‘Cypriots abroad are forced to live by values that were obsolete over 50 years ago!’ ALIX NORMAN meets the most vocal member of the disillusioned diaspora
Koraly Dimitriadis is the diaspora’s wild child – its enfant terrible. A well-known poet, author of titles such as Love and F*ck Poems and Just Give me the Pills, she did all that was expected of ‘a good Greek girl’: married young, produced progeny, and stayed in the kitchen. It left her, as she writes in one of her poems, ‘stitched up till I can’t breathe.’ And then she adds, triumph bursting from every letter, ‘BUT I EXPLODED OUT OF ALL THAT’!
In short, this Australian Cypriot is the poster child for the disillusioned diaspora. She’s the poet who captures the lack of belonging felt by so many second and third-generation Cypriots; the woman who writes: ‘I’m angry because my dad / grew up in a remote village in Cyprus / & came to Australia for a better life / only to have his daughter angry that / she didn’t get to grow up in Cyprus’.
Hers is a complex fury, an anger based on lack of belonging. “Your parents emigrate to give their children the opportunities they never had,” she states. “And when that dream cracks, there’s a lot of anger. When you realise the migrant dream is a myth, it hits like a truck!
“It’s not just Australia,” she adds. “This death of the migrant dream has happened across the world, wherever Cypriots have ended up. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way and, as a poet, I pour the anger and disappointment into my words…
“I think I’m touching on something very raw,” she adds. “An undercurrent of emotion felt by many in the diaspora. Cypriots who grow up abroad are often far more steeped in tradition and expectation than people raised on the island. For those of us born in Australia, in the UK, in the States, it’s like time has stood still: we’re being asked to live by values that were out-of-date 50 years ago, when our parents or grandparents left the island. It is STIFLING!”
Koraly’s newest anthology thrusts these battles front and centre. She’s Not Normal, is a defiant declaration, an unapologetic celebration of all the ways in which one can be ‘not normal’.
“These poems span 13 years of my life,” she explains. “I worked through these things inch by inch, fighting the expected social conventions; battling for the space to be myself. Every poem is spiked with honesty, written from the heart.”
She’s Not Normal, Koraly hopes, will be an inspiration for those who feel the same way: “A small something that can make people feel less alone. Especially women. I think expectations of Cypriot women abroad are much higher than they are on women in Cyprus… It’s easier to be a dumb woman / than a smart one / It’s safer too, she writes in one of her poems.
At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking Koraly’s all about the rage. But, just like any other woman, any other person, there are multiple facets to her personality. She’s interested in identity: the perpetual struggle of ‘fitting in’. She’s fascinated by the dictates of society: what our communities tell us we should be versus who we really are. And she’s written extensively about relationships; her pithy poems cover topics that are considered conventionally taboo, including sexual domination and multiple partners.
She also has a passion for politics – especially when the powers that be seem to have failed in their duty.
“Each of the chapters is based on a different theme: identity, relationships, motherhood. The more political chapter is called A Fucking Arsehole of a Man Killed His Wife. It’s the title of a poem about a man who doused his wife and children in gasoline and burnt them to death.”
It’s a true story she adds; it happened in Queensland. But while the media reported how the husband was such a wonderful family man, a jolly good chap, Koraly sat straight down and wrote her truth. “There’s no excuse for this behaviour,” she avows.
Her strong opinions are polarising. “I’ve lost friends – and family – over my writing. In a conservative migrant culture, you’re often ridiculed. You only have two choices: conform, or revolt. And I,” she chuckles, “am revolting. Loudly and frequently!”
This revolution, she admits, does come at a high price. “But I know I’m happier being myself than I would be if I’d conformed to societal expectation. If I’d stayed unhappily married, popped out more kids, taught myself to make the best koupepia in Melbourne, I’d be dead on the inside; trapped in the migrant nightmare.
“Instead, I’m owning it when they say ‘She’s Not Normal’. I’m making it my catchphrase, my inspiration. And I’m using it to empower everyone else who feels the same way. Not normal?” she concludes. “Who’s really normal anyway? Are you?”
She’s Not Normal is available from www.outsidetheboxpress.com/shop, as well as at Moufflon, Kyriakou Bookshop and POW Limassol. Koraly will be performing her poetry on October 25 at Prozak in Nicosia