Commentaries - August 2011
translated from Serbian by Dubravka Djurić, Filip Marinovich, and Katie Fowley; edited by Charles Bernstein
BOOK CANDLESTICK ROOF
(published in 1973 in Letopis Matice srpske. a national journal from Novi Sad)
I had a hard day
so I started with parings
I liked that
because it was not similar to the spread of parings
When someone tells me I
If we are talking to one another
We don't understand each other
I open a book the book closes
The pages assemble the pages are similar
The pages are the same one page
One hundred pages two hundred sides
Empty with impressed letters
The book gets dirty but the book
Is no neat object. It is
Full of those kinds of words, in fact, pages,
For the book is empty: neat
are the words which mean something (if I am un-
ass-em-bled) and then a wider array
Which is over the book which simply
Abandons it since the book can or cannot
Be Ass-em-bled. That way it is shifting
And I hate it, it is changing my
Assembly. Books are always already old
I forget the book. Or, even better, when I say
The condition for something like that: break it down into pages
And hold every page separately so it has
With foresight over itself its own beginning
And end on the square of paper, with the absent
Page which is its pair. The body of paper shares meaning
And closes the square of paper into the square from both sides
But words don't answer to one another
They hold the paper discretely from them
Or when I read an empty book I jump over
the pages without effort
and with a laugh I fly high, I will allow myself
this way which doesn't belong in this text although
I can't resist jumping over these lines:
the high jumper is easy athletics on
TV, when the jumper jumps over himself
like an empty book
If, therefore, I open the book, I begin
with the first page carefully, it or which is empty
it or which is immaterial in form, the same as the next one,
That one which, as it stands against its
endless multiplications, is with its body
eternally returning to itself. And so in this world
pages multiply and the book grows
The book is for the poor. Allegory
Today I would write about the candlestick
which our friends brought
and which I commandeered
even though I think it was intended for my parents.
That candlestick was seen by many.
The candlestick can be found in my room
five years now. I was changing my mind
about what I could add, to write it up
I begin from the beginning like that as if you can begin
from the end
That is a story without its book
about the tinsmith who slipped in his sleep on the roof
of a house, in his sleep that happened many times
in all possible details which they could picture
a multitude of tiny finally meaningless shrug-offs
The happening was slowly emptying, there was less and less
remaining unwritten of the possible places of particularities
and his body accepted more and more strength
until finally it soaked up all the blood from the pages
of a book. And then the happening was written out, the body
closed so that it was possible to
approach him (without danger) and so that he wouldn't be
drawn into chance
During that time the book was slowly opening
unfolding its pages in a circle until
it connected the first with the last
T H E N the happening was written out
T H E N with the movement of a hand
T H E N with unclear thought
T H E N with a look into emptiness
T H E N all that went back to no consciousness
But the book fell into forgetting
fell toward emptiness
(it was growing) holding up the world (body)
He slipped in his sleep on a roof
He was dreaming that he slipped in his sleep on a roof
He did slip on a roof
KNJIGA SVEĆNJAK KROV
Imao sam težak dan
pa sam počeo sa strugotinom
To mi se dopalo
jer nije bilo slično širenju strugotine
Kada meni neko govori Ja
Ako govorimo jedno drugom
Ne zaumemo se
Otvorim knjigu knjiga se zatvori
Listovi se slože listovi su slični
Listovi su isti jedan list
Sto listova dvesta stranica
Praznih sa otisnutim slovima
Knjiga se uprlja ali knjiga
Nije zgodan predmet. Ona je
Puna takvih reči, zapravo, stranice
Jer knjiga je prazna: zgodne
Su reči koje nešto znače (ako sam ne-
Raz-po-ložen) zatim jednog šireg niza
Koji je preko knjige koji je jednostavno
Napušta jer knjiga može ili ne može
Biti Raz-po-ložena. Tako ona se premešta
I ja je prezirem, ona menja moje
Raspoloženje. Knjige su oduvek stare
Zaboravim knjigu. Ili još bolje kada kažem
Uslov za tako nešto: rasparčati je na listove
I svaku stranicu posebno držati da ima
Sa smislom preko sebe svoj početak
I kraj na kvadratu od hartije, sa odsutnom
Stranicom koja je par. Telo hartije deli značenje
I zatvara kvadrat u kvadrat sa obe strane
Ali reči ne odgovaraju jedna drugoj
Na raspolaganju drže telo hartije
Ili kad čitam praznu knjigu ja preskačem
stranice bez napora
i uz smeh visoko se vinem, dozvoliću sebi
ovaj put što ne spada u ovaj tekst ali
ne mogu odoleti da ne preskočim i ove redove:
skakač uvis što je laka atletika na
TV, kada skakač preskoči sebe
kao praznu knjigu
Ako, dakle, otvorim knjigu, počinjem
sa prvom stranicom pažljivo, koja je prazna
koja je nematerijalna oblikom, istovetna sledećoj
Ona kao jedna stoji nasuprot svom
beskonačnom umnožavanju, svom telu koje
joj se večito vraća. Tako u ovom svetu
stranice se umnožavaju i knjiga raste
Knjiga je za siromašne. Alegorija
Danas bih pisao o svećnjaku
koji su doneli naši prijatelji
i koji sam ja prisvojio
premda beše namenjen mojim roditeljima
Taj svećnjak su videli mnogi.
Svećnjak se nalazi u mojoj sobi
već pet godina. ja sam se predomišljao
šta bih mogao da dodam, da dopišem
Počinjem iz početka tako kao da se može početi
To je priča bez svoje knjige
o limaru koji se u snu okliznuo na krovu
kuće, u snu to se ponavljalo mnogo puta
u svim mogućim detaljima koji su odslikavali
mnoštvo sitnih gotovo beznačajnih odstupanja
Događaj se polako praznio, sve je manje
ostajalo neopisanih mogućih mesta pojedinosti
a njegovo telo primilo sve veću snagu
dok najzad nije pokupilo sve veću krv sa stranica
knjige. I onda događaj se ispisao, telo se
zatvorilo tako da mu je bilo moguće
priči (bez opasnosti) a da se ne bude
uvučen u slučajnost
Za to vreme knjiga se polako otvarala
razvijajući stranice u krug sve dok se nije
spojila prva sa poslednjom
ONDA događaj se ispisao
ONDA sa pokretom ruke
ONDA sa nejasnom pomisli
ONDA sa pogledom u prazno
ONDA sve se to u nesvesti vratilo
Ali knjiga je pala u zaborav
padala prema praznini
(rasla je) podupirući svet (telo)
On se okliznuo u snu na krovu
On je sanjao da se okliznuo na krovu
On je sanjao da se okliznuo u snu na krovu
On se okliznuo na krovu
(published 1970 in Novi Sad, student newspaper, Index)
1. like when
2. or toward the same
5 (yes, yes)
6. and always I am in everything
7. and always alone when in everything
8. and always I am when in everything different
9. and always I am when in everything different from itself is
10. and always
11. itself is
12. is it over there
13. that is that
14. this is not this
15. this is that
16. this is not that, but is there
17. but it's long since then
18. long time like that
19. that is that, if it is not here
20. I am not I
21. I is I
22. who am I
23. what is not I
24. who am I not
25. who is not I
26. who is I
27. nothing is like that now
28. as if before
29. with no one is it like that in everything
30. like once
32. but and after, or only after
33. and that
34. so that out of those once
35. that's how it is
37. and not like once
38. like now not at all
39. once and already – here once is
40. with whom is then behind these very same
41. with all that more then before
42. never before
43. sometimes before those
44. sometimes very close
45. sometimes again
46. and so on
47 always although again
49. where is all that or when
51. and what now
53. nothing is too much
54. or for now
55. for now like that
56. nothing is too much there
57. with that
58. as always
59. always before once
60. if I am too much in that
61. without any or at least in general
62. in general
63. many similar
64. arent’t you not
65. are [you] already from here
67. one without the others
68. not for anybody
69. from here to there
70. isn’t it
73. from there
74. from then when no one with no one is not
76. once in one
77. one in other
78. without all that
79. almost enough
80. and like it
81. almost all
82. almost always no
83. almost always here under the same
84. why not
85. like that
86. above all
1. kao kada
2. ili prema istom
5. (da, da)
6. i uvek sam u svemu
7. i uvek sam kada u svemu
8. i uvek sam kada u svemu različito
9. i uvek sam kada u svemu različito od sebe je
10. i uvek
11. sebe je
12. da li je tamo
13. to je to
14. ovo nije ovo
15. ovo je ono.
16. ovo nije ovo, ali je tamo
17. ali je dugo od tada
18. davno tako
19. to je to, ako nije tu
20. ja nisam ja
21. ja je ja
22. ko sam ja
23. šta nije ja
24. ko nisam ja
25. ko nije ja
26. ko je ja
27. ni sa čim nije tako sad
28. kao da pre
29. ni sa kim nije tako u svemu
30. kao nekad
32. ali i posle, ili samo posle
33. a to
34. da se iz tih nekad
35. tako je to
37. i ne kao nekad
38. kao sad nikako
39. jednom i to već
40. sa kim je tada iza onih istih
41. sa svim tim više od nekad
42. nikad pre
43. nekad pre tih
44. nekad veoma blizu
45. nekad opet
46. i tako
47. uvek iako opet
49. gde je to sve ili kada
51. i šta sada
53. ništa nije suviše
54. ili za sad
55.za sad tako
56. ništa nije suvuše tamo
57. sa tim
58. kao i uvek
59. uvek pre nekad
60. sako sâm suviše u tome
61. bez kakvih ili bar uopšte
62. u opštem
63. mnogo takvih
64. zar više ne
65. da li (si) već tako odavde
67. jedno bez drugih
68. ni za kog
69. odavde dovde
70. zar ne
74. od kada niko ni sa kim nije
76. jednom u jedno
77. jedno u drugom
78. bez svega toga
79. skoro dosta
80. i kao to
81. skoro sasvim
82. skoro uvek ne
83. skoro uvek tu pod istim
84. zašto da ne
85. tako to
86. iznad svega
Notes for LIKE SOMEONE
Everything in a statement that may be subject, object, predicate is not a word.
Nouns are not words.
House, for instance, is not a word, or is less so than others.
Also*, verbs may not be words.
Real words are, for instance, LIKE, WHERE, OR, ALWAYS, WITH.
I always say: seen from the outside.
What does that mean?
This is imagined from outside or inside . . . But not to the statement.
Outsideness is aimless and insignificant.
That would be expressed.
Language is not EVERYTHING.
For this note I cannot take responsibility.
Everything that is in it is probably wrong and senseless and worse than that: arbitrary.
Humiliated long ago, LIKE is one word very mistreated and wrongly used all the way till today.
*In the original Tišma wrote TaKôDje whish means also, but the word usually is written takođe, with the letter đ using some older transcriptions. This spelling is a reference to the conceptual group KôD, which means code, of which he was a member from 1970 to 1971.
Beleška uz KAO NEKO
Sve što u jednom iskazu može biti subjekt, objekt, predikat nije reč.
Imenice nisu reči.
Kuća, na primer, nije reč ili je to manje od drugih.
TaKôDje, glagoli, možda nisu reči.
Prave reči su na primer KAO, GDE, ILI, UVEK, SA.
Ja uvek kažem: spolja gledano.
Šta to znači?
Ovo je zamišljeno spolja ili iznutra... Ali ne do iskaza.
Spoljašnjost je neusmerena i nevažna.
To bi bilo ispoljavanje.
Jezik nije SVE.
Za ovu belešku ne mogu preuzeti odgovornost.
Sve što je u njoj, verovatno je pogrešno i besmisleno i još gore od toga: proizvoljno.
Ponižena još davno, KAO je jedna reč mnogo zlostavljana i pogrešno korišćena sve do dana današnjeg.
Slobodan Tišma, was born in 1946 in Stara Pazova and lives in Novi Sad (Serbia). He studied literature in Novi Sad and Belgrade. Tišma was active as conceptual artist and rock musician. He was on the editorial boards of the magazines Index and Polja, magazines which presented for the first time in a socialist country translations literary theory and essays on new art (for example one issue around 1970 focussed on conceptual art). He was also involved with New Tendencies in Literature, Philosophy, Art, and Tribina mladih (Tribune of Youth), one of the important cultural centers of socialist Yugoslavia, where new artistic practices were introduced. For several years, he worked on TV Novi Sad for the cultural TV programs “Kulturni magazin,” “Videopis,” and “Sazvežđe knjiga.” Tišma has published six books of poetry books: “Marinizmi” (1995), “Vrt kao to” (1997), “Blues diary” (2001), “Pjesme” (2005) and a work of prose, “Urvidek” (2005), which received the “Stevan Sremac” award, as well as a novel, “Quattro stagioni” (2009) which received the “Biljana Jovanović” award. There were sections in his work in Gradina in 2007 Polja in 2010. He is a member of Serbian PEN and the newly established (post-Milošović) Serbian Literary Society.
Dubravka Djurić sent me rough translations of these three poems and asked if I might help making a final version. Vanda Perovićworked with her on making the intitial versions. Katie Fowly and Filip Marinovich agreed to help, even though Katie and I knew no Serbian. We had a lengthy, lively email exchange, though it would have been better if we could have met in person, which was not possible. One issue that arose was whether to give the gender to such nouns as “book” in the first poem (Filip suggested the pronoun should be “she” in the first poem, Dubravka demurred). In the end issues of social framing came to the fore, with Filip and Dubravka reading the poems differently, partly reflecting their different perspective in life, Dubravka from Belgrade, and in touch with Tišma and Filip in New York. –Ch. B.
NOTES ON TIŠMA'S TONE
The tone as I see it is a salty parody of Tito Communist regime grammarschool teacher police state arrogance and condescension.
Like a middleaged ruffled professor, a little drunk on loza at the Plato Cafe, jawing at disciples.
There is contempt for authority in this feigned stupidity.
But also, a certain empathy for the trapped buerocrat.
The tone is very similar in fact to Dostoyevsky's THE DOUBLE.
Hallucinatory HYSTERIA moving in and out of the hero's control.
It needs to sound like one middle finger clapping.
These poems are an act of alchemy upon the buerocratized party-speak of Tito era Yugoslavia.
They are engaged in re-eroticizing a sterilized tongue.
Therefore, GENDER is crucial.
These poems are also LOVE POEMS, strangely enough.
So when the gender turns to femenine, this move MUST be preserved if at all possible, even if it sounds sexist, because, well, it IS a little sexist, but it is also terribly bluesy and part of what the poet is saying.
He's turning language into a lady to win her back.
AND also criticizing that act at the same time, or offering it up for critique, debate, laughter.
Also there is a kind of word-echo-chamber effect in here that wonderfully captures something of the cavelike social claustophobia of those times (of these times too!) So I've tried to allow the words to echo as much as possible.
So I've done all I can to bring it closer to the original Balkan blues.
Tišma's work, like Vladimir Kopicl, is part of Vojvodina's experimental artistic and poetry scene, which was severely marginalized within the canon of Serbian poetry. During Tito's rule, Vojvidina was an autnomous province, like Kosovo and a part of Yugoslav Socialist Republic of Serbia . It was populated by, and is still populated by, different ethnic groups: Serbians, Hungarians, Romanians, Croatians, etc. This multilingual environment fostered an experimental poetic practice. Tišma was a important member of Novi Sad's conceptual art group KOD (CODE), which did land art, organized happenings, as well as creating a range of art objects. His poetry might well be read in the context of conceptual art. Joseph Kosuth, Art & Language, Ian Wilson, and others were translated, and also exhibited in the Yugoslavian Student Cultural Centers in Belgrade, Ljubljana and Zagreb. Tišma points to the influence of high modernism and avant-garde poetry as it is articulated in Italy and elsewhere in the West. It is a mistake to read his work primarily in Cold War terms, with Tišma playing the part of a wily dissident. Tišma’s poetry is political in a subtle way – as a politics of poetry – which means that it doesn’t deal with political discourse at all. That makes it implicitly political, dealing with the “pure” artistic expression. His work is neither coding nor declaiming its political dissidence. Rather its poetic politics is expressed by its deep aversion of moderate socialist modernism, which prevailed in some parts of former Yugoslavia including Serbia, since late 1950s, with Vasko Popa as a typical example. [See Djurić’s discussion of Popa here.]
At the time when Tišma wrote “LIKE SOMEONE,” Yugoslavian poetry magazines were publishing translations from the important Italian anthology I Novissimi from 1961. Tišma points to the Edoardo Sanguineti, Elio Pagliarani, and Nanni Balestrini. Pagliarani's “La ragazza Carla” was considered to be new “Waste Land.” Balestrini's cut-up technique was significant. For Tišma, this was the peak of Italian and European modern poetry, high modern, experimental, avant-garde. In a recent conversation, Tišma said that “LIKE SOMEONE” stressed the reduction of language – a sort of purification, stripping language of all tropes, of all the frills of poetic language, moving toward something like pure abstraction. But something unexpected happened in the poem. Instead of stripping away emotions and senses, amazingly, an unexpected pathos was revealed. About “ROOF,” Tišma said that he was dealing with objects. He pointed to the phenomenological approach in French poetry from Mallarmé to Ponge and to its concern for abstracted objects. Tišma saw this as hermetic: the object is derealized. Since every object has a history, a story, the intention was to detach the object from these contexts. The story may appear, but if it does, it appears as something detached. In the poem, Tišma tells the story of a candlestick, how it comes into the poet’s focus. The book is also treated as an abstract object. The book is imagined as having no figurative meaning. It is treated as a physical object in space and time, a square thing. Inside the book, there is a language which fills it, and which carries forms, and figures of life, but all of that is contrary to the book’s objectness. Finally, “ROOF” engages the relation of language and the body. The figurativeness of language suggests a changeable structure, while body is static and unchangeable. The poem takes on a process of derealization through the language. This is what Tišma told me: Language is not the tool of communication. When we speak, we don’t understand each other.
I use my own manic-expressive experiences in Yugoslavia/Serbia, and the experiences of my grandparents (who were spied on their whole adult lives,) and those of my parents, uncles, and aunts, who fled the Tito regime, as well as the many people whom I spoke to in Yugoslavia/Serbia over the years, to look at what Tisma's poetry is doing, his disclaimers notwithstanding. However, I admit I am Belgrade-centric, since that is where I spent most of my time on my visits to my family. Therefore, I am probably projecting a certain Belgrade/New York-esque narcissism onto the poems, and hearing things in them that are not there. But then again, how can they not be there, a poem exists between at least two people, and in that gap hermeneutical maneuvers can, even when "incorrect," be ways of finding a portal to the right-now-ness poetry can translate, or stab at, with all its tuning forks of Jetztzeit (Nowtime) lightning.
This move to gender-neutral, I can see how it's necessary for clarity, but there is unfortunately some sexual politics we are missing, perhaps they are untranslatable, for instance:
Knjiga se uprlja ali knjiga
Nije zgodan predmet. Ona je
Puna takvih reči, zapravo, stranice
Jer knjiga je prazna: zgodne
Su reči koje nešto znače (ako sam ne-
The book gets dirty but the book
Is no easy subject. She is
Full of those kinds of words, in fact, pages
Because the book is empty: easy
Are the words which mean something...
that's my translation, what I was getting at is that "Ona" means "She" and "Zgodan" and "zgodne" don't just mean "convenient" or "neat" but also "sexy" "easy" and "attractive". Maybe "sexy / are the words which mean something (if I am not-/in-the-mood)" would come close to the playfullness the poem suggests to me. "ne-ras-polozen" definitely sounds to me like he's playing with sexual politics, being "in the mood" or not. But this is perhaps untranslatable, like "TaKoDje."
I continue to object to the use of she for it in this case: because English doesn't give gender to nouns, it adds something misleading to the translation of this poem. But my view here is colored by current language politics in Serbia. Conservative and politically reactionary linguists, who try to adjudicate language standards. For the last almost 20 years they have attempted to stop a feminist move to coin more female forms based on the already existing female forms for doctor, teacher, or professor. We created female forms also for psychologist, sociologist, translators, and philosopher. Lately, some of these linguists say that of these new words are used in practice, that can be noted.
Dubravka Djurić wishes to thank Vanda Perović for help on translating both poems.
María Meléndez’s mestizo landscapes
Another borrowed book whose call I ignored for too long is María Meléndez’s How Long She’ll Last in This World (U of Arizona, 2006). And how helpless I became, in its pages. I cannot resist poetry that speaks to me of “the morning sparkle of cows’/ dewy slobber all over the pasture,” or of dropping “a Troxler down a vertically sunk/ PVC pipe, [measuring] soil moisture as shifts/ in the tool’s resonant frequency.” On one level, this is poetry for the pack, inspirational to field science, informative to poets. (Meléndez writes out of her work as a wildlife biology field assistant.) The phenomena referenced quicken to shared contact, to the cast of a certain landscape, a “co-pathy/ with this particular coastal prairie herd,/ because we’ve been under the same saffron spell/ of a hill of bush lupine in bloom.” Meléndez’s poetry speaks the “co-pathy” of landscapes west of the Divide, Carolinas too.
Yet so much more. The collection includes “Buckrail,” an elegy to Matthew Shepard that remembers the slaughter of 1100 Yellowstone bison, “as they plodded down a plowed road/ out of the park, noses tuned to the pitch/ of grass-scent further west.” (Such slaughter, i.e. “herd management”—230 killed in the past winter, 6,895 since 1985—is due to a fear of a disease that the Yellowstone bison herd may carry, brucellosis, a disease they may transfer to cattle herds—even though no actual transmission of brucellosis from a wild bison to cattle has ever been documented: Meléndez calls it “a rumor of contagious/ bison disease.”) Shepard’s spirit fuses with the bison’s, as the poet trades epiphanic balm for “drifting, chest-deep fear.” The book also is about the fears and joys of difference.
Backcountry, Emigrant Gap
I thought we fell asleep
austere and isolated—
two frogs calling across Rock Lake.
By morning, deer prints
in the black ground between our tents—
more lives move beside us
than we know
Here is a poem of superimpositions (a characteristic Meléndez move), Lorine Niedecker on Gary Snyder, human on nonhuman, perceived on unperceived, without conflation. Of migrations. I also love the poem titled “Collections of Nearly Unlovable Spaces.”
Wells, pipes, wires get “shrubbed up”—architect’s slang for hidden.
Codes for not resisting red penstemon blooms got shrubbed up in the hands of my son.
How Long She’ll Last in This World includes two of the best wolf poems I have ever read. “Remedio” offers
A remedy for when you’ve lost your sense
of Spirit in the world,
a simple spell for home lycanthropy:
Smell the new season,
acrid, tensed to grow
in budding wolf willow,
and feel the heat recede
from a moose’s corpse—then
recuerda esta loba.
“Aullido” pictures a wolf’s “spirit as sculptor/ of the moose, the cottonwoods,/ even the willows”—an entirely solid perception, from an ecological standpoint, given the big predators’ “keystone” role in the trophic cascades of these landscapes.
There is a grappling physicality to the work (including a very strong birth poem, in a strong middle section on motherhood), a no-nonsense attention to (wild)life, whose pauses recall for me the English of my native southwest.
This is the mestizo landscape of “Seven Gates to Aztlan (for Mixedbloods)”: “place of poets, crows, berries, and California grizzlies,” where, “Herons shock picky home-seekers by staying locked into their place,/ ’tlán being ‘place of’ and ‘tooth,’ as in ‘rooted.’ ” (The poet’s seen “Great Blues/ raise twenty broods in a cottonwood next to a railroad.”) Here eco poetics stakes an almost nomadic claim, rooting words across languages, “in poetatlán, cuervotlán, fresatlán, osotlán.” Locking into (one’s) changing place:
“This is a long flower war, and the theater/ between valley oaks is budding with goatgrass and star thistle, what’s next?”
The central poem of the book, “Controlled Burn,” challenges even as its narrator participates in landscape management, “Cleansing the prairie of invasive exotics, plants that don’t belong. Insects around here need native flowers . . .” Disagreeing with the Reserve Manager, she asks, “How can I say what is this place and what isn’t? Maybe the mountains are a temporary spasm of the prairie and what’s beyond them is also the prairie.”
“Controlled Burn” is also a poem about the bombing of Kosovo, and prairie shrimp, surviving in dried lake beds. And it is a gentle riposte to Snyder’s nostalgia, in his classic poem “Control Burn” (Turtle Island), for land “when it belonged to the Indians,” to the hygienic longing for “a burn, a hot clean/ burn.”
Meléndez clearly is a close reader of Snyder, as well as of landscape. She carries forward the interdependence of manzanita and fire (that Snyder acknowledges in “Control Burn”), in the last, extremely powerful poem of the book, “Has it been whispered all along?” an elegy for a husband drowned in the Poudre River. (Eerily, I was looking at the falls where this accident is said to have occurred only last month, picnicking with a friend, and marveling at the very dangerous looking strength of the river, channeling the runoff of record-breaking snowfall.) We too are ephemeral, in this “long flower war,” where we stake our ground, here then gone, in the between spaces.
A tree knows the whole story—
manzanita, red and gray wood
intertwined, alive and dead
. . .
Maybe death is the wildest movement of all
and in this arid range we inhabit
there is moisture to be found at the boundary
between the two woods.
Maybe you can follow the orange-waisted ants
into the tiny space left
between living and dead;
maybe what looks like a line of demarcation
is actually an alcove,
a feast of hidden droplets—
Milan Djordjević and Dubravka Djurić
This is the first of a two-part feature on postwar Serbian poetry. Second part: two poems by Slobodan Tišma.
[Djordjević is a Serbian poet, prose writer, editor and translator of American and Slovenian poetry, born in 1954. His Oranges and Snow: Selected Poems has been translated by Charles Simic (Princeton University Press, 2010).Excerpted from "Notes on Vasko Popa's Poetry,"Poezija 5-26 (2004). Published here with permission of the author. Translated, with commentary, by Dubravka Djurić.]
In the second part of the 20th century Vasko Popa, along with Ivo Andrić and Danilo Kiš, was, in the international arena, accepted as great writer whose work overcomes the limitations of national culture. His poetry, which rose to the top of Serbian poetry of second part of 20th century, was framed in international literary circles as universal and original: an original and harmonious synthesis of several poetic elements, topics, motives, and devices. It should not be forgotten that Popa was not a modernist eclectic who created his work by artificial conjoining of different and heterogeneous elements, of even opposing traditions; neither was he content with the ludic arbitrariness of some modernist poetic devices. . . . When we speak on Popa's poetry, we have to keep in mind European and world context in which it is created.
The poems from Kora (Bark, 1953) were written during the Second World War and the Cold War period, but I don't experience them as poems that are dealing with the immediate existential crisis, about border conflicts during the war, the Holocaust, or the of nuclear war. They express deep, cosmic foreboding and jeopardy. By transformation, the poet rejects a historical frame so that he can speak with a language of ancient human fears and menace.
[Djordjević goes on to write about Nepočin- polje (No-rest Field, 1965) and Sporedno nebo (Secondary Heaven, 1968) as Popa’s most important works. He notes that the titles suggest the coinages of Serbian Romantic poets. He mentioned that in Nepočin-polje (No-rest Field,) some poems resembles to the Belgrade surrealist poet Aleksandar Vučo's poem Humor zaspalo. Also he observes that a recurring word in Popa' – belutak – (an archaic word for small stone) has a meaning in Jung of an image of the self. Djordjević says, "Stone is the symbol of the self because it is completed, unchangeable and eternal."
Writing of Sporedno nebo (Secondary Heaven), Djordjević connects it with Romanicism:]
In this book Popa also use mythological figures and poetic images derived from folklore, fairy tales, and other creations, or at least it seems as if they are taken from such sources. Of course, all this doesn't make Popa a folk poet, but at best way shows how a modern poet can have a creative relationship with tradition, and specially folk tradition, which urbanized culture are already forgetting.
Miodrag Pavlović, in the introduction of an anthology of patriotic poetry, gave a simple, somewhat traditional definition: "This poetry expresses loyalty to the motherland." . . . It is usually that patriotic poetry is considered as a variant of utilitarian, i.e., applied poetry. And utility is foreign to that which we called modern poetry.
[Djordjević then compare the patriotic poetry of 90s, and contrasts it to Popa's:)
In Uspravana zemlja (Earth Erect, 1972), Popa writes poems which, in some way, could be called patriotic, but these poems are far from having utility and are even further from the ideology of fighting for Kosovo in its most vulgar variant. So, his poems are not just expressions of "love towards the one's nation," but are first of all lessons in the way how national mythology could be built upon, lessons on how so-called patriotic poetry could be written, and at the same time stay faithful to one’s own aesthetic, in the manner of modern poetry. . . .
Popa was not preacher nor a poet in the service of specific ideas of religion or nation, but a creator who took his inspiration from different sources (mythologies, folklore, family legends, contemporary life) in order to bring to perfection his poetic world and poetic expression.
[Djordjević gives a source for Popa’s spiritual views to Saint Sava, which, if looked at from the perspective of Serbian Orthodox church dogma, could be seen as heretical, but also as plebian and poetic. For Djordjević, the poet should be heretical and follow only his or her poetic vision, even if it is in confrontation with canonical opinions. Djordjević writes:]
It could happen that under the influence of today's historical circumstances, we could experience Popa's cycle of poems "Kosovo polje" ("Kosovo field") as something that does not belongs to poetry. [Kosovo polje is geographical and mythical term referring to the field in Kosovo where, during the Battle of Kosovo in 1389) Serbian feudal lords and the Turkish, Otoman army.] But we need to say, Popa incorporated the myth of Kosovo, which is politically so much misused, into his poetic world and he interpreted it in his own way. Some elements of this Kosovo myth, which is otherwise used by traditional poets as well as well as by poets with narrative ambitions, are aesthetically dead. In Popa's poems they become alive, but exclusively and only in the spirit of his poetry and his poetic stances. . . .
[Poems from Živo meso (Raw Meat, 1975) as well as later poems are presented by Djordjević as deeply human. Popa, for Djordjević, is a poet of humanistic vision and love for simple life facts, small things, and so-called ordinary people.]
In a well-known Penguin anthology published in 1960s, Alan Bold’s Book of Socialist Verse, Popa is represented by "Eyes of Sutjeska." Poems from this cycle are from his book Kuća nasred druma (Home in the Middle of the Road, 1975). I feel compelled to note that these poems are typical artistic creations made in the spirit of socialist aestheticism or modernism. . . . "Eyes of Sutjeska" ("The eyes of Sutjeska river") is written utilizing modernist poetic devices and topics is in the spirit of socialist aestheticism – modernist factura with socialist content. ... This cycle of poems focused on the Partisans [Socialist anti-Nazis] and their struggle in the Battle on Sutjeska (May-June 1943), which in socialist Yugoslavia took the shape of a new myth. Popa shapes this material with the abstract language of modernism, and thus reaches the universal message about destructive forces and fights against destruction and dehumanization.
[Dubravka Djurić is a poet and translator living in Belgrade. Her PennSound page, poems, and essays available at the Djurić PEPC library page. With Miško Šuvaković she is the author of Impossible histories: historical avant-gardes, neo-avant-gardes, and post-avant-gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918-1991 (M.I.T. Press, 2003). Excerpt from "Vasko Popa: Skech for Critical Reading," Poezija 25-26 (2004). Adapted and published here with permission of the author.]
The discourse on Serbian poetry after the Second World War is marked by an uncompromising anti-intellectualism. One of the best ways to understand this is through the work of Vasko Popa (1922-1991). I will cite some of his paradigmatic statements, which have defined discursive field of poetry and poetics in Serbia over that past fifty years. This is from "The secret of a poem" (1966):
They ask you what your poem means. Why don’t they ask the apple tree what its fruit means. If the tree could speak, it would, I suppose, reply, “Bite an apple and you will see what it means.” . . . Your poem’s meaning is a secret conceived inside you, where it matures; and when it matures, you pronounce it in accord with your language. If you knew what this secret meant, you would not need to make the effort for it be born under the sun, among the people and among the clouds. And it is up to others, and not up to you, to answer the question if this secret could be known or just experienced.
Popa thinks that poet is "helpless, stammering, mute"; but he was capable of saying this in an, at the core, modernist statement on the creation of the art as something that is a 'natural' process: the poet creates in the same way as nature. At the beginning of the sexist "Poet's Muteness" (1966) he writes:
They ask you, How do you create a poem? Why don’t they ask a rock how it makes small stones or a bird how it its babes come to be, or a woman how she has her child?
This ideological position connects to the literal muteness of poets in Serbian culture, to such a degree that the position of poet intellectual has almost disappeared.
For a long period of time I avoid Popa’s work. He belonged to the mainstream of Serbian poetry, and I am interesting in marginal figures, which are not of interest for mainstream poets and critics. When my colleague Dragi Bugarčić called me to give a talk on Popa's work, I accept this invitation as a challenge. In the end, Popa is unavoidable figure of historical importance, because, among other things, along with poet Miodrag Pavlović, he contributed to the reintroduction of modern poetry to Serbia, after the domination of socialist realism in the period after the Second World War.
Vasko Popa's work is fundamental to the constitution of the canon of Serbian poetry and is a sign for cultural identification. Popa's is positioned as the uncontested father figure. This fact necessitate that I reconsider very briefly the idea of canon. ...
Mainstream critics in a culture speak of poetry and poems as autochthonous. For these critics, poems reflect universal human values and transcend the social context in which they are written. The subject who is speaking in poetry, they believe, is positioned outside history, expressing universal human emotions. So these critics will talk about Popa's poetry as a sphere of freedom, about high artistic value which embodies universal human values. But this approach hides the fact that all forms of so-called high art, as well as of popular culture, are ideologically based, and cannot escape the involvement in social and political relations. I would like to point in this text to the relation of Popa's work to meta-narratives of the culture in which his work is created. By the meta-narrative of culture, I mean the stories that constitute a dominant identification-matrix of the given society. These discursive/performative constructs form the national cultural identity with which the individual is supposed to identify. Meta-narratives construct the generally accepted norms, values, believes, cultural symbols and practices of a society.
My thesis is that poetry of Vasko Popa inscribes itself in the construction of three meta-narratives of socialist society in the period from post-revolutionary Yugoslavia to late, relatively liberal socialism. The first meta-narrative is the one of post-revolutionary society which "looks after the achievements of revolution." The second meta-narrative celebrates symbols that are constitutive elements of religious and national identity. The third celebrates a Third World path, i.e., the Non-Aligned Movement in the Cold War world division [associated with Tito and Yugoslavia].
In poems dedicated to heroes of socialist revolution and workers, Vasko Popa inscribes himself into the meta-narrative that celebrates socialist revolutiona and the working class, which, according to this meta-narrative, creates "better world." In his book of poetry Živo meso (Raw Meat, 1975) we find the poem "Uninterupted class" ("Neprekinuta nastava") in which he celebrates Žarko Zrenjanin, the hero of the socialist revolution.
In Popa’s Kuća nasred druma (Home in the Middle of the Road, 1975) we find the cycle ,"The eyes of Sutjeska river," ("Oči Sutjeske") which deals with a key historical event for socialist society of Yugoslavia, the mythical Battle of the Sutjeska [the Partisans fighting the Nazis] during the Second World War.
In the cycle "Pilgrimages" (poems "Hilandar", "Kalenić", "Žiča", "Sopoćani", "Manasija", "Sentandreja") in Uspravana zemlja (Earth Erect, 1972), Popa inscibes himself in the second meta-narrative. The poems recreate a mythical spaces of a great past, represented by radiance of the Serbian Orthodox monasteries and churches, among other things. In this way, the poet participates in reconstruction of religious identity of a majority ethnic Serbian nation of Yugoslavia, in whose culture he inscribes himself as Romanian in origin.
In Yugoslavian socialist society, multiple and historically antagonistic national and religious identities were repressed by dominant meta-narrative of an overarching working class / people’s war. In socialist Yugoslavia, like in other socialist countries, a class-stratified society was said to be replaced by one class – the working class – where “the people” struggles for liberation against the Nazi occupation and later the bourgeoisie. After the immediate post-revolutionary period, characterized by socialist realism, when the state stabilized itself, different kinds of symbols for cultural identification were needed for the citizens of a socialist society: these were taken from religious and folklore, presented in the of manner of socialist modernism. This religious and folklore imagery was framed by the dominant socialist state ideology. Popa, along with other Yugoslavian artists and writers, used religious monuments and their own specific national origins in support of this overarching Yugoslavian socialist identity. In other words, Popa was able to refashion religious and cultural identity under the conditions imposed by the Yugoslavian multiethnic state. To do this he activatied two devices developed out of socialist aestheticism: intimism [personal, intimate space] and by ornamentation [decorativeness]. In Yugoslavian socialist culture, intimism and ornamentation function to neutralize the potentially polemical, problematical character of potentially “dangererous” poetic motives. Ornamentation in Popa's poetry is one aspect of socialist modernism, which obliged art to deal with its own language and form. The sphere of art in Yugoslavia in the years following the Second World War constituted itself as autonomous (separated from politics) and also away from utilitarian socialist aesthetics ie.., socialist realism. Intimism moves symbols of national, religious, revolutionary, class identity from public sphere and places it into the sphere of private life. In this way, the sphere of everyday life is imagned (i.e., constructed) as a politically neutral sphere of lyrical magic.
The third meta-narrative has to do with the positioning of Yugoslavis as a Non-Aligned country. This meta-narrative is inscribed in heroicizing of the third world during the Cold War and can be traced in the Rez (The Cut, 1981) and the poem "Čanak hranljivog snega" ("A dish of nurture snow").
Popa’s used folklore to impart a universalizing humanism. This was another device to inscribe his poetry into the dominant national Serbian culture. In the canon of Serbian poetry folkloric poetry is positioned as the beginning, as the mythical origin of genuine, national creation, out of which all national poetry is derived.
Dubravka Djurić wishes to thank Vanda Perović for help on translating both texts.
The Perfume Recordist scents herself into sounding and sounds herself in scenting.
The Perfume Recordist is an encounter between Lisa Robertson and Stacy Doris across countries (Canada, USA, France), across senses and perceptions, across technological devices, across kitchen tables.
The Perfume Recordist field records, manifests, performs.
The Perfume Recordist is not interested in the fallacies of origins and the intrinsic essence of things but in the layered odour of momentous existence, in the whiff of an ear, in the noisy bouquet of a city’s undergarments.
The Perfume Recordist collapses multiple and molecule, performs vibrationally, domestically, in a field of soundscents.
The Perfume Recordist is politically sensual and sensually political.
The Perfume Recordist is revolt and revulsion.
The Perfume Recordist presses 18th century fragrance into 21st century technology.
The Perfome Recordist begins with complexity and mixture and continues with complexity and mixture.
The Perfume Recordist listens.
The Perfume Recordist is created and composed in the folds of science and language, orality and sentience, and performed (perfumed) improvisationally, multiply, with interference and in a technological sound bath by Lisa Robertson and Stacy Doris. As performance, it is present and fleeting, and thus inaccessible here. The first two-hour enactment of the Perfume Recordist, which included spoken text, recorded sound and audio audience interference, was presented by Robertson and Doris at the Positions Colloquium in August 2008 (organized by the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver). Curious about the interplay of the wave patterns of sound and scent, The Perfume Recordist made ambient sound recordings of 18th century French perfumes in Oakland, San Francisco and Greece.
According to the Perfume Recordist, “the Perfume Recordist was born from the confused and wildly charged encounter of waves and molecules, a tardive yet opulent (voir peonylike or Venutian) offshoot of early twentieth century Quantum Physics, her roots winnowing back to the great Physic of Avicenna, foundational to Well Being as one would wish to know it, yet in coyest contradiction to the contradiction of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In other words, in a flagrant refutation of what’s commonly known as logic, the Perfume Recordist finds it her vocation to be beaten and burned until she demonstrates that to be beaten has indeed much in common with being burned, and to be burned has much in common with beating. These beatings and burnings join in layers of raptures, though the Recordist assiduously attempts to avoid both alchemy and redemption in her ecologies of (re)constitutions. The forging of senses entails forgeries? Ha !”
The Perfume Recordist attempts, above all, to make manifest the many sounds, scents and sensations that are both present and simultaneously absent in a particular locality. She works in the fold, folding the fold, collaborating in the folds of bodies, technologies and the risk of the unknown, infusing the moment with layered presence. To get a taste of her text, you can find yourself reading the Perfume Recordist’s feast. Or you can sniff out the varied and complex voices of Lisa Robertson and Stacy Doris.
Lisa Robertson is the author of many books, including R’s Boat (University of California Press, 2010), The Men (BookThug, 2006), Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (Coach House, 2011) and The Weather (New Star, 2001). In recent years she taught at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, she was the 2010 writer in residence at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and is currently living in France. The Canadian journal Open Letter dedicated their spring 2011 issue to her work.
American poet Stacy Doris’s books include Paramour (P.O.L., 2009), Knot (University of Georgia Press, 2006), Cheerleader's Guide to the World: Council Book (Roof Books, 2006) and Conference (Potes & Poets, 2001). She is also a translator from French and Spanish. Most recently she released The Cake Part, which is both a book-length poem of banned 18th century French pamphlets and a set of video adaptations.
April 6-7, 2012 at Penn
Twentieth-century poetry is often taught through the lens of poetry communities: Imagists, Black Mountain, Language Poetry, etc. These poetry communities, for better or worse, also shape how scholars think about and write about poets and poetry in their research. Some poets are studied mainly to demonstrate their membership in a school or movement; others are treated in isolation to exaggerate their influence. Recent attempts to bridge these divergent approaches include focuses on friendships, collaborations, careers, and reception. This conference seeks papers that think about poets and poetry in given communities. Possible topics include:
- how schools and movements are identified
- poetry friendships and collaborations
- how publishers, editors, scholars, and the public create poetry communities
- editing and the production/marketing of careers
- the role of reception in entrenching or altering reputations
- identity politics and claims to representation
- local, national, and transnational communities
- eccentrics, loners, and individualists
- manifestos and group identity
- the relationship between poems and statements of poetics
- communities of reception
- alternative communities
- validity (or not) of certain community designations or labels
Please submit an abstract of 250 words and a brief CV to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 15, 2011. Chosen speakers will be placed on panels and allotted 15-20 minutes to present their work. Selected papers will have the opportunity to be published in Jacket2. Please email Jonathan Fedors or Katie L. Price at the conference email if you have any questions or concerns.
Department of English, University of Pennsylvania