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On Elena Georgiou’s rapturous rhapsody…

Q: What was the impetus for this book?

The impetus of the book was to try to document working-class immigrant voices. I am the daughter of immigrants who then also immigrated. In my experience, working-class immigrants, on the whole, don’t have much time for putting their lives on paper, and so their experiences often go unrepresented. I wanted to use my work as a way to make their voices heard.

While I was writing the poems in this book, there was so much talk of identity—specifically, hyphens that try to delineate the post-colonial experience. But I have found that the post-colonial experience and the immigrant experience cannot be easily hyphenated; it is not as simple as hitching one ethnic/cultural identity to another to say, “These two ethnicities are me.” My opinion is that the immigrant heart is not hyphenated; but, rather, a mosaic made from large and small oddly-shaped pieces, and that the size of each piece does not correspond to its importance in an immigrant’s life. I wanted my poems to capture the importance of the small—the gestures that go unnoticed—e.g. how many types of currency one purse holds in a trip “home;” how cinnamon can conjure a woman who began her life in one country and ended it another; how language is not fixed, but it can stagnate when it is divorced from its country of origin, etc.

Q: How do you work?” Do you start with an ending, find it, start in the middle, get a line and go with it, etc.?

I work with a spark.  I carry a notebook and when the spark hits me I make a note of it. It can be an image or a thought or a word. I freewrite using the spark.  I wait for the next spark to come along and do the same. I keep collecting sparks. I don’t impose anything on my work; I allow it to dictate what it wants to say and how it wants it said. When I write I observe the following dictum: The Soul Secretes The Body. I trust my heart to send the right messages to my brain, which then sends the right messages to my hand. Everything I write has its own life and reveals to me how it wants to live on the page. 

Q: What did you do when the going got rough?

For me “the rough” is always about time. (I keep getting up earlier and earlier.)  And when it is not about time, then it is about confidence.  I tell myself that the life I lead is one of privilege in comparison to all my ancestors and extended family, and then I do my work. 

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Elena Georgiou is the author of the short-story collection, The Immigrant’s Refrigerator (GenPop Books, 2018), and the poetry collections Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrants (Harbor Mountain Press) and mercy mercy me (University of Wisconsin), which won a Lambda Literary Award and was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Award. She is also co-editor (with Michael Lassell) of the poetry anthology, The World In Us (St. Martin’s Press). Georgiou has won an Astraea Emerging Writers Award, a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship, and was a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work appears in journals such as BOMB, Cream City Review, Denver Quarterly, Gargoyle, Lumina, MiPoesia, and Spoon River Review. She is an editor at Tarpaulin Sky Press and the Director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at Goddard College. Georgiou is an English-Cypriot originally from London, where she spent the first twenty-seven years of her life. Since then, she has lived in the US — first in New York, now in Vermont. She maintains a website at http://elenageorgiou.com.

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