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Broumas, Olga (b. 1949)  

Lesbian poet and translator Olga Broumas writes openly erotic poems that combine ancient Greek echoes and late twentieth-century idiom.

Born in Syros, Greece, Broumas moved to the United States as a young woman, attended the University of Pennsylvania (B.A. in architecture, 1970) and the University of Oregon (M.F.A. in creative writing, 1973). Her fellowships have included a Guggenheim (1981) and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978). Broumas has taught at many colleges and universities, taking time out in the 1980s to learn to play jazz saxophone and to develop and practice bodywork skills as a tool for healing and self-expression.

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Broumas's first work published in North America was Caritas (1976), an unbound collection of five broadsides declaring one woman's love for another. She chose the Greek word for her title because "none of the available English words signifying affection are free from either negative heterosexist connotations, or limitations of meaning so severe or so totally genital as to render them useless as names for our womanly songs of praise."

In 1976, the poet and literary critic Stanley Kunitz chose Beginning with O as the seventy-second winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize. In his introduction to the volume, Kunitz said, "This is a book of letting go, of wild avowals, unabashed eroticism; ... Broumas aspires to be an archaeologist of 'the speechless zones of the brain,' to grope her way back to the language of the ancestral mothers."

This volume most clearly identifies Broumas with the development of lesbian culture in the twentieth century. Openly erotic toward her women lovers, the poet creates a rich world full of ancient Greek echoes juxtaposed to the immediacy of late twentieth-century idiom. Always informed by a distinct musicality, these poems progress from a rewriting of several Greek myths about goddesses to a central section devoted to her former husband to a final group in which she celebrates her lesbian ecstasy and explores the tangled matrix of mother-daughter bonds.

Even when she limns her erotic passion for women, Broumas insists on placing that love within the material context in which she lives. The result is a poetry that is simultaneously politically brash, antiromantic, and yet strikingly lyrical. This electrifying volume also establishes the textured relationship between lesbian love-making and language through the use of "tongue" in both its anatomical and linguistic context.

Broumas defines lesbianism as an epistemological as well as a carnal enterprise. She goes so far as to assert that "braille / is a tongue for lovers" and to flaunt her lesbian affection by taking what she calls "unspeakable / liberties as / we cross the street, kissing / against the light."

Although subsequent volumes lack the laser-like focus on lesbian love, and her subject matter has become more diffuse, Broumas has continued to combine lyricism with a keen political edge. Whether she is thinking about the endangered environment, musing on her latest massage client, or once again singing the pleasures of her own and her lover's body, Olga Broumas writes athletic poetry that has the capacity to move and educate readers.

In addition to her own poetry, she has translated from the Greek two volumes by the Nobel Laureate, Odysseas Elytis.

Toni A. H. McNaron

     

    
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    Bibliography
   

Broumas, Olga. Beginning with O. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.

_____. Caritas. Eugene, Ore.: Jackrabbit Press, 1976.

_____. Pastoral Jazz. Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 1983.

_____. Perpetua. Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 1989.

_____. Soie Sauvage. Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 1979.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: McNaron, Toni A. H.  
    Entry Title: Broumas, Olga  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 23, 2002  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/broumas_o.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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