Author Alice Walker once said, “Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” She couldn’t have been more correct. As a scribe who dives into poetry as well as fiction, I was especially charged when Australian poet Christos Floratos agreed to sit for an interview.
During my research, I found myself intrigued with his poem “Leviticus. It opens with: “I have been dispossessed of all artefacts/ In this house as fragile as gold/ The time springs to start my own rituals/ To circle my fourth finger as/Each rotation/ a new thornier flower blooms. I was on fire with inspiration.
I was captivated by his work, but I was also captivated by his conscientious nature and his amazing understanding of the human condition. So, I am proud to present to you Christos Floratos.
You describe yourself as an “Australian born Filipino and Greek guy who grew up in Western Sydney of NSW.” In regards to both civil rights and LGBTQ rights, would you consider the environment in which you reside to be tolerant?
Western Sydney is known for its ethnic and racial diversity, and has many pockets of low socio-ecomic income earners. It is quite a big area but in the recent Australian postal survey into same-sex marriage, it was found (my area in particular) to have some of the lowest ‘yes’ votes in the country. That is a testament to how underlying homophobia is within the region. Usually, it is not overt and is more the language choice and subtle actions towards the community. There is a shift happening though similar to the rest of Sydney as same-sex marriage has been legalised recently. The distinction I believe is that they are tolerant, but they are not accepting or inclusive yet. One of my goals as a social worker is to actually start-up a service for LGBTQ identifying people within Western Sydney.
How do you feel your career as a social worker has influenced your writing?
It has made me more socially aware, I believe. When writing antagonists, I am even more disgusted by what they value or think because now it is the complete antonym of my own professional/personal values. My current social work placement is actually at a creative writing centre, which I can tell you, has deeply allowed me to emphasise the positives within others and my own writing. The degree has also made more conscious of how I portray minorities, including queer, racial, disability and mental health. My works of fiction will add to this body of knowledge of how we perceive groups in society, and often I try make my characters as diverse as possible. Not for ‘diversity sakes’ but because diversity exists in all facets of life, which has been heavily emphasised by my degree.
What originally turned you on to poetry?
It really was the ability to mess around with words in a non-structured or always logical way. It was like telling a story in the most vague way possible. But then the story could be interpreted as something completely different. I am a big subscriber to the ‘death of the author’ and I loved drawing meaning from works. The ability to write something that could have multiple meanings really resonated with me and thereafter, I set out writing poetry.
Do you have any particular poets your admire and who may have had an influence on you?
Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost and John Donne have all resonated with me. Actually, these three particular poets I make mention to in my poem ‘Authenticity’. Plath in particular has peeked my interest ever since my brother introduced her to me. There was something so abstract yet grounding about her work. I remember in Year 7/8 needing to find a poem to present to class. While others put typical poems, I read out her ‘Medusa’ for the class. Plath’s style has probably had the biggest influence on my direction and word choices. I am constantly inspired by her use of language.
You are currently working on a poetry collection titled ‘Autumn, That Bastard’ Please describe the project and how it all came about?
‘Autumn, That Bastard’ is a poetry collection about disillusionment of previously held beliefs, the waiting before a significant change, the arousal of anxiety before a period of harshness and reminder of the celebrations in life often missed. The metaphor of Autumn then came about when I considered the seasons as sort of a tragic remembrance of summer in preparation for winter. This came about to me when writing ‘When Winter is Expected’ which was about the passing of my Dog, Lily, who had a monumental impact on my life. After exploring these feelings, it gave me the platform and boost to speak about the other periods of this metaphorical ‘autumn’ I had experienced in my life. These disillusionments/periods of waiting aren’t pleasantries, which is why I also refer to autumn as a ‘bastard’.
What are some of the biggest thrills you experience in writing poetry?
My biggest thrill is having people say they appreciate my poetry and when others make their own meaning out of it. I love having people tell me what they thought a specific line meant or why they thought these two words were rhymed. In terms of actually writing, my biggest thrills come in the forms of writing a line that has layered meaning, especially on re-reads. I love riding on a train of thought, a tangent almost, that produces a pretty good basis for a poem. This is what happened for a poem that will be released in June, ‘The Apocalypse Cometh’, where I initially had a boom of inspiration and developed a good base of themes that I could further explore and tweak later on, while on a train ride. Another great thrill is developing a boring/cliché/overdone line. In the aforementioned poem, I wrote ‘The eternal winter is upon us’ which I have since reworked into ‘Winter will be the mistress after the affair’. I guess I have a love for exploring the abstract ways we can use some concepts.
To the writer who may have never written poetry, what would you say are the rules involved in the craft?
Not to sound cliché, but there are no rules! Some of our prose can even be read as poetry. My personal pet peeve is the assumption that rhyming schemes is what makes poetry valid. I do not believe they are needed/as useful as some people make them out to be. My main bit of advice is let your mind flow free, and then have the connections been drawn. Often we are stunted by rhyming schemes so much so that writers cast themselves away from poetry and never look back on the form of expression. I utilise rhyme purposefully, sparingly and often to contrast or highlight some certain theme.
I noticed that some writers I have come across are involved in Dungeons and Dragons. How did you get pulled into that universe and how has it helped with your creativity as a writer?
I started to get interested when I realized the potential DnD had to create stories and explore worlds. In my own Dungeons and Dragons game, I have created all the lore/story elements and materials myself (with sometimes reference to other media such as Magic: The Gathering). It’s a great way to create narratives in response to characters, as in DnD as the Game Master, you do not control the main characters/heroes of the story. You control the rest of characters and the world they occupy.
My favourite thing that DnD has allowed me to do is to provide choices and consequences for my players. I remember a big decision I gave my players at around session 18 of our play, with four possible choices they could have chosen from. The consequences of that decision was felt heavily when a new antagonist spawned up. Even more so, that decision still affects their external relationships with groups until this day (Session 42). So, DnD has helped the creativity of generating choices and exploring the ramifications of such choices.
As a social worker, you obviously have a vision of what constitutes a healthy mind. Do you have a positive or negative view on where the world’s headed as far as LGBTQ rights?
What’s happening in Brunei and Chechnya, while appalling, should not overshadow the strides happening in the rest of the world. India has made some good progress and I feel in the next decade, we will see more European/Asiatic countries go in favour of LGBTQ rights. We must remember that these countries are not western and as such, systemic shifts of value needs to happen either grassroots or policy, rather than intervention (in my opinion). I admire the people who would be involved with that. However, a fear I do have is that rather than overt homophobia, we as a community will experience more heterosexism and more subtle queerphobia. Currently, in Australia a professional athlete has made comments about homosexuals going to hell in his Instagram. While not the discourse of ‘you’re a fag’ or whatever, it is instead “justified” by freedom of speech and permitted due to his religion (his organisation has denounced him and anyone who really understands what freedom of speech means can denounce him as well). This same man has a sleeve of tattoos…
Your poetry is engaging and imaginative. One particular that stuck out with me was “Leviticus.” Can you please explain what inspired that one? (Readers: you can access the poem here > https://christosfloratos.com/leviticus/)
‘Leviticus’ is actually a critique of the book in the bible. Often, I have heard Christians justify their homophobia with the bible, citing Leviticus as a passage. You need only to flip through the same book to see what else Leviticus condemns: getting tattoos, eating shellfish, having sex on your period, wearing mixed clothing, not planting more than one type of seed on a field etc… and may I add, this small list is only just from the book Leviticus!
The bible is full of random rules that are blatantly ignored. The poem comments in two parts, the first half as a reflection of how I have separated myself from this belief system and the second part as a critique against the book’s weird rules that literally no one follows, except one about having sex with the same-sex.
Many Christians who believe this rhetoric cherry-pick what they believe, and instead ignore the ‘golden rule’ which I refer to in the poem as a ‘golden adjust’. My personal favourite line of the poem is the ending line ‘No questions? No question.’ which is essentially a critique against people who don’t have the stamina to question their beliefs system when it disadvantages a non-harming group of people. I have also deconstructed this poem twice on my website! One on the poem’s page and one on a blog series called ‘What the Heck am I rambling about?’!
What is your writing process?
For poetry, it’s theme or concept and then a series of phrases that sound good/fit with what I want. After that, I refine it and get rid of melodramatic components. Then I see if a line can be interpreted in more than one way, which is a good indicator of if it is in-depth or not.
For creative writing – especially my current work in progress, it is usually a revision of what I previously wrote, a look at the notes and then smashing out a segment.
Editing is a more methodical beast which comes in a few parts. The first is to skim read for spelling mistakes, grammar and the likes. The second is getting the right tone and word choice, and kill my darlings (King). The third involves, and this is an interesting one I’ve heard from others is to change my font/spacing/size of the word and format it differently.
And then after going through this digital process, I print it out and really go hard with rainbow pride, highlighting anything that sounds weird and underlining on odd character decisions in multiple colours.
Is there a certain time of day you like to write? Any snacks of choice when bleeding words
Afternoon is probably the most ideal time. The afternoon from 6pm to 9pm. I don’t use that whole time for it, but that is generally when I do it. The rest of the day is always just occupied and that time is often silent.
This is going to sound boring, but water is my choice of refreshment when writing for non-university/work purposes. Sometimes I go long periods of writing without taking a sip of water/anything and that taste afterwards gives me a much needed kick of hydration. Nothing beats the sensation of cool water when you forget how thirsty you are.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Profession: I see myself giving lecturers at university part-time while on the side working at a LGBTQ+ organisation. That’s my goal, to teach at a university level 2-3 days and work as a social worker for LGBTQ+ people 2 – 3 days.
Creative Writing: Would love the series I am currently developing to be all published! When I was first working on it, I don’t think it could conceptually/skill be feasible to be all finished. But now, I think my skills are good enough to make this a published product!
Poetry: I imagine I will have released a few chapbooks, whether free or paid is up for debate. I can also imagine hopefully becoming more recognised by poetry companies and publishers!
Personal: I think I’ll have a Shiba-inu at this time, a kid named Dante and be married to my loving partner. We still wont be able to afford a house in Sydney though haha!
What do you hope people glean from reading your poetry?
This differs from poem to poem, but my main goal is to get people to reconsider how we perceive certain concepts and themes. ‘Authenticity’ I try challenge what makes art and culture valid, ‘Leviticus’ I challenge biblical homophobia, ‘The Penelope Complex’ how you stay loyal to the craft of writing etc.
Disillusionment is one of the themes I am more interested in discussing, and much of my poetry even beyond the ‘Autumn, That Bastard’ collection has been about challenging preconceptions.
What else do you do for fun when not drowned in poetry, DnD, and academia?
Video games and TV shows! I am super excited for the new Mortal Kombat game coming out, I’ve been playing the series ever since I was a kid on the Nintendo 64 (my favourite character is Baraka). I am also super upset that this is the last season of Game of Thrones (fave character is Lady Olenna Tyrell)!
So many of my shows are coming to an end, and it takes me a big commitment to get drawn into continuing shows. However, my faith in new shows has recently been improved when I binged watched ‘The Good Place’.
I want to thank Christos for blessing us with his words. You can follow him and his poetry by visiting his website: christosfloratos.com
Follow him on Twitter: @SeductiveTaco
©Arnold B. Spencer