George Economou: Four Tributes

Gentle and kind, a poet of great skill and understanding, George Economou still lives, in his various scholarly works and translations, but mostly in his poetry. I’ll remember him there.

Toby Olson

Economou, George (September 24, 1934 – May 3, 2019): distinguished poet, scholar, and translator; astute essayist, critic, and reviewer; editor and founder of journals, and much-loved educator.

Ergon wishes to honor George Economou, an author we hold in great esteem for his erudition, innovative work, and ethos.

A person of letters who traversed diverse languages, cultures, genres, and fields of knowledge with acumen and skill, Economou dazzled us with the multiplicity of his craft throughout his career. Ergon especially wishes to honor the way Economou directed his robust creative energies through a Greek/American cultural and linguistic—transnational and bilingual—terrain. He was instrumental in his ability to embody in his art the Greek/American in-between and the curious topoi inscribed by that hyphen.

His poem “An Evening in Kingfisher” provides an example, among many, of Economou’s reflection on the cultural and political work performed by the hyphen. The poem seems to highlight the importance of cultural literacy about Greek and American cultural worlds that the hyphen brings into tension. If the hyphen is seen as a divide by the dominant society, linking it requires a rhetoric that draws from bicultural education. “The link asserts itself at the level of knowledge about both American and Greek worlds.”

We hope the Greek/American facet of his work is reflected in our posthumous recognition. We feature four tributes—two poems, one essay, one article—by writers who have been deeply affected by Economou’s oeuvre.

In his “George Economou: Tombeau,” Stavros Deligiorgis, a scholar and translator with whom George Economou collaborated on Complete Plus: The Poems of C.P. Cavafy in English (2013), mixes languages and categories to pay homage to Economou the teacher. A dedication, the assemblage brings together literary figures, scholars, translators, and subjects intermeshed with Economou’s life and work. Here, names are interwoven webs of knowledge, signs set in motion: Economou illuminating the work of others, others illuminating the work of Economou. Μοντάνα, the place of the poet’s beginnings, but also an autobiographical poetic topos in his “Montana 1939–” appears fittingly at the end. For Deligiorgis’s tribute see here.

Vassilis Lambropoulos’s “What is Transnational about Greek American Culture” attends to Economou’s poetic practice of “transcomposition,” connecting it with a transnational mode of cultural identity as becoming. The analysis takes us through the techniques at work making Unfinished & Uncollected: Finishing Cavafy’s Unfinished Poems followed by Uncollected Poems & Translations, an exemplar of a transnational poetics, one which “emphasizes movement more than place, mixture more than purity, and interaction more than independence.” For Lambropoulos’s tribute see here.

Rochelle Owens offers a poem whose architecture follows the movements and patterns of seven days. Both elemental and alchemical, equal parts creation myth and elegy, she pays tribute to a body of work, and the work of the body, shared between two artists: “the smell of saffron/ and lilac   morning to evening/ evening to morning…”

Artemis Leontis’s “George Economou’s Invented Greek American Ethnicity” explores Economou’s awareness of his own dual identity and the way it positions his creative and academic work, not to mention his inventive wordplay, along various critical thresholds. If Economou’s immigrant Greek parents had to interlock “two different cultures from imperfectly matched materials,” Leontis describes how the poet “must invent a different course to harmonize the inharmonious junctures of the new and old worlds.” For Leontis’s tribute see here.

The four tributes bring scholarship and poetry into conversation, just as amplifying emotion and critical insight were perpetually in conversation within George Economou himself. The poems of Owens and Deligiorgis evoke the depth of Economou’s cultural investment and his particular angle to the universe while the essay and the article aim to magnify the compulsions so laboriously crafted into Economou’s work.

We offer these tributes with respect, admiration, and gratitude. It is our hope that these memorial gestures will lead readers to discover, or rediscover, the gifts that George Economou bequeathed to us, so many of which are available on the website he so lovingly maintained.

Supplemental Archival Material

A recording of George Economou reading “Those You See,” his translation of Michalis Katsaros’s poem Aftous pou vlepeis, courtesy of Vassilis Lambropoulos.

Two letters George Economou wrote in 1995, addressed to Anastasia Stefanidou when she was a graduate student, and an interview he gave to her in 2000, on the occasion of his Kimon Friar Lecture at the American College of Greece.

Christopher Bakken, Frederick F. Seely Professor of English, Allegheny College

Yiorgos Anagnostou, Professor of transnational Modern Greek studies, The Ohio State University