“This is It, Your”, by Magdalena Horvat, published by Makedonska rec, 2006.
#1 Reading Magdalena Horvat’s debut poetry collection, I was motivated to reflect on how close or how different her poetics is to the lyric ideas of the younger Macedonian generation of authors. Such a contextual, comparative approach is a solid method, I think, for revealing the distinguishing traits of an author’s work.
The somewhat scarce literary-critical research done so far on the key poetic concerns of the new generation of Macedonian poets points to some common creative tendencies among them, which are often summed up by the term postmodernism. A strongly expressed intertextuality, an assertive desacralisation and irony, a mythology of one’s own that searches for alternative metaphysical solutions, an urbanised poetic universe and a lexicon that corresponds to contemporary life and science trends – those are the literary approaches which demonstrate their common sensibility and authenticity. Although some of these traits can be sensed in Horvat’s poetry, a careful analysis reveals that she doesn’t fully accept this route. Following her own literary experience, she creates a unique lyrical expression.
The most obvious difference between her and the abovementioned generation, a difference noticeable even in a superficial reading of this poetry collection, is the impressive musicality of the lines. Her peers usually disregard that aspect of poetry, concerning themselves instead with the narrative discourse. The dominant stylistic trait of Horvat’s poetry is her use of phono-morphologic figures, which aren’t random facts or uncontemplated sound play, but are meaningful techniques that strengthen her poetry’s aesthetic quality.
The linguistic experiments that result in the creation of interesting paronomastic syntheses and internal rhymes clearly indicate that this poet is entering the Macedonian literary scene with a deep sense of the possibilities offered by her own language. In the poem titled “The Problem”, even the phonemes or graphemes themselves, gain an equal status with the language units. Furthermore, she looks for a visual motivation in them, equating them with pictograms: The problem was in your Ш. That Ш / that never combed my hair, but just stood there / between the two of us like boards of some fence.
The seductiveness of Magdalena Horvat’s poems doesn’t rely on the phono-morphologic aspect only, but on the substance as well. The themes and motifs she is concerned with, which are also in many ways different from the lyric worlds of her generational peers, are chiefly based in the real coordinates of life. Everyday experiences are reflected upon in the poems, which are free of the heavy burden of dark metaphysical meditations. But this reality isn’t grasped as a totality, rather as fragmented cuttings in which the lyric subject often dominates. The communicativeness of these poems—or, as the poet says in her first (and possibly self-referential) poem titled “This Is It, Your”: poem without any aim or pretension / to be another source of your tension—enables an easy entrance into their semantic nuclei, establishing a direct contact with the reader.
Hence, it should be highlighted that the referentiality, as this poet’s choice of poetics, doesn’t amount to mere writing down of events and occurrences from the real surroundings. Her unique interpretation and refraction of the events via the lyric subject, her subtle emotional treatment, as well as the surprising points she makes, don’t allow this poetry to be just a superficial photograph of the everyday. On the contrary, these characteristics reveal a profound, original nuance of reality perception. The poem “Saving”, for instance, begins with an everyday, almost banal event, and goes on to develop an idea that penetrates into the deeper dimensions of the lyric subject, which in the end is summarised by an intriguingly crafted simile between the I and the bank note: Today I paid the third payment / with a shirt made of a thousand note. / He said: You’re a laugh. // I said: That’s the only way I can save. / If I fold something up, wrap it, / to protect it from myself. // And again patches, / And again plasters… // All these bandages / have turned me into a mummy. Sometimes these ordinary, ephemeral events, objects and props from the context of urbane life are just an excuse to start the communication with one’s self and the Other, a communication which, scattered into fragments, doesn’t offer an opportunity for mutual understanding.
Another characteristic of this poetry collection is an intentional infantilisation of, i.e. employing naivete in, the lyrical voice—a trait not unusual in the work of young Macedonian poets. The disruption in cause-effect pattern, the simplified perceiving and relating, as well as the naïve upside-down perspective, can be interpreted as attempts to deliver oneself from the established system and its logically determined rational thinking. As an example I’d point out the poem “Star”, which achieves its effect of ostranenie exactly by a child’s encounter with, and perception of, material reality: My name is kid and people think I’m / them or mistake me for other kids on the street. / I want to touch the sky. // Growing up as I am, if I / keep at it like this, I’ll be tall / as a poplar tree // when I’m 30. When I’m 40, / I may be even taller than the green / skyscraper behind the park. At 50, // if by then I’m not hit by a car, / I might be as biiig as a mountain. / Sometimes I think, // Who will wait till 100 / to get myself a star? A similar naïve redefining of reality can be noticed in the poems “Lamp”, “The Bagel” and “What Others Do When It’s Raining”. In fact, underneath that so-called unserious play with perspectives there’s a hidden wisdom drawn both from life and literary experience.
As regards literary experience, this author shows an awareness that her poetry undeniably continues in a tradition, that is to say, it is a certain response to older literary texts. The implicit and explicit intertextual relationships that her lyrical pieces establish with parts of literary heritage are clearly the sign this statement is based on.
All this reveals that, although this is Magdalena Horvat’s first book of poetry, it presents us with a consistent and well thought-out poetics. Her creative capacity and knowledge of literature enable her to confidently tread the path that will lead her to literary success. I hope that critics will not be immune to her work.