Wild River Review art by Christopher McCauley


Phaedra Zambatha-Pagoulatou

Phaedra Zambatha-Pagoulatous, a voice from the land of Sappho. And where better to interview her than in Athens, the birthplace of the Greek spirit and the site of its latest modern renewal, the Olympics of 2004. Athens, which in August of that year was abuzz with the noise of construction and the rumor of terrorism, and where the heat, the dust, and the sweat that ran down the bodies of a myriad of foreign and domestic workers combined in a single odor of chaos and fertility. Athens, where the intensity of human life runs strongly in any aspect of experience and under any circumstance.

Phaedra came to our meeting, always charming and self-possessed, always dressed with a rare combination of taste and inspiration. I have followed her career from the publication of her first book to her latest, Bitter Honey, which has just appeared. Right now the waiter is asking us what we'd like to drink. We smile and laugh with the ease of two people who are servants of the same goddess.

“Ouzo on the rocks,” Phaedra says.

She lifts her glass.

“To poetry.”

“To more poetry,” I reply.

Our glasses touch.

Stin i yia sou,” we say, as always. To your health.


Phaedra Zambatha-Pagoulatou was born in Athens, the daughter of the prominent writer Koulis Zambathou. She began to write at an early age, and her first book of verse, Drops of Light, was published in 1962. In all she has published 23 works of poetry, fiction, essays, and translation. Recently she published a unique album of photographs of the campaign in Albania that followed Mussolini's invasion of Greece in 1940, gathered by her father during his work at the presidential ministry.

Can you tell me something about your new book, Bitter Honey?

It’s a book of love poems. I believe that love, or as we Greeks call it Eros, is the most important thing in our lives. This magic element empowers us to create our personal reality. We all need dreams in this harsh life. On the other hand, love itself is often bitter. Hence the title of my book.

What other themes have been important in your work?

First and foremost, I am an erotic poet. I’m also deeply concerned about the struggle of women, and about the prevalence of repression, violence, and war in our society. I believe that literature and the arts are crucial to transforming our civilization and bringing peace to the world.

What is the situation of women’s poetry in Greece?

Women’s poetry flowered in ancient Greece with Sappho. It’s a very strong tradition that continues to develop today. There are many fine women poets in the present generation.

What are your future plans?

I’ve already given my publisher a new book of stories called Wager of Life. The title really tells you about my present, and my future. Writing is always a gamble about life. I intend to go on playing.

Lili Bita

Lili Bita

Bio: Author, actress, and musician, Lili Bita has been one of contemporary Greece’s foremost cultural ambassadors. The brilliant interpretations of Greek culture and history in her acclaimed one-woman shows, “The Greek Woman Through the Ages” and “Freedom or Death,” have brought the legacy off Hellenism around the world. Her own poetry and fiction have won praise from such figures as Nikos Kazantzakis, Anais Nin, and Kenneth Rexroth. Tasos Athanasiadis, the former director of the Greek National Theater, calls her “among the most talented women of her generation.”