Translingualism, Home, Ambivalence: The Poet Dimitris Tsaloumas

1 August 2016

Tsaloumas brings a different enlarged and diversified vision of Australian writing, picturing displacement, oblivion and deracination, as a fundamental indeed foundational existential reality, articulating ‘the old nostalgic tune (which) sunk since / in the stormy dimness of the mind.’1 He adds the fourth pillar to the self-perception of Australian writing; after the Aboriginal, the Anglo-Celtic and the bush experience, the immigrant presence becomes the final theme in the aesthetic and intellectual horizon of the culture offering new patterns of identification and new symbols about its past.

The poet is not in Australia to find a paradise, a safe haven, a lost Eden, or the promised land of the Holy Spirit. The most dangerous place of all is your own home: it embraces with the sweet tyranny of love in order to give you the sense of false security and abolish history and otherness. Reading poems like ‘An Open Song of Welcome’ one has the impression of a panoramic view of life, a continuous map capturing the constitutional ambivalence in the emotional responsiveness of the poet: ‘Lord of the turgid cloud your newborn seas / are mud, carry the flotsam of habitation / carrion, mattress, fish-crate, basket cot.’2 Despite its religious supplication, the poem is a strange amalgam of modernist experiment in dramatic monologue and a surrealist fusion of concreteness and abstraction – the central contribution of Tsaloumas to Australian poetry: ‘Let memory thumb through its heavy books and stop / at autumn leaf, rose petal or lavender spray / squashed dry between miraculous returns’.3 This is when the poet ‘achieves’ his voice, expansive, positive, unironic; when he accepts his own ambivalence towards his subject matter indeed towards his own corporeal presence. The poem does not exist to give any definite answers but to frame the grey areas of yes and no, of love and hate that coexist and feed upon each other. Only then the poetic text and its form do not test new possibilities: they realise them.

Tsaloumas is a topographical poet who began from somewhere else and arrived at a destination he had never imagined to reach. Since the suicide of Adam Lindsay Gordon, Australian poetry has been shaped by such arrivals to a dark yet seductive continent which does not belong to them and in every opportunity expels them without hesitation: all Australian poets inhabit an antinomic space of unappeased ambivalence. Maybe the anxiety felt for being simultaneously in and out of your own home, in and out of place, is what makes Australian poetry so intense, diverse and democratic. Tsaloumas’s poetry frames the poetic territory of ambivalence and anxiety; it does not reassure or gives closure. It is the poetry of an open-ended confusion in front of the incomprehensibility of our own destiny. Maybe his work culminates with these verse emblematic of an existential condition that we all experience in a rapidly changing uncertain and yet awe-inspiring world: ‘I’ve come to this place / against my will / summoned by unknown spirits / beyond the range / of my tutelar gods …’4

  1. D Tsaloumas, Helen of Troy, p. 89
  2. D Tsaloumas, New and Selected Poems, p. 443
  3. D Tsaloumas, New and Selected Poems, p. 444
  4. D Tsaloumas, Helen of Troy, p. 28
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