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The sea with no one in it by Niki Koulouris  

In The sea with no one in it, Niki Koulouris takes readers from the mysterious and powerful depths of the ocean to the familiar and disparate artifacts of our land-locked daily lives.

In this stunning first collection, Canadian-Australian poet Niki Koulouris takes her readers out to sea. Born of Greek descent in Melbourne, Australia, Koulouris’ imagination is fixed on the ocean. Here she conjures striking displays of power from a bygone era, transposing the potent energy of each wave into each line. Deep in Koulouris’ sea, a formidable original force can be found, available to any who recognize it.

Even on land one is not far from this oceanic spell. Here life is composed of disparate pieces that confound us by falling into place. With startling juxtaposition, Koulouris creates a lollapalooza of the obsolete, extinct, familiar and yet-to-be. Sundry artifacts, remnants of a pan-epochal uprising, are adeptly curated, resulting in a realm-altering aftermath. As Koulouris’ modern speakers present us with oracular quandaries and recollections of various items – a Grecian kore, a telephone and sandwich in a Philip Guston painting, or a Twinkie and window envelope conjured up on a cab ride in Chicago, the city of their origins – we find the extraordinary amongst the contemporary disorientation that plagues us all.


2014—Wesley Michel Wright Prize,


2014—ReLit Awards, Poetry,

Table of contents

Part 1
     1. I’m fond of ships
     2. It looks like the ocean
     3. Don’t mention the sea
     4. You’ll miss more than the road
     5. You prefer these battles
     6. When night spiked
     7. As evening misses
     8. As you look out
     9. The closer you look
     10. If I’m the type
     11. Today of all days
     12. Today the fish are sober
     13. The sea does not need
     14. You’ll never know the sea
     15. Any day you walk the shore
     16. It was there all along
     17. The shoreline tells you
     18. Now the sea has the likeness
     19. You are the self-adorned
     20. World-worship at the Consulate

Part 2
     21. You have given me a city
     22. Shelled like the moon
     23. Arrows for stone fruit/Did I leave the San Francisco Museum
     24. In a pact with an owl
     25. The bear is carved
     26. I write for the beast
     27. If anything, he kept his onions
     28. I’ve come to expect Guernica
     29. These animals, they keep their heads
     30. Why think of her as the stranger
     31. As wide as the foot
     32. I bought a souvenir of New York
     33. In a turquoise cab
     34. You don’t have to be finished
     35. I am aware of It and Lunch
     36. You may decide rain
     37. Where were stars
     38. The impish drizzle
     39. The palm trees along the shore
     40. This is the new office
     41. These are works barely made
     42. Admire the forest
     43. Should I think of the river
     44. It’s always midnight

Review quote

The first section comprises a sustained seascape. Sound patterns and seductive brief phrases play off a metaphysical sense of the ocean, and its power over the imagination, against more concrete images and ideas. Words and phrases nudge against each other and form alliances.... [In] Part 2 ... a number of ekphrastic poems exuberantly inhabit the work of modern artists and ancient monuments. Some readers will readily relate to the evocations of the work of Anselm Kiefer, Philip Guston and Maurice Sendak, and to Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. Others will be intrigued enough to seek out the originals.

—Christopher Ringrose, Australian Poetry Journal

Review quote

‘In her debut poetry collection, Niki Koulouris stands, as many have before her, at the lip of the sea. New from the Porcupine’s Quill press, The sea with [no one] in it is a sparse re-examining of the water that surrounds us, the preternatural body on our shores. The collection rattles with the detritus of land-meets-depths, as spare and exact as a ship in a bottle.’

—Emily Davidson, The Telegraph-Journal

Review quote

‘Niki Koulouris’ poems take up the contemporary challenges of environmentalism and ekphrasis—poems about other kinds of artifice, including statuary and Stelarc—in a global frame. Her pithy, often punchy poems mix the sentimental with the acerbic, Alpine cigarettes with "Lolly Gobble Bliss Bomb bliss." Above all, Koulouris’s topic is the sea that "never closes/unlike the sun," with all its mutability and absoluteness.’

—Wesley Michael Wright Prize citation

Review quote

‘One can sight in Kouloris’s work the surrealism of the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos, but also the fabulous imagination of Leonard Cohen’s Greek-flavoured poems and songs of the 1960s. Indeed, almost any stanza from Koulouris could be inserted into Cohen’s "Suzanne."’

—George Elliott Clarke, Maple Tree Literary Supplement

Review quote

‘There is something entrancing about Koulouris’s poetry. It makes readers want to dive deep within it, to drown. Its rhythms are intoxicating and, like a riptide, refuse to let go. The surface appearance of simplicity belies the poems’ complex and daunting depth.’

—Anthony Frame

Excerpt from book


It looks like the ocean
with its cargo of gunpowder and ash
bottles the colour of bulls
from another era
longhorns moving ahead
and not much else

once it had been
half man, half sea
unhealed, yet unwounded
by the greyest of steeples

I do not think of the deep
what has been worn
will be worn again by sheiks

why leave these shores
when the rest of the waves
will come to us

what more can they bring us
these waves
with their formula-one
alligator instincts
but vast zithers
and drop sheets that
fall short of rafts.


Today of all days
this is the sea with no one in it
is this all it will be
unable to dye all it touches
in primitive ink

what could you give the sea
but your stripes,
since you ask,
your war paint, your blindfolds
your appetite for westerns
in exchange for waves
as wide as trains
from the next frontier.


It was there all along
as if undiscovered
the modern sea
already alive, sawn off
craved by gravel
summoned by the populace
that salvaged pendants
from the surgery of tides

even though it was the sea
it did not seem like it
nor did it seem like what it could be
it was not the sea I missed
on its way to another age

It has always been like the sky
on a day no one is born
it has become its counterpart
a half icon, as permanent,
from where can it be seized
how should it be adorned?

Unpublished endorsement

‘[Koulouris] seems to have a whale of imagination and experience with which to talk about our lives in a sort of ocean trip scenario.

‘The logic of a female explorer allows this very talented author to turn the many stories we have into ravishing poems. I hope the other new poets out there won’t be too envious. So much grace. This is the debut book of the season!’

—David Donnell, author of the Governor General’s Award-winning book of poetry, Settlements

Unpublished endorsement

‘It is not surprising that Canadian poet, Niki Koulouris, who was raised in Australia and whose heritage is Greek, focuses her imagination on the sea. What is surprising is the stunning poetry she makes of her setting. These poems – with their unexpected turns, startling juxtapositions, dream sequences and mysteries – are in the service of a sibylline voice that makes Koulouris heir to MacEwen, Atwood and Lowther. By bringing shards of the classical world into the present, Koulouris’ poems provide us with an ironic and, I believe, accurate presentation of our contemporary bewilderment’

—Kenneth Sherman


Niki Koulouris was born in Melbourne, Australia, and is a graduate of the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. She has worked as a staff writer and editor at Victoria University. Her poetry and prose has appeared in The Cortland Review, Space, Subtext Magazine and The Age. A beer enthusiast, she has been known to start spontaneous lists on napkins of her top India Pale Ales. Niki lives in Toronto. The sea with no one in it is her first book.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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POETRY / Canadian

POETRY / General

ISBN-13: 9780889843639

Publication Date: 2013-10-01

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 64

Price: $14.95