By Max Sheridan
George Tardios still speaks the same Cypriot he was speaking when he was seven, the day he visited his grandmother for the first time in Varosha in 1951 and she promised to will him her brothel.
The memory is as vivid as zivania on a paper cut. Tardios needed a shot of the hard stuff before he sat in front of the camera and started to talk about it 60 years later when we met with writer Stavros Karayanni and publisher Haris Ioannides to catch some of Tardios’ stories on video.
Watch the video here:
You may have read Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. Even if you never made it all the way through, the truth of those words has probably hit home at some point in your life.
For Tardios – a spiritual wanderer whose home is an Ithaca of the mind, preserved forever like some kind of half-aborted grotesque in a specimen jar – it’s a fight he’s been battling for decades. What to do with all those memories? When they come knocking on his head – his own words – they erupt into ferocious poems that hearken back to the work of 19th- and 20th-century poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, and even Francis Thompson.
But for all the urgency of Tardios’ imagery – for all the angry, bemused, headlong trampling over his ghosts – there’s a sadness and even deliciousness at the core of the poems. Behind every dusty viper lazing in the weeds in the standstill of summer, there is afternoon sunlight falling on a fig tree in a silence so pure it shakes.
Tardios grew up a working-class Cypriot in London in the 1950s, when the troubles at home were raging. If you’re a Cypriot and don’t have a clear idea of what that means, it means getting glass bottles broken over your head and possibly stabbed on the school bus just because you’re Cypriot (and all Cypriots are EOKA sympathisers).
It means getting expelled from high school by a principal who hates your blood, and bristling elementally at the word “Charlie” even six decades after the fact because it means so little to anyone who uses it, but so much to anybody who lived it.
A poet at heart, Tardios became a poet in fact, a guerilla warrior raging against his ghosts. He went on to direct the Arvon Foundation’s first creative writing residency, in Black Mountain style, with poet friend Ted Hughes, with whom he used to get drunk. He became an actor and a teacher and even spent two years in Tanzania trying to make Cyprus go away.
But those ancestors kept knocking.
And then Buttoned-Up Shapes came out.
And when I read it, I got in touch with Haris Ioannides at Armida Publications right away and we figured out a way to republish it, this time in a bilingual edition. It wasn’t only the first Greek edition of Tardios’ poems, it was the first collection to be published locally.
We’re proud of that fact, but mostly we’re excited to be involved in getting these exhilarating poems into the hands of an audience that means so much to George Tardios.
Tardios is one of the most important Greek Cypriot poets writing today. A literary figure in the UK, his work is not so well known in Cyprus. Buttoned-Up Shapes is Tardios’ first book of poems to be translated into Greek.
The collection was published by Armida Publications and Write CY with cover photography by Nicos Philippou, and translated into Greek by Despina Pirketti.
The official book launch will take place at Point Centre for Contemporary Art at 6pm on Sunday, October 8, 2017, with Tardios available for a Q&A and book signing. Stavros Karayanni will also give a brief introduction to Tardios’ poetry.
Buttoned-Up Shapes was printed in a limited run of 100 copies.
Max Sheridan is a Nicosia-based writer. He is the director of Write CY, a local platform for creative writing and community storytelling. His novel DILLO will be published in December 2017 by One Eye Press