The death has occurred of Iliassa Sequin, a poet much admired by the New York School. She was a friend of Nobel prize winner Odysseas Elytis, Paul Celan, Max de Carvalho and John Ashbery. Grey Suit Editions will be publishing her Collected Completed Poems this Autumn.
Grey Suit Editions has now published (April 1 2021) a comprehensive collection of her work – Iliassa Sequin Collected Complete Poems.
I will post more details here as to launches, and I welcome contributions in comments from her friends and admirers.
Iliassa Sequin, Poet (1940 – 2019) – from the biographical eulogy by her husband, read at the funeral 14 Nov 19.
Iliassa was born on April 13 to her mother Eunice in 1940 on a small island in the Cyclades, where her father Alexis Economos was a high school teacher. She had a brother Nicos and a sister Vera. Soon after her birth, the family moved to Athens living under the Acropolis in Plaka. Writing poetry from an early age, Iliassa initially enrolled in the Panteion University to study social and political studies. Against her fathers wishes she changed course and enrolled in Carolos Koon’s theatre (with her stunning looks an acting career loomed).
With musicality in language uppermost in her concerns, she developed an original poetic style expressing a severe disquiet for the status quo. This led to her to being befriended by Odysseas Elytis (later a Nobel prize winner). He saved her from an attempted teenage suicide after her father had forbidden her to attend her studies at the theatre – even going as far as threatening to sue the theatre for allowing Iliassa to attend without paying fees. In 1958, she felt obliged to abandon her studies (she literally ran away to Germany). From then on she flitted between Germany, Italy, France and Sweden (the playwright’ Peter Weiss and the critic Susan Sontag offering accommodation and moral support), only returning to Greece for the briefest of visits.
Fluent in all these languages, existing frugally on temporary jobs throughout the 1960s, she met and corresponded with many poets including Giuseppe Ungaretti, Paul Celan (who became a close friend), Louise Kaschnitz & Andre du Bouchet. Very recently, Iliassa translated his poetic commentary on the painter Bram van Velde – Le Couleur – which remains unpublished. In later years, English being her second language – she would insist it was her first – she saw her poems published in L’Ephemere, L’Ire de Vents and Les Belles Lettres – in English with French translations. On the cusp of moving to London in 1969 John Ashbery published her in the Partisan Review – leading her to becoming associated with the New York school of poetry. In London, through the sculptor Brian Wall, she met her husband-to be Ken Sequin (at that time a reportage illustrator) and commenced writing plays for a puppet theatre (she tried to have her highly political plays performed without much success).
Moving to Yorkshire in the mid 1970s (Ken taking a lecturing post there) Iliassa commenced writing poems parodying pastoral and romantic notions of country life. Then the painter & writer Trevor Winkfield accompanied the pair on a visit further north to Scotland, where he introduced Iliassa to Ian Hamilton Finlay who, intrigued by her non-confessional formally innovative style, suggested that they should not dawdle too long in Yorkshire. This, together with Ken’s deteriorating health (Iliassa insisting that this was due to the stultifying lifestyle of academia imposed on art lecturers) prompting their return to London in 1992 .
With Ken painting again, Iliassa embarked on new work; as always exploring the musicality of language. Themes such as the sinking of the Kursk submarine in the Baltic (G.M. Hopkins’ poem The Wreck of the Deutschland being an inspiration), the plight of the refugees arriving in Greece being another, poems flew from her antiquated i Book. She translated the aforementioned poem for Andre du Bouchet and saw some of her poems again published in France – notably in La Treizième published by the poet Max de Carvalho. (a selection of her correspondence with Andre also being prepared for publication).
Otherwise little has been published – apart from in the New York Journals New Conjunctions and the Siennese Shredder – which published some of her many quintets. Cinema Sextet – inspired by the work of Ken Loach & Richard Dadd (an exploration of the Victorian painters’ psyche) also came out in a dual translation in La Treizième. Iliassa had only one chapbook published in her lifetime Quintets -published by Peter Gizzi in O-blek Editions.
In recent years, Ken & Iliassa began a productive collaboration together, writing short stories and poems. In fact, most of Iliassa Sequin’s remarkable oeuvre has remained unpublished. An unpardonable omission in UK publishing. All in all, we have so far only had a glimpse into a remarkable achievement.