Lucy Wilkis’ review of Bull Days

In ‘LVI’, registers as variable as the musical (‘My music’s no match for your melos’), the scientific (‘We count nerve cells. Measure the minutes’), the imploring (‘Give me what’s mine”)

Erotic love is to be treasured, its delights, whether physical or spiritual, welcomed. Love in Siren of the Heart is the longed-for experience, in which the lover is always ardent and the beloved forever inspiring. For this poet, what more beautiful joy can there be on the journey of life than love offered and received? Celebrating such joy, the poet says ‘In the Deep of the Night’:

I heard your voice
Gently intoning
Unspoken, entrancing
Sweet desire;
I felt our passions
Boldly entwining
To flood our veins
With amorous fire;
The melodious sighs
Will wrap us shining
And the shimmering joy
New sparks inspire

Ennoble my feelings, call me Darling
The word sparks a glowing rapture
And makes each day a new adventure.
My dreams with yours shall combine
And our souls gracefully entwine.
I’ll wrap you with my shy desire
And embrace your caressing fire

Of that, my love, I’ll never tire.

Nor is love in Siren of the Heart a matter only between joyous lovers, its most obvious beneficiaries and actors. Instead, love is sketched in all its material and spiritual forms, a lover’s praise as much as lament. In a poetic universe where its joys are supreme, the casualty is love.

poignant poems are born of the poet’s long observation of life’s grief-stricken moments, in which duplicity reigns, yet hope remains. In the poem, ‘Love Strangled’, the poet writes:

If ever you feel regret, recanting
Go back to him, naked, if he’s alive;
He’ll take you to the woods new love hunting
With gaping wounds and sullen, staggered drive.

Some of the most tender poems are the poet’s reflections on worldly life and the legacy of human action. 

where love is haunted by echoes of death, and death by echoes of love. The speaker in following love’s course says in ‘II’, ‘I begin the long march in death’s dominion’, and in ‘LIII’, ‘I feel / the pulse of your breath as quick on my skin / as the fevered pulsations of a dying man.’ Elsewhere there is a more brutal echo of death, particularly in the poems that refract the dyad through the metaphor of the bull fight, in which the beloved as matador by necessity betrays the lover as bull. A gender ambiguity permeates these poems, as do ambiguities of voice and time. In ‘XX’, the bull as speaker asks:

What trophy to keep? My ears, my tail, my hooves?
No, throw my body parts to your sweetheart.
I hope she hurls flowers at you for it.
The crowd will wave handkerchiefs.

The bull anticipates the blade through its heart, its evisceration for the glory of the beloved. 

The ironic play of death and resurrection is hauntingly captured in ‘XLVI’. Here the Venusian volta, preceded by the taunts and bellowing of the rabble, is tempered by a picture of earthly ruin. The poem leads us to ask where is love’s congregation now, now that the face of light is hidden and the places of worship razed by time, neglect or nature:

I am a skygazer. I am witness to your
eclipse. The blue glow of your beauty
beatifies heaven. I gather myself
around me in horror. In the old temple
love-astrologers hand out business cards.
They spy you parachuting into Mongolia.
How you blacken the sun! It burns with a fiery rim.
This is the time of fear. It grows cold.

The moon bites the sun. Oh the crowd jeers!
It masks the sun. Oh the mob roars! Oh how
people rear their heads like the huge cobra!
In the glow of the dark Venus shone again
on the fallen stones and collapsed columns
of the ancient temples and on the eroded rocks.

Other figures of play also feature prominently in these poems. The ‘game of hearts’ in ‘III’, to which the speaker may or may not be equal, plays with a music that in ‘XXVII’ makes her ‘bountiful’, inheres in a ‘masquerade of teasing love-note, / where two quake on a crater’s perimeter’ (‘XXIX’), or makes us ‘conjure the sour acrimony / of two wearied by the thing dividing them’ (‘XXIV’)

This rubble of stone is all that remains of its immensity.

If ‘form should have an organic relation to sense, not merely be the vase into which content is poured’, as Tony Barnstone (2016) says, then Giannoukos styles her sonnets organically. Indeed, the words of the speaker in ‘XLII’ may be taken as her aesthetic credo: ‘Fill up / this jug with the amethyst liquid / of wild vines civilised in vineyards.’ 


With consummate craft Giannoukos adapts the sonnet’s form into a series of shapely, diversely contoured, amphora-like vessels, into which is distilled a nectar ‘civilised’ in the poetic tradition or ‘vineyard’. Han Yu (Barnstone 2016) stated that, the poet in the ‘chains’ of the sonnet may be said to ‘dance’. In a multiplicity of voices, moods, textures and transitions, she asks the reader to query the identity of the lover (woman, man or heavenly envoy) and the beloved (man, woman, centaur or God), whether they are singular or plural, and whether their very being is possible at all. In its entirety, Bull Days is a living opus of interdependent parts, communing through sonic reflexion, the vision of the spectral, a ludic and rhapsodic poetics of rapture and fellow-feeling, and elegiac tilts at the problem of the impossible in language, surmounted rhetorically by an overarching and richly polyphonic conceit.

-Lucy Wilks

Reference list

Barnstone, T. 2016, A manifesto on the contemporary sonnet: a personal aestheticsThe Cortland Review, 9 December, viewed 26 November 2016, <>.

Birkan Berz, C. 2014, ‘Mapping the contemporary sonnet in mainstream and linguistically innovative late 20th– and early 21st– century British poetry’, Études Britanniques, No. 46, viewed 26 November 2016, <>.

Finch, A. 2009, ‘Chaos in fourteen lines: reformations and deformations of the sonnet’, Contemporary Poetry Review, viewed 26 November 2016, <>.

Padel, R. 2002, 52 ways of looking at a poem or how reading modern poetry can change your life, Chatto & Windus, London.

Richardson, R, 2013, Learning the sonnet: A history and how-to guide to the famous form, Poetry Foundation, Chicago, 29 August, viewed 26 November 2016, <>.