Goran Simic is a Bosnian poet. His blunt poems about living in war-torn Sarajevo have gained him considerable reputation in Europe. His present volume—Immigrant Blues—promises to extend that reputation. Now seven years a Canadian immigrant, his work has gained an ease and a wider range of tone.
The war poems are clearly the best in the volume. "The Book of the Rebellion" bears comparison to Borges:
A man shoved it into my hands
warning me to forget his face that very instant
and making me swear that the book
would never get into the hands of the police.
I didn't even manage to tell him
how proud I was at joining.
He disappeared the same way
I disappeared the following week
after handing the book to somebody else.
To be more exact, these are poems about the aftermath of war. There are no longer bloated corpses everywhere along the way to buy a loaf of bread. "The Book of the Rebellion" is a poem with the advantage of distance, a stylized version of an absurdity the poet has intimately lived.
While "The Book of the Rebellion" suggests a level that Immigrant Blues does not achieve again, poems such as "The War is Over, My Love" are deeply human:
I enter an old clothing shop
and on the hangers I recognize my neighbors:
Ivan's coat. We used the lining for bandages.
Hasan's shoes. Shoelaces are missing.
And Jovan's pants. The belt is gone.
The sympathetic identification of a person with her or his clothing is surely as old as clothing itself; in mall-less regions the identification remains particularly vivid. The effect on us, at the desensitizing distance of excess, remains strangely affecting.
The immigrant experience is also sufficiently foreign to our own to be promising as subject matter. Poems such as "My Accent" and "An Immigrant Poem" introduce us, with uncommon success, to that world where everything is out of place. Yet there is a final category of poems in Immigrant Blues, those written (some even in English) by a surprisingly acculturated ex-Bosnian. These poems are neither about war nor the immigrant experience, and tend to have less to distinguish them from the vast number of poems written out of recognizable landscapes. They are predictably the least effective poems in the volume, and may imply the challenge Goran Simic faces in the work that lies ahead.
Excerpt from Immigrant Blues by Gilbert Wesley Purdy
Source: RAINTAXI Review: http://www.raintaxi.com/online/2004spring/simic.shtml
A THICK RED LINE
for Fraser Sutherland
A lamb escaped from me
and I sent the wolf to bring it back.
such lambs loiter about the forest,
and leave droppings where I like to watch the valley.
I am afraid something might happen to the wolf.
There are many fugitive lambs
very few such faithful wolves.
Years pass before you train them
not to look you in the eyes
but at your hands.
I've read in an encyclopedia
how many people were killed in Auschwitz.
Later I read a book about the same camp
but 308 victims were missing from the list.
Between those two books
my wolf treads in the deep snow
and draws a thick red line with his tail,
contentedly sniffing the air.
The spring is coming again
when the snow melts as fast as memory
and lambs feel the urge to escape.
A SCENE, AFTER THE WAR
I'd never been aware how beautiful my house is
until I saw it burning,
my schoolmate told me, who had twenty pieces of shrapnel
that remained deep under his skin after the war.
He wrote me how at the airport he enjoyed
having upset the customs officials who couldn't understand
why the checkpoint metal detector howled for no reason.
I had never been aware I was a nation
until they said they'd kill me,
my friend told me,
who'd escaped from a prison camp
only to be caught and raped by Gypsies
while she was roaming in the woods.
Then they sold her to some Italian pimps
who tattooed the owner's brand and number on her fist.
She says you cannot see it when she wears gloves.
I recognized them in a small town in Belgium.
They were sitting and watching the river
carry plastic bags, cans,
and garbage from the big city.
She was caressing the hard shrapnel lumps
through his shirt
and he was caressing her glove.
I wanted to say hello
and give them a jolly photograph from the times
when none of us knew the meaning
of House and Nation.
Then I realized that there was more meaning
in the language of silence
in which they were seeing off
the plastic bags down the river
than in the language
in which I would have tried to feign those faces
from the old photograph
that shows us all smiling long ago.
Source: StudioTreasure.com: http://www.studiotreasure.com/featured/goran_simic.htm
Images of Sarajevo and and horrors of what happened in Yugoslavia. Poem by Goran Simic, read by Alan Rickman. Music - Benjamin Britten, War Requem, Libera me.
When You Die As a Cat
Documentary film WHEN YOU DIE AS A CAT, featuring poet Goran Simic.A film by Zoran Maslic.
For more of Goran Simic's work: http://goransimic.com/bio.htm