You Animal Machine (The Golden Greek)

An essay by Eleni Sikelianos

June 10, 2014 • 5.5 x 8.25 • 126 pages • 978-1-56689-360-2

A memoir of Melena, five times married, mother, burlesque dancer, and “the hardest-assed woman to ever eat wood and bite nails.”

This is the tale of Melena, five times married, mother of three, burlesque dancer, and “the toughest, hardest-assed woman to ever eat wood and bite nails.” Located in history and memory, the real and the imagined, her life cracks open questions of identity at the heart of an American, immigrant, woman’s experience. You Animal Machine offers a glimpse of both the violence and the beauty of the margins, where “outskirts make their own centers.”

About the Author

Eleni Sikelianos is the author of six books of poetry, most recently The Loving Detail of the Living and the Dead and The California Poem, which was a Barnes & Noble Best of the Year, as well as hybrid memoirs, The Book of Jon and You Animal Machine (The Golden Greek). Sikelianos teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Denver. A California native, longtime New Yorker, and world traveler, she now lives in Boulder with her husband, the novelist Laird Hunt, and their daughter, Eva Grace.


“Melena strikes a playful and sharp figure in her leopard print costume. Sikelianos never lets go of the fantasy of the image, but she also explores her grandmother’s underlying grit. Fans of her previous work will be sure to enjoy Sikelianos’s atypical memoir.” Publishers Weekly

“A wonderfully strange and inventive book by a professor and poet who combines various forms into an unclassifiable whole. . . . The writing pulsates with such life force, reckless and a little giddy, as the author surveys her family’s female history, the immigration of Greeks to America. . . . This is writing and reading as adventure, where every page can bring a different sort of revelation.” Kirkus, starred review

“Sikelianos’ portrait includes poems, unusual typography, and photographs that would not look out of place in a W. G. Sebald novel.” —Booklist

“This experimental memoir—part scrapbook, essay and poem—tells the story of Melena, a burlesque dancer and mother whose experiences as an American immigrant woman encompass issues of identity and belonging.” Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row

“This hybrid work . . . is simply sui generis, refreshingly unclassifiable. . . . By the time I made it out to that rock shop in the desert, I began to feel like a detective in my own unexamined life.” Coldfront Magazine

“Through artifacts—lists of songs, newspaper clippings, photographs, film posters, staged interviews, poems—the poet Sikelianos assembles a textual chimera that keeps sliding through her fingers.” —The Believer

“Eleni Sikelianos’ memoir You Animal Machine (The Golden Greek) is inventively told through poems, essays, and photos.” —Largehearted Boy

“In her searching for answers that will not yield, and her courage of locating her own responses—creating her own story to fill in for the material she lacks—Sikelianos delivers more than a traditional narrative ever would. . . . Readers are granted entrance into an unconventional method of storytelling Sikelianos has made all her own.” Bookslut

“Eleni Sikelianos throws the dressing robes off the essay, exposing the literary device’s exotic form, just as she exposes the bare mettle of her maternal grandmother Melena.” —Museum of Americana

“[You Animal Machine] is tough as nails: you can feel Sikelianos at work, forcibly stitching it with catgut string, only to watch it fly apart again.” —The Believer

“A moving story told in an inventive form.” Shelf Unbound

“A book of outcasts, Sikelianos’ poetic memoir is a remarkable exploration of personal history, the fluid nature of identity, and the impossibility of knowing everything about anyone, especially someone as complicated, changing and deliberately slippery as Sikelianos’ grandmother, Melena.” —Rob McLennan

You Animal Machine offers a glimpse of both the violence and the beauty of the margins, where ‘outskirts make their own centers.’ Poetry, translation, narration, novelization, and memory all grapple for your attention in this brilliant debut novel.” BuzzFeed

“Boulder poet Sikelianos has written a memoir that defies easy description but is somehow reminiscent of Beat literature.” Boulder Daily Camera

“In an age when ‘research’ summons the banality of search engines, Eleni Sikelianos blessedly reaches into the birth-hole, the warming dirt, the wrong side of magic, and brings forth dark whorls of language, imagination, and history. Sikelianos is a shamanistic denizen of the desert and the dark, but her journey is laced with irony as well as wisdom and beauty—expect lazurite to coexist with KFC bones stuffed under a mattress, expect a narrator as tough and hard-assed as her fascinating, fugitive subject. No matter how one summarizes its scope or achievement, You Animal Machine (The Golden Greek) will surpass it, with its too much mother-static, its fundamental wildness.” —Maggie Nelson

“This is Sikelianos at her most rapturous and hallucinatory, a gravestone rubbing that captures the smudgy mess of language and summons with it a fantastical map of what makes us human, what makes us feral, and what still has the ability to make us tremble in wonder at a time when the world has convinced itself that it knows enough already. Held together by dream, by luck, by chain link and goat weed, this is an essay that gets it right: ‘Let me try to do this thing. Please get the fuck out of my way.’” —John D'Agata

“As feminism reaches the height of the hashtag, Sikelianos instead drums forward a womans experience with other words. . . . Here lies Sikelianos’ prowess: she gives readers the power to imagine and inquire and be ridiculous as we do so. —HuffPost

“With her latest book, Eleni Sikelianos sashays with the essay, teasing us with the literary devices exotic form.” —Los Angeles Review

“It is about the multiplicity of stories, and the story as mirage, as temporary placeholder.” —Boston Review