Comments and Anthology by Andreas Petrides

As published in In Focus Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2013

An important poet in obscurity?

My first acquaintance with the poetry of Kyriakos Hadjilouka goes back to the year 2000 when, as one of the anthologists of the volume “Wrath and Pain – A Hundred Voices”, I came into real contact with his work. That involvement not only enriched my knowledge and poetic sensitivity but, at times, also gave me the pleasurable feeling of surprise and even of reversal. I mean, of course, the occasional divergence of my own assessment from the established scale of evaluation.

The poetry of Kyriakos Hadjilouka was such a difficult but clear and recognisably fitting case for reassessment: inspired in contemplative mood and sweet-sounding in its linguistic expression, hieratic in its ritual style and enigmatic in its disjointed development, cryptic utterances of a completed historical life, as if articulated by the first martyr-poet, who has seen and already memorialised much. The titles of the four books of the poetry I have described are characteristic of his artistically homogenous and long course: “Armoi” 1993, “Armoi pleontes” 1995, “Armoi Aichmites” 1998 and “Armoi Stalagmites” 2004.

It was certainly the case of a divergent and singular poetic creation. Divergent in the means of expression, with language of uplifting eloquence and archaic Doric style. Divergent, too, in its psycho-intellectual mood, a blend of both Delphic and Calbian loftiness. The greatest divergence, however, concerned the very poetic structure and realisation, where the elliptical and unadorned style had a tendency towards the a-verbal exclamation, the incomplete phrase and/or the yoking of just two or three words.

The countless rounds

The scribes encumbered by heavy burdens.

The cells

The yearnings of the races

The sons

The Race at the exaltation of the horizons

*  *  *

The place is drowning.

Trapped time shudders in the arena

The poet, emotionally repetitive, unwinds without visible end his broken verses, which become imperceptibly endless steps and echoes from the depths of his soul… Verses which are uttered slowly and monotonously without alteration in an unrelieved landscape of stoic endurance and mournful noble-mindedness. Much patience and sympathy are required to pursue to the end the gasping and perspectively interminable path of Kyriakos Hadjilouka. Most readers abandon him, some from the start, others in the middle. The bombardment of “Armoi” tires and irritates them, since it seems to them that units of verse are not basically completed, extended to their natural culmination and the catharsis of intellectual dilemmas or mental/spiritual acts.

And yet: Although I personally state that I do not dissociate myself completely from such an experience when reading these poems, and although at the initial stage I lost heart somewhat, I felt within me that this poetry was hiding rarely perceptible, original and significant. At the present time of dry and uninspired poetic garrulity, something pushed me persistently to strain my ears more carefully to the sub-soil with the indications of a vein of water, which it emitted.

Wandering dreams laid waste the empty ovens

Sank with the ash.

A bitter olive tree covered my generation.

*  *  *

Corinth closes her eyes.

The hills vanish.

Patricians dig.

*  *  *

The Aegean present.

Doges groaning.

Unending the journey.

Venice a shallow lake.

Yearning for courts.

The poetic phenomenon Kyriakos Hadjilouka may be for many non-existent but at least for two members of the Literary Society of Paphos (decade of the 90’s), Demetris Gotsis and the writer of this text, he was the steady object of aesthetic focus and speculation for many years. Through persistent and creative dialogue we always emerged somewhat wiser, with experiences and conclusions quite often in conflict with accepted values or models. Without being committed in advance or significantly biased in our assessments, we put our finger on the marks of the nails – and as bold new converts dealt and re-dealt the cards, quietly and away from the lights of publicity. Impartially and solely for our own pleasure and practice, we sought with happy zeal the truly genuine and authentic but which also was remoulded into poetry in a way we had not met before. In the meantime we were going through a period of the above-mentioned silent questioning of the sacred and over-valued prodigies of native poetry, and not without reason. Costas Montis, for example, had begun for some time to be arid and repetitive, since he had overdrawn for decades the reserves of his “Moments”. Others equally accomplished and recognised had already presented the main body of their truly notable work, without having added anything else of equal importance. Reading now with some surprise the “Armoi” of a “lesser” poet, we discovered the biblical ruins of an almost mute memory. Of a memory fundamentally tragic, which with verbally deficient connections “undertakes in desperation to restore wholly the complete picture of the there and then, by means of the shattering of the here and the splitting up of the now …”.

Any categorisation no longer held any meaning. Lesser poets with good poetry (or greater poets with inferior work) stimulated equally the imagination for free research and exciting aesthetic engrossment.

Inverted myths lulled us to sleep.

Wakings with unsteady steps.

*  *  *

You seek to make fast joints without support

To cover sinful cavities.

Of course, Demetris Gotsis and Andreas Petrides did not discover Kyriakos Hadjilouka from out of nowhere, nor did they naively declare him to be great or top-ranking. We simply believed in the originality and uniqueness of his voice, which in our opinion more than compensated for any weaknesses. Thus, how ever much we occupied ourselves from time to time with many and various matters and sometimes met with disagreement and objections, as aesthetic-devouring predators we would return every so often in more cutting mood, circling round his hard and pleasant-sounding core of the poetry.

In 2009, an excellent and penetrating text by Demetris Gotsis was published in “Akti” magazine with the long title “Puzzling Poetry – Through a Desert of Tragic Fossils”. After this, the open question of the literary re-establishment of the specific poet should ordinarily have had a positive impact. How many, however actually read that text which had been so long in its gestation? I quote his most important points (with reference to the collection “Armoi Stalagmites” 2004):

“As, then, present events are not described by our poet or ones happening now, but the half-visible outlines and the subtle memorialising accumulations echo on his part in very hushed tones and almost monotonously, you think of older events and happenings. We listen as if in a most ancient stone, as if in a fossil of historical drama – which is also a drama of the historical conscience – to a discourse which we must labour at to become part of. Because in any case he does not wish to converse with us but only to remind us of something. For this reason the stone which contains this something tries to rise up before us very slowly, like a “stalagmite bearing a sacred weight.”

This important, well-written work to which I refer has been ignored, though not, I believe, intentionally, just as the apt comments on the poetry of “Armoi” by Chrysothemis Hadjipanayi were ignored or not read (“Pnevmatiki Kypros”, 2005). She pinpoints as the main reason for the difficulty of reading the poems the fact that “the connecting tissue of joints is not traced verbally or semiotically, since only an inner core of feelings functions as such.”

Thus the rare poetry of “Armoi” continues till today to be unknown since it is not easy to approach and deviates in so deterring a way from familiar structures. “The easy surfaces of un-reshaped narrative and the most obvious materials of scene-painting are missing,” according to Demetris Gotsis. And yet truly powerful poetry is not judged according to the ease with which it can be read, or by the fluctuating numbers of its readers. Nor, of course, by the rapid assessments prepared en bloc for the completing of studies or Anthologies of every kind. (It is not by chance that even the important and voluminous “History of Modern Cypriot Literature”, by George Kechagioglou and Lefteris Papaleontiou, makes no comment at all on the poetry of Kyriakos Hadjilouka, simply mentioning his name in small print.)

I believe that sooner or later time puts things right, taking into account more diachronic and objective criteria. There, however, where our belief in the vindication of the specific poetic work experienced natural ups and downs at various periods, suddenly a new book was published by Kyriakos Hadjilouka (2009), with many pages and in a very different poetic vein, with the title “Chromofos”. I confronted it personally with scepticism and reservation when I first read it at a pre-publication stage. It was a polyphonic composition on the liberation struggle of our people but at the same time a painful submersion into the hallowed space and time of history. Structurally it contained a succession of titled poems of many lines, with narrative discourse in between. The poems of the unit “Etera Graphe”, in the second part of the book, were written during journeys abroad and have their own thematic autonomy.

My poetic intuition immediately spotted an important development in the functionalism of the singular and fragmentary “Armoi”. No longer do the familiar verbal articulations of his previous books float scattered, with no logical link between them and elliptical in the extreme. Now placed within a defined theme – and preserving their previous singularity – they contribute organically to the central and unified development of each composition. The expected leap had happened. And the main stumbling block of approachability for the reader was partially removed. It was without doubt a more synthetic achievement.

Lights come you had forgotten

Scents lost in the winds

Sparks from gravestones.

Poor scribes are memorialised

And neglected apostles.

You turn back to the helm.

From of old ambassadors on the coasts.

You receive communion of new blood.

You seek to trace the hollow of the sky.

Life which you don’t see drives you.

Secret breeze, uplifting.

You are swept into the silence of great moments

To brave out the yellow storm.

You cast off persistence.

You beautify

You meet new inspirations.

You overturn the cracks.

Rebellions come

You remember white flowers.

Haunted statues are shattered

Quivers fall from coffins.

The problem this time was different, however… Included in the collection of poems are various, aesthetically dissimilar and incompatible things. The prose parentheses, for example, were totally out of place from every aspect, in my opinion much inferior as literature. But also the poems of “Etera Graphe” towards the end of the book, despite their accomplished verses – for the most part, also blur the landscape and draw the attention away from the achievement to which I would definitely give the title “From the fragments of “Armoi” to the gasping compositions of “Chromofos”. This book was finally published as its creator determined, as is his right. And I, in obedience to my own critical instinct and inner need to project it more clearly and effectively, proceeded to a representative selection on which I built the text you have just read. If I have been at fault somewhere or commented with passion, the love of poetry and the ways which it has to surprise us, serve as my mitigation.

Translated by Christine Georghiades

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