Category Archives: highlight

Haibun Triptych in Blue Fifth Review: The Blue Collection 9

Grateful thanks to Michelle Elvy and Sam Rasnake for publishing my Haibun Triptych in the special issue “The blue collection 9: Home” of the phenomenal Blue Fifth Review!
Photo magic “Boat” by Maria Pierides accompanies the triptych.
Check it out:
Blue Fifth Review … the blue collection: 9: home (Winter 2018 / 18.10)

Boat,Haibun Triptych "Home"

‘blood moon’ #28 October 2012

What difference a week makes…















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blood moon landscape painting with angels
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NaHaiWriMo prompt: stranger

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Blood moon, or Hunter’s moon, refer to the first full moon after the Harvest moon, in October. The light of the moon was used by hunters to  track and kill their prey, stockpiling food before the winter cold set in. The link between Blood moon and angels is for my reader to make…

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The Annunciation

The Annunciation on the Wall

“Some great paintings are inexhaustible wells, forever self-replenishing,” Michael Glover writes in The Independent’s Great works: Annunciation (1438-45), Fra Angelico.  In a well-written article, he refers  to a number of other works on the same, very popular subject. Most of these other paintings include symbolic elaborations and allusions which may be said to clatter the subject.

Fra Angelico’s image is sparse: there is no holy book on Mary’s lap, other paraphernalia or decorative allusions pointing elsewhere. Mary and the angel, both with folded arms mirroring one another and looking into each other’s eyes, seem to be quietly and calmly accepting of the message of the conception – of the realisation (incarnation) of the divine. There is an acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation, respect, as well as certainty that it will be carried through.

More importantly, in this Annunciation there is a pervading sense of stillness. In the instant depicted, contact, communion, acceptance have taken place and now there is stillness and silence. Mary and the Angel face one another in a moment pregnant with meaning. They, and we, know that a whole new chapter is to follow.

For me, great works of art, or literature, are great because they are timeless representations of humanity’s most precious treasures. In this case, The Annunciation is the metaphor for the creative moment, when the “aha!” experience is reached (in-spire), when a new thought, a new conception arises in the mind. In this sense, the annunciation transcends the narrower context of Christian belief to emerge as a universal symbol of the creative, generative moment.

A print of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation – which for me captures the universality of  inspiration at the moment it materialises in the mind, as it becomes flesh, or ink, poem or book – hangs on the wall of my house. I pass it with pleasure several times a day, always looking and waiting for the “Angel” to appear.

The Voice of (the) God (particle)

The Voice of God

Poets, writers, artists, and composers have always tried to listen to God. Through words, paints, colours, notes, they have often succeeded, as is attested by the quality of literature, art, and music in the treasure-chest of humanity.

Now, scientists are getting nearer to hearing God. Or rather, nearer to the sound of the Higgs Boson particle, nicknamed God Particle. Using a process termed sonification, they are converting scientific data collected though the LHC at Cern, into sounds.

You can listen to the sounds produced so far: http://bit.ly/b0zMG2.  I personally prefer Bach – or at least Mozart’s interpretations of the voice of God!

Photo credit: Maria Pierides /p>

Carry a Poem

Responding to the “Carry a Poem”, Edinburgh’s city of literature reading campaign 

question: “How do you carry yours?” I sent in the piece below. I also enjoyed reading
other people’s poem stories. Have a look, you might find something to your heart’s
liking: http://carryapoem.com/category/stories/

Blue NightSTELLA’S STORY: BLUE NIGHT Thursday, 28 January 2010
I have different poems to suit different occasions. Poems,
fragments, even lines of poems I keep in my books, notice-board, notebook, iPod,
in my heart and head. And I keep renewing them, thanks to the wonderful output of our poets.
Last Christmas, I loved Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’;
last year, for rainy days, I carried Don Paterson’s ‘Rain’; the last few years,
Mary Oliver’s ‘Wild Geese’, hearing their ‘harsh and exciting’ cries as a wake
up call to the world. For decades, I pondered over Giorgos Seferis’ ‘In the Manner of G.S.’. So many others… Whenever I need reminding of my place in nature, in the order of things, whenever my expectations become too great, I reach for Sean O’Brien’s
‘Blue Night’. Downloaded from the Guardian, it lights up my computer screen. Therefore. Therefore, I become small, or tall. I draw strength and inspiration. Thank you Sean O’Brien. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jan/14/tseliotprizeforpoetry.awardsandprizes1
from Blue Night by Sean O’Brien Therefore. Therefore. Do not be weak. They have no time for pity or belief,

2 Writers, many years later:

Reading Room Blog

Two writers writing about the refugees:

Renee Hirschon, Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)

Hirschon draws on her research as an anthropologist in one of the refugee areas of Piraeus, Kokkinia, in 1972. Living within the refugee community, Hirschon was able to observe people’s customs and traditions, listen to their stories, and witness their lives. The fact that they referred to themselves as refugees and they were addressed as such in 1972, fifty years from the 1922 catastrophic events in Asia Minor, becomes the pivot of the book, and underpins the facts she discusses.

Hirschon was able to follow the grievances, alienation, marginalisation and suffering of this group of people living in Piraeus, and their attempts to cope with their situation by forging a separate identity within the Greek nation. While later years brought prosperity and the option to move out of the area, large numbers decided to stay in overcrowded properties for economic, socio-political, and to some degree, psychological reasons. Hirschon’s work focuses on a moment in time in the lives of this group of Mikrasiates, which tells a story of their continuing need for an identity and a way of coming to terms with their situation.

From the iconostasi (icon corner/alcove) to the proxenio (the procedure of arranging the marriage), to the dowry, to the seeming contradiction of religious practice with left-wing commitment, and to the surprising ratio of chairs per head, the book presents and explores a society both alive and struggling to maintain its identity. Hirschon relates a woman refugee saying that while the catastrophic events in Asia Minor and their consequences were traumatic experiences to the older generation, they are heard only as fairy tales by their offspring.

This book paints an alive picture of the people and the society it describes.

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Leyla Neyzi, ‘Remembering Smyrna/Izmir: Shared History, Shared Trauma’ in History and Memory, Bloomington: 2008, 20:2

Gülfem Kaatcilar Iren, a woman from Smyrna/Izmir, born in 1915, talks to Leyla Neyzi about her experiences of war, and the destruction of Smyrna and Manisa in  particular, events central to the history of Greece and Turkey. These events are referred to in Greece as the Smyrna ‘disaster’, while in Turkey as the ‘liberation’ of Izmir. This paper provides a unique account of the co-existence of two contradictory discourses framing the identity of the witness interviewed, as well as a wonderful illustration of shared humanity between people on the opposite sides of the political divide of the Aegean.

In a sensitive manner and with an ability to hold conflicting approaches in balance, Neyzi identifies two separate discourses in this narrative: a nationalist discourse which rationalises the events in Izmir and the ‘silence’ that followed them, and a discourse based on personal experience, which empathizes with those who lost the war and were forced to emigrate to another country (in this case, Greece) for safety.

Neyzi explores the coexistence and intersection between the two discourses while placing them within the wider socio-political context of the discussion about identity and history in modern-day Turkey.

Of Love and Fish

IMG_0762.jpgIt might be true to say that Lakis, the seventeen year old new arrival to Athens, was born with an innate distrust of women. That, or it was his mother who influenced him. Without indulging in cheap psychology, let us give the idea a try. His history provides more than enough evidence. Lakis often goes over it, again and again. Do not be deceived by his job, and its meagre demands on his intellect. Crying daily “Sardines. Lovely sardines!” at the fish market may be simple enough, but it is what hides behind it that informs his character.

The weak muscle of his eye was the first thing his mother disliked. Born of a good family, her father a sea captain, she had always lusted after his men. She admired strong muscles in every form. She fell pregnant by one of them. Her father beat her with a chair and then locked her in a room overlooking the sea.

“He is an old-fashioned, hard-headed Greek,” her mother told her. “What can we do? You should have kept your skirts down, my girl.”

Out she pressed her tongue, in defiance. But there was no defying the will of her father. “I will show him, I will,” she repeated day and night, greeting her teeth, biting the insides of her cheeks. “I will show him.” And when her “muscle” man did not show up, when she heard he had sailed to Africa, the saying changed to, “I will show them!” Which she did. She “showed” everyone, including her son Lakis, of the weak eye muscle, by depriving them of her presence. By hiding away in her head.

The boy was starved of love. His mother was bent on revenge, his grandmother on mourning her absent captain of a husband. The boy played on his own and spoke to himself. All day, every day, in that lonely room, on top of the sad house overlooking the sea, overlooking the abode of his father. Sometimes he drew lines on the wooden floorboards. With his little finger. Invisible lines, like the lines ships draw on the surface of the sea. Sometimes he hummed songs he never heard in reality, rubbing with his index finger his favourite nail on the window frame. Sometimes he looked out of the window, like his own mother had looked at the sea, when she was longing for love herself and lost her mind to revenge. A ship passed every now and then. Clouds passed often. Boats passed every day. Boats with solitary men, escaping their pregnant wives. He tried to see if one of them was his father. But no one looked up at his window. No one seemed to look for him. Some boats were laden with catch. Fish that shone and trembled. Lakis felt sorry for the fish. Each one outside the water it loved. Each one like him, lonely, frightened, not knowing where it would end up. His grandmother, who never knew the names of fish, told him they were sardines. She brought him the food that someone from downstairs cooked. She stayed with him for a few minutes, by the window, looking out to sea.

“You have the best view, you lucky one!” she told him. “What do I need a view of the sea. My husband sees it in his travels all day.” His mother never came. Not once after she was allowed out of that room. She scoured the four corners of their house, she haunted its creaky staircases, its corridors, speaking to the walls and their ceilings. But she never spoke to Lakis or anybody else.

When it was time for him to go to school, he simply did not go. He did not know anything about schools. How was he to know? Nobody told him. Nobody saw him. Nobody knew of him. Except a few close family members and they pretended not to know. They turned a blind eye to his existence, because it meant shame. So he grew up on his own, unschooled. With the sea, the silence and the sad, dying fish for company. Until, just around ten, he ran away.

It was so simple. He could have done it years ago had he known how simple it was! He just did not let his grandmother go out and lock the door behind her. He pushed past her and ran and ran till he could no longer breath. There he stopped and stood. He looked around him. It was a big opening of the sea with many boats standing still. Men were sitting on the ground, like he sat in his room, mending their nets. He went and sat next to one of them. The quietest one, the one sitting furthest apart from the others. Neither of them spoke. Much later, the man turned to him:

“You are a quiet boy. What is your name?”

“Lakis.” And that was the beginning of the love story that kept the boy alive. He answered the questions well enough for Kyrios Nikos, a refugee himself, to understand the tragedy of the situation.

“My name is Nikos,” he said and shook hands with the boy. “You can stay with me.”

Lakis stayed with Kyrios Nikos for a few years, helping with the fishing and the mending. Helping with the loneliness and the desolation of an uprooted life. It was during those years that he learnt about the world.

“Another capital, Kyrie Niko? How many capitals has the world got?”

“Many, Laki mou. Many. The world is a big place.”

“How do you remember them all?”

“I remember the important ones. Smyrni, the Paris of Anatolia.”

However, despite the best intentions, Kyrios Nikos was not that good a teacher for Laki. The problem was he kept mixing metaphors with facts.

“So, was Smyrni a capital? Your Smyrni?” Lakis tried to clarify things in his mind.

“Yes!” Kyrios Nikos exclaimed. “The capital of my heart!”

Eventually, Kyrios Nikos, with the extra pair of hands that Lakis provided, managed to get enough savings together for both of them to travel to the undisputed capital of hearts and Greece, Athens. There, they opened shop, or stall – it is a matter of perspective – and sold their wares. How proud Lakis was of their achievement. “Sardines, lovely Sardines!” he could shout for days, if it had not been for the limitations of his throat.

“Boss?” he had started calling Kyrios Nikos. “Boss? Another coffee? Water, Boss?”

Kyrios Nikos adored him. The son he never had. The family he had missed out on having. This is why he kept asking the boy about his lodgings at Alexandrias 40.

“They treat you well, my son? The women respect you? They lower their eyes?” he asked Laki a few days after he started lodging there. Worried that his boy would be mistreated once again. Kyrios Nikos had lost trust himself in the world, especially in its women, who seemed to respect money more than they respected a soul. “We are both refugees, my son. You from your family, I from the greed of Greeks and Turks. We have to support one another. At least your  landlords are refugees themselves, they know all about pain.”

“They treat me well, Boss. I don’t need anything.” Kyrios Nikos, unable to run a shop and pay an employee at the same time, not to mention paying the refugee mafia that plagues the market, sleeps in the shop. Which means he sleeps rough. But he does not mind. After all these years he is used to it. In addition, he has made some very good friends there. Poor, but honest and hard-working, and above all with hearts like his. Big.

So when it comes to questions of love, of trust, of loyalty, Lakis turns to Kyrios Nikos. He has not met his mother since he left home, anyway. He has only a confused sense of her presence, a craving for love fused with violent repulsion. Poor Lakis. Hard as he may try, he cannot see her in his mind’ eye, he cannot feel her on his skin. “Mother,” he tries speaking to her, at night, in his small room, his candle flickering from his rocking on the floor. “Mother,” he says louder. She never answers him. He never gives up.

Is it mistrust he suffers from? Is it withheld love? And if so, is it his mother’s or his father’s withholding? or is it him born mistrustful, his squinting eye not letting him get hold of the depth of the complexity of this world? We may never find out. Though we do know he has known love and, by now, he knows fish too.

A version of this story was published in Spiked, issue 15. It is an extract from the novel Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree.

In the Shade of the Lemon Tree

Photo credit: Maria Pierides

Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree is a novel about identity. It asks how we know who we are and how events, as well as thinking, change our understanding of ourselves and of others. This theme is explored through a group of characters thrown accidentally together in Athens, Greece, in 1957, renting rooms in the house of the Pagidis.

Post World War II; post German occupation; post Civil War; and not even a century free from Ottoman rule, Greece itself has an identity problem. The refugees that fled the catastrophic 1922 war with Turkey (they comprise a fifth of the existing population) are both compounding the problem for the rest of Greece and bringing innumerable gains to it. Their traumatic past and struggle for survival, in a country that is both home and hostile to them, require extreme psychological resources of generosity and masochism, denial and ruthlessness – and above all, humour and forgiveness.

The mood, timing and rhythm of the novel reflect the survival mechanisms of the refugees as they, and their offspring, work out their lives as refugees and identities as Greeks. Tragic-comic threads run through the story, charging the atmosphere with hilarious ethnic colour, sensuality and psychological insight. Underneath this tightly woven fabric, the weight of history of Asia Minor, the Greek Civil War, collaboration and blackmail, adoption and betrayal, informs the minds and the hearts of the characters. And question their identities as Greeks, as parents, as individuals.

Sources and Related Material

Online

Alice James, 2001, ‘Memories of Anatolia: generating Greek refugee identity’, in

http://balkanologie.revues.org/index720.html

Thalia Pandiri, 2007, ‘Narratives of Loss and Survival: Greek voices from the Asia Minor Catastrophe’, in

http://www.interlitq.org/issue1/thalia_pandiri/job.php

Raymond Bonner, 1996, ‘Tales of Stolen Babies and Lost Identities; A Greek Scandal Echoes in New York’ in

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/04/13/nyregion/tales-of-stolen-babies-and-lost-identities-a-greek-scandal-echoes-in-new-york.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Civil_War

In Print

Bruce Clark, Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece and Turkey (London: Granta Books, 2007)

Renee Hirschon, Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)

Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City (New York: Newmark Press, 1988)

Esther P Lovejoy, Certain Samaritans (New York: Macmillan, 1933).

Mark Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece: The Experience of Occupation,1941 – 1944 (New Haven and London: 1993)

Mark Maazower, After the War Was Over: Reconstructing the Family, Nation, and State in Greece, 1943 – 1960 (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000)

Leyla Neyzi, ‘Remembering Smyrna/Izmir: Shared History, Shared Trauma’ in History and Memory, Bloomington: 2008, 20:2

Arnold J Toynbee The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the contact of civilizations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1922)

Fiction

Louis de Bernieres, Birds without Wings (New York: Random House, 2004)

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (London: Bloomsbury, 2002)

Ernest Hemingway, ‘On the Quai at Smyrna’, in The Short Stories (New York: Scribner, 2003)

Nikos Kazantzakis, The Fratricides (London: Faber and Faber, 1974; 1967)

Nikos Kazantzakis, Christ Recrucified (London: Faber and Faber, 1962; 1954)

Dido Sotiriou, Farewell Anatolia (Athens, Greece: Kedros, 1991)

Films

Theo Angelopoulos The Weeping Meadow

Costas Ferris, Rembetiko

Elia Kazan, America America

Photo credit: Maria Pierides