Ugly Duckling Presse

Before Lyricism
Before Lyricism

Eleni Vakalo

translated by Karen Emmerich

Poetry | $18 $14
Spring 2017
Before Lyricism includes six book-length poems: "The Forest" (1954), "Plant Upbringing" (1956), "Diary of Age" (1958), "Description of the Body" (1959), "The Meaning of the Blind" (1962), and "Our Way of Being in Danger" (1966). Each of these, apart from “Plant Upbringing,” was published as a separate book, which Vakalo herself designed. (“Plant Upbringing” was originally included in the volume Wall Painting, of which Vakalo later repudiated all but this single long poem.) For Vakalo, these poems formed a larger, accretive whole, which she titled Prin Apo Ton Lyrismo (Before Lyricism). By bringing these poems together under a single cover, Before Lyricism allows us to see the complex web of intertextual relations that bind these books together. Meanwhile, by bringing these poems into English, this volume will enrich not only our knowledge of this key period in Vakalo’s career, but English-language readers’ understanding of modern Greek poetry as a whole.Excerpt ˇ


Plants have a different upbringing than people
Their not moving isn’t unique
Nor their not committing suicide
Plants are perpetual revolutionaries
Just think how they grow during the hour of the moonClose ˆ

About the Author

Eleni Vakalo
Eleni Vakalo (1921-2001) was a Greek poet, art critic, and art historian. She authored nine volumes of art history and art theory, and had regular columns of art criticism from 1955 to 1975 (with a two-year hiatus during the period of the junta’s strictest censorship); she also produced a radio broadcast of art criticism, and organized art-related teach-ins at factories. In 1958, she and her husband, the painter and stage designer Yiorgos Vakalo, founded the Vakalo School of Arts and Design, where she taught until 1990. Vakalo published fourteen books of poetry, and was intimately involved with the design and production of her early books. Indeed, Vakalo’s training as an art historian pushed her to initiate new poetic uses of the page, drawing on her knowledge of modern and contemporary art to rethink the role of the visual in the printed text. She received the State Poetry Prize in 1991, and the prestigious Academy of Athens Prize in 1997.

About the Translator

Karen Emmerich
Karen Emmerich is a translator of eleven books of Modern Greek poetry and prose. Her recent translations include Christos Ikonomou’s Something Will Happen, You’ll See (Archipelago), Sofia Nikolaidou’s The Scapegoat (Melville House), and Amanda Michalopoulou’s Why I Killed My Best Friend (Open Letter). Her co-translation with Edmund Keeley of Yannis Ritsos’s Diaries of Exile (Archipelago) was awarded the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and her translation of Poems (1945-1971) by Miltos Sachtouris (Archipelago) was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle award. She holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, and is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

Advance Praise

Praise for Other Works

Eleni Vakalo’s Meaning of the Blind is one of the most important books of poetry ever to be written in the modern Greek language. […] I can’t hide my admiration for this anti-lyrical but dramatically human poetry, which limits the imagination to the infinite dimensions of the real and excites logic as far as fantasy will take it.

—Nora Anagnostaki