Thursday, 2 November 2017

November 2017: What's in a Name?

Image result for cyprus postcards
Past Life

Typical conversation:

Person: You're not foreign!
Me: Well I don't have a accent and I was born and raised here, but my family is Cypriot.
Person: You mean fully Cypriot? Isn't that in Greece?
Me: No and both my parents were born there.
Person: Oh, so why are you a Taylor?

Good question. When I started sending out poetry at the end of 2009 I was faced with a dilemma. Should I send out under my maiden name or go for Taylor? Would it matter? After all, if people read the actual poetry then they might figure out there was a different culture influencing some of the poems. Plus my maiden surname was a total mouthful, the question 'how do you spell that?' had followed me around all my life. Plus to complicate things further, I had two maiden surnames, because my dad got things a bit mixed up. Maria Dimiti on the birth certificate and Maria Orthodoxou on the passport. The solicitors dealt with it eventually. At one point I wondered if I existed at all. I thought about it and sent off as Taylor. People could spell Taylor (most of the time). Job done.

I kind of half regret that now. Along the way I've had a few people assuming that I'm a 'nice' middle-class English lady who probably went to a 'nice' school. (LOL as they say). I once had a chat with an editor (no-one I actually worked with directly) who said I should make my ethnicity part of my mission statement as a poet, but I never did.

Recently I've been in contact with the poet Anthony Anaxagorou as he's interested in putting together a book on British Cypriot identity. Thinking I might have the odd idea to share I realised I couldn't shut up on the phone. I wondered why I hadn't written more poetry about my background - to be fair I've written a few. Then I thought, bloody hell I need to get some of this out of my system. I should also speak to family members who remember Cyprus pre-1960, when British Colonial rule ended. My father came to England in 1961. In the late fifties he peeled vegetables (reluctantly) for British squaddies in Dhekelia, which still is a Sovereign base to this day. My maternal Grandma was a performance poet in her day. Seriously. Despite being a widow who should have kept her head down, she was popular at wedding parties for her spontaneous rhyming powers. It's part of a tradition called 'Chattista,' - of getting up and making up rhyming couplets on the spot. I don't know if  any of this is a poetry thing or a personal thing, but this project has meant it's something I'm going to finally explore.

I'll leave you with this excellent interview with George Tardios by Starvros Karayianni. George helped to set up Arvon with Ted Hughes. He came over as a kid in the 50s which was a pivotal time in Cypriot-British relations. Was very tickled by the fact his yiayia ran a brothel! Very contrary to the stereotype of the good, god-fearing Cypriot woman who does her cross 300 times a day - stereotypes, huh?