Book review: Just Give Me The Pills by Koraly Dimitriadis

About five years ago, I picked up a copy of Koraly Dimitriadis’ first book of poetry – Love and Fuck Poems – in a bookshop in Fitzroy. Idly flipping its pages, I realised that she was writing with a fire and fervour that I hadn’t seen  much in recent times. I was hooked straight away, sending copies on to mates and seeing her perform her poems a few times since.

Her follow-up collection Just Give me The Pills is a longer, and in some ways, denser tome. If Love and Fuck Poems is a compressed story of sexual repression that explodes post-divorce, then Just Give Me The Pills is the motherlode of back story; a memoir in blank verse. 

It comes with a dedicatory warning: “A poem is a fragment in time, it is not the poet”. This is somewhat odd in what is so obviously a very personal journey. It almost seems like an escape clause, a device to distract wary friends who may see themselves in here.

Blocked into sections covering her married life, separation, divorce, child rearing and morphing from a “good Greek girl” computer programmer into a more sexually liberated writer and poet, Just Give Me The Pills covers a lot of ground that Koraly has covered previously but in more detail and depth.

It’s helpful if you read it as a memoir with each section fleshing out a larger picture. There is some similarity in many of the poems, but it’s the differences that are important. I found it good to have breaks so I could have more clarity around these differences and come back can revisit pieces as the book progressed.

Koraly’s recurring themes are repression as a woman and particularly as a sexually active woman, defying expectations within a controlling culture, exploring motherhood and single motherhood.

She starts her journey in the preface Wedding Day Photography. It sets up the ideal; the expectations that have surrounded her as a young Greek/Cypriot woman reaching “the pinnacle of her life,” but already something is wrong – she is “not a girl, she was a painting”. The stultifying atmosphere is already gathering from this moment of success; there is a sense that it is all downhill from here.

Indeed, it goes to hell in a handbasket as she equates her rebirth of creativity with the bloody caesarian from which her daughter was torn. You know that it is going to be a painful journey, despite her labelling her partner as a hero in Astro Boy. Moments of happiness in the early part of the book are later counterposed with references to depression (the pills of the title), the breakdown of her marriage and her resulting relative poverty as a single mother and poet.

As a reviewer rather than a critic, I won’t speak too much about her poetry in a literary sense – I come to it as a for pleasure reader. What does jump out to me though, is how much it seems like some of William Carlos Williams’ work, albeit with many more words. Much of it is the poetry of ordinary suburban life: bringing up your child (Motherhood Observations), mums Baklava, Shopping, and the relief of another month with  no unexpected baby (The Prayer of Blood).

What is different to Williams’ is the air of desperation and drama that drives a lot of her work forward. She talks of “Numb(ing) the mania” (The Search), of “One fucking minute/for me” (I Can’t Wait to Take you to Creche Tomorrow), then of the day to day in “Why Don’t I Shut the fuck up?” (Simple Girl), of escaping “Like a frightened woman in the night” (Out). She deals with the stay-or-go inflexion where she cannot stay married and meet her family’s expectations while staying true to herself.

Just Give Me The Pills is very much an explication for the explosion that was Fuck And Love Poems, a description of the settings and circumstance that led to that outpouring of raw energy and emotion. Its variety of writing styles and forms range from prose to blank verse and on to playful experiments in the written word as form.

A poem may well be a “fragment in time” but in this case it is also very much a portrayal of the poet in action.

Just Give Me the Pills is available now and is being launched today (December 2), appropriately enough in the heart of Greek Melbourne in Lonsdale Street.

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