Saturday, July 01, 2017


In the minds of most Australians, Ethiopia is the land of famine, drought and war. For Greek-Australians, the country evokes more complex connotations, given historical ties between Ethiopia and Greece that stem from ancient times and the presence of a consequential Greek community within that country. When 57 year old Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, president of the Crown Council of Ethiopia enters the room, he smiles disarmingly and grasps my hand. He is in Melbourne, having come from Canberra, where he met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, attended a special parliamentary reception hosted by Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, laid a wreath at the Australian War Memorial in the company of Dr Brendan Nelson and met with a host of other senior political figures. All I can think of is that the hand that I am grasping, once grasped the hand of his grandfather, the Emperor Haile Selassie, known as the Lion of Judah, one of the most significant African leaders in history. He sits down and we begin to chat.

Welcome to Australia. What is the purpose of your visit?
It is great to be here. I am here commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of my grandfather, Emperor Haile Selassie’s official visit to Australia. I am also exploring closer investment ties with Australian mining companies who operate in Africa. Furthermore, I am delighted to be connecting with the remarkable Ethiopian-Australian community here.

In the minds of many, Ethiopia and Australia are poles apart….
And yet we are connected in so many ways. I was astounded, arriving here to notice that the light is extremely similar to that we have in Ethiopia. Of course, eucalyptus trees are native to Australia and Addis Ababa is ringed with them. The broad flat plains also remind me of Ethiopia. Then there are the “Waler” horses that were used to provide mounts for the ceremonial guard during Imperial times – these also came from Australia. Our soldiers fought alongside each other during the Korean War. My understanding is that cricket, which is a popular sport among some Ethiopians, was introduced by Australians. And of course, I am very proud of and grateful for Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, an obstetric fistula hospital which has been founded and run by Australians. Finally, Australia is the land of the fair go. For much of its modern history Ethiopia led the struggle for a fair go for African people, though my grandfather’s campaign for African decolonialisation.

Ethiopia is as polyethnic and as religiously diverse as Australia. How would you compare its experience in managing social cohesion, as compared with that of Australia?
You have to understand that each society developed under different conditions, though there are some superficial similarities. For much of its history, Ethiopia developed in isolation and Australia too has been seen historically to be an isolated country. As a result, each country is able to form unique societies that reflect the aspirations of its people. The process of Ethiopia forming as a conglomeration of peoples of diverse languages and faiths that espouse an Ethiopian identity has evolved over millennia. Australia’s multicultural society is a more recent phenomenon. That it is one which works can be evidenced by the way in which the Ethiopian community has been welcomed here and the extent to which it has been interwoven into Australian society so successfully, something for which I am extremely grateful.

How do you view the Ethiopian community in Australia?
I am in awe of the way that the Ethiopian community here is maintaining its sense of family, faith, culture and language and passing it on to the next generation.

I’m interested in your choice of order of those words…
One completes and fulfils the other. A family is network of people who share a common vision and care about each other. That vision is underlined by a belief system, whatever that may be. What emerges from the process of caring for each other in furthering that vision is culture and language is what articulates it. As such, the family is the microcosm of the entire nation. And the faith is so important.

You are referring here to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Why is it so important?
It provides continuity. The Church has been present in Ethiopia since at least 330AD. It provides a common narrative of identity for all its adherents. Of course, people to people relations are so important. Since the 1974 Revolution, a concerted effort was made to efface certain aspects of Ethiopia’s history and identity. Some of these, including our faith, were lovingly maintained and protected by the people, something I was moved to see here in Australia. Wherever I went, I was treated with great friendliness and enthusiasm. I was moved to be approached by one elderly gentleman, who served as interpreter to my grandfather, Emperor Haile Selassie, on his State visit to Australia. He was Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls’ son in law, an important and inspirational man and a role model for the Aboriginal community, which was proof to me as to how intrinsic the Ethiopian community is, to multicultural Australia. One thing I stressed to the young Ethiopian-Australians I met was this: “Never forget the sacrifices your parents have made to get you here. And never forget that you are Australians. Next time I see you, I want you to be able to tell me: I am a doctor, I am a scientist, I am a builder. Make something special of yourselves.” In this process, I think the Greek community of Australia is a sound role model.

You would, of course, be aware that in our community there are many Greeks who were born or lived in Ethiopia, or who are married to Ethiopians. How do you view the relations between Ethiopia and Greece?
Where do I begin? We are kindred spirits. We go so far back in history. I don’t need to tell you how prominently Ethiopia is featured in Greek mythology, or the works of the ancient Greek historians. Nor that the first Ethiopian coins were minted with Greek inscriptions, with Greek being an important language of the Ethiopian court for a long time. It was a Greek, Saint Frumentius, who became the first bishop of Ethiopia and our common faith has been the cornerstone of our relationship. During Byzantine times, both our empires were in constant alliance and they were considered the north and south poles of civilization itself. Between them, they forged policies of collective security as sophisticated as those we see in place in the modern world. Both of them were isolated and had to fight for survival. As you stated, in modern times, Ethiopia has played host to a Greek migrant community, with silversmiths from northern Greece settling in the country as early as the 1750s.
I should mention that my grandfather, the Emperor Haile Selassie loved Greece. He first visited it as regent in 1924, where he met the president of the Republic, Admiral Paul Kountouriotis and Archbishop Chrsyostom of Athens. He also saw an ancient Greek tragedy at the Herodeion and this had a profound impression on him. As emperor, he returned to Greece in 1954, where he funded the reconstruction of a hospital in Liksouri, Kefallonia, which had been damaged by the 1953 earthquake. There was personal connection here, as my grandfather’s personal physician, Jacob Zervos, was from there. You may also be interested to know that my grandfather was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Thessaloniki in 1965. 
On a personal note, I would say this: I fell in love with Greece the moment I stepped foot there. The light, the land, the friendliness of the people… I felt the bond between our two nations very deeply. How can I not love that country? Apart from the age old ties we have, how could I not be eternally grateful to Greece for taking in so many Ethiopians after the Dergue came to power in 1974, including members of my own family? Greece for me will always be light and freedom. Visiting this country, and having met so many lovely Greek Australians here only further cements that love. Of course my dream is to visit Mount Athos, one which I hope I realise in the near future.

I suppose one of the things we have in common is that we are both members of a diaspora. What effect have the political developments in Ethiopia since the 1974 Revolution, causing you to leave your country, had in shaping your ethnic and cultural identity?
I learned that the world is a much larger place than first I thought. That there are a multiplicity of perspectives through which things can be viewed and that respecting and celebrating difference, while at the same time focusing on those things that we have in common. In many ways, when you are away from your country, you are compelled to look at it from the outside in a way you wouldn’t do had you remained. The sense of family and history also becomes extremely important, especially when you live away from home and are subject to innumerable other influences. Of course, since obtaining my Ethiopian passport ten years ago, I have been back many times.

Continuity and history are manifestly important to you. The Ethiopian Imperial dynasty has one of the longest lineages in the world. Yet this is a world that is constantly changing. Can the Monarchy still be relevant to Ethiopia?
I believe that the longevity of the dynasty means that as an institution it is a part of the nation’s psyche. My family traces its history to the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The monarchy can provide unity, stability, tolerance and a rallying point for Ethiopians of diverse languages and faiths. Ultimately though, that decision belongs to the people. They will decide what is good for them. The important thing is for Ethiopia to remain alive.
Do you fear that Ethiopia’s existence is threatened in any way?
No. Ethiopia has been through a lot over the course of the past few centuries and we have managed to survive. We are a resilient people. We need to safeguard that survival and create an Ethiopia that is peaceful, prosperous and able to afford opportunities for a good life to all its citizens. In order to do that, we need to foster the socio-economic development of the country, and heal the traumas caused by the Revolution and the Civil War.

Almost half of the population of Ethiopia is Muslim. ISIS is raging in Libya, there is a porous border with Somalia where a number of Islamic militant groups operate, Boko Haram in West Africa and of course, ISIS terrorism in Egypt. Is religious fundamentalism one of the factors that you believe, threaten the existence of Ethiopia?
No. Both Christianity and Islam are indigenous religions of Ethiopia. As a result, they have developed side by side and have had centuries to work out an equilibrium, so you don’t see religious clashes or terrorism in Ethiopia to anywhere near the extent of other countries in the broader region.

Yet, five years ago, Syria was being held up as a similar example of religious tolerance…
The difference is this. You need to give each sector of society, each faith, a stake in the country, a feeling that they are part of the country and the country is part of them. Where you persecute, fence in, or restrict minorities, you create a weak society and a vulnerable one. These vulnerabilities can be exploited and cause societies to implode. This is what I believe, happened in Syria. I do not believe it will happen in Ethiopia because I say, there, members of all faiths partake in all aspects of governance and have done so since Imperial times. This is something my grandfather the Emperor felt very strongly about. We need to work in maintaining and broadening this approach as there is increase tribalism in Ethiopia.

With that in mind, how do you evaluate the political and social developments of Ethiopia  since the Mengistu era?
Ethiopia has changed markedly. When I left, it was a country with a population of that of Australia and now it has a population of 100 million. Ethiopia is rapidly developing and it is my opinion that there is great potential of sustainable growth as a dynamic part of a broader Indian Ocean economic market. We are still not self-sufficient in food production, and 85 percent of the population is still involved in subsistence farming, but that situation is improving. Job-creation is of vital importance. African nations need to create opportunities for their people, and not see them all leave to seek those opportunities elsewhere. Finally, we need government that is open and stable in order to secure appropriate long-term investment. There needs to be a move away from strong political personalities, towards strong institutions that will provide Ethiopia with the good governance it needs in order to attract investment.

In that context, how do you view the significant Chinese investment in Ethiopia and the African region in general?
I am eternally grateful for the investment of the Chinese in our infrastructure. They invested at a time when no one else was willing to do so. However, a prudent development plan must be one of balanced diversification, where no one investor dominates. During my grandfather, the Emperor’s time, we had investment from both the West and the Eastern bloc and that was in my opinion, appropriate. Ideal investment will create jobs for the people and create technology and skills exchange. I am convinced that diversity of investment and investors will best facilitate this. I also believe that a greater cooperation between African states will cement stability and economic development.

What does it mean to you to be a Prince of the Ethiopian House?
To try to be exemplary, a role-model. To facilitate the creation of a strong identity and instill a sense of pride in people of African descent. Ultimately, to provide them with a sense of destiny, and equality, based on a native tradition. In this I am privileged because I have so many examples of members of my family I can draw from, over a protracted period of time.

What is your most enduring memory of your grandfather, the Emperor Haile Selassie?
On a personal level it is this: His kindness and love of animals. He was extremely tender towards small children and kind to animals. He derived immense pleasure from his pets, and had an affinity from nature that I feel can only come from a true understanding of Africa.

How do you view his legacy? What examples can you personally draw from such a legacy?
It was one of courage, definitely. My grandfather was betrayed many times during his life, yet he was tenacious and never gave up. He had an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness that I still draw upon. He constantly stood up for the underprivileged and the vulnerable. It is no small thing for the leader of an African nation to denounce the League of Nations as ineffectual, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, nor for him after the war, to challenge the World Powers of the day to afford dignity to African peoples by granting their colonies independence. Collegiality and collectivism, certainly. My grandfather was a driving force behind the creation of the Organization for African Unity, whose foundation conference took place in Addis Ababa. He also believed in theological unity and sponsored the Addis Ababa conference where talks were held exploring the unity of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches. His championship of the United Nations was based on his firm belief that all nations had to band together in order to guarantee collective security. At his initiative, Ethiopia participated in collective security operations, including in Korea and Congo, creating a precedent as being a trustworthy African mediator that modern Ethiopia can build upon.  He was not afraid to speak out for the sufferings, calling for the Vietnam War to end on several occasions. At the same time he was an outspoken proponent of African Americans' Civil Rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. As such he gave hope to millions. Finally, generosity. My grandfather was constantly involved in charitable works In 1959, my grandfather left his home in exile during the Second World War, Fairfield House, Bath, to the City of Bath for the use of the Aged. My grandfather’s legacy is thus a multifaceted but ultimately, an inspiring one, based on selflessness. He was often compelled to make difficult decisions, which he believed were for the benefit of his country, at great personal cost.

I wish you all the best for the rest of your stay in Australia

I am so inspired to have been given the opportunity to visit this remarkable country and to have met so many outstanding and welcoming Australians, including members of the Greek-Australian community. You are the yardstick by which the success of Australia’s multicultural society is to be measured and an exemplar of the successful integration of minority groups within the broader melting pot. I wish you every success.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 1 July 2017


Although Antonio Vivaldi’s “Le quattro stagioni” is supposed to be a collection of concerti, each of which gives a musical expression to a season of the year, what it is in fact, is a thinly disguised love tone-poem, intricately fashioned in order to confound and to seduce. In his instructions to his Autumnal Allegro, Vivaldi writes: “The hunters emerge at the new dawn,/ And with horns and dogs and guns depart upon their hunting/ The beast flees and they follow its trail;/ Terrified and tired of the great noise/ Of guns and dogs, the beast, wounded, threatens/ Languidly to flee, but harried, dies.”
On the Last Day of Vrasidas Karalis’  Reflections on Presence, an analogous Mithraic sacrifice, soaked in sexual tension is also made, in order to recreate the world anew: Wild Beasts dismantle the sky, ferocious fish devour the sun, carnivorous birds tear oceans apart, bringing about silent implosions, noisy movements, presence in zero beginning, presence in infinite ending.”
In antiquity, both Hesiod and Ovid offered accounts of the successive ages of humanity, progress from an original, by-gone age in which humans enjoyed a nearly divine existence to the current age of the writers, one in which humans are much fallen from what they were, beset by innumerable pains and evils. In these accounts this degradation of the human condition over time is indicated symbolically with metals of successively decreasing value, ranging from Gold to Iron.
In “Reflections on Presence,” Vrasidas Karalis appears to reverse this progression. His Ages of Man are Creator God-like in Scale, in that they are measured by means of tightly constructed aphorisms that explore the conundrums of contemporary existence, in days, starting from Day One: “Clearing the Way,” a process that recalls the aerial toll houses of Orthodox tradition and the Ladder of Divine Ascent of Saint John Climacus.  Like Hesiod, Karalis’ progression is five-staged, commencing with a Gnostic or Tolkien-esque aural cosmogony of creative dissonance that exemplifies contemporary disillusion: In difference, there is beginning. When tunes collide, we happen. In the beginning there as dissonance.”
The studied progression of aphorisms recall Marcus Aurelius:  "You have the power to strip away many superfluous troubles located wholly in your judgment, and to possess a large room for yourself embracing in thought the whole cosmos, to consider everlasting time, to think of the rapid change in the parts of each thing, of how short it is from birth until dissolution, and how the void before birth and that after dissolution are equally infinite". As with Aurelius, who advocates finding one's place in the universe, seeing that everything came from nature, and so everything shall return to it in due time, Karalis’ spiritual exercises, also gradually investigate  the interconnected nature of reality and imagination, and the affirmation of the individual presence and the ethics born out of such presence. 
Unlike Aurelius though, there is an internal logic to Karalis’ idiosyncratic, jewel-like aphorisms which binds together even the most contradictory and inconsistent of these to the narrative, (take for example the inverted Ouroboric: “The snake that gave birth to history is our ideal self. Absolute outwradness – energetic ideas that evolve, devolve, re-evolve. Relentless outwardness”) rendering them quietly moving and in no way, evidencing a "tired age" where "even real goods lose their savour," as Bertrand Russel would have it. Instead, overcoming Hegel’s critique in his ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ of  the preoccupation with the inner self as a severing, fatalistic barrier to consciousness, Vrasidas’ Aurelianisms, commencing with the winter of nihilism, moving on to the summer of surrender and then to an autumn of creative imitations, culminate in a vision of existential transparency that links poetry, philosophy and religion through the impure materiality of the everyday being, in a chthonic subversion of Pauline teleology, thus pointing to the reader who is to traverse his Ages of Man, via the “Reflections” to answer the question posed in the Epistle to the Philippians: “Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,” and postulating a novel refashioning of the resurrected body-spirit, wherein: “Truth was, knowledge was, faith was, love was – now only presence is.”
We arrive at the enlightened point of Presence, via Lao Tzu-like aphorisms that are simply expressed and thus have great emotive power. They can be read solemnly, passed through a sieve and caught through the other side, weighed and evaluated. They inculcate in us a feeling of trust, a confidence that we have here the final, absolute truth. When Karalis tells us not to question, we suspend our inclination to do so: “Search for answers: don’t be seduced by questions,” he tells us. ““Faith that excludes is faithlessness./ The faithful must justify the faithless./ Faith acts against being./ If you distrust the faithless, you deny the mystery./ I am the presence, the bridge-make over worlds.”Apparently, he is the Way.
Yet arriving, via our “centripetal sun above epochs of semantic famine” to Presence  in five days, does not appear to be an end in and of itself, and it is in the reduction of the material world and readers to their constituent parts in the crucible (“Let all compounds be dissolved!) of the Five Days, that Karalis’ new man can be distinguished from the elemental heroes created by Kazantzakis. For in gaining the necessary understanding of the material world through the noetic exercises, that will enable us to transcend it and inhabit it anew, Karalis, an ambivalent demiurge, firstly appears to raise our creative and reproductive hopes while dexterously promising nothing but the promise of promise itself: “Plunder all lush lands because fertility never ends; seize all exits because borders cannot be controlled.  As all paths are lost, fresh promises can be given,” only to reveal at the very end that by its very nature, the process of creation and re-creation, the process of existence and the being of Presence itself is flawed and subject to decline: “Succumb, submit, capitulate – but think rebelliously, think erroneously and fail again, go astray, and fall, fall, fall.” 
Here, the author communes with Vivaldi, whose progression is from Spring to Winter, and in whose final movement, a similar fall is prefigured, one that is portrayed as much inevitable as it is anodyne: “Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and,/ rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up./We feel the chill north winds course through the home/despite the locked and bolted doors.../ this is winter, which nonetheless/ brings its own delights.”
We do not know whether there is any moksha to be gained from Karalis’ samsara, or whether there is anything to be gained from the awareness of the articulation of Presence within it, save as to postulate as Byron did in Don Juan, that, "Not even a sprightly blunder's spark can blaze / From that Ixion grindstone's ceaseless toil, / That turns and turns to give the world a notion / Of endless torments and perpetual motion." Viewed from that perspective, the “Reflections” are as consolatory but also as unable as the rest of the corpus of the religions, philosophies and ideologies that Karalis’ refers to and seemingly vanquishes throughout his ‘Seasons,’ to provide us with an aiteology that would contextualize our Presence within it. He does however hint at this, at the end of his final season, in the tradition of Aramaic literature, whereby the central messages are embedded within the text and not to be found at their end. Whereas Lao Tzu states: “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be,” the author points to an immutable Presence throughout his world of transformation:  “Through the thorns, and the thistles of presence I am where I am.”
In Reflections on Presence, therefore, we are neither Ixion, nor its wheel, and moksha is rendered redundant. We, if we are to become the author, are its axis, the fundamental point of Presence from which to view    the entire cosmos. It is only once we arrive at this point that it is safe to say: “Commit a crime as long as you know why.” This then, marks the apogee of our aphoristic being.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 1 July 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017


Οι «Μητρίδες» είναι η πιο πρόσφατη και ίσως η πιο πολύσημη ποιητική συλλογή του Κωνσταντίνου Καλυμνιού. Όπως όλα τα έργα του, οι «Μητρίδες» είναι πολύπτυχες, διφορούμενες και συχνά, αντιφατικές. Ως αποτέλεσμα, πλαισιώνουν έναν κύκλο αφήγησης, συνεχίζοντας από τις παλαιότερες συλλογές του, που προέρχονται κυρίως από τις ρήξεις και τις ρωγμές της ιστορικής διαχρονικότητας και την συνύπαρξη διάφορων εποχών. Αυτό το καλειδοσκόπιο εποχών και γλωσσών αποτελεί σημαντικό τμήμα της ποιητικής πραγματικότητάς του.
Ο τίτλος της συλλογής εγείρει προβληματισμούς. Ουσιαστικά, δεν μπορεί κανείς να έχει περισσότερη από μία πατρίδα, όπως δεν μπορεί κανείς να έχει παρά μόνο μία μητέρα. Η «μητρίδα» βέβαια εδώ είναι η θηλυκή εκδοχή της πατρίδος. Σχεδόν όλα τα ποιήματα της συλλογής αναφέρονται σε μέρη της Ηπείρου, τον τόπο καταγωγής της μητέρας του ποιητή, όμως ούτε η μητέρα του, ούτε ο ίδιος ποιητής έχουν κάποια απτή σχέση με τα περισσότερα από τα αναφερόμενα μέρη, με μερικές αξιοσημείωτες εξαιρέσεις. Θα πρέπει να επισημάνουμε ότι, η πρωταρχική (για να μην πούμε «μητρική») γλώσσα του ποιητή είναι η σαμιακή διάλεκτος της ελληνικής, η οποία καθιστά τη χρήση της ιδιωματικής Ηπειρωτικής στο πρώτο ποίημα της συλλογής «Ενθύμιον» και στο τελευταίο «Θαυμαστά Φύλα», αξιοσημείωτη. Επιπλέον, ο όρος «Μητρίδες» είναι παρωχημένος. Αναφέρεται στην Πολιτεία του Πλάτωνος και στα έργα του Ηρόδοτου και του Ιάμβλιχου, αλλά έχει πλέον πέσει εκτός χρήσης. Έτσι, η αναζωογόνηση του όρου συμβαδίζει με τη διαχρονική αντίληψη της ελληνικής γλώσσας που διατηρεί ο Καλυμνιός, ο οποίος προσδίνει σε ολόκληρο το φάσμα ενός λεξιλογίου 3.000 ετών μια αξιοσημείωτη συγχρονικότητα, ανάλογη με τον ιταλικό ποιητή Gabriele D'Annunzio που αποδίδει μεσαιωνικούς ιταλικούς όρους στη δική του σύγχρονη Ιταλική ποίηση. Είναι λοιπόν ο Καλυμνιός κατασκευαστής δικού του γλωσσικού ιδιώματος, με την οποία αρθρώνει μια ελληνο-αυστραλιανή πραγματικότητα;
Αξίζει να ερευνήσουμε κι άλλες υποδηλώσεις του όρου, ιδιαίτερα ότι οι «μητρίδες» προέρχονται από τη λέξη «μήτρα». Αντί για μια συλλογή μητρίδων, μήπως αυτό που μας υποχρεώνει ο ποιητής να εξετάσουμε σε αυτή τη συλλογή,  να είναι μάλλον, μια συλλογή μήτρων ως την απόλυτη αλήθεια; Στο ποίημα «Μητρικό», το οποίο θα μπορούσε να εννοηθεί όχι μόνον ως κάτι που αφροά την μητέρα αλλά και ως κάτι που αφορά τη μήτρα, ο Καλυμνιός βλέπει τη μήτρα ως τόπο όπου οι λέξεις χάνουν τη δύναμή τους: «Λίγο πρίν ἀπό τήν πόρτα σου/ ψοφοῦν οἱ ἀνείπωτες λέξεις/πού ἀπουσιάζουν/ἀπό τά μεγάλα λεξικά». Επιδιώκει λοιπόν ο Καλυμιός να αποικοδομήσει τη δική του ποιητική, μέσα σε ένα χωνευτήρι που δεν δικό του, αλλά που αρχικά χρησιμοποιήθηκε για να δημιουργήσει τη δική του αυτοσυναίσθηση;
Ο Καλυμνιός επιστρέφει στο μοτίβο της μήτρας επανειλημμένως στην ποίησή του, ειδικά σε εκείνα τα (πολλά) ποιήματα του, που έχουν να κάνουν με τη λίμνη Παμβώτιδα των Ιωαννίνων, ένας τόπος που φαίνεται να ασκεί μια παράξενη γοητεία πάνω του και αναλαμβάνει στο έργο του το αρχέτυπο της καθολική και αρχέγονης μήτρα. Στη «Λίμνη» συγχωνεύει το τοπικό μύθο με τη βιβλική παράδοση, συσχετίζοντας  την Κυρά Φροσύνη, την ατυχή παλλακίδα του Αλή Πασά που πνίγηκε στην Παμβώτιδα, με το περπάτημα στην επιφάνεια του, υποστηριζόμενη από τις μαρμάρινες παλάμες των πνιγμένων μαρτύρων. Ωστόσο, αυτή η απειλητική μητέρα ζαλώνεται «σαβατωμένους πάγους» (μια αναφορά στην παραδοσιακή τέχνη της αργυροχρυσοχοΐας για την οποία είναι γνωστά τα Ιωάννινα), στον τόπο όπου θα κρατούσε ένα παιδί. Επιπλέον, είναι τα κινητά μας τηλέφωνα που αυτή η αρχέτυπη μητέρα φασκιώνει, και όχι εμάς, όταν μας καλεί δυσοίωνα κοντά της. Στο ποίημα «Παμβώτις Δ΄», ο Καλυμνιός περιγράφει τη λίμνη Παμβώτιδα ως τραπεζομάντιλο φορτωμένο με γεωμετρικά σχήματα συμβολικά της μήτρας, όπως ένα ισοσκελές τρίγωνο, εξισώνοντας αυτό το «στενό/ σάν τή λήθη,/ ἀδίστακτο ἡφαίστειο,/ μέ τό παράστημα/ τοῦ θανάτου». Στα «Κατακάθια,» τοποθετεί τον εαυτό του και τον αναγνώστη, εντός αυτής της μήτρας: «Ἀνάμεσα/ στά κατακάθια/ τῆς Λίμνης/ κρυβόμαστε κι ἐμεῖς..» Εδώ λοιπόν, το αμνιακό υγρό είναι σκοτεινό και θανατηφόρο και ο Καλυμνιός σχολιάζει εύστοχα τον τρόπο με τον οποίο εξακολουθούμε (δυσλειτουργικά) να συνδεόμεστε με τη μητρική μας κουλτούρα.
Άλλα υδάτινα σώματα επίσης δίνουν σημαντικό παρόν στη συλλογή. Η Λαψίστα, είναι ο αντίποδας της Παμβώτιδος-μήτρας, ή ίσως η τελική μορφή της δεύτερης, εφόσον είναι αποξηραμένη. Η Σαγιάδα, στο δυτικότερο σημείο της ηπειρωτικής Ελλάδας, όπου ο ποταμός Θυάμης εισρέει στο Ιόνιο πέλαγος, δεν είναι μόνο ακριτική, αλλά και «μητρίδα», δεδομένου του ότι ο ποταμός Θυάμης δίνει το όνομά του στον χορό Τσάμικο, που οριοθετεί την ηπειρωτική και ελληνική παραδοσιακή ταυτότητα γενικότερα. Επίσης το στενό της κανάλι είναι επίσης ένας τόπος θνησιγενής. Έτσι, στη «Σάγιαδα», αφαιρούνται όλες οι μορφές παρηγοριάς και στη θέση τους προσφέρονται στον αναγνώστη: «πρόχειρες/ καί ἰδιοτελεῖς δικαιολογίες,/ ὅτι αὐτά ἀπαιτοῦν/ οἱ πνιγμένες νεραΐδες/τοῦ βάλτου.»
Αντιθέτως, το θαλασσογραφικό τοπίο του Sorrento, στο ομώνυμο ποίημα, δεν είναι φορτωμένο με κινδύνους, καθιστώντας κάθε προσπάθεια εξορθολογισμού του κόσμου γύρω μας φαινομενική και ηδονιστική, ανεξάρτητα από το αν αναφερόμαστε στις παραδόσεις μας ή στον τόπο των προγόνων μας κατά τη διαδικασία. Μήπως μας χλευάζει ο ποιητής, τον εαυτό του και ολόκληρο τον ποιητικό του κόσμο; Η αξιοσημείωτη απουσία οποιασδήποτε μητρικής εικόνας στο ποίημα αυτό, που μοναδικά τοποθετείται στην Αυστραλία, υπαινίσσεται πολλά.
Οι φροϋδικές πτυχές της ποίησης του Καλυμνιού, (οι οποίες είναι γενικά υποσυνείδητες και ενώ είναι εγγενείς σε μια πλήρη κατανόηση της ποιητικής του, δεν έχουν εξεταστεί από μελετητές σε βάθος), προσδίδονται μεγαλύτερη προβολή στη συλλογή αυτή και αξίζουν περισσότερη έρευνα, εφόσον αυτές προσφέρουν μια νέα και σημαντική προοπτική σε οποιαδήποτε συζήτηση σχετικά με τη σύγχρονη ελληνο-αυστραλιανή ταυτότητα και την κατασκευή της. Είναι στην μοναδική αντιμετώπιση των φροϋδικών πτυχών του αγώνα οριοθέτησης μιας προσωπικής ταυτότητας για τον καθένα μας, μία διαδικασία που εντείνεται στους Αντίποδες και στην ανάλυση και κατανόηση του καθοριστικού ρόλου που παίζει η συρροή προαιώνιων πολιτιστικών στοιχείων που κληροδοτήθηκαν σε εμάς από εκείνους που μας έφεραν στη ζωή όπου κείτεται η αληθινή αξία και η μοναδικότητα των «Μητρίδων».

Σύμφωνα με το κεντρικό μοτίβο, ο κόσμος των «Μήτριδων» είναι μητριαρχικός, αν όχι φεμινιστικός. Εκτός από λίγες αναφορές σε ορισμένες ιστορικές μορφές που αφορούν την Ήπειρο, οι «Μητρίδες» του Καλυμνιού είναι σχεδόν εξ ολοκλήρου κατοικημένες από γυναίκες, από ισχυρές γυναικείες μορφές όπως η Ολυμπιάδα, η μητέρα του Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου (γράφει στο ποίημα «Ολυμπιάς: «Ἡ σκιά σου/ κι ὁ σκύλος/ τῶν μολοσσῶν,/ εἶναι/ οἱ πιό τραγικές συντροφιές μου…. οἱ πληγές σου χάνονται/ μαζί μέ τούς κυνόδοντες,/ φωσφορίζοντας/ τα σπήλαια τοῦ ὕπνου,» η βασίλισσα του μεσαιωνικού Δεσποτάτου της Ηπείρου Θεοδώρα Κομνηνή, η οποία, στο ποίημα «Θεοδώρα Κομνηνή» «ταπεινά κι ἀγόγγυστα,/ ὑπηρετ[εῖ] τ[ήν] θητεί[α] της/ στό κιονόκρανο τοῦ θείου», η προγιαγιά του ποιητή Παναγιώ, όπου: «Σέ πήλινους σαρκοφάγους/ ψιθυρίζει/ τήν συζευγμένη της ὀρφάνια,/ ἡ ἑνότητα τῶν κύκλων/ πού μαρτυροῦν/ τήν ἠλικία τῶν πετρωμένων»,  σε πιο αρχέγονες μορφές όπως η ηπειρωτική Μητέρα Θεά Διόνη, «τίς πιο ἀπόκρυφες/καί ἡττημένες ἡδονές», της οποίας, «ἀσβεστώνουν οἱ ἱερομάντεις/ στο ἐκχύλισμα τῶν θόλων», στο ποίημα, «Μπιζάνι», μυθολογικές μορφές όπως η Κίρκη, οι διαστάσεις της λεκάνης της οποίας μας καλέι ο ποιητής να χρονομετρήσουμε στο ποίημα «Ζαβάλι», η άτυχη Ιώ που προσμένει στο ποίημα «Τελευταίος Ασπασμός»: «Μέσα στό στρίφωμα τῶν σάβανων,/ μέ τά ἀποφόρια τῶν κατσάβραχων,/ τήν ἄρνηση τῆς στερήσεως,/ τοῦ φουστανελοφόρου νεομάρτυρος Γεωργίου»,  και σε μια έξυπνη παρεμβολή αντιμαχόμενων θεοτήτων, η Λεβαντίνα θεά Αστάρτη, όπου στο ποίημα «Κυρά Βασιλική»: «Κανένας μοναχός δέν μπορεῖ/ νά διακρίνει τίς πινακίδες/ στόν χῶρο στάθμευσης/ τῶν ἀντικατεστημένων ἐγκωμίων/ τῆς Ἀστάρτης,/ κι ἄς ὀσμίζονται ἀντίστροφά/ οἱ πέστροφες,/ τήν ἀνυπακοή τους». Το γεγονός ότι η συγκεκριμένη πρόκειται για μια νοθευμένη μητριαρχία που θα πρέπει να αποφύγουμε, αποδεικνύεται από το γεγονός ότι ο ποιητής τοποθετεί ως επικεφαλής της λατρείας της Αστάρτης, μια ανδροπρεπής Δαλιδά με περούκα, πιθανώς από τα μαλλιά του Σαμψώντος. Αντίθετα, στο ποίημα «Πωγωνιανή», η θηλυκότητα και η μητρότητα, όπως τις αντιλαμβάνεται ο αναγνώστης, τοποθετούνται σε πιο γνώριμο πλαίσιο: «Στά χνούδια/ τῶν σκωροφαγωμένων σεγκουνιῶν/ ζύγιαζε λοιπόν τά λόγια:/ θυγατέρα, ἀδελφή, γυναίκα./ Τό βαρύτερο: Μάνα». Αυτό οφείλεται στο γεγονός ότι οι παραδόσεις, οι μνήμες και τα πολιτισμικά πρότυπα που ο ποιητής επιχειρεί να αιτιολογήσει μεταδίδονται συνήθως μέσω της μητριαρχίας.
Οι «Μητρίδες» είναι ένα περίπλοκο, λαβυρινθώδες έργο που περιβάλλει τον αναγνώστη απαλά και δελεαστικά αρχικά, μόνο για να εξελιχθεί σε μια περιπέτεια με συγκινήσεις, φοβίες και αβεβαιότητες τύπου Κάφκα, απειλώντας ανά πάσα στιγμή να εκτροχιάσει τόσο τον αναγνώστη όσο και τον ποιητή τον ίδιο, κάθε φορά που η συλλογή συστρέφεται ή αντιστρέφεται στον εαυτό της. Αλλά ποτέ δεν το κάνει, διότι το έργο είναι συγκροτημένο και η περιπέτεια άψογα σκηνοθετημένη. Είτε ο αναγνώστης έχει επιλέξει να αποκωδικοποιήσει τη σημασία του τεράστιου αριθμού των διακειμενικών παραπομπών στην Ηπειρωτική μυθολογία, την ιστορία και τη λογοτεχνία, ή να ανακαλύψει στους στίχους των ποιημάτων, αναφορές στο δημοτικό τραγούδι και τη βυζαντινή μουσική παράδοση είτε παραδοθεί τελείως στην ειρωνεία και στα λογοπαίγνια του ποιητή, ο έξυπνος τρόπος με τον οποίο κάθε ποίημα έχει δημιουργηθεί και επίσης έχει τοποθετηθεί στο σύνολο του έργου, επιτρέπει στον αναγνώστη να ρυθμίσει τον διείσδυση του σε αυτό, λαμβάνοντας υπόψη του τα μεγαλύτερα ερωτήματα της ταυτότητας που τίθενται σε αυτό το άκρως προσωπικό έργο.
Στο τελικό ποίημα, κάποια επίλυση των ζητημάτων που απασχολούν το έργο επιτυγχάνεται μέσω του ποιητή που συλλαμβάνει τους φόβους μας για τη ρευστότητα, υπονοώντας ότι ολόκληρη η  κληρονομιά των προγόνων μας μπορεί να πετρωθεί από τους απογόνους τους. Ίσως να έχει δίκιο. Όμως, όπως δηλώνει, δεν γνωρίζουμε πού βρίσκονται τα πετρώματα αυτά. Η έμμεση αναφορά εδώ στη γέννηση του Δία και την απάτη του Κρόνου, από τη μητριάρχη Ρέα έχει σημασία….

Πανεπιστήμιο Μελβούρνης.

Το άρθρο πρωτοεκδόθηκε στην εφημερίδα ΝΕΟΣ ΚΟΣΜΟΣ την Πέμπτη, 29 Ιουνίου 2017

Saturday, June 24, 2017


"Mitrides," or Motherlands is the latest and perhaps most complex of Dean Kalimniou's collections of poetry. Like all his work, the Mitrides are polyvalent, ambiguous and often-self contradictory. As a result they frame a narrative, continuing on from his earlier collections, drawn largely from the ruptures and fissures in historical temporality and the forced yet seamless looking co-existence of eras. It is this kaleidoscope that he postulates, forms a section of reality. 
The title of the collection itself is problematic. In real terms, one can have no more than one motherland, just as one can have no more than one mother. Almost all the poems in the collection refer to places within Epirus, the place of origin of the poet's mother, yet neither his mother, nor the poet has any tangible connection with most of the places referred to, with a few notable exceptions. Significantly, the poet's native language is the Samian dialect of Greek, which renders his use of idiomatic Epirotic in the first poem of the collection "Ενθύμιον," (Collection) and in the last "Θαυμαστά Φύλα" (Amazing Tribes), noteworthy.  Furthermore, the term "Mitrides" is an obsolete one, referred to in Plato's Republic and Herodotus' Histories but has now fallen out of use. The resuscitation of the term, is in keeping with Kalimniou's diachronic perception of the Greek language, which gives the entire gamut of a 3,000 year old vocabulary a remarkable synchronicity, analogous to Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio's appropriation of medieval Italian terms for his own modern Italian work. Is Kalimniou therefore constructing his own language with which to articulate a Greek-Australian reality? 
It is worthwhile to examine other connotations of the term, notably that it is derives from the word "μήτρα" which means womb. Rather than a collection of motherlands, is what we are compelled to look at in this collection, rather, a collection of wombs as the ultimate truth? In the poem: "Μητρικό," which could be translated as "Maternal" but also as "pertaining to the womb," Kalimniou views the womb as the place where words lose their power: "Just before your door/ perish the unsaid words/ that are absent/ from the great dictionaries." Is Kalimniou therefore seeking to deconstruct his own poetics into an elemental form, within a crucible not of his own making but rather, originally utilised to create his own sense of self? 
Kalimniou returns to the womb motif again and again in his poetry, especially in those of his many poems that have to do with Lake Pamvotis in Ioannina, a place that seems to exert a strange fascination upon him and assumes in his work, the archetype of the universal womb. In "Λίμνη" (Lake) he merges local legend with the biblical tradition, speaking of Kyra Frosyni, the hapless concubine of Ali Pasha who was drowned in that same lake, as walking on its surface, supported by the marbled palms of drowned martyrs. However, this menacing mother figure straps nielloed ice to her back (a reference to the traditional art of silver smithing for which Ioannina is famous), in the place where she would carry a child. Furthermore, it is our mobile phones that this Ur-mother is swaddling, and not us, as she ominously calls us to her. In "Παμβώτις Δ'" (Pamvotis IV), Kalimniou describes Lake Pamvotis as a tablecloth laden with geometrical symbols symbolic of the womb, such as an isosceles triangle, equating these "narrow/ like oblivion/ ruthless volcano[s]/ with the stature 
of death." In "Κατακάθια" ("Dregs") he positions himself and the reader, squarely in that womb: "Amidst/ the dregs/ of the Lake/ we also hide..." Here then, amniotic fluid is dark and deadly. 
Other bodies of water also significantly make themselves present in the work. Sagiada, positioned on the westernmost point of mainland Greece, whether the river Thyamis flows into Ionian sea, is not only a place of extremity, but also a "motherland" since the river Thyamis gives its name to the Tsamiko dance, a dance that defines Epirotic and Greek traditional identity in general, but also, its narrow channel is also a place of still-birth. Thus, in Σαγιάδα, all forms of consolation are removed and the reader is offered: "rudimentary and self-serving justifications/ that this is demanded/ by the drowned fairies/ of the marsh." 
On the other hand, the land and seascape at Sorrento, in the homonymous poem, far from being laden with perils, renders any attempt to rationalise the world around us frivolous and hedonistic, regardless as to whether we reference our traditions, or place of ancestry while doing so. Is the poet mocking us, himself and his entire world? The notable absence of any maternal imagery perhaps provides a clue.    
The Freudian aspects of Kalimniou's poetry, which are generally subliminal, and while intrinsic to an understanding of his poetics, have not been considered by scholars in any depth, are in this collection, afforded greater prominence and deserve further scrutiny for these offer a fresh and important perspective into any debate about the modern Greek-Australian identity and its construction. It is in its unique tackling the Freudian aspects of our individual grappling with our  sense of self and making sense of the accretions and centuries of cultural and other baggage bequeathed to us by those who gave us life, that the true value and uniqueness of "Mitrides" lies. 
In keeping with the central motif, the world of Mitrides is a feminist one. Apart from a few references to some historical figures that have to do with Epirus, Kalimniou's "Motherlands" are almost entirely peopled by women, from strong women such as Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great (he writes in "Olympias:" "Your shadow/ and the Molossian/ hound,/ are my most tragic companions.../ your wounds vanish/ along with the canine teeth/ rendering phosphorescent/ the caves of slumber,"), the queen of the medieval Despotate of Epirus Theodora Komnena, who, in the poem "Θεοδώρα Κομνηνή" "humbly and unassumingly/ serves out her time/ on the capital of the holy," the poet's own great-grandmother Panagio of whom: "The unity of the circles/ which bear witness/ to the age of destiny/ whisper/ her conjoined orphanhood,/ to terra-cotta sarcophagi," to more archetypal figures such as the tellingly Epirotic Mother Goddess Dione, whose "most secret and vanquished pleasures" are whitewashed  by male priests, in "extracts of domes," in the poem "Bizani", mythological characters such as Circe, the dimensions of whose pelvis we are called upon to time in the poem "Zavali," the hapless Io who awaits: "in the hem of a burial shroud,/the negation of the privations/ of a foustanella-wearing neomatur St George," in the poem: "Τελευταίος Ασπασμός" and, in a clever interpolation of rival matriarchies, the Levantine goddess Astarte, whose "superseded paeans cannot be discerned/ in the car park's road signs," in the poem "Κυρά Βασιλική." That this is an ersatz matriarchy we should steer clear of, is evidenced in 
the fact that the poet places as her chief worshipper, an unfeminised Delilah, replete with a wig, presumably of Samson's hair. Instead, in the poem "Πωγωνιανή," femininity and motherhood, as they apply to the reader, are placed in what appears to be their proper perspective: "On the fluff/ of moth-eaten sengounia/ weigh up these words:/ daughter, sister, woman./ The heaviest: Mother." This is because it is often through the medium of matriarchy that the traditions, memories and cultural norms that the poet is attempting to contextualise, are passed down. 
Mitrides is a complex, labyrinthine work that envelops the reader gently and suggestively at first, only to develop into a roller-coaster ride of emotion, almost Kafka-esque fear and uncertainty that threatens to derail both the reader and the poet, each time the work inverts or alludes to turning upon itself. Except that it doesn't. Whether the reader has chosen to decode the significance of the vast numbers of intertextual references to Epirotic mythology, history and literature, discover in the meter of the poems homage to demotic folk-song and the Byzantine musical tradition or lose themselves in the irony of his word-play the clever way in which each poem is built and also threaded onto the one before it, allows the reader to pace themselves, while considering the larger questions of identity posed in this highly personal work. 
Ultimately, in the final poem, resolution, of a sort is achieved by means of the poet arresting our fears of fluidity by intimating that the corpus of our ancestors' inheritance can be set in stone by their descendants. Maybe. Because as he states, we don't really know where that stone may be. 

First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 June 2017