Slobodan Tišma: Two poems (with bio and commentaries)

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
Paint
    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
like bread
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
Slikam
    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
kao hleb
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
s kraja
    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
 
  
 
 
 
LIKE SOMEONE
(published 1970 in Novi Sad, student newspaper, Index)           
 
1. like when
2. or toward the same
3. how
4.
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
31. toward
32. but and after, or only after
33. and that
34. so that out of those once
35. that's how it is                       
36. well
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
48. never
49. where is all that or when
50. now
51. and what now
52. nothing
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
66. once
67. one without the others
68. not for anybody
69. from here to there
70. isn’t it
71. on
72. again
73. from there
74. from then when no one with no one is not
75. someone
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
 
 
KAO NEKO
 
1. kao kada
2. ili prema istom
3. kako
4.
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
31. prema
32. ali i posle, ili samo posle
33. a to
34. da se iz tih nekad
35. tako je to
36. pa
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
48. nikad
49. gde je to sve ili kada
50. sad
51. i šta sada
52. ništa
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
66. jednom
67. jedno bez drugih
68. ni za kog
69. odavde dovde
70. zar ne
71. o
72. ponovo
73. odande
74. od kada niko ni sa kim nije
75. neko
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.
Adjectives?
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.
Pridevi?
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.
 
 
 
COMMENATARIES
 
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.
 
Filip Marinovich
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.
 
 
 
Dubravka Djurić

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.
 
 
Filip Marinovich
 
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."
 
 
 
Dubravka Djurić
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.