The threads of inheritance: berni m janssen launches ‘An Embroidery of Old Maps and New’ by Angela Costi

An Embroidery of Old Maps and New by Angela Costi, Spinifex Press 2021, was virtually launched by berni m janssen on Wednesday 7 April 2021

angela CFirstly let me say what a great honour it is for me to launch Angela Costi’s new book of poems An Embroidery of Old Maps and New published by Spinifex Press.

I have known Angela for many years and have great respect for her as a writer and as a fine human being. Angela’s work has integrity, deepening our understandings of our flawed and fragile humanity. 

It has been said that the great malaise of our time is indifference.
Angela Costi has not been touched by this illness. Indeed, she may well have the antidote to such a malaise. Her writing and being, so full of compassion, attention, care, and therefore love; illuminating the people, spaces and places that have come into her poet cartographer’s sphere.

 She maps movement: geographical, temporal, psychological, cultural. Of generations of women, mostly. Movement that is instigated by wars, violence, exploitation, sexism, racism, and their emotional burdens fear, pain, frustration, anger, disappointment, rage, trauma; and movement also instigated by possibility, curiosity, hope, desire for understanding, happiness.

She is grounded by/in tradition, one that she inherits and shapes as her own. Afterall traditions are always dynamic – how else do they last? Old maps being made anew.

As a child of Cypriot migrants, language, culture, stories, experiences frame the world she explores and charts.

From her grandmother: stories, embroidery, the famous embroideries from Lefkara.

Since the 14th Century the women of Lefkara have created exquisite embroideries, in a confluence of Indigenous craft, Venetian courtiers’ embroidery, Ancient Greek and Byzantine traditional designs. The embroideries spread across the world, linen in the grand halls, on tables, beds and personages of kings and queens, popes, bishops, lords and ladies, the rich and famous.

These embroideries, both art and social practice. The women sit together in covered patios, in laneways; embroider, talk. The young girls around the women learn through observation, listening. And then the expertise is passed on through more formal instruction: grandmother, mother, daughter. Once the art learnt she designs works incorporating tradition, diverse influences, individual perspectives, all with her own creative flair.

The embroidery is stitched. The poem created. The thread drawn, connecting.
‘an embroidery of old maps and new’ from Making Lace – a poem in the collection.

Each embroidery, each poem, a map charting the makers world.

Angela pulls the threads of inheritance: her grandmother’s repetition of stitches of cotton in linen to create finely crafted works; the social practice of sitting, listening, observing, sharing; the particular experience of being a child of migrants escaping war and poverty – of being other, of being in-between and of being in many worlds, cultures and languages. Forming an ear for all of this, and injustice.

On maps and embroidery and poetry

Angela pulls these threads together, makes maps to mark the stories she has heard, the places and spaces and people she encounters.

The word map, from mappa mundi meaning ‘sheets of the world’. mappa also means napkins. And we know that many a napkin has been stitched and drawn and scribed upon. Map upon map.

Angela is creating sheets of the world with the poems she so skillfully embroiders. Intimate spaces intricately woven. The listening embodied.
She is a poet, a maker, as from the Greek word poiein, meaning ‘to make’.

She draws the thread of linen, the line, to make the design that marks a place, a place where unfamiliarity begins to be known. New places marked on old maps. New maps. Poems that draw us into place.

An embroidery of old maps and new.

Spread before us, a fabric of linen, a fabric of lines, threads, mapping a world traversed by women. Sharing. Making. Listening. With head, heart, hand, body.

These poems, these embroideries, born from the sitting and listening of being together, sharing stories of the trials, tragedies, revelations, in their day to day, in their travelling from there to here, from then to now.

Vivid images of women from across the globe, the past, in and into, present, sewn in threads of varying colour and textures. Mappa mundi. Sheets of the world embroidered.

Place, time, generations, cultures, language, relationships shift, change, intersect, revealing different territory. Now foreign, now new, requiring new maps. New language, new land, new stories. New maps to navigate this strangeness.

Angela Costi’s poems chart spaces traversed by migrants, tourists, travellers, soul searchers, workers: the experience of being outside of one’s realm, one’s experience, one’s self – othered. Strangers in strange worlds. Trying to find their place. To find one’s way.

The territory of the unknown becoming known. A place where we belong. A place where we can be home.

With embroidery, with poems, with maps, what is not there, the lacuna, is as important, as necessary as the thread, the line, the coloured in. The absence not absence: the space of something else, the heart, a sadness, a yearning, a view … a surprise.

Traversing the unknown, this space between, whether it be a strange country, culture, tradition, language, territory; whether navigating bureaucratic/legal systems, old age, nostalgia, academia, suburbs, backyards, generations, pandemic: Angela lights the gaps gives them name as she draws the threads together – the illumination of spaces into places.

The threads woven: the intersection of the poet’s head, heart, hand imagination, with the world she lives in.

Emotion, sensation, ideas, experiences, mythology, others’ stories, attention to the cares and woes of the world

Observations from an examined life, a living questioned, so that intimacies, difficult intimacies, tenderly revealed.

In these poems the past is always present. The before, our heritage, sometimes carried, sometimes adapted, sometimes rejected and then sometimes, embraced, tentatively. Tenderly. You need to look back to reconcile. To make new maps. To move from the past as a haunting, to the past as an inheritance.

Angela deftly, thoughtfully weaves experiences, stories from different times and places so they amplify each other – give us perspectives, understanding – as part of the long herstory.

Not surprising that language is fertile ground here that sounds echo shapeshift. Words vibrate. They are economic and atomic – here and there simultaneously – twine us into multiple meanings.

Language sounds unfamiliarity. The ability to speak or write the language – whether it be bureaucratese, jargon, dialect or the country’s language – holds apart, hides, ‘others’ or invites in, reveals, connects. Language a barrier or a carrier to access, belonging. To speak. To voice. To be. One’s self and one’s self in community and in herstory.

These poems create Gofti – rare Cypriot word used by lacemakers – a little window for fairies – which allow us to look into the nooks and crannies of humanity, to glimpse the small, personal, intimate.

We see in these poems the very tiny crevices, the fragility of being that we all have in common. If we bother to sit, listen, observe, care. They are women’s spaces. They are human spaces.

These are poems that map the impact of the worst of humanity, of our warring, exploitative, greedy, superiority, and of the most gentle, in fine gracefully woven moments. Large issues writ personal.

precise images open out
tiny stitches detailing the larger design
bodies, scarred, hollowed, hungry
an empty purse
signature
an apricot tossed
a plate of ‘horta’
a blue sky framed
sharing stories herstories

These rich embroideries charting the delicate poignant moments of individual worlds to be treasured.

Angela Costi’s An Embroidery of Old Maps and New, incorporating tradition, diverse influences, individual perspective, all with her own creative flair: in the space of a stitch, in the space of a space, draws the lines of connection, skillfully stitches together with, compassion, attention, care and love. We do not voyage in the sea of indifference here. An Embroidery of Old Maps and New now launched.

–  berni m janssen

A recording of berni m janssen launching Angela Costi’s fifth poetry collection, An Embroidery of Old Maps and New. Note – the first 10 minutes has some distortion but it does improve.

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Berniberni m janssen, a text artist, works with words in all their forms, printed, spoken, performed. She has a collaborative multidisciplinary practice spanning over thirty-five years, working with composers, performers, visual artists and community members to make word inspired art. She is renowned for her evocative and captivating performances. Her most recent book is between wind and water (in a vulnerable place) Spinifix 2018.

An Embroidery of Old Maps and New is available from  https://www.spinifexpress.com.au/shop/p/9781925950243

Video poems by Angela Costi on Rochford Street Review

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