On 26 May, 1993, Algerian novelist and activist Tahar Djaout was shot in the head on his way to work in Algiers. He died in a coma a week later. One of his attackers, a member of the Armed Islamic Group, confessed that he was murdered because he “wielded a fearsome pen…”, a fact that highlights one of Djaout’s more famous quotes: “If you speak, you die, and if you remain silent, you die. So, speak and die.”
Djaout’s untimely death at the age of 39 robbed Algeria of one of its great 20th century voices, but not before he produced a corpus of lasting and important novels and books of poetry. We are excited to be releasing, this December, The Bone Seekers (Les chercheurs d’os) in a new translation by esteemed translator Marjolijn de Jager, whose credits include, among many others, Assia Djebar’s seminal Children of the New World.
The Bone Seekers is set in an Algeria ravaged by the war for independence, narrated by an adolescent boy who sets out, with his uncle and a donkey, from his primitive Kabylian village to find the bones of his brother who was killed in the war. The boy’s naive encounters with “the new world” of post-independence Algeria, along with his ruminations on his and his brother’s past, culminate in a homecoming that is a realization of the world to come.
We are also releasing—or rather re-releasing, since I published this book, formerly, at UNO Press—another North African title of great significance, Nabile Farès’ A Passenger from the West, translated by Peter Thompson. In 1970, Farès was asked to interview James Baldwin in Paris for Jeune Afrique magazine. What begins in this book as an interview with Baldwin confronting the history of Black America leads Farès into a journey through his own past and a broad consideration of the matter of identity in the postcolonial world. The original interview with Baldwin (the only extant English translation) is included.
These two volumes bear comparison at a number of levels. They are both “road novels” that hinge, in very different ways, on the revelations that travel can inspire. And both grapple with the problem of identity (and its now fundamental corollaries of language and nation) in a way that brings to light the real costs of empire building, from the American slave trade to the sacking of Algiers.
For this reason we would like to offer these two books in a special package deal: Order either one from our website in the month of August, and you will receive the other at no additional cost. Click here to order.
“In death, he is like an apparition. He shows up inconspicuously, tactfully, in a way he never did in life. No matter how deep you look into his past, you won’t find much because most of what he did was impromptu, without a script. He lived in the present, unencumbered, and he left behind a trail of anger and destruction.” (From: “Mario Santiago: Infrarrealist and Terrorist”, by Ilan Stavans)
Ilan Stavans, who wrote the introduction to Poetry Comes Out of my Mouth, has published an essay on Papasquiaro in Los Angeles Review of Books. Well worth reading. When you get to the end, use the fourth to the last word in the essay as a coupon code and receive 50% off the book price here, until the end of May.
Yesterday, April 10, 2018, Marthe Reed, beloved poet and friend to poets and lovers of poetry all over the world, especially to our community in New Orleans, died, suddenly and tragically, just before she was scheduled to attend the New Orleans Poetry Festival. The festival, this year, will be dedicated to her memory, and we are offering the two books we are so proud to have published, Tender Box: A Wunderkammer, and Nights Reading ::Burton’s Thousand and One::, at a special low price, in the hopes of sharing her love and her vision with a wider audience.
No one ever met Marthe and didn’t like her. She will be sorely missed.
The third iteration of the New Orleans Poetry Festival kicks off in less than two weeks, on Friday evening, April 20. It has been rewarding and heartening to organize this gathering, which threatens to host some 200 poets this year. More than 30 small presses and journals are represented in our book fair, and we’re excited to have poets from as far away as Hawaii and New Zealand joining us, once again. If you haven’t already, check out the lineup and schedule and do what you can to get here and add your own voice to the conversation, which will include more than 60 readings, panels and workshops, with concurrent events running all day Saturday and Sunday and features on Friday and Saturday nights.
Our goal with the fest, originated and organized by Lavender Ink/Diálogos and Trembling Pillow presses, has been to both celebrate and augment our local poetic community, bringing national and international poets and writers to New Orleans and vice versa. We have panels on topics ranging from Infrarealism to Visual Poetry to Collaborative Writing to Translation to Sex Magic to End Times, as well as a wide variety of readings, workshops and performances. More about these in the next newsletter.
To focus today on our features, the fest opens Friday evening with a reading by Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack Bedell, followed by a poetry slam featuring the award winning Baton Rouge Slam Team, followed by music from Kelcy Mae and Ever More Nest. Saturday night we’re happy to present Carolyn Hembree, Tonya M. Foster and performance poet Douglas Kearney, followed by our Poets with Bands show which threatens to reverbrate into the wee hours.
In one of his earliest publications Mohamed Loakira wrote: “The founding space of [my] predilection for writing was, without question, the Jamaa el Fna in Marrakech. This is where, as a child, I learned not to dissociate the voices, rhythms, colors, smells of country cuisine.” Those who have visited the Fna (main square) and souks of Marrakech can attest to the social intensity of the experience. The crush of food and textile vendors hawking their wares in Arabic, French and Spanish, snake charmers and tattoo artists (I was naive tourist enough to have a henna pattern applied to my bald head) is a feast of sensations, which might help to explain Loakira’s desire to “decompartmentalise modes of writing, seeking fusion, cohabitation and dialogue between the various forms of expression, including my poetry, Moroccan painting, music and the aesthetics of silence.” And one might add politics to these modes of writing, as Loakira has always been active in post-colonial politics in both Morocco and France.
Among Loakira’s numerous books of poetry and novels, Diálogos is proud to be the first to bring a complete volume of his poems into English with publication of Peter Thompson’s translation of …and the spring is veiled over (…et se voile le printemps). The Spring of the title is, at one level, the wave of demonstrations and revolts that swept North Africa and the Middle East in 2010 that came to be called Arab Spring, and the book is both a celebration of the revolutionary spirit and hope that swept the region for that brief moment and a lament for its ultimate failure.
Could this be dawn’s birth, a cloud-piercing,
tinted by flashes at the wide transoms.
A dream of what’s possible, so it seems, set free
and a route reshaped for sharing?
Might it be bitter miscarriage,
or simply more of current events? (25)
The book pivots on actual or implied or’s, as the alternative conjunction infects every poem like the turn of an English sonnet.
from …and the spring is veiled over (53)
Or am I forced to endow excess,
assassinate my hopes’ dream of rebirth,
strangling the future with both hands…
Or bend my back under the glosses of preachers
and other exegetes
mutter only in my own silence
while blood flows from the eyes of the partisan dreamer…
Or await in my retiring
the echo of the explosion
and powder the bloodletting with salt that has lost its savor.
There is only unlawful taking, flagellations, amputations,
devastation, blood and fire.
And may the litany of heresies drone on!
from …et se voile le printemps (52)
Ou serais-je contraint à fonder l’outrance,
assassiner le rêve de renaître de mes espérances,
étreignant le futur à mains jointes …
Ou arrondir le dos sous les gloses des prédicateurs
et autres exégètes
jusqu’à mâchonner le silence
alors que le sang coule des yeux du rêveur partageur …
Ou attendre dans ma retraite
l’écho de la déflagration
et saupoudrer les saignées de sel affadi.
Il n’est que dépossessions, flagellations, amputations,
que ravage, feu et sang.
Et que s’allonge la liste des hérésies!
Mario Santiago Papasquiaro (pen name of José Alfredo Zendejas Pineda, December 25, 1953 – 1998) was the co-founder, with Roberto Bolaño, of the Infrarrealist Movement and the basis for the character of Ulises Lima in Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives. Like Santiago, the Lima character is a wild adventurer and virulent opponent of the canonical Mexican tradition, symbolized especially by Octavio Paz. Santiago made enemies in the Mexican poetry community due to his vocal criticism of what he deemed inferior forms of poetry, the literary elite, and poets themselves. Gaining only slight recognition during his lifetime, he is recognized and lauded by the testimonies of his friends in the Infrarealist movement, especially Bolaño. Though always returning to Mexico City, Santiago traveled widely in Europe and the Americas as was once expelled from Austria. Years later Bolaño said of this incident:
[Santiago] could care less about Austria and Mexico and the United States and the happily defunct Soviet Union and Chile and China, among other reasons because he didn’t believe in countries and the only borders he respected were the borders of dreams, the misty borders of love and indifference, the borders of courage and fear, the golden borders of ethics.
Mario Santiago’s style is as indifferent to borders as was his life. The long free verse lines, reminiscent of the American Beats, are irreverent but also erudite, and his work is peppered with allusions and homages to Rimbaud, Artaud, Pound, Beckett, Bataille, Mallarmé, Burroughs, Brautigan, Shakespeare and others. He has not been widely translated, partially because he was inattentive to publication while he was alive, leaving behind only one complete collection but reams of poems on bar napkins and the backs of flyers. Diálogos is proud to bring out Poetry Comes out of My Mouth, the first major collection of his work to be released in English, illustrated by the paintings of Maceo Montoya and with a superb introduction by Ilan Stavans. You can preorder a copy, today only, for half price.
Here’s a poem from the collection, read in English and Spanish by translator Arturo Mantecón.
I shit on God
& on all of his dead
I shit on the communion host
& the virgin’s little cunt
I shit on the dead
of the God of God
on the master morality of Friedrich Nietzsche
on the trembling body on my soul
& on the exposed nettles of the atheist
on the premature death of the righteous
on the fleeting nature of coitus & its flash
On the animal verb
On rhizome-like imagination
On the texts of fully weaned wisdom
On the ass crack of the planets
Concentrating on the wildfire of my pores
on this alcohol undergrowth that thrashes me
on the infinite eye of my footprints
on the savage fury of shameful chaos
on impossible death & its offerings
On the mud of the asp that suns itself
on the rocks of the beloved
on the levitation of my skull & bones
on the lame heart of the unspeakable
On the aqueous aleph of my stigmata
on the vitreous rash of my assassin
on the hand of pleasure
on the drug wedged in his front teeth
On the philanthropic ogre & his wife
on the wretched grave of chance
on the germ of lyrical poetry / which is a turd
On the airborne horseshit
on the sleep sand in the eyes of moles
on the all-splendored cranium of Charleville
On the rats still fleeing from the Drunken Sea
on the soft
on the flabby
& on the defenseless
On the toads’ belch of ether
on boiling blood
on the shadows
on the pink phlegm of the daybreak
on the insensate glass I have chosen for a road
in the canyons of swollen Venus
On the banquet platter
in the little chamber pots of the ceasefire
on the rotten toadstool & its trident
On the genealogical tumor of the US Army
on the extensive lineage of shit
Abyss & resplendency / chance & wind
Open vein from coccyx to clavicle
Lateness of pregnancy
/ Flame of muffled harps
On groins without the armpits of God-inventorofthedead
on the suave & multiple murmur made by 2 teardrops
: on the sea : on its deserts :
& on myself
Me cago en Dios
& en todos sus muertos
Me cago en la hostia
& en el coñito de la virgen
Me cago en los muertos
del Dios de Dios
en la soberbia de Federico Nietzsche
en el cuerpo tembloroso de mi alma
& en las ortigas al aire del ateo
en la muerte prematura de los justos
en la fugacidad del coito & sus centellas
En el verbo animal
En la imaginación-rizoma
En los textos del saber tan destetado
En la raja de los mundos
Yo me cago
Concentrado en el incendio de mis poros
en este alcohol-maleza que me cimbra
en el ojo infinito de mis huellas
en el furor salvaje del desmadre
en la imposible muerte & sus ofrendas
En el barro del áspid que calienta
en las rocas de la amada
en la levitación de mi calaca
en el cojo corazón de lo innombrable
En el aleph acuoso de mis llagas
en la vítrea desazón de mi asesino
en la mano del placer
en la droga anidada en sus colmillos
En el ogro filantrópico & su esposa
en la tumba del azar tan manoseada
en el germen de la lírica / que es caca
En la boñiga aérea
en las lagañas topas
en el cráneo todo resplandor de Charleville
En las ratas que aún huyen del Mar Ebrio
en lo blando
en lo fofo
& en lo inerme
En el eructo del éter de los sapos
en las sangres hirvientes
en las sombras
en el rosa gargajo de las albas
en el vidrio insensato que he escogido como calle
en las barrancas de Venus tumefacta
En el platón del festín
en las bacinicas de la tregua
en el hongo podrido & su tridente
En el genealógico tumor de la US Army
en el extenso linaje de la mierda
Abismo & resplandor / azar & viento
Vena abierta de cocxis a clavícula
Regazo de embriaguez
/ Llama de arpas embozadas
En las ingles sin axilas de Dios-inventamuertos
en el suave & múltiple rumor que hacen 2 lágrimas
: en el mar : en sus desiertos :
& en mí mismo
Megan Burns has an uncanny ability to adapt language, concretely, into a correspondent of the broken world it attempts to traverse. In her writing grammar itself becomes the “objective correlative” Eliot imagined as an abstract image corresponding to an emotional state, each trace and fissure in the language mapping a lesion in the individual and social psyche. To “program” is to incant a set of instructions to an automaton, which is then left with no choice but to enact them, unless somewhere in the process something is broken, a gate left closed, or some tiny misprision in the now antique etymologies of Basic set it off on an errant path.
Megan is no stranger to Lavender Ink. This will be her fourth book so far, and she serves, as well, as our co-conspirator at the New Orleans Poetry Festival, where Basic Programming will release this April, with the launch party Thursday, April 20, at Dogfish. You can preorder your copy, today only, for half off even the low preorder price.
Today we are featuring one poem from the book, along with Megan’s reading of it.
what I do/ bemoan loss/ my betrayal/ what’s good/ never
traveled a land of dead to get me/ would you/ never waded my city
to pull photos from floodwater stained walls/ would you/ never tried
to pull my spine, notch vertebrae notch through back where I’m split/ spit on me/ would you/ never lowered yourself into mud spewing vomit, your lies that bile thick hanging from your chin/ or clawed your eyes out to not see pain you cause me/would you/ never put muzzle back of my head/ but you did/ never pulled trigger sending metal biting through wishes, dreams, nightmares / never put your mouth on mine & sucked out my breath or put it back in/wouldyou/wouldyou/wouldyou/ never swallowed fistfuls of pages I wrote all you choking down till your rib cage burst filled articles of contrition/ my fucking nouns/ my fucking verbs slurped/ boat me. lover, boat me shore to shore cement blocked/ love me way down to rocky flats of our muddy river where I swirl/ twirl sounds loud bubbling break surface/ my face eaten by shame/ some living/ would you/ never cut me to pieces spread far/ over bridge, down by rocks/ into basin/ interstated/ beach full of fingers & toes/ would you/ would you lick off my fingerprints/ would you/ would you lick off my fingerprints/ would you pull my tongue out to poke that wormy root/ feel it, tip of your tongue/ suckle my eyelids off/ put your fist inside/ me put both fists inside me/ applaud would you would you what’s good/ love me like you mean it/ don’t mean it & leave me here clothed/ meaning it/ leaving me able to walk away/ meaning it/ & I have my wits about me/ I’m still moving/ I’m still sounds & voice & terror/& you mean it/ I mean to be obliterated & you give me love/ love/ what’s good?
Those of you who have read the novel Adios, Cowboy by Olja Savičević, released in the US by McSweeney’s in 2016, will find our excitement over Mamasafari, releasing from Diálogos in September, understandable. When Cowboy released in the UK in 2015, The Guardian and The Irish Times hailed the author as an important new European voice. And even the American reviews have praised with the usual plot summaries, ignoring Olja’s ear for dialogue and eye for image and sensory detail, qualities which are brought to the fore in Mamasafari.
Today we are featuring the title poem from this book, read by translator Andrea Jurjević, and we are featuring the book on the website, with a one-day half-price deal, half off even the low pre-order price. Mamasafari will officially release in September, but pre-orders will likely ship this summer.
In the meantime, we also encourage you to check out Adios, Cowboy at McSweeney’s.
translated and read by Andrea Jurjević
(original Croatian follows the English reading)
Some people live and die worse than their cows.
When the people were taken away, cows lowed in the fields until they died.
When I talk about this to colleagues, they turn to one another, as if I’m crazy.
How do you talk about that at conferences? That’s much too practical for conferences.
That’s too practical even for poetry.
I remember the meadow where I cry because I’m scared of a little dog, of the woods in which I get lost, and the dog finds me.
In the photographs they used to bring to us, shaggy new grass and wild onions had grown from the ashes.
Mom’s a stranger today, and she’s going on a fieldtrip, on a safari to her own country.
Are there flowers, where the two of us are going with a Gianni rental, growing from the uncle’s green vertebra. Or does someone’s tomato stake jut from Grandma’s toothless mouth.
We’ll get a rental in a nearby town.
When finally we go to our mountain.
We’ve been planning this safari for twenty years, every spring.
Hank Lazer’s Thinking in Jewish (N20) is the twentieth notebook in his shape-writing series, drawing on Jewish traditions of text-and-commentary in conversation on the same page, this one in dialogue with the writings of Emmanuel Levinas. These handwritten poems rather problematize the notion of “line” and are visually as well as audibly and conceptually striking, as you can see from these thumbnails of pages 11, 12 and 13:
Click on any of these to load a high resolution version. I like to load them on my phone, lock the screen, then zoom in and rotate the phone as the poems shift direction.
We are launching Thinking in Jewish this Wednesday in New Orleans with a special event at the Bloodjet Poetry Series, hosted by Trembling Pillow Press director Megan Burns. If you’re in town, please stop by and enjoy. If you’re not in town and want to come, let us know and we’ll skype you in, or something… And if you just want to get a copy of the book, you can pick one up from the website for half price, today only.
Reading with Hank will be a “local poet” named Lavender. He has a bad foot (I mean the physical kind) and doesn’t get out much, preferring to sit at his computer and write things like this. So come see this rare in-the-flesh appearance. He’ll be reading some from Surrealism, his book on our site, including a few in Spanish, translated by Argentine poet Enrique Solinas, and also from one of his (many) grossly underappreciated volumes from Trembling Pillow, Transfixion. Here’s one from that book:
come taste this
fruit little gunner
a blind fool
his fake neutral air
drowned in a book
a crook in town
to repent but
it was too late
in the cold living room
to take off
the strange lumps
beneath the pine
the emperor’s drunken
seen over &
over same old
sea same old
shrill & summery
that even in
his cheek to
glow every man every
surly & interested like
the coming on of rain
I infect with
meaning something exact
as reality’s dark
dream when the
lanterns go out
the matching skullcap
& map of brain
his peatbrown head
music from a far off room
mingling with all
thought the dull
that moans the
image of your public self
anticipating a message
to the armies of
in black water
why does his mind
envy reed & hawthorne
is it to have
a point again
arranging & changing
& placing the eye
he has a dozen hands
& pollackesque friends
to make germinate
a choir of worms
like money spent
whose silver cargo
when they pulled me
from the sack
I reeked of you
I defiled you
the ways you live
your secrets of life
joined in spite
in the attics of
proud full of verse
what little town
by river or sea
gates the flaming
word that is yourself
what pursuit what
struggle to escape
cuffed & clawed
but not crying
what wilderness future
light of our knowledge
yields this penelope
who would reduce
our banter to
rules of probability
planted on a starlit
the tap that
but self remembering
self its former height
its discordant strains
its brain that ink
may mark with vineboughs
back eyes closed
the eyes of
youth to roll
it is a journey he said
of the curious
not to be wed forever
but like one who watches
down the row of
statues to see
the divine nimbus
a rose colored
we took our seats
& ghosts & armies
from the age of love
the sea of air
agony of a trance
you who gave me
my first you
you where I
is a roomful of clothes
flame that no
fuel feeds nor
steel has lit
before the surprise
before affection &
Next Thursday, February 22, the eve of the anniversary of the death of John Keats, will mark the launch of Keats Is Not the Problem, a collaborative poem by Chris Shipman and Brett Evans, at the famous Dogfish Reading Series. Even if you have to fly in from New York or California or Uruguay, you should plan on attending this event, which promises to be as much a party as a reading, with refreshments to make “The Eve of St. Agnes” seem Wordsworthian by comparison. Rodger Kamenetz says of this book: “EvansShipman have merged to form a durable romantic monster with one big clear voice, scarifying at times as poetic monsters should be, but also amiable amidst the ruins of New Orleans.” Come merge with the monster and celebrate with us.
In honor of this auspicious event, we offer a little taste of the book below. You can also listen to EvansShipman reading from the book and talking to yours truly about it on The Writer’s Retreat at WRBH.
If you can’t make it to the launch, pick up a copy of the book from our website for half price, today only.
It’s weird to think
some people got
old and died
before the apocalypse hit
Who Killed the World?
on the celestial seasonings
tea flap, beer bib
and what about geriatric
roaches who just age out
of scurrying living
and flaming hot Funyons
besting nuclear winters
hearts on the fire
like terminal marshmallows.
psst— Spring is about youthiness
and bed springs
but once I read with the poet
at the 13 Bar in New York,
he among younger poets
reading about sorrows of the flesh
even though we poets are supposed
to be like opera singers time-
wise, relative to peak.
Aging in America is one thing
Dying in Paris is another
so Andy, yeah—
shucked smushed upright
in a Pittsburgh flat just might
be roundly where it’s at
or just flying a kite on a field
before they invented
all this shit that killed us
outside the movies
looney tunes glue
there are no pacifiers
atoms for peace
who made this place
wipe the glue crust
from corner mouth
start all over again
make the sale
be your own
Over the past few months we have been negotiating with the Serbian Ministry of Culture, the Crnjanski Foundation, and translator Will Firth for the rights to publish the first English translation of Miloš Crnjanski’s Roman O Londonu (A Novel of London), considered by many to be the greatest work of Serbian literature of the twentieth century, and one of the classic works on what it means to live in exile. The translation of this 800+ page epic, which will be done by master translator Will Firth, will take almost two years, so we are planning to release sometime in 2020.
The novel, which concerns a Russian emigré to London, is based on Crnjanski’s own experiences there in virtual exile in the 1940s. It paints a rather horrific view of London from the eyes from someone who lives in a constant state of rejection and alienation, beset by memories of home with no opportunity to make a home of where he is. Published in Belgrade in 1971, Roman o Londonu won Crnjanski, who died in 1977, Serbia’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Union of Serbian Writers award for LIfelong Contribution to Serbian Literature.
What we are presenting below is an essay by Will Firth which gives a brief background on the recent history, linguistic and political, of the Balkan region, and serves as a worthy prequel to the novel.
Although we only have one other Serbian work in print, it is a grand one, Cat Painters: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry, edited by Biljana D. Obradović and Dubravka Djurić, and we are putting that on sale, today only, for half price.
And look for a surprise translation from the Serbo-Croat in the very near future…
(Appearing simultaneously in the bilingual Balkan anarchist magazine Antipolitika.)
For a newly formed state in a turbulent postwar situation, questions of language and linguistics are often less important than consolidating an army and administration, securing the borders, ensuring communications, producing essentials such as grain, coal, steel, electricity, and so on. This was the case when the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was formed in 1946. Parliamentary elections had been held in November 1945, at which the communist-led National Front secured all the seats, and a government of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was established in 1946. After reforms in 1953, Yugoslavia experimented with ideas of economic decentralization and self-management, where workers had input into the policies of their factories and shared a portion of any surplus revenue. The Party’s role in society shifted from holding a monopoly of power to being an ideological leader. As a result, the name of the Party was changed to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. In 1963, the country itself was renamed the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Language and power
These changes show that linguistic and semantic considerations were enmeshed with the political dynamics of wielding and maintaining power. The ideological language of the early Yugoslav period bore many of the traits of the discourses and diatribe in other state-socialist countries. Black-and-white, authoritarian terms such as “enemies of the people” were in common use in the immediate postwar years, when the country was ruled with the same Stalinist ruthlessness as other East Bloc states and the liquidation of real or imagined opponents was an almost daily occurrence. Following the Tito-Stalin Split of 1948 and Yugoslavia’s expulsion from the Communist Information Bureau, the country began to take an independent course in world politics, shunning the influence of both West and East. Estrangement from the Soviet Union was used to obtain US aid via the Marshall Plan, and Yugoslavia founded the Non-Aligned Movement and went on to play a leading role in it. The ideological language of the 1940s and 50s gradually began to mellow.
A noteworthy ploy in the early Yugoslav period was the codification of the Macedonian language, a long-term process that culminated in 1944 and was implemented in the years that followed. Ever since the collapse of Ottoman power in the Balkans, the historical region of Macedonia had been hotly contested territory, and its division between Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria resulted in the First Balkan War (1912-13) and Second Balkan War (1913). Bulgaria was a Nazi ally for most of the Second World War and occupied a large part of Macedonia. After the expulsion of Axis forces from the southern Balkans in 1944, the largely communist and pro-Yugoslav partisans were able to gain control. Instituting a nominally separate language in the new Socialist Republic of Macedonia, as part of Yugoslavia, was a way of cementing that power and countering Bulgarian influence. The Macedonian idiom was widely considered a Bulgarian dialect until 1944. The new Macedonian standard language for use in the media, administration, schools, etc., was based on the dialects around the cities of Prilep and Veles, some distance from the eastern part of the country whose dialects bear more resemblance to Bulgarian, and a version of the Cyrillic alphabet was adopting that is based strongly on Serbian rather than Bulgarian. The definition and drafting of a language can be seen as an important element of “nation-building” in the interests of those in power. Bulgarian and Macedonian are mutually intelligible to a high degree today, but the existence of a discrete and internationally recognized Macedonian language and nation is ultimately a product of the power dynamics of the 1940s.
Yugoslavia became increasingly integrated into the world economy, with large Western corporations producing in the country, raw materials being sold for the world market, large numbers of Yugoslav citizens working abroad (and often sending money back home), and international corporations marketing their goods in Yugoslavia—including “cultural” products such as popular music. These influences found their way into language to a greater extent than in more isolated state-socialist countries.
Many specialists consider Yugoslav policy toward minority languages to have been exemplary. Although three quarters of the population spoke Serbo-Croatian, no single language was official at the federal level. A range of community languages enjoyed official status in the constituent republics and provinces, e.g. Hungarian, Ruthenian, Slovak and Romanian in Vojvodina; Albanian, Turkish and Romany in Kosovo; Italian in Croatia, etc. A total of sixteen languages were used by newspapers, radio stations and television studios, fourteen were languages of tuition in schools, and nine at universities. As a state born out of the struggle of a multi-ethnic partisan movement, this was arguably a fair and progressive recognition of the country’s linguistic diversity. The Yugoslav People’s Army was the only institution of national significance that used Serbo-Croatian as the sole language of command.
However, this legal equality could not disguise the de facto dominance of Serbo-Croatian. As the language of almost 75% of the country’s 22 million inhabitants, and of the centre of power in Belgrade, it functioned as an unofficial lingua franca. It was a compulsory subject in all schools, whereas relatively significant smaller languages such as Slovenian, Macedonian and Albanian were not taught outside the respective region at all. Their status was correspondingly low.
On a personal note, I was stunned to see the absolute disinterest and unveiled loathing of young linguistics students at the University of Zagreb (Croatia) in 1988-89 when they were required to take a semester course in Macedonian. As if it was an imposition for them, cool cats from a northwestern metropolis, to have to learn the “primitive” idiom of some deep-south Balkan backwater.
The Serbian variant of Serbo-Croatian, with twice as many speakers as the Croatian variant, enjoyed the greatest prestige. The army used the Serbian form of the language in issuing commands.
Any look at language policy in Yugoslavia must deal predominantly with Serbo-Croatian. This South Slavic language was spoken as a native tongue by almost three quarters of the population—and as a second language by much of the rest.
A language with a gamut of different dialects and variants, Serbo-Croatian was effectively standardized by Croatian and Serbian writers and linguists in the mid-19th century in the Vienna Literary Agreement, which met with broad acceptance. There were slightly different Serbian and Croatian standards from the outset, although both were based on the same subdialect (Shtokavian). From 1918, Serbo-Croatian served as the official language of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The idea of linguistic standardization often stems from the striving to create a nation and is thus a firm component of many nationalisms. Every state aspires to intervene in language and transform linguistics from a descriptive discipline into a normative doctrine that would mould language rather than recording and studying it the way it is, free and ever mutable in everyday use.
Through the subsequent fifty years of socialist Yugoslavia, Serbo-Croatian language policy amounted to a balancing act, adjusting policy and key terminology in order to maintain an equilibrium. Allowing a degree of inner diversity while maintaining the stance that it was still a uniform language served the interest of the existing system.
In 1954, major writers, linguists and literary critics, backed by the major cultural institutions Matica srpska in Serbia and Matica hrvatska in Croatia, signed the Novi Sad Agreement. Its core tenet was that “Serbs, Croats and Montenegrins share a single language with two equal variants that have developed around Zagreb (western) and Belgrade (eastern).” The agreement insisted that the Latin and Cyrillic scripts have equal status, and also that the two main pronunciation models (Ekavian and Ijekavian) be on par. It stipulated that “Serbo-Croatian” should be the name of the language in official contexts, while the names “Serbian” and “Croatian” could be retained in vernacular use. Matica hrvatska and Matica srpska were to work together on a dictionary, and a mixed committee of linguists was tasked with preparing an orthography to codify spelling. During the 1960s, both books were published simultaneously in Ijekavian Latin in Zagreb and Ekavian Cyrillic in Novi Sad. A unitarian spirit prevailed—a polycentric model of linguistic unity.
Bosnia-Herzegovina was the most ethnically diverse region of Yugoslavia and people there needed a command of both scripts. One example of how this worked in practice was provided by the main Sarajevo daily newspaper Oslobođenje (Liberation), which was published in Latin one day and Cyrillic the next.
As early as the 1950s, the communist leader and later dissident Milovan Đilas advocated a shift away from central planning toward more economic autonomy. His arguments for greater democratic input into decision-making ultimately led him to criticize the one-party state itself and rigid party discipline; he suggested the retirement of state officials whom he saw as abusing their power and blocking the road to reform. Particularly in the northwest of the country, the 1960s were marked by a gradual emancipation from the Stalinist policies followed after World War II. Major reforms in the mid 1960s introduced elements of a market economy, and a phase of democratization in the League of Communists between 1966 and 1969 saw a bigger role given to its organizations in the individual republics and provinces.
Arguably as part of this general move toward greater regional autonomy—and also rooted in a long-standing awareness of Croatian particularities—Croatian intellectuals published a “Declaration on the Status and Name of the Croatian Literary Language” in 1967, which centrists in Belgrade perceived as a separatist affront. The Matica hrvatska challenged the Novi Sad Agreement and the common orthography and started work on its own, which was published in 1971 as the Croatian Orthography Handbook. The book was promptly banned as part of the clampdown on the “Croatian Spring” in 1971 but was published abroad in 1972.
The vying of different currents in the statist political mainstream found linguistic expression in various fields. In the 1980s, for example, there were increasing objections to the language being called Serbo-Croatian (or even Croato-Serbian), not least in Croatia. Awkward constructs emerged to take account of these sensibilities in the late Yugoslav period, e.g. dictionaries and reference works referring to “the Croatian or Serbian language” in their titles. What would a foreigner with no knowledge of the complex linguo-political situation think when a crucial definition contains the ambiguous word “or”?!
Since the end of the Cold War and the demise of Yugoslavia as a geopolitical buffer between East and West, the fragmentation of ex-Yugoslavia’s territory has been accompanied by a process of linguistic “Balkanization.” Thus the dominant discourse in Serbia and Croatia today is that they are two, albeit closely related languages. Bosnian has likewise been established as an official standard in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Montenegro a separate standard (including two new letters!) has been introduced and recognized by the International Organization for Standardization as a separate language. This move by the marginally dominant pro-Western camp in Montenegro is one of many tools in an ongoing geopolitical campaign to consolidate a separate Montenegrin identity and, ultimately, to check Serbian influence.
Not much has changed in a purely linguistic sense. Many of these alterations are declarative in nature, reflecting policy at a superstructural level. Despite the centripetal developments of the last two decades, the differences between the variants of Serbo-Croatian are still generally less than between the international variants of English, for instance.
To sum up with the words of the scholar Branko Franolić (1980): “Language policy in Yugoslavia consists of a series of alternations between centralist and pluralist tendencies. These tendencies are always present, only their relative emphases change. Language planning in Yugoslavia is an outgrowth from and instrument of political decision-making and overall social planning.”
It is easy to criticize these developments, particularly in retrospect, and considerably harder to sketch a positive vision of linguistic policy and practice in this part of the world. Respect for diversity should be a key concern, and language must no longer be used as a tool for nationalist or power-political manipulation.
An encouraging thrust in this direction is the “Declaration on the Common Language” presented in early 2017 after preparatory regional conferences held by open-minded authors and journalists in Podgorica (Montenegro), Split (Croatia) , Belgrade (Serbia) and Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina). Its anti-nationalist theses present a counterpoint to the post-Yugoslav mania of exclusionism and the “nationalism of small differences.”
Misogynist language is another ingrained problem in the Balkans (as in many other countries). Male violence, macho culture and the depreciation of unpaid domestic work are foundations of the authoritarian and patriarchal societies we live in—and correspondingly are reflected in language. But many individuals are challenging these structures on a daily basis and trying hard to avoid modes of communication that are sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc. This awareness and this struggle are good preconditions for whatever “macro-linguistic” solutions and definitions are adopted in future.
—Will Firth, firstname.lastname@example.org
Our comrades in the fight against literary banality, Spuyten Duyvil, have just put out Jill Darling’s (re)iterations(s). We published Jill’s a geography of syntax in 2016 and are happy to say Jill is going to be helping out with this magazine. A poem from a geography of syntax follows, and you can buy her book on the website, today only, for half price.
Besides poetry, Jill writes fiction and non, and a recent and fascinating essay on Wendy Walters’ Multiply/Divide and contemporary urban/corporate politics can be found at Entropy. You can hear her in conversation with T. Hetzel on Living Writers, and you can hear her read the poem, below.
from a geography of syntax
The clang of seasons
plays like distinct hues melted into liquid
while we gather the pieces
move ahead on the game board, or go to jail
claim property, sell out
I am trying to say that little is more than accumulation
sorting the details will only take us to September
You are what you earn
Correspondence hangs uneven like background music
there is a reason country songs are popular
on the jukebox
the easy metaphor
I doubt this press would exist– at least not in its current form– without the help and consultation of Peter Thompson, Professor of Romance Languages at Roger Williams University. It was out of conversations with Peter a decade or so ago that the Diálogos imprint was born, and he is my go-to, always, for advice on all matters concerning the art of translation and on what ought to be translated. So we’re happy to see him embarked on a new project and giving us an early preview.
What follows here is an excerpt from Peter’s in-progress annotated translation of The Olive Grove (Le Champ des oliviers)— the first novel in Nabile Farès’s trilogy La Découverte du nouveau monde. Farès (1940-2016) is Algerian-French (complete bio and other works here), and the experience of exile colors all his wildly various writings. He is poet and novelist and everything in between; his language can whirl in imagistic torrents, relax in lyrical simplicity, or engage philosophical discourse… sometimes all at once, as you will see below.
If you like what you see, you can pick up copies of two other Farès titles, the novel Exile and Helplessness and the more recent poetry, Exile: Women’s Turn, on our site, today only, for half price. Today only, also, pick up any of Peter’s other translations and/or his own books, also half price.
I. … 8:57 at night. February 8, 1971. Track 10. A train leaves Paris, headed for Barcelona. My garnet-colored suitcase (Brandy Fax speaking, also writing, reading, staring, living, weeping, longing, puking, also…) carries within it some red wool pants, a shirt, five pounds of oranges, a cartoon of cigarettes, briefs, a pair of shoes. A chunk of Paris, Three Books. One of these treats primitive societies. The suburban trains (Brandy Fax observing) (Brandy Fax is the name I’ve given myself in order to fully sketch out (me, a primitive from the Old World) the framed panorama of Westernness: that edge between two worlds) sport strange, glowing signals as, switching tracks, they branch off from the Main Lines and veer toward the tenements you see (Brandy Fax here) all lighted up like radios. His right hand (Brandy Fax is writing this) rests on the cover of a paperback. Entitled The Steppes. Followed by other accounts. He gazes through windows above the tracks (Brandy Fax doing the looking) and his image trembles, his forehead furrowed like autumn land waiting to be plowed. He’s not on the platform. But on the train, on a train that doubles his body with a rail reality, a real reality. He’s alone. The compartment is Deluxe Second Class. Where he can read or write under a white fluorescent light. The SNCF blankets are merely part of a universe run through with power lines that bring the night right up to you eye. The impossible winter nights are beginning their hellish rounds (Brandy Fax thinks about the two freezing months he’s just spent in Paris with the most astounding person it had ever been his fate to encounter) while the SNCF conductors fret over this passenger who fills a solitary compartment with pen, notebook, volume. “Yes.” “That will take you a while?” is asked. Who’s asking? Who asks? “A while of what?” One could say? A long time of what? Of launching words into the air? (Brandy Fax’s own culture is one of orality.) But he says. Brandy Fax. He says. To keep on being what in fact he is. He says. “No, I don’t have much more to do. An hour or two. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stay all night. My night.” “OK. OK. We’ll decide later. You have a berth?” “Yes. And more… my couchette is number 45.” The conductors leave. Night waxes around the train while the billboards retreat from the tracks, toward the roads, lobbing flashes (sharp) of white light across my eyes. This is his third trip to Barcelona and he, Brandy Fax the Fifth ( ) ( ) has put aside what he wanted to write about one of the most central figures North Africa had ever known. The O… A doubt persists. This dissertation on the meaning of a rare Ogress, little known in Europe, will never get anywhere (where) (see the light of day) (night) (perhaps not) (?) (Who knows?) Obsession? The slow task of remorse, as the poet said (You’ll devote the bulk of your time to obsession) Obsession! The quality of the works that arise from it. May obsession go fuck itself along with all its creations. “That’ll take you a while?” I’ve seen it all. An hour or two. I’ve seen it all. And I’m leaving. Me. Brandy Fax ( ) ( ) For Barcelona. As I’m leaving I think “I must have been a victim (I am a victim) of a global thought. Not mine. But one belonging to everyone else. Everyone who wanted to keep me under the ground. Down in the barely-reachable loci of mystery. (rarely visited). (of mystery) The mystery of my eloquence. This eloquence that has (already) run me through a good many wars.” Yes. Who can speak about an Ogress without having one. On top of the ability (that faculty!) to avoid the all-consuming work on the Ogress. Certain artistic gifts. Utterly artistic. Scientific, even. Because I’m a scientist. Me. Brandy Fax ( ) ( ). I’m sewn together from all the cloaks of science, scientificness. And the audience was huge. Hardly smaller than a movie’s. They wanted the movie version. Probably. Thought they were going to see a movie. I stepped forth. But not at all as they had wished. And such is, was, the Truth the Irony of this question “What do I signify? Me? The Ogress of Obscure Name…” since I’ve spoken of a being whose reality everyone knows or suspects and yet who doesn’t exist. Enigma! Yes. Enigma. The Ogress doesn’t exist. She doesn’t exist. “Like a railroad A house A tree Power lines A traveler A fluorescent light A tangerine A cigarette A cigarette butt A glance A star A thought A book A conductor An Austerlitz Station A month A day A February An omelet A winter Paris A nice hot shower Peanuts A typewriter A night of love A doctorate A backyard A Monsieur-le-Prince Street A Metro ticket A bus An espresso A few bad days A meal at Claude’s A brawl Private lessons An OK Bar A pimp’s life Pastis drinks Pastis drinks triple strength Brown hands Potatoes Ragouts Potato ragouts A manuscript A railroad crossing” Yes. The Ogress exists.
The current Kenyon Review (JAN/FEB 2018, Volume XL Number 1) features a special section, Generation Zero: New Cuban Poetry, edited by Katherine M. Hedeen and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, translator and author of With a Strange Scent of World, herein.
In the introduction (available online), they write:
It’s not a cliché by any means to declare that few times in its history has Cuban poetry been more varied, innovative, critical, and attractive than it is right now. And an undeniable part of it is the verse written by what has been called Generation Zero (Generación Cero), poets born after 1970 and who began publishing after 2000.
The work by these young poets reaffirms Cuba’s long, rich tradition of dialogic poetry, which finds its identity through the identification with the other, and is marked by tensions between commitment and autonomy, dialogue and creativity, continuity and rupture.
This introductory essay is a succinct analysis of the situation of contemporary Cuban poetry, and indeed poetry in the Spanish-speaking world in the present ideological environment. They note, for example, that not a single Cuban poet was included in the recently released anthology El canon abierto: Última poesía en español [The Open Canon: New Poetry in Spanish] published by Visor, the most respected poetry press in Spain, in 2015, and add:
Cuban poetry has had to confront, above all in the seventies, neo-Stalinist aesthetic standards, which demanded, among other things, “reaching the people,” being clear and direct. This is precisely one of the paradigms of the so-called “poetry of experience,” which prevails in Spain today, with offshoots in Latin America, especially among the contemporaries of Generation Zero, the self-designated “poets of uncertainty.” By contrast, the young poets selected are very well aware, from historical experience, of the danger of making aesthetic concessions in the name of coherence and transparency, and, as such, they defend poetry’s integrity.
Which makes us wonder if we in the English-speaking world, where “coherence and transparency” continue to be the ideological vogue, might have something to learn from this collection.
And here’s a poem to read and listen to from With a Strange Scent of World, by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez and translated by Katherine M. Hedeen, The sound files features Victor reading the poem in the original Spanish and Kate reading the translation.
Kate and Victor both teach at Kenyon, where Kate also serves as Translation Editor for Kenyon Review.
Pick up a copy of With a Strange Scent of World for half price, today only.
Praise for the Neutrino
For Jesús Selpúveda
I celebrate you
because no one in the world
you cross galaxies nebulas stars
Because even as light
much slower than light
or rest motionless
the theory of a warming universe
Because thanks to you
the past was only
reheated plasma and not ashes
Plasma’s density reached
billions of tons
by cubic centimeter
Because no one knew
you were ninety-seven percent
leaving only three to be divided up
among sons of bitches and the rest
Because thanks to you
no one’s far
from anyone now and everything tends to join
And it doesn’t matter if
in a solid flame
at a radiant point
I celebrate you
because you are
essence of spasm
matter of tenderness
or that tiny bit of nothing
my aunt uses to brown her custards
the world isn’t infinite
Like a verse
it’s made up of syllables
that can be counted
The world fits in an alexandrine
Elogio del neutrino
Para Jesús Sepúlveda
porque en el mundo nadie
es más pequeño que tú
y sin embargo
atraviesas galaxias nebulosas estrellas
sin reaccionar con nadie
Porque aún siendo luz
muchísimo más lento que la luz
o descansar inmóvil
la teoría de un universo caliente
Porque gracias a ti
el pasado fue solo
plasma recalentado y no cenizas
La densidad del plasma
era de billones de toneladas
por centímetro cúbico
Porque nadie sabía
que eras el noventisiete por ciento
quedando solo un tres a repartir
entre hijos de puta y demases
Porque gracias a ti
nadie se aleja
ya de nadie y todo tiende a unirse
Y no importa que sea
en una llama dura
en un punto radiante
la esencia del espasmo
materia de ternura
o ese poco de nada
con que mi tía dora sus natillas
Gracias a dios
no es infinito el mundo
Como el verso
está hecho de sílabas
que es posible contar
El mundo cabe en un alejandrino