Athenian Light

I was born into it
in late September,
when it’s sweet and hued at sunset
like the seeded flesh of figs.
Smog meddled with it,
hanging over Athens
like bad history. 

Growing up,
what use was lyrical light
when stuck two hours every day
in an airless school bus,
gum spat in my hair
by the back row boys? 

After half a lifetime in England,
I bathe in it by a rooftop pool,
swallows above me
like musical notes,
the broken jawline
of the Parthenon within sight,
and I love how it brings out
the veins in marble
and the arms of men. 

I watch the child in the pool
learn how to swim,
wearing, just like I did,
orange inflatable arm bands,
remember my father’s insistence
that you can drown
even in the clearest light. 

by Kostya Tsolakis

Listen to Kostya Tsolakis reading ‘Athenian Light’

This week’s poem by Kostya Tsolakis is the final one in a trio of poems by our new ignitionpress authors! Last week we featured Daniel Fraser’s poem ‘Hebden Bridge’, and before that Isabelle Baafi’s ‘PG Tips’. We are very excited to be launching three new pamphlets by Isabelle, Daniel, and Kostya online on Friday 6 November. Please join us! The event will be live streamed to our YouTube channel and you can find more details about the launch and sign up to attend it here . You can buy copies of the pamphlets via the Brookes Online Shop

We recently announced the winners of this year’s Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition, and you can read the winning poems here . Our awards event this year will be held online and everyone is welcome to attend! It will feature readings by the winning poets in both the Open and EAL categories, and a short reading by this year’s judge, Fiona Benson. To register your attendance, please visit this Eventbrite page .

‘Athenian Light’ is copyright © Kostya Tsolakis, 2020. It is reprinted from Ephebos (ignitionpress, 2020) by permission of ignitionpress. 

Reflecting on this poem, Kostya writes: ‘“Athenian Light” closes Ephebos, but is one of the oldest poems in the pamphlet. Having spent a lonely, closeted adolescence in Athens – much of it in my room, playing video games or reading – I didn’t notice how beautiful its intense light is until I started visiting home again as a happier adult. By celebrating it, I feel this poem reconciles me with the city I grew up in.’

Kostya’s new pamphlet, Ephebos, explores what it is like to be young, Greek and gay. It maps a fragile coming of age, exploring the shame, courage and yearning of emergent sexuality. From a sun-drenched Athenian adolescence to adulthood in England, this exquisitely wrought pamphlet confronts an abiding sense of ‘falling short’ – of being Greek, conforming to ideas of masculinity, being a good son, of communicating fully with loved ones and strangers. Above all, these poems deal with the pursuit of happiness on one’s own terms. You can buy the pamphlet here.

Kostya Tsolakis is a London-based poet and journalist, born and raised in Athens, Greece. A Warwick Writing Programme graduate, his poems have been published in MagmaperverseThe ScoresUnder the Radar and Wasafiri, among others. In 2019 he won the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition (EAL category). He is founding editor of harana poetry, the online magazine for poets writing in English as a second or parallel language, and is poetry co-editor at Ambit. You can find out more about Kostya and his work on his website and follow him on Twitter.

ignitionpress is a poetry pamphlet press from Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre with an international outlook which publishes original, arresting poetry from emerging poets, and established poets working on interim or special projects.

Since its establishment in 2017, two pamphlets (A Hurry of English by Mary Jean Chan and Hinge by Alycia Pirmohamed) have been selected by the Poetry Book Society as their Pamphlet Choices, and all the pamphlets still in print are available to buy from our online Shop. Each pamphlet costs £5 and you can buy three for £12. You can find out more about the poets and their work on our dedicated page.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.