Theodoros Chiotis: annexation


Having not given up on my mother tongue, I have found myself buying more dictionaries than I can actually afford. A tentative act of connection, a passing of cutlery, the uneven breaking of bread, an ongoing process of annexation.

In folk tales, the protagonist (usually a man) often needs to learn and use someone else’s secret language in order to survive some deathly threat (such as the Sphinx). Signal and noise in perfect balance. The goal of perpetuation and dissemination. Yet, transparency in language is a false idea. Questions of language and semantics always emerge between myself and my lover who was brought up speaking this other language which has colonised my thoughts. I am more abstract in my thinking but this other language makes me write more compact, more clipped sentences in my mother tongue. I now find that the surfaces of doors and hatches smell of smoked peaches. An unexpected series of additions to the vocabulary.

This embezzlement of both dead and living languages and dialects only obfuscates the initial desire. Can we talk about the origin of this desire? How are dictionaries compiled? In the Superman comic books, Superman often finds himself in the reverse world of Bizzarro where language means the reverse of what it signals. Signal is indistinguishable from noise. After the anaesthesia has worn off, one touches the newly marked areas of skin until they feel normal. The goal of perpetuation.

We rehabilitate our imaginations through languages that are not ours. I rehabilitate myself in these other languages though I am secretly relieved that this other language has not yet fully invaded my dreams. The irruption has been avoided thus far though my sleep is invaded by the demands of paid work occurring in this other language. So, the/my body becomes the/a site where writing, speaking and thinking in this/another language occurs and extends out into the world. Yet the/a body is the/a sky map enveloped by the/a skin of language gradually but never fully revealing itself.

Writing a poem in a language other than what might be considered to be your native one raises not just issues and questions of authenticity but also draws out the magpies. The goal of dissemination.

To return to an earlier point: dictionaries function both as mirror tests as well as mechanisms of agency. A site of alleged regeneration is also a site of lesions and severance. Even if I were to put together a collection called “Using the Right Hand” but I can never tell which hand is the correct one. How can solidarity be expressed in a language that is not considered to be my own? The foreground of an image might be faked but the noise inherent in the image cannot. There is more than one way to use language but I have been taught of specific ways to arrive at specific uses of language. I thought I was stealing pebbles from a beach that belonged to others but now I find my mouth filled with sand and flies dripping from the tips of my fingers.


Theodoros Chiotis is the editor and translator of the anthology Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis (Penned in the Margins, 2015). Other publications include Screen (in collaboration with photographer Nikolas Ventourakis; Paper Tigers Books, 2017) and limit.less: towards an assembly of the sick (Litmus, 2017). His work has appeared in Catechism, Litmus, Datableed, Forward Book of Poetry 2017, Adventures in Form, Austerity Measures, Shearsman, aglimpseof, Visual Verse, lyrikline, Otoliths, amongst others. He has translated contemporary British and American poets into Greek and Aristophanes into English. He is a member of the editorial board of the Greek literary magazine [φρμκ] and contributing editor for Hotel magazine. His project Mutualised Archives, an ongoing performative interdisciplinary work, received the Dot Award by the Institute for the Future of Book and Bournemouth University; he has also been awarded a High Commendation from the Forward Prizes for Poetry in 2017.

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