Australian Poets and their Works,

William Wilde, 1994,

Oxford University Press.

From "A Reader's Guide To Contemporary Australian Poetry", Geoff Page,

University of Queensland Press, 1995



Born 1950, Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria; grew up in Richmond; has been

performing his poetry since the early 1 980s in venues throughout


Komninos Zervos is currently one of the most popular of Australia's

performance poets. He has read and recited at all kinds of venues, often

to audiences who are relatively unfamiliar with poetry. He has worked

extensively with children. His performances, unaided by music or dance or

other theatrical devices sometimes employed by performance poets, are

marked by great selfconfldence, good humour and an ability to reach a very

wide range of people simultaneously.

Like other performance poets, his readings and recitations have

considerable dynamic range‹though unusual loudness and swiftness of

delivery are often-used devices. The poems on the page can look like long

columns of free verse but are usually underpinned by some much more

traditional rhythms. The use of rhyme is also extensive, though it is

sometimes reduced to half rhymes or increased to a single reiterative

rhyme for a whole poem (as in his poem 'the bombay cafe' which uses the

'ay' rhyme at least three or four times per line for two pages).

Like other performance poets, Komninos also believes in 'bringing poetry

back to the people' from whom, by implication, it was stolen by poets such

as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and the academy some years back. He proclaims

loudly, 'I'm a poet / that's right / a poet / i write, i read, i perform,

i entertain / i earn my living / by poeting.'

When one reads Komninos' eponymous collection published in 1991 without

listening to the accompanying cassette, one might be inclined to ask just

what is actually being brought back to the people. In his poem 'workplace

poets tour' Komninos catalogues the places he has performed in and defends

poetry generally as well as his own approach to it. He points out that

'poets have been around for a bloody long time' and associates himself, in

passing, with poets who 'defy prison, torture and authority's curse. /

like rendra and hikmet and ritsos and brecht, / write words that their

people will never forget'. There is no doubting Komninos' sincerity here,

but whether he has yet written 'words that (the) people will never forget'

is debatable. The quality of Komninos' work throughout the book as poetry

on the page steadily improves, but still stops well short of being

memorable compared to poems by the poets referred to. Some poems are more

or less memorable for their subject matter and their overall technique

(for example, the well-known performance piece, 'the baby wrap') but

others can be very slight, particularly the two sets of haiku which are

strikingly unmemorable. It's not likely that anyone who writes 'the sudsy

water / splashing my naked body / reveals my nudity' or 'the telephone

ringing / renews my relationship / with the outside world' has read Basho

or Issa very closely.

What Komninos is good at, however, is the evocation of his own background

and social milieu. In 'childhood in richmond' he gives a graphic and

ultimately very moving picture of growing up in a Greek takeaway and the

bitter servitude of his father 'who left greece / with a bag / full of

dreams / but spent the / rest of his life / as a slave /to a stove / till

his dreams / were all greasy / and his hope / had all gone'. In what

amounts to a kind of anapaestic tetrameter Komninos recalls with a certain

non-permanent resentment the bleak urban landscape and the limited

recreational options ('the lane / out the back / where the kids / used to

play') and at times reaches an almost lyrical-nostalgia vision of his

father when he remembers 'the scales / of the fishes / how they'd fly /

like confetti / and my dad / who'd be covered / from his head / to his

toes / and his arms / that would / glisten just / like the fishes .. ~

There is a similar sociological accuracy about his more recent poem 'my

friends', where he tellingly evokes their double standards and their

pretensions as well as their real human needs and at the end neatly

identifies himself with them instead of merely standing back and being

satirical. On the other hand, Komninos can be devastatingly satirical when

he wants to be, as in his 'it's great to be mates with a koori', which

continues 'to know a gay man or two. / to have five lesbians for dinner, /

and cook them a vegetable stew. The rest of the poem gives us a brief but

comprehensive coverage of middle-class pseudotolerance and offers a sharp

ending which says: 'but what do you see in the mirror, / when there's only

yourself and you. / and who really knows the truth, / of the fascist, that

lives inside, you.'

There may be some paradox in printing a book of performance poetry when

it's really designed to be performed live, but the same could be said of a

Beethoven score. In some ways it may be even dangerous since it gives the

reader, as opposed to the hearer, the opportunity to look at the work more

closely and detect certain weaknesses in logic that might be passed over

in performance. In Komninos' more explicitly political poems, such as

'fringe network anthology', the thinking can sometimes be a bit woolly, as

when he notes that the end of the first world war, his father's arrival

from Greece, the sacking of Gough Whitlam and a 1984 poetry reading all

occurred on November 11. His tribute to Shakespeare in 'monologues' is

also a bit off-course when he declares that the 'bard' speaks to us 'from

500 years ago' rather than 400.

Lest this should seem like quibbling it is important to point out that

Komninos does have many real abilities. In addition to those mentioned

already one could also point to his feeling for the movement of a

conversation and his ear for colloquial speech. In 'bustalk' he manages to

give the impression of a whole conversation overheard while telling us

absolutely nothing of its content. The function of dialogue as a

reaffirmation of human contact rather than as a transmitter of information

is persuasively illustrated. In Wilhelm retch's mass psychology of

fascism' he does something similar with a police raid on a hapless

marijuana smoker. Komninos may not be a heavyweight for those who sustain

themselves on French critical theory but he does do what he does very well

and there is no denying he reaches a wide range of people. It is surely

hard not to like a poet who can describe himself as 'far away in a

footscray take-away / a modern day protege of rabelais / au fait with

roget and wordplay / drink(ing) cafe au lait and survey(ing)) the passing

array / day after day after day.'


Komninos University of Queensland Press 1991





webhumans | text version | privacy | © 2005 griffith university | disclaimer