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

By | 1 May 2020

Nature Lover by Efi Hatzimanoli draws us out of the inner world and the sense of non-belonging to bear witness to the extraordinary in the every day. Here is the slap and dance of life, and the envious ability to make one laugh out loud and then sink into grief. In Monument her strident commands to her ‘lover’ compel chuckles of the familiar together with the sadness of inevitable separation:

If I should die before you, love
bury me in the garden and
plant a Hill’s Hoist over me
to mark the spot, I want a new one
not the old one which is unstable and missing lines
and not in the same position please
pick a sunny spot, position for all seasons
for you, too
to peg your underpants and socks like low hanging fruit
together with my brilliant white sheets
flapping in the breeze – don’t shroud me
in those infernal fitted things –
to unfurl my wings of one thousand thread Egyptian cotton
and stay out overnight with the tawny frogmouth and fruit bats
the snakes slithering through your smalls
no need to launder the soiled sheets
the bat shit is there
for luck in love

As Vrasidas Karalis1 states in his introduction: ‘Nature Lover is what you become when you look at what you love and realise its ephemerality.’

The specific nature of birds are honoured and interrogated in the prose poetry collection by Peter Lyssiotis. Similar to Hatzimanolis, Lyssiotis’s title (and poems) are a thoughtful combination of comedy and drama. The title particularly resonates loudly with the Cypriot dialect, mother-tongue. The moment when precious fruit from bountiful backyard trees are pecked into oblivion and the parent, usually the father, exclaims loudly to the sky Ah, Those Thieving Birds!

There is a philosophical wisdom scoring the collection, a harking back to Aesop and Aristophanes, with a premise that birds inhabit our identities and relationships, our aspirations and purpose:

We were flying in circles, the sparrow and I; round and round. My
father, smoking a cigarette in his backyard, asked himself, ‘How long
can they keep this up?’ We were flying, the sparrow and I. I was flying
in circles and so was the sparrow. ‘How long will he go on doing this?’
I heard my mother ask, as she looked out of her kitchen window,
past the lemon tree. We were flying in circles, the bird and I. I was 
flying clockwise and the sparrow was flying the other way around. The 
sparrow was chirping. It was chirping in circles. So I started talking
but in larger circles – after all I was the human. Through the chirping
and the talking I heard my son say, ‘The signs were there from the 

The circling up, as distinct from spiralling down, is the hope of continuation inspired by birds as our teachers. ‘… Lyssiotis enters the different places of the human condition and moves across them reconstructing his biography as poetography.2

In a sense, we have come full circle with the final chapbook; Journeys by Antigone Kefala, which can be a continuation of the poetic discourse of Or, Ship of Dreams and the art of finding. However, here we have a strong claim by Anna Couani3 in her introduction to the accomplished collection that ‘[Kefala’s] writing voice is not so much borne out of the migrant experience, as is often claimed about her, but one that has emerged in a liminal space, that is, a space that crosses conventional or physical boundaries … What episodes of migration and travelling have done for Antigone’s work is to loosen it from any specific cultural embeddedness.’ In the space of between and across, Kefala’s poems take us travelling, they have us sit with her as she distils grand moments, such as in Greece with:

The Amphitheatre

Around me 
faces tortured
by too many 
harsh summers.

The stage wall of massive stones
with the black openings
blind masks
listening to the night
above us.

‘What did the ancients do?’
The burning question.

Kefala is gifted with condensing a lifetime into a moment, as she captures the emotional turbulence of leaving in:


The beat of the song in the car
the plaintive voices of singers
calling out
‘… I am leaving… I am leaving …’
and Eleni
her sad, tired eyes
watching the landscape
the road to the airport
the sun falling relentlessly
on the skeletons
of the unfinished buildings
the sky burning with white dust
glistening in the afternoon sun
while the car rushed
towards another farewell.

In these poems of farewell or welcome, does the poet’s Greek mother tongue play a part? Is there an echo of her existence under the layers of foundation found in the sediment and soil of the poem? In some of my poems, I can hear her voice as sub-layer while in others she is a bare remnant. These seven poets of first and second generation Greek heritage have their unique relationship with the Greek language. They prove that Owl Publishing’s chapbook labour has yielded a feature comprised of contemporary artifacts, adding to the presence of poets based in Australia of Greek heritage.

  1. Professor Vrasidas Karalis, Modern Greek Studies, Sydney University. Like Castan, Kanarakis and Nickas, he has documented the output of certain Greek and Greek-Australian authors and poets.
  2. Dr Toula D. Nicolacopoulos, Senior Lecturer, Philosophy, La Trobe University and Dr George Vassilacopoulos, from their introduction to Lyssiotis, Ah, Those Thieving Birds!
  3. Anna Couani, is a renowned poet, creative writer, essayist and visual artist.
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