Saturday, May 21, 2011


"We fear however that
one day we will be "discovered"
by those who shunned us
may God not let us live to see that day."
('The Philosophers,' Νick Trakakis)

Philosopher, theologian, poet and all round good, oozing with positivity guy Nick Trakakis, with whom I have had the honour of co-habiting this page from time to time, is the author of the realization of his own fears. For, through his meticulous labours and scholarly discretion, has managing to ferret out of the dank fens of our community, a large quantity of quality Australian born Greek-Australian poets.
With a few notable exceptions, the Australian-born Greek Australian poet is a timid creature. Not for him the razzamatazz, trumpets, glitz and glamour of the Sunday book-launch, accompanied by homemade cakes and mutual back-slapping, or the casual appearance of their poems on the correspondence pages of the Greek language counterpart of this august publication. No, the Australian-born Greek-Australian poet is made of humbler, more stoical, reclusive and yet sterner stuff, preferring to dwell, feed and procreate verse on the fringes of the organized Greek community, passing largely unnoticed by the more mammoth organisms that comprise the genus. In fact, should you have the rare privilege of inadvertently coming across a Greek-Australian poet, ensconced in the local library, at a local pub poetry reading, or seated at their workplace, furtively scribbling verse behind their computer screen, quaking in fear lest their boss or their workmates discover their perversion, you need to be considerate and careful, lest they scurry away into the obscurity they have grown so used to. Feeding them makes them less timid, but has the tendency to encourage them to be garrulous, especially with regards to poetry, whereupon the unique ritual, often mistaken for a mating ritual among some of the males of the sub-species of the genus, of commencing all sentiences with the word 'I,' takes place. This is generally to be avoided. Australian-born Greek-Australian poets tend to thrive in captivity and enclosed spaces generally and some display arrested development after too much preening, encouragement and uncritical admiration by those who own them as pets. The jury is out as to whether they display the tendency of biting the hand the feeds them, though some authorities hold that those that are taken care of in the wintertime, tend to emerge ready to bite their victims, in the summer.
It is for this reason that the recent publication and presentation of a landmark anthology of the best of the poetry of Australian born Greek-Australian poets, under the discerning editorship of Nick Trakakis is a historical event for the Greek community. As Helen Nickas pointed out at the Melbourne launch of "Southern Sun: Aegean Light," with all the title's attendant similes and references to Ozone layers, harshness etc, the anthology proves once and for all that Greek-Australian literature (just like Greek-Australians) cannot be stereotyped or categorized, presenting instead, a wide range of styles, inspirations and influences, each of which may touch on aspects of the Greek identity in novel ways. In particular, because it has emerged from obscurity and not overshadowed by the dictates and tastes of Greek language Greek-Australian poetry which at one end of the scale invariably rhymes and deals with the loss of the homeland or social injustice and at the other end, is more modernist and deals with a range of subjects, mostly influenced by modern Greek literature, it must be classified as Australian poetry, and form a niche within it. After all, if one writes in English, then stylistically, and contextually, much of what has been read before in that language will influence the consequent literary output.
Ross King, way back in 1979, when writing about Greek literature predicted that:
"...grandchildren will have some chance of standing back and reconsidering and some will write. (Introspection comes later in a cultural experience.) Uncle Blasos or grandpa will seem jolly and amusing in the distance. There will be antipodean. jokes. But the richest experiences, which are occurring now, are likely to remain uncommunicated."
He was of course totally wrong in this, given the vast output of first generation literature. However, he was right in hinting that the literature of the English speaking generation will more likely be about their own experience and search for an identity rather than that of their parents.
With some of the more intellectual poets, an examination of the Greek identity may be in the form of reinterpreting texts, especially philosophical or historical that the West has deemed to form part of the Greek identity. The fact that they influence the poetry of Australian born Greek-Australians indicates that a Greek identity or influence is not only constructed by what is passed down from those who have had direct communication with the motherland, but also through books written about that motherland - in English.
Sometimes, a consciousness of that identity does not mean that aspects of that identity must be recorded in a faithful way. After all, one's own vision is purely subjective. It may be displayed in haunting, evocative verse that reflects upon pastimes such as lace-making, in the poetry of Angela Costi, or in the phonetically incorrect recording of Greek songs, showing that what is understood today by the first generation as a Greek identity, will survive in half whispered and understood fragments in the future, much as the great Antipodean poet Cavafy had predicted. The process of this taking place is enshrined in "Southern Sun: Aegean Light," making it all the more valuable a collection.
Literary greats such as Tom Petsinis, rub shoulders with lesser known poets in the collection, yet all the poems have something valuable to say. Furthermore, proving that Australian born Greek-Australian poets are a diverse and quirky bunch, there do appear poets within the collection who choose to write mainly in Greek, Dr Christos Galiotos and yours truly, though as I remarked at the launch, I do so mainly in order to inhabit a righteous and harmonious realm beyond the ravages of literary criticism, with questionable results.
Given that Greek literary endeavours in Australia are usually driven by the first generation, it is questionable how long it would have taken those interested to display the depth of sensitivity and dedication that made "Southern Sun: Aegean Light," possible. The fact that this endeavour stems from the second generation which is now seeking not only to create but to define and examine itself is an immense and consoling achievement and Nick Trakakis truly deserves our gratitude. It is hoped that the publication of the anthology will inspire deep research into the literary output of the Australian-born generations of our community, for their work is highly crafted and truly inspirational.
Occupying a place between the highly indentified Greeks of the first generation, and those of the latter, more assimilated generation, the poets of the collection show both how umbilical cords can be broken slowly, and what remains. As one of my favourite poets, also in the collection, Peter Lyssiotis reminisces:
The last word my mother spoke
left a small black hole
in the air outside the kitchen
just above the lemon tree -
it's still there.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 21 May 2011