Edited by Biljana D. Obradović and Dubravka Djurić
7″x10″, 450 pages: $29.95
Other Buying Options: Small Press Distribution
Cat Painters is the first comprehensive anthology of contemporary Serbian poetry to appear in English. Collecting the work of 71 Serbian poets born since 1940, this book includes Serbs living in Serbia; diasporic Serbs living in the US, France and Italy; Roma and Jewish Serbs; a Japanese who lives in Serbia; and LGBT writers. Half of those included are women.
The poetry varies from very traditional forms to experimental, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E inspired, writing. They speak of all things human: love, war, peace, struggle and loss. Many of the poets were inspired by Americans like T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Gwendolyn Brooks, past US Poet Laureate Charles Simic (who was born in Serbia and has edited an anthology of Serbian poetry in the US), and Charles Bernstein, who has written the Preface, among others.
Editors Biljana D. Obradović, who lives in New Orleans, and Dubravka Djurić, who lives in Belgrade, both poets and critics, have assembled a broad range of work translated by 31 distinguished translators from around the world, revealing a side of Serbia which people in the US and the West may not be familiar with–its deep traditions and its very modern engagement with literature, politics and aesthetics. This remarkable anthology sets a high standard for future collections of Serbian, European, or indeed any literatures.
Poets all, but also editors, teachers, translators, journalists, members of PEN and full participants in their national cultural networks—these Serbian writers from the past seventy years present a rich and nuanced range of poetic modes, with themes that range from exile, peace, war, strains in cities, to daily life, and love with its ironies, losses and challenges. Often well attuned to “day-to-day banality, absurdity” (Tadić), the work in this anthology offers a fine range of contemporary writing in Serbia with special attention to the intersection of individual personal life and political events on a large scale. There’s some frank notice paid to gender by some of the women poets (Djurić, Knežević, Ristović, Solar, Vojnović). The micro and macro often cross where these poets stand (“We built cities. Then we destroyed them,” S. Marković) and among the deep textures of loss and gain one finds a poem that concerns burning extra copies of one’s own book of poetry to stay warm (M. Djordević), but always, for these poets, “Sing, whispers the tiny angel” (B. Milanović). A useful, informative, and enriching book.
—Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Arriving through centuries of one of the richest and most complex histories in Europe, Contemporary Serbian Poetry continues to confront that history in amazing new ways as Radmila Lazić writes “Through a fiery hoop I’d jump / Into everyone’s throat or heart, So, I can be born again in labor pains.” Those labor pains create a stunning poetry that this incredibly full anthology brilliantly brings out not only through better known poets such as Ana Ristović, Novica Tadić and Ljiljana Djurdjić but a host of other names that, through this anthology, are sure to become well known. Add to that the host of international brilliant translators and you have not only the definitive Serbian anthology but a major anthology of poetry that sets a new standard for all future poetry anthologies. This is an essential book, dazzling in breadth and depth, a treasure to be thankful for.
What Dubravka Djurić & Biljana Obradović have done in Cat Painters is to produce an anthology-as-assemblage, a dynamic composition that offers in its own right a new poetry & poetics that can now enrich our own sense of what’s still possible poetry. The range of the poems presented here is remarkable, a true avant-garde moment as a reflection of the turbulent times from which it comes. Far from being a gathering of the already known it is, like the best & rarest of our anthologies, an opening to a treasury of language (word & image) that one could hardly have imagined before this. But the sighting, once it occurs, will not soon be forgotten.
Great poetry is always born out of struggle. The “cat-painter” poets in this exciting new anthology of contemporary Serbian poetry are a very diverse group of men and women, but they have in common their coming of age at a time of great turmoil and transition for their native Serbia. The changes witnessed in this, the heart of the former Yugoslavia, have been overwhelming: poetry has responded with passion, imagination, and verbal/rhythmic inventiveness, providing the Anglophone reader with a brave new world of poetic experimentation—an urban poetic landscape as distinctive as it is rich in history and tradition. The editors Biljana D. Obradović, writing from New Orleans, and Dubravka Djurić, writing from Belgrade make a perfect combination: together, they initiate us into a sophisticated poetry that will surely influence our own ways of writing.
Where will you find Serbia but in its poetry? The nation has been a crossroads, but it also has been the site of a diaspora, so that today less than half of all Serbs reside in Serbia proper, only two-thirds in the seven former nations that once made up Yugoslavia, more in the US than in Croatia. And Serbs have felt the full force of history. The poets here were born between the end of the Second World War and the death of Tito, and have lived through civil war, indiscriminate killing and the breakup. Yet for a community with roughly the population of Pennsylvania, this is an amazingly rich & diverse generation of poets. The book is both shockingly happy and shockingly sad, sometimes in the very same texts. It feels like the poetry of a nation as large as the globe. And as current as a painting by a cat.
This generous anthology will introduce dozens of contemporary Serbian poets to an American audience who will be astonished by its riches. The combination of historical truth-telling with whimsical charm is distinctive and unforgettable. I feel immensely grateful for the hard work of the editors and translators who have created an accessible, well-informed, and compelling volume. It offers a “Dictionary of Breathing,” a “Sonnet of Dead Owls,” and poems about “Mr. Accident” or “Absentminded Neighbor Hegel” — who can resist?