Saturday, January 16, 2010

Remembering Effie Mihopoulos

Chicago poet and arts critic Effie Mihopoulos, who published and promoted her fellow poets for decades, and took an active role in the Chicago dance and theater scene, passed away from breast cancer on Thursday, January 14, 2010.

When I first met Effie Mihopoulos, she struck me as fun, friendly, eccentric and bigger than life. And that's exactly who she was. I was a graduate student at Northeastern Illinois University, studying English literature at night, working in Marshall Field's hardcover book department as a management/buyer trainee by day. One evening, I found out that Northeastern was holding its semi-monthly Apocalypse poetry reading series in the very room in which I just had taken a class.

I had been feverishly writing poetry for the past year, taking up the pen in a more serious fashion after being part of an undergraduate workshop at University of Illinois at Chicago with poet Michael Anania. I decided to attend the Apocalypse reading. Effie spotted me as a new face and introduced herself. Wearing flashy gypsy earrings and funky little slogan buttons on her jacket, she took me around the room to acquaint me with some of the "regulars" who frequented the series, such as Art Lange, Paul Hoover, Maxine Chernoff, Terry Jacobus, Barbara Barg, Peter Kostakis, Arnie April, Rose Lesniak, and even Bob Holman, who used to live in Chicago. Richard Friedman and Darlene Pearlstein were on hand, ones who also ran the ongoing Yellow Press Series at the Body Politic Theater every Monday night.

After I read at the Apocalypse open mike a few times, Effie asked that I submit pieces to her poetry magazine, Mati, which she subsequently published. Effie lived nearby the Northeastern campus. I stopped by every so often and got to know her and her darling mother better. Even though Mrs. Mihopoulos didn't speak a word of English, I grew close to her thanks to Effie's rapid-fire translation skills between my English and her Greek. I yearned to learn more about the poetry publishing process, and Effie agreed to take me under her wing, making me an intern of sorts and eventually "managing editor" of both "Mati" and "Salome: A Literary Dance Magazine," another of her publications under the Ommation Press imprint.

Effie and I hung out quite a bit in those days, meeting up at Body Politic poetry readings and at universities, attending dance performances together at MoMing and Auditorium Theater, and even party hopping one New Year's Eve, making appearances at five different get-togethers.

On a non-literary note, Effie and I shared an interest in Japanese culture, rubber stamp madness and a passion for Steve McQueen. We watched short documentaries about Japanese tea ceremonies and cloth dying. We created haikus on handmade paper embellished with rubber stamps on her dining room table. Effie had a huge poster in her dining room of Steve McQueen on a motorcycle from "The Great Escape."

In fact, Effie loved blond men in general, shunning her Greek counterparts who she called male chauvinist pigs. But in all the years I knew Effie, I never saw her with a boyfriend, though she had many male friends. One day, she came to my office downtown with a handful of photos of her arm-in-arm with some righteous blond beefcake, who she evidently met in Florida during spring break. I was happy for her temporary bliss, but sad as well because she never had a long-term partner or close family after her mother died. But that was her calling.

Effie saw her own work reach book form in The Moon Cycle and Languid Love Lyrics. However, one of Effie's greatest literary triumphs was publishing Cornelius Eady's Victims of the Latest Dance Craze poetry collection via Ommation Press. Effie was vacationing in Greece when word reached her that the Academy of American Poets in New York had given the book the Lamont Prize in 1985. The Lamont was awarded for the best second poetry volume of a poet published that year. Never had an award of this caliber been given to a work published by a press so small and independent.

Effie Mihopoulos, over the decades, helped carve a pathway to the lively, active poetry scene that Chicago enjoys today. She will be missed and remembered by all who knew her. A memorial service is planned for Friday, March 5, 2010 5-7 p.m. at Northeastern Illinois University in Alumni Hall, as well as on Saturday, March 6, from 1-3 p.m. at the Newberry Library where poets and friends are invited to read something in Effie's honor, pay last respects and offer fond remembrances of Effie.



chicagopoetry said...

Back in the 90s Effie helped out quite a bit with the Letter eX poetry magazine. When Norton's Postmodern Poetry Anthology edited by Paul Hoover came out, Effie wrote something up for the mag about it. When a release reading was scheduled at Columbia College for the anthology, Effie eagerly contacted me insisting that we cash in on the publicity we gave it by schmoozing with some famous poets. We ended up going out for some bar food after the release reading with Paul Hoover, Wanda Coleman and Amiri Baraka. Amiri Baraka couldn't finish his french fries and he gave them to me; they were soaked with ketchup. We all got drunk and ended up strolling down Wabash Avenue arm in arm singing songs (you really have to use your imagination to fit Paul Hoover into that picture, but it happened). It was about the point when Wanda Coleman was hinting that I might come back to her hotel room with her that even I got cold feet and had to say goodbye. This is all very true. How many of us have strolled down the street singing songs with Amiri Baraka? Stuff like that just happened when Effie was around. She really, really enjoyed her life.

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Chronicles of A Broken Spirit said...

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Anonymous said...

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Thank You!

Anonymous said...

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- Thomas