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“Poetry Does Nothing.” In conversation with Anthony Anaxagorou

by Gaia Lamperti

 
"The world is not straight. The world is not readable. The world is not logical."
Image credit: Julian Knxx

Anthony Anaxagorou thinks of poetry in a playful way. “When I have a line, I don't know what the line means,” he says, “and my excitement comes from having that line on a piece of paper, and interrogating what it could mean. That's very much how I like to work.”


His ‘playful’ lines have been widely acclaimed, leading him to publish four books over seven years – with an upcoming one in 2023 – and his work appearing on major outlets like the BBC, Sky, Vice UK, The Poetry Review and Radio 4.


Influenced by Eastern thought, but “not a hippie” as he remarks, and inspired by great poets like Antonio Gramsci and Miguel Hernandez, with his poetry, Anthony explores the British empire’s legacy on the history of migration, discriminations within society and the abyss of the ego.

 

Your latest collection of poetry is entitled After the formalities. Tell us about these formalities and the way they shape, or harm, society.


I look at formalities as being this kind of modus operandi, the dominant paradigm, how things are supposedly done. And talking back to those things, subverting and challenging them is what I was really interested in. I did it through a fusion of academic theory and anecdotes, sequences of lived experiences that take place within somebody's life.


The poem called 'After the formalities' in particular, looks at the history of race as a construct, at the ways in which racial thinking has impacted people's lived experience. So, my intention with the poem was to show these formalities, which are essentially the way race is thought about and the way that evolved over the last 700 years.


While tracking that progression, I used each formality as a point of departure to explore my family's history of migration and otherness coming from Cyprus as people who were part of the British Empire, and then how they integrated and assimilated to life in the UK.



This poem was written before Covid. How do you approach the same issue in the aftermath of the pandemic? Did Covid expose even more inequalities or rather, fuelled change on many levels?


I think the pandemic has opened up people's awareness, a global consciousness to the way that we live is just not sustainable. I think people are very acutely aware that we are not impervious now.


It has shown human arrogance, there's an arrogance to human beings thinking that they are above, that they have got the technology, they have got the billionaires, the banks, the corporations but still, the pandemic happened.


And many, many people have died across the globe, because of the pandemic. I guess now many people are aware that we are not as kind of bulletproof as we think we are.


You called this a moment of "global consciousness". Was it the same for you as an artist? Or did you experience a creativity block during these times?


Personally, I don't have any inhibitors, I think that when I hit a situation, I just have found a different way of thinking about it. And that might take some time, but I don't register that in my head as me having a block because of an external factor, such as a pandemic, or a lockdown. I mean, many of my favourite poems are written by men in prison by political prisoners, I'm thinking about Antonio Gramsci, Miguel Hernandez, Angela Davis. So yeah, you just have to think of a different way around it.


Image credit: Dave Shrimpton

You chose words for your life, your profession, your way of expressing messages. But we are in a time where images predominate and catch the most attention. So, how can words still be heavy, stand out and deliver strong messages?


I think that it's important to distinguish between two different kinds of language-based art. Like theatre and music have other mediums on top. In theatre, you have a stage and actors, in music you have sound and notation. I think that poetry is the purest form of linguistic arts because it is just involving words. But those words are very intensifi