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Anthony Anaxagorou

Anthony Anaxagorou

Anthony Anaxagorou

(United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1983)
Anthony Anaxagorou’s poetry tackles the personal and the political in a variety of innovative ways. A British-born Cypriot poet, writer, publisher and poetry educator, he has toured extensively and his poetry has appeared on TV and radio as well as being published in many journals and anthologies. In 2017 the Labour Party commissioned Anaxagorou to write the poem for its election campaign.

Anaxagorou runs Out-Spoken, a poetry and live music night, and Out-Spoken Press, an independent publisher that aims to challenge the lack of diversity in British publishing. He was recently made an honorary lecturer in Social Sciences at Roehampton University where he will lecture on race, class, gender, masculinity and crime. Anaxagorou has published several collections and a spoken-word EP. His next collection, After the Formalities, will be published with Penned in the Margins in September 2019.
As an educator, Anaxagorou works in schools, prisons, pupil referral units and universities. He has described how these experiences have shown him the importance of poetry as a way to think more abstractly about the world and its systems and to discuss feelings:

“Art is a regard, it is a way of interpreting and making sense of a reality that a lot of the time is incoherent and quite abstract and nonsensical. So you need to find artistic ways of processing what you see, and what you think and what you feel, through a medium that suits you.”

Anaxagorou won the London Mayor’s Poetry Slam in 2002 and since then has created a vast body of work. As well as performing and publishing poems he has collaborated with dance, theatre and musical artists. The EP It Will Come to You is a conversation between poems and music, created with classical composer Karim Kamar, exploring “love, loss, racism, domestic violence, masculinity, adultery and imperialism”. In 2016 Anaxagorou published Heterogenous (Out-Spoken Press) which contains new and selected poems and gives an overview of his career to that point. The title is a fair indication of content, with topics spanning personal heartbreak and social injustices in a huge variety of forms and styles. He tackles national history in the imagistic ‘Magna Carta’:

Stars clank against the steel chests of kings,
the morning frost awakes chained.

The sunlight that polished the hills
stays a hostage to shadows

because barbed wire fences have been built
to keep out those who built them.

Anaxagorou has a knack for strange but exact imagery:

I imagined it to be a sea dry as tennis balls
that a glide of flying fish had thrown upwards.

(‘Younger Years’)

The green tea sits perfectly still in water’s grave
with the temperament of a hearse stretching in quiet languor.

(‘Tuesday 3.36pm’)

This imaginative power is fused with passionate politics. Poems such as ‘If I Told You’ dispel myths. ‘This Is Not A Poem’ uses its refrain to illustrate the shortcomings of language

when eloquent words fail me and I can’t capture
the struggle of the poor through the metaphysics of language [...]

when I can’t find clever words to illustrate the fact
that before 2008 Nelson Mandela had been on America’s list
of the most dangerous terrorists over 60 years

While Anaxagorou’s concerns remain the same, his forthcoming collection, After the Formalities, marks something of a departure in style. Here his poems are markedly more experimental and his approach less direct. He has described the thinking behind the long title poem:

“I’ve tried to span 500 years of racial thinking. […] So I’ve looked at where race begins as a social construct, and I’ve tried to use each hundred years as a springboard to examine my own family’s experiences with race and racism, living in London, emigrating from Cyprus in the late ’50s it was still a British colony and ending up today where we are today with the big old mess that we’re in.”
(Live Faber Poetry Podcast at Crossing Border Festival)

Quotes are interspersed with vignettes and recurring motifs build pathos. Anaxagorou has spoken of cultivating a non-conventional lyricism, less manipulative and more exploratory. In ‘Departure Lounge Twenty Seventeen’ we are faced with a litany of the horrors of that year, including Trump, Grenfell and the Finsbury Park mosque terror attack. These are interjected [with scenes of] a grandmother “making her way // into a forest barefoot”. We are not given a narrative, but rather an elliptical procession of enigmatic imagery. In ‘Uber’ we do have a narrative, an exchange between two men in very short lines which mimics the passage of the car and a conversation dictated by the circumstance. The men are racially abused and the driver reacts by putting his family photo back into his wallet:

he tucks
his daughter
back in
her mother
the wheel
like a
how much
can a
pair of hands

Fatherhood is key to this collection, becoming the point at which concerns of masculinity and race meet:

Father, I can fit my childhood into a fist,
I can name the times I stayed silent when you
thundered there were only two types of people,
winners and losers, forgetting the belt, the shoe,
the eyewitness.

(‘How Men Will Remember Their Fathers’)

The idea of witness, and the sense of responsibility and guilt which goes with it, is ever present in this book:

finally / you must understand / before I ran / blood was yet
to be seen / life was still trying to worm its way home in its
lowest gear / I suppose / fog gradually / ending the moth’s
paroxysm / and I / the only witness / caught the white of
his ankles / his eyes / the whole front row / hands spoilt /
and unsteady / reaching to rinse themselves in my promise

(‘Testimony as Omission’)

‘To Saying’ is an example of the more experimental end of his poems but taps into the same theme of testimony or confession:

I know with you the room is clean     morning onwards into always
inside me and      there are woods I want to torch I do but don’t and      don’t
know why     so much backwater      nervous hatchet      some afternoons
you’re the towering hour      the way you work up day      write sky in
how you do it all           without pageantry           or demand
!  I’m doing it again  trying to say   confess

Towards the end of the book are a series of prose poems made of two blocks of text. These address issues of fatherhood, of violence and tenderness, of the power and pain of being a father and a son. ‘Patricide’ is a tender prose poem that juxtaposes experiences of an abusive father with the gentle nurturing of reading to a child before bed: “With a single pull of the blinds I can either kill the moon or teach you the night.”

‘Meeting the End of the World as Yourself’ reads like a mixture of strangely daft, simply strange and strangely wise aphorisms but it ends on a reminder of the urge which drives this collection:

There's violence in forgetting
never confuse your head
       for memory
I’ve told the coroner to expect you
                        in the morning
whatever refuses to stop
                                           fails to survive.

The cryptic final poem ‘Inheritance’ asks, “Why have we stopped? And why here? Like this?” It’s a typically enigmatic ending to a collection which shows Anaxagorou at his enquiring best. With After the Formalities he uses subtle tools to ever more incisively cut across the false divisions of personal and political and to expose the pain and beauty of living in an imperfect world.
© Emily Hasler
Card Not Accepted – 2009
Poems To Maya – 2009
Pale Remembered with Rebecca Salter– 2009
The Lost Definition of Hope – 2010
Let This Be The Call – 2010
Returning Stranger – 2010
A Sad Dance – 2011
A Difficult Place To Be Human – 2012
The Blink That Killed The Eye - 2014
It Will Come To You EP - 2013
Heterogeneous New and Selected Poems - 2016
After the Formalities - 2019
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Lira fonds
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère