#RivetingReviews: Joseph Dance reviews GREEKLING by Kostya Tsolakis

With his debut poetry collection Greekling, Kostya Tsolakis’ has gifted us a powerful series of lyrical musings on bodies, belonging, masculinity and language which bring a new, disruptive grammar to bear on the workings of contemporary Greek queer experience. 

Foreshadowing the collection’s itinerant themes, Greekling begins with a perambulatory ode to Athens in ‘Kifisos’. Tsolakis guides us along the banks of one of the city’s three rivers, charting traces of Greek history from classical splendour to industrialisation and gentrification, moving stealthily from ‘sacred groves and sanctuaries’ to ‘millionaires’ yachts’ and ‘pharma labs industrial parks’.  Like the varied terrain of the Kifisos, Tsolakis’ Athens is a city where history bleeds into the present, raising questions about Greece’s conservative past and its continuing impact on its more marginalised occupants, be they queer, migrant, or other. 

A central suite of poems about the poet’s experiences of navigating Athenian life in the early eighties and nineties as a gay man are especially moving. ‘Days of Summer, 1998’, ‘Bathroom in an Athens Suburb’, ‘First Time’ and ‘chatroom ‘99’ chart a difficult evolution from closeted teen to a young man, anxious, yet ready to embrace a life of sexual and romantic possibilities out in the open. Later in pieces like ‘London Fields’ and ‘On The Dance Floor At Heaven’, we see Tsolakis finally realise this life of freedom and acceptance, a life he is only able to sustain through moving to London. However, in ‘Nobody’, an unsettling poem which uses the language of geopolitics to relay the confused dynamics of an anonymous sexual encounter, we quickly discover that whilst he may have left behind a life of sexual oppression in Athens, he has not yet found the untainted agency he craves in his host culture. 

Liberation in Greekling is a complicated dance, one often charged with loss. Across almost forty poems, Tsolakis asks what are we prepared to give up to live an authentically queer life: Our past? Our language? Our motherland? And at what cost to our psyche and our art? It is to Tsolakis’ credit that he does not attempt to provide a definitive answer, instead encouraging the reader to draw their own line. This is an assured and highly recommended debut collection. 

Reviewed by Joseph Dance

GREEKLING

by Kostya Tsolakis

published by Nine Arches Press (2023)

March 2024 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Joseph Dance is an archivist, writer and poet.

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Category: March 2024Reviews

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