Like a Mona Lisa smile, the lives of preceding generations are only partially revealed to us, tantalizing in their slim facts and shadowy contours. In Yaya’s Cloth, Andrea Potos searches and deepens the narrative of her Greek heritage as embodied by her beloved grandparents, Yaya and Papouli. Fleshing out fragments of family chronicles, Potos unfolds classic elements of drama— sacrifice, tragedy, endurance, renewal, all rendered somewhat exotic by the interplay of Greek culture. The story is the richer for being sifted through the heightened impressions of Potos’ girlhood, when Greek names for favorite foods and unknown faces in family photographs enticed her to delve deeper and deeper into a world she could only half know, even as it wholly engaged her. Yaya in particular anchors these poems, emerging as a compelling figure of almost archetypal stature. “I speak it—grand mother—as if recalling an empress or Demeter herself.” “She glows like a pilot light beneath the days.”
PRAISE FOR YAYA'S CLOTH
As a child of immigrants, I find Andrea Potos's collection
Yaya's Cloth especially touching. Potos — a winner of the NAR's James
Hearst Poetry Prize — explores the haunting contradictions and parallels
between "the old country" and the new: the American girl, an eighth
grader, who dreads the nickname "Little Miss Mustache," the inherited "shadowy stretch haunting my upper lip" that the girl shaves and
depilates till she is "red / and raw" ...and her grandmother, her Yaya
as a young mother and wife, hiding her hair ("woman's glory") in a
kerchief by day, "until moon time [when] I unknot this tie, / let my
dark wings loose to the night." This matriarchal thread — called in some
—Vince Gotera in North American Review
These poems are hymns to pleasure and simplicity, flesh and blood. Yaya’s
Cloth has reminded me of how celebratory and warm and graceful poetry
can be, and, especially, of how both light and loss can co-exist in our
hollow and hallowed places.
Behind the keenly detailed portrait of Andrea Potos’ grandmother (her Yaya) is a whitewashed house in Kalamata, olive center in Greece, the citrus air, the silkworms in the cupboard to be fed mulberry leaves so that another portrait of place, beauty, event, and loss may be woven into the precious Greek fabric. This book of two continents, a history of memory, is a subtle weave of nostalgia and wisdom.
“The secret title of all good poems could be ‘Tenderness,’”
Galway Kinnell once wrote. Andrea Potos has given us an entire book whose
title could, indeed, be Tenderness. Yaya’s Cloth
is a shawl of people and places and events you will want to wrap yourself
in, a world both sensuous and sensual, recreated in poems as deeply felt
as they are skillfully crafted.
—Cathy Smith Bowers,