Larissa Shmailo

Bio: Larissa Shmailo is poetry editor of Madhat Annual  and editor-in-chief of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry (MadHat). Her translation of Victory over the Sun by A. Kruchenych is now available from Cervena Barva Press; her novel, Patient Women, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX  [books]. .
It was kind of you to ask for work, and thanks for the review as well!

DUSKA VRHOVAC (DUŠKA VRHOVAC)

- Duska Vrhovac

Feature Poet

Duska Vrhovac (Duška Vrhovac), poet, journalist and translator, was born in 1947 in Banja Luka, in the current Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She graduated comparative literature at Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, where she lives and works as a writer and freelance journalist. She has worked for many years at the Television Belgrade (Radio Television of Serbia) and she has worked with major newspapers.

With 20 published books of poetry, some of which have been translated, in part or in full, into 20 languages, she is among the most significant contemporary authors of Serbia and beyond. Present in newspapers, literary journals and anthologies of absolute value, she has participated in many meetings, festivals and literary events in Serbia and abroad.

Duska Vrhovac is a member, among others, of the Association of Writers of Serbia, Association of Literary Translators of Serbia, of the International Federation of Journalists and she is ambassador of the Movement Poets of the World in Serbia.

She has received important awards and recognition for poetry, including: Majska nagrada za poeziju -May prize for poetry- 1966, Yugoslavia; Pesničko uspenije -Ascension of Poetry- 2007, Serbia; Gensini Prize – Poetry Section 2011, Italy, and the golden badge assigned by the Institution for Culture and Education of the Republic of Serbia.

  1. If you had to define the word poetry what would you say?

This is one of the questions which will never have an all-around, complete and final answer although many great writers, poets in particular, wrote about poetry and poets and although many of my own verses are dedicated to poetry, to poets, to words: Poets, Hunger, To Find My Word, Memento Vivere, for instance.

Let us remind ourselves of a few amusing thoughts about poetry the authors of which are the greatest world poets who lived in various epochs and within various civilizations and cultures, wrote in various languages but the life of each of them was filled with poetry and (or) was completely dedicated to it. For Federico Garcia Lorca “La poesía es lo imposible, hecho posible”[1], for Jorge Luis Borges: “Convertir el ultraje de los años en una música, un rumor y un símbolo”[2]Giuseppe Ungaretti, however, affirms that “La poesia è poesia quando porta in sé un segreto”[3]. I like the understanding of Rabindranath Tagore that the poetry is “cibo della mente”[4], and the instruction of Pier Paolo Pasolini: “non parlar la parola ma la cosa”[5]. Great Johann Wolfgang Goethe spoke about poets with enthusiasm and respect whilst Charles Baudelaire glorifies a Poet:

„Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l’archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.”[6]

A word in poetry is unpredictable and different and carries its own secret-meaning-sound. In a flash of a creative moment a poet with the help of a word creates pictures which are not of this world but they belong to it. That is why poetry is the highest artistic level of usage of a mother’s tongue, even of other languages in which an author writes, devoid of any ideological ties and darkness, a level on which a poet’s talent invokes words which have disappeared, creating new ones at the same time. Poets truly preserve the essence of a language and promote it to the utmost. This is why I disagree with those who claim that beauty is banished from the contemporary poetry. A poetical telling is always a quest for beauty.

Having in mind all that I have written so far I could say briefly that the closest to me is the thinking of Wislawa Szymborska: everything can be poetry, poetry is a way in which the world is considered but it is also the understanding of one’s own existence in that world and the place of all things in that world; nevertheless I still do not know in fact what does poetry mean. Poetry is certainly the way of my own thinking and existence and it is a part of my mission as well, if that mission exists at all, but any short and simple definition would be lacking and partial, the way all existing definitions of poetry are lacking and partial.

  1. Why do you write poetry?

Writing poetry is as indispensable to me as breathing. I do not think about it much because,in my case, the need for writing comes in the same way as thirst or hunger, or those periodical moods, ostensibly without real reason, when we are suddenly subject to an attack of joy or melancholy or elation, a desire to do something although no one asks it of us. Therefore the urge to write comes to me from within, comes as an “order from above”, as a pure inspiration, most frequently. I sit down to write verses intentionally, with a plan, only if something which I had already had in my head has not been written down on time, so I try to remember, to invoke the moment of “enlightenment”, the moment of inspiration which I failed to note down because the momentary circumstances (being busy with other things for instance) have prevented me from doing so. In that sense I can say that I do not run after, I do not chase words but rather they come and chase after me and they find me. Poetical images, oncoming words, the need of my poetical I to impose and stand before any other thing I am dealing with are very powerful and I gladly give in – I write poetry. Of course the purpose of my writing is the communication with others, the necessity to discover whether my feelings and experience of the world correspond with those of other people. The pleasure of being read, recognized and accepted is also important, but it is not primary. I would write poetry even if my verses were not liked by others or even if nobody would want to print them because, simply, I write as I breathe and I breathe as I write.

  1. Do you have rituals, or mediation practices that you take part in to help you become more focused before beginning a writing session? Or Do the words just come to you?

I do not have any mediation practices nor do I have any particular preparations for writing as far as the poetry is in question. I am truly a poet of inspiration as I have explained before, the words simply come to me, find me, catch up with me and “harness” me to write. However, this does not mean that there is no fight with words, the process of creation, the trouble with writing. I write a poem at one go very frequently, even if it is a long poem, but should it happen that I am not satisfied with what is written I work on the text and sometimes I even give it up.

  1. Talk about one of your poems which appears in your feature.

Although I could write a story about each of my poems, I do no speak about them gladly. As an author , to explain my poem seems to me the same as showing one how to make sweet water out of honey. In this case, a poem is honey and the explanation is sweet water.I prefer to have a dialogue with readers or critics. It is different with the poems of other authors when I am a reader and (or) a critic. Nevertheless, let me say something about the way in which my poem The Poets was created. Its first original title was in Spanish, Hermanos poetas (Brother Poets). In the year when the poem was written I was a guest at the XIV International Festival of Poetry in Rosario, birth place of Che Guevara in Argentina. When I arrived at Rosario, the moment I entered the hall of the hotel I met a group of poets – local ones and those from all over the world – and all of them spoke Spanish.They were in a very good mood, pleasant, smiling and they greeted me cordially, as if we were old acquaintances. I noticed that amongst themselves they addressed each other somewhat formally with “hermano poeta”, the expression which I heard for the first time and it sounded as if it were an official title which they pronounced with particular esteem. In those five days during the Festival I experienced a number of unusual things in connection with those present but also in connection with some poets who were not present and it was the first time I thought about poets as a “society”, a particular companionship. Immediately upon my return home I wrote, almost in one breath, the poem Hermanos poetas.There was almost no need to change a word in the first version and I published it straight away. It was quickly translated to other languages, it was published in quite a number of places and it is now a poem that readers frequently want to hear.

  1. What is your writing and editing process like? How long does it generally take you to finish a poem?

If I work on a newspaper article, a critical piece, some translation or any prose text, I can work on it whenever necessary.The process of writing and editing is similar in general: the preparation if necessary (collecting the information, reading about the topic, thinking about the concept), writing and eventually editing the text. When all of this is over – then comes a “breather” followed by my reading the text this time in the “role” of an objective reader.

As for poetry one could say that each poem is a case by itself. When a poem comes, when words want to get to paper (or on a screen of late), simply, as if by a higher dictation I write with ease. When that “first version” is finished, I feel a pleasant relief, a sort of joy. It may happen that I am immediately pleased and do not find anything in need of improving. Then I print out the poem and read it aloud. If the melody and the rhythm are really all right I put it in the file of finished pieces.

If I am not satisfied I put the poem into the file of work in progress and I come back to it after a certain period of time, I read it again and carry out some changes: I search for a better expression, I change word order, reject whatever I consider superfluous. Sometimes I add something but more frequently I shorten the text. A poem must not have anything superfluous. I bear in mind that poetry truly is the queen of art which means that a poem is good if a suspenseful harmony of words carries in itself a meaning as well as an image and music. My own high criteria acquired at the prestigious Faculty of Literature I apply most persistently as far as my own manuscripts are concerned. When we speak about the form, my poems form themselves in most cases, even graphically. The exception is when I wish to experiment with a classical form which has its own established rules,with sonnets, for instance.

Of course, it happens, although not frequently, that I am not satisfied even after editing the text. Then I usually give up, tear up or erase the page. I do not wish to exhaust myself on “thin” material.This means that I cannot determine a general time I need to finish a poem. Sometimes it is complete the moment I finish writing so the first version remains the final version, sometimes not.

I also have periods, luckily brief ones, when I have no need to write at all and sometimes I even have a feeling that should I sit at my writing desk for hours I could not write a single good verse. When such a period comes I carry on with other things.

  1. What other interests do you have that inspires your poetry?

My interests are all my life, whatever is happening to me personally, but also the entire world, the surroundings, what is close or far away, visible and invisible, all of ignite, activate my poetical “chip” that is to say inspire me to write poetry. It rarely happens that obvious concrete events are a so called direct inspiration. I would rather say that my total sublime experience is the jump start of my poetical self. I was a newspaper reporter for a long time for the daily papers and magazines as well as a television author and reporter, I have traveled a lot. Considering the fact that a man is all that he is in each and every moment and that he carries all those characteristics within himself, when I work as a newspaper reporter there is no doubt that a poet in me influences the reporter (in the choice of topic, in the way in which a matter should be approached for instance). Similarly the newspaper reporter influences the poet and I believe it is closest to the truth if I say that all my interests and actions probably affect my poetical inspiration, but most frequently I am not aware of it and I do not think about it. As I said before, I simply “write as I breathe”.

Not less important than what we live is what we “live through” when reading other authors, prose writers or poets, whichever. Because, sometimes, a good book can offer a deeper and more intense living through than the life itself, than real events. Consequently reading is an important part of my world in which a word is my means of expression, the way to voice what I experience, recognize and discover, and so “my word” in fact is a measure of my talent and its reach.

[1] Poetry is when the impossible is made possible.

[2] Converting the rage of years into music, voice, symbol.

[3] Poetry is poetry when it carries a secret in itself.

[4] the food of mind

[5] do not tell the word but the matter

[6] The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky

Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;

When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,

His giant wings prevent him from walking.

(The Albatros, tr. by William Aggeler)

 

Poetry

 

 

MEMENTO VIVERE

I just go on

as if this were

the one way possible

a soul in blood and flesh

a step

planted

towards sorrow always

to origins

again and again

touching earth and grass

and being earth

in the ken of the kin

of windspeech and flowerspeech

in the poem I plant

whatever can’t be breathed.

 

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHY
You didn’t turn up.

This bread this soundlessness

this wine are witness

and this table where everything

shudders in confusion

before my closed door

while I burn art

instead of the candle.

 

WHEN A CHILD DIES

               For Nikola

When a child dies

it’s wrong to weep

every sob

and tear

are far too loud

for the womb

it nestled in.

 

When a child dies

no star falls

but climbs higher

climbs forever

on its damned

starry way.

 

DUGOUT II

Damned impossible night.

What are these ghost wakes that ooze from each pore

howling to crawl back under my skin?

If I could just spread my arms, open my eyes,

what damned impossible word would I utter,

a word that limped on

from dusk to dusk

entirely made of maimed movements.

I carry on, but still I glance back.

I dare not even grasp a knife

to this deep quiet, this calling,

I have been utterly emptied out

but still some kind of song limps on,

a rotten fruit sprouts in my breast

and, powerless, crows morning.

 

DUGOUT III

At the time I loved you

I walled an invisible house

over our heads, and under your skin

I laid a mass of fertilized cells,

in your gaze I bricked a hearth

and on its stone my breath fanned fire

until you grew, and yielded

like a surrendering virgin.

At the time I received you in

and so released you from yourself,

on a thread around our bed

I beaded ripe autumnal fruits,

and turned rain droplets into milk.

At the time I loved you

all that was yours found repose in me

and I believed we would save each other.

But now, here we are, separating

and neither of us knows how

we’ll forget each other, our selves.

 

MOONLIGHT

Loneliness does not fade in the moonlight.

By that primal candle

fades only our unstable character

stooping over loneliness

wanting to portray it as a mystical moment

chosen and embraced voluntarily.

 

But the smell of iodine in the air warns.

The depth of breaths give us away

and we and this rich night in the distance

turn into cosmic pain

instead of the wax seal

which seals the important messages.

 

Pain thickens in the moonlight

Hands look for each other

as they are not twins

but strangers from another planet.

Not the smell of sea water

Nor the substantial iodine can help it there.

 

In the night of moonlight everything opens

and releases abstained traces

unfinished kisses

and easily broken dreams.

Not even the tide or ebb can do anything.

In the night of moonlight only love helps.

 

 

MYSTIC RAINS

I was picking red peonies with you last night

by the muddy Bistrica river.

From the sky were falling white petals on us

from the hands of souls who haven’t found peace.

From grass could be heard whisperings of ancient lovers,

the sound of horsemen clatter was coming from the road,

as in the poems of Hikmet Nazim.

 

While drops of the mystic rain were colouring our faces

Your eyes were sparkling balsam for the soul

and with some damned synergy

your hot breath on my mature lips

was turning into scarlet dew drops.

Everything was unreal except the night,

except our tears and blessings of our Lord.

 

Now I know that you are and what is and what is not.

If you were a blue dawn of my gentle death

and painful twilight of their outgoing youth;

if you were stopped voice of the primordial scream,

the runaway dream of fullness of a sleeping angel

who got tired of the excessive desire

and wished to rest on my shoulder.

 

HEAVENLY THINGS

On a dark veil of my confused night

with your finger, like with a magic brush,

you are painting white, drowsy lilies.

 

Confused by your risen desire

they mindlessly grow and outgrow

the view of my shaded window.

 

I am watching you while in an ecstasy you ask the wind

Can this field bear so much beauty

which swells your chest to burst.

 

Wind is quiet, entirely got quiet, intoxicated,

Fears to not get blown away by the smell of coming poem

into the dreams of the innocent and still asleep ones.

 

And on my face, as on the waters of Jordan,

fly reflections of your original character

and the soul celebrates, not caring for eternity or volatility.

 

POETS

Poets are a gang,

pretending nomads,

indecisive interpreters

of banalities and eternity.

They are useless seekers,

intemperate lovers,

hunters of lost words,

the spies of roads and seas.

 

Poets are vain gardeners

of overgrown royal gardens,

vanguards of star derailments,

messengers of sunken ships,

desecrators of secret paths,

crafty repairers of the Ursa Major

and the Ursa Minor,

collectors оf astral dust.

 

Poets are thieves of illusions,

troubadours of rejected utopias,

seducers of any kind,

tasters of poisoned food,

prodigal sons and professional seducers,

heroes which spontaneously

put their heads at the guillotine

at which they are also executioners.

 

Poets are the crowned guardians

of language’s proper being,

lovers of unsolvable mysteries,

charlatans and pimps.

They are the favorites of gods,

tasters of magic drinks,

and crazy squanders

of their own lives.

 

Poets are the last offshoots

of the most delicate sort of cosmic beings,

cultivators of the soul’s white flowers,

unreliable creators of untenable worlds.

Poets are interpreters of lost signs,

carriers of important messages,

a warning that Life is endless

and Universe an unfinished project.

 

Poets are fireflies on the junkyard of the Cosmos,

conquerors of the colourful rainbow belt

and performers of the holy music

of the cosmic birth.

Poets are invisible companions

in the silence of sense and absurdity

of all the visible and the invisible.

Poets are my only, true brothers.

 

TO FIND MY OWN WORD

Countless poets have already told

how they see a whole world in a grain of sand,

infinity in the palm of a hand, all heaven in an eye,

and how a single day can be an eternity. . .

 

Many of them have glorified love,

cursed suffering, sorrow and pain,

described death, hell, paradise and a happy home,

earnest that everlasting shall be their work and name.

 

Everything has been said and seen,

forewarned, sung and written about,

and there is nothing that has never been.

 

So why then do here I stand

Like the first woman and the first man,

As if I were a God.

 

To say what was told?

To describe what is written?

To find my own word.

 

(Translated by Richard Burns, Vera Radojevic, Aleksandar Malešević)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something Beautiful: A Collage Poem

She wanted to create

something beautiful

from flint, razzle-dazzle

starlight—a phrase

she’d read in her student’s

poem, savored in her bones.

Pensive,

the scatter-shot of her thoughts

in Georgia eleven-point

a dash of pebbles, coffee grounds—

not pattern, a speckled random

assemblage. She types,

back-spaces. Types more.

O, consider

it was a kind of splendid

suffering. The shapes

the future held out

of reach:

a shiver, a punch,

a flight of birds arcing

South and gone.

To Fill in the World

Since you arrived,

dear niece, I imagine every knee-high girl

as you in a few years. Case in point—

at the steakhouse last night

mid-forkful of Caesar salad,

the man with the broad back had his back

facing me in the booth, but across from him

at my 9 o’clock, on a booster seat,

a girl of about four. In a hot pink parka,

she swung her feet above the floor,

brandishing her brick red crayon

across ashy coloring pages.

Her focus,

magnetic. Her yellow-brown curls twirled

as she push-

push-pushed her crayon tip through

outlines of a friendly fish, her tongue dipped

half-way in, halfway-out, halfway-in

in concentration. She never sees me.

Already, the years melt

down to when the pages were mine—

I’ve squiggled outside dark outlines

more than a few times in making this life mine.

Already the years unspool

in green, orange, purple scribbles. Someday

soon, we’ll kneel at a coffee table together,

an empty cardboard carton between us,

eager to fill in the world you’ll make

vibrant with choices.

Worrying About Money, Redux

Pick up a sledge hammer blade

mounted on a duct-taped handle.

Grip the stick like a ball bat

with fissures in the wood from work-wear

parting it. Drive this heft overhead

and down, overhead and

down from shaky shoulders

into something thick and stone,

entrenched lime boulders caught

in the way of clearing, an obstruction

from building something

more useful, more appealing.

Make splintering shards

from the gravid blade. Each stubborn fist of stone

shatter, wallop them down into tangled grass

so green all is lost in fecundity.

Drop to hands and knees,

the splash of sweat still reddening your face

in panic. Attempt to gather together

each distressed fragment,

to cultivate smooth ground for construction—

such task makes failure, less-than-pebble.

Hands

As nothing else, our hands

remind us we are mortal.

Sifting earth or flour, loading supper

dishes, tracing a love’s face, upholding children,

cracking open

eggshells and safe combinations,

hefting books and baskets of laundry, unpressed,

the firm flesh loosens, unspools

into surface crenellations. Mottled

speckly fan whose hinges ache open, the body’s

marbled wall-covering

shot through with twining cobalt

veins. This coat encumbered

with markings, newer and newer gnarls

arisen as yeasts. Roping

as an elm, cored, bares etched years’

outlines,

labors’ lifelines. Eternal bringers

of ministrations and caress

whose ultimate grasp— clasped rest.

Copy Cat

 

you know, the last time I worked like a working girl

Satan he comes to my house

I mean visits he’s one of those boys who

can’t come unless he kills someone

so

he strips

takes his clothing off

takes the uniform

the badge the boots the trooper uniform off

his little Hitler mustache is all he’s got on

and I say sipping scotch — oh my there look at your wee wee

Satan say honey don’t be talking baby talk

what you see here is my prick

and I say not so kindly I’m a little drunk I say:

Satan baby

officer mine

I hate to inform you

hesitate to inform you

wouldn’t dare to inform on you

but Satan

I’ve seen plenty of pricks

miles of cock

rollpoles of penises

and Satan

what you got there

is a wee wee

a hot dog (not)

a mean love muscle (I don’t think so)

a throbbing cock?

well no

not until you get me in your arms and pin me down

beat my face

slam the bottle up my cunt

fuck my ass until it bleeds

then yer a brick house

when you see blood yer pretty hot

and I say

call the police

but yer already there

since I’m going to die

come on baby

let’s have a date

we can talk some more

I know you love to talk and stalk

look watch:

watch me through my window

I know you’re there

little man

I see you

and I don’t care

you don’t exist

you’re just a wannabe in a uniform

I stand naked in the window

mocking you every night

you dream of dismembering me

you want to push my face

my laughing mocking face

so far down into the ground

you can’t see anything

no eyes no laughing mouth

just the back of my pretty head

like a pumpkin

ready to smash you want to

push me down into the ground make me eat gravel make me eat dirt make me eat my laughing mocking words

saying no no

not you

everybody else

anybody else

but not you

you want to

shut my big laughing mouth

throw me to the ground dance on my back till it breaks till it bleeds

you want to wipe

the smile and the lipstick off my face

put blood where the red paint is

you

like it like that

my butt is yours just for just one night

as long as you’re holding that shiny knife

oh baby

I call the police and there you are

cop cop copy cat

but you can’t dance and you can’t come and you can’t even move your gun

unless you see the fear and scum

do you kill young boys

cause you can’t get it up

do you kill young girls cause you can’t get enough

georgy porgy pudding and pie

kiss     the     girls

kiss     the     girls

kiss     the     girls

kiss     the     girls

kiss     the     girls

kiss     the     girls

kiss     the     girls

kiss     the     girls

can’t come unless they run can’t come until they run can’t come until they run

until they twist and shout

how many will you have to kill to

shut my laughing mocking mouth

red with lipstick

wet with

other men’s come

how many will you have to kill

to make me want you

notice you

remember you’re alive?

how much attention do you want how much attention do you need you ain’t never gonna get my undying undying undying attention

that’s the way you like it

me

face

down

no longer even

screaming moving

only the twitching of my dying limbs only that warm soft blood like the animals you killed when you were small mama said they were going to God and you just helped and now you see the inside of me I’m losing blood I’m fast asleep so peaceful now you feel the love I feel for you we’re finally one I’m going soon and we are one how much how much how much love

and now finally I understand and darling

I’ll never laugh at you again mock you point to your tiny itsy bitsy penis

your tiny little boy penis and laugh saying

you

ain’t never gonna be no man

I’m your mama

and baby I know

watch me little boy I’ll undress for you pull you over

let you

come to mama

be with mama

come watch mama

little boy

but yer

too little

too little

so

I go

with the men

you

just watch

and I’ll laugh and my lovers and everyone else

will laugh at you

and how you will love me

till the day I day

especially on the day I die

come on push my face down into the ground you’ll be my dad

and I’ll

finally

be

your mom

and this time

I’ll

really know you’re there.