Edson Russell

In his poems, Economou declares war against pomposity. He describes his poems as "composition / not eloquence" ("Ameriki: I" [1977]). And what does Economou think of eloquence? There is "no such thing / behind any forehead." Repetition, jittery typesetting, and onomatopoeia make Economou's voice jump off the page. His poems initially sound self-consciously brash, a young man's poems, spoken not in English but in American, as in "Your Sexability Questionnaire" (1977). Yet Economou can also write with an almost innocent tenderness, such as in "Nights of the Half-Eaten Moon" (1969), a poem to his wife (poet Rochelle OWENS). The speaker waits all night for his lover, and when she appears from the darkness, Economou writes, he "awoke in your arms / and never let go." The goal of these poems is the same as in much performance poetry—you are supposed to hear Economou sound like himself and no one else. Yet Economou's work, in all his down-to-earth geniality, also shows a more impersonal concern with history— that is, he can sound exactly like others too. In his Piers Plowman, he often sounds like Hopkins: "Christ keep you and your kingdom, king."

The translator and the troubadour come together in Economou's most ambitious work, Century Dead Center (1997). The poem begins by asking, "Is it half our century," since "the black hole at its center?" He is referring to the Holocaust (our century's center) but also to the "dead center," where our ideas begin to unravel.

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