Of the six
poets represented here (three women, three men) two graduated
in English, one of whom has held posts in Scotland and the USA, another
is a vice-president of PEN, another has a degree in World and Comparative
Literature and translates both ways to/from English, Elizabeta Bakovska has
translated her own, and I would guess that most if not all speak English.
The book has Macedonian (Cyrillic) and English on facing pages, English gets
into one of the original poems (by Lidija Dimkovska) in a brief dialogue of
religions as [Taoism] shit happens, / [Buddhism] it is only an illusion of shit happening, and so on, and, as a broad generalisation,
the book conveys a forthrightness, sometimes a brashness, streetwise, bold
Perhaps a defining aspect of this is the rare use of metaphor, with one
notable exception, the poems of Elizabeta Bakovska, of whose writing this
might be a fair example, the opening of 'The way you finally made me leave':
of this thick
pocket knife -
Compare this from Igor Isakovski's 'How to write a poem' (translated by the
author with E.B. above):
sad in the poem
likes sad images sad people
though this truth is
finds comfort in someone else's shit
and wants to
see how they win through
Is this international language now, or is it that we are in the process of
discovering each other's demotic?
The introduction by the editor emphasises the oral tradition still alive in
Macedonia, there is pride in 'the nation's collective spirit in regards to
oral poetry', representing 'cultural diversity and the social, religious and
ethnic mix of all the influences'.
The oldest poet here is Bogomil Gjuzel, born 1939, and he has ten
translators, including the Australian Tomas Shapcott. I say Australian, and
the biographical information tells only this, while his first name tells of a
prior heritage. He had a hand in only one of the poems into English,
'Prometheus's eagle', working with Ilija Casule [v accented on the C and s].
Here is the opening stanza:
is a cage for me too.
I'm not chained to that cliff
I have to
peck his liver all day long
so at night,
of course, I'm just buggered.
Another poem, 'An island on land', translated by Peter H.Liotta, has a
subscription, "...the Republic of Macedonia is a landlocked
Who says we
haven't got a sea?
We don't have
it now, it doesn't wash our borders
but once it
was in our backyard
then it dried
up, and what was left was confiscated
our homes, with us, refugees, left homeless.
I'm curious about what 'we haven't' translates from, as also the first line
of the next stanza, 'How can we make do without a sea?' Curious, too, about
'buggered' in the previous extract. There's such a distinctive mode here, I'd
like to know more about how the choices were made.
Kata Kulavkova has a very plain style. Her 'A Macedonian tale' opens,
translated by Zoran Ancevski [v on the c]:
was a tribe
And had many names
for it conquered
And many more
remained beyond reach -
only to find many
And it stirred
great envy -
amongst its own.
And forgot that
happen at home.
The dashes are at the beginnings of lines in the original and, differently
placed line by line, having in this section six lines, the translation eight.
I don't know at all whether we are 'hearing' in the book something essential
of the poets' 'voices'. They do seem to 'speak', a credit to the translators
as far as I can know, but who really has created these poems? What is it that
carries and what cannot?
Lidija Dimkovska writes longer lines and in one flow, no stanzas, all
translated by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid. Most of her poems start at a
run, setting off into a narration. One of these openings seems to me a
glaring mistake, 'I took my perspective of the future to a thrift store'.
It's a misuse of 'perspective' one hears commonly in Britain, to mean 'point
of view', but I hope no English-speaking poet would use it in a poem. And
'store' for shop or supermarket sounds to me American, not British English.
How it goes.
Other of her opening lines get nicely into the swing of their poem with
varying music: 'We spread a moisturizing mask for dry skin', 'How could the
lightening forever mist up the bathroom mirror', 'My memory is a soldier's
tin of bully beef'. (She was born in 1971).
Jovica Ivanovski is perhaps the most hard edged of these poets; born 1961.
Dry perhaps says it, I imagine him to be quietly solemn as a reader; some
openings (translated by Zoran Ancevski):
The chapel is
small and musty -
deceased has turned pale,
has sung for half an hour -
Last night a
million fire-crackers burst
a million balloons
not to step on them
they're condoms filled with explosives
['After New Year']
Such books - such poets - are I suppose a kind of immigration, welcomed by
Arc, voices on the page free to come amongst us. Welcome.
Davio Hart 2011