Monday, 23 November 2015

Soccor - П. O.

П. O. (pronounced 'Pi O'; the link also has some more info and further links)  is an anarchist working class poet of Greek-Australian heritage. He is also, in my humble opinion, one of Australia's most important poets.

Before П. O. went off the deep end and lost much of his audience (or at least me) with his number poems (strange concrete poems with mathematical in-jokes), П. O. was best known for, I suppose, mastering two things - the world of the inner city migrant, and the language and especially the sounds of the street and of those ethnic communities.

П. O.'s exploration of sound (as well as the attendant narrative imagery) is not however there to act as simplistic mimicry - it is also not about accents or parody - it is about the mangling and re-imagining, or the 're-hearing', of Australian English grammar as it appears in the real world. Before sociologists and linguists got all on board the 'Globish' bandwagon, a writer like П. O. was essentially years ahead of the curve in his portrayal and analysis of the way migrant Australians used English to communicate with each other, and even set cultural-linguistic barriers of their own preventing others from understanding them.

П. O. does this by playing with grammar and phonetics, in his own way undertaking the guise of an ethnic and working class Dr. Samuel Johnson, collecting and recording the linguistic world of the migrant and the streets of Fitzroy. Of course, this in itself creates a limited sphere of 'research', because that period when the Southern European migrant was king of the inner city is rapidly diminishing (something addressed in his more recent work); neither does Fitzroy equal Footscray or Sunshine or Brunswick, where different migrant groups make different sounds.

Anyway, apart from the journals he has contributed to and the poetry books he has published, his main achievements are probably as follows: the mammoth 24 Hours, 700 pages on one day in the life of the English language (it's subtitled 'the day the language stood still'); and more recently, the publication of Fitzroy: The Biography. But back to the poem at hand. 'Soccor' is an atypical poem for П. O. on several levels. First, even a cursory glance at his oeuvre reveals that П. O. has a blindspot when it comes to sport, especially the migrants' game of soccer. Secondly, this poem is not littered with too much of П. O's experimenting with punctuation, phonetics, phonemes and what might be termed 'Greeklish'.

Indeed, in many ways this poem is prototypical, almost primeval in nature when it comes to much of П. O.'s work. It is not about listening or hearing, but about learning to do those things and not even that, because most of the poem is about what the narrator sees. The departure of the Hellas fans for the 'soccor' game creates an aural vacuum of sorts; it is only upon their noisy return that things seem to get back to a sense of normality. The poem then, in its recording of the few passersby during the shop's quiet time, is in this way antithetical to П. O.'s obsession with sound - the poem is private, introverted, quiet - it is about the lack of noise. The poem is also indirectly about the outsider-ness of being literary and thoughtful in the boisterous migrant culture of the time (and one would argue even the one that attempts to mimic that sort of environment in habitats like Oakleigh's Eaton Mall). In its autobiographical Promethean moment, it shows П. O., or a writer like П. O., about to start the journey into the literary.

'Soccor' from Pi O's Fitzroy Poems collection published in 1989. Click the image to enlarge.
I had, or at least I thought I had, nailed down the details of the relevant match between Juventus and Hellas at Royal Park, in order to pin down a date for when the subject poem is supposed to have taken place. Maybe someday I'll have a look again.


  1. Hi Paul,

    The timing of this posting is quite apt.

    Yesterday I was walking through Collingwood (with my Greek Australian friend, his WASP American wife, and her WASP American friend) on my way to the incorrectly termed Spanish Festival (should be Hispanic) when a sound started wafting through to my ears. I thought, could the music from the Festival be audible all the way past Smith Street?

    But moments later I realised it was Greek music and I could spot, in the shadow distance, a small older man tending to his garden with Kazantzidis, as it turned out, playing on his cassette (or radio?).

    I made an oblique comment in Greek to which he showed what I thought was some mild interest with his response.

    But about 100 meters after I passed him, I turned around and I turned to salt like Lot's wife! Only joking ... What I could see was the elderly Greek gentleman standing in the middle of the footpath staring at us!

    What had him so mesmerised by us?

    Did I, or our group, exude a non Greekness that shocked him?

    Has Collingwood become so gentrified that he felt like he was seeing a ghost from the past?

    Have you ever met P.O? I think he was based in a laneway off Flinders lane a few years back.

    1. During the 1970s my dad (and later my mum) lived in Collingwood. My dad worked for his cousin at Venus Carpets which was on the corner of Gertrude and Smith Streets I think at the time. My dad will still pull out the old stories of what Smith Street was like in those days, a migrant street and a mainly Greek migrant street at that.

      My own experience of that precinct has been over the course of 25 years of visits to Melissa and seeing its Greekness vanish, to the point where even I won't make a detour out there for a spanakopita (though at $6.50 a slice, I don't see the point, no matter how good they are).

      Pi O was hired once to do a special lecture/performance for us at Victoria University in the Malthouse Theatre. He was mesmerising, tireless, though I still have to go back look at the parody of him they did on Acropolis Now which he railed against (their poet was named 'Epsilon').

      I was lucky enough to be in the car with him that night on the way back to Flinders Street,along with Ian Syson and fellow academic Phil Dimitriadis. We had a good chat in the short time we had, though I can't remember much of the detail - this would have been around 2008/2009 I think. Interesting character, fabulous poetry, though actually being Greek and understanding it can in its own way be counterproductive to reading his poems in terms of the phonetic qualities he wants to stress - instead of reading the syllables/phonemes as separate entities, a Greek will likely fall into the trap of just reading them out normally.

      On the other hand, in a discussion with a mono-lingual associate the other day, he is fascinated whenever I start speaking Greek, for the phonetic quality on its own terms.

    2. Just watched the relevant Acropolis Now episode (of which my illegally downloaded copy for some reason doesn't include the whole of), and it's a fairly bizarre caricature of a poet. I don't even think Epsilon actually reads out of any his own poems - surely a Pi O parody should at least include some sort of poetry reading in a Pi O style?


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