Goran simic on poetry and exile continued from previous page
A.E: Exile has produced great literature. There are examples of writers who had to leave their original homes to be able to produce. James Joyce wrote Ulysses in Paris while a war raged in Europe; another James – Baldwin, was exiled in Paris too for some years and produced from there. Would you say the condition of exile aids or interrupts or modifies or problematises the creative flow?
G.S: There are some flowers that can’t survive transplantation from one country to another. Last month, coming back from Bosnia I smuggled a bottle of home made plum brandy and while sharing the pleasure of drinking it with my friends and remembering the beauty of our childhood, I noticed that it didn’t taste the same here as it did in Bosnia. As a young poet I would spend months with a dictionary in my hands in order to get a feeling of how some Russian poem read in the original. I couldn’t feel a difference between original and translations. Everything is about how much clear your idea is – a clear idea is transferable and translatable. Only the author, by himself, can feel nuances.
Writing poetry is such an individual work. But once you hit the audience, that which you want to express lives another life. Honest to God, I didn’t lose much transferring my self-expression from Bosnian language to English. From the very moment I was transplanted I didn’t want to feel alien to my writing. Canada is a great country for those who want to change their lives and make a new beginning. I didn’t have a need for that even though I paid price for being exiled by working for two years as a simple labourer until my doctor told me that he didn’t want to see me next time if I continued with that job. The only thing which hurt me here terribly was that disrespect for what you are. Here, people judge every immigrant by questioning: what can he be? There is a huge difference between the European and American understanding of what a writer is, and the respect for it. But seeing my books being published and sold in such a short period I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
A.E: Do you think that the artist, the writer who leaves a cataclysmic environment to hide and produce in quiet climes is irresponsible to his first society? Is he guilty of Plato’s claim that the artist is useless in ‘the republic’?
G.S: Poetry survived for such a long time, newspaper reports didn’t. At least people didn’t learn much out of it if they repeat the same mistakes. A friend of mine has a strange way of proving that poets are much more important than kings. He would ask some passers-by: “do you know the writer, Goethe”? And everybody knew his work. Then he would ask the same people: “do you know which king was in charge at the time Goethe wrote his poems”? But only a few of them could remember a King’s name. I still love his method. It gives me a hope that I didn’t spend all my life in vain.
A.E: Have you had problems getting your work published outside of Bosnia or particularly in Canada?
G.S: I could consider myself spoiled as far as publishing goes. I never had a problem with publishers. Only once, while living in Canada and trying to behave in capitalistic way, I sent my book of essays and short stories to an agent. A few months later I got a telephone call from her asking me to clarify what manuscript was story and what was essay. After that I asked her to send me back my two manuscripts, telling her that she didn’t deserve to read it if she didn’t see the difference. I don’t even remember her name and hope she doesn’t remember me either.
A.E: Your poems - what I have read, are in English. Is this your original language of self-expression or did you have to start writing in English after moving to Canada? And if you had to write in a completely new language what were the problems involved?
G.S: I love to write in English - as a challenge. Not because I believe that most immigrants speak better English than native speakers (which is close to the truth) but because I can see a different me. Somehow I enjoy having a different accent while speaking with people born here. I really love my accent, which tells people that I was not born here and that I have a different past. Different accents - that’s an aspect of the world’s future that I would like to see.
Sentinel Poetry #33
Online Magazine Monthly, August 2005. ISSN 1479-425X. Editor: Amatoritsero Ede