'To refuse meaning or to create new narratives?' An interview with the editors of Teflon

By Lotte L.S., 1 July 2019
Image: Teflon #20 (Winter 2018/Spring 2019) Artwork by MUSKA

The Greek literary magazine Teflon was formed in 2009 to counter the conservatism of already existing poetry publications in Greece. In this interview Lotte L.S. talks to editors Jazra Khaleed and Kyoko Kishida about Teflon’s history and ambitions, the politics of translation, collaborative editing, distribution practices and the tensions between poetry and political struggle


I first discovered the work of Jazra Khaleed and Kyoko Kishida – poets and editors of Teflon magazine – in the anthology Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry, in a small bookshop near my house in the east of England. I was drawn to the work, translated into English, which seemed agitated and delirious and necessary. I did some research and found that together, Jazra Khaleed and Kyoko Kishida had created Teflon, a literary magazine, in 2009. 138 pages of poetry and essays in a B5 matte format, the magazine engages a political stance often paid lip service to but rarely enacted – rendering national borders obsolete through its translations of the work of Pat Parker, Claudia Rankine and Anna Mendelssohn, among others, into Greek (alongside the poem in its original language) – as well as diasporic linguistic constellations in the work of Dutch-speaking Iraqi poets, French-speaking Algerian poets and Italian-speaking Somali poets – including many poets whose work is yet to be translated into English.


Teflon survives solely on financial and practical support from its editors, subscribers and collaborative networks, with a circulation of 1000, freely distributed, all over Greece.


We met in Exarchia, Athens, in the first few days of 2019. Snow was predicted for the following day, and the evening darkness came quickly as we spoke about many things – the origins of Teflon, the relationship between the local Greek poetry scene and international movements, the possible relationships between poetry and anti-fascism.


Lotte L.S.: If we start with Teflon


Jazra Khaleed: This is our latest issue (hands copy over). It’s the 20th and came out one month ago.


Kyoko Kishida: This issue has a trans-poetics feature. It’s mainly poets from the US, in translation. We aspire for a Part 2 or even Part 3 – featuring poets from other places as well.


What are your languages – do you speak any French?


LLS: Some, but not very well.


KK: The trans-poetics feature opens the issue, but there’s also a French avant-garde poet [Charles Pennequin] at the end, and in the middle a Macedonian poet and a Russian poet, but unfortunately you cannot –


(Everyone laughs)


read it. It’s our first Russian translation, so we’re excited, and our first Macedonian translation, and so we’re also proud of it.


LLS: How did you end up choosing these poets – did you know their work already? I know research is a big part of Teflon.


KK: The Russian poet was a collaborator’s proposal.


JK: The Macedonian poet, Lidija Dimkovska, I met in Berlin two years ago. She is one of the most prominent Macedonian poets.


Alexandra Tsibulya – the Russian poet – is just 28, so she’s only published one book. She’s like the new – she’s part of the avant-garde scene. That’s what we were told by the Russian specialists (laughs).


KK: We have friends in Russia right now, and they’re doing research. We’ve read a lot of young Russian poets in English, and our friends there are reading in Russian, so there’s more translations from the Russian coming in our next issues.


LLS: I don’t know a lot about Russian poetry, but there’s one poet’s work I’m particularly interested in – Kirill Medvedev. Ugly Duckling Presse published a collection of his poems, essays and ‘actions’…He renounced all copyright of his work –


KK: Isn’t that published by Commune Editions? Ah, no, that’s Pavel Arsenev… I think they both publish in Translit magazine… I’ve recently read Elena Fanailova’s translations by Ugly Duckling… When was Mevedev’s translation published?


LLS: I think quite a while ago [2012] – it’s called It’s No Good. A bit along the same kinds of lines as the work Commune Editions publish – but maybe more Marxy. What do you think of Commune Editions’ stuff?


KK: All of their books I’ve read are interesting. And we’ve translated in Greek some of the people they have published: Nanni Balestrini, Wendy Trevino...


LLS: [Wendy Trevino’s] Cruel Fiction?


KK: No, not the whole collection, but parts of it: mainly from ‘128-131’; the poems from Santa Rita prison and a few more, about the time she was incarcerated during Occupy.


LLS: I find a lot of Commune Editions’ stuff exciting – especially the work of Wendy Trevino, Juliana Spahr, Jasmine Gibson and Adelaide Ivánova – but I find some of their other work a bit too… I remember Lisa Robertson saying once that she found poetry in that part of the US often seemed to approach politics as something you ‘inject’ as content into writing…She talks about how she writes as a feminist, but that this isn’t related to content or accessibility, but an ‘ethics of conduct.’

Image: Teflon #17 (Summer/Autumn 2017) Artwork by Eleni Froudaraki


LLS: How many people make up Teflon – is it just you two that edit it together?


KK: There’s a third person, Rania, who helps, but she isn’t involved in the more creative parts anymore.


LLS: So did Teflon come from a place of feeling like, ‘We want there to be other kinds of magazines’, or – how did it come about?


KK: Yeah, sort of like that. Back when we started, we found ourselves very reluctant to send our work to literary/poetry contests or to the already existing magazines, which we couldn’t afford to buy and, when we came upon them in libraries or elsewhere, we found their editorial choices conservative in general, servicing the canon and self-referential. So we had no idea how to publish a magazine, but we’d rather do our thing, express our aesthetics and follow our own passions, rather than be part of a small coterie where power relations are prevalent.


JK: It’s like a politics of exclusion. They exclude everyone who’s not like them, which means white, middle-class, heterosexual. So if you want to publish – maybe now there are one or two more magazines or websites – but not long ago, you had to know one of the editors, you had to be in the circle. We don’t know most of the Greek poets Teflon has published. We don’t ask who they are, what their status is.


KK: It was around 10 people who started Teflon in 2008, but people started to leave because they couldn’t handle the amount of work that was needed. When people saw it meant more work, more effort, they split. For me, there’s also a conflict between personal ambition and an ‘exiting the ego’ stance in general involved.


LLS: So how does Teflon approach putting together a magazine differently to other – more institutionalised – poetry magazines in Greece?


JK: Imagine that we started from zero, from scratch – we didn’t know anything. So over the years, we found an approach that works for us, that allows the magazine to continue. There’s a group of people who are willing to take part and do some work – we have people that propose something, and people that we go and propose to.


KK: The other magazines – the ‘institutional’ ones, let’s say – have their own circles. If you send work [unsolicited], it most probably won’t get published, regardless of its quality or content. Or they tend to ‘correct’ poems by younger poets – something we’ve never done and will never do. We either publish work if we like it, or not.


With translations, someone can send us a translation they think is ready, but we will never publish it immediately. We edit in collaboration with supporting translators, and we all make comments. From our experience, the more eyes that look over the work, the better. And we always publish the original poems beside the translations.


JK: Another difference is how we do research. Mostly when we do research – when we want to translate a poet – we study her work, and we research the social and political environment in which she lives or lived. Every feature Teflon puts out is accompanied by a text, which we don’t want to be like academic essays –


LLS: You mean not theoretical?


KK: Sometimes it’s a little theoretical, but never strictly theoretical or purely linguistic. Most magazines here have the usual philologue-literary analyses approach. And the socio-political context is always missing.


JK: And that leads to translation mistakes. If you don’t know the social or political context of the poet, then – however well you know the language – most likely you will make mistakes.


KK: We’re very passionate about collaboration, even with people who are not poets but speak another language. This collaborative approach may mean that a person can speak another language, but might not be confident in translating poetry. Our role can be to empower them. We tend to stress that poetry is the cheapest form of art, and art is connected to class. After a while, we noticed that friends who were readers, but were intimidated by poetry – because they thought it was something really ‘difficult to get’ – started reading the poetry, and started writing. That has to do with creating a community and being more open and inclusive. Many of our translations are the work of people we meet while travelling, while at conferences or performances abroad – and we feel close to them, we feel there’s an affinity in aesthetics or politics, or most of the time both. Or we meet somebody who proposes somebody else.


LLS: So you’re drawing on the resources and communities you’re already engaged with to create this, rather than presuming that just because someone else is a poet – just because you have that in common – that you’re kin?


KK: Yeah, because the tactics used are very different. Someone may have the biggest publication house behind them, and we do distribution ourselves. We know the people that take each issue to other cities like Thessaloniki and Iraklio for instance. These relationships are important. Because Teflon is free, we ask people to give something back. It can be something small like helping us get the issue to where they live. It’s worked until now, and I think that’s why we keep doing it – because of the people we meet, it inspires us.


LLS: So do you think that poetry can play a crucial role in growing these relationships and communities – not just an exchange of ideas and poems, but practical tasks and support? Someone taking it by hand to the area they live…It’s a social role then the magazine plays, beyond just exposing people to poetry – but in the way that people actually relate to one another. I mean, maybe that’s a bit –


KK: Utopic?


(Everyone laughs.)


JK: Mostly you can show people that it can work the other way. I mean, you don’t need a big publisher, you don’t need to have a publisher that distributes your work. You can do it yourself – you can have your own books and magazine the way you want them to be.


KK: We are part of a network of independent zines and magazines – last year we ran open workshops and discussions on how you can make your own publications. We did a talk, but also workshops on how to bind books, how to set the page – the different parts of the process.


LLS: It creates totally different relationships between people – the doing and writing itself, and our own attitudes to language. A lot of the work you publish comes out of other contexts – other languages, other political and social conditions… are these also a part of the connections? To explore what people are writing in other places – how people in the context of Greece might be able to learn from it, or take something from it – even if it’s just realising that people elsewhere are writing from certain perspectives, that they can too.


JK: We believe that presenting what’s going on in contemporary poetry all over the world can help the local scene develop. Greek poetry is conservative in terms of content and form – there are certain people who want to break away from this, but they don’t have anything to look at. So if you present tendencies in poetry from all around the world, then people can get a better idea of what’s going on, and maybe have a new benchmark.


LLS: You talked a bit about the research for the text – do you introduce every poet separately in Teflon, or do you have an editorial that touches on each poet included?


JK: We introduce each poet separately. But it can depend – for example, for Amiri Baraka, we wrote a ten-page text, covering topics such as the Beats, jazz, the Black Power Movement, Black politics in the US… And for Nanni Balestrini as well. For Etel Adnan. But if we present a younger poet who has only published one collection, we write something shorter.


KK: Like a page or two. In the first few issues we included teasers for the features in the editorial. Then the editorial was used instead to comment on our situation – being precarious, the way we publish the magazine, things that were happening during publication, or the stance of some writers. So it can be a political statement. I have the feeling that many people read the editorial and they feel it’s too political for them, and they don’t go on to read the rest.


JK: I think they do go on, but they read something that’s not familiar with their own ideas of poetry. So, for example, you would open the magazine and read the editorial, then see ‘trans-poetics,’ then read that we don’t use either the feminine or masculine pronoun, and then you read a Brazilian feminist poet [Adelaide Ivánova] that writes about sexual violence, and then you read a Macedonian poet – while the Greek state and most Greek people argue that there’s no Macedonian language. So it’s not only the editorial, it’s everything we include inside the magazine.


Our research usually expands over multiple issues. For example, for the feature on Arab-American women poets, we began by presenting some of the most prominent poets, like Suheir Hammad and Lisa Suhair Majaj. Then we included a small anthology of young Arab-American women – most of them had only published one collection – so we wrote a longer text about the history of Arab people migrating to the US, and the different generations of Arab-American poetry. Then we published the work of Etel Adnan – she’s very prominent, with a huge body of work. So this research expanded across five or six issues and took us four or five years to complete. It was similar to our feature on the avant-garde poetry scene of East Germany in the ’70s and ’80s – we presented six different poets across six different issues. This was ongoing research that took many years.


Image: Teflon #16 (Winter 2016/Spring 2017) Artwork by Anna Giarmeniti


KK: The feature on avant-garde poets from East Germany was important, because there are no publications on this in any other language.


JK: These are poets who aren’t even known in Germany – apart from a small circle of underground fanzines and magazines in Berlin – and are some of the best poets we’ve ever translated. After the unification, the ideology of the German state was like, what happened in East Germany was crap – both in terms of politics and culture. So the work of many of these poets was lost.


LLS: So providing context for the poets you publish in Teflon is important to give readers an understanding of the social and political conditions that shape the writing. Do you think then that context is always crucial for – not just translating a poem – but reading a poem?


KK: I am often sick of overexplaining works of art...


JK: I think it’s important to give the social and political context though. Then the reader can place the work in this specific context. You don’t need to ‘explain’ – maybe give a few cues that the reader might be unaware of – but if you put the work in context then the reader can make the connections and understand the work better. We, as readers and translators, have our own interpretations – and I think it’s important not to impose your interpretation on the reader.


LLS: Right – because poetry can do so much to create and offer new contexts and meanings, and challenge the idea of a single fixed and stable reading. ‘Not subjectivity but agency’, Lyn Hejinian wrote somewhere. This means then that you don’t approach poetry as a tool that serves something ‘higher’ – like an anti-fascist movement, or an anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist perspective?


JK: I wouldn’t say that’s higher – I would say that’s lower. (Everyone laughs.)


LLS: That’s what I’m wondering. I remember in one interview, Jazra, Max Ritvo said to you, ‘the stakes of what you’re communicating in your poetry are so high for you’. But neither of you approach poetry as something that should be wielded solely to support political struggle… it’s its own thing – with its own unknowingness – and people can either take from that or not. It makes me think of those lines from one of Anna Mendelssohn’s poems in Implacable Art: ‘To any who want poems to give them answers… / A poem is not going to give precise directions. / You musn’t touch the hiding places.’


JK: It can be both, I think. You don’t have to restrict it. It can be both part of an anti-fascist – well, not of the movement – it can be part of anti-fascist discourse, because poetry is like a discourse.


KK: It’s a tool you can use for many things, but it doesn’t feel right describing it as something that ‘serves’ this other thing, because it’s so wide. I think poetry is in our everyday lives – in whatever we do. Poetry is inherent in every person, and either you have the intention to express it in a written or different way or not. Many avant-garde movements across history had these debates – like, language is not ours, it belongs to those in power – so what do we do? Do we refuse meaning, or do we create new narratives? Poetry is wide and open, and can be used and approached with many different intentions.



I have no fatherland
I live within words
That are shrouded in black
And held hostage
Mustapha Khayati, can you hear me?
The seat of power is in language
Where the police patrol
No more poetry circles!
No more poet laureates!
In my neighborhood virgin poets are sacrificed
Rappers with dust-blown eyes and baggy pants
Push rhymes on kids sniffing words
Fall and get back up again: the art of the poet
Jean Genet, can you hear me?
My words are homeless
They sleep on the benches of Klathmonos Square
Covered in IKEA cartons
My words do not speak on the news
They’re out hustling every night
My words are proletarian, slaves like me
They work in sweatshops night and day
I want no more dirges
I want no more verbs belonging to the noncombatants
I need a new language, not pimping
I'm waiting for a revolution to invent me
Hungering for the language of class war
A language that has tasted insurgency
I shall create it!
Ah, what arrogance!
Okay, I’ll be off
But take a look: in my face the dawn of a new poetry is breaking
No word will be left behind, held hostage
I’m seeking a new passage.

by Jazra Khaleed

translated by Peter Constantine


LLS: I like what you say about poetry being everywhere – I’m thinking more and more of poetry as a way of thinking and listening and living, as much as a way of writing. Sometimes even not writing – those debates of the avant-garde make me think about George Oppen, who stopped writing for 25 years and joined the Communist Party in the US – he seemed to believe that art and political resistance were mutually exclusive. I’m working on a serial essay about poets who decide to stop writing – often for ‘political’ reasons – and what it might mean to be up for engaging with the limitations that words have. You know, like that line from Adrienne Rich – ‘This is the oppressor’s language. Yet I need it to talk to you.’ The difference between this approach and say, George Oppen’s, who wrote: ‘Because I am not silent the poems are bad.’


Do you feel conscious of power dynamics in your role of editors? Obviously it exists everywhere, especially with translation. Even with this interview – I’ll transcribe it, I’ll write an intro – I have power over how it’s presented, and it’s like…How to challenge that within our own practices? I don’t mean to necessarily diminish it, but acknowledge it at least.


KK: I felt that strongly putting together the trans-poetics issue. I felt that I needed to use their own words. The intro is a manifesto by one of the poets. It’s not that I have nothing to say, but I thought in the first section I would start with one of their manifestos. They said that they don’t believe that you necessarily need to be trans to write or translate trans-poetics, but I felt really strongly that it should be one of their voices heard first.


LLS: It’s exciting to think that people in Greece will read these translations in Greek and then at some point might contribute to an open call –


KK: It is, yeah. It’s already been inspiring…We had a friend who’s a trans poet visiting, and when we put on a reading in Athens we talked about using the neuter [pronoun]. The decision to use the neuter in Greek can sound strange because it’s used for objects and small animals mostly. But we agreed that we need to start somewhere, because this language was imposed onto us by the school system and heteropatriarchy. So if we want to express more than we were taught, we need to come up with our own forms of expression. At the beginning, every new thing feels weird – but we want to introduce it, and maybe after five years it will feel OK.


LLS: That’s exciting to imagine if, as you say, a lot of people are coming to poetry for the first time through Teflon, and then are taking these forms of expression back to their own circles. So the influence these can both have on one another.


I’ve been wondering what role aesthetics play in Teflon? I mentioned to Jazra before that I went to an anarchist bookfair here in Athens – and I was kind of shocked – because so many of the zines and books were beautiful. I think in the UK there’s often an idea that for things to be truly ‘radical’, they have to look like shit. (Everyone laughs.)


KK: I always thought crappy editions were because of lack of means. Like, you ask whoever can do the typesetting to do it, because it’s more important to publish the text than to edit it or correct typos. For us, it was always a challenge to see movement pamphlets full of typos. We thought that it doesn’t need to be like that, because there are many people in the movement who are graphic designers, or copyeditors.


LLS: For sure – at some point in the UK it was about lack of means, but now I think it’s become its own aesthetic. I mean, when you know that the people making them have access to resources and salaried jobs, through academia or whatever. Then it becomes this thing of – you know, like when people dress like shit because they want to look like they don’t have much, but then you find out they have massive inheritances.


KK: Once in a collective we had a big fight – we were preparing a DIY publishing event, and the graphic designer that set the pamphlet to go with the event used like 15 different styles. Half of the paragraphs started on the left, the others on the right! We were like, ‘What is this?’ and she said, ‘We were talking about Dada and the avant-garde, so I thought to do crazy things!’


JK: ‘We are DIY, so let’s do whatever!’ (Everyone laughs.)


KK: We’re into crazy things – we’re very much into crazy things – but I’m of the opinion that there’s a limit where it becomes distracting to the reading. I’m not the biggest fan of everything being beautiful, because sometimes I find it kind of pretentious. Sometimes it needs to be a little more dirty, but I think at some point the reader can become distracted. I have friends that think that we shouldn’t correct typos, I’m very open to what’s right and wrong, and using different approaches. Typography rules have developed over centuries. You can break them – if you want to make something intentionally destructive, or to create discomfort or make a specific statement – but if you just want to tell a narrative, and it’s not typeset right –


LLS: So it has to be a conscious decision?


JK: Yeah, and consistent.


Degenerate Girls Were My Girlfriends

I like the fracturing of linearity
Art that involves more senses
Asking questions non-stop
To row with gusto
to beautifully dressed scenes
Leading clichés around by the hand
Streetfights, codes, hunts
The worst enemies burrowing in deep
The curtain back in the skyline’s coming apart
The Degenerate Girls won’t
tell you they were there
They’ve set sail on shrinking
oceans for some time now
Their salted eyes
tighten luminous hostilities
Strobe-lighten thunderclaps
for poorly tailored outfits

by Kyoko Kishida

translated by George Economou


LLS: There seems to be some poetic anxiety in the UK about how poetry can contribute – or how it relates to – to political struggle. There’s a piece of writing by Verity Spott I think about almost every day, on the ‘poetics of protest’ and the possibility of re-orientating poetry to particular situations of political organising or struggle. To not simply agitate and interrogate language on the page, but on the streets too. She actually mentions Athens! She talks about how embarrassing it can be on many demos in the UK, everyone chanting, “I said hey! Ho! Theresa May has got to go!” And then in Athens there are Greek anarchists on the street actually occupying whole sections of the city, saying things like, “A day of normality is more violent than a month of insurrection,” and “All that continues to live, lives against this society.” Maybe then, it can be possible for poetics to move beyond simply the individual poet saying the right thing in the right way, to something closer to collective articulation – that transforms how we understand ourselves and one another in the world. Maybe – again – too utopic!


KK: In many demos people do particular brainstorming to come up with cool, strong slogans! More and more people share the idea that ‘poetry is everywhere, and we can use it’ – people feel that they have to be more creative, and so there’s really nice slogans. But we’re also obsessed with hip hop, because we think it’s like poetry in the corners, in the streets – it’s in the everyday, it’s the thread of a long tradition. And many of the institutional poets look down on it, whereas abroad it’s a big thing.


JK: We published this book last week (hands over Bring the Noise)


KK: The first hip hop reader in Greece!


JK: Yeah, the first book on hip hop in Greece.


KK: It has a political perspective, and also tries to take a feminist perspective.


LLS: So is Teflon a press as well?


JK: It’s not exactly a press. We collaborate with political collectives and small independent presses. These publications also help us fund the magazine. Because it’s not easy –


LLS: You don’t take any state or institutional funding.


KK: No, we’re against that. It’s all based on subscriptions and donation boxes, and the magazine is free. Bookfairs and fanzine fairs are also important, there are some independent ones we participate in. After so many years, we can see there is a community created. I’m also part of feminist groups and grassroots health groups, and in my mind it’s all connected.


LLS: I like that – it means the reader is invited to become an active participant in the lineage and life of the magazine, like how so much of the poems translated and published in Teflon enable a collaborative force to emerge between writer and reader. I think Anna Mendelssohn’s work, which you published in Teflon last year, is a good example of this.



This is the reason why I do not conform.
A smile is a formality. That is all that exists
between people who do not know each other.
It is irrelevant what one knows of anyone.

The torso. People without minds. Tenses can be
Rapidly switched. How does one know that
one’s pursuer does not intend to cause one
harm. A man can demand explanations.

A woman is accused of aggressive behaviour
for querying motive. One does not need to
Pursue anyone, one can be invited to live
in a house & find oneself being used

for servitude. And Interrogated, relentlessly
& remorselessly, until one is too weak
to move. This is peace as is death.
It is imagined that one is writing.
Why is it difficult to register Detestation.

The dangers in writing are inherent.
Why it is dangerous to criticize the Establishment
Openly. Why what amuses the Establishment
is the Bad Use of language and Sex.
Why women are discussed in terms of knickers.
Why it is important not to lose control
Of one’s own mind. Why Literature
Frames novices. Why Framing is a sociopolitical act.


by Anna Mendelssohn
published in Teflon #19 (Summer/Autumn 2018)


Lotte L.S. <lotteleelewis AT> is a poet living in Great Yarmouth, the furthest easterly outlier of England. She is the 2019 recipient of the C.D. Wright Memorial Scholarship to the Community of Writers in Olympic Valley. She keeps an infrequent portfolio and tinyletter, Shedonism.



Teflon’s website and publications can be found here.