Friday, February 15, 2013

earth also is a private language | Eleni Stecopoulos's Daphnephoria

Published last May by Michael Cross's Compline Press, Daphnephoria, a recent chapbook by Eleni Stecopoulos, remains one of the more exquisite unions of felt language and physical production in the relatively small but determined world of small press literary endeavor. The poems are difficult to delineate in terms of content. Rather, like the later sections in her full-length collection Armies of Compassion (Palm Press, 2010), they seem to set out points on the periphery of a researched, imagined space, a place of remedy and ritual recuperation.

Channeling back through the roots of words, she finds in the Greek of her "mother's/ancestral tongue" (as she explains in aresponse to the question of "somatics"1) a language commensurate with such a place:

            No man is an oikos

            but a mother

            husbands the economy


            dogphysician porous as rock

            plastic as Greek


            every word

            compounded from two

Even the neologism of the title announces this concern. The Ancient Greek combining form pherein "to bear" exists in English primarily in the morphological diptych euphoria and dysphoria, through which we can think ourselves as bearing (what exactly—inner or outer, psychical or physical—the whole complex) either well or ill.

Under the duress of Apollo, Daphne chose to return to the earth, and from there blossoms forth as a tree, leaves, paper. Not only in the language of the poems themselves—

            to be a girl who asks in remedy

            black walnut white cedar

            I'll become

            metal   wood

—but in the workmanship of the chapbook, a profound care and desire almost to be the material are manifest. Like other of Cross's work, the design as a whole, and in particular the layers of endpapers (within which the poems rest encased as though in bark), reveals a mind obsessively attuned as much to the minimal as to the baroque.

1 This from a response to the question of "somatics" as posed in a questionnaire by Thom Donovan. The response was posted on Harriet: a poetry blog on April 29, 2011 [available here]. Stecopoulos writes:

... soma as a Greek word has been in my ear my whole life, and it carries a potency and warmth that “body” does not for me. And this is despite the fact that English is my first language. (So why this should be the case—the paradoxical way that the mother’s/ancestral tongue feels more natural or intimate than the native language—is itself an example of somatic knowing, which can’t be extricated from an imagination of cultural identity.)

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