Review: A Carnival of the Honest, the Raw and the Surreal

I’m in a former industrial hub turned hipster-hive-of-the-up-and-coming where wooden planks leaning against one another constitute tables, benches, even plant pots, and bearded young men play ping-pong in the dark. “This is the Peckham dream!” says one girl as she reaches down from her bar stool to pick up her drink from the coffee table.

I’m at the Honest Publishing book launch for its two newest works: Belly Up! and Love and Fuck Poems. As well as getting a chance to meet the publisher, there is a powerful performance of poetry by Koraly Dimitriadis and hilarious deadpan readings from Darren Allen and William Barker, authors of Belly Up!

Koraly Dimitriadis’ Love and Fuck Poems was first published in 2011 as a zine. Here it is as a satisfyingly matte, soft-back book beautifully put together. The blurb reads, ‘Sexually repressed, separated Greek girl on a rampage. There’s no love here, just fucks. But is she fucking him or fucking herself?’ This is a collection of work that details the fall-out after a relationship breakdown. The poems explore the journey of a young woman trying to find out who she is after the external forces of marital convention, sexual repression and cultural obligation that held her together have fallen away.

An Australian born to traditional Greek-Cypriot migrants she displays the kind of honesty that can only come about after being wound-up, held withing, repressed and silenced through fear, a desire to conform, and an unwillingness to hurt those around her.

But Dimitriadis has snapped.

Everything pours out without restraint. There is no self-censorship. There’s no trace of ‘should I?’ She should. She does. She has. It’s all here.

Koraly has discovered she couldn’t make it any worse for herself and revels in the opportunity

Spurting forth with her first ferocious poem Volcano she warns an ex-lover, and therefore the reader, that she is ‘red-tempered, unapologetic’ and ‘shows no mercy’.

She tells beautiful prose-like stories. The heart-breaking Daylesford: ‘our childish whispers echo on bicycles made, for dreams.’ The ferocious BestFriend in which ‘separation slithers around my neck, the inhuman beast’ and we hear of her Mother’s reaction to Koraly wanting to sell her wedding dress on e-bay (‘You’ve put me in my grave’). In these moments, we start to realise that the price Dimitriadis had to pay for her slight against cultural convention was already so high that she has nothing left to lose and thus with damnation comes freedom. Like the condemned man screaming ‘Jehovah’, Koraly has discovered she couldn’t make it any worse for herself and revels in the opportunity.

Her boundless honestly brings out her most challenging work; How to Get a Fuck, Her Cunt, Domination and Threesome are uncompromising and uncomfortable, violent and raw; ‘‘Stop fighting. You like it, I don’t, but I do.” Wide-open and explicit these poems are difficult reading yet fascinating and absorbing. It is within these honest revelations of another that we can start to challenge ourselves.

The book is punctuated by bursts of humour, the image Dimitriadis conjures of her infant daughter standing over her asking ‘do you need a mother, mummy?’ is both heart wrenching and hilarious. Her use of humour is at its best in the short, sometimes one line, poems sprinkled throughout, Freedom, Distance, Worth; beautiful, powerful and heartbreaking in fewer words than it takes me to describe them. My favourite is the powerful punch packed into Makeup ‘I better put my makeup on or he might see me’ it encapsulates her work; the fear of being seen for what she is, pressed up against the sadness and rage of hiding behind a mask.

Koraly Dimitriadis’ work is comforting and disturbing in equal measure. It is a powerful and exhausting read which she is currently adapting for the stage.

not a book you sit down and read from cover to cover 

The second launch of the night, Belly Up! features the pen work of Robert Crumb and The New Yorker‘s John O’Brien. It is summed up as a ‘mad, butcherous, sweet, caustic carnival of surreal beauty and salt-in-the-eye satire’ and was described to me by one of the authors as ‘Viz meets Private Eye’.

Part magazine, part graphic novel(s) the love child of Darren Allen and William Barker spoofs everything from sex tips to classified ads and if I told you they have an exclusive interview with Jesus Christ, who is back and working part-time in Charing Cross Lost Property Office, you can start to grasp the tone and humour that penetrates its pages.

The book bursts with dazzling artwork with inspiration as varied as Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Hogarth and Raymond Briggs. It holds a mixture of subversive advertisements; Out of the Box: Bespoke Funeral Services, and comic strips; Tony Benn has Happened Again. As well as a heartfelt, graphic short story The Man Who Died! which runs over eight pages and has been turned into a funny and poignant short film presented to an enraptured audience at the launch.

Belly Up! is not a book you sit down and read from cover to cover; this is something which lingers on your shelf, sits on the sideboard or coffee table and is picked up and flicked through allowing the diverse illustrations to catch your eye. You’ll sit chuckling to yourself as you read the obituaries; ‘Geraldine Smith up and died on Monday when her bicycle caught fire’ and you’ll cackle at the latest headlines; ‘President Enters Kitchen: Not Sure Why.’

Belly Up! is surreal, satirical, very silly, and satisfying. The first part is due for general release in October and more are planned at six-month intervals.

Love and Fuck Poems Koraly Dimitriadis and Belly Up! Darren Allen and William Barker are published by Honest Publishing.

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