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Elsa Korneti – On The Garbage Peak

Korneti profile LEP&W July2021

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing August 2021

Active in organizing readings and events with other poets, Elsa Korneti was born in Munich, Germany, but grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece and still lives there. Appropriately, given the long history of cosmopolitanism in Greece’s second city, there is a clear glocalism at work in her poetry’s interlacing of English and other languages with Greek. Her career has been similarly diverse: studies in finance were followed by work as a journalist; she has published essays, book reviews, translations, short stories, and eight books of poetry. Two poetry collections of her, A Bouquet of Fishbones and The Tin Pearl, were nominated for the Greek National Poetry Award, and a third, Regular People with a Plume and a Brindled Tail, received the George Karter Award from the literary magazine Porphyras. Part of her work among 13 books of poetry, essays, fiction has been translated and published in foreign anthologies and literary magazines in ten European languages and in Chinese.

Translation from Greek to English by Patricia Felisa Barbeito (PhD, Comparative Literature, Harvard University) Professor of American Literatures. She teaches courses on race and ethnicity in American literature; the African American literary tradition; captivity and prison narratives; magical realism; the Latin American novel; and noir fiction and film. Currently, her research focuses on African-American literature and culture of 1940s-1960s, in particular the protest literature of the period. Based on this research, she is working on a book about African-American author Chester Himes titled, One Jump Ahead of Disaster: The Politics of Race, Interracial Sex, and Literary Style in Chester Himes’s Writing.She is also a translator of contemporary Greek fiction and poetry. Her translations include Their Smell Makes Me Want to Cry by Menis Koumandareas (co-translated with Vangelis Calotychos; Birmingham University Press, 2004), and, most recently, Elias Maglinis’s The Interrogation (Birmingham University Press, 2013) for which she was awarded the 2013 MGSA Constantinides Memorial Translation Prize.


As of today

As of today
You live your life underwater
In the darkness of the deep
Struggling to emit
Your own light
Like those freakish deep-sea fish
With that little lantern dangling gutlike
In front of them
Always in danger of falling prey
To divers’ disease
Of having your blood fill with water
Of becoming
An air bubble
Of being extinguished in that immensity
Rolling around in a


Science demands that you be heartless

Science demands that you be heartless
Science demands that you be hard as nails
Throw off every disturbance
All exuberance
Do not move
Come bitter cold
Come sleet
Come rain
Come shine

Hold high
That head of straw
Do not wave those twig arms
Gather your rags
Draw up that crucified wooden body
No winged creature will come near you
Not a single seed-eating invader will you expel
You’ve become the kind of scarecrow
Who no longer scares anything
Other than


Dear Friend

Dear friend don’t ever forget
That the hordes of humanity
Go forth with the delicacy
Of the alligator

And that it is ambition’s due
To overcome ethics

The pillowy caps of mushrooms
twirl hand in hand with black umbrellas
A knot is as unpredictable
as the soundless collision of two cells
and the cockroach imperturbably leaves her trail
on yet another artful excursion over the worn and tacky tapestry
of the Heavens.

That half-baked man immured in the wall
leads his life punctually under the sleepless eye
Of the clock
At midnight he pops out
Of the hatchway
Proclaiming his duty
In the wooden voice
Of a cuckoo


On the garbage peak

After finally climbing to garbage’s peak
only to behold a meaningless and shallow world
will he wonder about his shattered sight
about the glittery years spent rubbing shoulders with golden vultures
gorging on burnished finery, credulous love,
the taffeta threads of bliss
This world of his so haughty and so cold
Keeps filling out like a turkey
Bedecked with peacock feathers
A wandering slipshod imitation of beauty with
A bubble stomach
Tight as a drum
Ready to burst at any moment
And spray an unctuous green
Over the heads of provisional people
A true blusterer fears no-one
Except for the irritation of a soaring baobab tree
Upside down in the middle of a deserted steppe
Roots in the air
Tickling his heels.

© Elsa Korneti