In the Second Person


76 pages
ISBN 0-919285-29-5





Reviewed by Mary Ellen Miller

Mary Ellen Miller was a poet and Associate Professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.


This book of poems and short prose pieces is nearly as interesting for what it says about language as it is for the quality of the poems. Through the process of learning another language (English), Ms. Kamboureli learns a new identity. She writes in perfect English but says, in “February 7, 1981,”

I have no language that defines me now. Only my accent is a reminder of my geography. The accent I can’t hear. My own voice deluding me.

The journal poems, titled by dates only, begin with: “I am going to start a journal today” (“Wednesday, December 21, 1980”). The poems that follow are self-examining, hard-hitting, direct, spare, and totally free of posturing. Here is all of “February 10, 1981”:

How do you make love in a new country?
How do I make love in a new country?
How does my body draw foreign figures
of desire on another body?
How do I love in a new language?
Every time I embrace the body of love
I also embrace all these questions.
My difference is his rival.

The love poems and the poems about the trip home to Greece are probably the strongest, but there are wonderful touches throughout. Images like this one from “Páno Petáli/July 7, 1981”:

Slowing down that five-minute distance, slowly ascending the wide stone steps, was like mating with the road.

make it difficult to believe that the poet learned English as an adult.

Any student of good poems will enjoy this book, and any beginning language student might find it a useful and moving statement on the terrors and thrills of becoming new and different as a result of learning a new language.


Kamboureli, Smaro, “In the Second Person,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 19, 2024,