“Sexually repressed, separated Greek girl on a rampage. There’s no love here, just fucks. But is she fucking him or fucking herself? A trailblazing story told through poetry of culture, divorce and love and the maddening scurry to find the sexual self”.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a Cypriot-Australian artist who resides in Melbourne. Her prolific work as a poet, writer and performer is critically acclaimed, both locally and internationally. Recently her bestselling book hit the UK. I caught up with Koraly to find out more.
Your book ‘Love and Fuck Poems’ has reached #1 Amazon Bestseller in Australia and has been a bestselling poetry book in many bookshops. It’s been published and translated in Greek and in 2015 UK publisher Honest Publishing acquired the English, Greek and European rights and published the book in 2016. You’ve had an incredible journey with this book from self-publishing to international book deals. Tell us about the journey thus far?
It’s been hard on many levels. Firstly culturally. Greek women aren’t meant to write about having sex, it brings shame on the family. It’s meant to take place behind closed doors if at all, and we’re all meant to pretend to be good virgins for appearances’ sake. So culturally there’s been a lot of shame I’ve had to grapple with. This is particularly common within migrant communities all over the world, where the migrants clung to their old ways out of fear and thus they are very behind compared to their homeland.
Secondly because of my race and the fact I write poetry that doesn’t conform to traditional poetics, I knew that I would struggle to get my book published in Australia. So, I made a decision rather than wait ten years to see it published, I would self-publish it as a zine. It started to sell really well in bookshops and then things started happening from there.
You’re known within the industry for being forthright, ballsy, pushy and controversial. How much ‘fight’ has it taken to get to where you are today? And do you believe these admirable personality traits that you naturally possess are essential for survival in the entertainment and publishing industries?
Absolutely. People tell me poetry can’t sell and I think that’s bullshit. We’ve seen from Rupi Kaur who is a New York Times bestseller and has sold one million copies that it can sell. It’s this determination and fight that has got me to where I am today and still drives me. I’ve had to push through many difficult times and I continue to fight not only with what I write, but how I operate my arts practice. I always write honestly. I seek the truth and I know that it may come out raw but I think people like that because some people find it really hard to be honest and I find it very natural.
I think this is because I spent most of my life not saying what I think and living my life according to what my culture had prescribed for me. I got married very young and it wasn’t until the birth of my daughter at age 27 that I started to question my life. I didn’t even know who I was, and this led to my divorce at aged 31. It was like I had lived in a bubble up until that point. I asked myself what kind of role model I wanted to be for my daughter. Did I want to teach her to just do what others wanted, or to do what she wanted? I’d even put my dreams of being an artist to the side and was working as a computer programmer because culturally I was expected to study and achieve a proper job and art was seen as a lazy person’s job and still is. So I had to fight to not only to be myself and to claim my life, but to be an artist.
Your Cypriot heritage informs much of your work, revealing itself in your book, columns and performances. What does it mean to you to be a Greek-Australian? And what do you hope to achieve through your work for yourself and extended communities?
It means having two identities in a way, and two homes. I feel like Cyprus is just as much my home as Australia even though I was born in Australia. There is a constant pull between the two identities and cultures. I feel it has taken me a long time to find my place in the Australian narrative and to embrace my journey. Part of that process has involved embracing my migrant Cypriot cultural upbringing and reconciling with it, after being angry and resentful for having to fight to claim my identity.
What does repression mean to you?
As a woman, it means where you’ve experienced having your freedom clipped by your upbringing, so much so that when you grow up you don’t know how to make decisions because all your decisions were made for you. This is the experience of many women, particularly those from migrant backgrounds. Sexual repression is where your sexual urges and desires have been repressed by culture or religion. There are repercussions to this in your adult life, how you relate to men and develop relationships. I want to connect with people who have experienced repression because before I had the courage to claim my own life and fight for it I felt so isolated and alone and that nobody understood me. I felt like I wasn’t normal and that there was something wrong with me.
Can you tell us about your theatre work?
I’ve been performing poetry for many years but I was interested in creating a narrative play where the dialogue is poetic. KORALY: “I say the wrong things all the time” is a play about what happens when society expects you to be someone you’re not, not only as the daughter of migrants but as a woman fighting to be heard in a male dominated world.
You recently received a fellowship at The Wheeler Centre for your novel Misplaced. When can readers expect to see it published?
My novel Misplaced (working title) is the first literary project I undertook when nobody in my life knew I was writing as I was still working as a computer programmer. I’ve been working on it on and off for the last decade and now with the fellowship I think it’s given me the kick up the bum to finish it. It’s about culture and identity and the longing children of migrants have for their parents’ homeland. It is slightly humorous, but it also does gets very dark.
Can you tell us about your work as an actor and film maker?
I made four films of my poems after receiving an Australia Council Arts grant called the Good Greek Girl Film Project, and through making these poetic films I discovered that I love to act and create films. Two of the films, how to get a fuck and best friend are from Love and Fuck Poems. Best friend was recently shortlisted for the Australia Online Video Awards. The films gained me the attention of a tv and film agent and then I had a TV show optioned and also did my own spin off mockumentary called KORALY (a mockumentary): I wonder if they’ll make the TV show which was televised on channel 31.
From what I can gather, you rarely seem to stop for breath. Is being a single mum, a breadwinner and an artist a juggling act? Do you ever feel that ‘one’ can be at the expense of another?
It’s a constant juggling act and I do get very stressed sometimes. I feel disheartened that I don’t have the freedom for example to just hop on a plane and live in London for two years because I need to be close to my child’s father. It makes me feel like I could do so much more if I was a single woman. However, at the same time I feel like having a child has inspired me and pushed me in ways I could never do on my own. It motivates me. So there are positives and negatives. I think you can do both but you have to accept the status quo and not fight it.
What’s next for you?
I plan to finish my novel this year, as mentioned above. I’m also finishing up my next poetry book, Just Give Me The Pills. I had my debut theatre show in Melbourne last year and I hope to tour that show nationally and internationally. I also hope to get my opinion columns published outside Australia.
Love and F**k Poems is available at all trendy bookstores in Australia and Europe. You can follow Koraly: Twitter @koralyd [https://twitter.com/koralyd], Facebook @koralydimitriadis [https://www.facebook.com/KoralyDimitriadis], Instagram @koralydim [https://www.instagram.com/koralydim/].
Vanessa de Largie is an actress, author, journalist, sex-columnist and blogger based in London.