What is the first poem you remember reading?
I must have been around 7 or 8 years old. I found an old record my mother had laying around our old living room. From what I can remember I think it was Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. I picked up the record opening the sleeve to find the lyrics of the song all written in poetic verse. Sitting in the corner of the room I studied each word, half of which I didn't really understand but when read with the mood and emotion of the song I could begin to feel its message, its purpose and sentiment. As I often say to people I had little idea at the time as to what poetry consisted of so as far as I was concerned I regarded it all as feeling - common feelings explained in different ways.
|‘The truth is that freedom is not commonly shared. Some of us are more free than others and that comes at the expense of the less free, the less fortunate…’
What made you want to be a poet?
I don’t think I’ve ever chosen to be a poet. In my view poetry, or art to speak more universally, is a way of regarding the world, a way of operating and interpreting all that is seen, experienced and understood. I did however make a conscious decision that I would be true to the energy that lived within me, to my spirit, which did constantly urge me to make poetry a full-time occupation. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life working very mundane jobs. If tomorrow people stopped caring for the things I wrote, the way I saw the world, then there’s a good possibility I would have to return to that reality and that quite frankly frightens me. Yet I know that whatever job I’ll doing, be it delivering pizzas, working on building sites or standing as a security guard by doors, I’ll always remain a poet in both heart and spirit, that I am certain of.
What is the first thing you wrote that defined you as a writer/poet?
When I was 17 my mother and aunt both entered me into the London Mayor’s Respect Slam. The idea was to write a poem themed around Respect then to perform what we’d written to a live audience. At the end of each round people would vote who they wanted to stay or who they wanted to go based on the strength of the performance and the poem. It was brutal and if I’m honest I’ve never slammed again, simply because I despise the idea of art and competition sharing the same bed. I did however end up winning the competition which gave imputes to my career as a writer/poet so something worthwhile did eventually come out of it regardless of my dissent.
What inspires you?
Life. Its tragedy, heartache and struggle. Its relentless brutality, its deep love, celebration, enigma and futility. I can’t help but take inspiration from such a mysterious yet wonderfully profound set of human experiences. I owe a lot of my work(s) inspiration to sensitivity. I regard sensitivity as the highest form of awareness and in return awareness inspires the highest form of intelligence. To fuse all the various modes of feeling, thought and expression (which is quintessentially art) into one deep algorithm is to have defined the human experience in all its facets. The Chinese poet Lu Chi once wrote, ‘the Poet is one who traps Heaven and Earth in the cage of form’ meaning to bring the abstract and metaphysical into the palpable and concrete realm of understanding. This is what poetry does or should attempt to do.
Which poets inspire you?
I have different poets for different days and moods. I’m a huge fan of Spanish literature especially the romantics. I’m also a massive admirer of the surrealists poets; those such as Lorca, Neruda and Paz. On days when I’m feeling bitter, outcasted or demagogic I find myself turning to Bukowski. There’s also an Indian poet by the name of Arun Kolutkar who captured with incommunicable mastery the poignant, crude and desperate realities of those trapped in India’s mass slums. As with regards to American poets I find myself constantly exhilarated by the works of Gingsberg, Wallace Stevens and Theodore Rothke. Adrian Mitchell is also another writer whose work leaves a lasting impression on my thinking. The spiritual writers such as Rumi and Gibran offer an existential solace as do the philosophical and intellectual writings of T.S Elliot, Ezra Pound, W.H Auden and T.S Elliot. I read Shakespeare when I need to, after all there is more to be learnt from a single masterpiece than a thousand ordinary examples.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished writing my latest collection which is entitled A Difficult Place To Be Human. I’ve also been offered an agency deal which means I’ll have professional representation alleviating much of the strains and pressures that come with self-publishing. Things are growing and I’m thankful.
What has been the biggest accomplishment of your career so far?
I can’t really say. I really see every step forward as an accomplishment as it’s those small movements that create the major ones later on. Performing poetry in Australia and New Zealand was overwhelmingly mind-blowing. Working with indigenous people and having them connect with my words was an ineffably rich experience. Performing poetry at the Brixton Academy in front of 1000 odd people will also be something I won’t forget. I’ve performed poetry at The Venezuelan Embassy to mark the 10 year anniversary of Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan people overcoming the American coup d'état. I’ve read in street corners in the pouring rain, to a party full of drunk revelers on a rooftop in East London, but I think to have been told that my poetry woke a Native American girl from a coma will be something that sits above the rest. That for me is the crown. That’s why I write. Because within the suffering that the words are born from there is something reaching, something full of grace that looks only to heal the wound that the world coldly inflicts.
How are human rights important to you?
If the man next door can’t live freely, if the woman across the road can’t love who she pleases or a family can’t walk down whatever street they want then all freedom is made redundant. The truth is that freedom is not commonly shared. Some of us are more free than others and that comes at the expense of the less free, the less fortunate, the immobilized and oppressed.
How can poetry raise awareness of human rights / and Cyprus issue?
The great thing about language and poetic verse or prose is that it has an incredible ability to connect with an individuals major senses. All art reaches and appeals to that part of us which is hypersensitive and emotive, which is why politicians, spokespeople etc. all use the power of poetry and rhetoric to stimulate revolution and push forward their own personal agendas. If you read the speeches of the great leaders, including the more tyrannous ones, you’ll find that they were in fact fantastic poets and performers. I’ve always insisted that true art should evoke rather than instruct which is exactly how poetry can be used to not just tackle the Cyprus issue, but to also appeal to a wider range of people who may feel disconnected from the mainstream political jargon that surrounds these issues.
Has being Cypriot made an impact on your writing?
From a young age I was exposed to stories of inequality and oppression that emanated out of the Cyprus problem. Learning about Cyprus’s political history engendered a thirst to discover more about other injustices and inhumane acts that existed outside of my own country. To be taught about colonialism, to understand its pernicious implications and the effects it has on those living within an oppressive regime was enough to settle my political stance from a young age.
Have you visited the occupied area in Cyprus? How did that make you feel?
I haven't no. For years I've been conflicted as to would I really want to go, what’s the purpose of me going and how it would make me feel. I think I will in the near future.
Do you think that poetry can bring segregated communities together?
Absolutely. Poetry that is used a specific way has the capability of breaking down social barriers, of enlightening a people who may have been ignorant to certain things. Poetry has infinite potential. Due to its freedom of expression it can counter the mainstream narrative, hence why many great poets were and still are regarded as being heretics, non-conformists or of the anti stablishment school of thought. Art creates a condition where people can express without fear of public reprisal and that makes it an exceedingly dangerous or on the other hand holy weapon.
What do you hope for the future of Cyprus?
Two syllables, Six letters
by Anthony Anaxagorou
It’s better to not go back to the village,
the subverted paradise silent
in the shatter of shrapnel
Ramon Lopez Velarde
nailed to the sea.
An island at ease
with the cool definite running of waves,
I climb through the smell of its thirsty earth,
its lazy olive trees and lost monasteries
that beguile an unsatisfied God.
Trek deeper, past the cologne of orange groves,
the hacked meats and leaking salads
where a constellation of bruised rocks hurt for its history
and there you’ll find it all weighing on the back
of some old donkey forgotten in its dystrophy.
A donkey who took the strain of injustice,
whose hooves quietly bled while
the morally-good gripped the hand of every struggle
but his. While the liberals and philanthropists
helped move every preposterous volcano,
loaded with effort to block the liquid stampede of empire,
of colonialism and genocide, but our dear donkey,
the one who dreamt of a simple clean moon
became too familiar with blood - his journey laden
with misfortune but still
he went on.
United with his brothers
united with his sisters
even when the winter rains ceased to dampen
the heart of the Levant,
the summer sun ceased to shine and started
instead to burn
and the autumnal wind carried within it the puked stench
of a gutted village
still he went on.
Around he saw his island’s scabbed pyrite
exposed like the earth’s very own entrails.
Wine dripped from wooden tables.
Blood dripped from wooden tables
and everywhere was ending.
But that was then.
In a time when donkey’s were slaughtered
for their grieving,
when the pestilence came to test our beaches,
our pride and character.
In a time they would rather have us forget
but way down in our villages, estranged and plain
there were a few
who fought to restore what once was
who craved peace
who sang loud the song in their hearts
that of an island
nailed to the sea.