Tsiattista poetic duelling

Inscribed in 2011 (6.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© George Sophocleous

The lively, impromptu oral poetry known as Tsiattista is often performed to the accompaniment of violin or lute in ‘jousts’ in which one poet-singer attempts to outdo another with clever verses made up of rhyming couplets. It has long been a popular component of wedding feasts, fairs and other public celebrations, where eager crowds encourage poets to perform. The most common metrical form is the iambic fifteen-syllable verse in a rhyming couplet, although a poet may use eight-syllable, six-syllable or even nine-syllable verses. Successful tsiattistaes (poet-singers) exhibit ready wit, deep familiarity with poetic and musical traditions, a rich vocabulary and an active imagination. They have often been men of modest means and limited education who transmit their works only orally; these days, the poets are mostly old men but talented female poets have recently started performing. Poets must be well-versed in the Greek Cypriot dialect, possess adequate knowledge of the popular poetry of Cyprus and the ability to retrieve existing, well-known Tsiattista and, above all, must be able to improvise a new couplet on a specific theme within very strict time constraints and be able to respond to his or her opponent.