Award-winning poet George Kalogeris didn’t have to do much soul-searching while creating his latest poems. His inspiration came from a stroll down memory lane.
A pair of Kalogeris’ most recent poems reflecting on his childhood led to national acclaim when he won the Five Points 2018 James Dickey Prize for Poetry. The poems will appear in the Five Points literary journal published by Georgia State University’s Department of English.
“Many of my poems come from things that have happened in my past,” said the Suffolk English literature professor and Classics Program director. “These experiences have stayed with me for a very long time and are usually connected to the Greek-American culture I grew up in.”
The award, in memory of heralded Southern poet James Dickey, has special meaning to Kalogeris, a Suffolk alumnus.
“Dickey was an early influence of mine, and I have a great deal of respect for his work,” said Kalogeris. “It’s an honor to receive this award in his name. He is still considered one of the major Southern poets, along with Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren.”
Voices from the past
In his poem Hades, Kalogeris used the power of family, tenderness, and surprise to promote his message. “It allowed me to hear the voices of my parents, who passed away a long time ago, speaking—or so I’d like to think—through the voice of the poem,” he said.
In Grackle, his other submission in the Five Points competition, Kalogeris recalls how his immigrant elders would never allow him to throw away bread at the dinner table. “It served as a daily reminder of the extremely impoverished Greek villages they came from,” he said.
Kalogeris hopes that readers of his poems will “feel an emotion that rings true and recognize that the words have been put into a particular pattern of sound and meaning.”
Advice to aspiring poets
In 20 years of teaching at Suffolk, Kalogeris has always advised would-be poets to read widely “and develop a musical sense of words and do it with the understanding that faith in poetry requires great patience. It also helps to have a great teacher, and I have been extremely blessed to have had two great poets as my guides: Derek Walcott at Boston University and David Ferry here at Suffolk.”
For Kalogeris, education is a two-way street.
“I’m always learning from my students,” he said. “They energize my writing and reinvigorate my connections to poems that I’ve been reading for decades but see afresh, thanks to their insights.”
Kalogeris has won many poetry awards over the years, including the Meringoff Prize for Poetry from the Association of Literary Critics, Scholars and Writers in 2014; the New Ohio Review Poetry Prize in 2013; and the New England Poetry Club’s Daniel Varoujan Award, presented in honor of the Armenian victims of the Turkish Genocide, in 2008.
In addition to teaching and writing, Kalogeris is a director of Suffolk’s Poetry Center, along with fellow poets Jennifer Barber, an English Department scholar-in-residence, and Professor Emeritus Fred Marchant.
Kalogeris is the author of a book of paired poems in translation, Dialogos (Antilever, 2012), and a book of poems based on the notebooks of Albert Camus, Camus: Carnets (Pressed Wafer, 2006). His poems and translations were included in the anthology Joining Music with Reason, edited by Christopher Ricks (Waywiser, 2010).
His newest book, Guide to Greece, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in 2019.
— Tony Ferullo