Unearthing the Greek in the Australian: an Account of Owl Publishing’s History and Foundation

By | 1 May 2020

As distinct from the ‘alternative’, the state of ‘between’ is inhabited in the collection On the Ship of Dreams by Nikos Ninolakis. This is a posthumous collection of poems, previously written and published in Greek, and carefully selected and translated into English by Konstandina Dounis.1 Her research, study and reverence for Ninolakis’s output, as one of Australia’s earliest writers from Greece, is acutely acknowledged in the way all the poems capture Ninolakis’s voice – his emphatic tone, the rise and fall of his metre, his innate use of Greek myth to imbue contemporary thought. In The Son of the Argonaut, Ninolakis’s executes a perfect portrait of his father, Lefteris, and the inclement journey of migrant:

My father 
was a true Argonaut
Iolkus, his homeland
and his eyes had the colour
of the Morning Star!

He would often tell me stories
about the old homeland
and his desire
that I learn the Greek language
lasted until he drew his last breath.

His countenance appeared sad
eyes ever downcast
searching for roads of escape.
But the Argus lay shipwrecked
on the savage crags of some shore.

He sails within his thoughts 
pushing on the heavy oar
and amidst the deep silence
an inviting voice calls him
to Mother Earth, to rest.

My father
was forgotten by all in Iolkus
even that he had a son
taught at the helm
of return: with the Argus.

The art of finding by Dorothy Poulopoulos is sure-footed in its exploration of the continuum. The poems are visceral, ethereal and intellectual, exposing the delight and despair of the everyday encounter with one’s self. As Kevin Brophy2, in his introduction states: ‘This poetry partakes of that small range that brings poetry into the common experiences of life, and that more expansive range that brings a vast and ancient world into poetry.’ As exemplified in the longer poem, Sorrow, which begins with personifying this emotion as unwanted friend and midway introduces a specific friend, intervening like a sweet surprise:

I am still able to work and meet up with Eleni
at East Pearl, 44 Akti Moutsopoulou in Piraeus, Greece
for hot and sour soup to reminisce
about the places we came from and what we miss …

We speak of the day and our English students too,
Poros… summer and swimming in crystal clear waters.
I also speak of you at sea and how Sorrow crept in
and how the letter s makes me feel sad and my heart sink
and how I prefer the letter w

With the Unspeakable by Petr Malapanis an exploration of ‘being’ is documented, which isn’t so much about the journey or the intersection, rather it is about the aftermath. It is the unwavering brilliant shout of returning from Hades to tell the tale as testimony of victor. The brutality of cancer, childbirth and sexual assault is dealt with ‘eloquently, savagely and beautifully’.3 Each poem enters the personal to speak of the violent encounter of women multitudes:

Greek School Memory

My scalp tingled
From the force needed
To tame my curls
My toes throbbed 
Squeezed into shiny
Leather shoes
Fit for school
My palms smarted
Raw lines
Marked my flesh
For each answer
I did not know
And under the desk
You placed your hand 
So gently on my knee
I thought I must have dreamt it
Shame shone on my face
Your slick smile
Dared me to protest
My tongue tripped over strange words
Choked on unfamiliar sounds
Faster and faster
In an effort
To stall your fingers’ trip
Up my skinny thighs 
Full stop.
At last, I can breathe again

You move onto the next desk
The next girl

Her eyes meet mine
As her cheeks redden
I glance away.
  1. Dr Konstandina Dounis, Cultural historian and literary translator, Monash University
  2. Professor Kevin Brophy, School of Culture and Communication, Melbourne University
  3. Christos Tsiolkas’s introduction to the collection is an exceptional insight into the bones and flesh of the collection. Tsiolkas is a multi-award prize winning novelist and playwright and a second generation Australian of Greek heritage.
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