AUTOPSY REPORT 2.11.75
…the body was lying face down, in parallel
it was united with the Vatican.
One hand bloodied, stretched, middle finger up at the PCI
and the other brandishing his genitales
to the art specialists.
The blood on his hair leeches
on the veiled homosexuality syndromes
of men all around the earth.
His face disfigured by the frames
of the class he denied
bruised volunteer of the ragged proletariat.
The fingers of his left hand
broken by socialist realism
thrown at floodlit garbage.
The jaw broken
by the uppercut of a worker syndicalist
and paid thug.
The ears half-eaten by scoundrel who did not get an erection.
The neck broken, detached from the body
on the basic principle of operating separately.
The mother everywhere.
That was the death of the communist and homosexual
PASOLINI, that every monday, wednesday and friday,
riding a scooter was rushing to get the screenings
on time at the cinemas of Egaleo, Liverpool and,
above all, Ostia, bound with boxes of films
and impoverished neighbourhoods.
And the striped flag of poetry.
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 influetial 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 daugther, Myrto, while the third movie was directed by Andreas Thomopoulos.
Aaaaaaaaa! This is the gang-war.
Grrrrreeks with big hats, I know, they called them republicas.
Square, biiiig, with long coats and gabardines, they had guns in their pockets, maybe
more guns 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
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.
Oily food in a plastic bowl in Acominatou street
outside the door, August
white like sheets the whores
40 degrees in shadow 4 o’clock p.m.
The legs open by themselves
Like dead oysters
The street is filled with coloured underwear
Pakistanis, anti-mosquito chemicals, limping women, snitches
And faggots injecting their breasts
Filled with carcinomas.
The street is filled
With destroyed fallopian tubes and discarded uteri
The belly is swollen
By useless sperm
– no child is conceived here
nothing is caught out of nothing
Magdalene and Vanou did the job
The money lenders and the saint of the neighbourhood are foul
First they get bribed and then they snitch on you
That’s the way it is
You have spread whores all across Metaxourgeio
Under the scorching sun with not a tree around – for shadow
Not even a stone wall – to lie against.
and religious groups have made a pact. They got organised.
They brought bottles
They will soak you. They will burn you, they say.
Like rats, they say.
Armoured vans filled with policemen
Impotent voyeurs, the doctors of the Vice Department
Crabs are taking a stroll all day on your brain
The whistle boys are the syphilis of your sleep
– whose side are they on.
Here we burn the witches. We fuck the whores.
A poster of Karamanlis
Your eyes a picture
Threads of handiwork
Bold wig, bruised nipples
And evictions are closing in around your hair and throat
They tie you hands and feet on the bed
You and us as well
The way and the tariff changes
The place and the name changes
In Larissa 40 degrees
Here at the cross, the sun
Our life is pen knives
in dirty blind alleys
rotten teeth faded out slogans
bass clothes cabinet
smell of piss antiseptics
and moulded sperm. Torn down posters.
Up and down. Up and down Patission
Our life is Patission.
Washing powder which does not pollute the sea
And Mitropanos have entered our lives
Dexameni has taken him from us too
Like those high ass ladies.
But we are still there.
All our lives hungry we travel
The same course.
Ridicule-loneliness-despair. And backwards.
OK. We don’t cry. We grew up.
Only when it rains
We suck secretly on our thumb. And we smoke.
Our life is
In set-up strikes
Snitches and patrol cars.
That’s why I tell you.
The next time they shoot us
Don’t run away. Count our strength.
Lets not sell our skin so cheeply, damn it!
Don’t. Its raining. Give me a fag
does not have the saddened colour
in the eyes of the cloudy bimbo.
She does not stroll abstractly and self-content
Shaking her hips in concert halls
And in frozen museums.
She is not the yellow cadres of “good” old times
And naphthalene in granny’s chests
Rosy ribbons and straw hats.
She does not open her legs with fake small laughters
A cow’s gaze rhythmic sighs
And assorted underwear.
Has the colour of Pakistanis, this loneliness
And she is counted inch by inch
Along with their pieces
In the bottom of the light-shaft.
She stands patiently queuing
Bournazi – Santa Barbara – Kokkinia
Touba –Stavroupoli – Kalamaria
Under all weathers
With a sweaty head.
She ejaculates screaming and smashes the front windows with chains
She occupies the means of production
She blows up private property
She is a Sunday visit in prison
Same step in the yard revolutionaries and penal prisoners
She is sold and bought minute by minute, breath by breath
In the slave markets of the earth – Kotzia is near here
Wake up early.
Wake up to see it.
She is a whore in the rotten-houses
The german drill for conscripts
And the last
Endless miles of the national highway towards the centre
In the suspended meats from Bulgaria.
And when her blood clots and she can take no more
Of her kind being sold so cheaply
She dances barefoot on the tables a zeibekiko
Holding in her bruised blue hands
A well sharpened axe.
Our loneliness I say. Its our loneliness I am speaking about,
Is an axe in our hands
That over your heads is revolving revolving revolving revolving
We lived centuries of injustice bent over.
Centuries of loneliness.
Now don’t. Don’t you stop me.
Now and here, for ever and everywhere.
I am dreaming freedom.
The harmony of the universe.
Lets play. Knowledge is joy.
Its not school conscription.
I dream because I love.
Great dreams in the sky.
Workers with their own factories
Contributing to world chocolate making.
I dream because I KNOW and I CAN.
Banks give birth to “robbers”.
Prisons to “terrorists”.
Loneliness to “misfits”.
Products to “need”
Borders to armies.
All caused by property.
Violence gives birth to violence.
Don’t now. Don’t you stop me.
The time has come to reinstitute
the morally just as the ultimate praxis.
To make life into a poem.
And life into praxis.
It is a dream that I can I can I can
I love you
And you do not stop me nor am I dreaming. I live.
I reach my hands
To love to solidarity
As many times as it takes all over again.
I defend ANARCHY.
My head in smithereens
from the vise of your flea markets
at rush hour and against the
I will light a huge fire
and in there I’ll throw all Marxist
so that Myrto never finds out
the causes of my death
You can tell her
that I could not bear Spring or that I went through a red light.
Yes. That is more believable.
Red. That you tell her.
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?
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.
AUTOPSY REPORT 2.11.75 / Translation by Dmitris Askitis; Illustration by Erica Minuz
black Birds / An illustrated collection of poems by Katerina Gogou / Forlaget Nemo 2016
© Translation Eva Johanos, G. Chalkiadakis, Ilias Kolokouris
Three clicks left, 1978
Sui generis, 1980
The wooden coat, 1982
The month of the frozen grapes, 1988
My name is Odyssey, 2002