Armies of Compassion
Poetry | 2010 | 108 pages | $15.00 | ISBN: 978-0-9843099-0-0
This startling work brings something necessary to American poetry: a visceral poetics that transforms diagnosis into a performative linguistic probe in the service of the disturbed body. The body politic’s symptoms and signs are the foundation for Eleni Stecopoulos’s aversive lyrics, whose beauty lies not in the unbearing of a device but in the bearing of our discomfiture in the world and the potency of our imaginary realignments. Armies of Compassionis a talisman, antidote to what ails, spells woven against an engulfing night.
— Charles Bernstein
The poems of Armies of Compassion are riveting, threnodic, deeply investigative of our "hieroglyphs of breath" and body. They cut to the marrow of kinetics and philology, our psyche’s doubt, our cellular breakdowns and theatricalities, our ironies and euphemisms, our endless war, pinning evocative Latin and Greek terms to greater mythic dimension and healing ritual. Eleni Stecopoulos is one of our deepest and most rigorous poets whose ethos and intelligence challenge and light up the mind. I am thrilled by out of what ruins and darkness and inspired lexical examination come these rare beauties.
— Anne Waldman
"Philosophy never confesses / its delicate condition" writes Eleni Stecopoulos, as she takes on the inherently vulnerable role of investigative poet, asking whether the body, personal and politic, is irrevocably split off in its systemic afflictions. In this book Stecopoulos deploys the paradoxical force/fragility of poetry at all too familiar sites of our abjection. She does this with historically aware wisdom and humor. Can words help, not as palliative or consolation, but as source of transfiguring energy? "Levitating girls" hover over "lines gathering / all the intelligence" of an intellectually astute imagination steeped in, among many aesthetic legacies, that of ancient Greece, where the fact "that the god descends on creaking pulleys in no way undermines the apparition." This poet has the guts and strategy (persistent courage) of what she calls "choric goals…waiting in the echo / for a tone," subtending towards love.
— Joan Retallack
Eleni Stecopoulos is among a constellation of contemporary U.S. poets effectively correlating somatics (the everyday practices and conditions of bodies) with geopolitics, through a radical and emergent lyricism. In Armies of Compassion, the poet's body becomes a site allegorizing disasters of "immunity": the principle disaster being the Hegelian-trap which over-identifies 'self' as 'other' and the other as potential outbreak. As the epigraph to “Autoimmunity,” from Antonin Artaud's Theater and Its Double, reads: "The Grand-Saint-Antoine did not bring the plague to Marseille. It was already there." Which is to say: what plagues us is not alterity, but the dangerous fiction that 'self' and 'other' are not in fact coconstitutive, and that identities rather than relationships persist. Discoursing with both ancient and contemporary healing practices, and calling into question the hegemony of modern Western medicine, Stecopoulos opens the field for what bodies can do liberated from the disciplinary triage of military, capital, and clinic. Like Artaud, Robert Duncan, and Hannah Weiner before her, language experiment follows from bodily necessity and contingency. Conditioned by despair, there is somehow hope in "guts." Having guts (courage), but also attending their literal fact (the innards determining how we act, thus will be).
— Thom Donovan
Eleni Stecopoulos was born in New York, NY, and now lives in Berkeley, CA. She is the author of Autoimmunity (Taxt, 2006), and her poems and essays have appeared in journals including CHAIN, ECOPOETICS, Harvard Review, XCP:CROSS CULTURAL POETICS, The Capilano Review, and THE ENCYCLOPEDIA PROJECT. She received a Creative Work Fund grant to curate a program series around art and medicine for the SFSU Poetry Center and write a related book. Stecopoulos is a graduate of the University of Virginia MFA program and the Poetics Program at Buffalo. She teaches in the Language and Thinking program at Bard College and sometimes co-directs the Paros Translation Symposium in Greece.