(Ivan Djeparoski, The Abduction of Europe, Skopje: Dijalog, 2012)
#1 Out of the plethora of themes found in Ivan Djeparoski’s new collection of poems, the one on voyages springs immediately to mind. Others may indeed, and are likely to do so, speak candidly on the composite meaning of the poet’s wise, stoic and reverent verses; I, on the other hand, wish to share a few keen personal impressions and allusions tied to the same verses.
As the poem decides to take us on a journey through Europe and its cities, such as Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Sarajevo, we see this poetry, namely we read its words, as one large and plural travelogue in verse. Djeparoski, while he thus “travels and writes” does not merely offer his readers a simplified description of the landscape or of the chosen place as such. Quite the contrary, the new destination awakens in him a profound sense of curiosity, particularly related to the worlds of art and philosophy, which he then skillfully relates to certain referential sites inside his poetic memory. Along these lines, especially from the standpoint of the awaken erudition and multiple intellectual allusions, this poetic script reminds me, undeniably so, of that specific kind of travel writing, such as Claudio Magris’ The Danube or his Microcosms, or the classics by Goethe and Stendhal dedicated to Italy.
Djeparoski persistently looks at the European metropolises as he tries to find the true measure of knowing art, not allowing himself to be defeated by ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’, that strange affliction which plagues contemporary cultural tourism, i.e., the ‘hyperkulturemia’ found at the center of man’s inability to handle the overwhelming dosage of beauty while standing in front of works by the great masters. Bowing to the greatness that are the majestically grandiose canvases of Michelangelo or Rafael, or yet the wondrous play of light exacted by Rembrandt, or the recognizably worn-out shoes by ‘poor’ Van Gogh, Djeparoski manages, with a degree of leisure, to wiggle his way out of the ‘severity’ of the given circumstances by employing refined and subtle irony, namely, by connecting certain moments of these timeless pieces with our immediate, living, actual and global/ized reality. We only need to witness how he succeeds in tying the dust on Van Gogh’s shoes to the dust of the active Icelandic volcano, which during the poet’s visit to Amsterdam dominates the European skyline, disrupting hundreds and hundreds of journeys by/of the contemporary tourist nomads. Even the banalization of art being turned into mass tourism while visiting certain ‘must see’ destinations, such as The Trevi Fountain in Rome, rises to the forefront, overriding the many layers of cultural memory. Here, the poet accuses the sculptor Nicola Salvi and the director Fellini and the actor Mastroianni, as equally culpable for creating the ‘cultural mythology’ around the monument and thus contributing to its loss of authenticity.
Djeparoski convinces us that he came to the European cultural and artistic sites mostly by train. Whether it is all quite true or not, taking into account that Skopje is no longer on the map of accessible rail-assisted travel, one thing is certain: the poet has intensively and viscerally experienced the railways, interpreting them inventively, by applying the “civilized, anthropological, musicologist’s approach”. With that, the verses are marked by a constant state of inquiry: what kinds of traces does the train leave behind and are those traces different depending on the people found in the various compartments during the ride? As we ask ourselves if in fact the train will remain a permanent fixture in the collective memory of the Macedonian people, the poet reminds us of a few emblematic aspects of the symbolism of the railroad, starting with the initial metaphor about progress and fast technological development that later becomes the metaphor for death, or hopeless, dead-end journeys without a timetable: “Empty trains without people/ Are as empty as the empty/ Cattle cars returning / From the concentration camps”.
In the eyes of the poet, the empty train is inextricably tied to the actuality of its immediate surroundings, namely the Balkans, whence the railroad today is often accompanied by overgrown grassy patches and weeds, with missing rails, stolen by desperate and hungry souls, who during the last few turbulent years and decades ransacked the iron tracks since their value superseded that of the railroad’s original worth. It is a known fact that scores of our young folk have never gotten to experience the beauty behind the thrilling yet affordable on-rail journey, when a modest allowance would suffice if boarding one of the many trains trailing though our towns; even before finishing the daily read, after some small talk or a cat nap, we would have found ourselves right in front of the Thessaloniki bay, or a few hours more, but this time in the opposite direction, as many of the older generations can recall, we would have seen the Adriatic blue of the city of Trieste. Forgetfulness overshadows the once youthful and resourceful railroad builders in the old country, stripped off that youthful spirit and enthusiasm, even though the poet still believes that their simple names “Echo alongside the tracks/ Always when crossed by /A train bound for somewhere”. The terms “slowly”, “dirty”, and “sad” are, unfortunately, the only markers the poet can use today to address the ugliness, unattractiveness and forsakenness of the Balkan trains, which, now at the mercy of time itself, have become mere banal references of the daily chronicles.
However, the experience with the “Literary Express 2000”, as far as the poet is concerned, is a one of a kind moment in time, unique and singular in its making; as a result of it, the poet gets to spend 45 days and nights ‘on the go’, passing through cities and states, views and sites, accompanied by the myriad of keys and keyholes in the visited hotels, almost “as the present ideas on a unified Europe”. Passing through present-day Kaliningrad drives the poet’s thoughts backwards in time, to the days when the city was called Konigsberg, the birthplace of Immanuel Kant, whom the poet salutes with honors by showing us his own refined spiritual kinship with the renowned German philosopher. He enlivens this sense of belonging through the landscape where almost two centuries ago Kant rested his eyes and nourished his spirit, so we pay witness to his admiration and revered esteem as he begins to comprehend “the starry skies over us and the moral codes in us”.
This is the Europe the poet feels as his “impermanent home”, whence he is an equal who communicates freely with the pillars and values of European culture, of which he is a constitutive part as well, yet somehow “(an)other”, a different kind of “one’s own self”. Unheimlich: by employing this Freudian term, the poet alludes to the mystical and the secretive, to that uneasy sense of discomfort due to feeling of being equally close yet permanently removed from one’s surroundings, the poet most astutely expresses his own perspective on the present-day discussion about the Balkans and Europe. Does the poet wish to make his permanent home or does he actually prefer this state of “impermanent habitation”? Is the fear surrounding “the return/Of the repressed sentiments at any given time” still very much alive? Are we “kidnapping” Europe or is it slowly but surely kidnapping us?
Leaving aside the rather suggestive reading of the myth of Europe by the unsurpassable Flemish master, these days we are faced with the reading of an up-to- date, prosaic, almost at the level of a caricature, interpretation of the old myth: the bull is now represented as a powerful financial magnate that exacts violence over the gentile and vulnerable Europe, set within the context of the current economic crisis that mercilessly ravages the old continent. And once again, poor Europe must find ways to stand up to the all-powerful Zeus, visibly concerned with the outcome of this particular storyline. And the poet Djeparoski, with his subtle and gentle irony, has certainly managed to write this “recycled” myth into verse…
Translated from Macedonian by Bela Gligorova