Road; and 4) my summer house in Vermont, poems which also inevitably ponder the passage of time, since I’ve been summering there since the late Fifties, and which also consider shifting family relationships and the ghosts that tend to hang about old houses. The title poem, the last in the book, is about encountering my now grown son on a fall country road, and about joy and renewal.
What are you currently reading?
AK: I’ve been reading quite a bit Hannah Arendt, and just finished her book length essay On Violence; I’ve also been reading Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life … and rereading Phillip Sherrad’s studies in Neo-Hellenism, The Wound of Greece — I guess much influenced by living in the midst of the ongoing economic fallout, but that’s also brought a lot of more basic questions to the foreground, such as what are some of the overriding values we live by.
Do you have a personal favorite book of all time?
AK: That’s a hard call for someone who reads! I mean so many favorites, and they change too.. but I guess in terms of 20th century fiction, I’d have to say Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my all time favorites books of fiction for its sweep, its magic, its attention to details — no matter how minute (or in Marquez’ case, the more minute the more magical and uncanny) — for its grasp of time in the passage of his characters’ worlds… in terms of poetry (20th century that is), there’s Plath, Rukeyser, Williams, Eliot… I’m just sticking with the dead.
RH: No one personal book of all time! Sorry. I love Proust, Merrill, Austen, Dickens, Cavafy…a very incomplete list.
Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?
AK: I’m always interested in books by working writers I’ve been reading… so am happy, and excited, to read new work by Rebecca Solnit, Etel Adnan, Ann Carson, David Lazar or Lia Purpura (the essayists..) in terms of poetry the list is pretty long, but among favorites is clearly Rachel’s work!
RH: I’ll know it when I see it!
What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works?
AK: I’ve been working on a scholarly monograph for some time now that involves what I call the Emersonian influences on Sylvia Plath’s poetry. I’m hoping to finish that in the next year or two. I’m also working on a poetry manuscript that’s still not finished.
RH: A book of selected prose pieces I’ve written over the past few years, Talking to the Dead, is coming out next year from Spuyten Duyvil Press. A new collection of poems, Questions in the Vestibule, may follow in 2016, not sure yet of precise dates.
I’m also at work on a translation of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, and may soon be editing a volume for Palgrave-MacMillan’s New Antiquity Series on translations from classical poetry – but this project is still a gleam in the series editor’s eye.
In addition, I’m collaborating with my partner Shalom Gorewitz on a feature film about slavery from the African point of view, the script of which is partly in poetry. Shalom and I have also collaborated on a number of video/poetry projects; this fruitful collaboration is ongoing. Check out some of our collaborations on YouTube!