The youngest fifty-year old in the Macedonian poetry on purpose goes about unkempt
Unable (or unwilling) to deal with some authors in more details, criticism often, without any further elaboration, easily throws the epithet “young” or the syntagm “younger generation” on table, thus distancing itself from any inclusion, classification or canonisation of those writers. It is in such a manner that Jovica Ivanovski has remained one of the youngest fifty-year olds in the Macedonian poetry. After more than twenty tears of writing poetry and twelve published collections, there are barely two dozen critical reviews written about him. Almost all of them are by “non-institutional” critics (i.e. those who formally work outside the scholarly, educational or research institutions that deal with language, literature or culture) and most of them are promotional (i.e. aimed to promote some of the newly written poetry collections). “Despite so many published books, participations at festivals, residences,… despite translations to a number of languages, his inclusion in a number of anthologies,… very little has been written about Jovica Ivanovski”, says Olivera Kjorveziroska, adding that “we all read him, ‘critics’ also read him, but we somehow forget him, we miss him, not avoiding him in a broad circle, but rather keeping quiet about him in a narrow one…” (Ќорвезироска 2015).
Almost all of these critical reviews are directed to (or at least they persistently refer to) two features of Jovica’s poetry. The first one is its urban nature, or its thematic embeddedness in the city (nowadays Skopje) as the chronotope in which the poet resides1F. Bogomil Gjuzel thus says that these verses have an “authentically urban sensibility” (Ѓузел 1995), and Elizabeta Šeleva that “Jovica Ivanovski’s poetry is a result of a continuous urban adultery with a space” (Шелева 2005). On this Skopje homeness, Olivera Kjorveziroska says that “Jovica Ivanovski’s poems… are old citizens of Skopje” (Ќорвезироска 2015), and Vlatko Galevski in his promotion of the latest poetry collection of Jovica, The City that Is no Longer Mine (Градот што веќе не е мој, Темплум 2016), says that “Jovica’s poetry is like the first verse museum of the defeats of a city, its residents” (Галевски 2016). The second feature of this poetry which seems to be noticed by the critics is what Duško Krstecski calls a “metonymic” writing style, i.e. narrative, story-telling, even epic, as opposed to the “metaphoric”, i.e. lyrical, for the most part abstract style (according to Крстевски 2012). It is interesting (but not completely surprising) that almost all critics feel the need not only to point out these two issues, but also defend them2F, defining them not only as detected features of the overall work of Jovica but (or first of all) also as essential qualities which separate this poetry from a considerable part of the contemporary Macedonian poetry production. This view is summarized by Olivera Kjorveziroska when she says that he “writes ‘common poetry’, you do not trip over large metaphors, academically dosed and realised verses, theoretical bases and learnt metrics and versifications” (Ќорвезироска 2015), but these verses are rather “improvised rock and jazz of words in whose rhythm the literary science dances, enjoying the absence of ‘high poetics’” (Ibidem). It is this, “urban” and “metonymic”, and often ironic (or self-ironic) poetry, as implicitly hinted by those few that write about Jovica, that has left him silenced, non-positioned, peripheral, uncanonised, for years. This is so because it seems that the centre of poetic values gravitates around “high poetics” (Ibidem), and poetry which is appreciated by the critical academically certified authorities means “creation of a self-sufficient and ontologically independent world” (Јанковски 2005) which is based on “hermetic metaphors and symbols” (Ibidem). Because of all of this, writing a critical review about Jovica’s poetry has become an almost subversive act, an attempt for a turnover and challenge to the institutionalised directions for scoring the verse according to its linguistic and stylistic manifestations instead of according to its untouchable and unnameable power to touch the essence of human living and distil it into a pure, universally sensed essence.
What can one say about this essence when reading Jovica’s verses from his poetry collection The Sea Is Up to My Knees (Морето ми е до колена, Табернакул 2016)? In my copy of this book, the absent-minded shop assistant in the bookstore from the centre of Skopje which is now gone, mistakenly or on purpose, has placed a wrong bookmarker. Now, every time I open the book, I look at the smiling face of a fashion journalist and the prosaic syntagm: “My stories, my life”. Paradoxically and ironically, a phrase that could easily be found described (or made fun of) in Jovica’s verses, because it is in such places that he finds poetry – seemingly empty, insignificant, petty and banal, and so full of meaning and essence. Or, such places “can be as ephemeral as the vapors of an ordinary cup of coffee plus a cigarette chat, in Ivanovski’s poetry become models for crystallization of meaning” (Јанковски 2005). Poetry with him is everywhere, always and in everything, as he says himself: “The poison of the moment is actually the time of real inspiration and it must not be missed. That is why I only write when it comes to me and in all possible moods. Sometimes poisoned with happiness, sometimes touched by sadness, sometimes head over hills in love, sometimes poisoned by the situation around me” (Ивановски 2015).
The seventy-four poems in the collection that I am reviewing here are divided in six chapters, and the titles of the chapters are syntagms that play with some well-known idiomatic expressions in the Macedonian language, whose common trait is – the measure. Two parts of the body, the neck and the knees are the archaic measure determinants (or, better said: over-measure and under-measure) that Jovica mostly uses here. Starting auto-referentially, in the first chapter Up to My Neck in Myself, under the title that suggests over-measure, i.e. being stuck, sunk, almost drown within oneself not only as a lyrical subject, but at the same time as an object,3F an object of poetic interest, the poet writer notes in verse to himself as a reminder of how (he should continue) to write, such as: “Make fun of everyday / on every given day!” (Ивановски 2016, 13). Laconically and ironically, he also speaks about himself being sunk deep into the midlife by commenting on the passage of time: “The time has devoured us. / The appetite it has” (Ibid, 16), or more serious sad conclusions: “I am less and less a pair to the present. / The future is something / in which some other young people will find themselves. / I am past, imperfectum. / I am here, and I am gone’ (Ibid, 19). Auto-referentiality, which with him most often also means self-ironisation, also touches upon thoughts on value (essence, purpose) of writing, when he says: “I am one of the many who / fully deserve / the oblivion-award” (Ibid, 19).4F
1. Even Jovica Ivanovski himself ends every biographical note with the same sentence: “He still lives and works in Skopje”.
2. Although Elizabeta Šeleva questions the very term “urban poetry”, saying: “To me, as a child grown in the city, this expression always seemed as unnecessary pleonasm” (Шелева 2009, 66).
3. Or, according to Šeleva’s words, Jovica’s poetry is a “ruthless dialogue of the artists with the citizen within himself – a place where the pagan homelessness is discovered, or better said, the dvodomnost of the poet/artist – this persecuted fiend (executor) of the illusion, façade, moral hypocrisy” (Шелева 2009). Ana Martinoska, in her preface to the book Six Macedonian Poets (Arc Publications, 2011) says that Jovica is “a poet who constantly tries to discover and explain his own world, his poetry and his life” (Мартиноска 6).
4. It seems that self-ironizing (or self-ridiculing, as an act of spiritual cleansing) here also has broader allusions, if one takes into consideration that Jovica never won any poetry award, although he was three times in the competition for “Miladinovci Brothers” award of the Struga Poetry Evenings (in 2005, 2015 and 2016), given to the best poetry book between two festivals.