Saturday, October 08, 2016


“Within the dark of anguish/ I inhabited your footsteps/ these you told me/ are the yeast of resurrection.”

The above lines could easily have been written by Saint Isaac the Syrian, John of Dalyatha or any of the desert fathers of the Thebaid. The “Noted Transparencies” a collection of poems, the majority of which were revealed Muhammad-like, to the poet Nikos Nomikos in a nocturnal vision and only written down decades later in the Antipodes, are not just imbued with the desert tradition, they are sodden in it. That vision, is not an easy one either to behold, or to record. It is just as painful as that granted to John of the Apocalypse, and just as cryptic: “I saw a towering lord-like man, with a parchment spread across his chest, I tried to read it, but strange were its words, and it reminded me, of an old happy world, in which I had once lived.” Unlike that of Saint John, Nomikos’ Apocalypse is comprehensible, (albeit barely), but does not appear to lead to any discernible resolutions, save for the affirmation of the palimpsest of his own memory.

Most notable is the sparse, arid, apophthegmatic quality of Nomikos’ revelations.

The words of desert fathers are few but their meaning are as manifold as the grains of sand that comprise their home. They need to be, for time is of the essence: “…and he told me, look on the calendar, nigh are its hours, the definition of silence and do not worry, tomorrow I sail, with the morning line.”  Typical of the Orthodox conception of time is the manner in which Nomikos conflates it, confounding any modern perspective of its linearity. This vision is of things that have passed, are currently passing and are yet to pass, all in one. In all of this, there is an incredible amount of waiting: “I am sitting on the bench, along with others, waiting for my turn to be called, to the feast of the apocalypse, just as they had told me.” There are therefore, apocalypses and apocalypses of apocalypses and we slowly begin to understand the aptness of the title: “Noted Transparencies.” The desert fathers aspire to theosis, union with the Godhead. On that day, the earthly raiment of the corporeal shall be shed in favour of the ineffable and the aethereal and spiritual paradoxes such as that of the “itinerant musician…just playing his guitar so deftly, never mind that he was one-handed,” shall be superseded.

We place Nikos Nomikos among the desert fathers of the diaspora, however reluctant, for he is that rare thing, a diasporan by birth, even before arriving at the Antipodes, a source of wonder, even for the poet himself: “In any case, no matter whom I asked, nobody knew to tell me, why they invited us, to this different land.” Born in Alexandria to Greek migrants, his conception of Hellenism is that not of the exile, but of the outsider. Living in the same neighbourhood as Cavafy, and later going on to inhabit the same workstation as Nikos Kavvadias, a following in the footsteps of the fathers, if there ever was one, Nikos Nomikos’ poetry is remarkable (and mercifully) devoid of the palindromic but ultimately stultifying nostalgia for place and time that has so characterized the poetry of his generation.

His tradition, as opposed to that of many of his peers which appears to have frozen in time upon their arrival upon these shores, is a living one, which can thus facilitate the poets’ effortless spiritual navigation through millennia of the human condition, without becoming anachronistic, or stale, all the while encouraging us, to ascend or descend to the sublime, at will, upon a ladder with him and his teachers:  “The alarm clock howled beside me, at days reveille, with all the sensitive demands, of the spiritual person, and I remembered my teacher, not Saint John of the Ladder, him I never had the privilege, he only left me his ladder, freshly painted, as a memento, but the Alexandrine, originally from Corfu, Ioannis Gikas…”

The juxtaposition of Saint and exiled teacher here is not coincidental. Saint John Climacus is known as an ascetic who abandoned the world for the monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai, there to pen the Ladder, a manual that describes how to raise one's soul and body to God through the acquisition of ascetic virtues. Incidentally it is in the Ladder' that we first hear of the ascetic practice of carrying a small notebook to record the thoughts of the monk during contemplation. In similar fashion, the poet Nikos Nomikos views his toil as being best ascribed to that of the ascetic, even referring to his workspace as his ασκητήριον. Thus in a poem that appears to converse intertextually with his neighbour Cavafy’s ‘The Afternoon Sun’ («This room, how well I know it.») he states: «The room is quite small, three by three, but with vast ascetic dimensions, full of fires and passions, which whatever we say, outlast distant measures of time, and their word, is heard deep, in the hearing of lovers, the decency of spiritual light.»

Gikas, on the other hand,  «with his all white beard, his monocle, and the black cloak of intellectualism, that whenever I saw him my skull shuddered from his spirit, and I would sit for hours on end, listening to him...» is just as capable of imparting those things needful in the diaspora as any metropolitan Hellene. Spirituality aside therefore, Nomikos’ alternative vision of the Greek diaspora, that of a community completely emancipated from its cultural cringe of ersatzness, self-confident and capable of manipulating its past heritage and current conditions in order to formulate and articulate a world view of its own, is an exciting and overwhelmingly relevant one, if only we have the noetic insight to follow in his footsteps, for the search for topos is eternal and transcends itself: «From then I began designing the winters of the future, on sorrowful canvases, in the gallery of the soul, with faces full of incurable dreams, of the golden Homeland, which are never-ending.»

It is perhaps fitting then that «Noted Transparencies» has been translated from the original Greek by diasporan scholar and poet George Mouratidis, who, despite being born in Athens, culturally belongs to the second diasporic generation. Mouratidis’ translation is careful, considered and unobtrusive, rendering the desert father Nikos Nomikos’ Apocalypse, with all the faith, respect and discernment that it compells of his disciples, hence his admission that: «every one of my conversations with Nomikos is a lesson...Nomikos, both in his art and life, is a world unto himself, one into which he himself disappears, taking the reader with him.»

«Noted Transparencies,» is the only collection by Nomikos to appear in English. Published by Owl Publishing, the imprint of Greek academic stalwart Helen Nickas, who has devoted much effort in disseminating the works of Greek diasporan poets to the broader mainstream, it is more than a monument, in the words of Lucy Van, to the ruptured flowrings of time: intimate, beatific and sad.   Instead, it is the entire sublime paradox of existence, to be «celebrated with choirs and high floods of light.» For each of us, all it could take to be granted the vision of this humbly transparant desert father, could be: «that poem, with the gilded dove on its breast, which spoke of syllables of the soul, on the open sails of the ineviable journey, with a closed mouth of sacrament.» And in the meantime, as the noetic prayer of poetry is rendered faithfully into the English idiom through the ascesis of Mouratidis for the edification of us all, «tonight the wind is blowing and it is raining heavily, in the ascetic’s face.»

The English translation of Noted Transparencies was launched at the Collected Works Bookshop on Friday 30 September 2016.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 October 2016