‘Calypso’ appears in the Greek poet Olga Broumas’ first poetry collection Beginning with O. This poem contains a classical reference to the mythical character of Calypso. She detained the titular character of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, for seven years to live with him. She wanted to have children with him. However, for Zeus’ order, she had to release Odysseus as his life was not meant to take this direction. In this poem, Broumas refers to this character in order to compare her speaker with her. There is a similarity between their loneliness and the lone desires of self-satisfaction.
‘Calypso’ by Olga Broumas is about a speaker dreaming of having intimacy with a few imaginary women.
In this poem, the speaker talks about how she gathers her imaginary friends like talismans and invites them for tarot card gossip. She imagines how they undress in her mind’s studio. Their looks make her so unsettled that she can see a vagina folding itself like a mandala, a symbol of dream and self-fulfillment. The speaker uses their image in order to intensify her bodily desires. She lets the sensual tea steep till the bodily pot becomes black with the liquor. In this heightened state, she does not require anybody’s assistance to please herself. Those imaginary characters are impregnated in her own mind. There is no need for any physical pain to seal her bond with them.
You can read the full poem here.
I’ve gathered the women like talismans, one
cut with escape. They came
Olga Broumas’ ‘Calypso’ is an interesting poem about female sexuality. The title gives readers a hint about the mythical character who seduced Odysseus to live with her. In this piece, the speaker is comparable to this character as she also evokes a few imaginary figures to intensify her physical desires. She is like Calypso in the context of their loneliness.
In the beginning, the speaker does not delve into any mythical tales. Rather she talks about evoking a few imaginary figures like talismans. She draws their images from figures depicted in tarot cards. These cards are often used in telling one’s future. In medieval times, people used to play with these cards as well.
She alludes to female characters depicted in such cards in order to give a hint to readers regarding her imaginary friends. Furthermore, those imaginary figures get enchanted by the speaker’s hands. In this way, Broumas tries to develop the scene from the very beginning. It is the first step of her physical arousal.
undone in my studio, sailing long eyes, heavy
out of herself, in full bloom. I used them. I used
In the second stanza, Broumas continues to elaborate on the process. The speaker’s mates came into his mind’s studio, the creative source of her art. They have undone themselves with their long, wandering looks.
Their bodies are heavy with smoke and wet. The term “wet” implies their aroused state. One of the characters folds out her intimate part like a Hindu “mandala”. Mandala is a symbol in a dream that represents the dreamer’s search for completeness and self-unity. Broumas compares the speaker’s aroused vagina to a mandala and establishes a relationship between physicality and spirituality.
A spiritual seeker finds completeness through the energy of the mandala. Likewise, the speaker finds fulfillment through her lady parts. She uses the image of the mythical women to reach this state.
till the pot was black. Soon
She used the significance of each tarot card to imagine a figure unfolding her body in front of herself. Through the dream, she gets sexually aroused. Soon, other figures appear in her dream.
In the following line, she uses colloquial terms while talking about the mythical characters. They are like her friends. She teasingly addresses Calypso as a “bitch” who twitches in her lap. She does not twitch her lap directly. Rather, the speaker’s wild thoughts make her feel this way.
The next line contains an interesting metaphor. Broumas uses “tea” as a metaphor for her speaker’s libido. The longer the tea leaves are boiled in the pot the stronger the liquor becomes. In the same way, the longer she controls her sexual drive the stronger her desire becomes.
there was no need for cards. We would use
We came together
In the fourth stanza, the speaker reaches the state a lady needs for physical fulfillment. She does not need the help of cards anymore. After getting physically aroused, she thinks of the day-to-day stills of women around her. She finds a constellation of images in every woman she imagines.
Each portrait presents her with the images of others. Their images are like “charts” that help her to mentally chalk where things are. In this way, the speaker slowly gets nearer to the characters.
The last line of this stanza is connected with the first line of the next stanza by the use of enjambment. Broumas uses this device throughout the text in order to make readers go through the consecutive lines. Thus, they can make out the overall idea of the lines.
no need of a wound, a puncture, to seal our bond.
In the fifth stanza of ‘Calypso,’ Broumas describes the imaginary friends of the speaker as “months” in a “lunar year”. She makes use of a simile to connect these distinct ideas. Like the months are an integral part of a lunar year, her friends are inseparable parts of her imagination. She can only feel them at night. The feminist voice of the speaker is reflected in the phrase “dividing/ perfectly into female phases”.
Here the phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle are compared to the “nights” of a lunar year. In the following line, the speaker says that like the women living in groups have synchronous menses, she too has such synchronization with her imaginary friends. They are in no need of any wound or puncture in order to seal their relationship. As they are nonexistent in reality, there are no such conventional requirements.
‘Calypso’ is a free-verse lyric poem. The text does not have a regular rhyme scheme or meter. It is told from the perspective of a first-person speaker who is the poet herself. She speaks through her poetic persona by using the pronoun “I”. The overall poem consists of five stanzas. Each stanza has five lines. Broumas connects each stanza by cutting short the last line and providing further details in the first line of the next stanza. The line lengths are irregular. Some lines are comparably longer than the following lines.
Broumas makes use of the following literary devices in ‘Calypso’.
- Simile: It occurs in the very first line of the poem: “I’ve gathered the women like talismans”. Here, “women” are compared to “talismans”. It also occurs in “a vagina/ folding mandala-like”.
- Enjambment: Broumas uses this device throughout the text. She internally connects the lines of the stanzas for creating an unbreakable flow. For instance, it occurs in “cut with escape. They came/ undone in my studio, sailing long eyes, heavy …”
- Repetition: It occurs in “I used them. I used”. This device is used for the sake of emphasis.
- Metaphor: The lines “I let the tea steep/ till the pot was black”. Here, “tea” is a metaphor of one’s sexual desires.
- Insinuation: Throughout this piece, the speaker insinuates her deep, sexual desires. Her craving for female bodies is portrayed in the text.
Olga Broumas is a Greek poet. Her poem ‘Calypso’ appears in her first poetry collection Beginning with O. It was published in 1977. This volume was considered groundbreaking for its explicit depiction of lesbian sexuality. In ‘Calypso,’ Broumas explores a speaker’s desire to have sexual intimacy with her female companions. She directly talks about her inner craving and how she fulfills herself through her imagination. Through the title, Broumas alludes to the nymph Calypso who detained Odysseus for seven years. She compares her with the speaker as they both live without any male companionship.
Olga Broumas’ ‘Calypso’ is about lesbian sexuality and the power of imagination. This poem presents a speaker who fulfills her sexual drive by imagining a few female companions. They help her to alleviate her physical hunger.
The poem was published in 1977 in Olga Broumas’ first poetry collection Beginning with O. This collection is regarded as influential for its explicit portrayal of lesbian sexuality and identity.
‘Calypso’ is a free-verse lyric poem that is written from the first-person point of view. It does not contain any set rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. There are a total of five stanzas and each stanza has five lines.
The speaker of the poem is a modern representation of the mythical figure Calypso. Broumas can also be referring to a woman who satisfies herself with the help of her imagination.
This piece explores the themes of lesbian sexuality, identity, desire, and spirituality. The main idea of the poem concerns a speaker’s sexual craving. From the subject matter, it becomes clear that she is a lesbian and finds solace in the warm companionship of her imaginary female friends.
The following poems are similar to the themes present in Olga Broumas’ poem ‘Calypso’.
- ‘White Writing’ by Carol Ann Duffy — It’s one of the best-known poems of Carol Ann Duffy. This love poem is addressed to Duffy’s partner Jackie Kay. Explore more Carol Ann Duffy poems.
- ‘He Is More Than A Hero’ by Sappho — This piece describes a speaker’s emotions toward a woman she loves but cannot have. Read more Sappho poems.
- ‘A Mark of Resistance’ by Adrienne Rich — It’s one of the best poems of Adrienne Rich. This piece is about a queer persona’s resistance in the face of conventional society. Explore more Adrienne Rich poems.
- ‘First Fig’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay — This poem is a symbolic depiction of sexuality and freedom. Read more Edna St. Vincent Millay poems.
You can also read about these influential LGBTQ poems.