Liana Sakelliou

Liana Sakelliou

Born in Athens, Greece, in October 12, 1956 Liana Sakelliou studied English at the University of Athens (B.A.), Edinburgh (Grad Diploma), Essex (M.A.), and Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D.). She is Professor in English at The University of Athens where she teaches Creative Writing and American Literature. Her poems, scholarly articles, book reviews, and translations have been published in Greece and the U.S.A. She has received the Fulbright Award for the Arts in 1992, the Fulbright Award for Scholarship in 2000, the Stanley J. Seeger Research Fellowship in 2001, the British Council Grant for Travel to attend Poetry Festivals and the seminars “The Contemporary British Writer” “Poetry International 1998” (1989, 1992, 1993, 1998); the U.S.I.S. Scholarship for Participation in Conferences, The Academy of American Poets Award for University Students, 1985, and the West Dean Grant in 2009. She has been a Visiting Fellow at The University of California, Berkeley and Davis (1992); Northwestern University, Evanston (2000); and Princeton University (2001), and a visiting poet at West Dean College.

Her publications include Denise Levertov: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography, Garland, New York, 1988; Touches in the Flow [Collection of Poems], Nefeli, Athens, 1992; Brendan Kennelly’s Blarney Stone [Edition, Trans. and Intro.], Erato, Athens, 1992; Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Man Against the Sky [Monograph], Gutenberg, Athens, 1994; Feminist Criticism on American Women Poets: An Annotated Critical Bibliography, Garland, New York, 1994; Gary Snyder: The Poetics and Politics of Place [Edition, Translation of Poems, Monograph]; Odysseas, Athens, 1998; Introduction to H.D.’s Trilogy [Edition, Translation of Poems, Monograph], Gutenberg, Athens, 1999; Denise Levertov’s Poetry of Revelation, 1988-1998: The Mosaic of Nature and Spirit [Monograph], Typothito, Athens, 1999; Second Creation [A Bilingual Libretto], Association of Fulbrighters in Greece, 2000; Take Me Like a Photograph [Collection of Poems with CD], Typothito, Athens, 2004, and its translation into English by David Connolly published by Typothito in 2005; Portrait Before Dark [Collection of Poems], Typothito, Athens, 2010. Since 1996 she has introduced the creative writing seminar into the undergraduate curriculum and has edited the annual periodical aformes (9 issues) containing the senior students’ poems and short stories. In 2006 she edited the best of aformes in a book entitled morfes A. In 2008 she published two one-act plays on the life of the American poet H.D. (“a photograph: Hilda Doolittle” and “HD: An American in Athens”, Gutenberg Publications, 2008). Her poetic dialogue “The Edge of Attraction” was performed at the HAU by graduates of the English Department (2009). Her play “You, Me and Your Home” was performed at the Ag. Stefanos Cultural Center by members of the Theater Club (2010).

Her poems have appeared in four international anthologies [Grind the Big Tooth A Collection of Greek Poetry (Sterling House Publisher, 1998), A Century of Greek Poetry 1900-2000 (Cosmos Publishing 2004), New European Poets. (Graywolf Press, 2008), The Multiple Shadow of Homer. Contemporary Greek Poets Vis-à-vis the World (1945-2000) (Hellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers 2001. CD-Rom)] as well as in the following journals: Kaliope, Encore, Voices International, Grammata ke Tehnes, To Epipetho, Τραμ, Trazadura, Karakoa, The 1982 Anthology of Greek Poetry, Gaia, Salmagundi, Oblivion, Gramma, The National Library of Poetry, Revmata, Ivykos, To Thendro, Greek Letters: A Journal of Modern Greek Literature in Translation, Poetix, I Avghi, Πρακτικά Συμποσίου Ποίησης Πάτρας 2005, International Poetry Review, Women/Poetry in Britain and Greece. Her most recent publications are in the anthology Ta Poiimata tou 2008 Eds. Giorgos Markopoulos, Kostas Papageorgiou, Athens: Koinonia ton (De)katon 2009; also in the poetry magazine Poetix 2(2009-10).

From 2005 to 2008 she has been the national advisor in the English-language program for the Second-chance School Teachers. Since 2006 she was appointed as the president of the Cultural Center at the Aghios Stefanos Municipality and has organized together with the administrative council workshops and cultural events for adults and children pertaining to music, drama, and dance as well as September Festivals for the local community.

Don Schofield’s poems, essays and translations have appeared in numerous American journals, including Partisan Review, New England Review and Poets & Writers, as well as in journals in Europe and Asia. The recipient of the 2007 Allen Ginsberg Award, he has also received honors from, among others, the State University of New York, Anhinga Press, Southern California Anthology and Princeton University, where, in 2002 he was a Stanley J. Seeger Writer-in-Residence. His poetry volumes include Of Dust, a chapbook from March Street Press (1991); Approximately Paradise, a book length collection (University Press of Florida, 2002); and the anthology Kindled Terraces: American Poets in Greece (Truman State University Press, 2004). Born in Nevada and raised in Northern and Central California, he has been a resident of Greece for over 25 years. He currently lives in Thessaloniki, where he is the Dean of Perrotis College, a branch of the American Farm School.

Don Schofield’s poems on

Santorini Mist

The old say
it’s moisture rolling in from the sea,
part of the warm season,
leaving behind
aroma of seaweed and wood,
renewing itself each night
in clay hills, whitewashed squares,
houses and caves–
the oldest thing on the island.

Young farmers
count on it,
feel it slowly, tenderly
moisten their tomatoes,
beans and grapes,
easing the skins open. Secretly,
knowing its joy,
they try to find it again
in love.

The women wish it would sink once and for all.
It’s a sickness, they say,
sliding over the skin cunningly,
planting illusions about their lives,
leaving them exhausted all morning–
they can’t fix breakfast
or clean sheets for rooms
they rent to foreigners.
Daytime wears down the spirit.

Tourists see a ghost
rising from the sea
when like hoar-frost it stuffs
the mouth of the nearby volcano,
mouth that opens, fierce, vindictive,
to claim more land for the sea
and announce the myth of lost Atlantis.
Standing on verandas, they feel it in the wind
whipping their yellow hair.
They hug each other, shiver
and let the phantom envelop them.

I call it madness–
wild dogs howl,
street lamps sputter and go out.
At night, where I camp,
its bloodless shape rushes over me,
tears at my breasts,
muffles my mouth, spreading quickly
to fill my sleeping bag.

Someday the winds may change.
I may weary of traveling,
learn to settle for mist
that has entered me,
this strange presence bringing me joy,
as if it were a lazy
wave knowing only
to break calmly
over my muscular earth.

Liana Sakelliou
© Translation by Don Schofield


–after “The Woman with the Octopus,”
a sculpture by Yiannis Pappas

Here the land ends.
Here my dream begins.

Every morning I wear my mask,
my black skin,
open the gate
to the deep water that bore your body,
follow the long articulations of rock,
dark edges
spiked with sea anemones.

Every morning like a villager
I track you
as you rove crevice to crevice,
propel your body–your fate–
with a shake.
You fawn over a shell myopically,
like a collector stack it
with mauve and green skeletons,
recovering piece by piece
your lost palace.

Nights too, as a woman, I trail you,
moving freely in and out of clefts,
passing the expanses
of anemones,
colored skeletons of urchins.

Nights you stretch out in your rocky lair.
I feel your wild eyes
keeping watch over your solitary excitement.
I approach you. With practiced hands
I overturn your rock.
You emit the black aroma of fear.
You attack.
In order to live the dream I embrace you,
your eight arms travel,
fix around my neck
a blood-necklace.

I pull you
up into my house of air,
take off my mask, my black skin.
You are naked beside me on the beach.
Eyes dead,
arms limp
and cold.

I awake.
I don’t love you anymore.

Liana Sakelliou
© Translation by Don Schofield

Metonymy of the Erotic

Opposite the castle at Lodza
wind rocks our body, sailboats
cross our spine. Our surface swells like a sail
until we’re scattered. We lick
red earth,
black pebbles,
dry weeds
and are dismembered.
We choose a color–blue–
wrap our breasts with the sea’s
surface. Our nipples puff out with salt,
the sun drinks hungrily.

Coming and going, we lick the castle steps
softly, subtly, bit by bit
making whatever we find
ours. Loose-tongued
we take inside us
opening and unfolding
and dirt,
leave behind delicate shells,
driftwood bitten into shapes
of strange animals.
Our tangled hair ripples white.
Our crystal voices echo off island windows.

Young women won’t lean from balconies to hear us.
Mothers shout to their children–
come inside! Others slam doors,
press their bodies against them.
Crones in black scarves
nod, won’t look up. Frightened fingers
yank curtains closed.

We quiver in this absence, retreat
to the castle. Without guards or their bull whips,
we hear whispers
of those who came before us–
God save us…. It’s not time yet!….
No, go back!… Now’s not the right time!

We take them with us to the open sea.
Squalls push us farther
from land, where water is only
and taste.
We take off the foam, the boats,
the sails, the gulls, the white and blue–
everything, even wind.
We reach the limits of solidity. Behind us
the mainland is a grey, distant stone.
Forever drawn to land, the rough texture
of the castle stairs, we return to sink
into dirt,

Here wind toys
with us, cries out
suddenly from castle gates,
moans from balconies.
We’re tormented–so much time
in this land yet it’s never
home. With these stray words
like pebbles filling our mouths,
who to speak to? In what language?
Where will we finally settle
when evening comes? The town
drives us deeper into the castle–

on one side the vague
outline of those who’d lay claim to us,
on the other the sea’s silouhette,
between there’s always the castle,
its erotic revery we plunder each night,
rushing up the stairwells, looking out
at the vague shapes of the village in the distance
as if we were the Palace Guard and they
the new invaders.

Liana Sakelliou
© Translation by Don Schofield


She looked again at the sea
shapeless as pleasure,
its curves similar
to her own center,

then shifted her gaze to an old mirror
to remember that her essence was terrestrial.
In her window a fishing lamp
floated by, slow as a forgotten heron,

spreading watery stars
over a shattered bottle.
Diffused faces
navigated the flow.

She let an image she knew well
enter her refracted time–the calm
sea where fishermen spread oil and sand
from the gunwale. She didn’t hear

the flicked cigarette
hit the water,
didn’t feel the stunned garfish
tremble on the spear–

she closed the window
before the shadow of the boat dissolved.
The straw chair in her office
absorbed her body’s passion.

Liana Sakelliou
© Translation by Don Schofield

Sea Journey

The perfect illusion–bed, table, curtains–
the secret power of concrete things
that make us feel at home.
But this house has many rooms and one corridor
with one window, an immovable frame.

I’m careful as I go through each morning’s exercises;
at night I walk a slippery deck,
every room a sea of white with a whale
rising, shaking foam in my eyes, every bed

with a whale sprawled under the fragile balance
of IV tubes. In each one’s face, breast and hands,
a ray of light.

–At sea always keep your eyes open.
–But in this sea my eyes sting.

What happened when the spotlight came on
and the instruments shined?
I held to the magic thought
of men binding me and covering
my beautiful suntan with a big blue apron,

let their thoughts take the shape of my belly
(They will open her like they open a leather purse
finding what’s found in purses–
complete disarray).

Their memory goes beyond repetition,
there where silence has hawk-eyed accuracy.
I roll to and fro. The drugs are working–
this journey has already begun.

My own birth was difficult but I don’t create problems.
I’m healthy and fit, get exhausted only
when I teach; I don’t swim beyond the buoys,
where the catamarans and Chris-Craft are anchored….

Moby Dick was a white sea-beast, my children;
carefree and alone, no awareness
that he had done anything wrong, he would swim
toward the Cape of Good Hope

pestering the Indian Ocean with his games
and whatever whaler he found
he would roll up from under the boat,
playfully toss it with his backbone

till it shattered on the waves. Captain Ahab
resolved to capture this elusive spirit, this phantom.
–Mrs. __, what is spirit? –Intellect, power
and passion and Moby Dick had them all.

Rousing the seas,
he would spray their calm surface with the odor of chance,
not knowing he was becoming an open air spectacle
in a literature of demons.

Once he found himself in a school
of blue whales floating on their sides, motionless,
nursing their young;
the living sea welled up with milk.

Astounded, he saw they had
the color of the sea bed, the color of sleep,
and he of the rising tide,
obsessed with journeying,

bounded off like a sprinter and immediately
the frenzied sea embraced him. On his way he met
the sharks, those bandits of the seas,
fins white like his.

–What hapened to him, Mrs. __?
–Captain Ahab caught up with him and wanted
to cut off his head, hang it from the crow’s nest
for all the other whalers to see.

But the wind blew and Moby Dick went round
and round and under the boat and around his body
wound the ropes of the harpoons and one
wrapped like a lasso around the neck of Ahab

and Moby Dick pulled him
out of himself, into his future
and the two went round, the psychopomp and the chthonic god,
together with Melville’s pages.

–Where do humans go, Mrs. __, when they die?
–They sink into the distance between two breaths.
They become sleek fish;
I’m a swimmer–

–Mrs. __, open your eyes.
Lift your head, Mrs. __. It’s time.
We know you’re awake.

It’s difficult to guess
what the rigid body is trying to say
while the gurgling news it wants to hear
still hovers in the air.

Like a fisherman’s net the spirit
is still stretching out
over the table
of the surgery room.
–Boy or girl?

In a little while I’ll gently close the door
of the unmoving center;
without the mother whales

I contain only the rickety appearance
of a long narrow corridor. Through its window
the city looks empty, peaceful and warm.
The city wants to wake in a child’s dream.

A pink coolness licks Mt. Hymettus,
moistening the blue distance from which,
only now, its shape begins to emerge.

Liana Sakelliou
© Translation by Don Schofield

The Wind-Surfer and the Gilded Trees

The blooming lemon trees burn from the cold
around our house,
but you go wind-surfing,
yielding to the converging winds.

Certain that no other dream
would let you enter the realm of fish,
you lean into the image of yourself,
body of a water snake, balance of a seagull,

leap voids riveted to your board
emanating the heat of your intensity
and shiver a little as you trace,
swell to swell, the sea’s endless labor.

Where are you looking? I’m here.
Go ahead, infer what you want,
you who are so sure you’re learning
the secret rhythms of the sea.

I’m here, keeping your towel dry and warm,
ready to respond to each gesture
with whiskey, coffee, your cigarettes.

For now, it’s calm here. The wind
has gone elsewhere. I blink
but you’re still a vague pulsing in the distance.

Here nothing has been lost,
all is gilded, like the trees
that shine from the deep flame of their sap
and today’s layer of ice.

Liana Sakelliou
© Translation by Don Schofield


Standing firmly in the night sea
you grip my palms.
My joints pale
from this urge to climb to your shoulders,
balance myself there.
The night is calm.
My goosebumps slowly shiver.
The column of your spine is my navigator.

Drawn water curls
and straightens your hair between my calves.
My soles are a map
to a land you know,
around its center a firmament
of twinkling plankton so charged
it can throw bats off course.

I grow heavy in your pulse.
Arms open wide,
I’m a flamingo, an Amazon of the air,
Ucello’s long-necked girl
leaning out from the painting
while you remain a fixed point balanced
on the slippery details
in bottom sand.

I miss the grains of your voice.
You lean forward into the sea
and I descend the column of your spine
knot by knot–
each tensed nub a pearl,
your spine a closing
book of fairy tales.

Liana Sakelliou
© Translation by Don Schofield


That tug, like a detail from my life,
made me pull in my line
eager to see if it was a shellfish,
a little silver fish with wings
or simply water and dough
gleaming at the end of my hook. It was you
letting yourself be reeled in
on a new beam of light.

Here on the surface you must learn
all that I’ve come close to, as I’ve learned
to speak of azure facts, a biography
that leaks coherence–
I stayed here for a while… I used to like to….
For you my words are music
late in the afternoon, for me
they’re dolphins exploding to the surface
behind the boat, in the waves you ignore.

Evenings, I row through your anguish,
drop my line until my fingers
crease deeply, then deftly raise it to an angle
just above the seaweed,
ready for you to meet me
in the middle of that sea
we both inhabit.

Hungry again,
you bite the hook,
writhing in that motion I now know
as birth.

Liana Sakelliou
© Translation by Don Schofield

Published with the permission of Liana Sakelliou