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A conversation with translator Ilias Kolokouris

Transom:
Is it possible for the original text to be reborn through the translator?

Kolokouris:
Every translation is a reflection of what the translator receives from the original text. Of course, the translation always depends on the era and the circumstances under which it has been written. Hence, every translation is bound to die and be reborn through constant rewriting. But it always gives an idea and an essence of the original text.

Transom:
The “idiomynon” was a Greek law that prohibited “insurrectional” speech. The poem’s title references the public sphere, but the speaker’s concern for Myrto drives home the personal stakes for the speaker. From your perspective as a translator, how important is it to you that an English-language reader understand the politics of Gogou’s poems?

Kolokouris:
In my opinion, political concepts within Katerina Gogou’s poetry can be understood and enjoyed even by readers who are not well informed of Greece’s political history. The “Idionymon” Act of Law, which sentenced to the penalty of six months imprisonment anyone who attempted to apply ideas that manifested subversion or to overthrow the social system through violent means, or to cause partial detachment of the Greek State, or implementing through actions proselytism, was brought down in a superficial way, in 1974, after the fall of the Greek Military Junta. However,  up until 1980, the secret service of the Greek State kept and renewed its secret records and files that contained the political acts and profiles of every Greek citizen. These files were actually burned and destroyed after 1981.

Nevertheless, Gogou’s use of the word “Idionymon” in the title is totally her personal idiosyncracy and choice. It actually retains its polysemous meanings  in the framework  of the anticommunist campaign until the Junta, but Gogou gives it meaning from an anarchist’s point of view.  After the removal of the original “Act of Idionymon crime,” the New Democracy party’s government passed a new law in 1976, which shielded and protected the security forces, the Military Peacemaking Groups, and the Riot Police from individual protesters and strikers.

Katerina Gogou refers to this new law in the same way that the anarchist circles of the time did, as “Idionymon,” the hidden offspring of the old statutory law, while at the same time she was preserving her own, private meaning for the word. Gogou’s poetry is full of ecclesiastical, urban  and surreal images. We would not call this iconography a delirium (even though she does mention delirium tremens), for she achieves a cinematic record of reality, which is beyond time and political connotations. An iconography that retains its disgusting appeal. Protesters and anarchists will always fight with riot police, as Gogou describes. Be they at the Puerta Del Sol in Madrid, and the anti-austerity movement, or during the Occupy Wall Street movement, or the riots at Brooklyn Bridge. The political and economic impasse will be the same, and the hyper-real images caused by abuse of drugs in combination with alcohol, in any language, will remain enigmatic as in the poetry of Gogou.