Croatian poet Lana Derkac portrays the violence and pain of the erstwhile Yugoslavia through her work.
How could one be poetic, yet real? Derkac achieves this by baring her soul clinically to the readers, yet avoiding any melodramatic or overstated language.
On a mild Friday evening in Thiruvananthapuram, Lana Derkac and I talk. We struggle, stutter, gesticulate, trying to communicate to each other.
But after a while, this Croatian poet doesn’t need any more English to express her ideas — her poetry does all the talking.
Attending the Kritya International Poetry Festival held recently in Kerala’s capital, Lana Derkac is a prominent voice in contemporary East European literature.
Having published seven books of poetry, one short story collection and a book of plays, this demure writer has evolved over the years — from a brooding, unwilling, participant of the war-ravaged Croatian realities in the 1990s to someone trying to connect intense emotions with the outside world.
So her poetry is very real, rooted in an easily tangible world. At the same time, it is also therapy, as perceived by most writers of her generation. “Poetry must talk about real values… every poem must be therapy, it is a way to make things easier,” says Derkac.
Real — an important word to her, indeed. But don’t the black and white principles of reality defeat the grey confines of poetry? How could one be poetic, yet real?
Derkac achieves this by baring her soul clinically to the readers, yet avoiding any melodramatic or overstated language. The world outside becomes her playground of images and what she sees is what she feels.
“Silence was very important for me… but now, I try to connect more with the outside world,” she adds.A room/A dining table… a chivalrous agreement on the whiteness of virginity… no tongue in which civilisation… would bear itself/dribbled blood-stained geographical maps.
Display of violence
This visual, yet unexaggerated display of violence is real. And though Derkac says she doesn’t write “only about pain in Croatia”, the “blood-stained boundaries” still evoke memories of war.
Derkac explains how it’s not possible to shake away from this: “Sometimes, news comes as bombs; I want to write about everything that is dangerous to the human world.”
Her poetry collections published in the mid-1990s — Wayside Crucifixes (1995), Lightbearer’s refuge (1996) and so on — portray the violence and pain of erstwhile Yugoslavia.
Translated into several languages including English, German, Spanish and Italian, her poems understandably question war. “I hate all wars. I can’t understand them. I think it’s always possible to solve problems with peace talk,” she says plainly.
But she doesn’t claim to give solutions. Poetry is her therapy, no doubt, but it is also her way of saying just enough to let the reader look for answers.
In the place of a rib cage/I carry a chest with shadows/At times, the paint peels off/and from it you read/the bodiless image of hope.
The unusual and haunting paradox is both optimistic and dreary at the same time.
Yet, I read Derkac’s poetry not so much for their subtle paradoxes as their fascinating affinities with mundane routines: “Skyscrapers, genetic modification, all feature in my poems,” she responds.
She emerges a poet helplessly looking at a changing world in ‘SMS’: “With your cell phone message you cause an earthquake,” she mocks the mobile-generation gently.
She spoke the two sentences while/clouds over Zaghreb soft-talked the rain , writes Derkac in “For the last time the clouds have soft-talked the rain”.
The country is a strong presence as she is just like the Danube in January and/I sail the inner riverbed to which I cannot take you .
Her poetry thus turns into an original, physical and personal response to all that touches her. But she has no illusions when it comes to the Croatian public and poetry. “Croatians don’t read poetry… may be a few,” she says.
Yet, she believes poetry will live forever though not in all people. As she hands me a few pages of her poems, I know they will live on in me.