Only a week after receiving the Patrick White award for her lifelong contribution to literature, minimalist, multilingual poet and author Antigone Kefala passed away on Friday. She was 92.
She has been a member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council and is acknowledged as being an important voice in capturing the migrant experience in contemporary Australia.
“She was always generous with encouragement and advice and I will never forget our conversations. She was the best of us and her work will continue to exhaust definition,” Neos Kosmos’ Dean Kalimniou wrote on Facebook at the news of her passing.
Kefala, born in the Greek diaspora settlement Brăila, Romania in 1935, moved to Greece and then New Zealand after World War II with her family.
Having studied French Literature at Victoria University and obtaining an MA, she relocated to Sydney in 1960.
There she has taught English as a second language – where she also excelled- and worked as a university and arts administrator.
She started writing her poetry and prose in both Greek and English 50 years ago, mainly in free verse. She also wrote in French and Romanian.
Dorothy Poulopoulos wrote: “She attended every presentation throughout the Inaugural Greek Writers’ Festival at the Wheeler Centre from 10am on Saturday till 10 pm and again on Sunday from 10 am till 10pm, not wanting to leave anybody feeling unsupported and she did all of this after having made the long trip from Sydney to be in Melbourne for us – A truly beautiful human being.”
Her collections have been characterised “by an austere allusiveness unusual in Australian poetry” and have been described as having an almost metaphysical detachment.
Kefala’s acclaimed work Absence: New and Selected Poems reissued in a second edition in 1998.
In 2009, Antigone Kefala: A Writer’s Journey, an anthology of reviews, essays and analytical writing of Kefala’s works edited by Professor Vrasidas Karalis and Helen Nickas was published by Owl Publishing.
In 2017, Kefala was awarded the State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection Judith Wright Calanthe Award at the Queensland Literary Awards for her collection of poems titled Fragments.
In 2021, a collection of essays on her prose and poetry titled Antigone Kefala: New Australian Modernities, edited by Elizabeth McMahon and Brigitta Olubas, was published by UWA Publishing.
“Kefala’s work is work dedicated to the depiction of existential transparency: there is nothing ‘heavy’ in her verses. They all breathe with easiness, diaphaneity and calmness; there is a stoic gaze over the commotion and the turbulence of everydayness, a smile of acceptance and endurance,” Professor Vrasidas Karalis said in a previous Neos Kosmos feature dedicated to Antigone Kefala.
“Her work evolved and changed throughout the years after her first appearance in the seventies: the early attempts to explore the otherness of the Australian landscape and of a different linguistic landscape, made [her] also enter a poetic universe of ambiguous semantics. Such ambiguity led her unfolding work to explore the limits of linguistic articulation and reach a point of minimal ellipsis after which everything said is written on the walls of human fragility,”Prof. Karalis added.