Ομιλία στο Λονδίνο με τίτλο: POETRY AND MEDICINE - A HUSBAND AND A LOVER
I have an innate inclination for the excessive;
I enjoy playing with words, with language, with the rhetoric of the great and real miracles of life.
With the semiotic of feeble creatures, emotions, nature, and fragile relations.
I also have a tendency toward the inconsistent, the unexpected, and the erratic relationship between the senses.
As well as a dangerous disposition to experience extreme happenings.
In socially acceptable terms, someone may say I have no limits.
And this is a reality that has plagued those who love me.
Nonetheless, I would say that UNIVERSALITY can only be met from a distance, - both in space and time-, through the minimizing lens of self-exclusion.
That is why I believe, I have experienced the magic of the great and repeated explosions (the big bangs) of the Universe, through vibrations and romantic vandalism, through the vibrant convergence of colours, scents, sounds and touch.
Sensually. With no excuses.
Ranging within the absolute, the accidental and the random.
Hawkish and warlike paths that have caused an arousal to suspicious, predatory and carnivorous newspapers.
For the collateral and the meteor.
Poetry is the only devise I have for the measurement, and geodetic and celestial qualification of Love and Death. Of Life and Severance.
Poetry is an alternative form of life, one, less painful, modest and realistic, which allows me to preserve the magic of the little things through the harshness of war and through the feeling of a possibly imminent death.
And it is precisely at this delicate, but fundamental moment, that medicine has decisively touched my poetry.
I like words. I like playing with the language but I also like playing with the tongue. The clicking of vowels on the palate and the saliva mucous membranes of our cheeks. Like someone placing pebbles in the mouth and juggling them with the tongue.
That is why I loved the KOZA tribe, living around the tropic of Capricorn in Africa. These indigenous people constantly do a clicking while speaking their language. When I had first discovered the magic of this clicking myself at the age of five, I was puzzled as to why the adults found it incredibly annoying.
Poetry came into my life early and well before Medicine. Unless you consider the children’s game “Doctors and Nurses”, as an interest in the subject.
The title of my speech is provocative and escapes post-modern feministic perceptions and gender studies.
It definitely scandalizes the forced introductions of the gendered relations of people,
But cannot be a guideline for the mainstreaming of human choices.
As a politician and in order to be politically correct, I should have chosen: “Medicine and Poetry, a partner and a lover”
Nonetheless, the title has been borrowed from Anton Chekhov, who said: “Medicine is my lawful wife and Poetry my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other”
I will not be clarifying who is my legal or permanent husband, and, who my lover.
I was born in a mine. Poetry came to find me through my endless wanderings. We would unlawfully, and by violating all community conventions, explore and disappear in the mystery of the mine’s warehouses, old mining mills, unattended underground tunnels, rail tracks, empty mining houses,
Improvised poems by improvised poets, in heroic laments and burials, and mourning at funerals for heroes of my naïve and primitive Nation.
We would spoil swallow nests, chased kittens and puppies, and entered the forbidden magic forest for mushrooms and herbs.
The world was hard on children,
And we were equally, as hard between ourselves.
I learned the primitive poetry through the narrations of my uneducated grandmother, who lived and breathed through the poetry of the illiterate.
I had an uncontrolled imagination, and I would often hear strange and mysterious voices, which as it turned out, were only heard by myself, since when I would begin to mention these voices, the adults would brush them off by telling me, not to talk of nonsense or gibberish and lies and not become a perpetual liar, as my hair would be pulled out one by one, if I didn’t conform.
It took me some time to learn the true meaning of gibberish.
But, I TELL YOU, I heard those voices. That would multiply and strengthen.
What I have experienced still resonates in me. There are many things which I have kept to myself, as each memory still sends shivers up and down my spine and dust devils form every time I look these memories in the face. Their time will come though. ………..
I still hear those voices.
Poetry never gave up on me,
And I never grew old.
Within unrestrained chatters, I have travelled the world many times, reading whatever I stumbled upon.
For almost a quarter of a century, I lived in a climate of war. The Revolution of the Cypriots against colonialism, the daily fear of the imminent Turkish invasion, the preparations for an evil that would come from the sea.
That evil came in 1974. And it is since then I live in exile.
I witnessed the junta of Athens as a young student, and I believe that it is through the struggle of the students against the dictatorship, that I discovered another segment of my own truth.
I am a child who has become a doctor by following the thin red thread wrapped around a spinning wheel of a beautiful grandmother who knew how to narrate stories, better than anyone I have met.
She taught me, as I have already mentioned, the poetry of the illiterate.
Despite having broken three canes on my back.
It was around the time I was fourteen or fifteen when I decided to become a doctor and go to Africa, to tropical forests where the natives are snake-bitten and where malaria and tuberculosis flourished, not only in literature.
Those days I spent amazing lengths of time arguing with witch-doctors and tribal chiefs.
The poems of that period are harsh on the tongue, just like quinine.
I eventually became a Surgeon and a Pediatric Surgeon. My studies lasted fifteen years. During this period I worked within strict, conservative, reclusive universities and hospitals.
This lasted until the tale of “volunteer doctors” resumed its call to me. A fantastic tale of eternal adolescence, a convergence of the marginalized, the irreconcilable, the romantics, the perversely deceptive, the vain, the unbalanced, the forgetful, the revolutionaries and the oppressed and ethereal. A tale that once it begins, changes you to the core. Perpetually.
I do not know if everyone hears voices, but I still hear that voice encouraging me: come on, get up, you’re late. Even the journalists have by now caught up with me, and following every disaster, I receive phone calls asking me why I have yet to set off.
For all people and especially for me, “volunteer doctors” or “Medicines du Monde”, or “Medicines sans Frontier”, is a revolutionary movement that fights against poverty, death, pain, oppression, ignorance and slavery all over the world.
It is an “emergency tale”, of knights and dragons.
It is as if we’re all struggling with one self.
My poetry is not auto-biographical. Reality is always an “external adjustment” through conformist and conventional sentiments that have humanitarian and political connotations.
This reality comes to light through the reports of each friend, comrade, loved one, who has stood beside me in surgery and witnessed, yet another battle or adventure.
I would experience and write down the thrill of the warped and distorted feelings.
Is this poetry? Maybe.
The poet's perversion is that of a perpetual liar that seeks vindication by exploiting the imagination and illusion, for the sake of what no-one else has experienced except for the poet and who identifies with the most extreme of images.
The poet exploits what no-one else has experienced. And this why I found that one of my poems bearing the title "What no-one else has experienced" a very good one.
Poetry is the libation to the Saint of Solitude who has always accompanied me. And who, without me, would be lonely himself. And is the only one who hears those strange silent voices in my mind. He gives me strength to walk the world of contradictions, of constant wars, of poverty
and the misery and humiliation of an unfulfilled, Eros.
In order to continue my narrative, I would firstly like to clarify that I’m no Saint. Neither the lady who often participates in adventurous safaris and long trips in the tropics.
Yet, I have always been vain. Imagine that I have collected stones, pebbles, sand, earth, soil, shells and rocks from all the mountains, deserts, plains, oceans, seas and lakes of the world. I have them gathered in a large clear vase and I want them to accompany me, in my dying grave.
I also have thousands of stray verses, in a sometimes light and sometimes heavy invisible vase within me.
The great myth, has always been the trigger. Without an END. I have always eliminated the FINALE from my own film reels as I have been inspired by the unexpected. My unrestrained imagination is a worn-out thatched roof, as what I have learned throughout the years from my elders, including the priests, preachers, school teachers and from other Poets, has resulted in a water and wind proof protective shield.
And all those who, while trying to teach me to comply, eventually taught me to travel everywhere with my imagination, and to be a good person regardless of the existence of God.
It is since then, that I have continually been planning my heroic death for my Motherland.
I have only partially dedicated my road to a missionary cause. Leaving the greater part, to the more humble, more obedient, law-abiding and loyal and religious. I have left it, to those who hear the voice of the Lord and don’t occupy their minds with hellish thoughts nor have a thousand demons dancing in their heads.
As a doctor I have worked with crowded groups of refugees, trying to survive off these meagre rations, just a breath away from the warfront, coupled with the radiant memories of my own exile.
All poems of that period resemble abandoned minefields. One must always be careful.
I have carried out surgeries in hospitals, under heavy shelling, and I have seen militants going into the minefields to gather wild strawberries for me. I cannot recall a sweeter, more delicate scent than the scent of those wild strawberries, other than, of course, the essence of the Saint of Solitude.
In the Caucasus, skies are magnificent during the night. I would count the stars in the darkness of the emergency situation, following fifteen consecutive hours of surgery in ravaged hospitals, and I believed I could stretch my arms and harvest a thousand at a time.
I would think of the wounded and the children I had operated on,
And the dead that I was unable to save.
Ι would redeem myself through poetic cries that would,- years later-, become poems.
Most of the poems of that period ARE dressed in purple. Because, many mothers would always wait for me every day at the entrance of the operation room, just to offer me berries and other fruits of the forest, as they anticipated the good news. My lips and tongue would always be tinted purple.
I would stick my tongue out and look at its purple shade through the broken mirror outside the dressing rooms.
I would try to identify the genetically modified code of memories and voices of the past that remained attached to my palate and taste buds,
like a sour sound of rose water hues, like candied melodic photons.
There were of course, those who would look at me strangely, but I had gotten used to that.
There were also, the “enemies” who were paving the way to exile of the refugees, as my soul longed to keep them, to give them courage and ask them to stay; the place was large enough for all of us.
I was their doctor too.
I would speak to them of the extremity of War, and the solitude of Peace. Οr rather, of the solitude of War and the extremity of Peace.
I have learned to document within my poetry that every free spirit on earth is a citizen of all cities liberated from slavery and oppression.
I have also learned that IT IS A BASIC INSTICT TO share YOUR food with the enemies, the defeated, the refugees and those displaced people who would begin a journey to nowhere. Especially if you have the experience of being a refugee yourself.
And this truth would always bring me to the opposite side of the border.
Not for the sake of the Nation, but for the sake of the uprooted child.
I have learned the magic of the small things. I have learned that poetry is found in the wild strawberries that you pick on unprotected minefields. It is found in the chants of the deceased angels in deserted sanctuaries. You can see it in the wild flowers that are given to you by the cheerful mothers, whose smiles are hindered by shining metallic teeth. It is in the dissonant songs with mistaken lyrics of performers set out for other worlds and other freedoms.
It is, in remaining true to you, amongst, a world of lies.
What have I gained from life? The greed to live and the ability to love with passion.
I got my fair share of life, I have no complaints.
I have gained love. Not the love of the missionaries or priests. This love, serves the needs of another era, but not my own.
An era in which Poetry and Medicine cannot come together in order to fight decay.
An era that is definitely not over yet.
However, I believe I have won the right to be liberated from the coercion of Heaven. I have won the privilege not to be at risk of being excommunicated, despite my sinful life.
Few times have I felt defeated, but I still cannot say with certainty that I have gained the strength and strong defenses that will protect me from the pain and suffering of the world.
I love the God Of The Small Things: those plastic flowers that were given to me by a child, I had operated on in Palestine, which aesthetically were undoubtedly miserable… and yet I love and keep them in a prominent position, amongst my collection of icons of my own Saints of Solitude and Despair, and whom I carry within me from the ends of the Universe.
I lived not one but ten lives in just half a century, but I fear, that putting them in words, it may take more than one lifetime,
Time which I do not have.
And more than half a century went by, before I realized that beside my own truth, there is that of others.
I have learned not to be fanatical, but since my childhood, I have preserved one thing: the manner in which I love.
There are periods where my poetry is mellow, while in others it is almost explosive.
The periods of my life which I have yet to transcribe into poetry, still weigh me down, like a ball of lead that I drag with me. If I give them a poetic outlet, and allow them to breathe, I will not fear anything. I will be free.
Fear is a human emotion. And I have been afraid. I have experienced fear. But I have never been taken over by panic. Where my resilience was indeed tested was while carrying out surgery, while under attack, under shelling, and believe me, I am resilient.
Without a doubt, the risk of death crosses one’s mind, but when the life of the person you are operating on depends upon your very actions, you know you will only be saving yourself if you leave.
And this, gives you strength. I try to protect others and myself at the same time, while knowing that there are people who wait for me in this life and beyond. I have found myself in great danger on a number of occasions, and have even come at breathing distance from death. In one case I escaped death by seconds. Maybe someone is protecting me.
Following 1990, I have regularly worked in great Children’s Hospitals and I have experienced extreme situations, in wars and civil conflicts.
1991 however, was a defining year of my life. I was elected Professor at the Democritus University, Director of the Children’s Hospital of Nicosia, I received my First National Award for Poetry, for a collection titled “Poetic Action and Political Co-action” that had been published just a year earlier, and met poets Michael Hulse, Tony Curtis and Zeleia Gregoriou.
I also experienced for the first time, the life of a chief -surgeon at war.
10 years later I received for the second time the first award for poetry for my collection "The Great Thirds" and was elected Member of the National Parliament.
I acquired a small recording device at Los Angeles, where I was able to record my tireless thoughts. You all may know how poetry, even as the poorest art, “sounds our door late at night and desperate to catch it, we run towards the door but only to discover it's gone. We must then record it on an empty pack of cigarettes, with a worn-out pencil or confine it on an airsickness bag while flying in the airplane.”
I have experienced all the wars of the last twenty years as a surgeon at the front line emergency hospitals. Nagorno-Karabakh, the Gaza Strip, Southern Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, Albania, Kosovo. Kurdistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I have lived through, all the catastrophes and natural disasters that have struck out planet. Tsunamis, earthquakes and famine. In Iran, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Turkey, Greece, Africa, Central Asia, the polar zone of the Russian Federation, Haiti, Argentina and Chile.
The Poetry of this period drips with blood, pain and sweat. I wrote six books in total, with a forthcoming seventh one. The poetry shines with pessimistic colors that stems from bloodless and bloody sacrifices to the God of Love and Death. Or, the God of War.
It makes no difference.
I have done my fair share in searching, and I have realized that there are no metaphysical concerns. Instead, all supposed miracles can be recorded as facts of nature.
Perhaps, the presence of a half-mad PERSON, in the neighborhoods of the world, searching and wondering, may be more inductive.
This is my truth. Without cosmetics BUT with many wrinkles.
Reading over my poems I rarely find the words ill, hospital, surgery, nurse, anesthesia, treatment. But I have found the loves and deaths of every hospital, every war, every misfortune, and every adventure. I have found the political parameters and my constant presence in the revolutions of peoples for their freedom.
I try to withhold my truth of being a doctor.
Betrayal has always been the most painful. My personal and political empathy, growing stronger each time. The feeling of freedom has always been joyous however.
A spirit that can never be subjugated.
I would feel like a free Armenian, Palestinian, Kurdish woman, I would carry three or four children, with blood running down my own body: this is the Poetry of a Surgeon.
As they would call me at 3 in the morning for an emergency surgery, so I would transcribe. And as I spent countless days and nights without rest and without sleep at the war fronts, so would a poem torture me.
As a doctor I can only postpone death. As a poet, I cannot do that. Death comes as a catapult and disrupts all, and, cannot be recorded as a biological end, but as a violent separation.
My poetry has been included in anthologies published in Santiago de Chile, Rome, Amsterdam and Moscow. There are not any good translations of it however. In a Russian collection of Europe's Greatest Poets, Seferis, Kavafis and I, were chosen from the Greeks.
I have been honored.
However, that translation hasn’t been good…
I have taught surgery in many medical schools but, since, I was only taught poetry by the illiterate, I could not teach it myself. But only live it.
I therefore live in the conspiracy of the Gods of Poetry, Harmony and Music, and I lived the events before they happen,… into my Poetry. Or would I disillusion myself that my poetry transcribed into my reality?
The Greek language is a wonderful tool for poetry.
Ancient Greek and the strict purist language of Medicine which is almost archaic, as well as the language of conservative newspapers that I would read at home, the language of the Bible, especially the Alexandrian text, and the language of the Gospels,
These are all the languages which were taught to me by those who tried to make me conform,
But now allow me to be, an excellent spinner of yarns, instead.