Gogou, Katerina: Athens’ anarchist poetess, 1940-1993
Until today Gogou remains the bete-noire of modern poetry in Greece with only one poetic anthology including her groundbreaking heretical work. However, her poems have become an indivisible part of the radical culture of the country and of the public imaginary of Exarcheia. Recently a biography of Katerina Gogou titled “Katerina Gogou: Death’s Love [Erotas Thanatou]” appeared, authored by Agapi Virginia Spyratou (2007, Vivliopelagos, Athens), based on her doctoral thesis. However no study or history of Katerina Gogou’s involvement in the anarchist struggle of the 1980s has ever been published in greek, leaving a great gap in both the history of the movement and in the biography of the poetess. The biography presented below is based on the book of Sryratou as well as on several reviews of her life and work in literary magazines like Odos Panos (Vol. 145, July-September 2009). The only translation of her work in English is an old publication of her first collection of poems “Three Clicks Left”, translated by Jack Hirchmann and published in San Franscisco by Night Horn Books. The book not being available in greece, I have provided my own translations to her poems with asterisks for explanations on notions and places (apologies for my literary sloppiness in advance). The original format of the poems is generally preserved, but no titles are given as her poems had no titles. Links to videos of Gogou reciting them are given where available. The recitations heard are from the vinyl record “On the Street” described below. Weird screeching siren like noises interrupting the recitation at places is no digital mistake but the 1980s not-so-subtle censorship of “inappropriate words” and political comments by the authorities.
Katerina Gogou was born in Athens on the first of June 1940 and spent the first years of her childhood in the harshest conditions of the Nazi occupation when famine due to conscription of all edibles led to hundreds of thousands of deaths in Athens. Her memories of the years of the Nazi occupation, the Resistance and the Civil War are reflected in a piece of prose published post-mortem from her unfinished poetical authobiography “My name is the Odyssey”:
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”
Her teenage years were spent in down-town Athens of the post-Civil War monarchy, an era of strict censorship, police terror, and exile island camps filled with political prisoners. In “My name is the Odyssey” Gogou recalls one of the rare moments when she could express her indignation to the order of things alongside hundreds of other teenagers when the movie “The Blackboad Jungle” (1955) was screened in Pallas, Athens’s most prestigious cinema: “When the movie came to town, the movement of all the angry children from even the farthest neighbourhoods and from down-town Athens gathered […] when the song of the movie was heard, the famous “One two three o’ clock four o’clock rock”, half of the crowd light their lighters and the other half tore the velvet armchair of the so-aristocratic Pallas with razors. I did both”. It was the birth of the Teddy Boy tendency in Athens, which was soon to be ruthlessly repressed by the Law No.4000, which prescribed forced public humiliation by means of scalp shaving of “teddy-boys”.
A few years later Katerina Gogou, already working in theatre, graduated from high school and enrolled in a series of drama and dance schools of Athens. Within the strict censorship of the post-civil war monarchy, the only place she could make a living as an actress was the greek comedy industry, a major factor in social reproduction of statist, capitalist and patriarchal values at the time. The roles ascribed to Katerina by Finos Films, her employee company, were usually the secondary role of the naive domestic servant, or of the silly little sister, or of the undisciplined school pupil. Her most characteristic role was the one played in the “Beating came from Paradise” in 1959 where next to the regime’s favourite actress, Aliki Vouyouklaki, she played the incumbent rascal pupil that made her famous. Until the collapse of the colonels’ junta in 1974 she played in dozens of other block-buster comedies, always in the same range of roles. As Spyratou puts it, “the world of the cinema composed the capitalist ideal as a consumer society, where the positive heroes supported order within the limits of the traditional family and within the patriarchal state”. Despite performing a never ending series of female stereotypes, Katerina Gogou developed an acute radical perspective far removed from the nominal conservative feminists of the post-junta era who she mocked bitterly in an 1980 poem from the collection “Idionimo”:
“They shoot to kill.
– They are shooting in the air, they 2 cried
Then the small hole in front of the bus stop was filled with blood
– They are only plastic bullets, they said
Then he fell
– He has fainted, they cried.
Then he was motionless,
But they were already on their way. He was still,
But they had already taken the trolley-bus, and gone. Gone were they”
Read the full article here: https://libcom.org