Dean Kostos, Editor – Pomegranate Seeds: An Anthology of Greek-American Poetry. Reviewed by Yiorgos Anagnostou

(“Reading the Hyphen in Poetry” in Journal of Modern Greek Studies, October, 2011. Yiorgos Anagnostou teaches at The Ohio State University.)

Greek-American poetry circulates in and across numerous venues, at times in quiet undercurrents, often in splashing waves that leave a mark on the U.S. literary landscape. Commonly discussed under the national rubric American, this poetry enjoys astounding recognition. Highbrow magazines host it. Committees award its merits. Anthologies include it. Reading and performing spaces make room for it. Translators toil between its stanzas, between its languages. Still, incredibly, the category Greek-American poetry is not as visible as the expectations set by its towering presence in the national literary scene would promise. Just imagine, Pomegranate Seeds: An Anthology of Greek-American Poetry (Kostos 2008), the collection that concerns me in this essay, is the first anthology of its kind. Why is this the case? And what is Greek-American poetry anyway?

Pomegranate Seeds brings a thriving poetic production into focus. It compiles a total of 164 poems representing 49 authors. The majority of the corpus consists of compositions in English while selective pieces were originally written in Greek and presented in translation. A great many poems have been anthologized in collections of American poetry (The Best American Poetry 1997, The Now Voices, Best American Poetry); appeared in prestigious literary venues (New Yorker, The Yale Review, The Iowa Review, The Harvard Review, Paris Review); and won coveted accolades (The National Poetry Series, Rockefeller Fellow, NEA Fellow in Poetry, Open Voice Poetry Award). Several appear in print for the first time, making for an anthology that accommodates both accomplished and new poetic voices.

The editorial decision to classify poets who are already canonized as national under the category ethnic merits reflection. What is the significance of coding an “American” poet as a “Greek-American” one? What is at stake in hyphenating national poetry? This is not an innocent redefinition, as “ethnic writing” is often devalued by mainstream criticism. In literary hierarchies, hyphenated literature is valued, more often than not, for its ethnographic “authenticity”—the “ethnic experience” it records—rather than its literary qualities. As a result, the canon may exclude or marginalize writers exploring ethnic particularities. Or, it may not recognize alternative poetic attributes, given that the canon operates with aesthetic and ideological criteria reflecting the tastes and values of the dominant society. In this respect, it may altogether miss the operation of “difference” encoded within a poem.1 This is why authors with marked ethnic ancestry commonly shun the label “ethnic writer.” Because hyphenated writing connotes lesser literary value, dropping the hyphen is one strategy to compete for recognition in the nation’s literary market place. Consequently, a poet who is biographically affiliated with ethnicity may textually suppress or even ostracize this affiliation from his work.2 Thus the renaming of American poetry as “Greek-American” undertakes a number of critical interventions. Pomegranate Seeds certainly aligns itself with recent cultural trends where certain hyphenated poetic traditions—African-American and Asian-American for instance—enjoy increasing legitimacy. It faces, however, the relatively scant visibility of Greek-American poetry. The various sites— scholarship, academic journals, magazines, internet sites, and books—where poetry is produced and discussed as Greek American are not as numerous as one would anticipate, given the multiplicity and vibrancy of poetic voices engaging, in one way or another, with Greek. In this respect, attaching a hyphen to these American poets strategically compensates for this imbalance, endowing “Greek-American poetry” with greater visibility.

Significantly, the hyphenation of national poetry shapes critical practice. It encourages analysis that is primarily set to explore the operation of the hyphen, that is the presence of cultural difference, in a text. Tellingly, Dean Kostos, the anthology’s editor, connects poetry with the question of identity. His endeavor seeks “to map out a new terrain—a broader, more complex definition of what it means to be Greek-American” (18). Having “assiduously avoided embracing any style over another” (21) in the selection, he posits the hyphen as a navigation tool in the charting of the anthology: “Although it may no longer be fashionable to use it, I am interested in the hyphen that traditionally linked Greek and American because of its value as a metaphor—a little bridge between two worlds, two identities” (17). Elevating cultural connections as the overarching criterion for inclusion, the anthology undermines traditional definitions of ethnic or national poetry. We are far away here from the ideology of poetry as a culturally pure category defined by criteria such as language or nationality. Greek-American poetry, the editor proposes, consists of a textual corpus that raises questions of interconnections, of crossings across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Thus the anthology offers an expansive terrain, which is hospitable to poetry written in a plentitude of languages (Greek, English, or both), and to poems charting cultural interrelations, irrespective of a writer’s ethnic affiliation or national identity.

If anthologies undertake their own canonizing of complex literary realities, reviews of anthologies carry out similarly containing practices. How to do justice to an anthology, and particularly a collection as inclusive as this one, in the space of a couple of pages? Previous reviews of Pomegranate Seeds have noted its plurality, identified recurrent themes in its selections—mythology, memory, home—and commented on its internal contradictions.3 For my purposes here I opt for an alternative practice, namely a close reading of two specific poems, George Economou’s “An Evening in Kingfisher,” and Hilary Sideris’s “Geometry.”

My aim is to examine how these poems bring cultural worlds into conversation or tension with each other, how they forge links between or measure distances from the two components of the sign “Greek American.” This investigation eventually guides my outline of a particular reading strategy that engages with both the hyphen in poetry and the poetics of a text. I find it productive, therefore, to work with the editor’s overarching conceptual framework, the hyphen. I maintain, however, that it is necessary to move beyond the exclusive understanding of the hyphen as a link. The hyphen cannot always function as a bridge of uninterrupted ties. Cultural crossings, after all, encompass boundaries of difference. As Wendell Ayock poignantly emphasizes, the hyphen makes visible all kinds of incompatible differences, unbridgeable disparities that are impossible to combine in certain contexts. Moreover, difference is a function of power. Boundaries are policed, and powerful gatekeepers may determine which part of the hyphen is allowed expression: “Existing between two cultures, it [the hyphen] is an eternal bridge with barriers and guards at both ends” (cited in Tamburri 1991:43). We should therefore ask: what conditions enable the hyphen as a link in one instance and a barrier in another? And who negotiates the hyphen, and how?

I propose that charting the various contours of the hyphen requires a specific interpretive strategy, one that is attentive to both poetry itself and the operation of ethnicity in the text. This is because poetry and ethnicity, each in its own right, create something anew, producing novel arrangements. Poetry, in Plato’s formulation, entails the art of making and remaking, forming and transforming. And ethnicity, it is now well established, involves a dynamic process of reinvention and reinterpretation, a production of new meanings. Critical entangling with the hyphen in poetry then calls for readings that investigate how poetic devices (form and tropes for example) shape ethnic identity, and how in turn ethnicity builds on poetic language to remake itself.4 A great deal is at stake in examining how poetry and ethnicity intersect.

This kind of interpretive strategy holds the promise of contributing to our understanding of new ways of conceptualizing ethnicity and their social and political implications. In a world where the question of identity has assumed central stage, this production of new meanings helps us envision alternative ways of situating the self in relation to the hyphen, novel ways of experiencing and acting upon this world. Thus the category “Greek-American poetry” should be seen not as immutable, but as a strategic translation invested in producing new subject positions and in deepening our understanding of how American and Greek worlds interact with and shape each other.5

I begin the analysis by reflecting on the poem “An Evening in Kingfisher,” a thinly disguised autobiographical piece by noted scholar and poet George Economou. Structuring the poem in dialogic form, the poet recalls an ordinary conversation between two strangers of different class and, as it turns out, cultural backgrounds. “Huck” Rice, the old guard at the Elks Club in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, and George, the visiting professor with a Greek surname in his tag, engage in a conversation of “odd sincerity,” excerpts of which I provide below: He [“Huck” Rice] squeezes [the handshake] harder,

—“But that’s not an American name.”

—“Sure it is, from Greece. (And making a good guess)

When did your people come over here from

Germany, Huck?”

Easing up on the squeeze,

—“Oh hell, we bin here forever.”

—“You mean you’re Native American?”

—“No, no Indian. What d’yuh do at OU?”

—“I teach English.”

—“With a name like that, yuh teach English?”

—“I run the whole show in English, Huck.

I’m chairman of the department . . .

. . .

—“I like yuh, George, I’d like to talk

to yuh ’bout your beliefs.”

Remembering Roy Rogers’ characterization

of Reagan when he was nominated in 1980,

—“Why, I’m ‘a !ne Christian gentleman,’

just like you. Only my kind is the oldest,

Huck. Greek, you know, right back to the

language of the New Testament (making another

good guess) while you Lutherans are pretty recent.”

Shaking his head,

—“Greek, and yuh teach English

and don’t even have an accent.”

—“No, no accent, Huck, perfect English. You’ve got the accent. . . .

A representative of the assimilated “old stock” Americans, Huck deploys a nativist argument regarding the right to authentic national origins. According to this position, only people with Northern European ancestries can lay claim to true Americanness. This is to say that the hyphen, signaled by the Greek surname, is deployed here as a distancing device, a marker holding the “ethnic American” “at hyphen’s length,” in Daniel Aaron’s (1964) apt metaphor. It may function to deny national membership, the poem cautions, at least in certain contexts such as rural America, where the narrative takes place.

Hyphenated identity in this text is contested identity, and the contest is a high-stakes one about national belonging. To frame the two competing voices, so at odds with each other, the poet adopts a dialogic form, a narrative practice conducive to featuring dissenting perspectives, to activating contestation and the repositioning of opposing views. This serves the narrative purpose exceedingly well. Following the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, dialogism in the novel, but also poetry, functions to disrupt the voice of authority in the text by the presence of a plurality of interacting perspectives (see Piñero-Gil 2002:97). The dialogue in the poem juxtaposes two competing definitions of American identity and delves into the ensuing negotiation that ultimately subverts nativism.

The poem’s dialogic structure unequivocally frames a recurrent historical reality: inhabiting the hyphen requires rhetorical skills to counter national exclusion. The poetic persona deploys all the resources at his disposal—institutional position, knowledge of American and Greek-Orthodox cultures and histories, wit, educated guesses, and good English—in an exchange that turns into a battle of positions. The speaker displays his credentials and qualifications to establish full membership to the nation, opting for a tactic that defamiliarizes the nativist logic, turning it on its head on several key matters. First is the matter of English: it is not only that a Greek professor holds a chair in an English Department, but also that his English has “no accent,” while Huck’s Oklahoma English is the non-normative, accented one. Second is the matter of religion: it is not only impossible for an American of Northern European ancestry to claim nativity, it is the “foreign” Greek Orthodoxy that reaches back to a more ancient Christian history than that of Huck’s Lutheran faith. This “hyphenated ethnic” performs assimilation, speaking out indeed “uninhibitedly as an American” (Aaron 1964), certainly reproducing linguistic hierarchies (standard vs. regional English), but also appropriating the hyphen to reverse hierarchies entrenched in dominant society (native vs. ethnic).

The speaker then reclaims the hyphen. From a marker of inferiority he recasts it into a badge of superiority; from a device separating the national from the ethnic, he turns it into a tool leveraging the position of the “ethnic” within the national. But what are the conditions enabling this reversal? We may begin answering this question by registering the speaker’s tentativeness in crafting the argument. Guesswork, unmistakably, operates in the identification of Huck’s ancestry and the history of language in Greek Orthodoxy (“making a good guess,” “making another good guess”). It is plausible here that the poetic persona winks at the reader, establishing an ironic distance from the discourses that define the conversation: naturalizing certain facial characteristics with specific ancestries, and claiming origins to establish legitimacy. This recognition only amplifies the rhetorical dimension of the exchange. The speaker is set to exploit any argument that is required to empower his position embattled by nativism, unabashedly offending his interlocutor.

Tentativeness builds tension in the poem; what if Huck claims native Indian ancestry? What direction would the dialogue take then? Once again, the rhetorical aspect of the poem is highlighted. But tentativeness also marks a point of instability in the effectiveness of the argument; it is marked by the second “good guess,” which indicates the dimming of knowledge about ethno-religious ancestry. In contrast to the confident familiarity about American society (“Remembering Roy Rogers’ characterization of Reagan,” references to national history, and the chronologies of migration histories), knowledge of the hyphen seems fickle. But given the high stakes in this kind of exchange can the hyphen afford uncertainty about its history? A misplaced argument could tip the scale against the speaker’s agonistic performance. The poem seems to bring contingency to the fore not merely for the sake of plot dramatization but also for pedagogical purposes: to highlight the importance of cultural literacy about both components of the hyphen.6 If the hyphen is seen as a divide by the dominant society, linking it requires a rhetoric that draws from bicultural education. The link asserts itself at the level of knowledge about both American and Greek worlds.

Putting the hyphen on trial is a political issue. Just recall country music celebrities ridiculing Michael Dukakis’s foreign family name during the 1988 presidential election campaign. There will certainly be situations that will interrogate the hyphen, and aggressively at that, as the poem makes unmistakably clear (“and definitely name him [Huck], / to my first team offensive line”). A hyphenated identity cannot take anything for granted. It means readiness to enter an argument, equipped with all the rhetorical means at one’s disposal. The poem is asking, “how should one be positioning himself as a hyphenated American?” to point to biculturalism as a prescriptive answer. It offers to Greek America a normative template of cultural becoming.

If “An Evening in Kingfisher” builds on dialogism to advocate biculturalism, Hilary Sideris’s “Geometry,” the second poem that interests me here, deploys exceptional poetic economy to engage with the hyphen. A highly ambiguous piece with a multiplicity of semantic nuances, the poem presents hard interpretive challenges, requiring careful reading. I cite “Geometry” below in its entirety:

How can you be the you who called

the table of contents the plate

of compliments, who named the water

bottle baba wayo? Tonight we cram

isosceles, scalene & how the rhombus

differs from a square. I love your

getting-wavy hair, the way your lashes

graze the page, their half-moon curve,

like your father’s, when you nod off.

I don’t know which I prefer: math

from your mouth or your textbook’s

definition of a line, the part where

it goes on in both directions forever.

The poem interrelates two unlikely practices: an explicit reflection on language, most strongly communicated in the speaker’s incredulity over a string of incomplete and misplaced translations, and a math tutorial. At the start the reader is also confronted with doubt: who speaks to whom in the poem, who is the speaker and who is the addressee? Is it possible that there is more than one addressee? If so, how can the reader tell? This seeming indeterminacy brings to the fore the question of speaker, audience, and identity. Who speaks incorrect English? Who creates poetry in English? What is the place of Greek in the text? Where is the hyphen located, if in fact it operates at all?

The opening lines pose a puzzle, demanding the reader’s careful navigation. The utterances plate of compliments, and baba wayo seem to point to two distinct linguistic registers. The former evokes a semantic slippage from “table of contents,” a misplaced translation that might be committed by an adult whose command of the host language is partial. Could it represent a foreigner who inhabits English awkwardly? The latter most certainly points to an infantile effort to grapple with basic rules of phonetics. Could it represent an immigrant’s grappling with the fundamentals of pronunciation? Alternatively, is it that it records a baby’s incursion into spoken language? Or is it that “you” refers, perhaps, to both? It is difficult to tell. One element, however, is for certain. The incomplete grasp of English refers to a reality in the past. The speaker’s incredulity (“How can you be the you”) leaves no doubt that those linguistic inadequacies represent a memory of a situation that has been spectacularly rectified.

To begin unraveling the identity of the addressee, let us note the speaker’s objectification of the “you” that she addresses. As I mentioned, the expressed incredulity communicates dramatic transformations in linguistic fluency over time. Could this double reference of the second person pronoun also serve as a playful pun signaling the operation of two different subjects? One character from the pair in the poem represents the recipient of the tutorial, who in all likelihood is a young student, old enough to handle language. The poetic persona’s connection with this subject is conveyed through the language of loving intimacy. The language borders on eroticism, but is also a language of affect that a parent might use to fondly address a child, ever attending to transformations in physical features (“your getting-wavy hair”), comparing mannerisms with the father’s (“like your father’s, when you nod off”), sprinkling adoring compliments (“I love . . . the way your lashes / graze the page”). On the other hand, if indeed there is a second addressee, this might be none other than the speaking subject, the objectified self of the speaker’s monologue. But how can we tell? At this juncture I will take a detour, to attend to the poetics of the text before I proceed with the question of the poetic persona’s relationship with the hyphen.

A reader with no interest in identifying the operation of the hyphen in “Geometry” could approach the poem as a reflection on language. The text certainly invites analysis on the ways language operates as both a constraining and liberating medium. The opening stanzas, for instance, point to the poetic potential of misnaming. The play of words and meanings is an activity which immigrants or children may unintentionally produce and poets often strive to create. Seen poetically, the bending of rules may delight a poet in the slippage between “table of contents” and “plate of compliments.” Once measured against semantic rules, however, misnaming generates incredulity and the immediate impulse for correction. Misplaced poetic license seems to require immersion in rules and rationality, urging for a tutorial in geometry, a science of measuring and logic. The speaker tries in rapid succession images of symmetry, in fact she densely packs images of linear containment (isosceles, scalene, rhombus, square), which could be read as a metaphor of society’s power to contain poeticity through socialization in linguistic conventions.

The narrative shifts from the practice of logical analysis to the language of emotion through images of linearity to references that turn into arcs and arches. The contrast is brought about through a marvelous economy of expression, as linearity gives way to curvature: “I love your / getting-wavy hair, the way your lashes / graze the page, their half-moon curve.” The teaching of logic is superseded by the expression of affect.

Still, the poem evokes duality only to explode it, challenging conceptual dichotomies. Although it initially evokes linearity as a metaphor of logic and containment, it later also recognizes it as a sign of infinity. Math textbooks indeed define a line as an extension without end in two directions. Seen metaphorically, and in the context of my analysis, this geometric infinity aligns with the potential of language—through the very craft of poetic world making—to create innumerable new realities. If language contains, it is the poet’s task to enable flights of imagination. One must command the rules of language, however, in order to move into the realm of the infinite possibilities of poetry. But the question persists, is there a hyphen in the text? The editor’s decision to hyphenate Greek-derived American poetry motivates a reading that insists in excavating the hyphen within the poem.7 Evidently, the tutorial cramming also crams the poem with Greek-derived English words: geometry, isosceles, scalene, rhombus. Greek certainly inhabits the poem in English, and it does so in cascading abundance. Still, this presence does not necessarily make the poem a Greek-American one, since words like “geometry” and “isosceles” have been naturalized into English. Neither does the Greek in English reveal anything about the speaker’s relation with the hyphen. Though there is certainly popular and institutional memory of this historical association, the hyphen in this case is fully embedded in the dominant language. In this respect it is invisible, marking no Greek foreignness (difference) in the text.

If the poem reflects on language via a tutorial in geometry, it is precisely on the uses of language in the poem that one may look to trace the hyphen. The speaker brings generous attention to the Greek language, as I mentioned, packing the poem with Greek-derived terms in English. The marking does not only take place in the title. There is textual attention, in fact, to denote the difference between Greek in English and English, evident in the form and content of the following two lines: “isosceles, scalene & how the rhombus / differs from a square.” “Difference” is marked in the clustering of the Greek in English and aligned in a single stanza, further highlighted by the “difference” between the Greek “rhombus” and the non-Greek square, the latter even placed in a different line. The architecture of the two lines functions as a sign differentiating Greek in English from English. As I will explain in fuller detail later, the hyphen appears as difference within sameness.

We can speak here about an inferential presence of ethnicity, a presence that is not announced by literal references to a Greek experience or identity, but implied by allusion and inference. A key to this inferential presence is located in the speaker’s relationship with the Greek language in English. The litany of Greek derived words such as “isosceles” and “scalene” is not neutral; the experience of hearing it spoken during the tutorial generates deep emotions. The speaker’s tenderness toward the addressee is extended to include affect toward the sound of Greek in English (“I don’t know which I prefer: math / from your mouth or. . .”). The utterance of words approximating Greek sound8 generates affect, characteristic of a speaker’s attitude towards the mother tongue. The speaker is no stranger to Greek after all. The possibility that the poetic persona herself is the “you” who once was a stranger to English confusing “plate of compliments” with “table of contents,” could be now more confidently asserted, based on a poetics of “ethnic” affect.

The speaker is no stranger to English either. In fact, she is at home in this language too, as her admirable command of English, the linguistic plasticity, and the stunning economy of writing, clearly demonstrates. But there is more. The naturalization of Greek into English enhances the poetic prospects in the host language. Just abbreviate a Greek-derived word, mathematics, and listen to the homonymic potential emerging in the juxtaposition between math and mouth: a mouthful poetics. The sound of spoken Greek in English and the sound of the homonymic pair math / mouth are simultaneously celebrated. The poet craftily showcases poeticity in English in a manner that cannot totally be separated from Greek.

But let us not mistake this reading as a final one, bringing closure to the poem. As my analysis demonstrates, the text is open-ended, hospitable to multiple interpretations. This is indeterminate poetry whose ambiguity in fact must be seen as its defining feature that serves a key purpose: it resists being contained within any single interpretation, being squeezed within a single category. To the question, “is this hyphenated poetry?” the poem may consent to an interpretive strategy that decodes the hyphen within its lines, but also to a reading that neglects to pay attention to the hyphen. Actually the speaker’s unresolved dilemma (“I don’t know which I prefer”) only highlights the multiplicities of her affiliation.

The poetic persona may cherish both Greek in English (the sound of “rhombus”), the poetic potential of combining Greek in English with English (math-mouth), and creating poetry in English (the metaphorical association of the infinite part of a line with the infinite possibilities of poetry I identified earlier). The poem, moreover, intimates the historical and cultural link between English and Greek. Thus the text explodes any attempt to contain it within a single ethnic or national category. In my reading, this is American poetry, and Greek-American poetry, and American-Greek poetry, and transnational poetry, all at once.

What does the poem tell us about the hyphen? In her double inhabitation in Greek and English, the speaker experiences a sense of “doubleness,” of similarity and difference.9 She relates to Greek-derived words both as naturalized words in English—because she is at home in English; and as an affective site—because of her particular cultural affiliation with Greek. In this respect, ethnic identity is not experienced in terms of an absolute binary opposition (American/Greek). It does not signal pure otherness. Instead, Greek identity (“difference”) is generated in relation to the dominant language (naturalized Greek in English).

In this configuration the hyphen entails the production of new meanings—the experience of affect toward terms that others may read neutrally—within the dominant system of representation. It produces difference within sameness. This particular construction of the hyphen underlines the power of an “ethnic” subject to attach new meanings to an object; to multiply the meaning of a sign, and as a result denaturalize it. In this manner, the poem posits difference as a constructed entity, always experienced or spoken about from a situated perspective. “Difference” is not naturally available; it is contingent instead upon historically and culturally situated subjects. Greek in English becomes a sign marking difference only from the point of view of the speaker, whose particular cultural biography turns Greek in English into an affective site. For the poetic persona, “isosceles” no longer points to a mere triangle with equal sites, but additionally as a location of emotive identification. Greek readers of the poem may feel this way too, and perhaps venture into discovering other situations to apply this meaning-making process. The social implications of this insight are worth noting: encountering the host language and culture does not necessarily equal alienation. One could always resignify (translate) a “foreign” reality into one resembling the familiar, making life in the host society more spacious.10 “Geometry” brings this point home. Poetry and ethnicity in the poem intersect to produce new sites for the hyphen to assert itself.

In conclusion, Pomegranate Seeds performs a particular function, namely the creation of a context to explore the operation of the hyphen in its textual corpus. This is to say that the anthology determines a particular kind of reading, a reading that seeks to identify intercultural connections. For instance, the question I asked regarding the speaker’s feelings towards Greek in English in “Geometry” was raised only because the anthology elevates the hyphen as its conceptual center. This question could have been neglected were this poem featured in an anthology of American poetry. The hyphenation of poetry drives the criticism’s focus in excavating the hyphen.

This turn toward the hyphen in poetry opens new cultural frontiers. As a sign producing novel combinations, the hyphen offers itself as a fertile domain for exploring the production of fresh meanings at the intersection of poetry and ethnicity. In turn, this emphasis in creating newness encourages analysis that is open to new configurations, attuned to the unexpected twists, turns, and mouthfuls through which the hyphen makes its way into the text of poetry, and the ways in which the text of poetry constructs the hyphen. It is important therefore to cultivate criticism that is carefully attuned to language and also ethnicity, poetics and culture. This is a critical route that promises to do justice to the hyphen lurking in what may appear, at first sight, as (almost) national poetry.


Acknowledgments. I thank Gregory Jusdanis and Martha Klironomos for valuable comments, and Artemis Leontis for generous insights.

1 For a discussion of the containing function of American mainstream criticism and its treatment of specific Greek-American examples, see Kalogeras (1991).

2 Lamenting the lack of systematic critical attention for Italian-American poetry, Dana Gioia (1997) associates the turning away from the hyphen with a desire for greater professional and artistic recognition: “The brightest young Italian American writers and critics gravitate to mainstream academy and intellectual culture. That is where reputations are made and the greatest rewards are found. The new generation of Italian American intellectuals knows as well as their immigrant parents did that assimilation is the easiest road to success” (174).

3 I briefly note here the editor’s unfortunate reference to “racial memory,” to which he resorts in order to explain the regular appearance of mythological themes in the poems. This is a discredited notion, and we must immediately abandon it. A more fruitful approach would ask for a historical explanation, tracing the ideological uses of mythology in Greek-American poetry at any specific time (how, for example, the rewriting of mythology has served feminist interests).

4 Appropriately, see the recent work of George Economou, whose invented poetic universe of an (non-existent) ancient Greek poet intersects with an ethnic poetics of creating links with the hyphen. Specifically, the fragment in this work serves as a trope to both produce poetry about the reconstruction of the ancient poet’s past as well as narrate the writer’s quest to recuperate his own family’s fragmentary past, and claim a diaspora connection (Leontis 2010).

5 The notion of Greek-American poetry as translation undermines the approach of this category as a self-contained entity, independent from Greek, American, and other poetic traditions. This is the crucial point that Karen Van Dyck (2000) makes, working with the categories of immigration and translation to foster examination of “the interrelatedness of Greek, Greek American, and American literatures, and to expand what might count for Greek or Greek American or American literature.” Along these lines, George Kalamaras’s “Looking for My Grandfather with Odysseas Elytis,” a narrative poem in Pomegranate Seeds which implicates a quest for ethnic roots with surrealist aesthetics and Odysseas Elytis’s rendition of surrealism, offers itself for analyzing the hyphen at the intersection of multiple literary traditions.

6 Note that dialogism, a fundamental aspect in Asian-American poetry, “is closely related to the reconstruction of [ethnic] memory and history” (Piñero-Gil 2002:97).

7 A caveat is in order here. One must resist confusing the poet, one with a Greek surname, and the poetic persona, and assume that the latter, the speaker, is Greek. As contemporary literary criticism instructs, the operation of the hyphen must come into play within the text itself, not outside of it.

8 This situation presents of course an imperfect equivalence, as the sound of isosceles in Greek and English is not identical. Once again, inhabiting two languages at once brings about the issue of translation (see Van Dyck 2000).

9 On the notion of “doubleness” see Hall (1996).

10 Pioneer Cretan immigrants in Utah and Colorado, for instance, likened the regional mountain ranges with those in the ancestral island, producing affinity with the new place and thus alleviating the shock of their migration displacement. The meaning of place is denaturalized in the process of turning an American landscape into a point of reference for diaspora Cretan identity.


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