Maintenant #73 – Lidija Dimkovska
An interview with Lidija Dimkovska by SJ Fowler.
The poetry scene in Europe seems, from the vantage of the UK, to be far more fluid and less divisive than that of the UK. This may not be true, but there certainly seems, through the regular festivals, readings, residencies and academic exchanges, a sense of physical communication between poets who traverse many nations, languages and traditions. In the case of a poet like Lidija Dimkovska, we seem to have an individual whose experience is truly pan-Balkan, traversing Macedonia, Slovenia, Romania … but whose reception is continent wide. She carries her influences with a fidelity that makes them invisible within her explicitly well considered and captivating poetry. A formidable academic, a poetic folklorist, a respected translator and an innovative and elastic lyric poet, we are pleased to introduce Lidija Dimkovska as the 73rd edition of Maintenant (and furthermore, we are very pleased that she will be reading at the Maintenant IX event on October 15th 2011 thanks to Literature across frontiers and Arc publications.)
3:AM: Could you detail your residency in London this coming September 2011?
Lidija Dimkovska: I have been staying in London the whole of September, in a nice roof apartment in Curtain Road, Shoreditch that was inherited by the Slovenian Ministry of Culture for Slovenian artists. They are chosen from a jury after an application, as I was this year, as one of the first Slovenian writers who actually live in Slovenia but don’t write in Slovenian. So far I have been a “writer in residence” in Berlin, Graz, Krems, Vienna and Iowa, so this is my first stay in London as a writer. During this month I am walking around discovering London, writing my London Diary and my new novel, breathing the London experience and actually live here. On the 7th of September I had a reading at the Poetry Library in Southbank Centre, in the Special Edition of their reading series. That day I was so unsure if London needs my poetry, but at the evening I felt how my poems entered the soul of the audience and I was very honoured to read in that amazing poetry space near the Thames. I was there with my translator Peggy Reid who was reading my poems in English, and my poet-guest, the excellent George Szirtes, and Chris McCabe who actually made this possible for me and also moderated the discussion after the reading, and in the audience among the others there was Goran Stefanovski, the best contemporary Macedonian playwrite who actually lives in England. It was a special evening in my life.
3:AM: It seems that your poetry is often beyond the specific context of your own personal history and geo-political background in its admirable engagement with concepts beyond the limitations of the idea of the ‘Balkan’ poet, and yet perhaps for that universality the work becomes especially personal, on my reading anyhow. Is this something you aim to achieve?
LD: Personal histories in a specific geo-political space makes an individuals history itself when our personal histories touch, cope with each to other, are crucified on their paths, and go parallel to each other to exchange their content, points, edges, myths and realities. Without personal experiences, (meta)physical, real or imagined, we cannot define universality. My new book of poetry in English that is forthcoming next year at Copper Canyon press in the US has the title of ¨pH Neutral History¨, as a kind of (self)irony about the history that is actually neutral to humanity, and the humanity that is only concerned with it. My own one is my life, the perspective of it in the context of the world, whether its the small world or the big world. The eternal questions about identity, love, death, freedom etc. always wait for personal answers, and here is the home for my writing. Of course, the answers can be very different and filled with even contradictory feelings, but what is important for me in writing, is that my whole being writes, with all its possible strength.
3:AM: Yet your experience is truly pan-Balkan, with your birth in Macedonia, your study and teaching in Bucharest and your residence in Ljubljana. In what sense are these migrations, this experience of residence, a central part of your work as a poet?
LD: I think that this experience of living everywhere or nowhere has been much more “fruitful” when I wrote my novel Hidden Camera that focuses on many of these points of migration, identity, destiny (there are three artists in residence in an Viennese apartment: a Macedonian writer, an Albanian photographer and a Pakistani musician living together with all their backgrounds, personal histories, attitudes etc., who transform their own realities in art but also the art and the reality transform their lives). I think that my writing changed when I experienced the emigrant life even if it was a choice first, and soon after that became a destiny. Actually, I don’t believe in residences/residential experiences as a kind of trip, or escape, of a temporary nature, touristically changing your place of living. No, I think that I cannot leave my life at home (and the definition of home is wide open) and go without my life anywhere just to stay there, so everywhere I am I actually live. And of course, as I write about life and death and all that happens between, I experience all these moving, migrations, languages I dream, write, speak, think in, also in my writing.
3:AM: You have engaged with literary theory in your work, what are your specific interests in this field?
LD: This has been in the area of postmodernism, and of course as a PhD and as an university teacher (in Bucharest of Macedonian language and literature and in Slovenia of World Literature) I also think, study and research the literature, I don’t only write it and read it. From time to time it influences also my writing but the writers, the poets from the beginning of the written word always have thought about the act of writing, the style, the poetics etc. etc. It is in the nature of the writing itself.
3:AM: Folk poetry seems to also be a part of your oeuvre…
LD: It depends what you think of as folk poetry. I think that the folklore (the original tradition deeply connected with one or more nations) is the subconscious of all nations and it seeps into my writing in many different ways. The collective unconscious, the archetypes that I grew up with, the rituals I underwent, all the baptisms, weddings, funerals, circumcisions I attended, folk songs and tales, the childhood spent in the country…all those experiences are deep within my memory – on a conscious or subconscious level, in a tragic, comic, ironic and other ways they find their place in my writing.
3:AM: What is your engagement with the typography and form of your poetry? You are known for using prose poem forms amongst others.
LD: When I began to write the form of my poems was more ¨poetical¨ than in my last two books of poetry. At that time my poetry was quite lyrical in terms of shorter verses, sometimes with rhymes and rhythm, metaphors and construction of an exclusively poetical language. In the last 13 years or more I usually use the prose poem forms as they are suitable for the poetical stories that I tell, the form giving me the liberty of expressing myself. Maybe because of that at a moment I began to write my first novel, ¨Hidden Camera¨, and in this period I am writing my second novel, besides my poems.
3:AM: You currently reside in Ljubljana, which seems to be a hub for some fantastic contemporary poets – Ales Steger, Primoz Cucnik and so forth. Is there a vital poetry scene in the city?
LD: There are poets, books, not really attending readings of poetry, several festivals, circles of poets, but there is no one poetry scene in the city, that maybe is not so bad even if it is not either good. I like the Slovenian contemporary poetry and I translate it in Macedonian language.
3:AM: Could you offer a sense of the pre-occupations of your latest collection ‘Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers?’
LD: It was published in the US by Ugly Duckling Press in 2006, three years after quite a lot of the poems published in the collection were published in the Special Supplement of the American Poetry Review with my big photo on its cover page. It was such fantastical moment in my life. The poems were long, narrative, personal (hi)stories about the life. When the book was published I went to the US for one-month literary tour, I enjoyed meeting with my readers there and meanwhile many good critical reviews appeared about the book. In a way, they understood my poetry in the way I wrote it. Meanwhile new poems were born, many of them published in the American literary reviews and finally, my new book of poetry pH Neutral History is going to be published by Copper Canyon Press in 2012. This collection will contain also long narrative poems but also three so-called ballads, very long poems about political refugees, about the caesarian cut of life and one ars-poetica ballad where the connection between my life and my writing is the most evident one: 0 mm. Poems about life and death.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
SJ Fowler is the author of two poetry collections, Red Museum (Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2011) and Fights (Veer books 2011). He is the UK poetry editor of Lyrikline and 3:AM. He is a full time employee of the British Museum and a postgraduate student at the Contemporary Centre for Poetic Research, University of London.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, September 19th, 2011.