Monday, July 23, 2012

Canada hits the jackpot with a poet in exile

By George Murray
In troubled times, the movements of poets across political borders are swift and frequent, and can be seen as either a game of chess or a game of chance. If the latter, then Canada has won the metaphorical jackpot in Goran Simić.
Bosnian poet Simić left the war-torn former Yugoslavia for Canada in 1996, arriving with the help of the political activist literary organization PEN, and has since decided to make Toronto his home. Before his arrival, he had made a significant name for himself in his home country, and we have since been treated to several translations of his work from his native tongue, butSunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman represents the first time this master poet is working fully in English.
The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus said that "men in exile feed on dreams of hope," and Simić is a perfect example of this truth. He is of two languages, two lands and two worlds, and therefore must constantly negotiate the borders between them. This lendsSunrise a very interesting tension.
The poems seesaw between the intimately personal and the universally political, tipping sometimes line to line, between melancholy love poems and profoundly painful reminiscences of the strife-torn country from which the poet came.
For instance, in the extraordinary poemAn Ordinary Man, Simić writes in one stanza:
I've met many people and they all resembled me.Some hid in the breathing bodies that were already corpses,others hid in corpses in whichan attentive ear can catch a breath.
and then in the next:
Sometimes from the window I notice breadcrumbsin the hair of women I once loved.But they are now someone else's womenand that is someone else's bread.
It is the oscillation between the universals of love and intimacy in the second excerpt that allows us in the "warless" West access to the same spirit of the poet that endured the hardships of the first. For a poet working for the first time in a second language, it is amazing how adept Simić is. In fact, in the acknowledgments, he describes the English text ofSunrise as language "learned by listening and reading." If this is the case, then it seems we English-language poets could stand to eavesdrop and read a bit more.
Yes, the difficult-to-read horrors of the Bosnian war loom large in Simić's work, providing a bloody mental thought-scape for his surprisingly hopeful verse (how could they not?), but so too do love, redemption and renewal. This is a poet in exile, now of two lands - Bosnia and Canada - but also of two worlds, inner and outer. So he is also a poet who has become, necessarily, of every land. And we are lucky to have him call Canada home.

George Murray's latest book of poems is Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms.

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