Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Angela Costi

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Lost in Mid-Verse AC

Angela Costi

is also known as Ayyeliki Kosti among the Cypriot-Greek diaspora. She was born in Sydney, Australia, from Cypriot-Greek parents who left because of poverty and civil unrest. Her poetic lens is drawn to urban existence, highlighting those moments of connection among routine and struggle. She has four poetry collections: Dinted Halos (Hit&Miss Publications, 2003), Prayers for the Wicked (Floodtide Audio and Text, 2005), Honey and Salt (Five Islands Press, 2007) and Lost in Mid-Verse (Owl Publishing, 2014):
http://apj.australianpoetry.org/latest-writing/dmetri-kakmi-review-owl-publishing/
http://www.owlpublishing.com.au/chapbook-series.html
Her poetry, essays and reviews have been widely published in Australia and overseas. In 2009-10, with funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, she travelled to Japan to work on an international collaboration involving her poetry and the Stringraphy Ensemble. Her essay about this collaboration, and poetic narrative, A Nest of Cinnamon, are published in Cordite, 2009 and 2013:

A Nest of Cinnamon


At Angela Costi Poetics (https://www.facebook.com/AngelaCostiPoetics/) she shares her current reflections on the process of reading, writing, editing and publishing poems.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I remember sitting in a lounge-chair in the back yard. It was a sunny day. A shy breeze. On my lap was my note book. In my left hand was my pen. I began to write what I knew was a poem. It was triggered by my relationship with my Yiayia (my Cypriot Grandmother). It was endeavouring to document the oral world that I inhabited with my Yiayia and giving it that study of thought and language, which makes it a poem.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Paradoxically, my uneducated mother introduced me to poetry, specifically to children’s poems in the Greek language. My mother was one child of too many, brought up in a poor Cypriot household, in a time when education was a luxury. She insisted that I go to Greek language school at a very young age. There, I was taught by the Cypriot-Greek Orthodox Priest, the language of poetry found in scripture and children’s poetry books. I recall my mother’s proud tears when I recited perfectly one of her favourite poems at the annual graduation.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Studying Shakespeare throughout secondary school and later, in my early 20s, studying poetry for a year, brought to the fore how the discipline, practice and delivery of poetry is shaped by ‘older poets’. At one point during the poetry study, I couldn’t find where my poetic voice belonged in the overwhelming significance given to poetry by English poets of the 19th century. Still I continued to search for connection and resonance with established poets, and in particular, I wanted to learn about Australian poets, because that’s where I was based throughout my secondary and tertiary years. Fortunately I found the collections of Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), Judith Rodriguez and Antigone Kefala.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Given that I have two teenage boys and two ailing parents, I need to work full-time, which means I get up one hour earlier in the morning to write, then write for as much as I can at night, and then spend as much time as I can on the weekend. On my commute to and from work by tram, I carry my trusty companion, a note book. If there’s a seat, I get out my note book and write.

5. What motivates you to write?

Like the compulsion to eat or drink, it’s this daily need to work with words. My Yiayia worked with linen and cotton to make extraordinary embroidery, stitch by stitch… Perhaps I have inherited this tendency but my sequencing and patterns are with letters and words. She has bequeathed her need to make something creative and lasting.

6. What is your work ethic?

Both my Cypriot parents instilled in me the importance of a strong work ethic however, over recent years, I have incorporated balance and spirit into my writing practice. In 2009, I was in Japan as part of a writing project with the Japan-based Stringraphy Ensemble http://cordite.org.au/essays/reinventing-the-ancient/

Creating poetry and performing in Japan with an inspiring group of Japanese women, I saw the importance of ikigai as an approach to purpose in life. We often say, it’s the small steps that count, and adapting ikigai to my poetry practice has enabled a wiser, reflective and sustainable approach to a practice that is dependent on external acknowledgement. I’m certainly not a master practitioner, rather a novice. I endeavour to incorporate the five pillars of ikigai as best I can: pillar 1 – starting small, pillar 2 – releasing yourself, pillar 3 – harmony and sustainability, pillar 4 – the joy of little things, and pillar 5 – being in the here and now.

7. How did the writers you read when you were young influence you?

There are so many writers I could list, but there was, in my teenage years, an obsession with a play written by Robert Bolt, A Man for all Seasons. The main character was Sir Thomas More and to this very day I keep close to my heart the declaration made by Sir Thomas More when he was given the choice to live and betray his conscience or to die and be true to his soul, and he chose the latter because as he stated in the play: ‘In matters of conscience, the loyal subject is more bounden to be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing.’ That quote was underlined in my diary and held me in good stead as I found myself having to make serious choices as I progressed to adulthood, such as the choice of an arranged marriage or finding love in my own time, in my own way. The quote continues to inform my writing practice in the choice of content, for example, how I approach writing about my heritage. This poem may come from a personal perspective, but it needs to extend itself to reach the humanity in us all.

Another writer who had a pronounced influence on me as I was transitioning to adulthood is Nikos Kazantzakis, with his novel, Zorba the Greek. On a personal level, this was a challenging time for me with trying to establish independence from my traditional disciplinarian father. At the time, it felt to me that Kazantzakis had modelled the character of Zorba on my father. The novel helped me to see another perspective to Greek (Cypriot) male identity. The book also introduced me to a character, the elusive, strong-willed and objectified ‘widow’. This character sunk into my psyche so much so that I produced a poem about her titled, Zorba’s Widow.

8. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I’m not kinaesthetic by nature. Unlike my Yiayia and mother who use their hands to make the most nourishing creations. I’m in awe of artists who create visual miracles whether it be paintings, sculptures, mixed-media, film… With pen and paper I endeavour to create word pictures.

Another way of dissecting this questions is: Has writing chosen me or have I chosen it? I think both. There is my compulsion to write rather than bake, for instance, and there is also my attention to continuing the practice despite the obstacles and difficulties of daily existence.

9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I don’t think it’s about ‘wanting’ to become a writer rather it’s about the actual practice itself. The sitting down and doing the grunt work, which entails researching, making notes, drafting, re-drafting, re-drafting, re-drafting… proofing and editing, and all the administrative work associated with being a writer. I also don’t think it’s about the outcome, that is, the publications, the awards, the recognition… although they are wonderful to receive, but it’s the process of writing that turns you into a writer.
10. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have a book length (as distinct from chapbook) collection of poetry that I have just completed writing. It is titled, An Embroidery of Old Maps and New and is divided into parts by the use of four epigrams, which enable a focus on four areas: family, identity, womanhood and dialogue. I’m travelling through layers of cultural meaning that have been coined multicultural, cross-cultural, intercultural and intersectional existence. Three of the poems found in the book have recently been published by an Irish-based magazine, Blue Nib, issue 39, 2019:
https://thebluenib.com/article/angela-costi-3-poems/

I have also started another series of poems written in the third person and informed by those years between 16 to 25, with a particular focus on the transition from secondary school to university life. I’m exploring the excruciating experience of studying for exams, losing friends, trying to make friends, floundering in law school, the girl becoming woman… I particularly enjoy creating tightly thematic poetry collections.

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