Pomegranate Seeds brings a thriving poetic production into focus. It compiles a total of 164 poems representing 49 authors. The majority of the corpus consists of compositions in English while selective pieces were originally written in Greek and presented in translation. A great many poems have been anthologized in collections of American poetry (The Best American Poetry 1997, The Now Voices, Best American Poetry); appeared in prestigious literary venues (New Yorker, The Yale Review, The Iowa Review, The Harvard Review, Paris Review); and won coveted accolades (The National Poetry Series, Rockefeller Fellow, NEA Fellow in Poetry, Open Voice Poetry Award). Several appear in print for the first time, making for an anthology that accommodates both accomplished and new poetic voices.
The editorial decision to classify poets who are already canonized as national under the category ethnic merits reflection. What is the significance of coding an "American" poet as a "Greek-American" one? What is at stake in hyphenating national poetry? This is not an innocent redefinition, as "ethnic writing" is often devalued by mainstream criticism. In literary hierarchies, hyphenated literature is valued, more often than not, for its ethnographic "authenticity"—the "ethnic experience" it records—rather than its literary qualities. As a result, the canon may exclude or marginalize writers exploring ethnic particularities. Or, it may not recognize alternative poetic attributes, given that the canon operates with aesthetic and ideological criteria reflecting the tastes and values of the dominant society. In this respect, it may altogether miss the operation of "difference" encoded within a poem.1 This is why authors with marked ethnic ancestry commonly shun the [End Page 279] label "ethnic writer." Because hyphenated writing connotes lesser literary value, dropping the hyphen is one strategy to compete for recognition in the nation's literary market place. Consequently, a poet who is biographically affiliated with ethnicity may textually suppress or even ostracize this affiliation from his work.2
Thus the renaming of American poetry as "Greek-American" undertakes a number of critical interventions. Pomegranate Seedscertainly aligns itself with recent cultural trends where certain hyphenated poetic traditions—African-American and Asian-American for instance—enjoy increasing legitimacy. It faces, however, the relatively scant visibility of Greek-American poetry. The various sites—scholarship, academic journals, magazines, internet sites, and books—where poetry is produced and discussed as Greek American are not as numerous as one would anticipate, given the multiplicity and vibrancy of poetic voices engaging, in one way or another, with Greek. In this respect, attaching a hyphen to these American poets strategically compensates for this imbalance, endowing "Greek-American poetry" with greater visibility.
Significantly, the hyphenation of national poetry shapes critical practice. It encourages analysis that is primarily set to explore the operation of the hyphen, that is the presence of cultural difference, in a text. Tellingly, Dean Kostos, the anthology's editor, connects poetry with the question of identity. His endeavor seeks "to map out a new terrain—a broader, more complex definition of what it means to be Greek-American" (18). Having "assiduously avoided embracing any style over another" (21) in the selection, he posits the hyphen as a navigation tool in the charting of the anthology: "Although it may no longer be fashionable to use it, I am interested in the hyphen that traditionally linked Greek and American because of its value as a metaphor—a little bridge between two worlds, two identities" (17). Elevating cultural connections as the overarching criterion for inclusion, the anthology undermines traditional definitions of ethnic or national poetry. We are far away here from the ideology of poetry as a culturally pure category defined by criteria such as language or nationality. Greek-American poetry, the editor proposes, consists of a textual corpus that raises questions of interconnections, of crossings across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Thus the anthology offers an expansive terrain, which is hospitable to poetry written in a plentitude of languages (Greek, English, or both), and to poems charting cultural interrelations, irrespective of a writer's ethnic affiliation or national identity.
If anthologies undertake their own canonizing of complex literary realities, reviews of anthologies carry out similarly containing practices. How to do justice to an anthology, and particularly a collection as inclusive as this one, in the space of a couple of pages? Previous reviews of Pomegranate Seeds have noted its plurality, identified recurrent themes in its selections—mythology, memory, home—and commented on its internal contradictions.3 For my purposes here I opt for an alternative practice, namely a close reading of two specific poems, George Economou's "An Evening in Kingfisher," and Hilary Sideris's "Geometry." My aim is to examine how these poems bring cultural worlds into conversation or tension with each other, how they forge links between or measure distances from the two components of the sign "Greek American." This investigation eventually guides my outline of a particular reading strategy that engages with [End Page 280] both the hyphen in poetry and the poetics of a text. I find it productive, therefore, to work with the editor's overarching conceptual framework, the hyphen.
I maintain, however, that it is necessary to move beyond the exclusive understanding of the hyphen as a link. The hyphen cannot always function as a bridge of uninterrupted ties. Cultural crossings, after all, encompass boundaries of difference. As Wendell Ayock poignantly emphasizes, the hyphen makes visible all kinds of incompatible differences, unbridgeable disparities that are impossible to combine in certain contexts. Moreover, difference is a function of power. Boundaries are policed, and powerful gatekeepers may determine which part of the hyphen is allowed expression: "Existing between two cultures, it [the hyphen] is an eternal bridge with barriers and guards at both ends" (cited in Tamburri 1991:43). We should therefore ask: what conditions enable the hyphen as a link in one instance and a barrier in another? And who negotiates the hyphen, and how?
I propose that charting the various contours of the hyphen requires a specific interpretive strategy, one that is attentive to both poetry itself and the operation of ethnicity in the text. This is because poetry and ethnicity, each in its own right, create something anew, producing novel arrangements. Poetry, in Plato's formulation, entails the art of making and remaking, forming and transforming. And ethnicity, it is now well established, involves a dynamic process of reinvention and reinterpretation, a production of new meanings. Critical entangling with the hyphen in poetry then calls for readings that investigate how poetic devices (form and tropes for example) shape ethnic identity, and how in turn ethnicity builds on poetic language to remake itself.4
A great deal is at stake in examining how poetry and ethnicity intersect. This kind of interpretive strategy holds the promise of contributing to our understanding of new ways of conceptualizing ethnicity and their social and political implications. In a world where the question of identity has assumed central stage, this production of new meanings helps us envision alternative ways of situating the self in relation to the hyphen, novel ways of experiencing and acting upon this world. Thus the category "Greek-American poetry" should be seen not as immutable, but as a strategic translation invested in producing new subject positions and in deepening our understanding of how American and Greek worlds interact with and shape each other.5
I begin the analysis by reflecting on the poem "An Evening in Kingfisher," a thinly disguised autobiographical piece by noted scholar and poet George Economou. Structuring the poem in dialogic form, the poet recalls an ordinary conversation between two strangers of different class and, as it turns out, cultural backgrounds.
In conclusion, Pomegranate Seeds performs a particular function, namely the creation of a context to explore the operation of the hyphen in its textual corpus. This is to say that the anthology determines a particular kind of reading, a reading that seeks to identify intercultural connections. For instance, the question I asked regarding the speaker's feelings towards Greek in English in "Geometry" was raised only because the anthology elevates the hyphen as its conceptual center. This question could have been neglected were this poem featured in an anthology of American poetry. The hyphenation of poetry drives the criticism's focus in excavating the hyphen.
This turn toward the hyphen in poetry opens new cultural frontiers. As a sign producing novel combinations, the hyphen offers itself as a fertile domain for exploring the production of fresh meanings at the intersection of poetry and ethnicity. In turn, this emphasis in creating newness encourages analysis that is open to new configurations, attuned to the unexpected twists, turns, and mouthfuls through which the hyphen makes its way into the text of poetry, and the ways in which the text of poetry constructs the hyphen. It is important therefore to cultivate criticism that is carefully attuned to language and also ethnicity, poetics and culture. This is a critical route that promises to do justice to the hyphen lurking in what may appear, at first sight, as (almost) national poetry.