"I do have this other side, more direct and in your face"
Jacqui: Firstly, congratulations on winning this year’s erbacce poetry competition.
Maroula: Thank you.
Jacqui: One of your winning pieces, Ms Betty, describes a woman’s endurance and strength and her coping strategy of song, a memorable quote for me being „She used to sing to warm the dank, dark pulse of aches“. Who was Ms Betty? An individual? Or perhaps a representation of a collective?
Maroula: She is not a real person. For me, she represents the artist who is truly talented, has given their all, their life’s blood, in order to create something beautiful, but nobody was there to listen or support, possibly through poverty or not having the means to really have access to the “right” people. Someone disillusioned by everything, who tries to find peace in communion with nature, but Man breaks in, cuts down the trees, destroys and makes peace impossible.
Jacqui: Who, or what, was your earliest influence, inspired you to write poetry?
Maroula: My Aunt Bea, who is now frail, blind and in a wheelchair. She used to live in Salisbury and was on a committee opposed to the destruction of things important to the community and to history, she advocated against the demolition of the old playhouse, gathered a petition, was forceful. She took me to the theatre, to cultural things, she introduced me to wine, and I would say the finer things of life. She showed me the importance of culture and art.
Jacqui: And who or what influences you predominantly today?
Maroula: Aung San Suu Kyi, who even though powerless has power and represents the powerless masses and that really impresses me. The Dalai Lama, Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela.
Jacqui: What constrains you creatively?
Maroula: I prefer to write in free verse, to feel free within my work. I’m not a fan of being dictated to in any way. Some classical poetic forms, I have looked into and in this collection there are a couple of examples .Even though I don’t usually write in forms, previous personal studies of them have helped me hone my voice and ideas. I do make a conscious effort that every word has a place and try to delete what I feel is redundant, the flow is important, it should be organic and not contrived. I am still learning.
Jacqui: How do you find the live performance genre in Berlin?
Maroula: I was involved in the Slam scene as a platform for people who are unknown to participate in the poetic scene. Now this is much more established in Berlin, but it has changed in that most of the people who are performing are actors, comedians and I feel that the audience are going there to be entertained or amused and it is not about the word any more. What is more prominent is the rhythm, the delivery, if someone has the capacity to make people laugh and that is not particularly appealing to me. Many are professional and good at what they do, but whether that is poetry or not, I am not sure. Shy readers or those delivering intimate work are dismissed or not received as well as the Alpha Tier, and that I find upsetting.
Jacqui: Do you perform or write in German?
Maroula: No, I usually have a guest German reader with me for performances and all my work, poetry and prose is translated into German.
Jacqui: Do you read any of the German press?
Maroula: Der Spiegel and taz, check out taz, it’s worth it.
Jacqui: What was the drive behind your piece 'Moving to Hawaii', recently published online in Female First?
Maroula: I translated and did the synchronisation for a documentary called the TARA-Process, which is basically a meditative therapy similar to yoga, with which I have a strong identification. The founder of this process lives on Hawaii and it was while getting to grips with the text for this, that the inspiration for this particular piece came up.
Jacqui: Hawaii seems to be featured when I researched you, do you find climate, geology and topography can influence creativity with as much strength as culture?
Maroula: Yes. I am very much influenced by the natural world. I love water, trees, and mountains. I try to build in myself a feeling of ‘oneness’. That is, for me, to have a connection, not only with people, who I write about from points of view such as black, white, disabilities - as I like the feeling of sharing, of growing, but also take into consideration the natural world, so for me nature does play a definite important part in my writing.
Jacqui: Your voice has been described, among other things, as “rauchig, voll, warm” (smoky, full, warm). Does performance influence tone or would you say the piece being delivered has more governance?
Maroula: Not all, but a lot of my poems have their own voice. I have done theatre in the past and as I do come from a singing background, I like to work with my voice. I do often write from the male perspective and one poem, which is in the collection to be published by erbacce, is Plain talk, which I wrote for my brother and I really read it like a man, I adopt(ed?) a more masculine stance. My naturally deep voice is probably the same, but with more edge to it as the piece is edgy. The deeper tone of my voice was a stigma at school, that and being the only black child in my class, gave a feeling of being other which I draw on. I do have this other side, more direct and in your face.
Jacqui: Is this an alter ego or part or you?
Maroula: Definitely part of me, a survival tactic.
Jacqui: What was your focus with the combination of music and poetry in Meta Stasis, released this year?
Maroula: The poem is about a woman who has cancer and she has been through the process of having chemotherapy, losing her hair, becoming very thin, maybe understanding that she might die very soon, but she suddenly has a thirst for life and wants to live. At the end she metamorphosises, but it is actually a dream and she wills herself to get better to embrace every moment and to see nature, see water, feel the breeze on her face. She wants to sup everything; she is feeding from it to the point where she experiences liberty at the end. The work was inspired by a friend, an actor, who was a very good mime artist and he used to read poetry for me, to help me hear the male voice, from which I also write. He developed a brain tumour at 50. Sometimes I was amazed by his strength, he would have chemo therapy, he would be in absolute pain but would insist on meeting me as usual, as he said it kept him going. He had such strength and beauty and whenever we met he was present and geared to giving his best. Even when he knew he had, perhaps, a month to live, he wanted to make the most of that month and give of himself. To share, have empathy and compassion, to learn from all things is a thread that goes through my work and he is one person who really inspired me.
Jacqui: Needle Sister, published by HESA online this year, features human anonymity in an urban landscape, in this case Hamburg. Does contemporary urban life inspire or despair?
Maroula: It all belongs, the ugliness, the beauty, the despair. I was doing a promotional tour for the Lion King and in passing through Hamburg there was a very young woman who was a drug addict, very sad and frail, she had already had her fill of the world. For me it is always about connection, sharing and reaching out, not just by me, but people also reach out to me. We could not stop, though I would have liked to, to help. The only thing I could do was write about her.
Jacqui: In an interview in 2004 for AVIVA Berlin you mentioned your desire to “...promote a better understanding of cultural differences and to highlight social issues in a harmonious, artistic way by using words and music”. To what extent do you feel you have progressed with this desire?
Maroula: Before my first single Meta Stasis, I did not have the opportunity to reach a larger audience when it came to using poetry with music. Together with my musical partner, Georg Henry, I have been writing, composing and performing for 14 years and latterly with Peter Blau, who did the artwork on Meta Stasis. I think this amalgamation makes my message sharper and clearer and crosses language divides. I think all forms of art can be very educational, I don’t want to force people to my way of thinking, but invite them to share my perceptions and if someone likes them or can relate to what I address, that’s great and I am completely honoured but I can also accept it if they can’t.
Jacqui: What direction would you like to your work to take in the future?
Maroula: Oh, that’s a hard question, as I do not want to limit myself in any way. I definitely don’t want to end up in a pigeonhole by choosing a particular path. As I’m writing short stories, flash fiction, poetry, novellas, musical soundscapes, I think it’s best to keep an open approach. This is an exploration, one of highs and lows, twists and turns, hopefully I’ll rise to the challenges along the way.
Jacqui: Well I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of meeting you, Maroula and the luxury of prying into the thoughts of an artist about her work and the ethos behind it. Once again, congratulations on winning this year’s erbacce-press poetry prize, the panel were highly impressed with your submission which stood out from the start; even among four thousand entries. We all wish you well with book sales and in all your future endeavours.
Maroula: Thank you! It has been a pleasure.
The interview was conducted by Jacqui Dunne.