Milo Lompar, Belgrade
Odyssey’s Bitterness?


Even though primarily a poet, Mirko Magarasevic is renowned as an essayist, anthologist, translator, and travel writer in Serbian literature. As an essayist he combined a sense for analysis of literary works, disintegration into elements of the poetic structure, with contextualisation of poetic meaning in the broader systems of the language, history, culture and tradition. Tradition – in his perspective – is composed of facts of both Serbian and European literary experience. Hence, Magarasevic analytically, culturally and historically illuminated many works of Serbian poetry, from Classicism and Romaniticism until contemporary Serbian poets. In the tradition of European poetry he directed his attention to Anglo-Saxon poets: with particual interest to Ezra Pound. As a translator, he extended his essayistic concentration and put in special effort into translation of Pound’s works. As an anthologist, he came out long ago: in nearly every issue of the influental Belgrade’s magazine Savremenik, from the late seventies of the XX century, in the column „The Аnthology poem” we could have read knowingly selected verses of Serbian poets from different epochs, of different poetics and character, from Sterija (Tombstone to me by myself ) and Sarajlija (Debauchery), Laza Kostić (That face of yours), until contemporary poets like Milan Komnenić (Who are you, Who are you). His every selection was followed by the inventive critical review of the poems themselves. As a travel writer, Magаrasevic in a new and interesting way illuminated spaces of the Mediterranean, expecially Greece and Turkey, by combining cultural and historical knowledge and literary evoking of spaces, people, customs and habits, into storytelling that represents true value of our traveloque. He confirmed the accurateness of Slobodan Jovanović’s thought: „It is not hard to describe what one sees but it is hard to see what is worth of describing.” Magarasevic can actually see and describe all that is worth of readers’ experience.

This many-sidedness of our poet has its place also in his poetry. The ability to be aware of things in disorderly but not in orderly array, as a feature of traveloque storytelling, represents a visible quality of his poetic perception, as if it is flowing out of it. Profound knowledge of Serbian and European poetry, convincingly presented in his work as an anthologist, has its place in poet’s choice of diction and tone with which he chooses to speak in his own poetical creations. Essayistic concentration reveals reflexive character of poet’s verses as his logical inner choice, as one kind of poetical kinship by choice; powerful critical impulse, shown particularly in revealing Serbian critical poetry, has its place in poet’s verses that touch poet’s present moment, express his ethical attitude and determine additional character of poetical actualization. This visibly corresponds to – a more recent - political essays from the book Čija je istina? (Whose Holds the Truth) and the book of poetry Ode i pokude (Odes and Reprimands).

All these features occur conjoint in dominant poetical dimension of the latest poetry book Mermaids’ Song: in culture-historical and reflexive dimension of verses of our poet. By deciding that this dimension be poetical and poetic center of his poetry book, Magarasevic demonstrated again his affection towards poetical line that – in the second half of the XX century – manifested Miodrag Pavlović and Jovan Hristić as historical basis of the verses that acquires originality and value of poetic expression only in manifold process: by identifying with the poetic situation that educes, by evoking of its intensity within new articulation, and by inscribing of inventive solution into a basis that fulfilled reader’s spirit. Only those three moments secure poetic reach in poetical creation conceived in this way.

In the poetic basis of the poetry book Mermaids’ Song we find odysseyian theme as one of the most complex and the most demanding themes of European poetry. Sole wanderings, separation from the land, swinging on the water and swaying on the wind, miraculous world of encounters and dangers that mark unknown moments of human understanding of oneself and of the world, as newly discovered forms of the birth of independent spirit within an individual, that gradually separates itself from the collective, represent important meaning of Odyssey’s topos in European literature: all until Joyce’s Ulysses. As a poet of distinctive poetic and culture-historical awareness, Magarasevic shapes different moments of odysseyian complex of meanings so that he could give his own artistic redaction.

When the poetic basis is layered with contents of European experience, individual articulation must fulfill basic situation. How can we recognize it in this poetic experience? Surely it is necessary to create – as in the third of the beginning poems – Mediterranean poetic landscape. The warmth and glow of the scene, „the mirror of the sea in the eyes of basalt,” mixes with the conscious about the poet, „in a ritual as the bard spoke,” to be a sign of a virtual reality, confirmed by the concluding point: „the measure of the sea and the legends”. The bond of the sea, as a nature, as a call for traveling, and the tradition, as Odyssey as the one who roams around it, marks seemingly calm and unblurred background on which a strange difficultness of consciousness can barely be seen – or it is just a mirage. It seems to us that it is the true center of poetic experience, although all affection – as always – Odyssey’s figure takes away, who hears and knows it all, even the Siren song and resists it.

In these poems there are remarkably evoked literary reminiscences. In accordance with humanistic motives – like gentleness and goodness of the father – that fulfil his character, Hector’s relationship with his daughter is described while antique tradition knows only for his relationship with his son Astyanax, or Laodaman and Laomedon. But, the sole sublimeness and goodness of the greatest Trojan hero has poetic point in the experience of the „beauty of the world.” For, the great Hector of the flashing helmet, the pillar of the state and its last sword, carries within his soul a quite ordinary dream: „Sparrows and other birds to watch / to open her a horizon of green / width with the inchantations by all the beauties of the world”. Thus, Hector is being poetically marked as a wish for one yes that is addressed to a quiet and hidden existence. In a stylization like this there is an indirect parallel with Odyssey: as unexpected closeness by choice. Just as Odyssey – in Plato – chose new life in a form of an inconspicuous and quiet man, Hector dreams „but to watch all colours of flower-bouquets instead / playful to pick them in spring time.” Hence, Hector in his dream experience of the world is in the place where Odyssey – through the winding roads of his travels, as levels of individuation – barges. Therefore, Hector’s dream and Odyssey’s late reality coincides because they both touch deeper existential truth than the heroic one: that indirectly indicates that poetic situation is crystalized in a distant and by a reflection guided spirit of our poet. For, hidden and suggested coincidence seems like a trace of individual redaction within one proven traditional continuity.

There is no doubt that a layered erotic disposition of a Siren song is presented. That is how Achilles’s enamor for Penthesilea is being shaped: in a moment when he is killing her. This famous motive of antique tradition that in the art of literature and the art of painting had many actualizations, it was even the central motive of Kleist’s play, implies many associative and allusive circles in which core is the knot of death and love, and our poet gives it a distortional resonance in Thersites’s laughter: „And Thersites watches Achilles from aside, / curves his lips and Achilles mocks.” In an emphatically pathetic scene of recognition of mortal love occurs ‘depathetisation’ that came from modern distrust. For, Thersites is an epilogue of this unconditional erotic exaltation, the late one, just as Achilles’s heroic grandness became late. But our poet has turned all his attention to a moment of Thersites’s mocking, not to a consequence of that mocking: famous Achilles’s fury that brings death to a hunchbacked, bandy-legged with a lame foot but also smart and mean soldier of the Hellenic army. In the poetic focus, hence, is mocking – the feast of forces of late times, untouched by the force of deep and later discovered passion.

But in our poet’s stylization, Thersites’s appearance is not deprived of indirect ties with Odyssey. Because Odyssey closed Thersites’s mouth open in protestation in the Trojan War: Thersites is therefore possible as a mockery, as a ludicrous echo of the impossible (heroic, gigantic) love, but he is not possible as a protest. While Odyssey is close: this indirect tie naturally complies with antique tradition according to which Thersites’s shadow – in the reign of the dead – chooses the company of Odyssey’s mortal enemies. Lit up in a moment when he is mocking Achilles, Thersites remains annunciated in his hidden dispute with Odyssey also. That shows that in the book Mermaids’ Song there is a strong, although discrete organization of the motives: and when the situations in which there is no Odyssey are being stylized, as a rule there is an indirect and suggested tie with the odysseyian complex of meanings.

In individual poetic redactions of antique motives, as a distinctive way of observing and self-understanding, there is a characteristic doubling of erotic observation: both Calypso and Nausicaa are observing Odyssey who is keeping an eye on them. The technique of mirroring, of mirror or water, makes the sole odysseyian situation universal. But, mirroring sometimes have completely distortional mark on itself, because as a correlative of a gentle but deathlike poem „Mermaids’ Lure” that evokes antique situation, occurs postmodern and quite ironic – even in a sense of Pyrrhonian irony that wrecks everything – poem „Serenata Sirenissima“. The sole mirroring of poems assumes parodying aspect: the range of feelings is so great that radical and atonal tones within poetic correspondence occur intentionally.

In some verses the complexity of erotic situation is evoked: the dance of the impulses within the hero, physical sensation that is emancipated to the point of magnification in a consciousness, the power of blood and muscless as signs of something pre-individual in an experience. In a such register assigned figures of antique pattern occur: Circe, Calypso, Nausicaa. The pleasure of the body is exceptionally expressed: it was not portrayed as a figment of imagination but as contraction and relaxation of limbs: „all over me: back and forth,” as mechanism that conveys pleasure, the sensations of physical pleasure. Odyssey’s strength, „I arrived to sink here lost / into dumbness of all the elements, the song of madness”, as the strength with which the body is being agitated, from the outside and from the inside within the fibers, joints and nerves, „amid the foam of ecstasy and immense sensuality”, is complementary with his travels through bodies: Odyssey’s travel through Circe’s body, Circe’s travel through her own unfamiliar body. By moving his body through space, during his travels around the world, Odyssey gets to know himself in the world; by moving her body towards Odyssey’s, Circe discovers something unknown within herself. They both learn by their bodies: and by the moves of their bodies.

The end of all evocations of his bond to an erotic shine of being, to the miraculous landscapes of the travels, in that great and successful character of the antiquity, seems like an unusual existential bitterness is deposited. Is that the sign of a modern poetic redaction or an aspect of an individual impression – certainly not the only one – into a classical figure?

With what the Sirens – not being able to hurt him – marked him forever? That – in undertone – shows the poem „Mermaids Lure”. Siren song, as a beautiful song of death, seduces: „Everybody’s drunk bewitched at once / Cut into the pieces by the sharp rocks”. That is the moment that evokes traditional content of the odysseyian situation. But, the key for evoking its intensity is to recognize the wish arrow guided by the Siren song. It is – and that is logical for a wish – hidden in something that is beneath human understanding, in something that erodes solid fortress of conscious decision. Because the Sirens „bubbled foam under the tongue”: the physiological state of the wetness under the tongue is in symbolic connection with the movement of the sea foam. Both qualities – so different because they belong to different objects in reality – have their equivalent in the unconscious: it is the ocean or the sea, as a place where the boat of reason drifts, as the instinctive flicker of desire exists in the untold, in something that is under the tongue.

Hence the Sirens – whose song release the ropes of desire –„sink under skin at once”: into tissue, fibers, capillaries, circulation of blood. Because, they did it with „screaming call wave”. That screaming call wave is not just any call but it is placed in nadir. What does it mean? Nadir is the furthest point in the universe, it is situated vertically at the furthermost point below the spectator. Hence it is the lowest point of his spirit because it is the deepest point of energy in which he – as consciousness, as I – dissolves (hence the death he falls into). That is the call placed in Sirens’ screaming. A figuration like this of a deep, pre-conscious, dire energies that resonate with the Siren song is rendered with dispersion of light, body tensions, and „their song tendons of the muscles dissolved”, with movements of desire: „lusts in vortex caught in a dream.” The bond between death and brightness is marked with the Siren song. Only Odyssey in whom the moment of exaltation has passed could have noticed that.

In that tense bitterness of late knowledge we find also a tragic tone, which rage as if belongs to all times. The epigraph of the poem „The Question of Guilt“ was taken from – not at all accidentally – Jovan Hristić, which point is that „they smashed the Trojans and were celebrated after that”: „But nobody talks about Troy any more.” This meaning reveals completely modern peace that originates from the absolut of unrest. Because, the oblivion of the defeated is the central strength of modern conscious, which, as if it does not have strength to forget anymore, remembers despite the knowledge – as Nietzche warned – that forgetting is essential to life. It should be forgotten – Odyssey knows that also – but not anymore: why? Because „with this murderous sin his own punishment evokes”. That is the antique basis, but in individual redaction there is a poetic turn: „Even today thirty centuries after / New murderers believe they credit have.“ This actuelization acts like existential poisoning of Odyssey that can not pass. Its point is far-reaching: „As if the thousands of those smashed yesterday / Are the same miserable shadows pushed into oblivion.“ Those who were killed yesterday are still here in our notions, but they – despite the pain that marks as if that is against the inevitable – are turning into the forgotten ones. They are becoming – in bitter cruelty of Odyssey who can not forget – just miserable shadows.

We have asked what is marginal in a poetic experience stylized like this: about the traces of Odyssey’s bitterness that lingers despite his strength, that gave the basic tone to this poetic experience. We were attracted by – from the margins of the lyrical scene – the conscious, saturated with cultural, historical and poetic contents that reveal strange unrest within peace, scream within silence, darkness in panorama that bathes in light. In its wondrous duplicity lies the pre-basic reason of Odyssey’s late modernity, his figure in a postmodern state of mind: he is hunting but he is the one who has been hunted, he wages war but he does not want to, he is dreaming about Siren song but he is heading home, he can but he does not want to, he evokes with pride the horrible things but he is scared of the usual things. Odyssey’s bitternes leaves a strange spiritual stamp on the poetic matter – and as if it lingers forever.

Translated by Ivana Milankov


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Мило Ломпар
главни и одговорни уредник
(Београд, Србија)

Радомир Батуран
уредник српске секције и дијаспоре
(Торонто, Канада)

Владимир Димитријевић
оперативни уредник за матичне земље
(Чачак, Србија)

Никол Марковић
уредник енглеске секције и секретар Уредништва
(Торонто, Канада)

Уредници рубрика

Александар Петровић
Београд, Србија

Небојша Радић
Кембриџ, Енглеска

Жељко Продановић
Окланд, Нови Зеланд

Џонатан Лок Харт
Торонто, Канада

Жељко Родић
Оквил, Канада

Милорад Преловић
Торонто, Канада

Никола Глигоревић
Торонто, Канада


Душица Ивановић

Сања Крстоношић

Александра Крстовић

Графички дизајн

Антоније Батуран

Технички уредник

Радмило Вишњевац


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