Sentinel Poetry #49 December 2006 ISSN 1479-425X
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...Since 2002
Guest Editor: Nnorom Azuonye
Book Title: Life Revisited
Author: Mario Susko
Binding: Paperback (pp: 91)
Reviewer: Barbara Reiher-Meyers
Mario Suško received his M.A. and Ph.D. from SUNY at Stony Brook in the 1970s, and has lived in the US on and off for the past thirty-two years. A prolific poet, translator and university professor, he is the author of 22 poetry collections and numerous translations from modern American literature. A witness and survivor of the war in Bosnia, he returned to the US at the end of 1993.
Suško is the recipient of
several awards, including the 1997 Nassau Review Poetry Award, the 1998
‘Nuove Lettere’ International Prize for Poetry and Literature (Naples,
Italy), and the 2000 Tin Ujević Award, for the best poetry collection
published in Croatia in 1999, for Versus Exsul. His poetry has been
In order to set the stage for an understanding of Susko’s passionate poetry from Life Revisited, it is helpful to place his life within a time frame. We in the United States have not experienced such unrelenting misery since our own Civil War.
Mario Susko was born into World War II, when various ethnic factions fought both against each other and against the Nazi occupiers. He also lived under Josip Broz’ (Tito’s) reign. Tito ruled the country as a one-party socialist state.
On April 6, 1992, the Bosnian Serbs began their siege of Sarajevo. Residents opposed to a Greater Serbia were cut off from food, utilities, and communication. For three winters, Sarajevans dodged sniper fire as they collected firewood and tried to get to their jobs. Food was scarce and the average weight loss per person was over 30 pounds. More than 12,000 residents were killed, 1,500 of them children.
Bosnian Serb nationalists and the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) began a systematic policy of "ethnic cleansing" to establish a "pure" Serb republic. They drove out all other ethnic groups by terrorizing and forcibly displacing non-Serbs through direct shelling and sniper attacks. Entire villages in Bosnia were destroyed. Thousands were expelled from their homes, held in detention camps, raped, tortured, deported, or summarily executed.
Sixty percent of all houses in Bosnia, half of the schools, a third of the hospitals were damaged or destroyed. Power plants, roads, water systems, bridges, and railways were ruined. Throughout these horrors, the international community failed to respond.
There is a multilingual richness in “Life Revisited” which flavors the poetry with an off/slant perspective, which I find appealing. Fantasy runs throughout Susko’s poems, like the stray puppies with which he seems to relate; as if a symbol of faithfulness and optimism in the face of brutality. The uncertainty of childhood is justified by these imaginings, as in “The All”;
“when I kissed my Grandmother’s cheek,
her skin smelling of churned butter,
I knew she wasn’t dead for I too
could lie in my bed with a wooden cross
and hold my breath
“The Tunnel” tells of fear faced as much as his child-mind could, when entering a train tunnel to search for scraps of coal, while he was
“intent on finding shiny cartridges,
insignia, gas masks...”
In addition to the loss of a decent childhood, Susko endured the pain of a minefield explosion, and the misery of an abusive father. “The Smell” recounts the odors of rose petals, dry lavender stalks, in a linen cupboard, the smell of a sweaty barroom, a dog’s barking...his panting infested my slimy nostrils, and when a shell hit the house...
“I scrambled up from the dank cement floor
in the basement, an aging man, trailing
the odor of blood and scorched flesh”.
After his home was shelled, he was sent to live with his grandmother, which is when he “knew my life as a refugee started then and there” .In “ Journeying”, the ordinary sound of a train going by conjures a vision of Mario’s passage.
“You cannot lose what you never had”, one of his mother’s sayings seems apocryphal, considering the losses endured by the family. Childhood, permanence, family were ultimately lost, yet Susko retains the sharp eye and keen imagination which brings to the poems a childlike aspect, and the seed of hope, as in “The Un-Worlds”...
unhouse my mind
undo my memory
to undie me.”
The passion for life does not wane, even in the face of death. In “Release”, he takes an almost whimsical look at his own demise.
“... and for a moment only
I caught my face in the mirror, a smile
of release on my milky lips.”
Life Revisited is a stirring read from start to finish.