Blesok no. 50, September-October, 2006
Eyes wide open: smiling with a tear in the eye
– afterword to “House of Language” („Куќа од јазик“, Blesok, 2006) –
After reading the poems of the latest four books of poetry of Josip Osti, I want you to imagine him as I do when I can’t see him: a poet of the world who lives both as a hermit and a bon vivant. An author who is ready to write until the last drop of ink and who would never stop if he thinks that there is something left unsaid. A reveler who appreciates every drop of wine, especially if it is Teran, the wine of his new fatherland. A homeless poet whose only brothers are the poets and who carries his home with him, even if it is only the key of his former home. A displaced poet who made a new house for himself in the native village of one of his dearest brothers, Srečko Kosovel. A poet with a yearning for light who did not even think of being silent while his native Sarajevo was shelled and its libraries burnt. Josip fought the savageries in Sarajevo even when he was not there. He responded to the fire of villains with the strong fire of his poetic word, without any compromises and pardon. He built himself a new house of language with the same energy, a house that does not make his home in Tomaj only, in Kras only, but everywhere where he is translated and everywhere where his verses are yet to be translated.
After I had translated and published “Barbara and the Barbarian” („Барбара и варварот“), it was somehow logical that this poetry selection of Josip Osti in Macedonian also appears. The title “House of Language” („Куќа од јазик“) came quite naturally, although I was also considering several others. Still, the awarness of the loss of home and past that stayed in that home, on one hand, and the building of a house “of unarticulated voices”, which is (will be) “a church and a brothel at the same time” (>>53*), with a courage that borders madness (and which courage is wise?) and with an acceptance of the great (which is the biggest display of wisdom), on the other hand, made Josip what he is. And, consequently, his poetry – as it is. “I am neither a saint nor a sinner” he says in one his poems, and he is right. But not completely. This poet is both a saint and a sinner: he merges with nature in an Whitman-like manner, sitting on the stone steps of his house he states that the door of his home is always open, and in that same house, at his desk, where he makes his confessions as if before an altar, he often thinks of suicide. Death thinks of him even when he does not think of it. What can he think of first: with his eyes wide open, Josip, my friend, stares at life; he calls everybody whom he likes even a bit “sweetheart”, he knows how to talk to anyone, and it seems that he has never said everything. In his verse, which is very close to the one of Tagore in its openness, purity, sweatness and depth, the light and darkness wage constant battles that often turn into love foreplays and games. In the underground cathedrals there are black (poetic) masses, they stare at each other with the snake wherever they meet, the flowers in the garden blossom in a ripening competition with the fruits, wind often brings voices, one of them Srečko’s, and in Sarajevo sniper eyes are everywhere and there is a constant winter, while the poet goes blind to see better, to be where he is not, and where, actually, a part of him has always remained. And persevered. Again with his eyes wide open.
Josip comes from a city whose inhabitants are known for their lucid and weird view of the world. When I was in Sarajevo in year 2000, many of them showed me the shrapnel holes in the asphalt, saying: “Look, little roses.” The whole city was like a rose garden, filled with these blossoms. Josip also likes to joke, even when somebody else would cry. And he cries when everybody else thinks everything is OK. That is why he builds his house of language “out of nothing. And for nobody”. Because we all have houses like that, deep inside us, built from inside, from ourselves. These houses are really not built for anybody in particular; they are for all of our brothers and sisters, all of our fellow people. That is why, for nobody in particular, and we would always like to have as many visitors as possible. To warm ourselves in the fire of our joint souls. This was my experience as I translated the poems of Josip Osti: together we become members of an imagined family, persecuted from the physical and embodied in poetry.
That is why I grieved: Josip’s mother, the one whom he managed “to deliver as she has delivered him” in his poems and in his house of language, died at the end of the snowy December 2005 in Sarajevo. I thought of her in these days, sometimes more often than of Josip himself. Everything was telling me that she would leave to meet her folks, “all of them gathered as is for a wedding”, reflecting in the shiny silverware, and embroider another handkerchief. This one would be made of verses. Hers, mine, Josip’s, yours… Because the word is a strange thing: it penetrates everywhere, like water.
The verse of Josip Osti is free of visible burdens. As he says in one of his poems, he really does not stick to form (>>36*) for he “learns from the tormented”, unlike those who learn from tormentors, those who “check the correctness of the rhyme”. These are the same people who shelled ‘their’ Sarajevo. The word, like a knife, has multiple purposes. Josip chooses to heal, tell, transmit. He does that skillfully and warmly, humanely. Openly and without reservations, to the last breath. Smiling with a tear in his eye (>>38*). He writes not only reminders of Srečko Kosovel, Marina Cvetaeva, Luis Armstrong (let me mention but a few), but also memories of what “the hysteria of history” must not make us forget. And when we look in the mirror, we should also see the dark face of the world which we like so much and where – whether we want to admit or not – we live, every day and in a constant struggle. Our own face, as Josip Osti would say. And one can not but agree.
5 February, 2006
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska