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It’s All Karpouzi to Me

23 Jun

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That’s me as a kid eating karpouzi!

Last week I wrote about Feta burgers and how my family used to BBQ all summer long. Our BBQs weren’t complete without karpouzi—watermelon—at the end of the meal, so this week is all about watermelon!!

Now I may have grown up in a mono-lingual household, only speaking English, but there were a few words that for whatever reason (probably because my mom knew them) we always said in Greek—to the point that it felt more natural to say them in Greek than in English. “Karpouzi” was one of those words. Even when I went off to college, that’s the word I used, and my friends picked it up and used it too—just as I picked up words like “haole” and “okole” from my Hawai’ian friends and learned “hella” from my Bay Area friends. Funny how even when you live in one country your entire life, and even when your friends are American, regionalisms and ethnic identities can influence your language.

Tomorrow I’ll share one of my favorite recipes for karpouzi!

In the meantime, I’d be curious to know if any of you switch in and out between languages or if you’ve picked up words from a language that isn’t your own mother tongue?

 

 

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Nikolopoulos Revives Homer’s Poetic Language

26 Aug

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The National Herald featured me! In the article, I talk about “dead” languages, that great Greek roadtripper Homer, and Scripps College.

Photos from the 2013 New York City Poetry Festival

31 Jul

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I feel incredibly honored to have been invited to read at the 2013 New York City Poetry Festival. I had such a blast hearing so many great poets read at last year’s festival, and it never occurred to me that just a year later I would be joining them on stage. I have poet RA Araya to thank for continually supporting my writing. He invited me to read Homer in the ancient Homeric Greek and from the literary biography I’m coauthoring with Paul Maher Jr. entitled Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” so I read two road trip pieces.

For my Homer selection, I chose the opening passage from The Odyssey. Growing up in the Peloponnesus, my father had to memorize part of the epic poem in school. To this day, he still can recite the lines! I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College (while a student at Scripps), which is different than Homeric Greek. We never really read aloud in class because it’s a “dead” language, one that is no longer spoken but read by scholars. There are debates about how ancient Greek dialects were spoken, as the pronunciation is, according to some scholars, different than modern Greek. I am therefore definitely not adept at reading in the ancient tongue, but if someone asks me to read something specific, I do my best. Fortunately, there are many great English translations of The Odyssey out there too!

It was a no brainer to choose one of the passages about poetry from Burning Furiously Beautiful. In telling the story of the making of the novel On the Road, it was important that the literary biography also explored Kerouac’s poetry and his friendship with other poets. Although he is mainly remembered as a novelist, Kerouac wrote poetry throughout his life, including the period when he was on the road. There’s a really strong section in the book about how Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg influenced each other’s writing, and I wanted to read that, but in the end I found a passage in Burning Furiously Beautiful that seemed to better encapsulate the mood of the Poetry Festival. In the passage, Kerouac has been walking along the highway, hitchhiking, and finds himself composing a poem about everything he sees around him. It reminded me of how out on Governors Island we were all a bunch of writers lofting in the grass and translating the world around us into poetic language.

I read directly after RA, who opened up the event with his famously short-but-sweet poem, and then came Hillary Keel, Sarah Sarai, Carmen Bardeguez-Brown, Kate Levin, Carlos Manuel Rivera, Sparrow, Bonafide Rojas, and Keith Roach. They were amazing! Seriously. Hilary read in German and a couple of the other poets read in Spanish, and I suspect our reading—under the name Miguel Algarin’s Brooklyn Poetry—was the most linguistically diverse at the Festival. I had traveled over the Governors Island with Kate, and I think this was her best reading yet. In addition to poetry about Manhattan and our value as people, she read from her punk novel, which I would’ve thought was a poem if she hadn’t said otherwise. I always enjoy hearing Sarah read, and in particular enjoyed her poem about meeting an angel at a bus stop. The poet who had me in stitches, though, was Sparrow. I’d heard him sing at RA’s birthday party last year, and I loved hearing his one-liner poems this time around.

Special thanks too to our stage manager Liz von Klemperer, who did an excellent job. There were a lot of volunteers who kept the entire event running smoothly. The New York City Poetry Festival is put on by The Poetry Society of New York and is organized by Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski. For the full lineup of the two-day event, check out NYCPF 2013.

I also want to thank my family and friends who trekked out to the island—some coming from as far as Jersey and Brooklyn—to support my reading. The photos here were taken by Leslie Marks, except the last one which is a self portrait. For more photos of me and all the other amazing poets, check out asterix611’s flickr.

Save the Date: I’m Reading at the 3rd Annual New York City Poetry Festival

9 Jul

photo-1photo of me from the 2nd Annual New York City Poetry Festival

I’ll be reading at this summer’s 3rd Annual New York City Poetry Festival!

Poet RA Araya invited me to read from Homer’s epic road trip The Odyssey in the original Homeric Greek and from my book coauthored with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” as part of Miguel Algarin’s Brooklyn poetry series.

I’m SUPER excited. You may remember what a lovely time I had at last year’s New York City Poetry Festival. And that I read from the Kerouac book at Miguel Algarin’s birthday bash and read from Homer at RA’s own birthday reading last year.

Here are the details:

  • July 27, 2013
  • 11:40am
  • Algonquin stage
  • Colonel’s Row, Governor’s Island (New York, NY)
  • Free!

Hope to see you there! I’m looking forward to hearing all the other brilliant poets.

You can always check out the Appearances section on my website (tab above) for my past and upcoming readings, tours, and teaching engagements.

Happy 161st Birthday, Antoni Gaudi!

25 Jun

Antoni Gaudi, Catalan architect of insanely intricate, bone-like structures, was born on this day in 1852.  When I was backpacking through Europe, I stopped by his La Sagrada Familia.  You can read about it in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.

Gaudi was beaten and imprisoned when he showed up at a demonstration against banning Catalan.  The language is now considered an endangered language.

What a Garifuna-Breton Party Has to Do with Jack Kerouac

15 Mar

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photo via ELA

After a short hiatus for renovations and new partnership, Bowery Poetry is back—dropping “Club” from its title—and they’re hosting a Garifuna-Breton party! I’ve posted before about endangered languages—both of which these are—but why I specifically want to mention this party is because Jack Kerouac claimed to have descended from a Breton nobleman.

Bretons are people from Brittany, a Celtic nation located in France. During Kerouac’s day and age there were more than one million Breton speakers. The Brythonic language (Welsh, also endangered, is another example of a Brythonic language) was originally well regarded and spoken among the upper classes, but as people began assimilating it became known as the language of the commoners. Today,  most Bretons today speak French, and only about 200,000 people—particularly in the western area—speak Breton. In the 1960s, the language was being forced out of schools—just like many Native American and Sami languages were. Today, schools are returning to bilingualism, particularly through the efforts of Diwan schools, which were founded in 1977 as an immersion program. Even so, UNESCO classifies Breton as a “severely endangered” language. For more on the history of the language visit Breton Language and visit the US Branch of the International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language.

Kerouac’s family was French Canadian, and growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, his first language was the working-class French-Canadian dialect joual. It’s interesting to note that both Breton and joual are associated with commoners; perhaps this is a key to understanding Kerouac and his literature. As far as my current research shows, he was not familiar with the Breton language. However, I recently saw Christopher Felver’s documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, which told the story of how one day Kerouac was sitting on the beach in Big Sur with poet and City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti repeated the phrase “the fish in the sea speak Breton.” Kerouac perked up, hearing the connection to his roots, and asked Ferlinghetti about it and wrote it down in the little notebook he always carried with him. The phrase found its way into his novel Big Sur.

Satori in Paris, which came three years after Big Sur, recounts Kerouac’s travels to France and Brittany in search of his roots. For a fascinating look at Kerouac’s trip and ancestral lineage, check out Dave Moore’s article “The Breton Traveller” on Beatdom.

Here’s the press release for the Garifuna-Breton party:

BOWERY POETRY

IS BACK WITH

A GRAND GARIFUNA-BRETON PARTY!

Poetry! Music! Dance!

Sunday*, March 18 from 6pm-11pm

Admission $10

Bowery Poetry, 308 Bowery (at 1st Street)

Endangered Language groups unite in a call to action to focus attention on the fact that more than half the world’s languages will disappear this century  

Two cultures who met through the Endangered Language Alliance, will celebrate their differences (Breton being Celtic and Garifuna being Arawak), and their similarities (both on the Endangered Language spectrum), but mainly will just celebrate with live music, dance and poetry. This event is being produced by the Bowery Arts + Science Endangered Language Program, and will be one of the first events at the newly renovated Bowery Poetry space at 308 Bowery.

Breton

The strong Breton cultural movement, known as Fest-Noz,  has preserved the expression of a living and constantly renewed practice of inherited dance repertoires with several hundred variations, and thousands of tunes. About a thousand Festou-Noz take place every year with participants varying from a hundred to several thousand people, thousands of musicians and singers and tens of thousands of regular dancers.

Garifuna

Descendants of Arawak, Carib, and African warriors, the resilient Garifuna people of Central America and the Caribbean are known for their rich traditional folklore, including music, dance, food and language. James Lovell is a New York based Belizean Garifuna drummer, recording artist, performer, teacher, and Garifuna cultural activist who grew up with stories told by his elders about the bravery of the Garifuna people and their military leader, Chief Joseph Chatoyer, against efforts by the British colonialists to deny them their identity and the right to speak the Garifuna language.  

 

 

*I double-checked this, and according to the Endangered Language Alliance the event is on MONDAY the 18th.

Happy 169th Birthday, Saint Bernadette!

7 Jan

Saint Marie-Bernarde Soubirous was born on this day in 1844 in Lourdes, France.  She saw a vision of Mother Mary, who spoke to her in Gascon, which is now an endangered language.  The visions inspired the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lowell that Jack Kerouac writes about.  You can read about this famous landmark, where Bob Dylan, Jackie O., and Allen Ginsberg also visited in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.


Clip: Church Hopping: Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes

12 Oct

 

A car packed with teenagers was speeding down the street at the exact moment we were approaching the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on foot.  It was an unseasonably warm October day in 2011, and the car window was rolled down.  Or maybe the rebellious, rowdy passengers rolled it down when they saw us, a group of about twenty-five people, looking eagerly toward the Stations of the Cross.  ”God sucks!” a teenager yelled to the support of his peers.  The car vanished down the road as we turned around.

 

Read the rest of my article Church Hopping: Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on Burnside Writers Collective and discover how Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, JFK and Jackie Kennnedy, and endangered languages are connected to this place.

Photos from Reading at Sidewalk Cafe

15 Aug

I had so much fun reading at poet RA Araya’s birthday bash at the Sidewalk Cafe this past Sunday!! RA was such a great host and is so encouraging.  There were so many amazingly talented poets and musicians there.  I felt so honored to get to read with them.

I started off reading the beginning of Homer’s The Odyssey in Ancient Greek (bringing awareness to Greece’s cultural heritage as well as the plight of endangered languages) and then read a section from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the book that I’m coauthoring with Paul Maher Jr., while the flashbackpuppy band improvised a jazzy tune.

Here are some pictures RA took.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s me sitting next to poet Juan Valenzuela.  In the foreground is poet Miguel Algarin, who co-founded the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and knew Jack Kerouac back in the day.

Special thanks to my friends, who came out to support me.

God Has a Sense of Humor — Either That or Everything I Think I Know about Myself Is Wrong

10 Aug

 

My mother always told me God has a sense of humor.  I believe her.

Growing up, I was terribly shy.  Perhaps because I felt so uncomfortable speaking, I turned to writing.  There, in the safety of my Hello Kitty journal, I could express my innermost fears, my hurts, and also my dreams and loves and cherished memories.

As I grew up, I continued to write.  I wrote for my high school newspaper and became copywriter for my high school yearbook, and when I went off to college I submitted poetry to my college’s paper.  While still an undergrad, I worked my way up from staff writer to editor in chief of a local indie newspaper and also began interviewing musicians for national magazines.  After college, I entered the world of book publishing, where to this day I blissfully sit in silence, getting paid to read for a living.  It’s the perfect job for an introvert.

Although I love editing and working with other authors and editors and designers, I always dreamed of writing my own book, so I’ve continued to work on my own writing.  My weekends are spent at the library or in the bookstore, crafting sentences.  I try to pour my heart out with the same abandon as I did when I was writing in the privacy of my little journal with the lock on it when I was a child, except now I’m working toward having people actually read my work.  I revise, I get feedback, I pitch, I query.  –And I get silence.  It feels like I rarely hear back from acquiring editors.  Writing is what I’m supposed to be good at.  It’s what I’ve always been told I’m good at.  And yet I have a hard time placing my writing in publications.

Instead, the skill I grew up thinking was my weakest is the one being called into action.  I don’t go out trying to book readings, but time and time again, I’m called upon to give readings and to teach.  It’s public speaking in all its knee-shaking glory.

I’m immensely thankful for these opportunities, and they’ve all gone pleasantly well, but I have to laugh that I seem to get more speaking engagements than publishing credits.

* * *

As I was writing this very post a few days ago, I got a message from poet and musician RA Araya asking me to read a poem in Greek at Sunday’s reading.  Talk about irony!  The memoir I’ve been writing deals with my conflicted Greek identity and the fact that I don’t speak Greek.  Now, as I was writing about laughing over the fact that I’m having to overcome my introverted tendencies to give readings, I’m asked to read in the very language I don’t speak.

But you know what?  I said yes.

Maybe I’ll crash and burn and make a fool of myself, but at least I’ll have tried.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Life is too short to be scared of anything.  Living means growing, and the best way to grow it to try new things.  Challenging yourself can lead to rewards.  I believe people surprise themselves and rise to occasions.  I’ve also learned that people want you to succeed and that literary crowds tends to be rather supportive.

I’m actually excited about this opportunity.  It’s a great way to promote the beauty of the Greek language and culture during Greece’s economic crisis, and I’m thinking I may read something in an archaic Greek dialect (I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College), a dead language, to further bring awareness to endangered languages.

If you’re in New York, stop by.  I can’t promise perfection, but we will have fun!!  Here’s the info:::

August 12, 2012.  5:00-9:00pm.  The Sidewalk Cafe (94 Avenue A).  New York, NY.  Stephanie will be reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, as part of RA’s Music Poetry Jam Celebration.  flashbackpuppy, Patricia Spears Jones, Sparrow, Puma Perl, Kate Levin, Sarah Sarai, Foamola, Virdell Williams, and Steve will also be taking the stage.  Free, but there’s a one-drink minimum.

Now… what to wear?

 

Also!  Save the date::: September 3 I’m giving a reading that I’m beyond excited about.  Details to come soon.

 

Do you ever find that the very skill you least like using or think is your weakest is the one you need to rely on the most?  What do you think of Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to push yourself to do the things that scare you?