Broumas, Olga 1949–
Broumas, born in Greece and now living in the United States and writing in English, is a poet who presents themes of lesbianism, feminism, and eroticism in poetic language that is frankly physical. She was the recipient of the 1977 Yale Younger Poets Award.
The salty, shifty, tidal atmosphere Olga Broumas inhabits [in her Beginning with O]—with its bodies plugged with seaweed stoppers and fingered by starfish lovers—is no longer particularly creepy or eccentric. Rather the reverse. The roll of honour she calls ("Anne. Sylvia. Virginia. Adrienne.") is dauntingly familiar, as is her motherly jibe at male poets "stroking their fragile beards" while the onetime Muses go off and share their inspiration among themselves.
She celebrates her derivation from the first sex ("straight from your hollowed basket / into the midwife's skirts") as purely as if she had been cloned…. The only curbs on her tongue and her sex are made to seem mechanical, external as scolds' bridles or clitorectomy. And though there is violence in her writing ("Gnaw back the fork to its simple crotch") she is more, much more preoccupied with caressing the "excised part" than with images of mutilation. She feels, as her style shows, cushioned and surrounded by benevolent poetic stepmothers who have hollowed out a place for her. She first heard the old fairy tales in their new versions.
The poems fall, roughly, into three kinds, not all equally confident, though to begin with the studied surface-life of the language—"crustal, striated with sweat"—conceals their unevenness. The first group, "Aspects of God", work least well…. [Even] the fact that Olga Broumas is Greek (though she writes in...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
It is heartening to read a young woman poet who has not joined the Erica Jong Singalong. Olga Broumas … is one—a poet of fluid, complex, and urgent voice, who attempts the elucidation of inner, primal feelings.
Most of these poems are love poems, erotic and lesbian. (p. 41)
The images ebb and flow, returning always to water as native element. With the sure skill of an ocean denizen, she leads one through the traversable waters of her loving. In and out, among the weedy shallows and dark caves of her womanhood, she finds the images for sexuality, birthing, and motherhood. She sets out to plumb unconscious domains and brings her finds to light with a deft combination of poetic musicality and the declarative tone of the spoken word. Her poems embrace a teasing and everpresent conflict: always aware of the primordial depths in which she sees her source and her continued rebirth, at the same time she struggles for the opposing modes of craft and insight to reveal and facilitate the experience. She tells us that this is her struggle as a poet, and when, in her poems, the reconciliation occurs, the poems are very good indeed. (pp. 41-2)
Unwilling to join the ranks of confessional wordmongers who assume that a primitive cacophony will do well by itself on the page, and that their private worlds need no elucidation, Broumas approaches the expression of instinctive and basic forces with at least a small...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
Olga Broumas, wishing to avoid timidity, falls into the pit of a desperately uncertain tone [as evidenced in Beginning with O]—sensational, full of bluster, pretentious, sentimental, callow. The callowness appears in her schoolgirl catalogue of respect: she wants to say "Great spirits now on earth are sojourning," but the sentiment comes out as self-conscious attitudinizing in a chapel full of niches….
All art, needless to say, is founded on what is juxtaposed to what and how the whole is composed. Broumas falls into a jumble of incompatibilities, where juxtaposition in haphazard and composition is that old Romantic cliché, the mount toward climax. (p. 72)
[The] transcription of feeling into stilted compliment is representative of Broumas's inability, as yet, to find a viable voice. (p. 73)
Helen Vendler, in The Yale Review (© 1977 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Autumn, 1977.
[Broumas'] poems, as everyone will remark, are frankly homo-erotic. I would also add that they are innocently erotic, amazingly unshadowed by guilt, remorse, or even by loss. The innocence comes from her sense of wonder in the presence of her lovers, her women…. Broumas watches and watches other women. This is especially clear in the … opening sequence [of Beginning with O], a group of lyrics entitled "Twelve Versions of God." "Twelve Versions" was written in conjunction with a series of paintings by Sandra McKee. The gods are goddesses, Greek goddesses, and for each one, Broumas (and McKee) have used ordinary women as models, have imagined contemporary equivalents for the classical and pre-classical myths. The sequence works brilliantly. The close of "Circe" is a gem, tough and witty, as Broumas pictures herself in her skirt of wine, walking past a construction site, turning men into swine.
Broumas writes with great clarity, with great natural feeling for how lines must begin and end. Her poetry is both compressed and clear, tied to the seen thing but also sharing and communicative. There is an element of chantlike stasis to the movement of some of her lines, a reciprocity between speaker and audience: "One would know nothing. / One would begin by the touch / return to her body / one would forget …" Not surprisingly, sometimes the lines grow overly taut and then the reader wishes that Broumas would open up a little more, grow more discursive, talk. But she has a strong sense of craft, not to mention of subject matter, and she will do as she must. (p. 18)
Charles Berger, in New Boston Review (copyright 1978 by Boston Critic, Inc.), Summer, 1978.