GORAN SIMIC ON EXILE AND POETRY
Interview by Amatoritsero Ede
Amatoritsero Ede: You came from Bosnia to Canada, due probably to the recent turbulent history there, which displaced a lot of people. In what way has exile affected your writing?
Goran Simic: If 20 years ago someone told me that in mature years life I would live in exile in Canada I would consider it mean and unfriendly a suggestion. At that time, before war broke, I was running my own book shop and I had a house, publisher, regular columns in newspapers, my plays were staged and my only concern was not to be late to Sunday’s soccer matches in which I played with my friends for years. Then came the cut. As if somebody suddenly switched off the light while I was reading book of lullabies. Sarajevo was under a siege, which lasted almost four years. My bookshop was looted, after a few months my family house was bombed; it looked like an ashtray and I had to learn, with my two children, how to survive. All I knew for almost four years was a kind of experience that I wish I will never be pushed to experience again. Experiences such as recognising the sound of falling grenades; determining whether to run into the nearest shelter or not, or how to be patient and read a book while waiting in a long line for humanitarian aid, I hope I will never have to be have to beg to eat again. Coming to Canada wasn’t a choice but a solution.
But somehow, Canadian experience hasn’t affected my writing. Yes, I am pushed to use English language most of the time; yes, I will never be able to retell my dreams the same way I would do it in the Bosnian, language but on the other hand, if I didn’t come here I would have missed the opportunity to feel beauty within a ‘united’ difference.
A.E: Has the Canadian poetic scene affected your own poetic sensibilities in
any noticeable way?
G.S: I came to Canada without any knowledge about Canadian literature. Leonard Cohen was the only Canadian author I had read. Somehow, I had a feeling that Canada is a kind of shy country, since it was for years overshadowed by a big American brother. My first impression was that this country is deeply traumatised by sleeping pills and Prozac as essential food items. Working on a Bosnian language translation of an anthology of contemporary Canadian poetry, I partly changed my mind.
There is a lot of trash inherited from the beat generation that Canadian literature needs to get rid of; there are a lot of polite poets with nothing to say, hyper-production of books without meaning, strange discrepancy between Canadian ‘policy’ and chauvinism against immigrant writers. I am still asking myself how come Canadian official policy doesn’t stimulate translations from another language if the country is built by immigrants. It’s something like lack of self-respect. But there is
certain quality in Canadian literature that nobody can deny. Self-respect is something that is missing here. Canada didn’t change me at all. Probably because I have a need to change Canadian approach to literature.
A.E: How has Bosnia reflected in your work since you left?
G.S: I never stopped writing about Bosnia because that country of my origin is my metaphor for every single immigrant - whether he’s coming from Sri Lanka or from Europe. I keep Bosnia like a secret treasure and I look upon Bosnia, which doesn’t exist in the same shape as before the war, like a polished shoe from my childhood. I love to watch it, but I can’t wear it. But the truth is, as time goes by, I am more concerned about who the mayor of Toronto is than with who the mayor of Sarajevo is.
A.E: Who were your influences in your formative years?
G.S: Every single world poet influenced me. We, poets, we are made out of puzzles. In my twenties I published a poetry collection influenced by French surrealists; then I went to German symbolism, and then I explored the margins of Polish realism to move my self-expression toward simplicity. In my books you can find fingerprints of poets from all over the world. There is no builder who can build house without the knowledge of somebody who has built a house thousands of years ago.
Sentinel Poetry #33
Online Magazine Monthly, August 2005. ISSN 1479-425X. Editor: Amatoritsero Ede