Dani Yourukova


(Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2023)
ISBN 9781776711000. RRP $29.99. 108pp.

Dani Yourukova’s debut, Transposium, is a cool book. A smooth book. It’s got it together. Using Ancient Greek philosophy and modern popular culture, it creates clever, subtle layers of meaning. I painted my nails before I sat down to write this review, so I am typing weird with flat fingers, trying not to smudge them. If Transposium were a nail polish job, it would have no smudges. It would have great nails. 

Transposium takes its name from Plato’s Symposium, which is often treated so seriously and revered as a crucial text on the philosophy of love. It is a text that presents itself as a record of philosophical debates between Athenian men, featuring and centred around Socrates. What often goes unrecognised is that a ‘symposium’ was an ancient, glorified drinking party, and that Plato’s Symposium is, in many places, genuinely funny. There is a playfulness in many Classical texts that too often gets overlooked or minimised. Transposium really leans into the silliness of antiquity, while at the same time proving that classical texts can illuminate modern experiences, because they light up Yourukova’s world.

Like Yourukova, I studied Classics at University, and got very sick of people asking me, with various degrees of well-meaningness, what I was going to ‘do’ with my degree. Yourukova certainly does a lot with theirs! The collection is brimming with direct and indirect references to Symposium. Many pieces take their titles straight from the names of its key figures (e.g. ‘Phaedrus’, ‘Agathon’, ‘Alcibiades’), and these set the poems’ scopes like herms marking boundaries in text. These plentiful references, however, do not stop the collection from being modern in vernacular and focus. This is exemplified in ‘Socrates Correct’, when the question is raised: ‘what is the probability that ‘Diotima’ is Socrates’ deadname?’ (p. 16). Diotima was a female philosopher quoted by Socrates in Symposium, who it has long been speculated was fictional, and just a way for Socrates to express his own perspectives. Thus calling ‘Diotima’ a ‘deadname’ not only alludes to this debate, but casts Socrates as queer. Which itself echoes another debate about Socrates—regarding his own preferences—that has been raging since antiquity.

Transposium leans hard into humour and irony. The ancient history is transformed by modern styling; the first section, ‘Transposium’, is formatted like the personality tests that adorned the pages of early 2000s tweenage magazines, such as Creme and Girlfriend. The first poem presents a series of questions with options, and then has the classic: ‘If you answered mostly…X. Turn to page X’. You are then presented with which ancient figure you ‘are’. Seeing as you were wondering, I am Agathon, and upon reading the corresponding poem am told to ‘see how Eros makes a poet of us all’ (p. 15). This interactive structure encourages nonlinear readings of the collection, and changes the way the reader interacts with the text. Nostalgia and humour pervade the reading experience, but not in a way that prevents more candid, philosophical moments (e.g. the eros line quoted previously) from also shining.

This technique is mirrored in the final section, ‘Alcibiades Chooses Their Own Adventure’ which is set up as if a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. This, again, evokes nostalgia and joy, as Yourukova plays with and matures the format, providing options to choose from such as: ‘Absolutely do not fucking do that’ (p. 73), and ‘Sexy dissociation’ (p. 74). Most often you end up dead, eventually, and thus you are encouraged to go back, read the poems again, and choose a different fate. This creates an unsettling but deeply intriguing reading experience, and puts me in mind of Bill Manhire’s iconic ‘The Brain of Katherine Mansfield’.  

The middle section of the book, ‘Dialectic’, employs a more traditional format, and instead of using an external quiz/story structure, seems to draw more from Yourukova’s own experiences. There are meditations on Jurassic Park, Sims, Goodreads, and queer friendships, alongside more classical references. I happen to be an avid Sims player, and was delighted by the description of the admittedly ridiculous experience of playing those games, interspersed with unsettling moments, such as: ‘our bodies grow in data’ (p. 35), which echoes the fun/horror of simulation games as a concept. Occasionally tender moments, such as ‘Love poem for the snail in our toilet’, complement this and examine how it feels to ‘love small/and terrible/things’ (p. 53). However, this section feels to me less crafted than the others – perhaps a uniting structure would have made it more cohesive and enhanced the collection as a whole.

The strength of Transposium lies in its concepts, vibes, and single powerful lines. The verses themselves are not always stunning on their own, but in situ make something transcendental. Yourukova at times excels with simplicity; stating something everyone knows, but has not quite yet been put into words. In ‘Love poem for the mustard yellow jacket I lost on TradeMe’, Yourukova writes: ‘and you shouldn’t need another person to make you better even though we all need other people to make us better’ (p. 46). Granted – not a flowery or descriptive line of poetry, but one that rings true and smacks you in the heart and face with the truth. In the best way.

There is a lot about the book that will resonate with many, especially young nonbinary people. ‘Gender of the Day’, for example, has an off-kilter rhyme-scheme listing obscure things that give ~gender~, including: a piece of string, long-tailed bats, an orange peel, an earnest callout (p. 51). But there is not only humorous queer content – there is also a delicate hope revealed by some poems; an exciting and beautiful envisioning of queer futures. This is exemplified in ‘Love poem for a future’, the last piece in the collection, which declares triumphantly: ‘and I, against all odds, am radiant’ (p. 88).

Not so radiant is my smudged nail polish. I got too excited; wrote too hard, but it was worth it for this collection. I can imagine many readers of many different backgrounds, experiences, and levels of knowledge about Ancient Greek philosophy not only enjoying it, but being broadened and enriched by it. Overall, yes, it is interactive and ironic – but it also has real moments of heart. It is a joy to hear them beat.

1. Stone boundary markers/milestones used in Ancient Greece, often with sculpted heads of the god Hermes and phalluses (of course, this is Greek antiquity we’re talking about here…).

2. The term ‘deadname’ is commonly used in the LGBTQ+ community, especially among transgender people, to refer to someone’s former/given name once they have changed it.

3. An Athenian tragic playwright and figure in Symposium, who is renowned for his exceptional beauty and skill. All his works have been lost.

4. An online, choose your own adventure story that, if you choose one of the first (seemingly safer) options, you get unexpectedly killed by an axe murderer. Among many other horrors/wonders. This text can be accessed here: http://quarteracre.net/brain/index.html.



Hebe Kearney


Hebe Kearney is a poet and librarian who lives in Tāmaki Makaurau. Their work has appeared in publications
including: Mantissa Poetry Review, Mayhem, Overcom, Rat World, samfiftyfour, Starling, Symposia, takahē, Tarot,
and Poetry Aotearoa Yearbooks. You can find them at @he__be on Instagram

Works Published