Poetry – Telling our most human aspects
Interview with Angeliki Dimopoulou
Share with us a few thoughts about your poetry collection “Bejn baħar u baħar” which is now available for the Greek reading audience.
I am actually profoundly humbled and honoured with the birth of this new “blue” baby (as my friends say) and even more so that it is in the same language of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two major epic poems that have travelled over centuries and inspired so many artworks.
Moreover and above all, this Greek version is highly symbolical for me, as it is a sort of tribute to my origins. It is not hard to tell that my surname means “of Greek origin” and strangely enough, I have never been to Greece. A journey within my inner seas, this poetry collection is swimming to my ancient roots ahead of me. This collection is a collection of my comings and goings between Malta, where I was born, and France, the place where I have been living for the past 22 years, and other places across the Mediterranean but above all, about my inner struggle in search of balance between the sense of longing for and belonging to different cultures and languages.
Would you like to select a poem from this collection and tell us about the special condition under which it was written?
I choose the poem “leħnek” (Your voice), devoted to my daughter Lilia who loves the Maltese language and since she started speaking, she is so enthusiastic to learn it. She is always repeating words trying to pronounce correctly, to speak with me in Maltese even when I’m tired and switch automatically to French. Through her asserted voice, her love for these particular sounds, I have realised that for long years, my everyday language has not been Maltese anymore and that my maternal language was somewhat becoming yet another foreign language. By making an effort to speak to her and to my son Raphaël in Maltese, by experimenting with poetry and reading in Maltese I try to keep the language alive inside me.
Your poems are like paintings of emotions. It would interesting to share some thoughts about how “the words that float in your head” are guided on paper.
Well I have started sharing my writings in public quite later in life. I needed to search deeper for my voice, cure it, go through a lot of trial and error phases, refine it till it was ripe enough to be shared. The writing process differs but I always have this feeling of words floating in my head urging to come out like an energy flow that needs to be released. It often happens a few seconds before I fall asleep so I even have to wake up and jot things down. When they are jotted down, I feel lighter. Seeing them taking shape without even knowing their place beforehand brings solace. Some of them are mature enough to stay as is while others require that game of editing, of digging deeper for more appropriate rhythms. For me, writing poetry is a matter of going with the flow.
Have you ever been able to “look at your thoughts” while writing poetry?
Learning to look at my thoughts has been a long long winding road. I have devoted much time to learning to meditate over the past years (and I still am). I am convinced that this allows me to achieve a better understanding of myself, my limits, a feeling of acceptance of emotions without identifying myself with them too much. This has in turn given enough space for detachment to be able to write about experiences and emotions with less struggle. It is a process… again, about learning to ride the waves, about watching the clouds pass by, about taking the place of the observer of one’s life.
Specific people and places seem to play a special role in your poetry.Would you say that your poetry is mainly experiential?
Yes I must say that I generally write about my own experiences through the different facets I incarnate, the different roles I play, that of being a woman, a daughter, a mother, a friend, a listener. Of course, all these experiences are composed of interactions with others and the stories, memories engraved in their hands. I also try to put myself in the shoes of those persons whose experiences shake me, change me in so many different ways. At the same time, although they are intimate, my experiences, my emotions are shared by the whole humanity. I believe this is also one of the underlying objectives of poetry – telling those parts that make us human.
You are particularly involved in Maltese poetry and literature since you don’t only write yourself but also translate pieces of work. Would you say that the big socio-political issues of our time have influenced Maltese poetry? And to what extent have affected you own writing as well?
Contemporary Maltese literature has been flourishing over the past years. We have more authors, more younger ones writing despite the difficulties faced by the publishing sector (as in the rest of the world). This development has been brought by socio-economic development, and many other factors including the growth of tourism, the IT revolution (facilitating communication, the sharing of knowledge and information), Malta’s accession to the EU (increasing mobility, greater international exposure, access to funds), the sexual emancipation, migration issues. Consequently contemporary literature is characterised by increased female voices, themes that are less patriotic, more universal, and related to socio-political, cultural and environmental issues.
Like other Maltese citizens, I have left Malta young, to study and live abroad well before Schengen. Like I mentioned above, I have spent long years travelling from one land to the other. This has of course has enabled me to see my island from different perspectives. I sort of had to be away to find my voice to also express this ambiguous relationship I have with Malta… So without doubt, this “existing in between” leaves a feeling of belonging to neither and at the same time belonging to both that is reflected in my writings. Living in Paris and travelling often to other places has opened up an infinite number of doors to different experiences of all senses that have in some way or another seeped in the layers of my poetry.