Katerina Gogou (1940-1993) was a Greek anarchist poetess who is a representative figure of the ‘80s radical political and cultural scene of Exarcheia. The impact of her poems, lately rediscovered and taken into consideration by the mainstream media, has always been influential in the radical movement.
Katerina was born in Athens in 1940 and the first years of her life were marked by the famine and the Nazi occupation, the resistance and the civil war. The defeat of the communists was followed by a period of strict censorship, police terror and island camps for political prisoners. Gogou finished high school and she started her parcours artistique following some drama and dance courses. The only place she could make a living as an actress, was in the Greek comedy industry, a major factor in social reproduction of capitalist and patriarchal values at the time. The roles assigned to her were those of the naive domestic servant, the silly little sister or the undisciplined school pupil. Despite this, Katerina developed a critical view of society, diverging not only from its progressive conformism but also from its conformist progressivism.
At the end of the ‘70s, Greek society experienced substantial changes and radicalization with an autonomous factory workers movement as well as factory and university occupations. It was in this period that she was writing her early poems. Her writings are a mirror of the marginalized parts of the society of the time, taking the side of drug addicts, prostitutes, criminals, homosexuals, the homeless and immigrants.
In 1978 Gogou published her first collection of poems, Three Clicks Left. At the same time she reengaged in cinema, this time as a protagonist in critical and intellectual movies. The first two of them were directed by her husband, Pavlos Tassios, with whom she had her only daughter, Myrto, while the third movie was directed by Andreas Thomopoulos.
In 1980 her second poetic collection, Sui generis was published. The title of the collection referred to the Greek law no.410/1976 which fortified the regime against protesters, strikes and political dissents. In 1982 Katerina wrote The Wooden Coat and four years later she published the collection Absentees.
Her poetry started getting more and more personal, reflecting the early period of her drug addiction and personal anguish. At that time the social democratic government was absorbing the radicalization of the previous years with people exchanging their militant past for positions in the new state of affairs. In the meanwhile heroin began to circulate among the people that could not find their place in that society. The Return Journey was Katerina’s last book in life, published in 1990.
Katerina Gogou committed suicide in 1993 by taking an overdose of pills and alcohol.
My own friends are blackbirds
who play see-saw on roofs of crumbling houses
Exarchia, Patisia, Metaxurgio, Metz.
They do whatever comes along.
Peddlers of cookbooks and encyclopedias
they build roads and connect deserts
barkers for Zinonos Str. dives
cornered in the old days and forced to drop their pants
now they swallow pills and alcohol to sleep
but they have dreams so they don’t sleep.
My own women-friends are taut wires
on roof terraces of old houses
Exarchia, Victoria, Koukaki, Ghizi.
You’ve pinned on them a million steel clothes’ pins
your guilt, party-meeting decisions, borrowed dresses
cigarette burn-marks, strange headaches
threatening silences, vaginitis
they fall in love with gays
the telephone the telephone the telephone
broken glasses and no one for an ambulance.
They do whatever comes along.
My friends are always on the move
because you haven’t given them an inch.
All my friends paint with black
because you’ve debased the red for them
they write in a symbolic tongue
because your own’s only for ass-licking.
My friends are blackbirds and wires
in your hands. At your throat.
Yannis told me
not to lean my head on the wall
when reading or when smoking.
In prison he said
that’s why they always had headaches.
In the evening an argument broke out about those who had signed a statement.
that if they had invented the statement
we had invented not signing.
I said endurance has its limits people are made of flesh and bone
I spoke about the Stalinists and the method
of executing the very best as traitors
who died screaming LONG LIVE THE PARTY.
the statement is only the beginning.
Then they will ask who are your friends.
Then where do they live.
I said shit a million people, why? For what party?
Yorgos said for the one we are going to make.
Around the table we were 3 laborers, 2 who had signed, Yiorgos unemployed
and I in privileged position I work this year. We smoked.
They were drinking. Yannis most of all
—how in hell’s he going to ride the motorbike—
They didn’t want me speaking like that.
Afterwards I left earlier I had a headache
again I’d been leaning on the wall. They didn’t know I knew.
That I was never going to sign.
Not for any party.
That I had only thrown a jacket—January ’79—
over the freezing cold carried by those who signed…
A fully round sun of May
and a big wind
cross each other on my forehead
mixing political pamphlets
some extra pounds and years piling up
songs by, Savvopoulos
my eyes – where are they? where are my eyes?
each day I’m learning to reject
what I believed in yesterday.
What will you shout dying
Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg
the Kronstadt myth and the myth of Sisyphus.
Flowers and colors
revolvers and homemade bombs
meaningless movements – the same food on my teeth –
five plastic fingers are sqeezing my throat.
I’m going crazy from my own
and my friends’ dreams, with repeated breakdowns
hysterical weeping, vomiting from drunkenness and loathing
suicide attempts and useless resolutions
about a different life.
An endless parade of barbiturates
maintain a sick balance
between you and me.
And up. And down.
And out back and on the side
the system – the rotten system’s to blame
even my cat knows that
the system that squeezes
the money they spit
two by two they “turn on“ and disappear
comrades got old waiting
the kids – what big eyes the kids have –
riots squads, drugstores, taxis, the monopolies
the imperialism between us
I can’t make love to you
or anybody else. I’m 3 years now on the list of the unemployed.
Let’s not kid ourselves.
If we don’t sign the paper they want
we won’t be able to make a single decision.
Night is falling.
The central committee
knowtows to the Maoists.
Night is falling.
The television commentator’s
winking at me.
Night is falling even more.
I’m still hanging in there.
I’m not signing.
Long live the 204th International.
Rotten. / Rotten themes / moldy volumes devious libraries
bootlicking words slave words / frame-up jobs
our life here is a bull
a thousand little fascist knives stuck in him
he vomits black our own blood
and you go on painting still-lifes
and past-prime book editions making money for the tourist office.
Political parties—punctuation marks
ecology—ancient forerunners show us the way
only on the reverse
the good ones are thrown in deep holes
the public works and illustrious signatures
pave with asphalt over them
a big round crate is the earth like a ballot-box
so we can throw our ballots in
whatever color the salamander takes
it’s always rightwing.
Some drab acacias have undertaken Spring
roots aren’t so that we may go back
roots are for generating branches
and if they don’t
they’re dead sticks firewood
roadblocks Forward Forward ever more!
That’s what is needed
from submission to an uprising
from either all or nobody
from either everything or nothing
and us / they let us in through the service door
we eat their left-overs standing
wearing on our neck as an old-fashion scarf
the dead cat of civilization
but now I’m no longer alone
I’ve made I have connections
I’m not afraid of anyone
I pretend I’m living this life while I’m preparing the other one
in daytime high noon I’ll grab bucket and brushes
we’re going to tear the flagstones
I’ll make a great downpour of leaflets
bullet-words on paper
letters out of skin and blood
our poetry’s psychosomatic—
no one of you is ever going to seperate us
even my very life
and anyone who dares let him come this way hand grenade
with safety pin off.
The 4 point of the horizon
Above. Below. Right. Left.
Above, the sky and the things we aimed for.
— They come at night and mock us in our dreams.
Below, the earth and things aiming at us
— they shovel dirt over us even before we’re done.
Right, tourist islands banks and rock
— offering us electroshock in the arms of Raquel Welch.
Left, the ghost of Russia driving a Mig-25
is chasing us with a big rubber stamp
— and we collect tiny bits of our perseverance
for the party verdicts at the Moscow Trials.
The neighborhood dime-store
to catch a breath
but even here I’ve got to pay
for the shopkeeper’s tolerance
an ex-cop selling the “People’s Struggle”
I don’t know what to buy so as not to be an accomplice. Understand?
The 4 points of the horizon
Dressed as banks pilots Marxists nurses
are chasing us. I have to make a call.
What’s the number?
Where can I stop and take a single breath?
They’ve set us up everywhere.
The corps trapped by the gun
women by their sex
Justice by the laws
organizations by their dissidents
doctors by electroshock.
Yes. Let’s go to the Ilion movie theater tonight.
There the heroes have red cheeks
and always win in the end.
Tripwire 14 | The Red Issue
Translated by Angelos Sakkis
Aaaaaaaaa! This is the gang-war.
Grrrrreeks with big hats, I know, they called them republicas.
Square, biiiig, with long coats and cabardines, they had guns in their pockets, maybe
more gun inside. With their hands in their pockets they shot other Greeks and they walked fast as if in a great hurry or as if someone was chasing them.
I wanted -they did not let me, they said- to go out. Out I wanted. There I wanted. To the “It Is Forbidden”.
In our corner, Lambrou Katsoni and Boukouvalla, piles of eaten cats and famine corpses -they called them trash- parents and children.
I saw through the glass a bullet hitting my left hand palm, blood and the trash breathing. My mother was in the kitchen and my father I don’t even know where, I open the door and I go to the trash.
And there I saw, and I don’t give a dime if you don’t believe me, the most beautiful boy I had seen in my life. He was covered there, holding a machine gun, he had a short blond beard and long blond hair. His eyes…I don’t know to tell their colour. He looked like or was the Christ. “Go little girl, go”, he told me, “away from here. They will kill me”.
I took a deep breath to run fast.
“Bend so I can kiss you”, he told me.
I was already home.
The first man and the last I ever loved was an urban guerrilla.
“My name is the Odyssey“
What I fear most
is becoming “a poet”…
Locking myself in the room
gazing at the sea
I fear that the stitches over my veins might heal
and, instead of having blur memories about TV news,
I take to scribbling papers and selling “my views”…
I fear that those who stepped over us might accept me
so that they can use me.
I fear that my screams might become a murmur
so that to serve putting my people to sleep.
I fear that I might learn to use meter and rhythm
and thus I will be trapped within them
longing for my verses to become popular songs.
I fear that I might buy binoculars in order to bring closer
the sabotage actions in which I won’t be participating.
I fear getting tired – an easy prey for priests and academics –
and so turn into a “sissy”…
They have their ways …
They can utilize the routine in which you get used to,
they have turned us into dogs:
they see to us being ashamed for not working…
they see to us being proud for being unemployed…
That’s how it is.
Keen psychiatrists and lousy policemen
are waiting for us in the corner.
I am afraid of him…
My mind walks past him as well…
Those bastards…they are to blame…
I cannot -fuck it- even finish this writing…
Maybe…eh?…maybe some other day…
TRANSLATION BY G.CHALKIADAKIS
Galina Rymbu was born in 1990 in the city of Omsk (Siberia, Russia) and currently lives in St. Petersburg. She has published poems in the Russian journals The New Literary Observer, Air, Sho, and in the Translit series. Her first book, Moving Space of the Revolution, was published in 2014. Her poetry has also appeared in English translation in The White Review, Music & Literature, and Cosmonauts Avenue. She has published numerous essays on cinema, literature, and sexuality in Séance, Colta, and Milk and Honey (she was also the editor-in-chief of the latter). She curated “New Poetry in the Literary Institute,” an alternative education project (2012-2013), the All-Russian Week of Youth Poetry in Moscow (2013), the Arkady Dragomoshchenko Prize, and the exhibition “House of Voices: At the Margins of Language,” which addresses the death of small languages in Russia.
SEX IS A DESERT
in this settlement
everything empty only emptiness
sex – is a desert
coming home from work
desiring on the shopfloor
or in the machine
or at some other labour of language
feel it: there’s nothing there only
coming home from work
I’m writing a letter to the first boy
why’d you deceive me, you know there’s nothing there
only a desert
I’m in the desert alone
and desire fades
laying sex bare like vision
on the horizon is the body of a dry old man
this is my sex
this is my future
hundreds of animals will come and hump me
a tiger’s sperm leaps toward the clouds
monkeys lick my clitoris
but none of them will say:
‘sex is a desert’
in the garden of atavisms
lifting my skirt, leaning on the barbed-wire fence
barely discerning the face
in the wilds of bloody tears
I, weeping, will say: ‘look at what we were struggling for,
marching naked past parliaments,
penetrating with phalluses the offices of government.
no, there’s nothing there,
sex is a desert’
I love you
and your dead sex
still moves me
but when I love you
I feel: only a desert
the smooth temple of marriage bathed in wine gone bad
the raw looks of new lovers
the embraces of boys, covered with feces, tears
girls with black scars and bright dildos
baring their breasts before the river
of people dying
what were we struggling for?
why all these poems?
the dying camp of peoples in the depths of the analyst
you die with them, too, analyst,
because there is no hidden pleasure in the desert
masturbation and solitude
only the desert
crowds of furious men, turning in their zinc coffins
crowds of men fondling, flying on a varnished bomb
the industry of depravity in space stations, the science of art in the bathhouse
all for nothing, procreation is only part of the desert
Kathy, Kathy, wanking off death,
I can’t see your face, there’s no dialogue, no strength to tell you how things stand
for you, you’re not here, Kathy, the body has no identity in the bitter printed word
the rod in a thrown open bible,
student marches little puddles of blood in a dark toilet,
where my farewell lament
addressed faded out
to the dead students and their movement
with knives stuck in the hips
with the tender kisses of events
I want to say: here is the event
sex, sex is dead, it’s leaving us
in the heat of sex, in the atavism of desire
on the tip of lilies unzipped in shuffled tarot cards
we lay in solitude
to count the money we got
for sex, for pain, for death,
to count the bites and bruises from dead lovers
armies of little neomorts,
storming the beds of our mothers and our children
with a shaved crotch, almost blind
I lie alone
in this settlement
the dead cock that protrudes from every philosophy
Alain Badiou fucking theories, numbers,
a weeping member, the cock of greasy philosophy
what are you good for, if you could only save us
in the depth of short orgasms, waiting:
where is the network of pleasure?
on the seashore in a billboard I don’t fucking care I’ll stay
with my beloved with biceps and seagulls, with a silk dress and a rose in my hair
if only I don’t have to see this
how in the desert they eat my body
sex-objects, workers and liars,
and writers with open skulls,
retromodernists, writing shrill messages,
I want to say that my pus pain and blood
are not your pus pain and blood
I request that you do not confuse these aesthetics, these worms, these beds
little stars of little doctors
little empty illnesses
knife wounds inside the rendezvous
feeding feeding feeding
at the edge of love
rome rome rome with a price tag with a shrill libido
o, who could
are caravans of slaves coming to meet us?
like a feminist sad sticking out of a camel’s ass
confusing all the arts without desire without aim you left us
you burned down a pair of sex shops you’re crying in the
autumn park with a bottle of cheap wine in your hand
because it’s all for nothing because sex is a desert
because you can’t say no
even if women piss on all the cathedrals
and men fuck themselves with a machine gun
there will be death there will be sex there will be poetry
there will be roses enflamed
there will be cocaine in paper wrappers and breakfasts
in the barn in bed
thin nets with a baby
rubbers with toys
you, my love,
texts with confessions
I am masturbating
sand in our bodies,
and you, you, you,
my love, who lies:
‘youth, fury, knowledge’
the contemplating anus
the furious anus minimalism of forms
for Russians who are still being flogged
and who are happy because they were born dead
and what else are the dead to do, there is time and it will hurt
but there is also a lyrical line:
lying alone in this settlement
you borrow money from your comrades to get here
but there’s no road that will take you
fuck her and him, fuck others, but you won’t find your way to this settlement
talk to me through the wind through time but you’re not there
fuck me and you’re not here in this settlement
I’m lying alone
screaming: ‘sex is a desert’
the pluralism of opinions, contemplating: this is war,
crowds of people standing in front of the screen, where I say to you:
‘sex is war’,
but stay there alone and you will feel: sex is a desert
we fell dead
into the body of the enemy
of the lonely, at the edge, in the village
we grew up
into no one
So huge, this desert is so huge
There were so many factories just in our neighborhood:
The tire plant and the tire cord plant, then the oxygen plant
(which no one ever saw—just grey boxes, neither smoke nor flame),
The automation plant, the brick and asphalt factories, Power Plant No. 5,
The “Flight” factory, and Cosmic Avenue, and this time repeated as if in a memory—bathed
The ice cream factory and in the cemetery near our building
Еven а small factory that made coffins.
And there were a lot of schools because people had a lot of kids
And the boys all went into the army, and they
Probably didn’t even know why there was an army, and even more rarely
Heard the word “armed forces,”
Heard the word “history”
This was our history
It’s become just a story about
How the proletariat becomes the precariat
And how dark blocks of swampy sun melt
In the light of new jobs
It’s about how to act
If they have a knife, and at any moment it
And you don’t have anything except the desire to speak differently
But with them
In their language
But let’s talk about that later
After all, soon there will be nothing but the straight line of history.
And so, my father, as soon as he arrived in this city
He got a job at the “Flight” factory, which
For space rockets
(which the grandfather of my future husband
he used to go to the “Armenia” restaurant)
And after a bit of vodka in the evenings
They would play with the details on the empty shop floor, like kids. Mom
Taught in the polytechnic next to the factory,
People went on from there to work at another factory
Or—a little later—to kill (to love, to live).
And the “Flight” factory closed down, and they leveled the ground and put up new homes
Who are these people?
Then he worked at the “Natural Siberian Rubber” factory
He repaired pipes at a great height, and they were filled with terrible compounds
Аt night they—he and his friends—would steal scrap metal and take it through the “Oiler”
To the receiving station (the road glistening after the rain) on a big truck,
With chansonnières singing on the radio, Tanya Bulanova, Irina Allegrova, all those people
A pipe burst and the doorbell rang and they told us where our dad was
And literally that same morning he came back all bandaged up, he’d run away, run home
His stomach was burned with acid and covered with pustulating scabs
And there were two drops on his face too
Which now form a marvelous scar on his temple and next to his eye
But then that factory closed down too
I think maybe they sold it, and then sold it again (now to a western company)
And my father lost his job
And he came home to us completely different
And he forgot about fishing in the evenings behind the asphalt factory in our neighborhood
Where he and I would throw autumn whirlybirds in the maple grove, as thick smoke
curled across the sky
From the smokestacks of Power Plant No. 5
He also worked at the tire plant which was close to where we lived
But he didn’t work there for very long
In that place where black black tires rolled out for the cars of the future
For the people of the present, and as he thought—for our grandchildren, for your children
But I don’t know what’s happened to that rich, black factory now
Maybe it’s gone too
But the people, where are the people?
Because they stayed, didn’t they, they didn’t disappear along with the empty shop floors
And their bones aren’t resting under the crawler tracks of the bulldozers
They’re working somewhere, aren’t they, but it’s
Almost like they aren’t there.
Or are they?
Who are we talking to?
Also, when I was at school in the Cord settlement (that’s where the tire cord plant was
and the oxygen plant was somewhere nearby,
or at least there was a bus stop with that name,
but I never saw the plant itself—
only the grey cubes of the buildings without a single flame, without smoke)
. . . And so,
Even then I had the feeling that there would have to be
Some kind of conversation like this
That sooner or later it would happen, it would begin,
And I didn’t know who would be having it,
But I knew I wouldn’t have anything to say.
Could I possibly take part?
It’ll be like I’m somehow not here,
Though I am still there,
But how can we avoid the eternal aggression of taking part, taking their part?
It was in those days that the oil refinery still burned at the other end of town
and I’ve never seen a flame like that anywhere else
(how can I convey the intensity of that flame—should I say “fire,” “it’s insane,” “it’s inside
even when the forests outside Moscow were burning, and the animals fled
And the animals fled
Maybe that’s why I can never understand—how? what does it mean—to write
What can it be—to separate the wheat from the chaff for them
Aren’t they the ones—grains of wheat
Aren’t they the—stones
And if that’s true, then what else can I say to my father?
Or maybe—those backwards times,
When my father went off to do some other jobs at someone’s dacha,
He also did carpentry, and he
Cut off the fingers on his right hand with a power saw,
But they sewed them back on.
And he doesn’t remember anything about it.
I’m four years old (when the line of history is straightest)
We’re sitting on the curb bandages mom dad and me
Drinking peach juice
Next to the hospital bright flowerbeds with perennials
There will come a time when no one remembers this
Later I learned how to read music
But I never did learn how to hear that music
To make others hear it, I should say
On the outskirts in a building (hum, hum) right next to the Russian, Muslim, and Jewish
The place where they take the people from the factories,
And then bring them flowers and chocolates.
And we, the kids, we run in the rain in May among the graves and we eat the chocolates
That’s how the straight line of history runs out.
And later in the yard behind the garages we summon up a witch,
And one girl even says she sold her soul to the devil for a bag of candy, some fish, and a new ceiling lamp.
There isn’t one single metaphor here
There isn’t anything that would make you want to read on
Obligatory or accidental
The events don’t rhyme at all and they happen every day
It’s just that a few words, a few things made me remember this
Do you still want to talk to me about it?
Translated by Jonathan Brooks Platt