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Sunday, 9 August 2015

Komninos Zervos, Australian Poet

Constantine Zervos, Komninos' father in the early 1940s

From Komninos' splendid Facebook posting - Old Family Photos 1908 to Present (reproduced with permission of the author) - a fascinating sequence of family photos beginning in the early twentieth century. The family emigrated to Australia from the island of Kastellorizo.

Komninos Konstantinos Zervos  - "My father Constantine Zervos outside Kanis's Cafe, 138 Bridge Road, Richmond, in the early 1940s, during WW2. After having their window smashed several times because people thought they were Italian, the signwriter was called in to make it quite clear on whose side they were on".

Komninos was born in Richmond, Melbourne, in 1950. Family history

Komninos has always been one of my favourite Australian poets (he's also famous as a performance poet and cyber poet). Here's an extract from one of his telling poems:

if i was the son of an englishman, 
i’d really be an aussie... 
but my father he drinks ouzo, 
and my mother she wears black, 
my last name’s papadopoulos, 
and my first name’s just plain jack. 

Komninos writes: "The photographer was Effy Alexakis's mother. It was Australia Day 1992?1991? Prince Charles was visiting Parramatta Park for Australia Day celebrations and chose Effy's tent, a photographic exhibition of Greeks in cafes around Australia, where I was also reading my poetry. Luckily Effy's mum had a camera. his PA had a copy of my book, and Charles said he expected the fish and chips were better in Australia than in England. Then he moved on followed by the media pack".

"Komninos was born in 1950 and grew up in the fish and chip shop his parents ran in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond. It wasn’t an ideal life. In his poem Childhood in Richmond, he wrote of his father: who left Greece / with a bag / full of dreams / but spent the / rest of his life / as a slave / to a stove / till his dreams / were all greasy / and his hope / had all gone. He wasn’t destined to follow his father’s footsteps: ‘It was the era of The Beatles, hippies and free love, and my dad, with his strict Greek values, tried to protect me from these influences. So I lived a double life: good Greek boy at home, and Aussie teenager at school. I was a weekend hippie who concealed it from my parents.’" Source: From Aesop.

From The Poetry Olympics, Sydney Opera House

Judging The Poetry Olymics, Sydney Opera House
Yusef Komunyakaa, Jim Potts, Komninos Zervos

One of the things that is so refreshing about Komninos' work (and that of many other writers of his generation, self-confident in their sense of Australian identity) is the absence of the so-called "cultural cringe". Discussions of "cultural cringe" issues below:

'The term "cultural cringe" was coined in Australia after the Second World War by the Melbourne critic and social commentator A.A.Phillips, and defined in an influential and highly controversial 1950 essay of the same name'.

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