#21 – January 2016
This month I received my first Pushcart Prize nomination. The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize that honours the best poetry, short fiction, and essays published in small presses around the world. My poem, Faceless Women, was nominated by the journal Ishaan Literary Review.
Last month, Fox Adoption Magazine published my poem, All the Birds Have Gone. This month, they have published another of my poems, In the Sleep of Woods. I’ve also had three poems accepted by the journal, Plum Tree Tavern, to be published in January.
Lisa and I spent all of December in Chania. Apart from the regular barking of dogs at night, and the odd lawnmower early in the morning, it has been very quiet. This has been great for our writing.
It has also been relatively warm, despite the recent first falls of snow on the nearby White Mountains. The fresh snow on a sunny day looks awesome, especially when you’re looking at them from the beach!
Our recent weeks have included some massive travel planning. This involved researching the accommodation, transport, facilities, weather and visa conditions for each country. Except for two weeks in June, we have booked all our accommodation till the end of August. We have learnt from almost a year of full-time travel that the earlier we plan and book, the more we save.
Our plans for this year include a return to Loutro so I can do another week-long poetry course. This time I will be participating in a course with the poets Kathryn Maris and Maurice Riordan. The course, The Lens of Memory, will explore different ways of using memory and experience in poetry. As I often use both, I hope to be able to further develop my work.
As we really enjoyed our stay in England, we would also like to spend some more time there. We had planned to go to the London Screenwriter’s Festival again this year, but for a few reasons, including the fact that they moved the event from October to August, we will not be going. We would like to go to the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival again, too. As the accommodation in England is expensive for our budget, we are looking at doing some housesitting.
Otherwise, in early January, we’re going to Thessaloniki for a week, and then to Italy for two weeks. We’re looking forward to both adventures after some home time in Chania!
#22 – February 2016
This month I have had three poems published by the Plum Tree Tavern. Two poems, Black-headed Ibis and Sooty Oystercatcher, were inspired by poetry prompts from Scribophile, the online writing community I belong to. The third poem, White Cove, was written during the course I did with the poet, Helen Mort, in Loutro last June.
Some great news this month is that Lisa is getting her first flash fiction piece published later this year! Her 16-word piece, A Child’s Cruel Game, will be published in From the Depths, the annual journal from Haunted Waters Press.
After two months of regular life in Chania, which included getting some medical check-ups for Lisa, we flew north to Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. We enjoyed having a week off from our busy writing routines. We spent much of our time walking the streets and seeing some sites, including the impressive Saint Dimitrios Church.
From Thessaloniki, we flew just over an hour to Rome. We stayed in a room in an Airbnb apartment just out of the centre of Roma. Amongst many sites, we visited the Colosseum and Vatican City, but we were most impressed by a beautiful church we stumbled upon not far from the Spanish Steps.
We enjoyed spending time in a local café bar, where we had our regular cappuccinos and pastries, and got to see a lot of locals in their usual routines. These kinds of cafés also act as corner shops and bars as they sell small items, such as milk and yoghurt, as well as alcohol by the glass.
Prices for coffee and food vary according to how you are served. It usually costs a little more to be served at a table. Alternatively, you can order at the counter and take your food/drink to a table yourself for a take-away price! It can get confusing, so we always ask the price.
In Rome, we loved going to the supermarkets near our apartment. Not only was there a wonderful range of food, but it was often cheaper than Greece. We cooked at home for a few nights and enjoyed a delicious array of pasta, wine, breads and cheeses. We also ate some great gelato – chocolate, coffee and pistachio!
After Rome, we spent three nights in wonderful Florence. As we had seen a lot of art in Rome, we spent much of our time strolling the streets. We also visited the Basilica of Santa Croce (Sacred Cross). This church holds the tombs of many famous Italians, including Dante, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. We found Florence to be very picturesque, especially the cold, misty days by the Arno River.
Our final few days in Italy, we spent in Padua, not far from Venice. We enjoyed the luxury of a wonderful hotel, some delicious traditional pizza and panzerotti, and we also made use of the inexpensive meals at the nearby university cafeteria. It was great to be amongst the vibrant noise of Italian students.
We took a day trip to Venice, catching a train there and back for a few euros each way. It was great to arrive at Venice, travelling a bridge over shallow waters, surrounded by mist and birds. The streets and canals of Venice were picturesque and all the more beautiful when away from the crowds who primarily flock to St Mark’s Square.
Overall, we loved visiting Italy, especially in winter. It was a wonderful experience!
#23 – March 2016
This month I have had a few poems accepted for publication. The journal, Halcyon Days, which looks for peaceful, positive and uplifting poems, will publish three of my poems in March. Another journal, Front Porch Review, will publish my poem, Old Skins, in April.
Recently, I came across the Sheffield Poetry-a-thon, a great fundraising event for refugees and asylum seekers. The event will be held on 2 April in Sheffield, England. A relay of forty-eight poets will each read for 8 minutes throughout the day. You can sponsor a poet of your choice. It’s a great way to raise money for a good cause – and listen to poetry if you’re in the area!
I saw the event while reading posts in Campus, the social network for poets organised by The Poetry School. It’s a good site, especially if you’re located in the UK. They organise lots of courses, including a few online ones.
This month we arrived in Macedonia FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). We flew in from Venice and spent two days in the capital, Skopje. The city of Skopje has a beautiful river running through the centre and is surrounded by mountains. The city centre has a lot of large statues which have been recently erected, which gives the city a somewhat grand feel.
We then enjoyed a three-hour bus trip to Ohrid, where we will be staying for the next three months. We passed numerous villages and fields, as well as beautiful snow-capped mountains along the way. We stopped for a coffee in a small ski village. It was cold, but refreshing.
Ohrid is a small, picturesque town, though we didn’t know it was so beautiful when we booked. We were just happy with the location, apartment, and price. We knew we would be by Lake Ohrid, but we did not expect that it would be as stunning as it is. The lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and the view of the Old Town, with its castle walls and red roofed houses, is spectacular. The lake supports a variety of birdlife and we have enjoyed identifying them.
It has been quite cold here at times, with snow on the mountains around us. We really like it here, especially as it is extremely quiet. The town is small, and everything is close by. It is only on the weekends, when the sun is out, that just about all of Ohrid comes to the lake for a stroll – even if it is only five degrees! Still, the atmosphere is respectful and we have enjoyed getting out amongst the locals.
We have found a good balance between work and rest. We’re both busy writing most days and actually have to give ourselves days off! It’s a nice routine, and we like it.
#24 – April 2016
This month I had two short poems published in Halcyon Days. They will publish three more of my poems in their next issue in June. One of the poems was written during the course I did in Loutro last June.
I have also had three more poems accepted for publication. The first poem, Elizabeth Starts Again With a Little Taste of Honey, will be published in Three Drops from a Cauldron. The second, This Summer, was inspired by a very hot summer Lisa and I spent in Marmaris, Turkey. It was accepted by Grey Sparrow Journal. The third poem, Journey, will be published in Mandala Journal. This will be my first university publication.
Last month, I spent some time writing and editing some short fiction pieces. The themes and style are similar to how I write poetry. Some of these I began a long time ago, but had never quite finished them. I have now finished several pieces and have submitted one already.
We are still in the small town of Ohrid, in Macedonia FYROM. Apart from a few warmish days, it is still quite cold here. In fact, the mountain top I can see from our apartment has just had a fresh blanket of snow! This has meant that we are still happy to be inside most of the day, which allows us time for our writing.
Despite the cooler weather, we still head out for regular walks. One of our favourite walks was to St John at Kaneo. It is a small church located on a cliff overlooking Lake Ohrid. It is one of the most prominent images you will see when looking for information about Ohrid. At night, soft lights around the church can be seen across the lake – beautiful!
On another walk, we visited the old city and ended up at a lounge bar on the lake for something different. On weekends this area is very busy, so we chose a quieter weekday. It was very relaxing by the fireplace and especially cosy drinking our warm saleps.
Salep is known throughout the old Ottoman Empire, including Greece and Turkey. Salep itself is a flour, made from the tuber of an orchid. It tastes like you are drinking a very thick, warm milk drink, somewhat like porridge. It is very warming, and you usually sprinkle cinnamon on top – which I love!
Other than that, we are still very happy on our travels. We will be here in Ohrid till the end of April and will then head off to Albania for a month.
#25 – May 2016
This month I have had seven poems published in five different journals. The themes of these poems were nature, animals, change and women.
Front Porch Review published Old Skins, Plum Tree Tavern published Remnants, Mandala Journal published Journey and Three Drops from a Cauldron published Elizabeth Starts Again With a Little Taste of Honey. Squawk Back also accepted and published three poems.
We continued our three-month stay in Ohrid, Macedonia FYROM. It was much warmer, so we ventured out a lot more and had the pleasure of new encounters with nature.
One evening, we heard what sounded like crows settling in the nearby trees for the night, about a kilometre away. The sound was so loud that the next day we went to investigate. When we got to the trees, we realised the sound was coming from the fields and it was actually a cacophony of frogs. The Greek Marsh Frog, or Balkan Water Frog, to be exact!
We also saw millions (literally millions!) of tiny fish in the lake and in the nearby canal. At first we weren’t sure about their stillness, but then we realised they were spawning. The fish were small, the size of white bait, and they flashed silver on moving. Beautiful.
It has been great being in Ohrid from winter to spring as we have been able to enjoy a variety of birdlife, including some migrating birds. We have seen over 15 species of birds, including the Eurasian Green Woodpecker tapping alone on an old tree, and a pair of Red Crested Pockards performing their mating dance.
Otherwise, we have tried a few local foods. We have eaten bourek a few times now, a pastry usually filled with mince, white cheese, or spinach and cheese. This is a local fast food staple and very delicious. We tasted a drink called boza, which is a fermented drink made from grains. It tasted a bit like coke and it was also a little sour. We ate halva, a food we have also eaten back in Australia. Halva is a sweet made from sesame seeds and sugar. Of course, we indulged in numerous cakes and pastries, as well as ice-cream, which was hardly available in winter – not even in the supermarkets!
In our final weeks in Ohrid, we discovered a Turkish section of the Old Town. The Turkish influence here extends back to Ottoman times. We were thrilled as we love Turkish food and Turkish tea! It was a great experience to enjoy both cultures together, people speaking both languages all around us. We also got to hear the azan (call to prayer) while we sipped our tea and watched men on bikes speed past with trays of coffee cups and tea glasses in one hand. A wonderful experience!
We have now arrived in Albania, our first stop Elbasan. Already we know we will love it here. The people are generous, friendly and hospitable in a way that we have not experienced before.
#26 – June 2016
This month I have had one new poem, A Hard Man, published in Write Place at the Write Time. I also had Black-headed Ibis republished by Plum Tree Tavern in their “Best Of” special edition. This issue celebrates their first full year of publication.
What a month we’ve had! We began our Albanian journey in the town of Elbasan, after a pleasant three hour bus ride from Ohrid, Macedonia FYROM. While at the Albanian border, Lisa was called from the bus without me as she didn’t have a stamp in her passport for her earlier entry into Macedonia. I was okay with my Greek passport.
Meanwhile, back on the bus, the driver explained to the passengers (in Albanian) that we had to wait for the Australian woman (Lisa) to return. He told them that her partner (me) was waiting on the bus for her, and that I was Greek. Well, before I knew it, an Albanian man started speaking to me in Greek, and for the rest of our journey, Lisa and I had no language problems. As for Lisa, she finally showed customs a separate permit card and we were back on our way.
Many Albanians speak Greek, especially to the south of the country where it borders northern Greece. Many of them work illegally in Greece as there is no work in Albania. One of the Albanian men I met on the bus told me how he had worked in Greece at various times for over twenty years. At one time, he was imprisoned for 16 months because he didn’t have a work permit. He still risked working illegally, this time in Macedonia. He managed to find only five days of work in the sixteen days he was away.
We have experienced great kindness and hospitality from the Albanian people. When we got to Elbasan, we started walking to our hotel. I asked a young man directions and he told me the hotel was three kilometres away. He offered to call us a taxi, which we declined and kept walking. Before we knew it, he pulled up his car in front of us and insisted he take us to the hotel. The next morning, on asking where the bus terminal for our next stop was, a similar thing occurred and we were taken in a black Mercedes to the bus station.
Things took a terrible turn when we arrived in Gjirokaster, our stay for the rest of the month. The house we rented was damp and dark, full of all manner of household things that the owner had left. We hardly had a place for our four bags! The owner also told us that there was no internet, even though it was advertised. He told us all sorts of stories, including making us wait all weekend for someone to come and fix it. When we held back our payment until booking.com sorted things out, he not only sent his cousin for the money, but threatened us with the police – and even turned our power off!
Lucky for us, we had met a nice café owner, Haralambos, who told us we could use his internet even without purchasing anything. We ended up going there most days in the first week. When we caught an old man jumping the fence to turn off our power again, we realised we were in trouble and went to Haralambos for help. He organised for us to meet the owner there. After a heated argument in the café, we paid the rent. The next day, the owner brought us a brand new modem, fixed the TV and bought us a new kettle. Phew!
After that, we enjoyed many talks with our friend Haralambos. His father-in-law took us out for coffee and for a drive to the top of the mountain in Gjirokaster. Overall, we enjoyed our stay in Gjirokaster, though we wouldn’t return to the same accommodation again.
June 1 we are off to Greece. We are looking forward to it!
#27 – July 2016
This month I have had four poems published. Shot Glass Journal published Baking Apple Strudel and Halcyon Days published Like Yellow Suns and by the sea. Communion published Flat Rock, the sixth poem I have had published from those I wrote during the course I attended in Loutro last year.
In June, I attended another poetry course in Loutro, Crete. It was wonderful arriving back in Loutro, to attend a class with five other participants. As there were two other writing groups meeting in Loutro at the same time, there was a large welcome dinner on the first night, with over twenty people gathered by the sea.
The following day, we met at a café where I formally met my two tutors, Kathryn Maris and Maurice Riordan. The course theme was memory and we analysed and discussed poems around this theme. Each morning, we were given prompts for our own writing. We then had time to write, take a break, or swim – refreshing in the summer heat.
In the evenings, we would gather again to read our work and discuss other aspects of poetry. We also met mid-week for another dinner, as well as on the final night, where we took a boat to the next bay, enjoying a delicious Greek meal along with poetry, short story readings and music.
A difference this year was that two of the course sessions were one-on-one critiques, one session with each of the tutors. This was helpful as I could see where I could make improvements to some of my ‘finished’ poems. It is great to get another opinion on a work that I had considered finished!
Once again, Lisa and I both met some lovely people in Loutro, and I enjoyed another creative week!
It was great arriving in Greece again, after an absence of over four months. We had a one night stop in Preveza, where we enjoyed a beautiful Greek salad and melitzanosalata (eggplant dip). The next day we were off to the island of Lefkada.
Our arrival in Lefkada was a little stressful, as we had difficulty getting to our accommodation. Not only did the bus driver drop us off at the wrong stop, but Google Maps was also wrong by over a few kilometres. This left us temporarily lost, but after asking at a local baker for help, we ended up with a lift in a police car to our accommodation! The adventure doesn’t stop!
Our studio in Lefkada was surrounded by a beautiful garden with many trees – olive, lemon, mulberry, pomegranate, pear, and vanilla plum, as well as the usual shady grape vines. There were painted pots of red and pink geraniums, rosemary, aloe vera, and various other plants, all of which attracted lots of bees and butterflies. Around us was the cluck of chickens, gentle goat bells and the sound of pigeons. Not only that, but there was a picturesque stone and sand beach just a short walk away. We loved it.
Our next stop was the island of Kefalonia. Unfortunately, the start of our trip here was also a bit stressful, mainly due to our budget. As there were no buses. we had to get a taxi from the north of the island to our accommodation in the south, in Poros. Even though it was expensive, we did get a one-and-a-half-hour tour of the mostly verdant island, with mountains full of trees and shrubs just behind the beach.
Although it was early June, it was mild when we arrived in Poros. We enjoyed the peace, just sitting on our verandah and relaxing in a quiet Greek community. While we were there, I was told that my surname in Greek (‘Korkos’) is very common in Skala, a village just south of Poros.
Our final Ionian island on this trip was Zakynthos. After the calm of Kefalonia, we took two ferries, a bus, and then a very short taxi to our accommodation. I had been meaning to come to this island since the early 90’s when I first came to Greece. I was drawn there as my paternal grandfather, who I never met, was from Zakynthos.
My grandfather, Dimitrios, which is my middle name, was born on the island and then went to live in Alexandria, Egypt. My dad and his sister were born in Egypt, but my dad never visited Zakynthos. It was an amazing experience to visit the island, especially to visit the church of Saint Dionysus, the church of my father’s name. As Zakynthos is a tourist-focused island, I did not get a chance to find out more about my family history.
From Zakynthos, we made our way to Loutro via Loutraki (Corinth) and Chania (Crete) – days of travel, but it was worth it! We are now in Drama and will stay for two months.
Till next month, live authentically and write with integrity.