In his latest poetry collection, ‘Angel Frankenstein’, George Mouratidis offers diverse manifestations of memory, time and loss
Dean Kalimniou **
“How impossible the perfect finality of immolating you in wine – a bottle already emptied.”
Central to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the exploration of unfulfilled longing, or rather the lifetime pursuit of completeness.
That this torment is eternal, is illustrated by the fact that her work is subtitled ‘The modern Prometheus’. The archetypal mythological figure of Prometheus, in his quest to push the boundaries, defy heavenly imposed limits and provide mankind with knowledge and enlightenment, roused the fury of the Olympians, through his industrial espionage, stealing the secret of fire. By way of punishment, he was condemned to be chained to a rock to have his liver eaten out every day by an eagle. Every night his liver would grow back and the torment was to continue for eternity.
There is pain and latent subversion in incompleteness. Plato, in The Symposium parallels the Promethean archetype and the torment of loss: “According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”
The human condition therefore, whether by design or accident, whether via Prometheus, Frankenstein or the archetypal Platonic man, arises from a sense of consequence resulting from seeking enlightenment and power. Victor Frankenstein is the Shelleyan incarnation of Prometheus. He is fascinated, as Prometheus was, by the power of electricity/ lightning and obsessed with regeneration.
So too is local poet George Mouratidis in his recently published collection, Angel Frankenstein. “I sing her beauty from the roofs and fences of this neighbourhood this town where god is killed and resurrected every day in this world,” he writes.
The entire narrative is one of dysfunctional resurrection. The poet, in a series of Proustian madeleine moments, experiences a series of ecstasies of remembrance that flow from and cluster around each other in an effort to conquer time itself.
Time and Loss itself are the Poet’s Frankenstein. Embedded within the memories that comprise the narrative is a lament for the existence and loss of growing up in the 80’s in Thomastown, with all of its vibrancy, bleak contradictions, unfulfilled longings and sterility of horizon. The front cover of the collection, a typical Melbournian security door is a stark evocation of that time. A small red carnation laced through the wire mesh evokes the almost extinct Greek Australian custom of leaving a flower at someone’s front door when they are not home in order to draw attention to the thwarted visit. Mouratidis’ collection plays exactly the same role: An attempt to revisit a past that is no longer there, highlighting the pain and sweet sorrow at trying to make one’s mark upon that past and connect with it, knowing that the means to do so are as impermanent and as perishable as a flower upon a security door. Further, the very gesture of marking one’s presence with the flower, real or poetic has more to do with one’s relationship to the door that bars entry that the realm it grants access to. How that realm will interpret our gesture is a question that the poet also raises.
Throughout the collection, insight is displayed as to the futility of the poet’s undertaking. As galvanic as his poetry is, can we really hope to animate the corpse of our own history and what truly is the point of jump-starting an agglomeration of defunct body parts? Is it not narcissistic to even presume to do so? “How selfish the worm of my own thinking/ when all your thought/ is wiped/ like a smudged fingerprint/ from a smashed cup/ by some thing I can never know. I think/ how deep that black worm has burrowed,/ how much of your life and mine it has eaten and/how much can be saved…./YESTERDAY…./THIS morning…” the poet writes.
The pages upon which his muscular but melodious words cascade themselves, are palimpsests, underwritten by the existential scrawls of all those who have come before and populated his world: drug addicts, suicides, Ljubce, the neighbourhood wife-beater, self-righteous “uncles and aunts” posing, relating to and discoursing each other in passive-aggressive emergent bourgeois patois, all partaking of a long-lost liturgy whose cadences still reverberate within the poet’s chest and torment him as he attempts to articulate them, in a world in which they are decontextualised to the point of being unintelligible: “how the worm twists hungrily/ in your wake,/ how much of my life it has eaten/ already, over-/ gorged and/ shivering in/ my perishable chest.” It is from this power, the power to evoke, recall and purport to reconstruct the vivacity of life (“neither rhyme or reason holds a thousand fields of beacons to this presence of your loving heart that keeps the beat the beat of pulsing life that passes day and night”) that he has equipped himself with, that the inner torture he will suffer from the use of it stems. Lost Greek Australia bears scant relation to its contemporary incarnation. It also bears scant relation to the way it is portrayed in history and the memories of others who have partaken of it. It is a “kaleidoscope of crazy is a καρναβάλι down my dimwit street.” His torture mirrors that of Prometheus’ undying, eternal and also impossible to relate to unless one “hangs discarded in my/ dreams, where you still/ hold that black worm in your/ heart for me to extract – a devouring/ ghost frozen – your ghost flesh/ clenched in chipped stone teeth,/ the star in your laughter…”
“How trite/ your death/is /my death too…” the poet observes seemingly flippantly, about the starting point of his pursuit. His is a nonchalance that stems from discipline and rigour. The apparently effortless movement of the text is far more than a mere contrivance of recollection. The poet puts on a bravura display of differing voices and opposing tonalities, conflicting verse forms and metric schemes, a deliberate compendium of the diverse manifestations of memory which veers from coyness to savagery. This is the counterpoint of light reverie or the melancholy of mellifluous apodemic nostalgia; the hammering contempt for hypocrisy and the vanity of affectation, spoken with the authority of one invested in its passage, with the unyielding force of his moral compass allowing no compromise in language or grammar. Truth telling of this kind can largely dispense with the strictures of verb and adjective. In his expert hands, Mouratidis’ words become the cloth of the Fates, intricately woven, only to be sundered at the loom, keening in vain at the impossibility of its re-attachment to anything but our own memory. Thus, for all their materiality, the poems are counterpoised within a tension of belonging, escaping, but enduring, even when purportedly lost within the material world. There is a bewitching fluency in the poet’s design, a sense that the dross of contemporary existence can be left behind for a floating of tortured evanescence, before we realise that our flotation devices anchor us, directly into the chthonic paradigm that informs the entire work. Past, present and future, here conflate.
Mouratidis’ use of the Greek throughout the collection is significant. There is none of the tokenistic or fetishizing sprinkling of Greek words to add an exotic ethnic flavour for the benefit of the orientalising mainstream palette, as blights the work of lesser Greek Australian poets. Instead, Mouratidis renders the Greek language it its proper linguistic context within Australia, wherein both the English and Greek languages are intermixed indiscriminately and unconsciously. The spelling used is often deliberately archaic or incorrect, faithfully recording the writings of first generation migrants who were not afforded an opportunity to complete their education. The misspelling of words such as «σαςαφείνω» is a telling symbol of a world misremembered, misrepresented, misforgotten and possibly, through the poet’s own efforts, mis-resurrected. It also artfully a sense of contrived affinity as the poet, of another generation and social class, points to linguistic and narrative approximates in order to justify his place, beyond the wire mesh door: “I arrived here on a Qantas flight in 1978/ not a packed deck of men and women, kids against the rail, waving/ to the waiting clouds below on Station Pier,/ but I did… Their stories are my stories too…” In ‘Canto 5′ of Songs of the Last Chinese Poet, Ouyang Yu reflects: “your lost identity will forever pull you back/ towards the centre of chaos/ its’ better to stay there/ for it’s a way of life you have been used to/ like if you are used to death/ life will be a kind of torture to you.”
It is this salvific knowledge of the lingering mouldering suffering of Frankenstein’s reanimation at the hands of the wordsmith that is our course but ultimately, our salvation. George Mouratidis’ Angel Frankenstein is perhaps the most profound poetic treatment of the way we view, contextualise and efface our antipodean existence within its history while simultaneously constituting a dirge for a time and place, forever lost, yet omnipresent, placed within the ultimate dirge for the times and places lost prior to that within the mother country. As the poet urges: “Stay close to me my love,/ my heart/ until we both get dug/ in sixty thousand years.”
*Angel Frankenstein is published by Soul Bay Press.